A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
On Monday morning, March 20, Eoin raised the anchor, Isla raised the mainsail, and Marin drove us out of the Fox Bay anchorage. We sailed by Plymouth to view what remained of the city (see previous post for photos). It was moving to think of the vibrant city that was now mostly buried under the pyroclastic material, and the people who had been displaced from their homes and for some, from the island.
We only ran the engines to leave the anchorage in Montserrat and enter the anchorage in Antigua, which means it was a great day sailing. By early afternoon, our anchor was down in Jolly Harbour on the west coast of Antigua. We stayed in the anchorage for three days, having school in the morning, and shore excursions in the afternoons. There was a swim and tennis club at Jolly Harbour and we were able to purchase a weeklong membership. It was nice being able to swim in the pool on hot afternoons. One afternoon, Kendall and Marin took a bus to St. Johns (the capital) to do some shopping for Isla’s birthday!
On March 23 we raised the anchor and went to tie up to the dock in the Jolly Harbour Marina. We had to leave the boat for about a week and felt it would be more secure in a marina than at anchor or on a mooring. That evening we celebrated Isla’s 8th birthday with grilled pizza and lemon cupcakes. We said goodbye to Counting Stars on the morning of the 25th (just minutes after our clean laundry arrived…but that’s another story) and headed to the airport to catch our flight to North Carolina.
We returned to Counting Stars on Sunday, April 2. It had been a fun but a whirlwind week in North Carolina and Virginia. Brian was busy with work while Kendall and the kids went to the dentist, ran errands, met up with kids’ friends, and went to Richmond to visit her family. We stayed in hotels all week and it was strange to sleep indoors for so many nights in a row. Most nights, unless it is raining and we have to close the hatches, sleeping on the boat is basically sleeping outside. We had missed the fresh air and sound of the water lapping against the hull and it was great to be back on board.
We stayed one extra night in the marina to make sure we had everything organized and to get in a day of school before leaving the dock on Tuesday morning. An hour and a half later we were anchored in Carlisle Bay on the south coast of Antigua. It is a small bay with a resort behind a palm tree lined beach. The water was incredibly clear and we saw turtles swimming in the bay every day. It was so nice to be back at anchor and it was such a beautiful spot that we stayed for three nights. We had school in the mornings, then swimming and reading in the afternoon. Only Brian went to shore, and that was just briefly on one day; we were all happy to stay on the boat.
On Friday, April 7, we moved to Falmouth Harbour and went ashore to visit historic English Harbour. The museum and historic buildings were fascinating and we had a fun afternoon exploring the harbor. It was crowded at Falmouth, and we were more in the mood for a quieter, more secluded anchorage so we left early the next morning. Our next stop was Mamora Bay, a small, protected bay with a resort on its shores. As we sailed out of Falmouth and turned east, Brian saw a whale breaching in the distance leaving a huge splash. We continued on, keeping a lookout for the whales, but did not see them again. Just after we turned north toward the entrance to Mamora Bay, we saw the distinctive exhalations of whales just a little more than 50 yards in front of us, between us and the shore. Fortunately, since we were approaching an anchorage, all the kids were outside. We watched two whales surface to breathe when suddenly one breached just a couple hundred feet to our left! It was a thrilling sight. Marin said, “I feel like we are in a movie!”
When we entered the bay, we found only two other boats anchored there, one of which left soon after we arrived. The beach was lined with kayaks, paddle boards, pedal boats, and Hobie cats. We went ashore, secured a day pass to the resort, and had fun with the water toys, went snorkeling on the ocean side, and enjoyed the swimming pools. We had a fun two days there before moving to Nonsuch Bay on the east side of Antigua.
Nonsuch Bay is a large body of water protected by large reefs on the ocean side. There are many smaller bays scattered around the interior. We anchored in Hughes Bay near the Nonsuch Bay Resort. The resort has a very strong focus on water sports, including a kiteboarding school, a fleet of sailing dinghies from 7-22 feet (both cats and monohulls), wakeboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. They also have a very friendly and welcoming staff. We went up to the resort the first afternoon to check it out. Before we knew it, the Kids’ Club staff had swept up the girls into the evening’s activities: an early dinner at 5:30, followed by play in the Kids’ Club, and then to lounge chairs to watch a double feature on the beach. The girls enjoyed their evening and were excited to make some new friends. Meanwhile, Kendall, Brian, and Eoin had drinks and dinner.
After two nights in Nonsuch, we headed back to Jolly Harbour to check out of Antigua and do one last big grocery trip. The total was shocking, but we took comfort in the fact that it was in Eastern Caribbean dollars and not US dollars (EC to US is about $2.67 to $1.00), while trying not to think about how expensive food is in the Caribbean. Once checkout and shopping were complete, we went back to quiet Carlisle Bay to stage for the next day’s trip to Guadeloupe.
Early on the morning of March 17 (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!), we set off for Montserrat. Although the waves were smaller than the day before, there were still a few squalls, some of which brought gusts in the 30-kt range, keeping us busy with sail adjustments. As we neared Montserrat, the winds dropped, and we motor sailed the last 5-7 miles. We were eager to learn about the volcanic features of the island and to experience the annual St. Patrick’s Day festival. St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday on Montserrat, whose population has a strong Irish identity left over from the days that Irish prisoners and indentured servants were sent to work the sugar cane plantations with the African slaves. This identity endures although there are very few descendants of these original Irish inhabitants remaining on the island, especially after the eruptions.
We anchored in Little Bay, and Brian went ashore to check in. He was just in time, as the customs and immigration officials were leaving their offices (early) to head over to the festival. They kindly checked us in, and encouraged us to head over to the festival ourselves. We searched our shelves and closets for green clothing and headed to shore to meet our taxi. The festival was quite an experience. It attracts visitors from St. Kitts, Antigua, and yes, Ireland. We wandered around, taking in the scene and sampling the local food.
After returning to the boat, we decided to move to a nearby anchorage, hoping to find shallower water and less motion. We had been anchored in 50 ft of water. Unfortunately, we only found one of those things – shallower water. It was a very rolly night. The next morning, we booked a tour of the island. Our guide drove us to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, then to some of the exclusion zones that had since been opened since the last eruption. Although in certain areas people are allowed to move back to their homes, the volcano is still active, and most are not willing to risk losing everything again. We also visited an abandoned hotel and home that had been damaged in the eruptions and it was a powerful experience. Later, we returned to the observatory to meet with one of the scientists involved in monitoring the volcano. He took us to a room filled with computers, seismographs, and other equipment and windows looking out toward the volcano. It was fascinating to hear about the work they do at the observatory.
That afternoon we moved south along Montserrat’s west coast to find a calmer anchorage. We settled down for the night in Fox Bay, made pizza on the grill, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. It was so nice there that we stayed another day before heading to Antigua. We enjoyed a relaxing Sunday on the boat. Brian and Marin went for a brief dinghy ride, but mostly we read and played cards and did a few small boat jobs. The next morning we would leave for Antigua, but first planned to continue south along the coast to see Plymouth (the former capital of Montserrat that was destroyed by the volcanic eruptions). We’d then sail around the southern tip of the island and head north towards Antigua.
On March 15, we left Grand Case to continue towards St. Kitts and Montserrat. We needed to be in Antigua by March 23 for a flight back to the States on the 25th, but wanted to see a few places before then. Our plan was to head to Gustavia, St. Barthelemy, for the night, then continue on to St. Kitts the next morning. As we approached St. Barths, we passed an uninhabited island called Ile Fourchue and decided it looked like a good place to spend the night. Since we were not going ashore and were continuing on the next morning, we did not need to check into the country. We picked up a mooring and all jumped in the water to cool off. The water was deep and super clear such that it looked and felt like you were floating in air. We also enjoyed swimming with the yellow-tailed snappers that congregated in the shade below the boat.
Something we have noticed as we make our way further south is that it is not uncommon to come across people who have a rather loose commitment to clothing. It is quite hot down here, after all. Usually the spacing in a mooring field or anchorage is just enough for nearby boaters to notice someone is naked, but still not be able to see any…um…details. “Hey, look, they are all wearing white bathing suits!” Or, “Are the people on that boat all wearing tan swimsuits?” Often people take showers at the stern, sometimes in a swimsuit, sometimes not. We have observed others standing naked on the bow of a boat while it is underway, presumably enjoying the full effect of the cool breeze. In the Ile Fourchue mooring field we noticed that two catamarans with about 8 men on each one had rafted up together on the far side of the field (rafting up means putting fenders out between the boats and then tying the boats together so people can step from one boat to the other). We also noticed that they were all wearing tan swim trunks. Just another day at a French anchorage.
After a peaceful night at Ile Fourchue, we dropped the mooring and continued south. Our goal was Montserrat, but it was too far for a day sail and we decided to stop off in St. Kitts. The wind was blowing about 20 kts from the ESE (close to our direction of travel) so we were close hauled the whole way. One squall after another passed over us, some with gusts up to 30 kts. The squalls kept us busy with the sails: putting in reefs, shaking out reefs, partially furling and unfurling the genoa. The waves were also pretty big and nearly head on. They were among the larger that we’d experienced so far on our journey and we took a lot of water over the decks. Despite the weather and sea state, we enjoyed the view as we sailed past St. Kitts and Statia. Just after 3:00, we anchored off Basseterre, St Kitts to check in. Once formalities were completed, we continued a few miles south to South Friars Bay for the night. We had a lovely view of both St. Kitts and Nevis and a beautiful sunset that evening and sunrise the next morning.
We arrived in Marigot Bay, St-Martin, on February 22. Due to a variety of factors (weather, boat jobs, Duke work, Brian's need for reliable wifi for work, and perhaps a small amount of inertia brought on by the incredible food and wine available there), our intended 3-4 day stay became nearly 3-weeks. Our time in Marigot passed quickly, filled by visits with friends, great food, work, shopping for the boat, croissants/crepes/baguettes/capucchinos, and touring the area. Most mornings, a couple would zip through the anchorage in a dinghy, stopping at each boat to offer croissants and baguettes for sale. We looked forward to this dinghy's visits and often bought our breakfast from them.
St-Martin/Sint Maarten is a cruising hub because of the large number of boat service providers and St-Martin's duty free status. This means that all boat parts and supplies can be ordered without the purchaser having to pay any import duties or taxes. There is a very active cruisers net every morning except Sundays on VHF channel 10. Each morning, we'd tune in for the weather report and a variety of announcements. After the weather each day was a section called Arrivals and Departures in which boaters could either announce their impending departures and thank everyone who helped them during their stay or introduce themselves. On our second day in Marigot, we introduced ourselves as a 'kid boat' and as soon as the net ended for the day we got a call from a Swiss girl living on a nearby catamaran. Sara and all three of our kids became fast friends and a day rarely went by without Sara coming to our boat or our kids going to her boat once school and lunch were finished. It was fun to listen to the kids become proficient at using the VHF to hail each other and arrange playdates. The adults also became good friends, sharing meals and experiences. We hope to see them again soon.
We also got together with other cruising families while in St-Martin, both catching up with those we’d already met and meeting new ones. One afternoon, we and another family dinghied across the lagoon to the Dutch side and caught a bus to Maho Beach. This beach is best known for being at the end of the airport runway. It is a popular spot to watch the planes take off and land and also to experience the jetwash as the planes taxi for takeoff. The power of the jet exhaust was impressive and even though we didn’t stand directly behind them, the sandblasting was still intense. The jetwash would even kick up waves in the water beyond the beach.
On March 11, after dropping the kids off for one last morning of play with Sara, Brian and Kendall walked to the grocery store to stock up on inexpensive French wine, cheese, and other goodies. We pulled up the anchor just after 3:00 and headed east, then north a couple of miles to anchor off the town of Grand Case. Grand Case is known for its food scene: both regular restaurants and open-air kitchens serving simply prepared and delicious local food (these are called lolos). Every Tuesday afternoon, the street along the waterfront is closed to traffic so vendors can set up stalls selling food, clothing, souvenirs, homemade ice cream, and jewelry. Shops stay open late and bands set up at intervals along the street, just far enough apart that you can only hear one at a time. We arrived in Grand Case on a Saturday, and weren’t planning to stay more than a night or two before continuing south, so we figured we’d miss the Tuesday festivities. We spent most of Sunday at a café on the beach while Brian worked and the kids played on the beach. That night we came back to the restaurant for dinner and to hear a reggae band.
One afternoon, we took advantage of the clear water to scrape the hull. Despite the coats of antifouling paint applied back in the Chesapeake, barnacles managed to colonize Counting Stars below the waterline. A hull with lots of marine growth on it causes the boat to move less efficiently through the water. The boat moves more slowly, and more fuel is used when motoring, so it is important to scrape the critters off regularly. We had some company while we were scraping: a few barracuda, one of which was at least five feet long. They hung around the boat the few days we were at anchor – they either like the shade, or the smaller fish that the shade (and our sink drain) attracts. We grew fond of our toothy friends and named them Barbara, Barry, and Barney.
We liked the anchorage and the town so much that we ended up staying four nights in all, including a Tuesday. It was fun walking down the street that evening sampling local food such as coconut tarts and ice cream, listening to the music, and just enjoying the experience. We especially enjoyed listening to a steel drum band playing in a garage just off the main street. The party went on into the wee hours, although we headed back to the boat just after dark to prepare for the morning’s departure.
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars