The Last Lap

Without dating ourselves too much, 16 years ago we were fortunate enough to take a one year sailing sabbatical where we sailed from Toronto, via the Intercoastal Waterway, to the Bahamas. We spent half of that year exploring the Biminis, Abacos, Eleuthera, Nassau and, our favorite of all, the Exumas.

As a result, we have wonderful memories of the crystal clear water, the white sand beaches and the warm, welcoming people. So, we were both excited and reluctant to be sailing to the Bahamas as the last leg of this three-year Travelodyssea. We were excited because of those wonderful memories and we were looking forward to reminiscing in places like Staniel Cay, Exuma Land and Sea Park, and Paradise Island.

image

On the other hand, we were reluctant because there has been a lot of development in the Bahamas since we left and we wanted to retain those memories.

Of course, our sentiments didn’t matter since we were leaving the Dominican Republic and the only way to Florida, without sailing overnight for a week or more, was to island hop through the Bahamas.

Our first stop, after a 180-mile overnight sail from Luperon, was Matthew Town on Great Inagua Island, the most southern “developed” island in the Bahamas. I use the term “developed” judiciously since it actually has very little development. It’s essentially a town with a small harbor and airport, which meant we were able to check in with Customs and Immigration. The town also has a decent grocery store and a handful of restaurants.

image

But Matthew Town’s claim to fame is the Morton Salt Facility, which historically was the foundation of this community. Although the operations have shrunk significantly, Morton Salt is still a major employer that not only provides jobs but also supports the school, the library and many community organizations.We couldn’t visit their facility but via a short tour of the island we were able to see some of their operations. The most fascinating aspect being how much it looks like snow or ice!

image

 

image

After Matthew Town we quickly headed north through the Far Islands with short overnight stops at Salinas Point on Acklins Island, Pitts Town Point on Crooked Island, Clarence Town on Long Island and Calabash Bay on Galliott Cay before anchoring in Georgetown on Great Exuma Island for a much needed break.

image

At this point you may be asking yourself why we hauled ass through so many islands so quickly. The answer is two-fold. First, we were already behind schedule to get to Florida before the start of the official Tropical Storm/Hurricane Season – which started on June 1.

Second, these islands are known as “The Far Islands” and now we know why. For people who really want the peacefulness of a remote island or beach with no people, bars, shops or stores these islands are perfect as there was pretty much nothing there. For those of us who like a little civilization, the Far Islands are definitely not for us!

Maybe if we were there for a one or two-week vacation from a hectic job, we would have loved it but after almost 3-years of cruising, we were ready to move on and gladly pushed on to the “hustle and bustle” of Georgetown – the cruising Mecca of the Bahamas.

image

For the record, we were very familiar with Georgetown as we spent a number of weeks there on our previous sabbatical — anchored amongst the 200-300 other boats that called it home for the winter months. Yes, you read that correctly, Georgetown has a massive, protected harbor that is the base for most of the boats that travel to the Bahamas for the winter. In fact, there are often 400+ boats there for the famous Georgetown Regatta in early April.

With that number of boaters and people staying in the many hotels and villas, Georgetown has built up an infrastructure that includes multiple grocery stores, restaurants, beach bars and even live music.

We had fond memories of the live band at the weekly “Rake and Scrape”, beach volleyball at Chat N Chill, dingy rafts over to Stocking Island, and one too many happy hours. So, we were really looking forward to spending time in Georgetown and seeing how much it had changed in 16 years.

image

Well, the good news is it hadn’t changed that much. There are a few more shops and stores along with a number of large private villas just south of town but in general it had the same small town character that we remembered.

The bad news, for us, was that we were obviously there too late in the season as there were only 30 or so boats in the huge harbor and all of the fun cruiser events and activities were over or closed for the season. It was like visiting a ski resort in the summer!

We did manage to have drinks at Chat N Chill, enjoy a peaceful stroll around Lake Victoria, and have a large Sting Ray swim through our legs during an afternoon beach walk but Georgetown just wasn’t the same without the hubbub of the boating community. Still, our fond memories of Georgetown remained intact and after a few days rest we continued our journey north.

image

Those of you who are familiar with the Bahamas know that the water around these islands is relatively shallow and surrounded by reefs and large, isolated coral heads. For boats with deep drafts, like our 7-foot keel, this can be a huge problem as it limits your anchorages, destinations and sailing routes.

In our case, our draft prevented us from tucking into some of the smaller islands and cays that we remember and almost stopped us from going into Exuma Land and Sea Park, one of the most spectacular places in the Exumas, as we would only be able to enter and leave at high tide. Fortunately, they recently opened a mooring field for mega yachts in beautiful little cove on the ocean side of Wardrick Wells Cay and since it was low season they were able to accommodate our humble little Celebration.

image

After a exhilarating sail (yes sail) from Georgetown to Cave Cay, where we spent the night, then on to Wardrick Wells where tucking into this little cove that was hidden behind tiny Hog Cay was like finding an oasis in the desert. It was well protected, had deep blue water, a gorgeous Sandy beach and, best of all, no other boats. We swam, kayaked, walked the beach and even barbecued before a big lightning storm hit later that evening.

image

image

image

In hindsight, we should have stayed in Exuma Land and Sea Park a little longer since that pattern of lightning storms continued for the next few nights and really put a damper on our already short time in the Bahamas.

In fact, after leaving Exuma Land and Sea park, we sailed north to Highbourne Cay where we managed to anchor just before a big afternoon storm hit. To make matters worse, during the storm we determined that our anchor was dragging so after it passed we had to reset it. But, for the first time in our 3 years of cruising, we were unable to get it to set properly and had to reset it 3 more times before it grabbed. One time we were too close to a mega yacht for the captain’s comfort as he came over and diplomatically asked us to move “in case he hit us during the night”. That night another storm hit us which essentially told us it was time to move on.

 

The next morning we raised anchor then navigated across the shallow, coral-head covered Yellow Bank to Nassau, where we managed to secure ourselves to a dock at the Nassau Harbor Club just before yet another storm hit.

image

image

image

 

For obvious reasons, Nassau wasn’t our favorite Bahamas spot 16 years ago and it wasn’t our favored destination on this trip. It’s a large port city with lots hotels, cruise ships, hotels, resorts, marinas and attractions which means lots of people and traffic. However, it also has good grocery stores, laundry facilities, fuel docks, marine stores and all the facilities we needed to reprovision for our final lap – a 180-mile overnight sail to Fort Lauderdale.

image

After two nights of being tucked safely away from the thunder and lightning storms, Mother Nature shined on us one last time giving us calm day, a beautiful sunset and storm-free night. The next day, the winds remained calm and we motor-sailed across the Straits of Florida and the notorious Gulf Stream to the protected harbors of the Intercoastal Waterway and beautiful Fort Lauderdale.

image

image

So, that’s it. Three years, two oceans, 15 countries, thousands of miles, wonderful new friends, and countless memories. The most common question now is “what are you going to do now?” The answer is although we’ve had lots of time to think about it and a number of wine-inspired conversations, we haven’t decided yet. First, we’re going to travel OVERLAND to see family and friends then we’ll have some more wine and seriously determine where we want to live and what we want to do. After an adventure like this, it’s a nice problem to have…

???????????????????????????????

 

Homeward Bound

It’s time! Yup, after thousands of miles and countless memories – -mostly good with a few not so good — our little adventure is nearing its conclusion and we are making our way to Florida where we’ll have to decide what we want to do and where we want to live next. But, before we get to places to live, jobs, cars, homes and the real world, we still have a lot of sailing and a few interesting places to enjoy.

Our first stop after recovering from the Month of Audrey was one of our favorite islands, Sint Maarten, where we anchored off Kimsha beach, bought a new-to-us outboard engine (Vinnie), stocked up on gourmet supplies at Carrefour, and enjoyed a few dinners and happy hours with Mike and Holly on Wanuskewin, and with our Baja-Ha-Ha buddies Peter and Mary on Neko who we hadn’t seen in two years.

DSC_0828

image

 

image

After a week of reminiscing, it was time to start the trek north so we got the boat ready for a 2:00 am departure to the British Virgin Islands and hit the sack. Unfortunately, the 2:00 am departure didn’t happen because when we started the engine we noticed coolant coming out of the exhaust, which was the exact same problem as we had in Antigua that cost us thousands of dollars to get repaired. Now, I’m normally a pretty laid back guy but I can’t even describe how angry I was that night — never mind the words I used to curse the mechanic in Antigua.

But, after a little rest, I got down to some diagnostics and without going into details determined that the problem had to be the heat exchanger, which was the only major cooling system component that wasn’t replaced in Antigua!!! So, we got hold of the awesome team at All-Source Exports in Fort Lauderdale and they sourced one and had it on a plane within 24 hours — incredible. Without going into even more details, it took some “McGyvering” to get the new part to fit but it did and 36 hours or so after discovering this major issue we were back on track for a sail to the BVI’s enroute to the USVI’s.

image

Most of that sail was uneventful but just as we turned the corner to find a mooring on Cooper Island we got hit by one of the biggest squalls we had ever seen in the Caribbean. It poured so hard we could barely see the front of the boat. To top if off, the anchorage was so jam-packed we couldn’t grab a mooring or even drop the anchor. So, we had to motor around very slowly in poor visibility for almost 2 hours before the system passed and we found safe anchorage in Great Bay on Peter Island.

image

As we’d been delayed with repairs in Antigua and Sint Maarten, we didn’t have a lot of time to lollygag in the British Virgin Islands so the next morning we pulled up anchor and had an easy sail to St. Thomas where we caught up with our land-based friends Tim and Lauren, who also had our mail. Then, after a little shopping and laundry, we hit the high seas and made our way to the little island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands, which are located between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico.

image

The plan was for a short stop in Culebra followed by a hop over to the island of Vieques before taking a break in Puerto Rico. But, as we have come to expect, plans and reality don’t always agree. In this case, the winds were blowing 20-25 knots on the nose and the seas were rough but we figured it’s only 25-miles or so to Vieques so “what the heck, how bad can it be?”

The answer was much worse than we expected. Not so much the conditions, which I gotta say were bad, but the fact that all of a sudden we lost all steering! One minute we were bashing into the waves and the next minute our port side steering wheel looked like it was about to fall off. We have twin wheels and were able to steer from the starboard one for a short period but eventually it lost steering as well and the boat started turning in circles.

Fortunately, one of the essential pieces of equipment on most boats is an emergency tiller and, after taking a few minutes to empty our locker to find ours (we have never had to actually use it), I managed to attach it to the rudder post and was able to muscle the boat for the 12 miles or so back to Culebra because we were familiar enough with the harbor to enter under emergency conditions.

image

Once we’d anchored and gotten over the shock, with a little help from our friend Stoli, I went to work diagnosing the problem. I assumed the steering cable had broken, which is not that uncommon, and I was ready to take the ferry to Puerto Rico to find a replacement if necessary. But it turned out that the ring clip that holds the steering wheel hub in place had broken and the hub came loose allowing the chain and cable to fall off so we had no steering.

image

image

The problem then was I didn’t have one of those particular clips in my bag of spares and there were only two tiny hardware stores on the island. But, the gods were smiling on us as the second store did have the clip along with the specialty pliers required to install it. I was so relieved I would have paid $500 for them at that point but the clip was $1 (I bought a few) and the pliers were $15 so I left that store as the happiest man on Culebra!

Once the steering was fixed, we decided that we needed some recovery time before heading out and we’re so glad we did as our first impressions of Culebra were that it was little more than a stop along the way. But after we rented a golf cart and toured the island for a day, we found one of the most gorgeous beaches in the Caribbean and some very charming shops and restaurants, which all made Culebra much more than we expected and worthy of another visit someday – long after we forget about the steering incident.

image

image

image

OK, so now we’d been delayed in Antigua, Sint Maarten and Culebra with repairs and were falling behind on our plan to be in Florida before the official start of the Tropical Storm season on June 1. But, after all the drama with repairs we vowed to just enjoy the rest of the journey and hope no tropical storms hit before we got home….

After a quick overnight stop in Vieques, we sailed to the tiny port of Salinas on the south side of Puerto Rico which was a good anchorage but, frankly, had seen better days. It had a number of run-down marinas, some small restaurants and a tiny beach but I guess Puerto Rico has too many other beautiful places because sadly Salinas was not worth a return visit.

image

One of the places worth a visit was Ponce, our next stop in Puerto Rico, where we got a dock at the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club for a week to use as our base while we enjoyed the surprisingly lush, mountainous beauty of the island. And, what a week it was! We used our Hotels.com rewards to spoil ourselves at the Hilton Ponce one night. Then, we rented a car and spent a couple of days in historic Old San Juan staying overnight at Villa Hermencia, one of the most charming places we have ever stayed in. After that, we took a tour of the rain forest at El Yunque then enjoyed a scenic drive around the east coast of the island back to Ponce to provision and prep the boat for our sail across the notorious Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic.

image

image

image

image

image

image

I guess after the delays and issues we’d had with the boat our luck turned because we had a good sail across the Mona Passage then motor-sailed along the DR coast under a full moon through the first night. The next morning, instead of stopping in Samana, our original plan, we decided to keep going through a second night to Luperon on the north coast of the DR. In hindsight this was a good call but when we were surrounded by lightning strikes that night we were really second guessing the wisdom of that decision.

However, after dodging lightning through the night and running aground in the harbor entrance, due to incorrect information on our Navionics chart, we eventually made it into Luperon and were kindly escorted to a mooring by Papo, who was the most industrious boat service person we have ever met. Once we were on his mooring, which was only $2/night, he sold us a DR courtesy flag then came back with his fuel boat to sell us 55-gallons of diesel. Then, when we asked about getting the boat bottom cleaned, he came back with one of his divers to start scrubbing that same morning. In fact, we got more done by Papo that morning that we’d done in a week in some other places!!!

With the boat taken care of and our check-in with Customs, Immigration, the Port Captain and the Department of Agriculture out of the way, we just chilled and enjoyed everything the little town of Luperon had to offer. Mainly some shops and stores, a nice beach with a sadly abandoned resort, and a great restaurant at the marina where we met our new friend Rufo, the friendly black lab who gave us our dog fix by allowing us to walk him to the beach. In other words, he followed us…

image

image

image

image

Our highlight of the Dominican Republic, however, was the 27-Waterfalls, located halfway between Luperon and Puerto Plata. Granted it’s a tourist attraction but it’s a national park that features 27 natural waterfalls where, after a 45-minute uphill hike, you can either jump or slide your way back down the mountain from elevations as high as 30-feet. To top it all off, our $19/person ticket included a huge buffet lunch afterwards. What more could you ask for?

2016-05-27_12-20-31_30

2016-05-27_11-45-02_317

2016-05-27_11-43-59_575

2016-05-27_11-05-57_520

2016-05-27_13-09-43_847

Sadly, our stop in the Dominican Republic was much too short as the people were super friendly and there seemed to be so much more to see. But, it was time to move on as we only have one country — the Bahamas — left to go before “Richard and Audrey’s Excellent Adventures” come to an end and we seek our new home somewhere in the good old USA.

The Month Of Audrey

image

We’re tired, exhausted, spent, drained and every other connotation you can come up with for being in need of rest. As most of you know by now, March 27th was Audrey’s 50th Birthday (I guess I can say it out loud now, right?) and for her half-century celebrations I named March 2016 as the “Month of Audrey” and made a secret plan with some of our dearest friends to come to the Caribbean to celebrate this momentous occassion.

Of course, I recognized that people in the real/working world couldn’t just hop on a plane and come to the Caribbean. They have jobs, families and/or alternate winter vacation plans but I was hopeful that a few would be able to make the trek and surprise the 50-year old “heck” out of Audrey.

First, I want to say thanks to all of those who tried to get here and couldn’t make it. We certainly understand the challenges and appreciate the effort. We also want to say thanks to everyone who celebrated in spirit by sending cards (which was a challenge unto itself), e-cards or birthday greetings on Facebook, text, or email. She was overwhelmed by the number of greetings, especially given that we’ve been off the beaten track for so long.

image

But, back to the Month of Audrey. I gotta say that I was even surprised and overwhelmed by the number of friends that were able to visit AND by the fact that we were able to keep most of the plans a surprise.

The Month of Audrey actually started on February 25 in Sint Maarten with the arrival of Graeme from Toronto. I tried to figure out a way to make his arrival a surprise but, since we were anchored in Simpson Bay Lagoon and I would have to get in the dinghy to pick him up, I broke down and told her the day before he arrived. She had a feeling that someone was coming for the Hieneken Regatta, which is why we were in Sint Maarten in the first place, but she didn’t know who or when so it was still a surprise when I told her and when I picked him up at Soggy Dollar to bring him back to the boat.

image

Sharon, the other half of the Lawson tag-team, arrived in Sint Maarten a few days later and kicked off the official Month of Audrey with a reunion party on Celebration followed by 7 more days of sight-seeing and partying that peaked at the closing party of the Hieneken Regatta with a performance by Grammy-winning R&B/Hip-Hop performer Akon. So nice of Hieneken and the Sint Maarten Yacht Club to plan their Regatta around Audrey’s birthday!!!

image

OK..phase one was a success but, unknown to Audrey, we only had a few days after the Lawson’s left to haul ass down to Antigua before phase two could begin. Our original plan was to leave Sint Maarten and return to St. Bart’s to watch The Bucket, which is one of the great spectacles of sailboat racing since the minimum size of yacht allowed to enter is one hundred feet, yes 100-feet!!! I know many of you are not sailors and probably have no idea what kind of resources you need to own that kind of yacht but let’s just say the smallest ones are multi-million dollar toys and the biggest ones, which ranged up to 300-feet, are tens-of-million dollar toys.

image

It would have been great to see but since we had seen many of these yachts in and around Sint Maarten and we only had a few days to get to Antigua, I “suggested” we pass on The Bucket as we were supposed to have a good weather window for sailing. Of course, the forecast was wrong and we ended up motoring most of the way but we did arrive just in time to get checked through Customs and Immigration and get the lay of the land before the surprise arrival of Matt and Madalin.

image

In this case, surprise was the understatement of the year because there were a few other surprises in store for Audrey and I. First, our outboard dinghy engine conked out at the Customs and Immigration dock just after we checked in. Fortunately, there was a boat yard nearby so we rowed over and asked their mechanic to take a look at it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find the problem so we left the engine with him and got a tow back to the mothership, which was anchored in the bay just outside Jolly Harbor.

Second, Matt and Madalin were arriving the next day and due to the fact that we didn’t have an engine on the dinghy, I needed a new plan for picking them up without spoiling the surprise. Long story short, I told Matt and Madalin to meet us at the bar in the marina when they arrive and told Audrey that we needed to kayak into the marina in order for us to get a status on the outboard engine, check our emails and do a blog post since we hadn’t done one in over a month. The plan was Matt and Madalin would surprise Audrey at the bar then Matt and I would kayak back to the mothership and bring it to the fuel dock where we could get fuel and pick-up the girls and luggage.

image

The birthday surprise at the bar worked perfectly as Audrey had tears in her eyes when she realized who was hugging her from behind. The next unexpected surprise was after Matt and I kayaked to the mothership and brought it to the fuel dock we discovered that the engine on the mothership was severely overheating. In fact, the gauge was off the scale and I was afraid to even move it from the fuel dock. Fortunately (I guess), we were close to the same boat yard where we left the outboard so we nursed the mothership to their service dock where we tied up and waited for the engine to cool down before we could do any diagnostics.

I’ll spare you the details but the prognosis was not good. The intake manifold, which is a major component, was corroded and needed to be replaced and while removing it the studs on the cylinder head broke so it had to be removed. And, since we had the cylinder head off it made sense to machine and service it as well. In other words, we were going to be stuck on the service dock for an extended period. Guess what Audrey’s getting for her 50th birthday???

image

Anyway, we came to terms with the need for the two engines to be repaired and at the end of the day were glad it happened in Antigua and, conveniently, close to a boat yard as it could have been much worse.

We were also very happy that our phase two guests were Matt and Madalin as they had cruised their own boat from Toronto to the Bahamas and understand that shit happens. Plus, they know how to make the best of a bad situation and we had no intention of letting a parked boat spoil the Month of Audrey. We rented a car for a few days to check out Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbor and some of Antigua’s 365 beaches. We also bought day-passes for two of the island’s all-inclusive resorts and spoiled ourselves rotten. After that we wined and dined the week away.

OK, with a few hiccups, phase two was successful. Now it was time for phase three — the Big One. In this case, Don and Freda were flying in from Detroit and Diane and Julio were flying in from Spain, and they had rented a spectacular villa for all of us to celebrate the Month of Audrey. The challenge, once again, was how to keep the surprise.

This time it worked like a charm — not as planned but still like a charm. Matt and Madalin were still with us so I told the Villa Gang (Don, Freda, Diane and Julio) to meet us at the bar in the marina under the guise that we’d just be there for Happy Hour drinks. The plan was for them to surprise the heck out of Audrey and have a few drinks before they headed to the villa. But, their flight was delayed and they got a little turned around coming from the villa so they couldn’t get to the bar at the agreed upon time. And, after an hour or more of stalling Audrey, she went back to the boat with Madalin to whip up the planned pork roast for dinner while Matt and I pretended to stay just to finish our drinks.

Not too long after Audrey and Madalin left, the Villa Gang arrived at the bar and after a quick drink we all headed to the boat. The new plan, which was suggested by the master sales dude Matt, was Don and Freda would go first, pretending to be tourists looking for directions to a restauarant. Then, Diane and Julio would follow a few minutes later to double-down on the surprise. As I said earlier, this worked like a charm as I think Don, Freda, Diane and Julio were almost the last people she expected to see in Antigua. Well, you had to be here because there were screams and tears of joy coming from the cockpit as phase three kicked in. That was one phase of the plan that I never thought we’d pull off but I love it when a plan comes together!!!

image

After that there was no end to the birthday celebrations. First, we partied with everyone onboard that night. Then, as the next day was Matt and Madalin’s last day the four of us had dinner at Al Porto, a local Italian restaurant. After a tearful goodbye to Matt and Madalin the next morning, the Villa Gang picked us up at the marina and chauffered us off to Pelican House, a spectacular villa on the northeast side of the island.

image

Now, after being on the boat for so long, Audrey and I could have just stayed and enjoyed the villa for the duration. We did spend quite a bit of time there — for obvious reasons – but as it was still the Month of Audrey, we hit the sights including the Devil’s Bridge, Nelson’s Dockyard and the lively Sunset Party at Shirley Heights, which happened to be held on Sunday, March 27 — Audrey’s actual birthday. Could we have planned it any better???

Alas, all good things must come to an end and after visits from Sharon and Graeme in Sint Maarten then Matt, Madalin, Don, Freda, Diane and Julio in Antigua we were ready to hide in our salon (living room), watch movies and read books for a week.

But, it was not meant to be since, the day after the Villa Gang left, our cruising freinds Mike and Holly sailed into Jolly Harbor to hoist a drink or three for Audrey’s birthday. Of course, we had to continue the festivities so for the next few days (well into April) we shared Happy Hours and swapped sailing stories then concluded the Month of Audrey with a final night of wining and dining at Al Porto to the sounds of Asher Otto before Mike and Holly sailed off to Montserrat.

image

image

So now you know why we’re so exhausted. It’s been a wonderful, once in a lifetime celebration of Audrey’s special birthday and we will remember it for the rest of our lives but right now we just need a long afternoon nap in our comfy salon…:-)

Main Salon

 

Sensory Overload

After two and a half years of cruising to primarily small towns and communities in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and the Caribbean you would think we’d be accustomed to them and possibly comfortable with the idea of living in a smaller town when this adventure comes to an end, right?

image

WRONG! As much as we have enjoyed the experience and the peaceful solitude of remote anchorages, we still prefer the conveniences and distractions of city life. I mean really. After living in Toronto, Sydney, Miami and Los Angeles can you actually picture us living in Nowhereville?

image

OK, OK it’s probably not that bad and one day we may want to move to a quiet little tropical paradise. But, at this point in our life, we still need live music, restaurants, bars, gourmet grocery stores (for Audrey) and, of course, marinas, chandleries, regattas and all things boating.

image

Wait a tick?  We just spent 6 weeks in a tropical, Caribbean island that has all of those things and more. It’s quite amazing but Sint Maarten/St. Martin, the little island that is shared by the Netherlands and France, had everything on our hit list and more.

image

It not only met our requirements for boating stuff, it also had a few awesome grocery stores that stocked almost everything Chef Audrey had on her shopping list.

image

Plus, if there was something specific we needed that was not in stock, we are quite certain that one of the many Yacht Provision companies that cater to the numerous mega-yachts based there would have been more than happy to expedite anything our heart desired — for a hefty price. We didn’t take advantage of this particular service but if we ever needed some Prince Edward Island mussels or Argentinian steaks, we knew how to get them.

image

To top it off, they have live music venues all over the island and a number of concerts and music festivals throughout the year. However, as far as we sailors are concerned, the biggest and best live music on the island is during the famous Hieneken Regatta. Yes, its primary purpose is sailboat racing around the island but over the years it has become a major tourist attraction drawing sailors and non-sailors alike.

image

imageimage

As you can see, the yachts, crews and parties are a “fun for all” but the biggest draw are the over-the-top parties that this little regatta, with major funding from Hieneken and a few other sponsors, have been able to host.

image

imageThey are held every night of the 5-day regatta, are attended by thousands of revelers, and include performances by top local musicians and performers from around the world — all for that magic word FREE. Previous headliners include the Black Eyed Peas and Ziggy Marley among others and this year we jammed to Rock City (who have a hit song with Adam Levine of Maroon 5) and grammy-award winning R&B/Hip-Hop perfromer Akon.

image

image

The Heineken Regatta was definitely one of the highlights of this adventure and if you ever get a chance to attend or, even better participate, you should jump at it. But, if you’re not interested in regattas, loud music and/or rowdy bars, Sint Maarten/St. Martin also has beautiful beaches, quaint hotels, and quiet anchorages, and is within a day sail (or short ferry ride) of both St. Barths and Anguilla.

image

image

And, if you really want something different, Sint Maarten also has one of the only beaches in the world that is virtually on the runway of a major airport. It’s a little scary but for “aero-nuts” from around the world it’s heaven on earth.

imageAll in all, Sint Maarten/St. Martin had almost everything we could ask for in a Caribbean escape and, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re going to need good jobs soon to pay for this adventure, we could actually live there.

image

Maybe one day we will live there. In the meantime, we’ll always remember the sensory overload of yachts, planes, casinos, food, beaches (even nude ones), parties and people, including our friends Sharon and Graeme who joined us from Toronto for the Hieneken Regatta and a little early celebration of Audrey’s upcoming birthday.

image

Watch for more on the “Month of Audrey” in our next post…

Homeland

I’ve never actually lived there but since both of my parents were raised there, I’ve always had a strong affinity with the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Growing up in England (where my parents moved as young adults) then Canada, I remember stories my dad told us about places like The Gut, Monkey Hill and Sandy Point, as well as adventures like surfing on a door (he was too poor to have a surfboard) and misadventures like being fed monkey by a friend of the family who failed to mention it until after dinner!!!

IMG_2075

However, traveling to St. Kitts for family vacations was not in the budget so it wasn’t until my siblings and I were in our late teens that we made the first of many trips to the little island my parents called home.

St. Kitts is just 64 square miles with a population of around 50, 000 and in the 80’s it was just a blip on the tourism radar. The airport had just been expanded to allow jumbo jets to land; there was no cruise ship port or even dock; there was one large “resort” hotel (Jack Tar); and a handful of mediocre restaurants/bars mainly in Frigate Bay.

image

I still remember my brother and I teasing my dad about the island being so small you could kick a soccer ball from one side of the island to the next. Turns out this was only slightly exaggerated since there is a narrow strip of the island along the peninsula where I’m sure someone like Beckham could kick the ball to the other side…

image

Anyway, my parents loved it so much that after my dad retired from General Motors (yes, I’m a GM kid) and my mom retired from Bell Canada they built their little dream home outside Basseterre and became snowbirds, spending summers in Canada and winters in St. Kitts. Of course, this meant that my siblings and I had to “visit the parents” so we’ve spent many vacations on the island…:-)

IMG_2088

The upside was, for those looking for seclusion or privacy, it was off the radar and as the Caribbean became popular with the rich and famous St. Kitts and its sister island Nevis became known for this quality and this is still the case today. In fact, the new Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was there this past Christmas (when we were there) and we didn’t find out until after he left. Plus, there was a surprising number of private jets at the airport and more mega-yachts anchored offshore than we’ve ever seen.

image

 

Now, with Audrey and I having spent an entire month in St. Kitts (my longest visit ever), that included visits from my brother Colin as well as Audrey’s brother Jerry, his wife Mary and daughter Carolyn, we were truly able to get into the island groove and see how much it has developed over the years.

image

image

IMG_2096

And, we’re happy to report that even with an expanded airport, a large cruise ship port, a massive 500-room Marriott resort, and wide array of restaurants and bars ranging from the gorgeous Ottley’s Plantation (a favorite of ours) to Mr. X’s Shiggedy Shack or Reggae Beach it’s still a relatively unspoiled island when compared to others in the Caribbean.

image

image

image

IMG_2092-0

Although, if you want to get a glimpse of the unspoiled St. Kitts, you may want to visit soon since every time we come there are more condos, villas and hotels and many more on the drawing board. The most current being St. Christophe Harbor, which is a massive project at the south east end of the island (the peninsula) that includes a mega-yacht marina, golf course, private villas, restaurants and a few hotels.

image

 

Up to this point, besides a few beach bars, this area of St.Kitts had been completely undeveloped. However, Christophe Harbor is centered around dredging a channel from the Caribbean Sea to a large salt pond to create a harbor, much like Simpson Bay lagoon in Sint Maarten/St. Martin, which will be surrounded by the aforementioned facilities. In fact, the channel is already finished, the marina just opened (selling 100+ foot docks starting a $2 million USD!!!). And, owners have taken possession of some of the luxurious villas.

image

Having said this, unspoiled is a relative term so it depends on what you are looking for. If you a looking for a beach that isn’t lined with high rise hotels, tacky restaurants and beach chairs where people put towels in place first thing in the morning, you have nothing to worry about.

image

If your looking for secluded beaches, wild monkeys, tropical rain forests and historic unrestored sugar cane mills that have yet to be converted to yuppie inns you may want to visit sooner rather than later.

image

On the downside, if your looking for authentic Caribbean (i.e. poor) towns and villages that seemingly haven’t changed since colonial days no need to rush since, unfortunately, St. Kitts still has too many of these. I’m no economist but I’m hoping the benefits of all this development trickles down to these “unspoiled” towns and villages soon. They may be poor but the people in these places are friendly and welcoming and seem genuinely pleased when a tourist actually stops in town instead of speeding through on their way to Brimstone Hill, the Scenic Railway or their secluded villa.

image

On this note, kudos to Jerry, Mary and Carolyn for staying at a quaint little villa in the tiny village of Dieppe Bay, virtually the furthest point away from where Audrey and I were staying at my mom’s house in Basseterre. I’m sure they wanted to be closer to us (right???) but they ended up experiencing a region of St. Kitts that most tourists never see and they said they loved it.

image

We’re glad they did and hope you’ll consider visiting St. Kitts if you’re looking for a Caribbean vacation. Our month in my parents “Homeland” was wonderful and we’re back to our normal cruising life now (hanging in St. Martin) but you never know, we may be back in St. Kitts before this little adventure is over…

IMG_2082

 

 

Family and Friends

We can never deny the fact that we have an awesome life being able to fulfill a dream of sailing our own boat to all of these exotic places. We’re sure you’ve all seen the Facebook posts, read the blog, ordered the book, and are anxiously waiting for the movie (right?) so we won’t “bore” you with another post on how gorgeous the Caribbean is.

image
Instead, we’d like to let you know how much we miss you — all of our family and friends. And, show what a wonderful Holiday Season we had spending time with some of our family and friends.

The season began in St. John, USVI in November where we celebrated a “special” birthday for our Toronto-based friend Sharon. In a move that may never be topped (certainly not by me), her husband Graeme planned and hosted a birthday trip of a lifetime for Sharon that was “crashed” by 8 of her best friends — Matt, Madalin, Meg, Alex, Bill, Jackie, Audrey and me — in one of the most spectacular villas we have ever seen.

imageimage

The trip was all about spending time with good friends and we all had a great time enjoying wonderful meals, good wine, hanging by the pool, hiking and going to the beach. We even had a private chef prepare a sumptuous (and very filling) meal on Sharon’s birthday.

imageimage

imageimage
But, I gotta say Graeme made major points that he will be able to cash in for years to come for that villa. It had 5 bedrooms, 3 kitchens, an infinity pool, flat screen TV’s everywhere (including one by the pool and a 60+ inch 3-D one in the recreation room), and wrap around balconies with spectacular views of the ocean.
imageimageimageIMG_2023

To top off the celebration and give them some much needed relaxation, Sharon and Graeme spent a few extra days with us on our boat where, after a panicked day of repairing an overheating engine, we sailed from St. Thomas to Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island where we spent the night. The next morning we sailed to St. John, where we hung out in St. Francis Bay before heading back to St. Thomas the next day so they could catch their flight back to Toronto.

image
The icing on the cake, for Audrey and I, was being able to spend so much quality time with so many of our really good friends — not only for Sharon’s birthday but also because it was so close to U.S. Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas/Holiday Season.

imageimage
After the partying was over and Audrey and I had a day or so to recover, we hauled up the anchor and made our way from St. Thomas to Cooper Island in the BVI, where we stayed for one night, before heading off to St. Kitts, where we promised our families we would be for Christmas.

imageimage
It was another upwind 120+ mile sail but, compared to the previous sagas, this was only one night at sea and aside from a small “run-in” with a cruise ship between Saba and Statia Islands, it was rather uneventful. We were docked at Port Zante Marina by noon and completely checked-in with customs, immigration and the marina office with plenty of time to give a surprise call to my mother and have her come and pick us up so we could stay at Casa James for the holidays…:-)

IMG_2090

And, what a great holiday season we had. My brother Colin arrived just a few days after we did and between drinks at Reggae Beach, Carambola Beach Club and Mr. X’s Shiggedy Shack or hanging out on Celebration, we spent most of the week doing jobs around the house, including chopping down coconuts in my mother’s back garden.

IMG_2092

image

On Christmas Eve we got dressed up (yes, I wore long pants, a dress shirt, socks and dress shoes!!!) and attended midnight mass at the beautifully decorated church where my mother sings in the choir. The next day we had a wonderful family Christmas dinner of turkey and ham with all the fixings prepared by chefs Audrey and Alma. Then, on December 26, after his last swim in the Caribbean, Colin jumped on an Air Canada flight and headed back to the Great White North.

IMG_2096IMG_2106

However, that was not the end of family time as Audrey’s brother Jerry, his wife Mary and their daughter Carolyn arrived at the same time as Colin was leaving so the holiday festivities started all over again.

First, we delivered them to their villa, which was at the opposite end of the island in Dieppe Bay. It was a long drive from “town” and the beaches but it was a little oasis for them as it overlooked the Caribbean and had its own pool.

imageimage
After letting them relax for the first night, we took them to get their rental car (an old piece of crap Ford Focus that was the last car on the lot) so they could enjoy their vacation without having to rely on Uber Richard, and so they could go to all the places that Audrey and I had already seen, for example the historic Brimstone Hill fortress.

But, we couldn’t let them have all the fun without us so throughout the week we took them to some of our favorite haunts like Reggae Beach, Carambola Beach Club and Sprat Net Seafood Restaurant (where I had to wait an hour for my pizza while everyone else enjoyed their fish and shrimp — my bad) between their self-drive tours of the island.

imageIMG_2126
For New Year’s Eve we looked into attending some of the big parties or galas on the island but even in little St. Kitts they were beyond our cruising budget so we hosted Mary, Jerry and Carolyn for dinner and drinks on Celebration while my mother sang at the church during a special New Year’s Eve mass.

image
The next day, Kittitians rang in the new year with even more gusto than New Year’s Eve as New Year’s Day is also the day of the Sugar Mas Carnival’s Grand Parade. For anyone who has never been to a Caribbean carnival, they are a spectacle of color, music, dancing and fun that are the highlight of the year for many residents. The floats and Mas bands also tend to be very “unique” because they are competing for cash and, more importantly, prestige. The pics don’t do it justice but here’s a few that will give you an idea of what it was like.

imageimageimageimage
Well, carnival not only marked the end of the year, it also marked the end of Jerry, Mary and Carolyn’s vacation in St. Kitts. The next day, after a final swim in the Caribbean (a departure day tradition?), a beer at the Shiggedy Shack and lunch at the Sunset Cafe, we dropped them at the airport for their flight back to Toronto.

With their departure, the vacations and celebrations of the holiday season were over and we were quite sad, after a month or so with family and friends, to see everyone go. On the other hand, we are so glad that we were able to spend such a wonderful birthday and holiday season with everyone.

IMG_2019
We are also very happy to be spending another couple of weeks with mom in St. Kitts before going “cold turkey” without friends or family to our next destination.

Island Hopping Time

It’s been over two years of cruising in some very cool and interesting places like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia but other than a few islands in the Sea of Cortez and off the coast of Panama we have essentially been coastal sailing off North, Central and South America.

image

Well, it’s a whole new ball game as we’re in the heart of the Caribbean and will be spending the remainder of our adventure island hopping around the Leeward Islands before heading back to “civilization” ahead the next hurricane season. In a way, the island hopping began when we left Colombia for Aruba but since we were parked there for this year’s hurricane season, in our minds, we didn’t start “hopping” till we left Aruba.

IMG_1455

So, where are we, how did we get here, and where are we going? Yeah, yeah…it’s been a while since we gave a full update so here’s the skinny:

We left Aruba in October after three months in the awesome Renaissance Marina in downtown Oranjestad. We’ve mentioned this in previous posts but the marina was part of the Renaissance Resort complex which includes 2 hotels, 3 swimming pools, 2 casinos, a beach club, fitness center and numerous restaurants and bars. Needless to say, if you have to be somewhere outside the hurricane zone, we can’t think of a better place than Aruba.

IMG_1555

But all good things must come to an end and since we wanted to spend a few weeks (or more) in Bonaire, by mid-October it was time to move on. However, before hitting the high seas, we needed to make sure our boat gear was working after being parked for so long so we left the marina and anchored in the same small bay where we had arrived 3 months earlier. And, it’s a good thing we did. First, we needed to ensure our new windlass was working properly – which thank goodness it did. But, after that, we discovered the outboard engine for the dinghy was not working. Then we ran out of propane. Nothing major but we’re glad we discovered the issues and had them resolved before we left.

IMG_1868

Our first “hop” was a relatively short 120-mile overnight sail from Aruba past Curacao to Bonaire. But, before we talk about Bonaire, I do have to explain why we by-passed Curacao since I have family there and it was definitely on our list of places to stop.

IMG_1589-0

First, we had already done a quick overnight trip — by plane — to Curacao and had seen some of the highlights. Second, we had been told by a number boaters that it was not that conducive to short stops. Apparently it’s a hassle to check-in and out with Customs and Immigration. Third, even though it is a relatively short distance, due to strong winds and currents, it would be an overnight sail to Curacao then we would still have another long sail to Bonaire. In the end, although we would have loved to spend some time in Curacao and I really feel terrible, it just made more sense to go directly to Bonaire because we could do it in one shot while we had good weather.

IMG_1598

You know those pictures you see of perfect places with crystal clear water that looks too good to be true? Most of the time they’re photoshopped but if you see pictures of Bonaire, let us assure you that they are not. Of all the places we’ve been to (and there have been a lot!!!) we’ve always told people we’d never seen crystal clear water like we did during our previous sabbatical in the Bahamas. Well, we stand corrected because the waters surrounding Bonaire were as clear, if not clearer, than the Bahamas AND we were moored (no anchoring is allowed anywhere in Bonaire) in 30+ feet of water just 100 feet from shore in the main town!!! You can just imagine how clear the waters around the reefs would be. As a matter of fact, we were moored right off one of the many dive centers and the water was so clear the divers just jumped in the water off the dock and we often had them scuba diving under our boat

IMG_1884

Besides the crystal clear waters, abundant marine life and spectacular diving that Bonaire is famous for, the town of Kralendijk had a quaint downtown with lots of waterfront shops, restaurants and bars, and a number of small inns and villas as there are no major hotels on the island.

IMG_1873-0

IMG_1871

Sounds ideal right? Yeah, the plan was the stay for up to a month, take a full PADI diving course, get back to kayaking, snorkeling, swimming and enjoying life on the water again. Sweet…except we still had 400+ tough miles of northeast sailing to do and, along with favorable winds for the next week or so, we had a full moon to guide us through 4 nights of bashing upwind. So, you guessed it, we left beautiful Bonaire after just 5 days to head for the Virgin Islands before the infamous Caribbean Christmas Winds, which start in December, socked us in Bonaire — which may not have been a bad thing except we promised our mothers (plural) we’d be in St. Kitts for Christmas (more on this later).

IMG_1872

Now don’t get us wrong Bonaire was memorable but, in hindsight, we made the right decision to leave when we did. The 4 days and nights of sailing/motor-sailing northeast from Bonaire to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands were not exactly “island hopping” but they were leaps and bounds better than the beating we took sailing from Colombia to Aruba. We actually sailed about half the time and found the nights calm enough to eat a cooked meal and even sleep for a few hours at a time. Dare I say that it was almost enjoyable — except for the rotating 2-hour night shifts and the scary lightening storm that hit just south of Puerto Rico. The icing on the cake is the Virgin Islands are a measly 120-miles (upwind) from St. Kitts, which means we can take our time and do some real island hopping before we have to be there.

???????????????????????????????

Our first stop in the USVI was St. Croix, the largest and most “remote” in the chain as it is a whopping 35 miles away from the more popular St. Thomas and St. John, and relatively speaking it does not get a lot of tourists. But, to us, it was an oasis after 4 days and nights at sea. We anchored in Gallow’s Bay, just off the main town of Christiansted, which meant it was close to everything, including US Customs and Immigration (a very easy check-in), all the restaurants and bars on the boardwalk, a great gourmet grocery store, and the marina. Plus, we rented a small car for the day and were able to see most of the attractions the island has to offer, including the Yacht Club and Point Udall, the most eastern point of the United States.

IMG_1913

IMG_1909

Our next “hop” was a picturesque 35-mile sail (yes, we sailed the whole way) to Charlotte Amalie, the main city on St. Thomas, as we needed to check-out the marine facilities and do some duty-free shopping, which is what the island is famous for, right? Can you believe that a 1-liter bottle of Stoli Vodka is only $9 at the grocery store? Plus, the other lesser known brands for $3 a liter!!! Damn, we thought we were in danger of becoming alcoholics in Mexico with its cheap beer and tequila but I see we are going to need massive discipline here. Who says the Caribbean is expensive? Oops, seems I went off on a tangent with the vodka. Anyway, since we knew we were returning to St. Thomas, we left after a few days for a quick hop over to St. John, the jewel of the USVI.

IMG_1916

St. John is the jewel of the USVI because most of the island and surrounding water is a national park (donated to the US government by Laurence Rockefeller) and as such there is limited development and, except in a few specific locations, boats are not allowed to anchor – they must use park moorings. In addition, there are only a handful of major hotels as many tourists stay in villas that range from small huts to multi-million dollar mansions.

We headed straight for Coral Bay as it is one of the few places on St. John where you can anchor (i.e. it’s free) and because our cruising and tourist guides described it as a hip, artsy community with a few stores, galleries and some eclectic restaurants. Now, we didn’t expect San Francisco but we think they oversold it. It has tons of boats at anchor, many of which look derelict, a couple of small grocery stores, 3-4 interesting looking restaurants and a cool floating bar. But, it seems to meet its purpose and we were able to grab a bus from there to the main town/village of Cruz Bay, which has significantly more restaurants and shops, and is where the ferries from St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands land. It’s also where the national park HQ is located.

IMG_1953-0

 

IMG_1938-0

After a couple of nights in Coral Bay we sailed around the island to gorgeous Francis Bay on the north side of the island. And, after the underwhelming experience of Coral Bay, we have to say that we now understood why people rave about St. John. Francis Bay is a very large, well protected bay with clear water, white sandy beaches, good snorkeling and secure, inexpensive moorings ($15/night). Plus, even though it’s only a few short miles from the crowded anchorages of the BVI’s (the most popular charter boat destination in the world), there were lots of moorings available. Regretfully, since this was just an exploratory visit and we knew we’d be back, we only spent a couple of nights here but we could have stayed for two weeks and been perfectly content.

IMG_1971-0

But, island hopping was the mission so we sailed 14 miles back to St. Thomas and dropped the hook in Megan’s Bay. We’d seen pictures of this beautiful bay, which has a mile-long white, sandy beach and, though we’d been warned that it gets really busy when cruise ships are in, knew we needed to check it out for ourselves. Well, we’re not sure if it was too early in the season or we were just lucky but it was a great spot as there were no other cruising boats (just a few local boats on private moorings) and even when the cruise ship tourists arrived they tended to cluster around the bar/restaurant leaving the more remote parts of beach free for wandering. And, once 4 pm rolled around they headed back to their ships. In short, Megan’s Bay is definitely on the list of places the revisit but we had one more stop to make before returning to Charlotte Amalie for a while.

IMG_1970-0

We had met cruising friends from the Netherlands while we were in Panama who told us we have to stop in Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island (yes, very appropriate) and we’re so glad we did. It’s a small bay that is a less than a mile from St. Thomas but it’s got clear water, a good reef for snorkeling, free moorings and, if you didn’t look at all the lights from St. Thomas, you’d never know it was so close. Definitely another stop worth a revisit.

Swimming Pool 8

We’re now back in Charlotte Amalie where we plan to enjoy Thanksgiving and hang out for a while before hopping back to St. John then embarking on our next major “hop” 120 miles south east to St. Kitts for Christmas with our mothers. For those of you who don’t already know it, my family is from St. Kitts and my mother lives on the island. Audrey’s mother, as well as her brother (Jerry), his wife (Mary)and daughter (Carolyn) are all flying to St. Kitts to spend the holidays with us. As you can imagine, we can’t wait to island hop down to St. Kitts and see the family as well as all the development that has apparently happened since my last visit, including a mega-yacht marina that is selling 100-foot + boat slips starting $2 million each!

IMG_2019