Saturday, December 31, 2011

Getting Ready to Head South

After several months of enjoying the Alps, we are about the head south to Callisto, on Grenada.  We are flying via London, and since our connection into London is at Heathrow, and our connection to Grenada is out of Gatwick, we decided to spend a couple of nights in London and take in a show.

We are bringing lots of electronics with us.   A friend from long ago in Kalamazoo, Melinda Scott, spent many years cruising in the Caribbean, and has since “swallowed the anchor” and is splitting time with her husband Bill between Kalamazoo, Michigan and St. Croix.  She very graciously volunteered to give us her Pactor Modem.  This is a pricey piece of electronics that will allow us to access e-mail over our shortwave radio.  We are extremely grateful for this generous gift.  We also purchased an alternative way to access WiFi from the boat, and this will hopefully improve our connectivity.  Finally, we invested in a Global SIM card for our cellphone, so we will have a single number as we travel through the islands.

The boatyard appears to have made very good progress on our worklist.  The canvas shop asked us to have the mast stepped earlier than planned, so that they could get good measurements for the sun awning we asked them to build.

Packing is going to be a challenge.  In addition to all the electronics, Gretchen is planning to bring a large stash of yarn for knitting and crocheting projects.   We will need to pack some warm clothes for London.  And I guess we should pack some clothing for the Caribbean.

It is less than a week now before we leave, and the excitement is building.  Our daughter, Esther, and her friend, James, are visiting us for the holidays.  This makes the emptying of the refrigerator/freezer a bit more complicated.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A few thoughts on our season in the Caribbean

I will try and put together some notes about individual islands, and post them here over the next few weeks.  For now, here are some general thoughts about the season and our experiences.

- We visited 27 islands in 18 weeks.  More, actually, if you count places like Ile Fourchue off St. Barths, or Ilet a Cabrit in Les Saintes.  Think of it as kind of a "Survey" of the region, or a "Tasting Menu."  Long enough on each island to get a feel for the landscape and people, but not long enough to explore in depth.  In future years, we will likely visit fewer islands, and spend more time on those we do visit.

- We missed only a few islands, notably Barbuda, Montserrat, and Barbados.  Barbuda and Barbados because they were out of our path, Montserrat due to time and the limitations caused by the active volcano.  We would like to visit all three in the future.

- Each island was unique.  We expected to see differences between islands of French heritage and those of British heritage.  These differences are, indeed, very visible.  But even within the groups, the "feel" of the islands, their local culture and attitudes of the people are very different.

- Who ever would have imaged Rastafarians as high-pressure salesmen?  On a few of the islands, the local markets were dominated by Rastas who pushed their wares very strongly.

- In general, shopping was an adventure.  The local markets were great, with good selections of produce.  Quality was usually high, and prices often reasonable (though not always).  Shopping in stores was highly variable.  It depended on a lot of factors, but especially on how big a population the island has.  The larger islands have supermarkets comparable to anything in Switzerland.  On the smaller islands, you might find only a few basics.  You get used to buying, not based on what you need at the moment, but based on what the stores have in stock.

- Two people existing in a small space for months at a time was far easier than we had feared.

- We ate in restaurants much more often than we had expected, but mostly for lunch.  It was good to be off the boat during the day, and to avoid cooking and cleaning up chores.  We didn't like dinghy rides in the dark, and had relatively few dinners out.

- Sailing was uniformly great.  We spent a lot more time hard on the wind than I had expected.  The winds were more often Southeast than Northeast, despite weather forecasts to the contrary.  The prevailing ocean currents also had a significant adverse effect our our sailing direction.  The winds were strong, steady and predictable, except in the lee of large mountains.  We seemed to be "blessed" by overcast skies on many of our passages.  Not as pretty as blue skies, but cooler and less sun exposure.

- Our boat performed flawlessly.  The number of things that broke along the way was very small, and all were very minor.  We were happy with boat speed, and with the motion of the boat through the waves.  We were a bit wary of our autopilot after our experience on the long passage, but it worked like a champ.

- We were very happy with our mix of solar and wind power for charging the batteries.  We are a pretty electricity-intensive boat, with both refrigerator and freezer using lots of juice in the tropics.  Except in a couple of anchorages where we were highly sheltered from the wind, we could keep our batteries full without running the engine.

There's lots more that I can say, but I will save it for another post.  It was a fabulous experience that exceeded all of our expectations.  We are enjoying our time in Switzerland, but both Gretchen and I are very much looking forward to next winter in the Caribbean.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Back In Switzerland

After a miraculously perfect 4-segment air travel experience, and 29 hours of elapsed time, we arrived at our home near Lucerne.  It will take a few days of decompression before we can look back and assess our experience this season on the Caribbean.

Friday, April 22, 2011

End of the Season

We cleared customs from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Clifton Harbor, on Union Island, only stopping for the hour or so that the clearance process required, and then sailed to Hillsborough, on the island of Carriacou.  Carriacou is part of Grenada, and a convenient place to stop on the way down.

Next morning, we started early to make the 40+ mile trip to the southern tip of Grenada.  Prickly Bay is large and well protected, and a great place to do some chores as we prepared the boat for the haul-out.  Lots of picking up, cleaning, putting away.  It was hot, and having the water nearby was wonderful.

Originally, the haul-out appointment was for April 21, with the mast coming out of the boat on April 26.  At the very last minute, Spice Island Marine asked to change the appointment to the 26th, which was inconvenient for several reasons.  We discussed it with them, and finally everyone agreed on April 20.

The process of taking a 14 ton boat out of the water seems difficult, but in fact is pretty easy.  The boatyard has huge, specialized equipment optimized for this.  First a mobile crane lifts the boat out of the water on two large straps.  It then drives away from the water, and puts the boat down on a very specialzed vehicle that is basically just a boat trailer, but a very strong one.  The trailer moves the boat to the storage location, and then sets it down with the keel on wooden supports.  These hold the weight of the boat.  Then a total of 11 jack stands were put in place to keep the boat from tipping over.

We had arranged for Callisto to be stored in a special, very strong, steel cradle for the hurricane season.  The crade wasn't quite ready on our haul-out date (there are LOTS of boats being hauled out around this time), so we were put on jack stands temporarily.  Callisto will be moved to the cradle in a couple of weeks, and then strapped down to special anchors fastened deep into the soil.

We still had quite a number of chores to complete, including putting two coats of varnish on the companionway stairs.  The boom has been removed, and all of the electrical cables from the mast disconnected.  In a few days, the mast will be unstepped, and we will be flying home to Switzerland.

Its been quite a season, and we have had a terrific experience.  A bit wind-blown, but happy.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

As much as we liked St. Lucia, we couldn’t stay long.  Our haul-out date is approaching, and we have to move south.  We spent a night at anchor near a town called Soufriere, with a spectacular view of the Pitons, and then headed for the Grenadines.

The country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is made up of the large island of St. Vincent, and many small islands in the Grenadines.  They are very different.  St. Vincent’s economy is mostly from agriculture.  Some of the residents are resentful of boat people, who seem to them rich and uncaring.  The Grenadines make most of their money from tourists, especially from visiting yachts.  They understand boat people, and are generally very welcoming.

Because of these differences, several of the harbors in St. Vincent have real security threats.  It doesn’t happen often, but boats are robbed, and occasionally people living on boats are hurt by thieves.  Several harbors have fine security, but unfortunately are very deep, making anchoring difficult.  In any case, we decided to sail on by St. Vincent this trip, and went straight to Bequia, one of the Grenadines.

Bequia is a pleasant place, very oriented to boats and boat people.  There is a grocery shop there that has all kinds of specialty foods we’ve missed from home.  But quite expensive:  US$8.00 for a container of cottage cheese, for example.  As usual, we got off the boat here and stretched our legs on a walk.  We had read about a restaurant called Sugar Hill, that is very local and a nice walk up a big hill.  We walked there, about 20 minutes, only to find that they didn’t open for lunch, but only dinner.  So we walked back to the main town, Port Elizabeth on Admiralty  Bay.

We have spent a fair amount of time in the Grenadines over the years, and decided to skip some of the more famous islands like Mustique and Canouan, and sailed to the Tobago Cays.  This is a world-class spot, and a regulated marine park.  You anchor behind a big reef, so visually it looks like you are in the middle of the ocean.  There are several small islands, all of which have great beaches and most of which have excellent snorkeling.  Because of our appointment to haul the boat, we could only stay a couple of days.  But it was great to be back here again.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

St. Lucia

Because David's mother's name is Lucia, the island of St. Lucia has always held a special appeal.  It is great that we can finally visit.

For the first time in a long time, we decided to spend a few days in the marina.  The advantages of this are access to unlimited water and power, and the ease in reaching destinations on land -- you simply hope off the boat and on to the dock.  The disadvantages are cost, sometimes noise, and often less breeze to cool you off.  But we had heard very positive things about the Marina in Rodney Bay, and the price was very favorable, so we decided to give it a try.

We were able to dock Callisto without any drama.  This particular marina has unusually wide channels and unusually wide slips, making the docking process easy.  We like the marina environs, and have eaten in a couple of the restaurants on site.  We have also walked in the area around the marina.  The main road comes by and is very busy, but there are reasonable places to walk in relative safety.

We booked a trip to hike a nature trail to the summit of a mountain called Gros Piton.  It has a sister mountain called Petit Piton.  This was a physically challenging hike for us.  We rode in a taxi for two hours to the trail head.  We climbed with a guide for two hours, ascending more than 2000 feet.  It was steep, and we were in the hot sun for a lot of the time.  A few minutes resting and photographing, then two hours back down.  Going down was actually harder than up.  Less out of breath, but knees and legs got very, very tired.  We were really quiet during the ride back to the marina.  Sheer exhaustion.


We have been away from good internet for a while, and have lots of catching up to do.

Martinique is the last French island we will visit this season.  We had never been there before, and had high expectations.  The other French islands we have visited (St. Barts, Guadeloupe, Isle des Saintes, Marie Galante) were jewels.

Our first stop on Martinique was in the town of St. Pierre.  We had intended to clear customs there.  However, on the day we arrived, about 3:30 in the afternoon, we discovered that the customs office had reduced hours in March, for some reason, and they were already closed.  No worries, there is always tomorrow.

We had an extremely uncomfortable night, because there were quite large waves in the anchorage.  We weren't quite thrown out of bed, but almost.  So, we thought, we can clear customs here, and then move on.  No luck.  There had been a power outage in the night, and the customs office was still without electricity.  The clearance system on the French islands is completely computerized, and without power, no computers.  No possibility of an paper forms, either.

So, we went to the capital of Martinique, Fort de France, and cleared customs there.  It is very informal.   The computer is located in the hallway of a marine equipment store, and the store cashier stamps and signs the forms once printed out.  As long as you didn't change crew, you could clear in and out at the same visit.

Fort de France is an interesting town.  They are trying to drum up cruise ship business, but it is still very much dominated by local residents.  There is a wonderful open-air market, open every day.  We had a surprise in the market, but more about that later.

Unfortunately, every place we tried to visit was closed!  There is a library, designed by Mr. Eiffel himself, that was constructed out of steel in Paris in the 1800's, then dismantled and shipped to Martinique.  Very unique architecture.  But closed for renovations, so we could only see the outside.  Fort de France also has what is supposed to be an excellent pre-Columbian museum.  Also closed for renovations.  Well, let's just stop somewhere for lunch.  We had a few recommendations from the guide book.  The first, we could not find no matter how we looked.  The second we found, but it had been long since closed.  The address of the third restaurant in the local tourist guide was wrong -- wrong street, wrong address -- but we stumbled on it anyway.  But unexpectedly closed for the entire week!

That night, there was another power outage that left the whole waterfront dark.  This didn't feel very safe to us for an evening visit to town.  So we decided to move on the next day.

Our surprise in the market contributed to the decision.  Gretchen had been finishing up a transaction to buy a colorful basket to store shoes on the boat, when she looked up and saw a friend from Lucerne!  Brigitte organizes many nature walks for the International Women's Club of Lucerne.  She had come to Martinique by an interesting route:  she booked a room as a passenger on a container cargo ship.  This ship had left France, stopped briefly in Guadeloupe, and finished in Martinique.  The voyage took 12 days, and sounds both interesting and inexpensive.

We invited Brigitte to join us for the short cruise to Trois Islets, across the bay from Fort de France.  She was very curious about our boat and our cruising lifestyle, and eagerly agreed to join us.  So we met her in Fort de France in the morning in our dinghy.  We took the long way around, in order to give her some experience of sailing, and arrived in Trois Islets a couple of hours later.  We walked through the town (much more charming than Fort de France), and invited her to lunch.  After a pleasant meal, she took the ferry back to Fort de France.

After a couple of nights in Trois Islets, we moved to the village of St. Anne in preparation for our journey to St. Lucia.  We saw a quite fantastic little islet along the way, Diamond Rock:

St. Anne was a lovely little town, and we enjoyed the couple of days we spent there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Dominica (pronounced "doe-min-EEK-a") is not a very famous island.  It has relatively little tourism, not very many or exceptional beaches.  Few resorts.

But it is a fabulous place.  The eastern side of the island gets about 250 inches of rain per year -- enough to form true rainforests.  It is mountainous and rugged, with beautiful scenery everywhere.  Dominica is called "The Fruitbasket of the Caribbean," because they export so much fruit to other islands and vegetables as well.  There are said to be 365 rivers -- one for each day of the year.

We spent a week anchored off the town of Portsmouth.  This village is small, and has a very local flavor, despite the occasional cruise ship stop.  And there is a lot to do.  The area is famous for tours of the Indian River.  We really enjoyed it.  You go upriver in a rowboat for about an hour.  There is lush vegetation, numerous birds of all types, and schools of fish in the river.  At the top is a bush bar, where you can get a drink or have lunch.  We were there about 10:00 am, so we had fresh grapefruit juice.

An important reason for us to be here is to visit with Scott Freiburg.  Scott is the fiance of David's niece, Rachel Grodick.  He is on Dominica attending medical school.  Ross University has run a school here for many years.  It covers the first two years of medical school, which is primarily classroom education.  The students take only very short breaks, and actually complete the program in 20 months, and the final semester is often back in the States.  Once they finish this part of the program, they then go through almost two years of clinical experience in US teaching hospitals.  We were told that the 2000 med students and their professors made up 40% of the Gross Domestic Product of Dominica.

It was great to see Scott, and to meet his roommates.  We went out for a daysail, and had a nice conversation about life, the world, and everything.  We think Scott was happy to see some familiar faces.

Another tourist attraction is the peninsula known as Cabrits.  There is a very well restored fort from British Colonial times and numerous hiking trails climbing up a couple of hundred meters to the tops of twin peaks.  The area around the peninsula is famous for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well.

We arranged a guided tour of the Syndicate rainforest area.  There is a very well marked hiking trail, perhaps a couple of kilometers long through the rainforest.  Our guide, Winston, knew about every tree and bird.  He treated us to many tastes and aromas, from guava and banana to cinnamon and nutmeg.  Grapefruit right off the tree was wonderful.  The area also contains a fabulous waterfall, called Milton Falls, or sometimes Syndicate Falls.  To reach it you have to ford the river twice.  Those of us with non-waterproof shoes had to carry them and go barefoot across the fords.  But the falls were really impressive.

While on Dominica, we volunteered some time through an organization called "Hands Across the Sea."  This is a labor of love by two cruisers, Harriet and TL Linskey.  They have adopted more than 50 schools in the English-speaking Caribbean, trying to help them improve literacy.  Each fall they use donations to purchase books for the schools, and have sent more than 50,000 over the past four years.  They also help create inviting spaces for children to read.  At the Isaiah Thomas Secondary School, where we worked with them, they had built a "Literacy Center" (basically a reading room) last year.  This year, our project was to build new bookshelves for the library.  We spent two days with them, sawing, drilling, assembling, and painting.  It was great to learn more about the educational system in the Caribbean, and to meet some of the students and teachers.  The school was a happy place, a credit to the principle and staff.

Through this project, we also met two other cruisers, Rod and Jill Hearne on Lookfar.  Rod helped with the bookshelf project.  Jill is a retired educational consultant, and she has donated many days of her time visiting schools on Dominica, advising principles and observing teachers, and is trying to design training programs for both principles and teachers that can improve effectiveness.

We have moved our base to the capital of Dominica, Roseau, and will be here for several days.  We are hoping to take some more hikes.  We also plan to meet up with Scott one more time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Smaller Islands

The main part of Guadeloupe consists of two large islands that nearly touch.  The water between them is called a river, in fact, because it is so narrow.

Guadeloupe also has several smaller islands, though, and these have a very different feel.  We were lucky to visit two of them.

Terre de Haut ("High Land") is part of the Isle des Saintes group of islands, south of the main part of Guadeloupe.  This was a lovely island, and relatively developed.  They don't get large cruise ships here, but they do get a few of the sailing clippers, and many tourists visit by ferry.  The town is very much geared to these visitors, and there are lots of restaurants, bars, and boutiques to sample.  We, of course, couldn't wait to get out of town.  The first day, we hiked up the biggest hill on the island, La Chameau.  There is an old building there that is called "Napoleon's Lookout" and the view from there is spectacular.  The hike is mostly on a road, and covers a few miles, but also climbs over 300 meters (1000 ft), so we got a good workout.  The next day we visited a beautifully restored fort, "Fort Napoleon."  There is a cool museum inside, and again fantastic views of sea and islands.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Many of the Caribbean islands celebrate Carnival, and we were lucky to be on Guadeloupe for the event.  Some islands have moved the festivities from the traditional time just before Lent to other dates, often in the summer.  But Guadeloupe has kept the traditional dates.

We didn't have access to a schedule of events, so being in the right place at the right time was a bit hit-or-miss.  But we saw (and heard!) bands, and marchers/dancers, and lots of bright costumes.

It was interesting to compare the festivities here to those for Fassnacht in Lucerne.  The bands have fewer horns and a lot more drums.  Costumes are more traditional and less fanciful, though we did see some roving bands of young people dressed in very fantastic fashion.  We attended the parade in Basseterre, which is the capital of Guadeloupe.  It was really a quite small parade compared to what we are used to in Lucerne.  We aren't sure whether there was a bigger parade that we missed, or whether the big event was the next day in Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe's biggest city.

One interesting thing about Guadeloupe is the great fondness for Madras plaids.  You see them everywhere, in clothing, tablecloths in restaurants, hats.  Very colorful and fun.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Glorious Sail

On Friday, we sailed from Antigua to the Deshaies, Guadeloupe (pronounced "day-ay").  This is almost directly due south.  When we looked at the weather forecast on Thursday afternoon, the winds were predicted from the east -- great, an easy and fast point of sail.  We checked again Friday morning before we left, and the forecast was for east-south-east winds.  Not quite so good, but still OK.  In practice, as we were raising our sails, the wind was from the southeast, which means sailing hard on the wind.  The boat is heeled over, the waves are crashing over the bow -- oh, well.  Luckily, the wind wasn't too strong (about 15 knots), and the waves were very small.  But Gretchen said "You keep promising me a beam reach or a downwind sail, and here we are beating again!"

As the morning went on, the wind became less southeast and more east.  By 10:00 or so, we could ease the sheets on the sails, and flatten the boat out.

The forecast also predicted lots of rain, but all we saw was blue sky and fluffy clouds, at least in our vicinity.

All-in-all, a very wonderful day of sailing.

Deshaies is a fairly small bay.  You clear customs at an internet cafe.  Shops here are open in the morning, then close for a siesta, and then reopen at 3:30 pm or 4:00.  We had to wait for a bit for the internet cafe to open, and used the time to explore the town.

Saturday, we hiked a mile or so uphill to a botanical garden.  This was wonderful.  Extremely well kept, a very large variety of tropical plants, including orchids, cactus, and huge collections of bougainvillea and heliconia, ornamental bananas and palms.  We spent nearly three hours, and then rewarded ourselves with a fancy lunch at the garden's restaurant.

Guadeloupe is officially a department of France, and English speakers are a very small minority.  But everyone is friendly, and we work out the communication somehow.

Tomorrow we will move to the town of Basseterre, on the southwest corner of Guadeloupe.  This is Carnival time, and we hope to catch a bit (but not too much) of the festivities.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moving Along

We really enjoyed Nevis, but it was time to move on.  We are running out of time before we are running out of islands.

The trip from Nevis to Antigua was a long one.  It is only 40 miles as the crow flies, but we had to get around Nevis, and then faced an upwind sail, with an adverse current.  With tacking, we sailed more than 65 miles, and against the current it took us nearly eleven hours.  Luckily we had left near 6:00 am so there was still daylight when we arrived.

We had hoped to pick up a mooring ball at Jolly Harbour Marina, but the only one left was in water too shallow for our keel.  We anchored outside the marina (no problem), and then moved inside the next day.  At Jolly Harbour, for some reason, the customs officials insist that you bring your boat to their dock to check in.  This is the only place we have ever had to do this.  We gather that this is the only place on Antigua where you have to do this.  Luckily, we had no drama coming to the dock.  There were a couple of boats full of Swiss people already on the dock, and with many hands to help the docking went smoothly.

We picked up a mooring, and then went into the marina to explore.  There is a very good grocery store here, which is a luxury.  On our way back to Callisto, Gretchen noticed a green-hulled boat, and said "Isn't that another Outbound?"  Sure enough, it was.

It was Farasha, an Outbound 44 owned by Tom and Irma Brinkley.  We stopped and chatted for a few minutes, and they invited us to come over for snacks and cocktails in a couple of days.  We did that, and had a very pleasant couple of hours talking about boats and Outbounds.  Tom acts as an Outbound sales representative in Florida.  He had actually been on Callisto, working at the Annapolis boat show.  Farasha is Outbound 44 hull number 3.  It was fun seeing how the boat had evolved in the 40+ additional boats that Outbound has built since then.  Tom told us that a contract for hull number 46 has been signed, so the 10-year-old design is still going strong.

I had to spend some quality time in the coffee shop, using their wireless to send 2010 tax information to the accountants that my prior company has hired to complete our returns.  This is a left-over from our expatriate status, and 2010 is the last year that we get this service.  It is always a big hassle to collect and enter all of the required data, and it was made even more complicated this year, because the company has changed the accounting firm that provides this service.  Oh well.

We were very tired of sitting in a marina after this, and took advantage of a sunny day to sail over to Carlisle Bay.  This is a lovely spot on the south side of Antigua, though the water is not particularly calm.  There is a big resort here, and lots of water sports.  Fun to see beginning and expert wind surfers and Hobie catamaran sailors.  There was quite a lot of wakeboarding toward evening, and the wakes from the big powerboats shook our cocktails for us.

We are expecting rain tomorrow, and are planning to move to Falmouth Harbour today.  Then a day of boat chores, clear out of customs, and a long sail to Guadeloupe on Friday.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Leeward Islands

We have had very limited internet access the past couple of weeks, so no chance to post.  We are currently moored near a restaurant on Nevis that spills wifi into the harbor, so we're back online again.  Lots of news to catch up on.

Saba was a very interesting island.  There isn't any real harbor or place to anchor, but they have put in place several moorings for visiting boats.  We had read, and heard, that there were significant waves affecting the mooring field, which would cause the boat to rock back and forth.  In fact, we were lucky and had very little rocking and rolling.  The winds were very strong, though, whistling around the little island and making a racket all night.  The worst part of the experience was a very long dinghy ride from Callisto to the dock, with enough wind and waves to ensure we were very wet when we arrived.

The island of Saba is more than 3000 feet high (nearly 1000 meters), and only a couple of miles across.  The sides are steep cliffs, and there are only a couple of places where you can land a tender and get onto the island.  This island was settled by the Dutch around 1600, and is extremely picturesque.  There are about 1400 residents, not counting 400 medical students.  All of the homes were very well kept, with nice gardens and landscaping.  We visited on a Wednesday, which happened to be the day that a ship came to deliver supplies to the various grocery stores.  There was a steady stream of customers in the stores, trying to shop while the selection was good.

From Saba we went to Statia, which is bigger but quite similar in topography.  This anchorage was very rolly, but we got more or less used to it.  We had lunch in a restaurant near the harbor, and struck up a conversation with a man named Tom.  He is an American who has moved to the island, semi-retired but still working from there.  Tom invited us to dinner, which we readily accepted.  We had a great conversation with him, and a Dutchman named Kaes, about life on the island and the challenges there.  His house was absolutley spectacular, with a million-dollar view.

After a couple of days on Statia, the rolling was getting old, so we were glad it was time to move to St. Kitts.  We had arranged to meet our friends Don and Pat from Williamston, Michigan there for week.  They were happy to escape the Michigan winter for a bit.

Basseterre, the main town of St. Kitts, is even more rolly than Statia, but we had arranged to stay in a marina there.  This was a close call, since the original price quote we received was a ridiculous $465 per night.  It turned out the correct price was $35 per night, much more reasonable!  The marina is not very fancy -- basically a concrete bowl with some wooden finger piers.  No amenities.  Even the restrooms were an extra $4 per day, and they had no hot water.  However, the water was calm, and the location is terrific.

St. Kitts lives and dies with Cruise Ship traffic.  There is a big dock, and immediately adjacent is a large area of shops and restaurants.  When a ship is in, the town is chock full of passengers (mostly bored, I think), and all the shops are open.  On a day with no cruise ship visiting, it is basically a ghost town.

The main part of town is a bit better, but still very dependent traffic from the ships.

We took a long taxi tour of the island, and saw a few sites.  The highlight was the fort on Brimstone Hill.  This was built by the British as their main fortification in the Caribbean.  A restoration has been completed to a very high standard, and this is a wonderful piece of history available for viewing.  This is a very large place -  more than 1000 people lived there in its heyday.

One day, we had the taxi take us to a beach and we spent the day swimming and hanging out at the beach bar.  Very relaxing.

By Thursday, we had had more than enough of Basseterre.  We left the marina and sailed to Ballast Bay.  What a contrast!  Quiet, rural, and peaceful.  On Friday we dinghied over to the shore to look around.  It was very rocky, with quite a few interesting shells mixed in.  We walked along the shore, and saw the remains of a road heading over the hills.  In order to get to the road, we had to cross a low area.  Big mistake.  It was soft, black, sticky mud.  David had managed to get lucky and cross without sinking into the mud.  Don and Gretchen had more problems, but poor Pat sunk in up to her knees and almost lost a shoe.  Then we had to go back!  We found some rocks to make a stepping stone path.  Luckily the washing machine on board Callisto was able to get the black mud out of Pat's clothes.

On Saturday it was time for Don and Pat to return to the states.  We had arranged for a taxi to meet us in White House Bay and take them to the airport.  It was great fun having old friends to share our cruising experience with (and the nightly bridge tournament was a bonus).

Monday, February 7, 2011

What a wonderful part of the world

We spent longer than we had planned on Anguilla, it was a very nice and comfortable place to be.  We moved along to St. Barthelemy, known everywhere as St. Bart's, and have been here for 10 days.  This is also a very cool place to be, a French island with a lot of visiting superyachts, but still quite laid back and friendly to cruisers.  We spent several days in the harbor outside Gustavia, then moved to the St. Bart's Marine Park, first in Anse de Columbie, and then to Ile Fourchue.  These are small bays that have only a few mooring balls installed, and usually not all were even in use at night.  Great snorkeling and excellent hiking on shore.  Ile Fourchue is a prototypical desert island.  There used to be goats there, but they ate every bit of vegetation, including the cactus.  The goat population crashed, and the last few were removed a few years ago.  Vegetation on the island is clearly making a comeback, but it is still an eerie and moon-like scene.

After the Marine Park, we returned to Gustavia to get a weather report and to plan our next passage.  We want to visit Saba, but this can only be done when the weather conditions are favorable.  We ended up staying a couple of extra days in St. Bart's (no hardship!), and are planning to make the 30-mile passage early tomorrow.

We will spend only a couple of nights on Saba (weather permitting).  We have to be in St. Christopher's (St. Kitts) by Saturday to meet our friends Don & Pat.  Not sure yet if we will stop on the island of St. Eustatia first, or go directly to St. Kitts.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Just a short hop to the island of Anguilla.   We had a wonderful time in St. Martin, and truly enjoyed the gastronomic pleasures there.  There is a morning radio chat for cruisers that is organized by one of the service providers on the island (a laundry), and that is a great way to find out more about the island from a cruiser's perspective.

Anguilla is a very different kind of island, low hills and very dry.  We were here briefly several years ago, and plan to take the time for more land explorations this trip.  It is expensive (in fees) to venture out of the main harbor, so we will base the boat here throughout our stay.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wind Generator

We received the generator while in Green Cay Marina in St. Croix, but didn’t have a chance to install it until arriving in St. Martin.  This was a fairly extensive project, requiring about a day and a half to complete.  The least-fun part was routing two heavy wires from the back of the boat to the batteries.  David had to climb into many nooks and crannies to get them where they needed to go.  Raising the mounting pole with the heavy wind generator on top was also a challenge.  Thank goodness for blocks and tackle.

So far we are very satisfied with the performance.  We have made a bit more power than we have used, each day since the installation.  This includes high-energy-use days when we ran the washing machine and water maker.  If we encounter weather with cloudy skies and light winds, we will still have to use the engine for charging, but that should be far less often than previously.

Passage to St. Martin

Well, this was every bit as much of an uphill bash as we had expected.  Winds were a little lighter than expected, and from a less-favorable direction, so the trip took 24 hours instead of the hoped-for twenty.

This was the first overnight passage with just the two of us.  The boat was great in these conditions, but the boat motion going upwind is always rougher, and the waves offshore were plenty big.  We planned three-hour watches, but neither of us slept much during our off-watch period.

David used his standard seasickness prevention strategy, which is meclizine (Bonine and other brands) taken several hours before departing, and repeated every 12 hours instead of the recommended 24 hours.  On our last passage, Gretchen did not like the way meclizine made her head feel, so she decided to try ginger capsules this trip.  This was a mistake.  She got quite seasick, and finally ended up hugging the leeward rail for a few minutes.  On the other hand, she functioned amazingly well even while feeling terrible, when the boat needed her help.

The winds were quite strong (ca. 20 knots), so we sailed with a single reef in the mainsail and our smaller jib.  We ended up tacking four or five times altogether.  It seems like we had more than the usual amount of trouble with sheets getting caught on our dinghy (on the foredeck) or the whisker pole.  That meant going forward in bouncy conditions to clear them – definitely not fun at night while bashing and crashing along.  We always wore life preservers with a harness, and were always tethered to the boat. 

When dawn came, it was a relief.  The sailing isn’t really any easier during the day, but it seems less stressful.  By about 10:00 am we were still 20 miles from St. Martin, and were making very slow progress due to wind and an adverse current.  We finally gave up on sailing and turned on the motor for the rest of the journey.  A lot of people motor the whole way from St. Croix to St. Martin, so we felt pretty good about sailing as far as we did.

We dropped anchor in Marigot harbor at just about 1:00 pm, 24 hours after our departure.  We were tired, but not through yet.  We hoisted the dinghy into the water, attached the outboard motor, and went into town to clear customs.  However, customs closes at noon on Saturday, and doesn’t open until Monday morning.   We grabbed a bite at a restaurant near the dock, and then went back to the boat to rest.

In all, we think this was a very successful passage for our first double-handed overnight.  It certainly reinforced our desire to avoid long upwind sails when we can.  Hopefully, none will be required for the rest of the winter.