Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical

Chapter 17

Our Cruising Log
Part 4

St. Martin to the Tobago Cays


See the comments on our cruising log at the start of Chapter 14

My comments to this letter were made in June 2003.

LETTER 4

 May 24, 1992

 

"Down Time"

 

Lat. 12o38'N Lon. 60o22'W

 

 

Dear Family and Friends,

 

Since you last heard from us (January 7, 1992) we have been to many islands and many countries.  Here's the list: Anguilla; Saba and Statia (part of the Netherlands Antilles); St. Kitts and Nevis; Monserrat; Antigua; Guadeloupe and Isles des Saintes (part of France); Dominica; Martinique (part of France); St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Our currency has changed from US dollars to French francs to Eastern Caribbean dollars and back several times.

 

When last you heard we were in the St. Martin/St. Barths area.  We had several sets of visitors there and actually made six trips between St. Martin and St. Barths.  Although the distance is only 12 miles, these varied in conditions from flat calm with no wind to one with 32 kts. in which we broke a shackle on the main outhaul (part of the mainsail for you non-sailors).

 

We discovered a new resort in St. Martin (Port de Plaisance) which had moorings for $6 per night.  With this you got to use all the resort facilities (swimming pools, health spa, tennis, showers) including the limo!  We used the limo to pick up Diane at the airport (she made a quick trip back to the States in February), to go grocery shopping and even to take our propane tanks to be refilled.

 

Speaking of the propane tanks, here's a story you will enjoy: While in St. Thomas Jim had painted both 20 lb. propane bottles bright red as they were beginning to rust.  When we took them to be filled in St. Martin we were told that they could not be filled because they were red!  After much discussion we learned that some other propane outfit on the island had rental bottles which were red and the place we were at assumed our bottles were from that other place.  Jim asked the manager what kind of car he drove and what color it was.  We were told it was a white Honda.  Jim then asked the manager if the car were painted red would it become a Toyota.  This logic seemed to get through to him and he filled our bottles.

 

Our $6 mooring at Port de Plaisance also got us a trip on their launch over to Anguilla.  This island used to be part of St. Kitts and Nevis but they had a mild revolt in the 70's and are now an independent country.  This is all recorded in a hilarious book, The Mouse that Roared, for you literary types.

 

On March 1 we left St. Martin and sailed to Saba.  Saba is a volcano which rises straight out of the sea.  We spent five days there on moorings put down by the Saba Marine Park.  We made several dives and explored the island.

The Saba story is even better than that.  The water even close to the shore is very deep.  It was 70 feet deep where our mooring was.  We made contact on the VHF with a dive shop on the island and made arrangements for them to bring out fresh air tanks each morning as they took the first group of tourists diving.  They picked up the empty tanks from the day before.  Each day the park warden would come by to collect our mooring fee and take our garbage ashore.

From Saba we sailed to Statia.  Dutch pirates are supposed to have hidden in a cave a million pieces of eight here in 1717.  A subsequent earthquake sealed the cave and it has never been found.  This is a really sleepy place for any of you that want to "get away from it all".  It is so sleepy that in two days we could not even find the customs and immigration official to check in.  It is also one of the rolliest anchorages we have ever seen.

 

Boy was it ever rolly!  The problem was that we had waves coming from two directions at once.  We finally got a stern anchor out to hold the bow into the worst of the waves.  Several years ago, they built a breakwater to solve this problem.

 

Next we went to St. Kitts and Nevis (two islands, one country).  Here we rented a car with Robert and Lynda Rankin from "Adrilyn" with whom we had been sailing since St Martin.  We had lunch at one of the old plantations and had such delicacies as flying fish.  Nevis has one of the prettiest beaches we have seen on the trip and a brand new Four Seasons Hotel right on it.

 

Now I see in the latest SSCA Bulletin that there is a marina on Nevis and the economy has switched so much from agriculture to tourism that they are saying that 2003 may be the last sugar cane harvest.

 

Montserrat was completely destroyed in Hurricane Hugo and much has not been rebuilt.  The island was settled by Irish and many of the islanders still speak with an Irish accent.  As we were there just before St. Patrick's day, the place was hopping.  We only stayed two days as there are really no good anchorages.

 

Now of course you know that what Hugo didn’t get, the volcano did.

 

Between St. Kitts and Montserrat is the “Kingdom of Redondo”.  This is really just a big rock of an island (maybe a few acres) that no country seems to claim.  It’s apparently a big deal for amateur radio folks to go ashore and broadcast from there.

 

We did have a sailing event between Kitts and Montserrat.  The seas were quite rough and the shackle on the main halyard broke.  Well, of course that had to be fixed and the only way to fix it was for Jim to go to the top of the mast in the bosuns chair to retrieve the halyard.  With no main sail to stabilize the boat, the top of the mast was swinging in an arc of about 16 feet to each side.  So up Jim went and fixed the problem.  To this day he does not remember anything about the event!  Must have been really scary on top of that mast!

 

Next on our agenda was Antigua or "Disneyland for Sailors".  It was here that Admiral Nelson had the headquarters for his Caribbean fleet in English and Falmouth Harbors.  (They are side-by-side, separated by an isthmus).  All the old dockyard buildings have been converted into shops, restaurants, bars, etc. and the entire area is a national park. It seems some bar in the Dockyard has a happy hour every night so there is always a party.  We traveled to St. Johns (the capitol) several times by native bus.  We took the opportunity to get our Venezuelan visa here since they are required before we arrive in that country.  Jim's daughter, Lauren, came to visit us on her Spring Holidays.  The biggest deal of the year here is Antigua Race Week (last week in April) when yachts from all over the world come here to race.  We didn't stay for it but it looked like it was going to be some party.

 

If you ever get to Antigua, be sure to go to the pan (that’s steel drum)concert on Sunday afternoon at Shirley Heights.  Shirley Heights is a fort named for a Major Shirley that overlooks English Harbor.  We heard the best pan music there of the whole trip (and that includes Trinidad).

 

The happy hours nearly did us in.  By now Jim had the full beard and pony tail you see in the pictures and at one of the happy hours a free sample of the local ganja was slipped into his hand. Rum and gin were the drinks of choice (remember the British navy?) and you got about six ounces of either for $.70.  We left Antigua because our livers couldn’t take any more.

 

Our next stop was Guadeloupe and we were actually able to sail the entire 40 miles!  All our other passages since leaving the States have been hard on the wind and motor sailing was the best we could do.  We spent very little time in Guadeloupe and would like to return there sometime.  Our passage from Guadeloupe to Isles des Saintes was very rough.  We encountered a water spout and winds to 35 kts.  We were disappointed in "the Saintes".  We had heard so much about them that we were expecting something spectacular.  We've seen many nicer places and the Saintes are mobbed with day tourists from Guadeloupe every day.  Our dinghy decided to spring a leak here.  We patched it at the next island.

 

Dominica was next on our travels.   This is an independent member of the British Commonwealth.  Here was the first place we ran into "boat boys".  These are much maligned people in the sailing lore and publications.  These "boys" are supposed to be little short of thieves.  They are supposed to damage the topsides of your boat with their boats.  They are supposed to pester you constantly.  We have decided to set the record straight at least as far as our experiences go.  In the first place, these are not "boys".  They are mostly 20 -35 years old.  They exist (as far as we have discovered) in Dominica, St.  Lucia, St.  Vincent and the Grenadines.  As you approach an anchorage one of them will approach you in his native-built wooden boat powered by a large outboard.  He identifies himself by name and says he will stop by after you are anchored.  After you are anchored, he comes back and offers all sorts of services (ice, fruits and vegetables, bread, trips, etc.)  Each day you are there he will come back and see if you need anything.  A single "no thank you" is enough to send him away.

 

 

In Dominica we had a "boat boy" take us on a trip up the Indian River. The river is so shallow the "boy" cannot use his engine and must row his heavy wooden boat up stream with 2 to 6 tourists aboard.  In places he must get out and push or pull the boat over shallows.  All this for $8 per person!

 

We also encountered the US Army in Dominica.  It seems some Missouri Reserve unit was spending their two weeks of camp building a sports facility for the locals.  Apparently this happens in all the islands down here.

 

Martinique.  This is the first of the Windward Islands.  Our first stop here was in St. Pierre which was the capitol until it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902.  Van Gogh spent some time in Martinique on his way to the South Pacific, and for you Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall fans, it is the setting for “To Have and To Have Not”.  After a few days in the sleepy fishing village of St. Pierre we moved down the coast to Fort de France.  A trip to the US Consulate was necessary here to get more pages in Jim's passport!

 

On the sail down the west coast of Martinique we found ourselves surrounded by a school of dolphins.  There must have been hundreds of them.

 

We had a very calm day when we left Martinique for St. Lucia and had to motor the whole way.  Not a whitecap in sight!  Our first stop was Rodney Bay where we spent the first night at a dock since leaving St. Martin over two months before.  We spent two solid days cleaning the boat.  Next we moved down the coast to Marigot, a very pretty protected bay.  Next came the Pitons.  These are two mountains rising over half a mile right on the edge of the island.  The anchorage is spectacular since you anchor right under the mountains.  Here the "boat boys" are invaluable as you must anchor in 70 feet of water. The "boat boys" take a stern line ashore and tie it to a palm tree. Ours then came back and sold us 2 1/2 lbs. of dolphin (not Flipper, mahi-mahi) for $6!  The next morning (Sunday) he was there at 0700 as requested to untie the stern line.

 

Marigot was the location setting for the movie “Dr. Doolittle”. As usual, a “boat boy” came out as we motored into the bay and Jim told him to wait until we anchored.  The holding was not very good and we tried several times to get the anchor down.  All this time our “boat boy” is patiently waiting for us to finish.  Finally, he has had enough and paddles over to a spot. looks at Jim and says, “Drop it here, Captain”.  We did and he was right.  The anchor stuck like glue.  We bought a woven basket from him which we use to this day to hold fruit on our kitchen counter.

 

Our trip to St. Vincent was quite boisterous with winds to 38 kts., the highest we have ever seen while sailing.  The St. Vincent "boat boys" have no engines and must row their boats in the ocean.  Here one rowed Jim ashore to clear customs and then back to the boat.  St. Vincent is the northern most island of the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  From here south to Union Island (get your atlas) all the islands are part of one country.  We spent no time here but moved on to ...

 

Bequia.  Pronounced bek-way.  Here is the last place in the world where they still hunt whales from rowed boats using a hand harpoon! The sailors from here are legendary and you see them all over the world.  They are also known for their model boats.  Up until now the only way to get to Bequia was by boat.  We were actually there for the opening of the airport.  For those of you looking for a funky place to stay try the Moonhole.  These are several houses built as caves in a hillside.  No running water, no electricity and no glass in the windows.  We sailed past them on the way to...

 

Mustique.  This is a completely private island with houses owned by the "rich and famous".  Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret, David Bowie and Raquel Welch all have houses here.  All are for rent.  Book early!!  We had dinner at Basil's Bar and the sailed to ..

 

The Tobago Cays (to-bay-go-keys).  Here is the cruising guides description:

 

"The Tobago Cays are a group of small deserted islands protected from the sea by Horseshoe Reef.  The reef colors are a kaleidoscope of gold, brown, blue, turquoise and green.  There are small sand beaches and clean water.  On clear nights the stars are cast across the sky like wedding confetti thrown in an excessive gesture of bonhomie."

 

We couldn't agree more.  We have been here five days now.  That's where we are writing this letter.  The next post office we find will probably be on Union Island and we will try to mail it from there.

 

From here we have a few more stops in the Grenadines and then its on to Grenada.  We plan to return to the States for a visit this Summer and should be there most if not all of July.  We will leave the boat in either Grenada or Trinidad, returning in late Summer to continue our cruise to Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.

 

Once again we reiterate our offer to come and visit us.  The method of contacting us remains the same as in the last letter.  Cards are enclosed for those of you who lost them.  You can contact us via VI Radio as described in the last letter.  The VI Radio people are not as professional as AT&T High Seas so you may have to call more than once.

 

Their toll free number is 1-800-LEEWARD.

 

Your next letter will be postmarked "Venezuela" !!

 

 

 

Jim & Diane

 

 

P.S.  If we are not sending these letters to the correct address, please drop us a note at the Mississippi address and give us the correct one.

 

 

 

Jim & Diane

Send comments to: jkbarrentine@earthlink.net


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