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.