April 30 We pulled our anchor and sailed away from the diving center of Guadeloupe yesterday morning and sailed along the extent of the coastline. The scenery is gorgeous from the water and we soon saw that we have a lot more to explore of the island before we can make an informed decision of weather we love it or would leave it. On our trip back north in the fall we will make a point of revisiting Guadeloupe and seeing the huge expanse that we missed on the first visit. We’re now on a mooring ball in Les Saints. I’m in need of a bathing suit (AGAIN!) and possibly a light dress or two. This is the place to get them. There are unique little shops dotting the streets and we have also researched dive sites in the area. There’s a spot right on the edge of our mooring field that we would like to try out. This time, we’ll forego the dive shop experience and go on our own with our own tanks in our own dinghy. The plan is to use the air left over in our tanks to scrub the bottom of the boat. It’s starting to look really bad under there.
We scrubbed the topsides yesterday after our sail and cleaned off all the salt. s/v Somewhere looks a lot better, but we also need to get out the polish this morning before it gets to hot and take care of the spots of corrosion on the stanchions. It’s a never ending battle.
When we look up at the mountains that surround us we can see the ruins of forts on three sides. It would be quite the hike just to visit one of them, but if we can squeeze in one hearty hike while we are here, that would be fantastic. The colonial French had this area very well protected from attack, it seems. Interestingly enough, though, Les Saintes never could develop the agricultural economy her neighbor Guadeloupe still has today. The soil and climate is too dry. Slaves were not imported to these islands because the plantation system wasn’t supported by the climate. It is very beautiful here though and I’m finding it much friendlier than the northern portion of Guadeloupe. The plan is to stay here until Friday if the weather cooperates, so I hope that we can squeeze in all these activities and our boat chores.
*We didn’t do a lot of hiking, but we did go on a dive by ourselves. I limited myself to depths of 50 ft so that I could take my camera and capture some of the beauty under the sea at the dive site near Pain de Sucre. Fantastic dive in a fantastic location!
April 28 We’re in an anchorage in the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Park off of Pigeon Island in Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe is a possession of France and has been since the days of slavery, pirates, skirmishes with the English, and sugar cane plantations. It’s a French island, pure and simple. According to one article that I read before arriving to Deshaies, the port in which we cleared with Immigration and Customs, up until November of last year the only direct flights onto the island originated from either Paris or Montreal, but the Department of Tourism is marketing heavily in the US and flights now arrive direct from New York and Miami. We haven’t explored the southern part of the island nor have we taken time to discover the interior, but we have quickly discovered in the areas we have gone that if you don’t speak French like a native Parisian, then you are basically out of luck. So, those flights that are now arriving from the United States best have passengers onboard that paid strict attention to their high school French teachers or invested the time and money in Rosetta Stone. If you don’t speak the language, there are very few Guadeloupians that will give you the time of day.
Guadeloupe is beautiful, no doubt about it. Our first exposure to the island was after a remarkable sail from Jolly Harbour, Antigua to Deshaies. We went to shore and explored the pretty town and found it to be quaint and simply lovely. The tree frog songs, birds swooping about, and smells of the rain forest were absolutely amazing. The bar/restaurant “Hemingway” that we could reach by way of dinghy was so pretty at night and we could overlook the boats in the anchorage. It was a shame that 4 drinks (2 beers and 2 crazy rum concoctions with fruit our friends from Endorfin had bravely tried) came to a total of 20 Euro and that our waitress was, shall we say, less than welcoming. Hemingway was a beautiful spot in an equally beautiful location, but rather pricey and the service was less the courteous. The anchorage was crazy ridiculous. So many boaters trying to cram themselves into an area without a lot of real estate made for some interesting anchoring scenarios and near bumper boat fiascos. So, we stocked up on baguettes and pulled anchor to visit the Cousteau Park and do some diving and try our luck in another anchorage.
The anchoring here has also been scary. When pictures have to be taken of anchoring choices for possible insurance issues then there is something very wrong. It was one headache after another as boats would arrive and try to shove their way into the middle of the anchorage and scare the jeebezus out of everyone else that was already set. The wind shifts frequently here and there isn’t good holding conditions. But what was causing emotional strain in the anchorage was nothing compared to the stress of diving with one of the scuba outfits from shore.
We arrived on shore where we had to beach the dinghy. There is no dinghy dock, but there is a long pier for all the dive shops to pick up their guests. They don’t mind if you tie to it, but the swell would push the dinghy under the pier and since we didn’t bring a stern anchor with us we decided to pull the dinghy up on the beach. This is a black sand beach from the volcanic rock sediment. It’s unique until some little kid decides to crawl all over the dinghy and make a mess.
I would like to keep this report pleasant because the dive itself was spectacular. We saw so many species of fish that swam with us, around us, above us and below. A beautiful sea horse granted us his presence and a turtle actually swam by my side. The coral was huge, vibrant and mostly healthy. But the pleasantness ends there. There are so many dive shops to choose from-it’s a carnival like atmosphere with all the booths trying to capture the business of snorkelers and divers. One would think with all that competition that they would be bending over backward to provide a professional service. Not so much.
We were spoiled with the dive masters in the BVIs and on Saba, because what we expected for shelling out several Euro for a one tank dive was much more than what we received. First, we never had to sign a waiver. They didn’t even look at my PADI certification card. They (they being CIK Divers) had about 30 people on the boat that we had to load with our gear ourselves. This wasn’t an easy task as the tanks had to be connected onshore, then trotted out across the beach, down the long pier and worn as you tried to board the boat in the swell. I was looked at with disdain when I asked for help boarding the boat. It was ridiculous.
We were not given instruction on how to enter the water from the boat. It was up to the guest on how to enter, but the ladder off the back of the boat was not designed to be used to enter-just exit. So both Jim and I decided to do what we do when we dive alone off the dinghy (which we should have done in the first place and saved ourselves a few Euro and aggravation). We lowered our BCDs and ourselves off the boat and suited up in the water. Our assigned dive master, to whom we were never introduced to so I didn’t get his name, was already in the water waiting for us. We are accustomed to aluminum tanks-these were the old fashioned steel tanks and both Jim and I sunk like rocks when we released the air from our jackets. We were both trying to clear our ears and control our buoyancy for the first 10 minutes of the dive. We had our weights set for aluminum tanks so we were way over weighted. I was so anxious and stressed that near the end of the dive I was in the red zone of my air gauge. I knew that my tank didn’t have as much air as Jim’s from the beginning, but I usually use so little air that it isn’t a problem. Plus, I really didn’t know the appropriate French terms for saying, “I want a FULL tank of air.” Trying to control my buoyancy and not having a dive brief or instructions made me tense and I’m sure those factors made my breathing erratic.
Once the dive was over and we surfaced it was the same story-nobody to help with fins, weights or extracting the BCD and tank from the water. This wasn’t a matter of French vs English language issues-nobody helped anybody. Basically, the fee we paid was for a short boat trip that would have been easily made in our dinghy and a guide who showed us a sea horse, pet a sea cucumber, and demonstrated some cute tricks with blowing water rings during our safety stop. All the other guests were sitting on the boat, when we surfaced. Nobody was laughing or sharing stories of what they saw. Nobody was talking. It was weird. Nobody seemed to be having a good time. We didn’t go on a second dive and chose to go get some lunch and shake our heads at the lack of professionalism and service we had just experienced. If this had been my first diving experience, it would have certainly been my last. To add insult to injury, after we came back to the boat, the dive boat came and picked up guests from the catamaran that was anchored in front of us. We were told that they wouldn’t pick us or our gear up from our boat. We had to trek it all in on our dinghy, beach the dinghy and haul it across the beach only to haul it all back across the beach, down the pier onto their dive boat. We received terrible service and experienced not very nice or especially helpful people, but even worse, they weren’t safe. I never noticed life jackets on the boat. We received no safety briefings. They’re an accident waiting to happen. I got to thinking about that article I read before we arrived here. If the tourism board of Guadeloupe is marketing to the US tourist then the businesses best get their poop in a group. Unless, of course, the businesses do not want the American tourist. I have a feeling, by how we’ve been greeted, that they do not. I certainly would NOT recommend Guadeloupe as a diving destination to any of my friends unless they came with their own boat, own gear and tanks, and didn’t
expect a guide.
April 18: One of the adjustments that we have needed to make in our journey is our expectation of getting what we need when we want it. We’re waking up this morning in Antigua. Yes, we’re still in Antigua. We’re waiting on the delivery of the replacement hatch board. Since Easter is on Sunday, this has made Friday, Saturday and Monday holidays on the island. We will be here until at least Tuesday of next week when we are expected to receive our delivery. Our plan to high tail it south has been put on hold. Oh, the sacrifices…I’m joking, but we are watching others prepare their boats for hurricane season and we know that our time to get to the latitude approved by our insurance company is getting tight.
We’re anchored off of Jolly Harbor on the northwest side of Antigua and it’s a very nice place to be. The town is clean, the grocery store well stocked, and we’re able to get reliable internet on shore. The grocery store is so nice that we found Wisconsin cheeses, something we haven’t seen since we left the States, and many canned goods to stock up our dwindling provisioning locker. The swimming has been fantastic until dark though, when huge tarpon circle the boat and chase smaller fish. They are harmless, but they make a lot of noise and look rather intimidating. The cats are fascinated by the massive fish, but when they edge too close and under the lifelines to get a better look they are banned below decks. There is no way I want to jump in with those fish to save a cat who got too curious.
There is a sweet art gallery here with so many vibrant paintings of the Caribbean style. There are at least three paintings that have caught my eye, but alas, there is no space on the boat to carry them back safely. That saved me some money, but I know of three walls at home that could use the striking colors and alluring artwork that we found here. We also saw some winsome art being sold in St. John’s. We hopped on a local bus-a van really that charges $4 EC per person, to take you across the island. St. John’s is the capital of Antigua and Barbuda and where the cruise ships dock. So, there are duty free shops everywhere dockside to accommodate the shopping cruise ship passangers, but on the outskirts of the city there is also a fish, vegetable and craft market. We picked up the most delicious, fresh tomatoes and probably would have bought more fresh produce except the bus ride is a crowed hot venture. I was surprised that our tomatoes made the trip safely back to Jolly Harbor.
The BIG event, though, was finding a professional to take care of my distressed hair situation. I had my last proper haircut when we left Salem, Massachusetts back in September. I really though that keeping my hair long with a simple cut would work out for the best. I truly figured that it would be easy to maintain long hair instead of a short cut that would require frequent trims to keep it looking like I was mildly put together. How wrong I was. My hair grows at a freakishly fast pace and I had no comprehension what the salt water and tropical sun would do to my mane. I became a blonde. For the first time in my life I had fair hair-peroxide like lightness. It was a novelty, at first, but after the umpteenth time of not being able to get a comb through the mess and not even being able to reach the ends to finish a braid, I knew the tangles had to go before I started to develop dreadlocks.
I found a salon in Jolly Harbor and after 2 hours in the chair, 9 inches had been snipped and styled. I now have an easy, breezy bob. I feel lighter and I’ve quit breaking the teeth out of every comb we own. The stylist neatly packaged up what she took off for a donation to Locks for Love. I didn’t get any color put on my hair, but what is left on my head is now back to brunette with a streak or two of the sun kissed look. As the woman cutting off all that hair said, “People pay a lot of money to get that color and effect.” We’ll see how long it lasts.
April 6 The first thing Buddy Bosun does every morning once we let him out in the cockpit is to run aft and check on our dinghy that is tied securely to the stern for the night. We were on a mooring ball in Saba a few mornings ago bouncing, pitching and heaving in the swell that is caused by having no protected harbor for the little island. Buddy’s tail fluffed up when he did his morning dinghy check. Something scared him and he backed away slowly the way cats do when they don’t like something they see. We thought it was the pitch and sway of the boat and the dinghy that caused his retreat, but when we readied the dinghy to go to shore we found what had perturbed him. A large, 8 inch or so, flying fish had made her brave escape from what ever was chasing her underwater, but misjudged and flew into our dinghy-to her death. It was a beautiful fish, but I think that our shark associates may have had something to do with her suicide. It was April Fool’s Day when we left St. Barth’s and sailed to Saba and we were hoping that the sharks that were oddly hanging below our hull would stay behind. Some April Fool’s joke…at least two of them came with us. When we put on our fins and mask after catching the mooring ball and settling in we saw them just as they had been under the boat in St. Barth’s. Very odd behavior for sharks, for sure.
April Fool’s Day also had us pondering another event. We were dropping our dinghy from the foredeck where we store it on passages and I looked up to see a sight that we assumed we wouldn’t see much of after leaving the Great Lakes. A terrifying sight for sure, but nonetheless interesting. A water spout was forming and certainly did develop a few miles east of our mooring field. When Jim checked in with Saba Customs he asked and was given two conflicting reports on the frequency of waterspouts in the Caribbean. One official said, “Oh, we get those all the time.” When he finished reporting in with the National Park Office (a fee is required for the mooring ball), they said that they were out taking pictures of the waterspout because it is a rare occurrence. Waterspouts are generally considered to be tornados on the water. They’re fascinating to watch, but frightening if you’re near one on a sailboat. Once we are able to get better internet, I will certainly research the frequency in this area. Our stay in Saba had us snorkeling and visiting a couple places on the island we hadn’t seen on our first visit. The snorkeling was absolutely alluring. It’s a requirement on Saba that all scuba dives be done with a divemaster. We couldn’t seem to get one scheduled, so we snorkeled. We weren’t disappointed. The water was so clear we could see a nurse shark dosing in the sand. Turtles were swimming and feeding around us and we spotted at least two southern rays burrowing and eyeing us as they did their thing on the ocean floor. Plenty of fish, fascinating coral and formations created by volcanic activity kept us entertained until our hands were pruney and wrinkled from being in the salt water so long.
We’re now on anchor in White House Bay on St. Christopher-more commonly known as St. Kitt’s. We had a great sail from Saba to this nation of St. Kitt’s and Nevis. The stay in the harbor at Basseterre was a bit awful, though. The swells made it uncomfortable to sleep and impossible to even stand and get anything done around the boat. We took a tour of the island yesterday and got away from the cruise ships that dominate the harbor.
ALERT: I DO NOT WANT TO COME OFF AS A SNOB. I have dear friends that frequently go on cruises and enjoy them immensely. I have a close relative who was employed with a cruise line and loved his work. I understand that cruises have a place, but that being said:
We try to avoid cruise ships and the ports that they go into for several reasons. One, the ports normally do not represent the islands that we visit. The cruise lines create a duty free shopping center with the sorts like Kay’s Jewelry and Diamond International. There will be all sorts of shops that sell swim trunks and other clothing and knickknacks. There will be people giving the hard sell on the street to get your picture taken with a monkey or to come in and buy their earrings. It’s difficult to get them to take NO for an answer. This is probably good economically for the struggling islands, (*after some research into the matter, there are studies that show negative reports in this regard) but it’s not something we prefer to see or spend our time doing. Secondly, we aren’t much into crowds of tourists. Our goal was to see the islands, learn about the geography, geology, history and the feel of the culture. It’s an adventure finding food stores and learning how to cook and eat unfamiliar vegetables and fruits and reading labels in another language. The cruise ships seem to invade that romantic notion of exploration that we have. To encounter them means we are often grouped into their expectations of plowing in, spending money, then leaving within hours of arriving. The ports have a very different feel after the cruise ships set sail. We applaud when they leave port.
Cruise ship lines aren’t always the most ecologically sensitive sorts either. We work hard on being as green as possible. We see what plastic, Styrofoam, and garbage in general has done to the environment and wildlife. The expansive floating hotels with their 24 hour buffets and their cattle car approach to packing as many people onboard at one time doesn’t seem like a vacation to me, but more like one huge pile of garbage floating to destroy the ecology of another land. But the other E word seems to take precedence in these matters: Economics. I realize a lot of people can’t afford to visit a single island, let alone put their toes in the sand of many, without the affordability of a cruise. It also works the other way, too. The islands who no longer produce sugar cane or have viable economies outside of tourism depend on throngs of Hawaiian print clad tourists to infuse some US dollars into their coffers. It just doesn’t seem right, though. The cruise ships could do better, but nobody-especially their customers, are demanding that they clean up their acts concerning the environment and their employment practices. That would mean the cost of a ticket to board would be higher and the customer doesn’t want that.
April 8 Now that we have internet, I’ve done a bit of research on my assumptions concerning Cruise Ships. I would suggest that anyone making any plans to vacation do the same. I’m not going to chastise anyone who prefers to book a cruise rather than find more imaginative ways to travel. Being respectful of the countries that you visit and being ecologically responsible is high on my list of priorities, but I would ask that you do your research. Also, read Tina Fey’s account of her cruise experience in her book Bossy Pants. Debarking on a cruise ship probably won’t be on your agenda if you do. Enough said.
We’re still in St. Kitt’s enjoying the scenic and calm anchorage in White House Bay. We were invited to dine and use the elegant facilities at Cristophe Harbour. We had a fantastic late lunch with Ric and Diane after hiking and snorkeling and morning coffee that they had arranged. The author of An Embarrassment of Mangoes, Ann Vanderhoof, and her husband Steve are sharing this anchorage with us. They joined us. It was so nice to chat and meet the writer of the book that pushed us over the edge to make the leap from talking about this journey to actually setting sail. Steve and Ann had a lot of information to share with us and gave us the skinny on what to expect as we continue to move south.
We’ve already informed the “kids” that we will continue south. We played with the notion of turning back north and spending hurricane season on the east coast of the US and returning to the Caribbean in the fall, but time is running out and we decided to stick with our original plan and head to Trinidad for the summer months. We’ll be out of the hurricane zone once we hit Grenada and in compliance with our insurance company’s requirements. (*Hurricane Season officially begins June 1) So, the journey continues. We’ll be headed to Antigua next once we get a favorable wind. I plan on getting a proper haircut there and we’ll fix the hatch we cracked a few days ago-(It’s a boat, things break).