Wednesday, March 29, 2017

We have been moving along

It has been a month since our last update.  The delay is caused by our having a great time but mostly by not having Internet connections.  Normally we have a data plan on our phones that keep us connected but here in the islands it is much more complicated.  At each island we would have to purchase a sim card for one of the phones and then purchase a data plan for several days or up to a month.  This works except not every port has an office that sells sim cards and it starts getting expensive.  We have opted to try and get Wi-Fi connections wherever we can but then we are limited to low bandwidth, sharing with everyone else at the bar/restaurant and only being able to get connected with our phones.  That’s enough about our problems.
We are no longer in St. Martin but when we last reported it was Carnival and race week.  For Mardi Gras we joined Kim and Dean in a rental car to run some errands and take a tour of the island.  We ended the day at Grand Case, a small community north of St. Martin that has a Mardi Gras celebration.  The streets were filled with vendors and the restaurants were full.  Grand Case is known for the quality of their restaurants and they did not disappoint.  The meal was excellent.  On Wednesday the winds kicked in again and we spent the day relaxing on the boat.  During the night we heard some noise outside and found that the boat in front of us, who anchored much closer then I was comfortable with, had broken their snubber and their windlass had let out more chain bringing them much closer. They eventually got it under control but spent a long night on deck watching to make sure it didn’t happen again.  By first light they pulled anchor and relocated.  This is one of the problems with crowded anchorages. The next couple of days were spent with small projects, errands such as the grocery store and the phone store.  On Saturday we got together with Dean and Kim again with a car to run some errands and to go down to the Dutch side to watch the finish line for the races.  The Dutch side of the island has been hosting the Heineken Cup Races all week and there have been races and activities all week with a lot of beautiful boats.  The weather forecast was for a couple of days of light winds so we prepared the boat and on Sunday, the 4th, we pulled anchor before sunrise and headed out for St Kitts.

We had a great sail and Cori caught one and a half fish on the trip.  Something got half of her fish as she was reeling it in. Once we got into the lee of St Kitts we had to motor around to the southern end of the island.  We dropped anchor off of the town and settled in for the evening.  Technically we were supposed to check in but there is an overtime fee for checking in on the weekend.  In the morning we went ashore and after visiting three different offices we were checked in.  There were two cruise ships so the vendor area at the dock was busy and we had a short walk around the town.  At lunch time we went back to the boat and decided that this was not the place to be anchored, too rough and rolling.  We pulled anchor and proceeded down to White House Bay which was listed in our guides as being well protected from the forecast winds.  Once again the forecast was right, for the next five days we had winds in the 20’s, 30’s and some gusts in the 40’s.  We took an opportunity during the lull’s to check out the new megayacht marina being built around the corner and bought some gasoline and to get to shore to check out the small restaurant/bar on shore.  The interesting thing about this anchorage was that as the wind blew it would funnel down around the hills and vary what direction it was coming from.  Several times we were turned west with a rocky shore close behind us with about four feet under the keel.  The highlight was after the biggest blow when Cori went out exploring in her kayak.  She found two cushions, one made of closed cell foam that she had an idea how to use.  She brought that back then we went out with the dinghy to pick up the other beanbag type that we thought had blown away from the patio at the bar.  The manager was very happy to have it back and started serving us free beers before they had opened for the day.  As we were leaving he described the other cushion they lost and was very surprised when Cori told him that we had it.  He started offering anything from Champagne on down to get it back.  We went back to the boat, cleaned up and brought it in.  He explained that it would take two months to get a replacement and ordered dinner, beer and wine for us on the house.  It was a nice ending to a windy week.  Also while we were sitting out the weather we had a visit from the St Kitts Coast Guard and got boarded for inspection.  We passed with all of the right equipment and paperwork and they moved on to another boat.

Saturday, the 11th, we pulled anchor and headed down to the island of Nevis.  We rolled out the headsail and did about 6 knots for the short trip.  Nevis has set up a mooring field that you are required to use unless they are all in use or you have too large of a boat.  There is a charge for them when you check in but they also charge you the same if you are anchoring.  We picked up a ball and went in to check in.  We walked around a bit, had lunch of “goat water” from a street vendor and then decided to take an island tour.  Goat water is a stew made of mutton (goat), breadfruit and a variety of spices.  It is somewhat similar to thin beef stew but with bones.  We decided to take the tour since there would be a cruise ship in on Sunday and everything would be busy.  John, our driver, took us around pointing out areas of interest stopping at many so we could look around.  Unfortunately we did not see any monkeys.  Sunday afternoon we went back in to town but everything was shut down for the day.  The cruise ship people were being shuttled all over the island with every bus and taxi that was available.  We dinghied back up the shore near our mooring ball and went to shore to check out the beach bars there.  We had $2.00 beers and appetizers at several places then back to the boat for the night.

In the morning we dropped the mooring ball and headed off for Montserrat.  We have several reasons for wanting to get to Montserrat: the English settled it by shipping the Irish there, similar to how they settled Australia and it has an active volcano.  St. Patrick’s Day is a weeklong festival.  Montserrat has an interesting story.  The only port is in Little Bay but there is no town there to speak of.  The capital of Plymouth is further along the island but when the volcano erupted in 1997 they evacuated the southern half of the island for “the weekend” according to Joe our tour guide.  The evacuation is still in effect.  In December of 1998 an eruption sent a blast that in 30 minutes wiped out the villages in the southern section.  The following season’s rains, more eruptions in 2007-2010 and subsequent rains have covered large areas, including Plymouth, with mud and rock slides.  We were fortunate that the day we wanted to take a tour we joined up with Lou, Dave and Will from the boat Syreni.  They had made arrangement for the tour to include Plymouth and the exclusion area, for an additional fee.  With five of us dividing the cost it was more reasonable.  The additional fee is to pay for the police to open the gate and escort you in and out of the area.  It is surreal to be in Plymouth.  Everything is covered from the mudflows up to the second floor.  If it is a single story building you may see the roof.  At the former two story police station the power line connection that is normally overhead was at our feet.  The flow has extended the land far out past the old shoreline, the new at that time pier that could handle two cruise ships is now a third of its length.  It is being used to ship barges of sand to the other islands, their only export.  We were able to drive through areas that are just now being opened up for travel.  They were going to have a twenty year anniversary celebration and were clearing some of the road of the three feet of ash that had covered them so the people could go back to see their old villages.  We are extremely glad we got to go on that tour.

Back to Montserrat and the festival.  We were lucky enough to visit the local museum the only day it was open to learn the history of the island and learned a lot.  In order to go to the festival area in the village of Salem we needed to take a bus.  First we needed to walk to the nearest bus stop area, about a fifteen minute walk, then catch a bus.  It took several tries to learn the way to flag sown a bus.  If you wave to them they just wave back as they drive by.  Once we (Cori) had that down things went better.  On our first try we asked someone if we were going the right way to get to the bus, he told us to get in and he would give us a ride.  He dropped us off and about a half hour to forty-five minutes later drove by, saw us still waiting and told us to get in and he gave us a ride.  The village of Salem does not have much other than a few bars, shops, and small eating establishments.  We met two nice you men that grew up on the island and moved to London but they were back for the festival.  One was helping his mother run the bar during the festival so that became our go-to location.  At one point we struck out on foot to find a nearby bay that would be closer to anchor and come in for the activities.  We (Cori) finally asked a couple working in their yard if we were close and found out we were nowhere near where we thought we were.  He unhooked his boat trailer and gave us a ride to where we were going.  They were farmers from Saskatchewan and were getting their house ready to go back for the summer.  He dropped us off at Hanks Beach Bar which was on the shore of the bay we were considering to move to.  We realized that if we moved we had no way of getting into town.  Cancel that idea.  There were two men walking the beach and agreed to give us a ride back to town with a quick stop at the volcano observatory.  It was a wild ride up where the river used to be, it was covered in about 30 feet of debris that had washed down from the volcano and through small one lane roads climbing up to the observatory.  They eventually dropped us off at our favorite bar and then we caught a bus back to the harbor.  We made several other excursions on the bus to check out other areas during the week.

St Patrick’s Day finally arrived, this is a National Holiday.  We walked with another couple to the bus stop.  Just as we got there a taxi that had offered us a ride at a ridiculous price stopped and told us we would never catch a bus on a holiday and offered us a ride at $5 each.  The bus is $3 so we took the ride.  There is a small empty field in Salem and it was filled with vendor booths selling local food and souvenirs.  We wandered the area waiting for the parade.  The parade was similar to the carnival parades we had seen in St Martin with the difference in the music and the costumes had an Irish theme.  This is the biggest event on the island and it is well attended by locals, former locals and tourists.  At the end of the day we shared a bus with a family of five that are living and traveling on their sailboat.

On Saturday we checked in with Chris, our weather guy, and his advice was if we wanted to sail to our next destination we needed to leave now or wait until Sunday and motor.  We pulled the anchor and headed out.  As we got further down-island the winds shifted to almost on our nose and 15-20 knots.  As we passed by the abandoned city of Plymouth we had some gusts in the 30’s.  We didn’t need to be anywhere that important so we turned around and when back to the bay we had scoped out earlier in the week and dropped anchor.  Several other boats also stopped for the night and it was entertaining to see them trying to get to the beach bar with breaking waves on the shore.  Most gave up or anchored their dinghy near shore and swam in.  We stayed on the boat.  We decided to let the seas calm down and stayed an extra day.

Monday, the 20th and the first day of spring, we pulled anchor and made our way, motoring, to Guadeloupe.  We stopped at the small town of Deshaies, pronounced Day-ay.  Just as we were entering the harbor the skies opened up.  We spent a while with several other boats circling around waiting for it to stop raining so we could go in to anchor.  We scored a nice spot near to the mooring field with a short ride in.  We went ashore, checked in with customs and immigration, much easier in the French islands, and checked out the village.  On Tuesday we decided to see more of the island so we caught a bus to Pointe-A-Pitre, the largest city and about an hour’s ride away.  Armed with a map and sitting in the front seat we got to see the towns and countryside along the way.  There is still a lot of sugar cane grown on the island so we got to see fields of cane and what the other islands may have looked like back in the days they were producing sugar.  Once in the city we had nowhere to go so we just wandered up and down streets in the business district stopping for lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  We have not had Chinese food in forever.  We caught the bus back but didn’t get the front seat; it was a lot busier on the return trip with more stops.  Wednesday we went to shore to go to the Botanical Gardens since all of the guide books say not to miss it.  There is supposed to be a number that we can call and they will send a vehicle to pick you up.  We do not have working phones but Cori was able to have a couple at the docks try to call them.  It was evidently not the right number.  We were able to communicate where we were going and they offered a ride.  They are from France and speak no English and we speak no French, it is amazing that we were able to get a ride.  The Gardens are spectacular, we ended up getting there at about 10:30 and left at 5:30 on the courtesy shuttle we had tried to use to get there.  While there we met Bob and Brenda from Pandora and had lunch with them.  We are familiar with the boat from his daily calls in to Chris for weather during his trip down.  He came after us and had to deal with some really bad conditions on his trip.  Each day when he checked in we commented that we didn’t want to be out there.  Just a note here on our provisioning: I had my last ice tea at dinner.  I don’t remember how many 12 packs I brought but I am now out.  I do still have diet coke however and we are not running out of anything else.  On Thursday we went in to mail some cards and found out the post office was closed for a Holiday.  No one can tell us what the Holiday is but they are closed.  We did a quick walk up to the cemetery since we could see it from the boat and it looked interesting.  They have a combination of very ornate and fancy mausoleums, a variety of less fancy and just graves with a cross marker outlined in conch shells.  It reminded us of the cemetery’s we visited in New Orleans.  After that we pulled anchor and moved on down the shore.  We stopped at Pigeon Bay since the guidebooks list this as an excellent diving and snorkeling spot.  It is part of the Jacque Cousteau National Park.  Our friends on Syreni were anchored in front of us and while visiting confirmed that the snorkeling was great.  The next day I dropped Cori off to take care of the laundry and I went across to Pigeon Island to snorkel.  Cori does not care for snorkeling so I go by myself but had a good time.  After that I picked Cori up at the laundromat.  Back at the boat and we got things ready to move on.

Saturday morning, the 25th, we pulled anchor and made our way to the islands called The Saints.  They are just off the south shore of Guadeloupe and we would not have to do a check in there.  We had winds in the 20’s and 4-6 foot seas, on the nose as always, so we motored the entire trip.  We were warned that the mooring balls fill up early and so that is why we left early.  We arrived about 2:00 and no mooring were available.  This is a deep anchorage but we found a spot with several others and anchored in 40 feet of water, the deepest we have anchored.  Last year we replaced our anchor chain and installed 200 feet and we used all of it.  We didn’t move overnight but the wake from the ferries rocked us some.  In the morning we put the 15 horse outboard on and went exploring.  We checked out another bay that we were considering and on the way back stopped at Pandora to talk to Bob and Brenda.  There were several moorings free and they convinced us to move onto one.  Back at the boat we pulled anchor and moved to a mooring.  The fee is only 10 euros per day so it is actually a good deal.  We are now much closer to the dock.  We went in to check out the town, it is just like looking at a postcard of a small French village.  We checked out some of the shops, found where to go when we check out and tried to get our phones connected to some Wi-Fi.   We got the phones connected enough to check emails but cannot get a good signal on the boat.  Cori went out with her kayak to check out the beaches for shells and sea glass and hit a beach that no one has walked for a long time and loaded up on seaglass.  We made arrangement with Bob and Brenda on Pandora to rent a golf cart to tour the island so we have seen pretty much all that can be seen by road.   We checked out several beaches and Fort Napoleon.  The fort is in real good condition and the main building is set up as a museum but it is all in French but still interesting.

The weather forecast is not favorable for traveling south so we plan to stay here for a few more days so we will get to see more of the island.

We have a deadline now, the worst thing you can have on a sailboat.  We have committed to being crew on a boat returning to the States in March so we need to get to Trinidad to get Hi Flite ready to be left behind.  It sounded like an adventure we didn’t want to pass up.