Friday, April 25, 2008

History Lessons in Falmouth Harbor – Captain’s View

We left Jolly Harbor after checking into Antigua and sailed about 12 miles to Falmouth Harbor. The anchorage here is jam packed, but we have found a premium spot right in front of the marina, next to our friends Ian and Tracy on Loon.

The Antigua Yacht Club is hosting the 21st annual Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. The history lesson began by looking at the 70 classic yachts that are competing in the regatta. They are fantastic. Two of the four remaining America’s Cup J class boats are here: Velsheba and Ranger.

Ranger won the cup in 1937. She is a sleek, 136 foot steel-hulled wonder.

The craftsmanship that goes into restoring and maintaining these yachts is remarkable.

The crews are constantly polishing, varnishing or repairing something all the time so they are in Bristol condition and the owners and crew love to show them off at this event.

The town was buzzing with activity. Owners, crew members and support staff are prepping the boats for the regatta, while fans and cruisers mingle among them. In the evenings, bands and parties hosted by the Regatta sponsors are in order. The whole affair has an air of casual class and elegance about it. We even saw the British royal family yacht docked up at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina.

At the marina, there is a grocery store where you can dingy to the front door. Due to the regatta the store opens at 6:30 am. Every morning during our stay at Falmouth Harbor, I dinghied in while everyone aboard the Adamo was still sleeping and bought fresh baked bread and homegrown tomatoes for breakfast.

On race day we headed out of the harbor on Loon (47 Hylass) to watch the jockeying for position at the starting line.

Ranger and Velsheba displayed their racing pedigree. While all the remaining boats in there class were on a beam reach heading for the starting line, the two J boats were close hauled running parallel to the line. Then they tacked just behind the line right before the starting gun went off. They were ahead 4 to 5 boat lengths within the first 60 seconds of the race and never looked back. As Ian put it: “It was brilliant!”

The following day, we took the boys on a field trip to English Harbor (which has been fully restored as a museum) for the next history lesson.

English Harbor was of great strategic importance to Britain in the 18th century. It served as a dockyard for the British navy during a time when the country was at war protecting its interests in the Caribbean. At the time, the sugar producing islands of the Caribbean generated vast wealth for Britain and were the center of the lucrative Triangle of Trade. The boys saw how difficult it was to keep the massive ships in working order and afloat. Ships had to be careened every few months to dry the wood and paint the hulls to prevent wood worms from eating through the wooden hulls.

That evening the history lesson continued. Susan’s mom brought down several DVD movies, one of which was a Marylyn Monroe movie: “Some Like It Hot”. I was shocked to find out that the boys had never even heard of her. So we told them who she was and proceed to watch the movie. Phil was not thrilled about it to begin with because the movie was in black and white and it was “old”. I did catch him laughing throughout the film, so I guess it couldn’t have been that bad.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

St. Barth and Nevis - Captain's View

The wind continued to blow for nearly a week. The gusts were north of 40knts and forced the closure of the drawbridges leading in and out of the lagoon at Simpson Bay. All of the boats anchored and docked there were stuck for days with no exit. Inter-island ferries quit running. We were all in the same predicament waiting out the blow.

Doug and Phil used the opportunity to get quite a bit of home school done, as well as testing out the Open-Bic in high winds.

Finally on April 7th the winds died down enough to make the crossing to St. Barth. With reefed sails Adamo beat east again over the short distance (14 miles) to the small French island. We stopped for lunch at Ile de la Fourche, a national park belonging to St. Barth. It was a nice place to get out of the wind and waves.

We fixed a Pina Colada after lunch and sat on the foredeck soaking in the view of the deserted rocky island. Sea turtles were everywhere and were not shy about hanging around to check us out.

We reached St. Barth in the after-noon and cleared into the country. Phil and I went ashore to go to the customs office. The minute I set foot into the customs office, I knew we would like it here. The typical island customs office is a dingy building with officers whose people skills leave something to be desired. Also it seems that pens are always in short supply. We now bring our own to avoid the glare from the officer when we ask to borrow his. St. Barth’s customs office was in a building which looked like a water-front bank. The interior decor was reminiscent of an investment bank. Pens were provided with a smile. Customs forms were short and did not ask for your address or passport numbers on four different forms. It was clear that the island caters to the boating crowd.

St. Barth’s history is unique among the Caribbean islands. It was never settled, and as such does not have an indigenous population. The French began to develop it in a “chic French” style with a laidback island flare.

The infrastructure is modern and very French. Little caf├ęs sprinkle the waterfront sidewalks, interspersed with designer shops and French bakeries. The docks are packed with super yachts.

It has become our favorite island on the trip so far.

On my birthday Susan baked me a birthday cake and no we did not bother with candles.

I’m getting to the age where it would melt the cake or be a fire hazard on board! That evening the Adamo crew went to dinner at one of the marina-front restaurants. The French cuisine was exquisite. Rare steaks all around topped off with a chocolate cake and banana rum for dessert. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate.

Susan made a terrific discovery in St. Barth: red wine in a juice box. What a great invention.

While we were in St. Martin, we were surfing on Christian’s Blog Site. He is aboard the Christa that Doug crewed on early in the adventure from the Bahamas to the Turks and Caicos. He is spending hurricane season in Puerto Rico. On his blog we saw a comment from Loon with whom we had lost touch. Ian and Tracy from Loon were our partners in crime in the DR with the crazed taxi driver and the horseback riding to the Limone waterfalls. Sue contacted them by email. They are in Antigua and will haul out there in the end of April for hurricane season. We adjusted our plan so that we can spend some time with them before they leave to England for the summer.

We set sail from St. Barth after having spent only two days there for St. Kitt’s. We did promise ourselves that we would return for a longer stay on our quaint island discovery. The sail to St. Kitts was pleasant. We were heading south for a change enjoying a beam reach. St. Kitts and Nevis are two islands comprising one country. Both were formed by volcanoes and have an almost mythical look to them. The peaks of the volcanoes form there own atmospheric conditions which causes clouds to “kiss” the top of the island, a cloud that just will not dissipate. It is a remarkable sight.

We checked in at St. Kitt’s in Basseterre. The process was painful. We had to meet with Customs, Immigration and the Port Authority. We spent two hours waiting and filling in forms. When it was all said and done, the immigration officer went home before we had a chance to complete his forms. We were asked to come back in the morning at 9:00 am. We were prompt for our meeting only to find out that no-one from immigration had shown up. We were now directed to the police station in town. Off we went to town to meet with our immigration contact. Once at the police station he inspected our papers and gave us his approval by stamping our passports. We were free to go.

Basseterre is a cruise ship port. The entire port area was built on ground that was dredged from the channel created for the ships. The buildings are new and are in sharp contrast the run down buildings in old Basseterre. We have determined that the people in the cruise ship ports are not nearly as friendly as in other parts. The passengers provide needed cash inflows to the local economy, but in turn create a big city, pushy attitude.

We left Basseterre for a secluded anchorage on our way to Nevis.

Nevis is a smaller island about two miles south of St. Kitt’s. We went ashore in Charles Town to find a small city, the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton. The people were very friendly. It was not long before we were invited to have a beer with the locals. We discovered that everyone on Nevis has a nickname. We met Fish and Pass. No one really knew what the nicknames meant but they all live by them.

The following morning we pushed on to Antigua to find Loon. We were beating east again. But we were comforted by the fact that Antigua is about as far east as you can go. So it should get easier from here.

Adamo sailed into Antigua after nine hours at sea. We were glad to have arrived and were starved because the seas were too rough to eat lunch. The boys went our too look for Loon while Sue and I cooked. Incredibly, Loon was in the same anchorage and had just arrived from Barbuda. We made plans to meet after dinner.

The Adamo crew dinghied over to Loon at around 7:00pm. The beers started flowing and so did the stories. Sailors usually are early to bed, but that night we were up past 12. We think we may have been a little loud based on the stares Ian got from his neighbor in the morning as well as the loud music which began at daybreak! Needless to say, it was great to see them again and get caught-up on each others adventures.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Waiting it out in Philipsburg - St. Martin - Captain's View

The Adamo has been at anchor for three days now in Great Bay. Other boats have sought shelter here from the 30+ knot winds as well. According to one of the mega yacht captains, this has been the worst year he has ever experienced due to the stronger than usual winds.

The horseshoe shape of Great Bay normally makes it a good anchorage to sit out a blow. But, it is not perfect. The winds have whipped the seas into such a furry that sea swells are finding their way into the bay.

Picture this: the ocean waves are coming from the East. The opening for Great Bay is from the West. In order to get swells into the bay, the ocean waves must bend 360 degrees as they wrap around the island (the doppler effect). The swells in the bay are about two to three feet. No great shakes . . . but, the wind is so strong that it is causing the anchor rode to stretch and then pull back in. Every once in a while, the wind stretches the anchor rode tight and a swell hits the stern at the same time causing the boat to lunge forward like a super sized sling-shot. There is no warning of when it's going to happen. Who ever is standing at the time goes flying.

The boys have been using the time to push ahead in home school. Phil is almost done. Doug is banging out one subject at a time. He has completed geometry and psychology and is working on chemistry. I know they will both be very happy to be done for the year.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

St. Martin - Captain's View

We waited for our weather window on the eastern most end of Virgin Gorda. It’s a 95 mile trek east to St. Martin. We were all set for another slog fest heading into the wind and waves (which are nearly always coming from the east due to the trade winds). We prepped the boat for the passage and headed out in the morning at 7:00am. We worked our way east. When we hit the passage the waves and wind were higher than predicted and we were beating into it against the current as well. Our speed over ground was 4 mph. 95 miles is a long way to go at 4mph! We aborted after two hours and headed back to Virgin Gorda. By 1pm the winds calmed and shifted slightly to the north. We tried again. This time we were making 7.5 mph. Much better.

During the crossing, we saw a tall ship sail past the Adamo. What a sight.

We arrived in St. Martin at 2:00 am and poked around a couple of anchorages until we found one that we felt comfortable approaching in the dark. We hit the hay at 4:00am. Another long day of sailing.

The next day we went to check into the country. The island is split between the French and the Netherlands. We chose the French side because Susan and I speak French and because the cost of clearing customs is about 1/3 of the cost vs. the Dutch side. The customs official was very nice and told us about several places we should visit. One beach he recommended to Doug was Orient Beach. He also suggested he leave the parents behind on that trip. Well, now we were all interested. We rented a car and toured the island. Orient Beach was definitely on the list. When we got there, it was clear to us why the customs official had recommended that Doug ditch the parents. It’s a clothing optional beach.

As it turns out, the entire French side of the island seams to be clothing optional. Our crowded anchorage in Marigot, is sprinkled with French and Swiss boats whose crew runs around on deck naked as a jay bird! As Sue puts it, she has seen more willies here than she has seen in her entire life. So what is the verdict? Most all of the people we have seen should keep there clothes on. In fact the kids were grossed out by the “old naked people”. And that is all I have to say about that.

The food in St. Martin is excellent. We have been eating like the French: escargot, croissants, baguettes and cheeses; red wines and even a Cuban cigar.

On the second day the boys and I went exploring in a fort built by the French in the 18th century. The fort was built to defend Marigot from British privateers.
On a placard in the fort you can read that the French are still proud of the fact that they defended the city from the British, capturing them (with the help of the Dutch) with out suffering casualties. “Only one man was hurt, but he recovered in 6 days, and the British did not even manage to steal a single coffee bean!” Talk about holding a grudge.

We ran into Peter and Wendy on Keesja II. They had checked-in on the Dutch side, about a 10 minute dinghy ride away. It was great to see them again since our last encounter back in Nassau in November.

St. Martin has several marine stores which are well equipped. We took the opportunity to stock up on items which have been hard to find on other islands. We also decided to retrofit the Adamo with storm boards to cover the large salon windows should we find ourselves in rough seas again. The windows are the weak-link in the construction of the boat. If the boat is tossed on its side, it would be possible to blow out a window which would become a major problem at sea. For now the boards reside under the bunk mattresses. But it is a good feeling to know that we have them should we ever need them.

From here our plan is to head to St. Barts. The island has an interesting history and is unique in terms of the demographics of its population. We’ll post our adventures from there soon.

Virgin Gorda, First Mate's View

After a great time on Peter Island we motored to Virgin Gorda to the Baths.

We arrived very early as planned because they have mooring balls that are first come first serve and you are not allowed to anchor. We dinghied in and began exploring the massive boulders which were formed as a result of volcanic lava that eroded between the granite boulders. They are amazing because they look like someone just threw them down and they landed every which way. The water runs into the crevices and forms the “baths.”

When we arrived we were pretty much alone, but by the time we left it was full of other boaters and tourists who had arrive by land.

We then headed to Spanish Town, VG. The anchorage there was rolly, but we wanted to stay there because it was Carnival. Carnival lasts for four days nonstop. They had bands playing very loud island music and lots of food booths, etc. The locals told us about a concert that was to be at the school grounds that night. So after a late dinner, Mike, Phil, and I (Doug opted for sleep as it was 10pm) ventured into town and got a taxi to the concert. There was a long line already formed and the entrance was guarded by armed police who were scanning people with wands as they entered. We were a little apprehensive; however, with the police presence and the security measures we felt it would be okay. We waited for the bands to start along with around 4000 of our closest native friends. We were right in front of the stage, so close in fact that a comedian referred to us as the ones with the blue eyes. Bmobile was the promoter of carnival so they were giving away bandanas, back packs and cell phones. During the show they would toss 3 backpacks with cell phones in them into the crowd. So we three inconspicuous, blue-eyed people spread out to increase our odds of getting a backpack. Mike being as tall as he is reached out and grabbed one then handed it off to Phil who crouched over it to protect our prize. It was our lucky day! We got a cell phone! We then proceeded to party with our new friends until 3am . . . which about killed us the next day!

After visiting several other anchorages we have determined that the BVI’s are clearly overwrought with charter boats and tourists making anchorages crowded and congested. Maybe we were spoiled in the Bahamas with the pristine nature of things! On the other hand each island down in the Caribbean chain has its own unique personality and European flavor which attracts the cruising crowd. We hope as we continue our journey that it will not be quite as crowded as it has been with all the charter boats.