[Note to ‘subscribers’ who receive posts via email: nine photos got truncated from the email of my previous post about rushing through the Eastern Caribbean. In case you are trying to absorb every beautiful detail, go to the http://www.zekethesailor.net web site to see them. The posts look better there than in the emails anyway!]
We did slow down after our mad dash to Antigua, though maybe not enough really. Antigua, Barbuda, Nevis, St Kitts, Statia, St Barts, St Maarten…seven islands, five countries in this chapter. After our initial stay at Falmouth Harbor, we sailed up the west side of the island to Jolly Harbor. We went into the marina for fuel and water and showers and a visit to a wonderfully stocked (and extremely pricey) supermarket.
Then around to the north side of the island, inside the barrier reef. We anchored in a pretty bay off of a resort on Long Island, where we had the bonus of wifi from the resort. Next day we moved a little further in behind the reefs, anchoring in a remote spot between two islets that are unnamed on my chart. Here I hoped we would find some good snorkeling, but it was so-so. Still nice to spend some time in the water.
Next morning we retraced our steps out of the reefs, and made the 25 mile crossing to Barbuda. Hallie and I have fond memories of Barbuda from 30 years ago, when we were the only boat anchored there among the coral heads. This time we had some companions, but still it was remote…and beautiful…and the best snorkeling so far in the Caribbean. Anchoring behind the reef here has been a Caribbean highlight for me.
Next day we motored around to the west side of the island and anchored off of the long, empty beach. There was a pretty resort there, but when we dinghied ashore we found that it was closed, and for sale. This presented a problem, because we needed to check out of Antigua/Barbuda, which required that we get a water taxi across the lagoon to the town of Codrington, and it wasn’t clear how we were going to find a boat to take us. But as we wandered around the closed resort, a voice eventually hailed us, and the person maintaining the place called a water taxi for us.
Checking out was still a challenge, as it was Friday afternoon, and when we walked to the Immigrations office, it was locked. There was a phone number on a sign, but we don’t have a local phone. We decided to walk to the Customs office, hoping for better luck. It was locked up, too, again with a phone number. We went into a shop across the street, bought eggs, and convinced the proprietor to let us use her phone to call Customs. No problem, Customs was open a few minutes later, and the Customs man called Immigrations to tell them we were coming. We got back there at 5 minutes before closing, and completed our formalities.
Our water taxi man then took us up the lagoon to see the nesting ground of the frigate birds. He says it is the largest nesting area in the world, and that the birds we saw there are the same ones we saw in the Galapagos — they migrate back and forth! It was pretty cool to see the birds, though I had some sticker shock at the price of our boat ride. Everything is crazy expensive in the Caribbean…
Next stop: Nevis. A beautiful volcano (not active, although the one on the next island, Monserrat, was smoking). We took a mooring and headed ashore for dinner, even though we weren’t legally cleared into the country yet. We met a delightful family (children ages 10, 9 and 7) from the boat on the next mooring, and we drank “killer Bs” and had a tasty dinner with them. A fascinating couple…she wrote a book about traveling the country with her dog in a VW bus, following the path of John Steinbeck. I downloaded a copy of the book, which I am now enjoying.
Our outboard motor wouldn’t start. Unfortunately it is a Honda, which is pretty much unknown in this part of the world. No dealers or service centers anywhere in the Caribbean! But the Customs agent gave me the number of a guy who might help us. We dragged our too-heavy dinghy up the steep beach, and carried our too-heavy outboard to Sarge’s taxi. Next day we reversed the process, no easier for being $375 lighter. The engine now starts, but it frequently stalls…
The weather then got weird…the wind clocking around to the south and then the west. With a west wind the island provides no protection. Very uncomfortable on the mooring. Boats were leaving in the morning, and we prepared to do the same. I noticed two guys in a dinghy headed toward shore…one struggling to light a cigarette in the wind. It made no sense that they were headed ashore, as the waves from the west wind made it untenable to land on the beach. Only then did I notice the rest of the scenario. A boat had broken loose from its mooring…was blowing toward the beach…and these guys were about to try to rescue it. I was convinced they were too late…the boat appeared to be already broadside in the cresting waves. But they grabbed the frayed mooring line and hauled the bow around to face the waves…and then they were able to slowly tow it away from the beach. Apparently there was no one aboard. The boat bucked in the waves, violently jerking the dinghy, yet they towed it back out to a mooring. But then what? It was all they could do to pull on the mooring line to hold the boat into the wind…they couldn’t get any slack to tie the boat to the new mooring. So one of them climbed aboard (also challenging in the conditions), and opened the anchor locker, and as the wind carried them back toward shore he managed to deploy the anchor. And it held.
We signaled our congratulations to the two, as we dropped our mooring and headed for a more sheltered spot. We saw the harbor police boat arrive at this point…too late to help. Whoever/wherever the owner of the sailboat is, he owes a huge debt to the two lads in the dinghy. I’m still not sure where they even came from, or how they noticed the situation and responded in time.
We took shelter at the south end of St Kitts. Our cruising guide made the facilities ashore sound attractive, but it was just a touristy restaurant. The book said there were showers. Hallie asked our server about that. She nodded toward the beach and said: by the surfboard. Hallie indicated that she was looking for a REAL shower, not a rinse on the beach. Our server pointedly replied: this is a beach bar, not a hotel!
Next day we motored around to the west side of the island, to Basseterre. Cruise ships and a landing area catering to cruise ship people…shops and taxis. We paid $5 to land our dinghy at the marina, but that was okay because the fee entitled us to use there (real) showers. The rest of the crew toured off to see the largest old British Fort in the Caribbean; I cleared out with Customs and went for some alone time on the boat.
My alone time didn’t last long, though. A dinghy passed by and we waved at each other, and they stopped for a chat. Four Minnesotans (Pete and Kate and friends), who had been on a mooring near us in Nevis, and left about the same time we did to escape the waves. I invited them aboard, but they had groceries…so they invited me to join them instead. In fact, they invited all four of us to come for dinner. I said I didn’t know when the others would return, but I accept in any case. We did all join for a very enjoyable dinner. And we pumped Pete for local knowledge.
With the wind still weird…very light from the south…we motored to Statia (Sint Eustatius), even though Pete didn’t think highly of the island. We planned to stay just one night, but of course we had to clear in, then pay our $35 harbor fees, and then clear right back out. Then we discovered there is an additional $10 national marine park fee. Then we asked about getting a map of trails on the island. No problem…$2…but also if you actually walk on the trails you need a “trail tag” which costs $10 per person. It’s good for a full year though…
I like this island…off the beaten path…only a handful of boats here…no cruise ships…no hawkers…no pushy taxi drivers…people very friendly. But the “nickel and dimming” is a little hard to take. Too bad we weren’t staying longer — we’d get trail tags…
Next day we set out early to take advantage of some wind, still from the south. We considered St Barts or St Martin, but both would be busy harbors, and I wanted a quiet place for a swim. So we decided to go to Isle Fouchue, between the two (legally part of St Barts). Lots of turtles…pretty good snorkeling…only a handful of boats…a beautiful starry night.
And then St Martin (or, since we came to the Dutch side of this Dutch/French island, St Maarten). We are anchored inside the lagoon, very protected. We wondered if we could locate Pete and Kate here, and we found them immediately on our way in. Thirty years ago I flew home from here for a job interview, leaving Hallie and her mother aboard the Ace of Hearts. The lagoon is of course just as secure today as it was then, but now there are marinas right and left, festooned with superyachts. It doesn’t feel as classy to me as English/Falmouth Harbours of Antigua, but here the sheer number of mega boats is astounding.
We hear that the French side of the island celebrates Mardi Gras Monday and Tuesday. Maybe we will stay for the party Monday night, before setting sail for the British Virgin Islands.