Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tucked Away in St. Bart's

While tucked safely away from the steep waves and high winds on the seas, we are enjoying daytime adventures and boat reunions here in St Barth's.
During the days we have walked ALL the beaches, hiked the mountainous path between two towns, eaten conch and mahi mahi at a beachtown bistro, eaten hamburgers at Le Select (alias Cheeseburgers in Paradise), eaten at a waterfront resort restaurant while surfers caught some amazing curls, collected small shells on Shell Beach, taken 4 wheelers and driven all the roads on this small island-- with stops at bars for liquid re-hydration, snorkeled with a turtle and soaked in the sea, read 7 more books, and watched for 10 days a life size pair of Ken and Barbie doll tourists turn their bodies from pale white to a full 360 degree tan. While we saw and experienced this great island they spent their day always standing on the end of the beach for 6-8 hours getting a full body tan. It was incredible how long they stood facing the water and posing so sun touched every part of their bodies. We have never seen such dedication and waste of time all in the same action. Really people, get a life and buy a tanning bed if it is that important to be all around tan! You paid to come here and missed the daytime life here on St Bart's.

Now, on to the night time social life...We arrived with a buddy boat, Windfall (owned by a Swedish couple that we had met in Antigua), and then hosted a reunion on our boat with Mystic Moon who had arrived a few hours after us. What fun to share new friends with old sailing buddies! The following night we were Mystic Moon's guest for wahoo, lobster bisque...Cathy outdid herself once again! I think Don Julio was involved with wine, tequila,and rum as well. Our next celebration was on Windfall. Lena treated us to a great dinner and after dinner Per performed on an acoustic cello, his first after a four month break--he has been playing since the age of 10. With the help of an amplifier, his music filled the anchorage and gave the stars a proper compliment. The pieces were moving but the look on Per's face was the best gift. The next boat event was an afternoon/evening of exchanging info. Mystic Moon told Windfall and us about ports and things north of here, and then we all shared with MM things to do south of here. After the exchange we had popcorn and a movie on Mystic Moon, followed by cake and red wine. The movie was August Rush, what a great film that was to watch! Having come full circle we had a parting ways dinner on our boat--Jammin' Pizza night. Goodbye are never easy, but we are sure we will catch up with Mystic Moon in late April, and Per and Lena we may meet in Sweden or on the East coast before that.
We were anchored in a spot that holds 20 or so boats, so we were surprise when we found ourselves being hailed by another boating couple we know. John and Gilly, from Destiny and the BajaHaHa 2007, were here visiting on Petite Profligate. They dropped anchor, checked out their neighbors and when they saw who their neighbor was, they hollered up a big "Hello." We have not seen them since 2008 when we all were still in Mexico. So, just last night we spent the evening with them and their friend Susan, catching up and swapping stories that helped to make us who we are. This afternoon when we said goodbye to John, Gilly, and Susan I decided we cruisers really need to coin the proper parting term, and it is not "Goodbye." Because, chances are very good that we will run into each other again, if not in this sea perhaps another...So the proper parting term may be "Until our rudders again brush the same waters, here is a hug to hold close to your hearts." That would pretty much sum it all up don't you think?
Well, we will be off to St Martin, maybe tomorrow or maybe we will stay out here on this little island beside St Bart's for a few more days and see who the wind may blow in that we know...it's certainly is a cruiser's life for now.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Antigua Feb 14- March 1st

Antigua is the first island we have seen all 360 degrees around. We started our circle in English Harbour and found it to be full of boats and room for no more. Just around the corner we found Falmouth Harbour where we dropped anchor. Together with Ted and Joan, from Panchita, we checked out Lord Nelson's Boatyard where one can check in to the country. Aged mortar held rocks in place and combined with weathered bricks and timbers to make a solid wall on our left side, while to our right the well maintained trees offered us shade and a perch for song birds. The overall effect was as clear as a painted picture of days long past but not forgotten. Many of the working buildings of the boatyard have been maintained and currently house modern day services to the yachting community. We found the sail loft to be very helpful in supplying us some needed material to repair our sail cover, and the assortment of restaurants were very tempting. However, after so many days of boat time and few opportunities to exercise, we decided to walk further and burn calories before adding new one to our bodies.

We walked away from the Nelson Boatyard and out into the business area of Falmouth. At the taxi stand we talked with some locals who suggested we walk up the back street to the Caribbean Taste Native Restaurant where we had a very tasty Valentine's Day lunch--no beer available but you can buy it down on the main street and bring it up with you...such accommodating people. Our next stop was the shops along the main drag. We walked into a photography shop and drooled over some of the best photos we have seen that truly invoke the emotional response we get when looking out to the sea. Over the next few days we experienced the Mad Mongoose for Happy Hour and internet, Bailey's store for anything we needed, watched the awards for the Hare and Tortoise Swim Events, ate at Life--great pita sandwiches, saw a Tott Club round of rum event, and visited with other boaters like Anna and Hakan, from the Swedish boat Unicorn, who had helped us see and experience so much of Martinique. Weather was going to keep us bound to the island for at lest a week which prompted us to pull anchor and move on to the next anchorage.

Heading to the west we cruised past Carlisle Bay, between two reefs, around Johnson Point, pass Morris Bay, passed Jolly Harbour, and set the anchor down in the back of Five Islands Harbour in 10-12 feet of water. Here we had the bay all to ourselves, with Panchita, and our own private beach to comb. There is a small island near the back and the trees are full of at least three different kinds of nesting birds. During the daytrip we noticed a gentle blend of cacti with palm trees-dry and lush existing together. What a calm piece of water, and a great night of sleep we had there after our final farewell dinner with Panchita.
The next day we were off and headed north and east. We passed by Deep Bay, St John's (which we intended to do by land later), Dickenson's Bay, ducked in to Parham Bay and decided we wanted more rustic scenery and space, and landed out at Great Bird Island. Here we found a small beach, paths to walk, rock islands to explorer, and photographic opportunities along with rock and roll music coming from a partying catamaran. There were two families teaching their kids what a sailing vacation can be. One dad took five kids on an adventure and said, "Water is short, you get one gulp, and only one gulp so save it for when you are hallucinating and about to past out. Now pile into the dinghy and paddle to Hell's Gate where we will search for treasures beyond your imagination." They returned two hours later and the dads got a break. The moms put on music and led the mighty troops into dancing on the deck, bouncing on the trampoline, kids wrapping arms and legs around the mast, over the boom, playing hide and seek in the mainsail cover, and partying like moneys in a zoo--hopping, hollering, and having the time of their lives while making strong memories that will last past this decade. We couldn't help smiling to ourselves and thinking how lucky those kids are to have parents who got what a family vacation should be about. Abandonment of routine and plenty of quality time laughing and playing with parents who haven' forgotten they were kids once upon a time.

We awoke the next morning and the cat had moved on and so did we. We cut around the corner and carefully weaved our way into Nonsuch Bay. We chose the southern entrance, which is narrow, but safer than taking the northern entrance. We found the bay to be somewhat crowded but again there was a great small beach and awesome scenery to enjoy. Kite surfers dominated the beach area and found great gusts to carry them into the surf and just watching them made us contemplate the possibility that 60+ might not be too old to try out this sport. The stars were bright that night and we enjoyed the calm and quiet anchorage to the fullest. In no hurry to move, we ate a lazy breakfast and looked out to where the wind surfers had set their courses the day before. Passing by us were a number of large sailing vessels with fully set sails and teams of crew working the sheets. The 2012 RORC 600 had started. What gorgeous rigs and vessels they have, and what great winds to start this race! Then we noticed a smaller vessel floundering on the reef. A boat had attempted to leave the bay using the northern entry and was in trouble. Three dinghies went to assist but were unable to pull the vessel free, a rescue boat appeared, and also failed to break it free of the coral. Finally a sport fishing vessel arrived and after much effort pulled it off and towed it to Jolly Harbour. Watching a vessel rocking and swaying on a reef is such a mood killer. We all know it can happen to any of us, we all try to deny that it could be us out there on another day, but in reality we all know it can happen to the best of sailors including ourselves. We decided to stay another day where we were and complete some work. In the afternoon we jumped into the water to sooth our souls and limbs after a hard day of working on boat projects.

The next day found us using the southern path to exit the anchorage, and off we went around Friars Head, Half Moon Bay, Willoughby Bay with its rocky entrance, Mamora Bay and its lovely resort, Indian Creek (took pictures of Eric Clapton's mansion), past English and Falmouth Harbours, and we set the anchor down outside Jolly Harbour. The weather report was still predicting high winds but we found this empty beach just inside the start of the channel and on the left where one could anchor. Everyone else had anchored on the right and we wanted some alone time. About 40 minutes later we had six other boats with us. You know that lemming effect--we were the first lemming. A short dinghy ride delivered us to Jolly Harbour, a great grocery store, a pharmacy to replenish our stock of sea sick pills called Sturgeron, and a Budget Marine for parts to complete other boat projects yet to be tackled. What a slice of waterfront paradise that port is for boaters who want to anchor their boat off their front porch. We had a roll and rock night (the kind where pill bottle roll off the counter and wine bottles rock over) and the next morning awoke to breakers breaking about 150 yards ahead of us, a flat calm sea it was not! Carefully we lifted the anchor, gunned the boat into reverse, and made our way back to Falmouth and calmer rolling waters.

Now back to where we started our circumnavigating in Falmouth Harbour, we started to say our "goodbyes" and set plans for our next passage. Our goodbyes are typically last meals and weather checks. A quick trip to Mad Mongoose for great hamburgers and internet, a trip to the ATM, and another internet stop down at Seabreeze on the Antigua Yacht Club end of town. While doing the weather check we started a conversation with a Canadian couple who was headed off the next day on the sailing vessel Tenacious. It is equipped for wheel chair passengers to take part in sailing tasks and learn to love the sea. There appears to be four crow's nests, with lifts, so that they can even take that duty to heart. The girlfriend was looking forward to swabbing the deck, and Russell was just plain psyched to be on the seas. He has traveled many wheel miles around the world but never been put to sea. Another sailor joined in by sharing his favorite weather sites and told us about a pod of whales he encountered off Dominica. Then he pulled up the video he took. It showed the whale about 5 feet from him and that's when he made the wise decision to leave the water to the massive beast. Sperm whales do not mind a bite of meat in their diet.

We were now prepared to sail to St Bart's and buddy boat with Lena and Per from Windfall (another Swedish couple who are heading to Florida). However, they needed to go to St John's and pick up mail. So we all hopped a local bus to St John's. We always try to take at least one local bus trip and get some road time seeing the island from land, speaking with the working class locals, and walking the back street to find the hole in the wall local food eateries (who prepare grandma's favorite recipes with grandma size portions). We asked in the vegetable market for a recommendation and we were told, "Walk up to the big tree, and behind that tree is BB's, you'll eat very good local food, and tell her Glenda sent you." So we walked and found the tree, and it was where two roads met. We didn't see BB's so we asked around and found it. Glenda was right, great goat curry served with salad, scalloped potatoes, rice and beans, and more food than we could eat for 15 EC= $5.00. Now that we were full of great food we went shopping for our fresh foods and then caught a bus. Buying some greens and fruit is always a thrill as we learn about new to us vegetables and fruits. Soursops are in season and a woman on the bus told me how to pick out the best one--make sure they are soft to the touch, very pointy and prickly, not rounded and flatten out. Riding the bus back to Falmouth, I sat with a young girl who was about to start her final school exams. She will need to work for about two years before she can go on to college. There she plans to study politics and become a politician. You find most people have goals and a work ethic who ride the buses, and know it takes hard work to get where they want to be in the future. I hope her plans come true, that she finds her way to the university, and works her way into the hearts of the voters to make things better for her island.

Antigua is a beautiful island with so many easy-to-anchor harbors, friendly people, convenient services and parts for boaters, affordable restaurants, warm water, a large number of snorkeling locales, and all this is doable in a week or less--but two weeks is better. Our only regret is that with the rolling seas and high winds the clarity of the water was less than 6-10 feet so we didn't get to experience the visual gifts of the underwater reefs and see the water life up close and personal.

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