Bequia to Martinique

Christmas morning Mermaid was anchored in Bequia and while sipping coffee and checking the weather for our departure on the 26th, the forecast had changed slightly and the weather for the 25th was perfect for a northerly sail. We had already checked out so we jumped into gear and got Mermaid prepped and ready for sea in record time. We were raising the anchor at 8:30 and headed out to sea. Mother Nature had a Christmas present for us it seemed. We had the most amazing sail! It’s a short hop up to St Vincent and Mermaid cruised along at 9 to 10+ knots on a beam reach. We were able to sail most of the way up the lee side of St Vincent before popping out into the channel between St Vincent and St Lucia. Our angle wasn’t quite as good but with the apparent wind just forward of the beam Mermaid blasted along at 8.5 knots. We anchored for the night in Rodney Bay near the north end of St Lucia just before dark. St Anne, Martinique was just over 20 miles to the north. Mermaid dropped the anchor in the large, protected bay off St Anne before noon the following day. St Anne is a favorite with many cruisers. The anchorage is large and very well protected. You could anchor the navy in the bay and there were hundreds of boats already there when we arrived but there was still plenty of room.

We had several of our Ocean Cruising Club friends sail in the following day in Martinique (their sail was not as epic as ours was) and the cruiser fun began again. While visiting exotic locals is great, having friends to share your experiences makes them even better. We’ve met so many sailors in the islands and many have become great friends. We enjoyed sundowners with friends on their boats and ours, took a long hike with a fun lunch in the middle and Mike made Ti Punch for all which we enjoyed on the beach. Ti Punch is a favorite French cocktail made from strong rum, a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lime but Mike makes it much better. His tastes similar to a margarita and everyone seems to love it. We also had days with lots of wind and rain which meant we took a break from the fun and got lots of boat chores done. Besides the anchorage, one of the reasons that St Anne is so popular is that the town has retained it’s local character. There’s shops and restaurants that cater to visitors but there’s also many places that are favored by the locals. The Culture is Distinctly French. Even in the restaurants it’s unusual to find a waiter who speaks even basic English. It’s a place to go to kick back and immerse yourself in another culture. One of our first stops was at the boulangerie, the french bakery where we loaded up on pain chocolat and bought two baguettes. We always get two because they’re so good the first one doesn’t make it back to Mermaid. On New Year’s Eve we met a group of friends at one of our favorite spots. It’s a small bar on an ally connecting the two main streets in the town and in the evening they set up tables in the alley. If the place has a name we haven’t been able to discover it. There’s no sign except for the one advertising Lorraine, a local beer. We ordered Lorraines and acras, a French West Indies appetizer that’s somewhat like a hush puppy. It’s made from dough and a bit of fish that’s deep fried and is a perfect with a cold beer. Not wanting to stay out until midnight we decided that since we were in France we’d celebrate the new year at midnight in Paris… 7:00 local time. It was such fun and since there so many were Brits in our group we did it again at midnight London time which was 8:00 in Martinique.

The Grenadines

Mermaid finally headed out from Woburn Bay where we had been on the hard then on a mooring at Whisper cove. We headed around the southeast corner of Grenada and stopped for the night in Black Bay Point in Halifax Harbor. We had the place to ourselves and found it quite lovely with good holding, calm water and great snorkeling with beautiful coral. The next day we sailed to Tyrrel Bay in Carriacou. This island is one of our favorites. We ate out, took walks and had some good snorkels. With Christmas approaching we got on a bus one night with a group of cruisers to go to the main town of Hillsborough for a Christmas event. It was a well attended event with the whole community turning out. The seniors acme early had claimed the limited seating and there were lots of kids frolicking through the grounds. The locals were entertaining the crowd by singing Christmas carols. Our favorites were a group of three church ladies who may not have been the best singers but they were spirited.

When the weather forecast had the winds a bit south of east we couldn’t resist continuing our sail northward so we checked out and headed to Bequia for Christmas. Bequia (pronounced bek way) is less than ten miles from it’s big brother St. Vincent but the two islands couldn’t be more different in their reputation with cruisers. Bequia is a lovely island and the locals are very friendly and welcoming. St Vincent shares the natural beauty but a series of violent crimes against cruisers in past years that has gone unsolved and are perceived to be ignored by local police have sullied it’s reputation. The cruising community shares and sometimes exaggerates the tales of past misdeeds as they spread through the coconut telegraph. Cruisers are intolerant of crimes against boaters that they believe aren’t being taken seriously enough by the local police so while Admiralty Bay on Bequia is full of cruising boats, most cruisers give St. Vincent a skip. That included us. We enjoyed our stay in Bequia hiking, swimming and of course, hanging out with cruising friends. We were treated to some good roti at a couple of the restaurants in the area. Roti is kind of like a West Indian version of a burrito. It a curry dish that can be made from just about any meat or vegetables that’s served wrapped in a tortilla like shell. We missed the lobster roti that was recommended by a friend … good reason to come back!

Launching Mermaid in Grenada

Returning to Grenada came mixed feelings. I was looking forward the cruising season but knew that a few weeks of hot, hard work was in store while Mermaid was still hauled out. Mike returned a week before Robin joined him and got the bottom sanded and antifouling paint applied. Life in the yard is not easy maybe that’s why it is called being on the hard. We rented a small (air conditioned) apartment not too far away from the boat yard so at least we had some relief from the heat at night.

When the checklist was finally done we launched Mermaid on November 19th and spent a few nights on the dock at Clarke’s Court getting her ready for the season. It was nice to be back aboard. As we departed the dock Robin noticed that there was no water coming out of the exhaust and told Mike to go back. She threw lines to the dock guys and we turned the engine off and went below expecting bad news. Good news! A hose clamp had failed (of course it was one that was out of sight) and water was shooting into the engine room. No big deal as the bilge pump was keeping up but we were very happy it had happened when it did. Back at the dock we put a new hose clamp on and departed again. We went all the way across the bay (a few hundred yards) and picked up a mooring ball at Whisper Cove Marina intending to stay a few nights. We fell in love with Whisper Cove Marina! What a sweet little spot… we stayed a few weeks. Once we were in the water it was time to have some fun. We hung out on Hog Island on Sunday afternoon, went to a dingy concert, a full moon party and Mike played the harp on open mike night at Nimrod’s and Taffy’s.

Nonna and Granddaddy visit Alaska

Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. This time they did. It was October and we were planning to head up to Juneau Alaska to visit our Daughter and grandkids. In October it’s cold on Compagnon in Holland and hot on Mermaid, who was waiting down in Grenada. It just so happened that at our son in law’s parents were heading for sunnier climes and looking for a house sitter in Juneau, Alaska. Bingo! October is chilly in Juneau but not really cold. We dog sat and hung out on Douglas Island across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau. We spent some quality time with the kiddos, had a great Halloween, Mike escaped ice skating without injury, an awesome night camping at Eagle Beach and spent many of the evenings playing golf with our daughter and son in law. No, not that kind of golf this is a card game we had recently learned from our nephews in Texas. As October turned into November it was time to pack up and head south to get Mermaid ready to launch for another season.

Summer in Friesland

Next it was off to Amsterdam on a quick flight, then a train to Weesp and Compagnon. We launched on July 4th (just another day in the Netherlands… no fireworks) and our youngest son, Austin joined us. We took the train to Amsterdam for a day at the Rjiks museum then stocked up on provisions and headed towards Friesland for the season. Friesland is a lovely province of the Netherlands on the north coast. To get to Friesland we went through Flevoland; which is mostly reclaimed land called Polders and the area much younger than the rest of Holland. It’s odd because when you enter Flevoland you start on at sea level and go through a lock that drops you down to around 15 feet below sea level to the land that was reclaimed from the sea. In true Dutch style everything in the polder was well planned and laid out. The polders were mostly farmland but there were also nature areas planted with trees and cities with large parks and sports facilities.

Friesland was our destination for the season. It’s the most popular region for boaters in the Netherlands because of the many canals and lakes and abundant marinas, almost free moorings in the lakes and historic towns with canal side moorings as reasonable prices. The Dutch are a boating culture and the vast majority of boats in the area are Dutch. They use the canals and lakes to get away and relax but we were just there soaking up the culture so we spent more time in town than out on the lakes. Nothing in the area disappointed us! The history and beauty was incredible. Part of the pleasure of having Compagnon is sharing our adventure with friends and we had a number of guests over the summer and the visits were enjoyed by all. We spent our days wandering through town, visiting museums, looking at the multitude of old, restored canal boats that were built for transporting cargo along the canals in the days when water transport was the main way of moving around but now refit as beautiful live aboards. We loved the larger towns like Leeuwarden and Gronigan but our favorites were the smaller places like Grou, Sneek and Stavoren. We mostly happened upon several local cultural events. In Stavoren we arrived just before a big festival celebrating their fishing heritage with loads of traditional fishing boats parading through town with everyone in traditional dress and singing old songs in Frisian. The more modern fishing vessels who trawl for small shrimp offshore were also in the harbor with pennants flying.

Relaxing with Jeff and Melody

Later, we were heading for Grou but when we arrived the waterways were chocked with spectator boats out to see the skutsjessilen, an annual regatta where traditional, flat bottomed boats called skutsjes (pronounced scoot-cheese) duke it out in a series of races that move from town to town over a couple of weeks. Scutsjes were built to move goods from the farms to town and while they don’t look like what we would call a racing boat today, skutsje races started back in the early 1800s. Today, local towns sponsor an entry and the races are wildly popular in Friesland with thousands there to watch and cheer on their town’s boat and many more watching on television. Seeing that there was no way we were going to get a berth in Grou we moved on and watched the races on TV in a local pub.

The festivals were great but most days we spent sipping a beer and having bitterballen in a sidewalk cafe and watching the world go by. One evening we were serenaded by a group of local men who were singing traditional sailing shanties and drinking beerenburg, jenever that has been infused with herbs and aged in oak barrels.

When October rolled around the weather started to turn cold and buttoned up Compagnon ready for her winter rest and flew off to Texas to visit Jessamine, family and friends.

The United Kingdom

We left Mermaid on the hard in Grenada and flew to LA for five days to get passports renewed and visit with David and Kathy in Pasadena. It’s always a hoot there and all had a fun playing Big 2, going to the movies and attending a MLS game in the new LAFC stadium near downtown.

Next, it was on to London where we stayed at the Cruising Association’s guest quarters in Limehouse. We found it convenient to the tube and all the attractions. We wore ourselves out visiting museums, palaces, The London Eye and other attractions. Our friends Tony and Hazed of SV Longbow joined us for a few days and it was great seeing them again.

We took a bus from London to stay for a few days in the Cotswolds with Richie and Claudia. Claudia has converted an old barn into a chic and comfortable home. Its a laid back place with sheep and horses grazing contentedly in verdant fields that cover the low, rolling hills.

Next it was off to Scotland to see our good friends James and Charlotte. We took a train and spent a day in Edinborough to see the sites. After a few days of fun with them we rented a car before heading out to explore Scotland on our own. James outdid himself gathering information for us as our tour guide with maps and information on sites not to be missed.

We headed north and west on the very narrow windy roads with Mike still getting used to driving on the left. Much of our route was along the North 500 loop and we were awed at the sites. Everyone had warned us about the weather in Scotland and told us to bring rain gear, boots and sweaters. We did but found ourselves in shorts and short sleeve shirts every day. The weather during our stay was spectacular. Robin really wanted to see the puffins so on the Isle of Skye we hopped on a tour boat on Isle of Skye and were not disappointed! It was a pleasant sunny day and motored out to a small island with a puffin rookery where we got up close and personal with the colorful birds bringing sand eels they had gathered back to their chicks. We also had quite an adventure up on the north coast at Dunnet Head up on the north coast where Robin leaned out over the edge of a 300 foot cliff to get puffing photos while Mike held on to her belt loops to make sure she didn’t go over. A highlight of the journey was the afternoon we spent hiking out onto a large peninsula near Durness. The peninsula was undeveloped and had spectacular beaches, sand dunes and sea cliffs. We trekked out through the dunes then along the very narrow paths that ran along the top of the cliffs enjoying the dramatic views of the sea and the abundant sea birds then back along the pristene beach. Of course, you can’t visit Scotland without visiting a few castles and sampling a wee dram of the local distiller’s creations so we did our bit.

Summer is Coming

With the season drawing to an end and our haul date approaching it was time to work our way south from Antigua to Grenada where Mermaid would be hauled. We worked our way from Antigua to Grenada – island hoping to get some sleep along the way. We weren’t in too much of a hurry so we enjoyed some time in Bequia and Carriacou. A favorite in Carriacou was our visit to the famous boat builders on the windward side of the island. They build the old fashioned Carriacou Sloops in the manner that they have been built for generations. After watching the excellent documentary “Vanishing Sails” about these boats and their builders it was a treat to see in person.

Hauling out is a bittersweet time. It marks the end of another season but is also a time with new and different adventures on the horizon. But first, there’s much to be done to get the boat ready to to be left for hurricane season. We arrived in Clarke’s Court Bay about a week before our scheduled haul out and summer storage. Three days at anchor and three more at the slip were spent getting Mermaid ready to haul, which is a lot of hot work. We removed all sails and everything from the deck, cleaned the boat thoroughly, did laundry and vacuum packed clothes and linens, cleaned out our food supply, got rid of dingy gas, and much more on the list. Finally we hauled Mermaid via “The Hulk” and watched as she was moved to her spot for the summer. Clarke’s Court Marina has four nice hotel rooms and we stayed in one for a few nights before we departed and enjoyed the air conditioning at night as well as long land showers after hard days work.

Antigua Again

From Guadeloupe we hopped north to Antigua to be there for the Antigua Classic Regatta and enjoy a tot or two with with the Royal Tot Club Members. Mike sponsored a couple of English, Ocean Cruising Club friends as members. As sponsor, we were there with them for seven tots over a two week period including the night they were tested on English naval history. Mike served the traditional role of plying the tester with drink during the test. Both Dan of SV Eschaton and Tony of SV Longbow passed the exam with flying colors and made a brilliant speech at their mismuster, a special tot where they were introduced as new members, that had the gathered totters rolling in the aisles.

Tony, Dan and Mike with Tot Club founder Mike Rose

The Antigua Classic Regatta is well … a classic. Started back in the 80s it is open to traditionally rigged, full keel boats and is a magnet for magnificent yachts and the sailors who love them. In 2018 the entries ranged from the 140 foot schooner Columbia to a fleet of hand built Carricou Sloops. Robin had signed up as media and spent several days taking pictures of boat porn from the photo boat. Mike as a volunteer dingy wrangler and was in the harbor assisting the boats into and out of their berths. Our great friend Jessamine was aboard Mermaid for the Classic this year. On the final day of the regatta Robin serve as photographer and Jessamine her faithful assistant aboard Ashanti IV, a beautiful 115 foot German built schooner and the overall winner of the regatta.

Dominica!

We came to Dominica in February, 2018, five months after the tiny island was ravaged by hurricane Maria. Dominica is a poor country and evidence of the destruction was everywhere. Many houses still had tarps on the roof to keep the rain out and much of the electricity service hadn’t been restored.

Hurricane Damage

Washed Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we talked to the islanders we asked about their experience during the storm. Maria had grown in strength very rapidly. The storm went from a category one to a category five the day before it hit. The people took shelter wherever they could, many taking refuge in their homes, most of these weren’t constructed to survive in 200+ mph winds. Typical of their tales was that of Osborne, owner of the Green Bar, a tiny establishment located in Portsmouth, on Prince Rupert Bay where we anchored. Osborne was at home with his two teen-aged daughters during the night of the storm. With the winds shrieking and debris crashing against the side of their house the roof blew off. Everyone in the house was terrified. They were too exposed where they were and going elsewhere was out of the question. With all the debris in the air anyone who

local dude

ventured outside would be battered and killed. Osborne pried up a couple of floorboards of his pier and beam house and told his daughters to climb down into the crawl space. One daughter didn’t want to go down at first but Osborne convinced her to climb down where they spent the final hours of the storm under the house with the crabs that live down there. The next morning everyone came out to see the destruction. Dominica is a lush tropical island covered by verdant, green forests. It’s the kind of a place where if you stick a broomstick in the ground it will grow but that morning there wasn’t a leaf left on a tree. Debris was everywhere and most of the bridges, which there were many, were washed out making travel across the island impossible. Most of the houses had corrugated metal roofs that had blown off in the storm. Electrical service and all communicated was out. The people survived as best they could until help arrived. Five months after the storm both the island and the people are still recovering. A shortage of building materials and labor meant that there were still many damaged structures waiting to be renovated. Some people had left the island in the aftermath of the storm and hadn’t returned but those there had a can do attitude that they’d do what had to be done to claw their way back.

Some cruisers had avoided the island after the storm but we wanted to go support the people in their recovery efforts by spending money at the local businesses taking tours, eating at restaurants and shopping at the local groceries and markets. We had also brought a large parcel to donate filled with clothes, sheets, towels and kitchen items. We arrived during Criuser’s Appreciation Week, an annual event put on by the PAYS, Portsmouth Area Yacht Services group. PAYS is a group of “boat boys” who provide moorings, security and tours to boaters. Over a hundred boats had gathered in Prince Rupert Bay for the event and we were fortunate enough to be there with old friends John and Ellie Wheeler on SV Serenety who we had crossed the Pacific with back in 2003 as well as some new friends, a pair of English boats, Dan of SV Eschaton and Tony and Hazel of SV Longbow who had just arrived from England via the Canary Islands weeks before. Dan, who is a veteran of a dozen Atlantic crossings and has spent many years cruising the Eastern Caribbean was the ring leader. He favors the out of the way local places no tourist would ever dare go and led us on many happy adventures. One of the spots that he led us to was the Green Bar which may be the ultimate dive bar. There’s no sign or really any indication that it’s not just a house from the street. When we arrived the electricity service hadn’t been restored so Dan lent the owner, Osborne, who we discussed earlier, his portable generator so that he could open the bar. Calling it a bar may be a stretch. Osborne has a rickety table and some folding chairs that he sets up on the front porch when someone shows up and sells beer from what was the living room of the house. We spent several enjoyable evenings there sipping a cold beer watching the world go by from the front porch talking with Osborne.

The holding in the bay isn’t the greatest so PAYS as well as several others installed moorings so boats wouldn’t drag. We took a mooring run by Alexis, a “boat boy” who is actually a very impressive young man. We arranged multiple tours through Alexis who was also our guide on the Indian River tour. We spent a couple of days being driven around the island, seeing the devastation, the natural beauty of the island and swimming in waterfalls. One of the waterfalls (Titou Gorge) was used in the filming of one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and we swam up through narrow walls to the waterfall. The scenery was spectacular. 

Alexis

Alexis on the Indian River tour

Roadside shopping

tourist stuff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our way home it began to rain and a landslide blocked the road. We waited a couple of hours for it to be cleared enough for us to pass. We also also spent a day touring the Kalinago area of the island. The Kalinago were formerly known as Caribs, a name that was given to them by the Spanish, who have returned to their historical name. We saw a group of native dancers, distributed some care packages and toured the restored Kalinago village.

Robin in Titu Gorge

Nice waterfall

The waterfalls were big fun

During our stay there Mike, John and Tony went on a Lion fish hunt and came back with 25 Lion fish for a PAYS Lion fish dinner. We also went to the legendary PAYS Sunday Night Barbeque. It’s gained legendary status because it comes with all you can drink rum punch. Its the kind of drink that goes down like kool aid but pack a serious wallop. Fortunately we had been forewarned and took it easy on the rum.

Lionfish

Sunday Night Barbeque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before we left Mike and Tony spent a day as volunteer trail clearers on a National Park trail that was blocked by trees downed during the storm. They spent the day whacking away at the underbrush as others used chain saws to cut through large trees that had fallen across the trails.

Mike chopping the undergrowth

North to Guadeloupe

It’s a short day sail from Dominica up to Guadeloupe but it’s light years away culturally. Much of Dominica is unspoiled paradise with the many of the inhabitants living off the land. Tourism is in it’s infancy and the Kalinango Indians, whom the Spanish called Caribs and after which the Caribbean is named have a reservation on the island. Much of Guadeloupe is filled with big resorts and tourism is in full swing with several cruise ships often tied to the quay. We began our visit there anchored in Point a Pitre, the largest city and capital to escape a large north swell that was heading down from the North Atlantic. We explored Guadeloupe in a rental car with our old friends from sailing the South Pacific, John and Ellie of SV Serenity and had a fantastic lunch near Pointe Des Chateaux where the Atlantic swells crash against the dramatic rock formations on the south east tip of the island. The place was just a trailer with some plastic tables and chairs and tables but with out toes in the sand under blue sky with puffy with clouds we supped and drank rose. There were several Ocean Cruising Club boats in the anchorage so we opened the Mermaid Lounge for sundowners several evenings where Ti Punch, a French West Indies concoction of rum, lime juice and simple syrup flowed.

When the north swell subsided we headed for Les Saintes, a group of small islands off the south coast Guadeloupe. Les Saintes looks like it might have been snatched up from the Riviera and dropped in the West Indies. The culture is distinctly French. The small town is full of tourists and the streets are lined with quaint restaurants, souvenir shops and of course French bakeries or boulangeries. The Croissants, Pain Chocolate and baguettes were heavenly. We always bought two baguettes because they were so irresistible we rarely made it back to the boat before eating one. We also enjoyed some great snorkeling and often brought along a apres snorkel ti punch to enjoy while chilling in the dingy.