We are back in Grenada after our 3 months sojourn in the UK, Antwerp and Amsterdam. We owe a big thanks to our pals Charlotte and James for letting us base out of their lovely riverside flat in Inverness while in Scotland.
Gorgeous view of the River Ness from the apartment in Inverness
We really have to pay it forward with the cruising community after Charlotte and James’ generosity and Julie and Ken introducing us to the housesitting service that let us stay abroad for so long without breaking the bank (and letting Mary get her dog fix – and cat and chicken fix).
Fresh eggs each morning was an added bonus from our house sit at a lovely farm in Scotland.
Murphy the Newfoundland. There is a lot of love under all that fur.
Mole the Lurcher was adorable.
Darling Lucie and Harry
We left England to spend a considerable amount of time in Scotland, starting off with a bang in Edinburgh. Arriving just in time for the Fringe Festival, lauded as the world’s largest arts festival. Everyone should head there for it at least once. You can walk around the historic city and drop into a comedy show, theatrical, music, film, or any number of other performances whenever they strike your fancy.
Show posters for the Fringe Festival
With over 3,000 performances, some spill out onto the streets.
Yep, nothing more punk rock than a spinning wheel.
Performers have to self promote to get you to their shows.
Interior of the post modern Scottish Parliament buidling
Greyfriars Bobby was a terrier who for 14 years guarded his master’s grave.
Arthur’s Seat’s with great view over Edinburgh
Next up was a trip to the highland capital city of Inverness. The Scotland highlands reminds us of Tahoe with conifer-covered hills and mountains and open countryside. Except here there is the odd abandoned castle off in the distance. We’ve seen enough old castles and manors to last a lifetime, but we love learning about the history and occupants of each one. The Scotland National Trust does a great job of preserving the history as well as the buildings. And to Pete’s delight the Whisky trail led him to single malt Scotch heaven.
Whisky Flavor Map
Single Malt madness
When we finished with our house sits, we set off to explore the western shore of northern Scotland. Driving the North Coast 500 was a trip on the beautiful open roads. Just be sure to bring your cojones because the roads are narrow, often even single track, and twisty with blind corners. Oh, and with sheep roaming free. The roads and weather were so gorgeous Pete wished he was back on the Ducati. We made it all way round from Loch Ness up to John O’Groats (we had to go there just because of that name) and then back to Inverness to catch our breath.
Another old castle by the roadside.
Nairn Highland Games
Scottish Highland Cow knows how to wear bangs.
… and another castle
superpowers weren’t working
Knockan Crag was windy, cold and desolate
Knockan Crag hike
No Nessie sightings but a lovely view of Urquhart Castle during our boat ride on Loch Ness
Fields of heather everywhere
seaside village of Ullapool
A rainy day didn’t stop us, amazingly when only had a few.
“Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall “
John O’Groats at the top of Scotland
Our trip didn’t end here, but our camera did. Sadly hundreds of photos were lost to the technology gods. So you’ll have to imagine and hopefully see for yourself one day the exciting city of Glasgow, Northern England, Wales, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Here are a few snaps from the phone.
Mussels and beer in Belgium what more do you need.
Bikes everywhere in Amsterdam
Canals of Amsterdam
Conwy Castle in the walled city of Conwy in Wales
Charming village of Marbury, England
Delightful visit from Susan & Andoni in London
It was the perfect break from 3 years on the boat and definitely a much needed change of scenery, proving to us that one can even get tired of tropical islands and variety is indeed the spice of life. Bring on Season #4…
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.
High in the sky
London Bridge is falling down
Clock Tower (only the bell is “Big Ben”)
I just had to…
A little light reading
Chartwell, Churchill’s Home
Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral
Hogwarts? (Oxford dining Hall)
National Portrait Gallery
Avebury, a better and more accessible Neolithic henge monument
thatch roofs abound
Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship, still a commissioned Navy ship
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.
Not an UBER. Our hosts take us to the train in style.
And how the dogs get through the fence.
They seem to grow a lot of hay in the UK.
How humans go over the fence that crosses a footpath
Pip and Delphi take Mary for a walk.
After Hampshire, we were off to a charming village in Buckinghamshire and then back for more city life in London.
Hunters Tom and Jerry
Peddling through the Chilterns
Bikes and Breweries
Darling Maddie showing us the way.
Sweet City Kitty Tye
This country loves their ales.
And their pubs
Anyway, just a short note to let y’all know what we are up to. Cheerio for now.
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. Grenada 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. We’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. They 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.
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.
Yep that is a monkey on Mary’s head
The red casing around the nut is mace
sorting out the bad nuts
They don’t call Grenada the Spice Island for nothing.
Filling up rum bottles by hand.
Primitive is an understatement
Our pal Cutty
We hadn’t seen Susan & Roger in over a year
What is an island without a waterfall?
Pete sampling some coco seeds
Delicious hand made chocolates
Down the hatch
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 safely strapped down in the yard taking a much need rest.
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.
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, 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)
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
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.
These are some of the tiny yachts here
The mean streets of St Barts
All the basics here 😉
We only use Cartier boat parts
You could eat of these streets it is so clean.
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.
Alexander Hamilton’s house.
Night out with fellow cruisers (thanks Randy and Beth for the photo)
Hot springs aren’t the answer to beating the heat. Ouch…
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.
Hard to order the chicken when she it sitting at the next table.
This baby goat was just roaming the beach.
The first time we’ve ever seen a chicken beg like a dog. Of course I gave her some bread.
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.
Underwater statue of Jacques Cousteau at the Cousteau underwater reserve.
The diving or should we say, plongée is fantastic in Guadeloupe
Pete and his pal going for a swim
Eric our dive master from tropical subdiving
Flamingos at the Jardin
Fabulous Le Jardin Botanique in Deshaies ,Guadeloupe
Ile des Saintes anchorage
Shops open around 9am, close each day from 12-2pm and then stay open until whenever.
“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.
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.
View down to Prince Rupert Bay and Portsmouth
Sharing dinner with my pals
Lucy isn’t the only dog who loves coconuts
Indian River boats
They take their dominos seriously in the Caribbean
We can find a bar, even in the middle of a farm
Tree trunks look like ribbons
Indian River, used to film several scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean
Since we are always on a boat, we hiked along the Indian River
Can you see the snake? We saw tons of them.
Fort Shirley , there is ALWAYS a fort.
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.
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.
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.
From the Dominican Republic we transited the dreaded Mona Passage without incident and landed at Puerto Rico.
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.
Eye see you, Octopus eye checking us out
Terrifc shallow dive in Culebra – Slipper lobster
Welcome to Culebra
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.
What good are points if you don’t use them. St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort
Old San Juan
only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System
Old San Juan
El Yunque National Forest
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
16th century citadel, El Morro
P.R. hipster bar
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.
Nick sailing us over to Christmas Cove for a day of snorkeling.
Pizza π boat in Christmas Cove anchorage. Just dinghy up to their pick up window.
Sea plane runway right behind our boat.
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.
Lameshur Bay St John USVI
Lameshur Bay hike
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.
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.
Since 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.
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.
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”.
We realized that the mandatory helmets and lifejackets might not be mere dork fodder after all.
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.
We met a nice local guy who apprentices Haitian kids in making jewelry out of local woods.
Local kids help those who lose their kites or boards. This poor guy almost went up on the rocks.
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),
7 folks crammed into a car meant for 4
ahhh, a real seat
so picture me and Pete and our bag riding with this guy minus the chickens
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.
Friar Antonio de Montesinos spoke out for the rights of the Taino Indians.
Basilica Catedral Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas
Oh so tempting to take these sweethearts home.
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.
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 😉
mangrove creek makes you think you are the only people on the planet
do you see the scary face in profile
Face on the mountainside
spelunker in chief
The gods are angry
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.
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.
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.
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.
Small coral reef growing next to our boat.
Surprisingly not purple, Prince’s or “the artist formerly known as Prince,” house on the island.
more conch lessons
James makes friends everywhere
Enjoying a night out and about with James & Charlotte
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.
Enjoying a fantastic Syrian dinner made by Aida at Ben’s lovely home with neighbors from across the globe.
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.
Sophie ready for her first dive.
Off to the beach
Sophie enjoying the ride out to the dive site.
Eileen, Turks & Caicos, Feb 2016
Eileen takes a dip…
Same spot Eileen took a dip, Sophie sees some friends.
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.
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.
First sights of Cap Haitian
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.
Colorful loto kiosks everywhere
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.
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.
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.
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.
Will they make it up the hill?
All our fantastic guides
Field trip for local school children.
Hundreds of unfired cannonballs
Most 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.
Always room for one more.
Motorcycles are main mode of transport
Cap Haitian, Haiti
Dominoes in the Park
We all need to learn how to balance like these lovely ladies.
… well, maybe not so much. It seems the El Nino weather pattern has had an impact on the Bahamas. We were so looking forward to its clear waters and white sand beaches and connecting with other cruisers.
Bahamian waters on a rare calm day
We did have that, but it was sandwiched in between waiting out the wind and rain from cold fronts. Now, we are not Bahamas experts but it seems to us that Mother Nature has been a little harsher than usual on the Bahamas this year. In the winter, low pressure systems routinely roll off the US coast going west to east. These can push cold fronts into the Bahamas, which bring stronger winds and rain and cold (cold for us, not for you poor sods in the snow) weather.
Into every life a little rain must fall
Here comes another storm
They cause the wind to swing around the compass and, because the Bahamas (at least in the Exumas chain) has a dearth of places to anchor to avoid west winds, require boaters to scramble around for a place to hide when the winds come from the west. You see, it is a little uncomfortable to be anchored face into a wind that has a long distance to blow across the water. This allows waves to build up which results in an unpleasant motion and can be dangerous if too extreme. Much better to have an island blocking the wind in front of you. So, each time the wind shifts around, it becomes a scramble to find a place with a new island in front of you. And then when the wind settles back into the east, you can go about your normal boating activities. Normally, as winter progresses, these cold fronts become fewer and weaker, resulting in more sunshine and less of this weather strategizing. However, this year we were treated to a mild November and part of December and then in January the cold fronts kept on comin’ and the wind kept on swingin’ and the boaters kept on dancin’. For us it got a little tiresome. So here we sit writing this entry from the Turks & Caicos, which is just south enough to have a somewhat different weather pattern. It will change more as we keep moving south.
So how to sum up our trip through the entire Bahamas archipelago in one blog post (I know, I know, we are way overdue)? It’ll be to give you a quick run through the highlights of the trip (the lowlights were hit in the last post Gale!).
We arrived at Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, the northernmost stretch of islands. Here we had good weather (before winter began) and enjoyed our time with Mike & Holly and Rob and Rose from R&R Kedger.
Cheers from Great Guana Cay
Box Cart Derby finish line
Conch is the name of the game here
Rob & Rose try to hang on as Capt. Pete navigates the means streets of Hopetown
Pete & Mike easily dive for conchs, now they just need to open it.
Hopetown Box cart Derby
What? You act like you’ve never seen a pig swim.
Beach clean up
You know Mary can’t resist
yep, lizard hitching a ride in Mary’s hair
Our friends on R&R taught Mary the art of playing a conch. Tradition to blow at sunset.
The engineering minds must inspect all.
Thanksgiving dinner with R&R. 2nd ye
Fellow cruisers on beach clean up day.
A little windy at the top of the lighthouse
See we just don’t drink and swim, we go to museums too.
Man O War Cay
We next transited to Eleuthera, which is a long island on the eastern outskirts of the Bahamas. We saw very few other cruisers and it is mostly a non-touristy island. This is the home of the famous pink sand beaches. We were pleasantly surprised that in fact they really were pink and even better there was not a soul on them.
Pink sand beach in Governor’s Harbour
Yes, it is really pink
Rob’s gorgeous photo of Neko
Pizza Night at the Rainbow Inn. If you are in Hatchet Bay on a Monday…go.
Yes, we eat a lot
Curly tail lizards are all over the Bahamas
Glass Window Bridge
one side calm
the other side, not so much
Is that Marilyn Monroe? (and yes, that dress did go higher, but we won’t show that photo)
A little rain
Organic farm!! Finally some fresh veggies.
Gorgeous library in Governor’s Harbour
Blue Hole, an inland ocean hole
Pete getting a conch cutting lesson
From Eleuthera, we crossed over to the Exumas chain of islands – the holy grail of Bahamas cruising.
Swimming with sharks
Gorgeous dinghy ride
Iguanas on Alan Cay
Best part of clear water, you can see what you are about to step on
Now that is gin clear
Hiking up to Camp Deadwood
Rose and Mary enjoying the day
Pete kiting by Neko
The Exumas consist of over 300 small cays strung together on a chain about 130 miles long. The centerpiece is the wonderful 22 mile long Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, where no taking of sea life is permitted. Here all manner of creatures can be seen and approached because they have not developed a fear of humans. It’s a truly wonderful experience to dive into the water and see a small Seargent Major fish swim up to your goggles to check you out just like you were planning to do to him. Without those hunter and hunted instincts, you almost seem like equals. The snorkeling is fantastic in the Exumas, complete with underwater caves right out of a movie (literally, in the case of the Thunderball Grotto, which featured in two James Bond movies, “Thunderball” and “Never Say Never Again”.
Nemo is this way
Plane crash remains underwater
remoras (sucker fish) cleaning the bottom of Neko
baby sea turtle
ray taking a nap
elk horn coral
Rocky Dundas Caves
Charlotte and some wee piglets
Rocky Dundas Caves
Entering Thunderball Cave
More swimming pigs on Big Major Cay
Pigs & Fish
007 Malloy in the Thunderball Caves
At the southern end of the Exumas is the cruiser mecca of Georgetown. This is where so many cruising dreams hit their end. There are literally hundreds of boats here and many never leave and a lot stay here for the entire season.
Crowded Georgetown dinghy dock (photo by R&R)
These cruisers are done seeing new places and faces, and are living a watery life in a stationery spot (well, almost stationery – they do a sort of mini mass-migration every time one of the aforementioned fronts come through from one side of the big bay to the other to avoid the wind). We chose to anchor in the middle and just ride it all out. If you have faith in your anchoring gear, 25 knots of wind driven waves is no big deal. Many of these folks were affected by the Exumas Derecho and it is understandable that they would be gun shy.
Well, we were not huge fans of Georgetown (evindenced by our lack of photos of the area). Its true the boaters there could not be nicer, but its just not our cup of tea. Our boat buddy Charlotte says we are not cruisers, but travelers – more interested in seeing new places than staying in one place for too long – and I think she is right. After a couple of weeks in Georgetown, we were ready to move on.
Familiar faces we always love seeing. James, Charlotte, Rob & Rose.
We left Georgetown and made our way to Clarencetown, a stunning little anchorage on Long Island. We were again sitting in an anchorage waiting for a front to pass by – it was threatening 25 knot winds from the north for a day or so. We thought why just cower here and wait. Like everyone else, we were a little gun shy from the big winds of a few weeks ago.
The JCrew muted tone collection
However, if it blows hard we would have rocks and other boaters around us. If there is anything we learned from the derecho, it is that being anchored where there are things to hit or be hit by is not a good idea. So we jumped off ahead of the cold front and used its big winds to drive us 200 miles to the Turks & Caicos. We figured at sea at least we’d have a way to fight back if Mother Nature got tough with us. In the end, we had a great sail with a lot of wind behind us and made great time. The front passed by us and pushed our boatspeed up to 11 knots until the wind left us and we ghosted into Providenciales. We crossed its tricky bar and got into a marina for the first time in 3 1/2 months. It felt good to be able to just relax and forget about the weather for a bit.
We thought we were so tough, having survived wild episodes in remote parts of the world, such as the unpopulated sections of western panama, the lawless portions of eastern Nicaragua and Honduras, the whole of California, etc. In those, places we’d often be the only boat in an anchorage, relying on our own gear and wits for survival. Weather prediction would be a hazarded guess, at best. So we naturally thought that our sojourn to the Bahamas, basically in Florida’s backyard and populated by thousands of like-minded cruisers, would be a walk in the park, literally. But nothing prepared us for the once-in-a-generation freak storm we endured on January 6, 2016. Winters in the Bahamas can be tricky at times because cold fronts come off the eastern US and pass through and can bring winds that change directions and strength, along with rain and thunder on occasion. On this occasion we knew that a front was passing through, but it was not predicted to be very windy in our immediate area.
Wrong! We were taking it easy the day after a night of 30 – 40 knot easterly winds – these are strong winds, but are common in the Bahamas. They come from the East and there are many islands to hide behind to avoid the waves that such winds can generate. We usually don’t mind the wind alone because it is the waves that really move the boat around. That night was windy but not anything we were not used to. The next night was predicted to have lighter wind from the West. There are fewer places to hide from West winds in the Bahamas and we went to a location that was good for us in the recent past – just behind the large rock called Thunderball Grotto, where they filmed part of the James Bond film Thunderball (it has a really cool interior cave, which will be highlighted in the next blog post). These rocks have a small area to the East of them where you are sheltered from West winds. So we settled in thinking no big deal because winds were not predicted to be strong and in any event we had good old 007 rock to break the waves.
Our hidey spot behind Thunderball Rock, in less crowded times
Around 6 pm we noticed the wind beginning to pick up – a normal circumstance toward the evenings here. However, it did not die down and continued to build, and rapidly. The wind quickly accelerated to 30+ knots, and then it jumped above 40 knots and stayed there. Things were getting hairy. There were 3-foot waves in the anchorage even though they only had 200 feet to develop. Whitecaps in a swimming pool it seemed like – and then they started getting blown off and the waters were white with foam and the winds were roaring.
It never looks as bad in photos as it really is, and this looks bad. This was when it first started; the worst of it was in the dark.
One of the cats that dragged past us.
Then the wind increased above 50 knots and again stayed there, and we were closing in on hurricane territory.
Instruments recorded max wind speed at 55.5kts (63mph)
Things were getting really dicey at this point. I started the engines to push the boat forward to take some strain off the anchor – after all, it was the only thing holding us from a wall of rocks ¼ mile behind us. In these sorts of winds, anchors can give up their hold and let boats go sliding off into oblivion. And it was no different this night. We saw one catamaran go sliding past us, and there was nothing we could do to help him. We just hoped his anchor dragging along the bottom didn’t snag ours and send us on our way too. I was driving the boat to move it out of the way of the dragging boat and take the strain off the anchor.
Two young guys on this boat out in the open were dragging anchor. They started the night in front of the rock to the right. We were glad to see the next day that they stopped short of the rocks.
The rain was coming down so hard that I had to wear sunglasses – I couldn’t open my eyes otherwise. Then another catamaran went by – so eerie and sad to see that in the dark, knowing that those people were in for a world of hurt and you can’t do anything about it. This went on for about 2 hours, with me driving the boat – each time it got a bit sideways, the wind would grab it and I could feel it accelerate out of control sideways. It was lifting our big boat up and tilting it a bit on its side, with spray flying over the side. I gave the engines full throttle just to stand still and try to correct our angle so we wouldn’t slide off into oblivion as well. Mary kept a watch for other boats heading our way in the dark. She handled the radio, which crackled with maydays and frenzied shouts for help or warnings about impending collisions and was running around giving me clothes to protect from the freezing rain – I started the ordeal in just swim trunks and ended up in full foul weather gear with sweatshirts and boots underneath . At one point, I looked back and saw that our dinghy, which was hanging behind our boat on a rope, had turned upside down, flipped by the wind like a child’s toy. To add salt to the wound, a stray line from the overturned dinghy caught our starboard prop, killing that engine. I stripped the foul weather gear, dove in and removed the line. Luckily it was not wedged round tightly and I remember that the water felt lovely and warm. I just wanted to stay there and forget about the maelstrom above. But I jumped out, quickly showered, put the foulies back on and went back to the helm.
Finally, the winds subsided. I never thought of 30 knots of wind as “light” but it felt that way this night. All the boats were haphazardly strewn about the anchorage. One boat with a French couple and their dog were blown ashore and crashed into someone’s docks, tearing them up. Another boat washed up against the rocks and started breaking up and taking on water. I was impressed with how calm the guy sounded in putting out his mayday – he was more sad than panicked. One of the catamarans that slid past us ended up on the rocks with a hole in a bow, a rudder broken off and many other issues. This is the end of the cruise for some of these poor folks. Exhausted, but with hearts still pounding we tried to get some rest but continued to keep a watch throughout the night. When we heard our errant dinghy under the boat and scraping its propeller against the hulls, we went outside at 3 am and flipped it over. Easier than it sounds for 350 pounds of sodden rubber boat in a raging sea. But somehow we did it and tied it up. Next we saw that some of the boats that moved were very close to us. We would have started banging into each other if no one did anything. Now, generally when anchoring space gets too tight it’s up to the latest arrival to move. And the draggers who ended up very near us should have upped anchor to relocate to a safer place. But it became apparent to us that people were too shell shocked to take the proper action. So in the dark of night (by the way, this had to happen on a moonless night) at 4 am we fired up the engines to find a place to anchor safely away from anyone banging into us. This accomplished, we collapsed into the bed. Surprisingly, adrenalin would not let us sleep and Mary was up at 6 am like she is every day. Its funny how bodies work that way, but the smell of coffee made its way down and I was not far behind her.
We spent the next day cleaning up and trying to save the engine of our dinghy. An episode like this really lets you know who your friends are and can bring out the best in some. Our long time buddy-boaters, Charlotte and James, on their way to Nassau to effect their own repairs, offered to bring back a new outboard engine for us and to anchor near us and shuttle us around since we now have no way to get to shore to get provisions.
Bob and I trying to get the waterlogged engine going.
Bob on another boat in the anchorage spent several fruitless hours with me trying to get our engine running again. After we put out a call on the radio for the stuff that fell to the bottom from our dinghy (the water is crystal clear here after all), we saw several boats trolling around looking for it. And we tried to do our part by giving parts to other boaters who needed them.
It was sunny and calm now and you wouldn’t know that such danger was only 12 hours past. Some say that traveling like we do is hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror, and this was one night to prove it. We are glad we are safe and only have a waterlogged outboard motor to deal with. We are also glad that the people on those boats that went ashore are all OK. We were impressed by and proud of the way the community rallied to help others in distress. Some people showed amazing bravery in heading out at the height of the storm to try to get to those calling for help. Its just part of what we chose to deal with when we embarked on this crazy lifestyle, but we sincerely hope not to endure anything like that again.
This video shows the start of the storm. When it got worse, Mary had to put down the camera.