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Posted on February 10, 2018 | 1 comment

Îles de la Petite Terre

Îles de la Petite Terre

The French Carribean island of Guadaloupe is shaped like a butterfly. About 10 miles off the bottom of its right wing lies a piece of heaven. The two Islands of the Small Land were declared a nature reserve in 1998, protecting the Lesser Antillean iguana and several species of sea turtles. Once home to cotton planters and their slaves and later to cattle ranchers and fishermen, the islands are now uninhabited.

Of course, this is on our must-see list and we put it on our itinerary for when our friends, Gary and Courtney Corda, visit.

On this early morning as we approach the islands, the weather is good and promises a day of blue skies and sunshine. The guidebook tells us there is a calm, protected anchorage between the two islands that boasts some of the best snorkeling in the Carribean. The book also warns us that the depths just outside the anchorage are only 12-15 feet, followed by a bar of dead coral with an average depth of just 8 feet. Sails are down and we are under power, taking in this rather inhospitable entrance to paradise. A 6-foot surf breaking on the shore runs the width of the entrance. Hmmm, how to do this without ending up on the beach or upside-down? And once in, can we get out?

Just then, one of the many large day-charter catamarans who visit positions itself for entry. Their Captain whistles to us and signals to follow just behind him. This is our opportunity for entry—our destiny is in the hands of a party boat. Our own Captain secures a position just behind the day-charter and we both close in on the entry, just behind the breaking waves. We pause momentarily for the next surge and then in an instant, we throttle up the engines and surf along the top of the rolling wave. It’s exhilarating and the passengers (who are not responsible for the safety of the vessel) hoot and holler and revel in the e-ticket ride. Just as the wave begins to crest, this catamaran-turned-surfboard begins the downward climb into the lagoon as the swell continues to shore and crashes on the beach. We’re in. 

Several more day-charters arrive but we know they will all depart by the end of the day, leaving us alone in this beautiful bay. The water is amazingly clear and a spectacular turquoise color. We grab our snorkeling gear and plunge in to explore. We spend the day swimming with turtles and eagle rays and spying an abundance of reef fish, conchs and sea stars in this healthy, protected marine paradise. There is no end to our excitement and we snorkel for hours.

By late afternoon, all the day visitors have left so we explore the island of Terre de Bas. (The other island, Terre de Haut, is not accessible as it is a protected nesting area.) The white sand beach is heavily planted with palm trees and there is a maze of trails leading to all sides of the island. Gary, the avid runner in the group, sets off to create his own running course. The rest of us wander the path leading to the 108-foot tall brick lighthouse. The island is arid and desert-like but littered with small bushes and trees, including the Guaiac, a small tree nearing extinction. It is the perfect habitat for the Lesser Antillean iguana, sadly also in decline. Two male iguanas grandstand as they fight for territory across our trail. If we’re still and look carefully, we can spot several other iguanas handsomely camouflaged on branches.

We’re surprised to find a lone ranger in the lighthouse, who tells us the last inhabitant of the island was a lighthouse keeper who left in 1974. Today, a part-time ranger is stationed in the lighthouse to oversee the reserve. Past the lighthouse, we reach the rocky eastern side of the island where Atlantic trade winds first strike land, sending waves crashing against the shoreline and forming tall, 40-foot cliffs. When the surf subsides, tidal pools expose their sharp round edges below the cliffs.

Long shadows and an infinite stretch of sunset bring a close to this remarkable day. Tomorrow, we will fight the surf to exit. For now, we’ll enjoy a star-filled sky in this exquisite piece of the planet.

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Posted on January 26, 2018 | 3 comments

Cat on Cat: Rough Seas

Cat on Cat: Rough Seas

I do not like rough seas
I do not like them one bit at all
I do not like to pitch and roll
Dang! I hit my head on that stupid pole
I’m a scaredy cat, can’t you see?
A princess is what I was meant to be
I should be lying on the sun deck
Perfecting my tan from toes to neck

Rough seas are very bad
It makes me angry with my dad
He promised me sailing bliss
So tell me-why does he sail like this?
I’ve been misled about this life at sea
Help Coast Guard come rescue me!

I do not like rough seas today
I do not like them any day
It makes my tummy woozy and sore
Batten down the hatches and close each door
Ouch! That’s my tail that just got caught
I can’t believe you ruined my favorite spot

I must be quick and find a hole
Hunker down and be like a mole
I do not like the crashing wave
The only dry spot is in my cave
It seems the safest spot to be
At least until I have to pee

I do not like rough seas at all
They make me wobble, tip and fall
These waves are fierce and push us around
Crash! Bang! Boom! is the only sound
It’s frightening I can tell you that
It’s certainly no place for a princess cat

Finally, the storm has passed
The sun is shining–Yay, at last!
I take a peek from my safe cocoon
Gingerly I step and not a moment too soon
A rogue wave may strike so stay close to the floor
Hurry mom open the door!

I’m almost there I can hardly wait
Oh my gosh I hope I’m not late
And there it is just next to the mast
My litter box, thank goodness at last.

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Posted on January 21, 2018 | 2 comments

Hurricane Wrath

Hurricane Wrath

The allure of Barbuda was calling. The guidebook says it’s the perfect destination for the into-the-heart-of-nature diehard. Perfect, my kind of place. Of course, the guidebook was written before Category 5 Hurricane Irma struck last September and devastated this little island of 68 acres.

Little information was available on the current state of Barbuda. Even if you were well-provisioned to be self-sustainable on an island with no resources, it was questionable how much the navigation around Barbuda had changed. Many speculated so much sand had shifted in the storm that navigation could vary greatly from current charts and might indeed land you aground. The local sailing community was anxious to learn more about the state of international aid and perhaps provide assistance ourselves, either labor or supplies. We even had the chance to visit with Antigua’s Minister of Tourism at a sailing reception who was reported to know the state of affairs in Barbuda. Sadly, nobody had any information. We decided to investigate for ourselves.

In 1988, lightening struck a tree in Yellowstone National Park, igniting a series of fires that torched over a million acres. The park’s sacred log pole pine forests were destroyed, leaving behind a charred, black desert of tree carcasses. Visitors were saddened at the devastation of their national park and outraged at the fire policy of the National Park Service to allow a natural fire to burn. Less than five years later, however, black turned to green and seedlings took root. The highly-adaptable lodge pole pine forests began to regenerate. Not only did they begin to grow again, the seedling density was eight times as large as the original forests. Turns out the only way the cones from lodge pole pines can release their seeds is through exposure to high heat, i.e., fire. The irony of Mother Nature.

I though of that irony as I sat quietly perched at the front of the boat as a spotter for any new reefs or rocks not marked on our charts. In the distance, I could see the island littered with broken concrete, homes without roofs, and twisted palm trees. A devastation like the island had just been bombed. Yet, the beaches were pristine and perfect—just as the guidebook promised. Gentle waves broke softly on the shoreline, bright white with freshly-carved crystals of sand. No driftwood, trash, or ugly remnants of civilization, as though the beach was made just yesterday and had yet to be discovered. The water around us was incredibly clear, a vibrant turquoise that allowed you to see through to the bottom. Turtles popped their heads on the surface. Even with all the devastation ashore, the sea was healthy and in some cases, fresh with new life.

The 200+ winds of Hurricane Irma wiped the tiny island of Barbuda off the map. Houses were flattened, palm trees were uprooted and naked without their fronds. Once a popular resort, Coco Point on the southwest side of the island lay in a rubble of concrete. Full industrial-sized jars of olives and stacks of dinner plates still in tact lay in the sand—remnants of what was once a busy kitchen. Individual bottles of mustard and catsup still clung together as pairs, marking where each dinner table once stood. And then, as if Mother Nature plays favorites, a patio table with a potted plant and coffee cup remained unscathed.

We spot feral donkeys, once an integral part of the island’s sugar industry, grazing in scattered patches of green, seemingly oblivious to the destruction around them. A hog meanders between piles of scrap, lucky to have escaped both a hurricane and the butcher.

In the main town of Codrington, there are two relief organizations offering aid, but no apparent triage for individual volunteer efforts.

We notice signs of residents trying to get back on their feet—repairing roofs, one power line up, and cell service. I was touched by one home whose roof was in disrepair, yet the landscaping in the front yard proudly presented a fresh tidy look.

We met a young man making his way through town on his bike, delivering freshly-desalinated water to his neighbor. “I’m a taxi driver,” he told us. “Just waiting to have my car repaired in Antigua and then I’ll be back in business.” This level of optimism makes me smile and confident that the fortitude of the Barbuda people is what will rebuild the island.

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Posted on January 11, 2018 | 2 comments

Bus #17

Bus #17

Bus #17 is what the locals take to get to their jobs in the capital of St. John’s on the island of Antigua. Groups of students dressed in their blue or pink uniforms take bus #17 to get to school. Mamas take their babies and laborers take their tools. Young men with their long braided hair neatly piled high on their heads take bus #17. Other men with their long braided hair piled not so neatly  take bus #17. On this hot, humid day when we needed, of all things, a new cat litter box, we took bus #17.

We start our journey at the beginning of the bus route outside the popular tourist destination of Nelsons Dockyard in English Harbor. As visitors boarded their luxury air conditioned tour busses, we hop into a minivan recognizable only as public transportation by the yellow #17 sticker on the windshield. The 30-minute ride costs $1.50.

The driver navigates between pedestrians and parked cars, and those cars simply stopped in the middle of the road so drivers can say hello to one another. Along the way, we make quick stops to pick up riders until all 10 seats are filled with 12 passengers.

We’re pretty pessimistic about finding a litter box in this land of many stray cats so we’re surprised when we discover there’s an actual pet store in town. Once we arrive at the transportation center in downtown St. John’s, Google Maps leads us through a residential area and up a hill, guaranteeing that a pet store will indeed be our destination. Just as we’re ready to abandon hope, we land at Glenn’s Pet Paradise. Of course, they do not carry litter boxes but they do in fact have quite a selection of pet products in their tiny store and we enjoy sharing cat stories with Glenn. And yes, they are the only pet store in town.

We’re in a shopping mecca so naturally we add to our shopping list. Allen’s flip-flops recently suffered a fatality and since these are critical footwear in our tropical beach environment, we set out to replace them. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Allen, he is 6’4”, towering over many and certainly a head above almost everyone on this Carribean island. He wears a size 17 shoe. You think finding a litter box is difficult? We pop into every shoe store in downtown St. John’s hoping to find surfboard-size flip flops. While we never come even close to finding a replacement pair, we do enjoy the incredulous looks of disbelief and laughter we get from storekeepers as they take in the largest feet that have ever walked through their doors.

The search for a new litter box, however, is a success. While pet stores are scarce, home supply stores are plentiful and the assortment of colorful plastic tubs even more so. Dot now has a nice, deep-sided plastic container that she can call her own. With litter box in hand, we continue to wander the streets of St. John’s. We find respite at a shaded sidewalk cafe where cold wine and humidity stand off in a display of nonstop condensation. A stop at a local farmer’s market completes our day in the city. 

When it’s time to return, bus #17 is waiting for us. We climb in with the students and the mamas and the laborers, and all those braids. We have completed our day in the city and head back to the countryside we call home, where some have slept away the entire day.

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Posted on December 7, 2017 | 0 comments

Antigua: Going Ashore

Antigua: Going Ashore

Antigua on the horizon!

Entering Jolly Harbor after 14 days of being engulfed in blue is like seeing a rainbow after a storm. The small waterfront homes that line the channel to the harbor are grouped by color. Each cluster of pink and blue and green homes has a boat docked just a few feet from its back door. Fingers branch off from the main channel like a neighborhood of cul-de-sacs. We’re giddy at the thought of being back on land, but also apprehensive about re-entry.

We arrive in Antigua just after the Customs office closed so going ashore will have to wait until morning. Just as well—we’re happy to have one final night to ourselves. We cheerfully gather upstairs on the sundeck with a bottle of champagne and toast the safe completion of our off-shore passage. We notice that Baloo is moored just next to us and delighted when Mr. and Mrs. Baloo pull up in their dinghy and join in our celebration. Finally, we meet Bob and Ann—the faces behind the VHF radio voices we had come to know so well during our journey.

Baloo

Only the Captain is allowed ashore until the Port Authority deems us fit to visit. At 8am sharp the next morning, Allen knocks on the Customs door while the rest of watch anxiously from our boat. Two hours later and many forms completed, Allen finally emerges from Customs and Immigration declaring we are now free to roam on Antigua soil.

Princess Dot

Dot, however, requires further scrutiny. A local veterinarian will examine our feline and hopefully deem her worthy to visit. Later, when I see a colony of feral cats running freely at the marina, no doubt covered in fleas and tapeworm, I laugh at this entire process for clearing a cat who probably will never appear from the closet on our boat. Sigh.

The ferals of Antigua

Over the next few days, we scrub the boat clean of salt residue, lavish in being served meals that don’t slide off the table, and learn how to walk in shoes again. The heat and humidity are stifling, but we relish the first moments of exploring this quaint island of 365 beaches—one for every day of the year. Yann has just one day before returning to France so he, Jim, and I leave the Captain and tour the island. Apparently, because Jim can fly an airplane, he’s declared the logical person to drive the rental car. I want no business driving a car on the left-side of the road and quickly take a seat in the back after a few minutes of witnessing local drivers weave in and out of traffic and pedestrians. It takes about 30 minutes to learn look right then left and find our way out of the marina, but after that Jim successfully navigates the tiny roads to the island hotspots.

Our first stop was the historic Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor, home to one of Britain’s main naval stations in the 16th century. This is definitely a top attraction in Antigua and worth a stop for those of you planning a visit to Antigua. The highlight of the day for me, however, was sitting outside under a covered patio having a cold beer. We were racking our brains about some piece of trivia, as often happens in the company of Jim Moore, when a man tapped me on the shoulder and whispered the answer. He quickly apologized for eavesdropping and we quickly turned our chairs and engaged in a conversation that could have kept us entertained for hours. Our fellow patron and his wife were enjoying a little respite from their lives as restauranteurs in their Scottish homeland—the smallest, northernmost island where they serve only the locals, since most tourists can’t even locate the island on a map. They were enchanting, interesting, and a reminder that you meet the most interesting people when you simply ask, “Where are you from?”

After Jim and Yann departed for their homelands, Allen and I settled into getting to know our new homeland. We sailed first to Falmouth and English Harbors where most boats from our rally were arriving from their passages. Each morning on the VHF radio, we would listen with anticipation and delight as the Salty Dawg net would announce new arrivals. Receptions, cocktails parties, dinners, beach potlucks, and yoga gave us a taste of how liveaboards socialize. My favorite is when someone in a dinghy just shows up at the back of your boat to say hello; reminds me of the old days when we simply wandered next door to hang out with our neighbors instead of the present requirement of scheduling an official play date.

High on our list of priorities in Antigua, however, was to replace our failed emergency hatch. The new hatch finally arrived, secured from Customs, and ready to install. The repair required once again that we take poor Gémeaux out of the water to access her underbelly.

We sailed to North Sound Marina, the only marina on the island that has the ability to haul out a boat with a 24-foot beam. It happens also to be the designated salvage marina for the Moorings charter boats that were destroyed by Irma in St. Martin.  This rips your heart out when you see these beautiful boats lying in a heap.  Our hatch repair occurred on Thanksgiving Day so we spent the day prying out the old frame and bits of worn adhesive residue and gave thanks to our new, well-sealed hatch. We wandered the dockyard to find public showers and cleaned up for our Thanksgiving feast of grilled turkey breast, instant mashed potatoes, and broccoli. Champagne helped us imagine the bright fluorescent light in the dockyard was the moon and that we were surrounded by the turquoise Caribbean water, instead of being perched on stilts 20 feet above ground.

Gémeaux once again was deemed seaworthy so we set out to explore those 365 beaches. The quiet of some of the remote anchorages was such a contrast to the constant chatter of four people on a boat and our new social network of fellow sailors. We savored the tranquility and simplicity of life.

Want to snorkel?  Should we go for a little hike? How about some lunch? Should I paddle board to the west or east side of the beach? Want to stay another night or move somewhere else?  

Two Drifters from England

We loved exploring Deep Bay, Green Island, and Great Bird Island and all their secrets of historic remnants and coral reefs. Occasionally, we would run into another Salty Dawger and would enjoy exchanging stories of great snorkeling spots or share a sundowner, as our English friends on Two Drifters would say. We are now docked at the Jolly Harbor Marina, where Gémeaux will reside while we fly back to the States for the holidays. 

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