Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Swam with a wild dolphin “Pierre” in Iles des Saintes!

Yesterday was one of our best days yet on the adventure. After a nice morning run and breakfast of baguettes and chocolate croissants, we spotted a dolphin off our starboard rail. We’re anchored off the beautiful French hamlet of Bourg in Iles des Saintes. Dana and Hanna had their flippers and snorkels on in a flash and were in the water. I expected the dolphin to leave, but instead he came close to the duo and swam with them.

Dana and Hanna spot "Pierre"
Upon seeing the dolphin’s desire to play, I hopped in as well. It was an amazing experience. He let us get very close and would swim right next to us in a leisurely fashion before diving down about 15 feet and just hanging out. He would then come back up to us and swim around in circles looking at us. At one point, he curled up into a “C” shape under water and just looked at Dana. He seemed to actually enjoy hanging out with us and was as intrigued by us as we were of him.

Dana with "Pierre"

Me with "Pierre"

Hanna with "Pierre"
Other boats in the anchorage noticed the fun we were having and a few other boaters jumped in as well. A couple on a sailboat from Sweden with their two young daughters joined the mix first. The dolphin appeared to especially like the children and began to put on a show. He would swim very close, clicking in his high pitch excited tone, and then roll onto his back, showing his belly. It was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.

"Pierre" showing off for Swedish family
We named the dolphin “Pierre,” because we’re in French waters. Almost no one in town speaks English, and I’m sure Pierre didn’t understand what we were saying either. We had some sort of connection either way. He seemed to be staring right into our eyes as he swam slowly around us, with his mouth in a constant smile. We spent almost 2 hours swimming together!

Isles des Saintes is another one of those fantastic places that tops our list of favorites on the adventure. The water is crystal clear, the weather is perfect and the beaches are relaxing. The town is incredibly photogenic, with colorful houses and an obvious European influence. There are very few U.S. flagged boats here, and the ferry typically brings French-speaking tourists. We’re far from the American spring break atmosphere of the Virgin Islands.

Bourg town center
Iles des Saintes

House in Bourg
Today we spent some time at Pompierre beach, a tree lined stretch of sand protected from the open ocean by a small island. We lounged on the beach for a couple hours waiting for the one fuel dock in town to open, so we could fill up on diesel. While relaxing on my towel in the sand, I opened up the salami and cheese on baguette I packed for lunch. Out of nowhere, a goat was on my towel with me looking for a handout. I thought it was funny at first, but the goat was very persistent. I had to hold him back or else he would have stolen my whole lunch! The other French beach goers found the whole event very amusing.

Beach goat!
Goat trying to steal my lunch

It will be a shame to leave, but we’re heading south to Dominica tomorrow. Dominica is known for rainforest covered mountains, waterfalls, and jungle rivers. We can’t wait! However, in the meanwhile, our outboard stopped working again. I just had to row half a mile into town, which caused us to miss customs. I will have to row back tomorrow morning to clear out of customs. Hopefully Dana and I can take apart the carburetor (again) to fix the problem. We’ll see.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Brief visitor and pushing further south

Friends at Ile Fourchue
Boyle came and went since our last post and we made the best of the few days he was here. He flew into St. Maarten and Hanna retrieved him from the airport. We were in a marina to get the boat spruced up for his arrival. Thirty minutes after he brought his bags on board we pushed off from the dock and headed out to an anchorage. We got in some good diving off the boat and swimming in Marigot Bay. It was like old times!

The next day we sailed across the St. Bart's channel to Ile Fourchue, an uninhabited island technically part of St. Bart. After anchoring in the calm bay, we dinghied to shore for a makeshift happy hour on the beach. We were treated to a beautiful sunset and had a great night’s sleep. The next day was filled with lounging and snorkeling before a leisurely down wind sail back to the Dutch side of St. Maarten (Sint Martin), where we anchored for the night. We fished throughout both sails and caught several fish. However, they were all mean looking barracuda, which aren't good for eating. Boyle and Hanna stayed in a hotel overlooking the anchorage for his final night and Dana and I had a nice night to ourselves on the boat.


mean looking barracuda
We were sad to see Boyle go, but he promised to visit again soon. Dana, Hanna, and I were up early the day after Boyle left to start a series of long sails south. We’re on a deadline again. Some of our friends from Old City in Philly are coming down to visit us in St. Lucia. Not just a couple or two…four couples. We’re SO excited to see them. We spent a bunch of time with them over the past year and can hardly believe they were able to organize a trip where ALL of them got to come. Of course they can’t stay on small Eventyr, so they’ll have their own lodging. We’ll be hanging out with them every day while they’re here, however, getting to relive the fun we had in Philly. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’d be here in a week and we had to get through five islands or so to make it down there.

From St. Maarten, Dana, Hanna, and I sailed south through rough seas and strong winds in the open ocean getting soaked by salty spray in the cockpit. It was an unpleasant sail to say the least. We made it to St. Kitts just before sunset and were happy to stay in a marina (the cheapest one we’ve found yet on the adventure!). We fit a lot in the next day to make the most of our short stay on the island. We started the day with runs and then planned to rent a car to see the sights. Unfrortunately, St. Kitts is a big cruise ship destination, so the cruise ship passengers had all the cars reserved.

Salty and uncomfortable ride
Lucky for us, we were able to find a cabbie in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts, to drive us to the spots we planned to see. John, the cabbie, was great, and his taxi “Crunch Time” was even better. We fit a lot in: rainforest hike, tour of the island, saw some amazing vistas, and spent time at a nice beach. We also got our laundry done and diesel filled while in St. Kitts, so overall, it was a very productive stay. I even got to watch part of UConn's first round victory at a sports bar!

John the Cabbie in St. Kitts
Rainforest in St. Kitts
St. Kitts view of Atlantic Ocean 
After St. Kitts, we had another long, arduous sail in rough seas to Montserrat. It was slow going, motoring into wind and waves, so we didn’t get there until sunset. We planned to stay the next day, but for the sake of having extra time at better places down the road we decided to anchor for the night and move on the next morning without checking into customs. Monserrat has an active volcano the destroyed the capital city, Plymouth, in 1997. Plumes of ash were erupting as recently as 2010. Passing by the south of the island, we saw the lava flows and the remains of Plymouth. Quite a jarring sight.

Monsterrat ash and lava flow
Yesterday’s long motor sail started in a calm manner but by noon became just as raucous as the previous two sails. Both Hanna and I lost our footing and flew across the cabin landing in heaps on the floor or settee when hit by large waves on separate occasions. We all had to hold on for dear life for several hours straight! I also lost one of my lures when a booby (seabird) swooped down and grabbed it out of the water, getting himself hooked. That poor bird was at the end of the line high in the sky and I had to cut the line so that he didn’t get tangled up in our sail or rigging. I hope he somehow got himself unhooked! Arriving in Guadeloupe, however, made up for the miserable sail.

We arrived in the small charming French town of Deshaies, Guadeloupe yesterday late afternoon and cleared customs. We explored the small little town and loved the place! This morning we felt like real Frenchmen (and women) feasting on baguettes, various meats and cheeses and a rotisserie chicken we brought back to the boat. We had another active day of running, snorkeling, hiking, and a cocktail at a restaurant overlooking the anchorage. The hike up a lovely river winding through the forest with various small waterfalls was especially nice! I carried a bota bag of wine, a la The Sun Also Rises, making it that much more European.

Desahaies anchorage
Ready for our hike!
River in Deshaies
French-style brunch on board

Tomorrow we head onward toward St. Lucia. The weather looks fine, so that will be a nice change. We will be making a shorter jump down to The Saintes, several islands on the south of Guadeloupe. These islands are known for their pristine waters and excellent snorkeling, so we’re looking forward to the stop.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saba, an island that touches the clouds

Anguilla came and went in a blur. We were there one full day, and during that day we rented a car, hung out at beautiful Shoal Bay beach, provisioned food, water and fuel, and had sunset drinks at Elvis’s Beach Bar. We packed a lot in, but felt like it was a very productive day.

Shoal Bay
The next morning we raised anchor just after first light to head for Saba. Saba is a small mountainous island about 40 miles south of our anchorage in Anguilla. We heard people sing its praises ever since the Dominican Republic, so we didn’t want to miss it. What we found was just what we were promised: Lush green rainforests ascending steep slopes, quaint little colorful homes perched precariously over 1000 foot cliffs, and friendly people. We also heard the scuba diving is amazing, but that’s not our bag.

We had a fun sail over in light winds on the beam. We cruised along at six knots under full sail for the last ten miles of the trip after the winds picked up a bit. Upon arrival, we had some trouble finding the right mooring (after getting kicked off of one by a local dive operation), but finally found one about a mile-and-a-half from the main dock. Saba is “steep to,” meaning the ocean is hundreds of feet deep until very close to shore. Because of the depth, the Saba Marine Park installed moorings cruising sailboats can use. We had a long dinghy ride in the open ocean each time we went to shore. Good thing it worked (most of the time)!

Upon arrival we all went to shore to check in through customs and have a drink. To our surprise, there on the dock was Ryan. We first met Ryan and Sam, on Elysium, in Turks and Caicos, and then spent a good deal of time with them back in Luperon. We even tried to sail with them from Luperon to Samana the day after the Superbowl but had to divert early. We hadn’t seen them since. Ryan just climbed to the top of Mount Scenery, the highest point on Saba and highly recommended the hike. We said goodbye to Ryan and Sam, who are heading further south. Maybe we’ll run into them again in Saint Lucia or somewhere.

The next morning Hanna, Dana and I were up early to tackle Mount Scenery. We taxied to the trailhead and took off. The mountain is nearly 3000 feet tall and the Sabans installed over 1000 stone steps, by hand, to aid in your climb to the top. The jungle was dense and bright green with ferns, banana trees and elephant leaves. We struggled our way to the tippity top, climbing one last rope to get to the summit. We were in the clouds, but occasionally the wind would whip through giving us a clear view of the vast ocean and small settlements lining the valleys of the island. We took in the scenery and started our steep descent back down.

Near the trailhead of mount scenery we stopped at the absolutely charming Eco Lodge. We rested and had a cocktail to get our energy back. We continued into the town of Windwardside, where we had lunch and got another taxi to give us a tour of the island. We drove the steep and crazy roads and stopped at the seemingly impossibly perched airport, built on the only flat bit of ground on the island.

We ended our tour at Bistro del Mare at Shearwater Resort. This small resort has a bar, pool and terrace overlooking a 2000 foot precipice. We spoke for a while with Paul, the owner who approved of our adventure. He is living an adventure of his own, as an American who decided to leave it all behind and take the risk on a business on a small Caribbean island. It sounds like he wouldn’t take it back for a minute! Saba might be one of our favorite spots on the adventure yet.

Shearwater Resort
From Saba we headed due north to St. Maarten (next to Anguilla). Why north? Well, we got exciting news back in Anguilla earlier in the week that Hanna’s boyfriend and our good friend and co-creator of the adventure idea in the first place, Chris, was flying into St. Maarten. Hanna has been buzzing with excitement since. Boyle will be arriving within the hour. Although super busy with Solo Shot, he was able to take a few days to join us on the adventure. Boyle and Hanna travelled with Dana and I on Eventyr for a day back in Florida motoring from Boca Raton to Ft. Lauderdale in the ICW early in our trip. This, however, is the “real” adventure. We’re now in the leeward islands of the Caribbean, island hopping, going from one adventure to the next!

In an interesting twist of fate, anchored just outside the marina in French St. Maarten at which I’m currently typing this blog, is the sailing vessel Emily Morgan. Chris and I chartered the Emily Morgan in the Mediterranean more than ten years ago as our first foray into the world of live-aboard sailing. Dana even joined us for a week, only a few months into our dating relationship. The Emily Morgan looks as beautiful here in the Caribbean as she did back in the Med. It seems like a good sign for Boyle’s stay, similar to the coincidence of Dana and I spotting our honeymoon charter boat at a random marina while heading down the ICW earlier in the trip. I predict some fun sailing, fishing, and snorkeling over the next few days.

South of France, 2003
Saint Maarten, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

Anguilla and the start of the Leeward Islands

Greetings from the Leeward Islands! We have now embarked on the next major leg of our trip. The Leewards begin at Anguilla and head south to Dominica. Martinique begins the Windward Islands, which end at Granada. From there it’s on to South and Central America. We’re making some serious progress!

We just completed an 85-mile overnight crossing from the British Virgin Islands to Anguilla. We waited until the weather was forecast to be calm, and it paid off. Our motor sail crossing last night was relaxing, a serious change of pace from most of our other crossings. Hanna got her sea legs, and we all took shifts at the helm overnight. We made fantastic time and got into Road Bay in Anguilla just after sunrise. We’ll spend a couple days here then on to St. Maarten.

Leaving the BVIs was bittersweet. Although the sailing is top notch and the beaches are picture perfect, the islands are crowded and have a spring break atmosphere. While all cruisers like to have fun, most of the yachties in the BVIs are on chartered boats and are there for only a week. Hence, everywhere you go, people are up for a serious party. Don’t get me wrong, the crew on Eventyr is always up for a fiesta, but it gets a bit draining day after day :-)

Chopping coconuts with my machete
Day time leisure activities
One of the fun spots we took in was Willy T’s. Between rum punches, we happened upon the crew of the Amistad living it up before sailing further in a long cruise. The Amistad is a replica of the slave ship that was captured by slaves being brought to America who then sailed it to New Haven, CT in 1839. The replica is typically in New Haven and seeing it in the British Virgin Islands was quite a sight. Dana and I went on board in Philadelphia last summer when the boat was touring the east coast. We had a drink with the captain, Greg, at Willy T’s and a toast to New Haven.

Captain Greg from Amistad at Willy T's
Amistad in Philly last summer
After Willy T’s we headed on to Virgin Gorda, where Hanna and I did some serious hill running. We also got to attend the Happy Arrrr, where local pirate Michael Beans puts on an amusing interactive show with the audience at the outdoor bar. Virgin Gorda sound is a beautiful retreat and marks the Bitter End of the Virgin Islands. We checked out through customs and made a couple day excursion to the much more isolated and flat coral Island, Anegada.

We chose to wait in Anegada for our weather window because we learned the Dark ‘N Stormy Anegada Regatta would finish there the next day. We all agreed that it would be fun to see these racing sailboats come in and meet those salty sailboat racers.  While waiting for the race to finish we biked across the island and did some snorkeling at picturesque Loblolly Beach. Hanna and Dana demanded I catch a lobster, and I partially came through. I speared a red grouper and a slipper lobster. Slipper lobsters are strange creatures in the same family as the spiny lobster and their meat is said to be sweeter. That afternoon we dined on fresh seafood and watched the sailboats race in.

Have spear, will travel
Loblolly Beach
The three amigos
Red grouper (I think? Tasted good, whatever it was)
The night of the regatta was a fun time celebrating with the racers and folks on charter boats who were also there to take in the scenery and camaraderie. We spent much of the evening with a group of guys from Buffalo spending a week on a large catamaran. Heading for home before things got too crazy from so many dark and stormies was a wise choice. We had a long sail the next afternoon and we’ve learned our lesson about too much rum prior to a major sail. That said, I was able to take a fun ride on a tire swing that I’m sure was assisted by a dark and stormy or two.

Mooring field at Anegada post regatta
No more dark and stormies
Our journey from Anegada to Anguilla last night was magnificent. Not only was the weather in our favor, but we also got our share of excitement.  I caught a yellowtail snapper and hooked two other large fish. The larger fish escaped after brief battles, but we still had fresh seafood for dinner. Then, the sunset was amazing! Moments before the sun set behind Virgin Gorda, and I had just lost a fish that was jumping repeatedly out of the water during the struggle, Hanna yelled, “Whales!” We looked out and two Humpback whales came to the surface. They lingered momentarily before flipping their huge tails up into the air and diving deep into the ocean. After the sunset, Hanna got to witness the bioluminescent creatures in our wake that Dana and I have been admiring during our overnight sails the past couple months. It was an evening we won’t soon forget.

Yellowtail snapper: dinner!
Watch out for that lobster trap at 11:00!