At this writing, we are sailing to Montserrat; the only island in the Caribbean with an Irish heritage when settlers first arrived in 1630 and a second wave in 1649 which, like Ireland, is known as the “Emerald Isle”; an island that has eluded us on two previous occasions and nearly a third time this morning. Just at the point where we were making our decision to return to Antigua for the third time and head to Carlisle Bay on the south coast in order to set sail early tomorrow morning for Guadeloupe for the second time, the winds changed much to Elaine’s delight, as this is the island on top of her list of islands to see before we start the World ARC in just over 9 months. Of course, the conditions are not what were previously forecasted, especially the sea state, so all we can do now is enjoy the somewhat downwind sail in turquoise waters with blue skies above while the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” awaits - For that Elaine is grateful and we only hope that our anchorage in Little Bay is not too rolly.
But, at the risk of digressing, it's been a few months since we decided to set sail from North Sound, BVI and so much has happened since then. With the "ship in shape", the last leg of our eastward passage commenced on the afternoon of January 8th, 2015. We were looking forward to sailing south along the island chain and pastures new after a short stopover in St Martin to pick up our new anchor chain and the last of the safety equipment needed for the World ARC and where Elaine hoped to get the dinghy chaps finished, not to mention enjoying morning coffee and pain au chocolat!
Well, we arrived in St Martin as planned - back to where we started in April 2014 - but after a long, exhausting trip, with neither of us getting any sleep due to the unpredicted weather conditions in the Anegada Passage. It wasn't the best way for Roy to start his birthday, but we certainly didn't complain about the "welcome home" we received, when loads of brightly coloured butterflies flew all around Paw Paw and then landed on her just after we anchored. After a shower, some lunch and a nap we headed to the Sint Maarten Yacht Club for a few drinks to celebrate Roy's birthday. The evening took an unexpected turn when we bumped into Ondular (Isabella and Mick) whom we'd met briefly in the BVI while clearing out. Needless to say, a good time was had by all and the next morning we enjoyed a much needed long walk along the beach, followed by a hearty breakfast. Shortly thereafter, we experienced another first on Paw Paw – we were boarded by the Dutch Coast Guard who were very polite and efficient - No problems detected thank goodness!
After postponing Roy's birthday dinner outing until we felt human again, we ended up at the Beirut Restaurant the following evening, where we enjoyed one of the most delicious and unusual meals we've had in a long time - Birthday celebrations were definitely worth the wait.
However, the bad weather we had been experiencing since leaving Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgin Islands in November 2014 continued unabated in St Martin and certainly had us wondering why this was called the " high season" in the Caribbean - The weather was terrible, to say the least - High winds, rough seas, rainy, extremely uncomfortable, rolly anchorages no matter which part of the Northern Caribbean we sailed to and it got worse before it got better. Regardless, we still managed to have very productive days - We reconnected with some of the " Dutch Navy" and others we had first met in Curacao / Bonaire, enjoyed our cappuccino and pain au chocolat breakfasts as often as we could and Elaine cracked out her saxophone for the first time with a promise to play "Happy Birthday " on it to Roy next year as we set sail from Rodney Bay, St Lucia, on the first leg of the World ARC. It wasn't much fun though rolling around in strong winds and high seas in Simpson Bay and at one point we thought we'd high tail it to Ill Fourche for better protection. Eventually the weather broke and allowed us to safely move Paw Paw into the lagoon instead - calm at last! Unfortunately the slip we had reserved in order to get the last of the offshore outfitting done and one we had waited on for a whole week, while enduring the awful weather in the bay, was, alas, not made available to us. I guess the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing and the dock we reserved wasn't available after all as work had been scheduled to fix something on it, which, of course, we only found out about on our final approach to the slip - You can imagine Elaine’s flowery language at that point. As a result, we ended up having to anchor in Simpson Bay Lagoon, where, with some creativity, we managed to get our new chain installed while at anchor! We also got our new SSB Whip antenna installed. You have no idea how happy we were that evening, since we have chased these two pieces of equipment around the entire Caribbean and waited in Curacao for 3 months for them, but to no avail. Turned out to be a great day so we went out to dinner to celebrate our success and had the best night sleep in weeks.
By January 28th, 2015 we had gone from one extreme to the other with the weather – we now had absolute calm and glass-like seas, but no complaints. We took advantage and had the wash-down hose installed – we were amongst the " big boys" so we had to look the part, re-sheeted the stackpack (i.e. the pack that holds the mainsail got new ropes), added new telltales to the mainsail (i.e. the little ribbons attached that help us know if the sail is set correctly), uncrossed the reefing lines (i.e. the ropes used to shorten the mainsail in high winds), dropped the headsail to redo the telltales and docked Paw Paw at FKG's in order to get the rigging adjusted as well as additional lifelines made. Then after a $40 taxi ride, with liferaft in tow, we got that re-certified at the only establishment on the island for the bargain special rate of $1000. Of course, nothing is ever easy while sailing and so the hunt for the liferaft certificate booklet began, which without it, the certification was useless. You can imagine our relief when we eventually found it. The money was well spent though as we got to see our liferaft upfront and personal, but hopefully that will be the one and only time we ever get to see it or sit in it!
In the interim, Elaine finally got the dinghy chaps and the engine cover done, with assistance from Roy. What a job the chaps were. Definitely one never to be repeated, if Elaine has anything to do with it! We were down to the final activities of our year-long To Do List and our last big push to finish off all the "in progress" jobs. Spares were purchased, our FedEx parcel from Keenan arrived, Elaine sewed an additional fishing bag for Roy as well as two bags for the mooring lines and shackles. Roy added an additional pump to the watermaker, permanently plumbed in the watermaker to the tanks, cabled tied all the latest wires, pipes etc and waterproofed the new SSB whip antenna. We combined the collection of our shipment from the US containing the remaining spares and safety equipment by taking the bus to Phillipsburg / Groot Baai, where we spent the morning shopping, followed by a pleasant walk to the cargo docks to pick up the shipment. It is fair to say we both looked like pack horses with all the equipment jammed into our bags and hauled back to town on our backs – we definitely earned our lunch at the Greenhouse. The most important thing was that we were done with the outfitting! What was left could be undertaken at our leisure or has been planned for the upcoming hurricane season in Grenada.
Life had returned to normal aboard Paw Paw – We got to put our new wash-down system to good use by giving Paw Paw a long overdue cleaning, which was facilitated by a lovely rain shower. Elaine enjoyed her yoga on the foredeck, we joined the Coconut Net for the first time and got to connect with sailors in the San Blas and Panama on the Magnet, thanks to our SSB/HF radio which we were able to use after getting the whip antenna installed, had our “staple” breakfasts of pain au chocolat and cappuccino at the various French bakeries, not to mention fresh baguettes for lunch. Walked on the beach, enjoyed dinner, drinks and Mexican train dominoes with Isabel and Mick aboard Paw Paw, as well as a lovely dinner and drinks aboard Ondular. Afternoon tea was enjoyed aboard Galene (Rowena and Richard) after reconnecting with them for the first time since leaving the Spanish Virgin Islands back in November 2014 and with whom we were sailing to Antigua. Elaine enjoyed a couple of ladies luncheons arranged for the cruisers and celebrated her birthday in style. Her day started off with some boat work, followed by our friends from Ondular popping over to wish her a happy birthday. After a lazy morning, she then got to enjoy her champers and foie gras meal for lunch, followed by a chocolat maison crepe for dessert. The day was topped off with a surprise phone call from Justine and Paul and sundowners at a local beach bar to watch the sunset where Isabel and Mick joined us – It must have been a great night as Roy found himself taking an unexpected swim while trying to get into the dinghy. The downside was that we were now left without the iPhone, which in itself was no great shakes, except that we were now unable to “Facetime” Keenan and friends.
It is fair to say that we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Dutch side of St Maarten, where we had spent very little time during the previous three years when visiting Paw Paw on the French side. Before we knew it though, with our errands completed - picking up the laundry, refilling gas bottles, filling up on diesel and petrol, a final walk around the marine stores for the last minute bits and bobs, a bus trip to the ACE Superstore, grocery shopping and getting our purchases safely stowed - it was time to say our goodbyes to newfound friends and set sail for Antigua, with planned overnight stops en route in St Barths and St Kitts, but unfortunately not Montserrat, as Elaine had hoped. Our spirits were high though as we were off to pastures new! Prior to our departure, we enjoyed a dinner ashore with Isabel and Mick and received a lovely gift of coasters made by Isabel from plastic bottle lids, as well as their contact details for staying in touch.
We had a beautiful sail all in all. We saw whales en route to St Barths, enjoyed an early morning beam reach sail to St Kitts while watching the sun rise on flat seas and watched a beautiful sunset in St Kitts. As the weather we have awaited set in, the anchorage in St Kitts become extremely rolly and unpleasant, but rather that in exchange for a good sail to Antigua on a very rare southerly wind. We passed the evening away with dinner aboard Galene and learnt how to play the card game, Wizard, which caused lots of laughter indeed. And so, after three very long day sails we eventually arrived in Antigua, but not without some pandemonium on board when Roy caught his first fish and Elaine worked to slow Paw Paw down in order to reel it in. It wasn't until we had it next to the yacht that we realised we'd caught a Longbill Spearfish. We were in awe of its beauty and, needless to say, we set it free. It certainly was a few days of perfect sailing!
As we settled into to our tenth new country in ten months, excluding the three returns to Bonaire, BVI and St Martin, our first impressions and initial reconnaissance of Antigua placed this island amongst our favourites. Considering it was an island we had not planned on visiting, it was indeed a pleasant surprise, but we will remember it for its spectacular scenery, beautiful beaches for which the island is renowned and the friendliest people. It was with longing though, that Elaine watched from a distance the island that had eluded us – Montserrat and its plume emitting from the active volcano, Soufriere Hills.
First things first, however, was an attempt to get our starboard engine's alternator repaired as we were unable to procure a new one in St Martin and to resolve our issue with the house batteries, which first acted up when we initially moved on to Paw Paw in April 2014 and then resurrected itself while back in St Martin. We thought we'd resolved the problem on both occasions, but even trying to equalise them in Antigua served no purpose and, since we were unable to procure new ones in Antigua, we made arrangements to order and collect them in Guadeloupe. Add to that the fact that we were in Jolly Harbour, an anchorage where we couldn’t make water, and no alternator to move Paw Paw to somewhere where we could. That meant being very conservative with both our energy and water use - oh the joys of boat life! In the interim, we enjoyed what Jolly Harbour had to offer - long walks on the beautiful white sandy Jolly Beach, seeing the "Green Flash" with the sunsets, lunches at the local establishments - one in particular included mussels in a Guinness based sauce which was delicious, a game of tennis, exploring St John's by local bus, a Valentine's Day dinner aboard compliments of Roy who cooked up a storm and a “girlie day" outing for Elaine with Rowena, while Roy tried to purchase a new alternator, but to no avail. Our only option at this point was to hope that the old one could be fixed. We were down to Plan C - ferrying jerry cans of water via the dinghy from the marina. As luck would have it, the old one was not repairable, and in fact was worse than what it had been when we handed it in for repair. Fortunately we were still able to re-install it to get the engine running again and move anchorages to make water, as well as continue our cruising while we sourced another one elsewhere.
Our next anchorage was Hermitage Bay, Five Islands just off the Hermitage Hotel, where we originally thought we could make water and get caught up on all our domestic chores. We decided to head for Deep Bay instead, home of the Grand Royal Antiguan resort, which strangely enough, wasn’t so grand anymore, but Elaine enjoyed an early morning swim to the beach while Roy dinghied in and took the opportunity to clean the bottom. We also hiked up to Fort Barrington, which dates back to Nelson's time and which offers the most amazing views as well as snorkelled the Wreck of the Andes, a three-mast iron barque that sailed from Trinidad in 1905 with a load of pitch onboard. On arrival in Antigua, the crew noticed smoke aboard and were subsequently denied entry into St John's. They decided to anchor in Deep Bay, where it burst into flames and sank. Although the visibility was really poor due to all the northerly swells and dredging in St John’s Harbour, what we could see was very interesting. We had a few more “firsts” on Paw Paw when Elaine baked French Loaves which were enjoyed with French Brie Cheese and Jambon Cru for lunch and Roy baked a Tarte du Citroën. Of course, our adventure would not be complete unless we encountered another sailor having a “brain fart” – We were one of a number of yachts anchored as close as possible to the shoreline in about 6ft of water below our keels, when "Billy Jones" (Actual name of this motor yacht) decided that he'd try get "up close and personal" in a crowded anchorage. Turns out taking photos of these acts are the best deterrent ever – he reconsidered and left! Soon thereafter, it was anchor up and our first downwind sail in ages back to Jolly Harbour, where we enjoyed an impromptu evening with Rowena and Richard on Paw Paw - lots of fun and laughter fuelled by way too much plonk - cheap rum and wine, which, we all concluded the following morning, was truly awful! We still managed to complete the odd jobs of installing the remaining safety equipment the next day regardless of the fact that neither of us felt very clever. We topped off our stay in Jolly Harbour with a "pizza evening" at one of the restaurants with Galene and their friends from Flyin' Low (Cheryl and Adrian), but not before we saw a dolphin at sunset circle Paw Paw and a pre-dinner drink aboard Galene. Sadly, the merriment came to an end as we said our goodbyes again and headed to Falmouth / English Harbour, where we awaited the arrival of Justine and Paul, who would spend a week with us in Antigua and then sail to Guadeloupe with the hopes of going via Montserrat for another week.
We arrived in Falmouth after motoring into what felt like the full force of the Atlantic Ocean beating down on us, but fortunately it was only for a short period of time before we entered a rather unexpectedly crowded anchorage. After finding our spot, we were off on our land explorations with a walk around Antigua Yacht Club to see the racing yachts getting ready for Antigua Sailing Week, as well as admire the beautiful sailing mega yachts. Amongst other delights, we visited Nelson’s Dockyard, which dates back to 1745 and is still a functioning monument, and enjoyed lunch at the Admiral’s Inn, as well as a hike up to the Gun Powder House. This was revisited after Justine and Paul arrived, but enjoyed just as much the second time around.
Once Justine and Paul had arrived safely and had settled in, the only extremely difficult decision that had to be made was which way to walk to the beach i.e. along the road or hike along the mountain and enjoy the beautiful scenery. We decided on the latter and awarded our efforts with a lovely lunch at Catherine's Café French restaurant on Pigeon Beach. The only other difficult decisions were which bay we wanted to sail to next and which bikini to wear (Justine), but there was consensus on the Sunday BBQ at Shirley Heights where the views of English and Falmouth Harbours were simply spectacular.
After enjoying the south coast of Antigua, it was back to Jolly Harbour to hunker down for the next cycle of bad weather, which, by now, seemed endless. Getting to Guadeloupe, never mind Montserrat, didn’t seem to be an option at all, but we still managed a stroll around Jolly Harbour, a walk along Jolly Beach, sundowners at West Point Marina and Bar, a very tasty dinner at the marina's Greek Restaurant and where we enjoyed Paul’s pre-birthday celebrations - homemade pizza, compliments of Elaine, Tres Leche birthday cake, compliments of Roy (with a matchstick in lieu of a candle), followed by pancakes for birthday breakfast, compliments of Roy. Then, while Justine lounged on the trampoline, Paul caught and filleted a Red Snapper which Roy cooked for lunch. His day was topped off with a fish and chips dinner in a garden with a double-decker bus parked in it – No real downside to our lives, is there! A few days later, while back in Deep Bay, it was more birthday celebrations, but this time for Justine and Keenan. Although it was the first time in twenty six years we weren’t with Keenan on his birthday, Elaine still baked him a cup cake, which, Justine promptly ate along with her own one – what can we say! Princess for a day, Justine enjoyed breakfast at the Royal Antiguan Resort, a stroll along a golden sand beach, a hike up to a historic point overlooking our anchorage and St John's, followed by a 300m swim back to Paw Paw. Completely exhausted from the morning's activities, she retired to the swim platform for her afternoon soirée in the sun. That evening, Michelin Chef Roy, prepared a delightful meal of sushi, which was followed by onboard entertainment. Then, with an early start the next day, we set sail for Guadeloupe, with hopes that the weather forecast was accurate and not worse, otherwise we had planned to turn back. It wasn’t a bad sail after all and our crew thoroughly enjoy it – they slept the entire way – must have been all the birthday celebrations! Although we had slightly stronger winds than predicted, we made great timing and we had another first on Paw Paw – we sailed right up to our waypoint just outside the anchorage in Deshaies.
And so, another island to explore. Our first day started out lovely with café and pain au chocolat for breakfast at the local bakery and a hike up the mountain to Jardin Botanique, where we enjoyed the beautiful gardens and lunch overlooking the anchorage. Unfortunately, all hell broke loose in the middle of the night when the wind started howling in excess of 30 kts and numerous yachts dragged for hundreds of metres on their anchors; some out to the open waters and some getting tangled in other chains and anchors. As the chaos unfolded, danger horns resounded throughout the anchorage, with one yacht narrowly missing Paw Paw. Yachts also came limping into the anchorage in the dead of night, seeking shelter from the storm, including a racing yacht that had to retire from the Route de Rhum due to the bad weather. First light saw fishing boats heading out to help the yachts that had dragged into the open waters, while Roy and Paul ferried the crew of the retired racing yacht to shore in pouring rain. The next day was spent trying to recover lost sleep, but we still managed to enjoy goodies from the local bakery, compliments of the crew from the racing yacht as a thank you for the assistance we had provided and a very tasty French Creole dinner at a local restaurant. The following day, after breakfast onboard and the car hire sorted out, we headed for Route de la Traversee. First stop was the Crayfish Waterfalls where we enjoyed a scramble up the river, a swim in the pool of the waterfalls and a picnic lunch. Next stop was another short hike and then on to the Zoologica de la Guadeloupe, where we saw some fascinating creatures and animals, as well as enjoyed a canopy hike over the zoo on suspended walkways - loads of fun! The day was topped off with another delicious meal from Chef Roy and our final game of Mexican train dominoes with Justine and Paul. After a scenic drive to Pointe-de-Pitre along the coastal road and a delicious seafood lunch at the Bas-du-Port marina complex, it was off to the airport to say our goodbyes as they headed back to Antigua for a few days before heading home to England. A special thanks to them for all the fun we had together, as well as the lovely meals they treated us to. After seeing them off, we picked up our new house batteries which were installed soon thereafter. Then it was another early morning to get to the local bakery to enjoy our grand café and pain au chocolat, freshly baked that morning – delicious - we think we must have been French in a past life!. The main reason for the early rise, however, was to get to the fresh produce market where we stocked up on locally grown fruit and veggies. Another delight of these Caribbean islands.
But, it was “best laid plans” when we found ourselves having a great sail back to Antigua on flat, turquoise seas, straight into Jolly Harbour, so that Elaine could fly back to the US rather unexpectedly for a mini holiday to visit Keenan and spend time with Brooke and Capri.
A special thanks to our friends in Phoenix, Lisa and Joe, who put up with Elaine for the few days she was in Phoenix and for treating her to dinner at one of our favourite restaurants in Chandler, DC Steakhouse, where she enjoyed a delicious Fillet Mignon – her first decent steak in a year! Also, to Mark and Debby for her Happy Hour outing. For the friends she didn’t get a chance to see, given her short stopover, she will make a point of doing so when she is back in May for the birth of our grandson. Although Elaine found her return to landlubber life very stressful, she was with Keenan when he found out he was being upgraded to captain on the CRJ in May. Needless to say, there were celebrations in Charlotte that night, not to mention the fact that Keenan needed a cup of tea to compose himself after going as white as a ghost when he first heard the news. All in all, it was a very worthwhile trip as Elaine also managed to finalise our taxes, sort out the issue with our one condominium which Keenan and family will be moving into in May, get a replacement for Roy’s water-drenched iPhone and bring back the all important new alternator, along with some spares that had been delivered to Keenan’s apartment in Dulles and which then filled his hotel room in Charlotte awaiting my arrival, including a our new wind generator.
That said, though, Elaine was very happy to be back to her sea gypsy life - blue skies, gentle trade winds blowing, white sandy beaches all around her, waves gentle lapping against Paw Paw's hulls and Roy with a great big smile to greet her – She thinks he was just delighted we had our replacement alternator as well as the other boat parts! The next day we had another first on Paw Paw - we had our first day where nothing was actually broken or needed fixing on her. Touch wood, lets hope it lasts for some time to come! We also enjoyed a dinner outing with Rowena and Richard to celebrate Richard's birthday, then it was up early to sail to Deep Bay again in order to make water, as well as for Elaine to recuperate and where we enjoyed a lovely afternoon catching up with Isabel and Mick, whom we hadn’t seen since leaving St Martin, as well as enjoy a trip into St John's with them the next morning. By then a well deserved afternoon nap was in order.
On March 30th, 2015, we changed our plans at the last minute in order to try and get to Montserrat en route to Guadeloupe. That afternoon we eventually made it to Montserrat, the “island of fire”, which eluded us no more. It didn't come without a small price though as we had to arrive under sail and one engine in Rendezvous Bay, after getting caught in two sets of fishing lines, strung together – a very naughty fisherman indeed. We managed to cut the one away from our port engine propeller and rudder while still out at sea, but not the starboard one. Roy did that after we were safely anchored in what was an idyllic anchorage for our first night in Montserrat.
By April Fools Day we were back in Guadeloupe after a two week detour via Antigua, the US and Montserrat and after a gruelling day in winds and seas that were not forecasted, as usual, and having given up miles of our easting in order to visit Montserrat. Was the visit to Montserrat worth it? - Elaine can only correlate the answer to that question to her two very painful jaw surgeries that cured her Sleep Apnoea. It was absolutely fascinating to be sitting in the observatory and reviewing the footage of the Soufriere Hills Volcano eruptions, when we were only approximately two miles from this active volcano, but to see the destruction and loss first hand was very sad. Seeing the steam coming out of the dome close up, having seen it from a distance while we were in Antigua, was definitely disconcerting, but one can only marvel at this geographical phenomenon. Couple that with an extremely rolly anchorage our second night, compliments of another northerly swell, but would we have regretted not visiting Montserrat - ABSOLUTELY!