Land Crusiers

We are in the UK taking a break from the boat (and the heat) in Grenada.  We will be here for about 3 months and to make it affordable we are house/pet sitting for people who are away on vacation.  It is a wonderful way to experience a country, allowing the spirit of the place to seep in and avoiding the pressure to be on the tourist superhighway – which, in our experience leads to museum fatigue, information overload and the occasional argument with Google maps and each other.  

After a few days in London, our first gig was for a charming couple in rural Hampshire.  Living in a lovely old country home and taking care of two sweet old cocker spaniels was a glorious way to start. Funny thing was they went Greece to have a sailing vacation, so we felt as though we had switched lives for a week.  

We especially like England’s tradition of public footpaths, byways and bridleways, which preserve the public’s right of access across private lands, complete with stiles to allow human and dog to get over fences without letting livestock escape.  Wish we had such paths in the US. 

After Hampshire, we were off to a charming village in Buckinghamshire and then back for more city life in London.

Anyway, just a short note to let y’all know what we are up to. Cheerio for now.

Grenada or Bust

Our goal for this sailing season was to get to Grenada, far enough south to be safely out of danger from summer and fall hurricanes. Then to put the boat to bed for a while. And that’s what we’ve done.

After making a beeline overnight run from Martinique directly to the Grenadian island of Carriacou, we slowed down a bit to enjoy these charming tropical isles. IMG_0431.JPGGrenada has got it right. Without a giant tourist infrastructure and without subsidy from a European country that views it as a vacation playground, Grenada maintains a fairly high standard of living on its own. Agriculture vies with low-key tourism to keep the local economy humming. The many cruisers about are not an insignificant part either, and the country caters to them as well as any other island we’ve been to.

Carriacou is a small island with a big protected bay lined with a few mellow bars and restaurants. It’s a perfect cruiser hangout and we stuck around for a week resting up from our sprint through the islands. IMG_0433.JPGWe’ll see the ones we missed on our way back up. Here we had great pizza and tried our first lionfish meal (for our non-boatie friends, lion fish is a voracious invasive species that is decimating Caribbean coral reefs because it eats everything and nothing eats it – so these islands do everything they can to limit its expansion). If you see lion fish on the menu, give it a try.  Click here to learn more about lionfish.  Here we also tried mangrove oysters for the first time. IMG_0434.JPGThey are thin and slimy and Mary thinks they were the cause of a stomach bug I suffered from a few weeks later. They don’t hold a candle to Oysterponds Shellfish Co. oysters, but it was worth it to listen to Warrior’s views on life on a small island. Warrior is the guy who picks them and sells them.  He told me he needed to sell some oysters to get a little money to celebrate Father’s Day with his girlfriend and her husband – go figure.

From Carriacou it was onto the grand anchorage at St. George’s on Grenada proper. It’s a giant open roadstead with easy access to St. George’s harbor and the Carenage.

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St George’s Carenage

You can get everything you need in this charming old town or a short wacky bus ride away. After stocking up on groceries and precious boat parts from Island Water World, we moved around to the south side where a number of bays knife into the island. This is where most of the cruisers hang out and is where we stayed while we prepped the boat for its slumber. Luckily, we arrived with time to meet old cruising buddies Susan & Roger from Second Wind and Thomas for The Cat.  With them we did an island tour with the famous Cutty and enjoyed a few dives before we had to get to work.

 

Who knew it was such a chore to leave a boat? We didn’t, since we haven’t left the boat for any significant time in over the last three years. How strange to contemplate that. But we had a plan and it meant putting the boat “on the hard,” as sailors say, for a stretch. So for a week, we worked our fingers to the bone cleaning, repairing, taking down sails and closing down boat systems. Finally, after one last back-breaking day we finished and, after packing the few pairs of long pants we have and digging out a few pairs of socks, the next day we jumped on a flight to the UK. We were going for maximum culture shock.

Neko strapped down

Neko safely strapped down in the yard taking a much need rest.

Ding Dong the Easting’s Done

We are celebrating reaching the farthest east we’ll get this season. There are generally two ways to get from the US east coast to the eastern Caribbean. One is to leave the US and sail straight east and then south to the islands. This avoids sailing directly into the trade winds, which down south blow from the east day and night and drag the waves with them. Leaving from the US allows you to skirt them. The other way is to go south through the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands, heading east in little jumps.

Eastward Ho

Eastward Ho

This is called the Thorny Path, because each step along the way is going into the prevailing winds and seas … and this is not fun for the cruising sailor. You end up using the motor a lot. The boat is often covered in salt and the bucking and bouncing will drive you to drink. So it is with a lot of relief that we’ve reached the lovely island of Martinique, after which our course is west of south all the way to Grenada, our destination this summer.

We left the US Virgin Islands and sailed directly to the oddly bifurcated island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten. It’s half French and half Dutch – actually the French side is a little

French wine, Dutch gin how about 2 Canadians and an American with a good ol' brew

French, Dutch, how about 2 Canadians and an American drinking Dominican beer.

bigger because they say it was divided by giving a Frenchman and a Dutchman a bottle of wine and gin respectively and setting them across the island to meet up in the middle. Because the Frenchman was able to hold his liquor better, he carved out more land for the French. Anyway it’s the perfect island for the boater.

St Martin beach (French side)

St Martin beach (French side)

The efficient Dutch have every boat part and service you might want on their side, all available duty free to promote the boating industry.   The French side, of course, makes available the things in life that no true French person will live without – good wine, cheese, baguettes and produce. What a treat to come home with a fresh baguette every day. As we would come to see and love, the French do not forego any of their customary pleasures merely because they are living on a tropical island instead of the motherland.  To see some more photos click here.  To top it all off, we caught up with old cruising pals and spent several weeks together celebrating Carnival, Mary’s birthday and anything else we could think of.  Even watching planes land.

Entertained by the landing planes just barely missing the beach goers.

Mary's birthday shot

Mary’s birthday shot

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After a month of boat jobs and island living, it was time to move on. Do you get the theme of these late season blogs – keep moving south to get out of the hurricane zone for the summer.  But first we needed to stop and restock our haute couture cruise wear because our next up was to be St. Barth’s, the playground of the rich and famous. Another cheese and baguette laden island with beautiful Europeans playing in the sun. For us, though, the anchorage was quite rolly and, since we had been there before, we only stayed a few days.

Reminding us that life is not just a wine and cheese party, St. Kitts and Nevis, two islands that are thriving under self rule, reintroduced us to the rasta way of life.  Here the Rastafarian influence starts to exert itself and the smell of ganga is everywhere on the streets and the chill One Love attitude prevails. Goat curry, rum punch and exotic fruits are the order of the day here.   Who needs Hamilton tickets for Broadway? We went to the source and visited his birthplace right here in Nevis.

Montserrat

Montserrat

After St. Kitts & Nevis, we couldn’t resist the call back to France by way of Guadeloupe and Îles des Saintes. We bypassed Montserrat, and its brooding volcano which we’ll visit on our way back. But it’s yellow smoke and sulfurous smell even 4 miles out was unmistakeable. Volcanoes are the name of the game down here.

We say some islands are dog islands and some are cat islands, but Guadeloupe delighted us by being a chicken and goat island.

The island’s charms did not stop with barnyard animals roaming the beach.  Guadeloupe and its sister islands of Îles des Saintes have a je ne sais quoi above and below the sea making it hard to resist, and why would you want to.

“Boat boys” are men who greet boaters as they arrive and offer all sorts of services, sometimes being too aggressive and sometimes even playing both sides of the security racket, if you get our meaning.

Our pal Providence.

Our pal Providence.

The guys on Dominica have done something unique, which we wholeheartedly support. The “boat boys” got together to organize and regularize their services. They stomped out crime against cruisers and offer moorings, ice, fuel, BBQs and other services, as well as land tours of the lush Dominican interior. They really are pleasant to deal with and make you feel quite welcome in Portsmouth, their main focus.

After getting muddy in Dominica, we returned to France by way of Martinique.  The quaint little town of St. Pierre is where the entire 30,000 person population, save two, was wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 1902. The only survivors were a prisoner in jail saved by the massively thick double walls of his cell and a cobbler high on a hill.

remains of the historic 800 seat theatre destroyed by the eruption.

remains of the historic 800 seat theatre destroyed by the eruption.

The prisioner and survivor Cyparis, saved by the thickness of his cell’s walls.

The prisioner and survivor Cyparis, saved by the thickness of his cell’s walls.

The little museum dedicated to the eruption is interesting, as are the many walls and ruins left in town from the old town. Apart from these few relics, every thing in this town was destroyed. The museum shows a stack of drinking glasses fused together and melted down into mush, a pile of nails from a hardware store that were forged into a single mass by the heat of the volcano and porcelain dishes, usually impervious to heat, that were melted by the blast. The 4,583 ft volcano is still there looming over the town as a constant reminder.  So what do you do when a volcano looms large?  You hike to the top of course.  Or high enough.   Mt Peleé was quite a trek up and up and up.   It was 90° and sunny at the bottom and 60°, foggy and windy by the time we reached the second refuge.  A tough one but well worth the effort for the experience, vista and opportunity to meet several locals doing the hike, one young girl climbing barefoot.  We all had to pull back on the complaining after seeing that.

Click here for more Martinique photos.

 

It may seem like we are romping through the Caribbean … because we are.  Its July when we are writing this, hurricane season is underway, and we need to be south to avoid any risk.  Next season we plan to visit the islands we skipped and return to the ones we loved.

Los Estados Unidos

From the Dominican Republic we transited the dreaded Mona Passage without incident and landed at Puerto Rico. 

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A clear sunset for our departure.  (thanks for the photo, Bruce)

We loved Puerto Rico because it has that friendly, laid-back Latin culture that we have grown to love, but since it is part of the US, clearing in is easy (just a phone call with local boater option) and provisioning was a snap.    We would have stayed longer but because the season is getting late and we needed to get south we blew through the area with only enough stops to whet our appetites for a return trip next season.   We saw a bit of the mainland and some of the beautiful offshore islands – the Spanish Virgin Islands of Vieques and Culebra.  The Spanish Virgins are beautiful lush islands where the birds and iguanas far outnumber humans.  We can’t wait to return.

We did take a bit of time to explore, stopping at the El Yunque Cloud Forest and the lavish St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and, of course, exploring the beautifully preserved Old San Juan.  

Sticking with the US, we jumped from the Spanish Virgins to the U.S. Virgin islands of St. Thomas and St. John.  St. Thomas is quite populous and we were able to catch up with our nephew Nick who was living there temporarily.  

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Nick sailing us over to Christmas Cove for a day of snorkeling.

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Pizza π boat in Christmas Cove anchorage. Just dinghy up to their pick up window.

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Sea plane runway right behind our boat.

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These cruise ships are huge

After a few days of loud, busy Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, we were ready for a little solitude.  And its easily found not far away in St. John, of which over 60% is national park lad.  Anchorages are undeveloped, uncrowded and beautiful. The water is clear and full of life.  This is why we do this.  

But the season is wearing on and we had to continue our journey south and east, so we were soon off to the French and Dutch islands for a little European flair.  

Dominican Republic: A Leap of Faith

You can’t ask for clearer, more beautiful water than you’ll find in the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos, but sailing into the Dominican Republic reminded us what was missing from those landscapes – greenery and mountains.

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Luperon harbor

IMG_9687Since numerous sailing web sites warned against corruption among officials, we were a bit hesitant to stop in Luperon, but recent reports had suggested they had cleaned up their act and we decided to chance it.  The adventures started immediately as we took a stricken vessel in tow at 3 am in the morning and brought them 25 miles to the entrance to Luperon harbor.

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First time we’ve ever towed anyone, but it worked out just fine.  Scott & Noi were very grateful and we were glad to be able to help another cruiser in need.

On arrival at Luperon, we found a beautiful anchorage and a small marina that welcomed us with warmth.

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Miguel and Leo make you feel at home at Puerto Blanco.

Check in was made simple by Leo who runs Marina Puerto Blanco and not one official asked for anything more than the posted fees for entry.   For our fellow cruisers, please reconsider Luperon; it is a wonderful location and perfect distance for visiting the DR’s natural wonder “Damajaqua Cascades” (27 waterfalls).   And while you are there, stay at Leo’s marina – you can’t beat the price.

Taking a leap faith became the theme of our time in the Dominican Republic.  At Damajagua Cascades, hiking up the trail to the 27th waterfall seemed simple enough and working up a sweat would be perfect for cooling off in the water. But when we saw a guide bringing a guy with what appeared to be a broken leg back down the trail via donkey, Sophie, Pete and I glanced at one other with an unspoken “what have we gotten ourselves into”.

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We realized that the mandatory helmets and lifejackets might not be mere dork fodder after all.

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A guide leads you up the trail, crisscrossing the river and finally to the top.

The path back down consists of sliding through and jumping over all 27 waterfalls, and in between slogging through the river to the next descent. At the jumps, the guide uses a very technical jump location technique where he tosses a pebble down into the pool below to show you exactly where to jump and then throws another one to show you where you will break your legs …gulp, talk about a leap of faith. Sometimes you slide down the falls on naturally smoothed grooves in the rock.  I’ve never been so happy to have on a safety helmet. I’ll confess I only did 26 of the 27 waterfalls as the highest jump from 30’ left me shaking in my water shoes.   Pete and Sophie fearlessly conquered all of the high plunges. Our GoPro was acting up so the footage is not great, but this video gives an idea of what it is like.

We also spent a few days at the kiting mecca of Cabarete, where Pete braved the kiting hordes.   Seems air traffic control is needed out there.DSC_1809

We put our well-honed local travel instincts to the test when we puzzled together 5, yes 5, forms of transportation, some more questionable then others, to get us the 150 miles from Luperon to the capital city of Santo Domingo. This hilarious adventure included riding on a motoconcho (that’s a tiny 125cc motorcycle with driver, Pete, me and our luggage),

Guagua car (car meant for 4 passengers but crammed with 7), Guagua bus (little bus with actual seats to ourselves this time, but still full), larger deluxe bus (complete with wifi and extremely violent Denzel Washington straight-to-DVD movie that the 7 year old kid across from us was soaking in like a sponge) and finally a taxi whose driver spoke worse Spanish than we do. Grand total: $25 total for us both, 6 hours of travel, views of the country side, small towns and local characters priceless; proving once again it is the journey not the destination, although Santo Domingo was full of interesting history and well worth a visit.

But perhaps the best part of all the Dominican Republic and on the top 10 places we’ve been to on Neko is Los Haities (High-tee-sis) National Park.  Los Haities is a Dominican national park located on the remote northeast coast consisting of a limestone karst plateau with conical hills, sinkholes and caverns, behind which is a large area of mangrove forest perfect for exploring by kayak or dinghy. Think Jurassic Park meets Survivor. It is only accessible by boat so tourism exists there but only for people willing to make the effort to find the small boat in the grimy city of Samana and brave the rough one-hour trip each way.

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Neko tucked into a safe spot with Los Haities all to ourselves.

Needless to say, we had the anchorage all to ourselves and spent two days winding deep into mangrove rivers with birds swooping overhead exploring the numerous caves, some complete with petroglyphs and pictographs left by the Taíno Indians who were there long before old Columbus arrived. Imagine, actual humans were there before the Europeans😉

 

All in all, we found the DR an adventure wonderland.  It’s not the greatest sailing place in the world but it was a huge pleasure to experience this wild and wonderful land up close and personal.

 

 

 

 

 

Turks & Caicos

It has taken us 3 seasons to finally hit the brakes a bit and put into practice the fine art of stopping to smell the roses.

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Yes, that’s us.

This may seem laughable to some who think we are already going at a snail’s pace, but some cruisers no doubt roll their eyes thinking our speed is that of a delivery captain.   But for us, we are trying to slow down and shift our approach to living this life more as it was intended.   We have the gift of time so why not really take advantage and use it.   I stopped spending most, not all but most, of my time in the new places planning for the next place.

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Enjoying some underwater time.

This is especially hard for me because I love to plan, research and examine my calendar like it is the Zapruder film.   This was put into play during our last stop in the picturesque Turks & Caicos, where we spent a month in Providenciales.

Not only did we take a last minute side trip to Haiti, we also enjoyed meeting some of the expat community and getting a small glimpse into their lives on this alluring island.

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Enjoying a fantastic Syrian dinner made by Aida at Ben’s lovely home with neighbors from across the globe.

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Celebrating Chloe’s birthday with half the island.

Best of all we had spur of the moment visitors which I honestly believe would have never happened if we’d planned in advance.   Don’t worry I still love my iCalendar, but now I am filling it in more as a diary than an advanced planner.

 

 

Haiti

We took a side trip to Haiti from the Turks & Caicos. New friends, Ben and Chloe, wonderful people we met in Providenciales, run Caicu Naniki travel agency and specialize in trips to Haiti. Earlier we debated sailing the boat to Haiti around its western edge and underneath to get to the Dominican Republic. Although it is said to be a calmer route, it is significantly longer than sailing directly from the Turks & Caicos to the northern shore of the Dominican Republic bypassing Haiti altogether. That, together with the fact that our boat would not be insured while in Haiti, drove us to choose the latter route. So we were really glad to get an opportunity to go to Haiti anyway. It was just a short trip for 3 nights but it felt like being transported to another world and time. 

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Living large in our private jet to Haiti, okay okay, so maybe it wasn’t a lear jet but we were the only passengers.

Haiti is a beautiful, mountainous country. It is little developed and as the plane swooped in we saw green hills as far as the eye could see. The people of Haiti are quite special, particularly given the hardships of their life.

Stunning to look at, they stand tall and look you in the eye when addressing you. They have a sweet, slightly shy personality and are always willing to help out. Every wave or “bonjour” is met with a smile and a return salutation. They speak a version of creole that is completely unintelligible to us, but also speak French and quite a few speak English. So communication was not really a problem, especially since Charlotte and James speak some French.

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Colorful loto kiosks everywhere

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Colorful dress

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Colorful music

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Colorful kids

We were picked up by Dominique, who served as our ever-patient guide and driver. She is a dentist by training and has many and varied interests, but took time out of her busy days to help us. She seems to know everything about Haiti and we couldn’t have done this trip without her.

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Dominique the only smart one who took a ride up the steep hill to the Citadel.

Their lives are very hard, however. The country is the poorest in the western hemisphere. There are none of the comforts that we take for granted back home. Refuse collection is a problem and the people live amidst appalling amounts of waste.

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The UN and various NGO’s are there, but it is not clear what they are doing. The locals call them “turistas” because they can most often be found at the nicer resorts having a grand time. We don’t know the facts, but did see UN soldiers staying, drinking and eating at our beach resort. However, we did see them patrolling the street also. We just think the country needs better aid in terms of major systems – water, sewer, garbage collection, security, etc. DSC_1770

We stayed around Cap Hatien, the northern capital. We did not travel to Port au Prince, the capital as it is quite a way south and west. We did travel to the Citadel, built by 20,000 laborers from 1804 to 1820. It’s quite impressive, considering that the sovereign “Republic of Haiti” was established on January 1, 1804 as the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, the only nation in the western hemisphere to have defeated three European superpowers (Britain, France and Spain), and the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave revolt. Henri Christophe, emperor of the newly free country’s northern half, decided it needed forts to defend itself from the French and enemies to the south, and the Citadel is the centerpiece of it. It’s a magnificent fort and seems truly impregnable. It is well preserved, including the many armaments scattered about.

DSC_1556Most of our pictures have a small caption embedded in them. But this simple picture has a story that we have to tell. There was smoke and the sound of drumming coming from this little settlement. Danny, our guide at the Citadel – well not really a guide, but a guy who attached himself to us and through persistence proved valuable to us – informed us that it is voodoo being practiced. He told us that one time a man brought his cow to the voodoo priest to be sacrificed. The priest told the man to do it himself. The man thought he was stabbing the cow with a machete but he was really stabbing himself. He was under a spell and thought he had a cow with him when he was actually alone. It was a creepy story.

 

Anyway, Cap Hatien is a feast for the eyes. We could not get enough of just looking around at the city, its citizens and scenery. We took about a billion photos and thought we’d share some with you.

We all need to learn how to balance like these lovely ladies.