Back in the USA

After 36 hours of flights and no sleep we arrived in Juneau to visit Stacy, Frank and the grandkids. It was late at night so we fell into bed for some much needed sleep and woke in he morning to the happy sounds of the grandchildren. Great hugs all around, wow do we miss these kiddos!

Life in Juneau seems to flow out of the primeval forests that encircle the city giving everything a supernatural glow. We spent a great night in a small cabin at Eagle Beach, walking the banks of the river, toasting marshmallows and playing cards by candlelight.

Rose and Kaash dressed up as Hermione and Harry from Harry Potter for Halloween. Robin joined in costumed as Professor McGonagall. As they do in Juneau, we trick or treated all the businesses in downtown in the afternoon then walked the neighborhood in the evening. Kaash had to get out his brown pants after a skeleton hand tried to grab him as he reached into a pot of candy on a neighbor’s porch. We just can’t get over how fast these two kids are growing and maturing.

Robin did not want to leave but our time in Juneau came to an end and we flew to Texas to visit friends and family where we made Medford Manor, Jessamine’s welcoming home our home base. Mike flew to LA to visit his brother David while Robin was busy gathering the things we needed to take back to Mermaid. Before we knew it, we were boarding a very early flight to Grenada. The temperature was 20 degrees F and the wind whipping as we departed. Where did the summer go?

Friesland 2019

We arrived Amsterdam, caught a train to Grou, spent one night in the hotel and the next morning launched Compagnon and moved to the marina. It’s always a little bit of culture shock to arrive in the Netherlands from the Caribbean. In Grenada it was hot and humid and everything was on island time. Most everyone is friendly and outgoing and the custom there is that you always start a conversation with good morning, how are you then take the time to actually listen before you start any business that you might have. When we arrived in the Netherlands it was cool, everything is on schedule and the whole country is clean and tidy. While some have labeled the Dutch as unfriendly we think that’s just not so. Perhaps reserved would be appropriate but we’ve found that people are quite friendly and helpful when you engage them.

Just a couple of days after we launched we welcomed Tony and Hazel who we had cruised with in the Caribbean when they owned S.V. Longbow. After a nice afternoon in Grou we planned our departure for the next morning. Best laid plans… in the morning Mike did his usual check the engine oil before departure and found coolant in the oil. That is not good. We called the mechanic out who said we had to get a new head gasket and it would take a couple of weeks to get parts, then a week to do the job. Well, Tony and Hazel were only visiting for a week. Plan B… We toured by train which was great fun. We even rented a sailboat and toured the national park by Grou. It was sad to see Tony and Hazel leave but their week came to an end.

Compagnon was towed to the work dock and the new head gasket was installed. With everything back in working order we headed out and spent some time enjoying the national park and toured Friesland. We stopped in places we’d been and loved before and found some new to us amazing villages. We spent quite a bit of time in Leeuwarden, a spot that has long been a favorite but also found Dokkum a great place to visit. We were moored right under a working windmill and when the wind was right they would turn it into the wind and grind flour. They welcomed visitors and it was fascinating to see how it operated and the ingenious way they control the mechanism. We bought some flour from the mill and Robin cooked with it. It didn’t take long to realize the flour was meant for pancakes…

We enjoyed visits from Kim and David as well as Jessamine Lewis. Compagnon took us to some lovely spots and performed well and our 90 days quickly passed. We hauled Compagnon and left her in the same place as last year and headed to Leeuwarden for the night then Amsterdam for our flight to London. It was another wonderful summer in the Netherlands.

Antigua to Grenada

As much as we enjoyed Antigua, we did need to get Mermaid south for hurricane season so in May, when the wind had a little north in it we took advantage and headed south. We stopped in Iles Des Saintes, an awesome spot with a great anchorage, a quaint, very french town and beautiful set of small islands. During the height of the season it’s packed with boats and tourists but in May, there’s plenty of room, great weather and we discovered some great, off the beaten path snorkeling spots. One of the greatest things about the Saintes is the boulangerie. French bakeries are the best and we often stopped in for a pan chocolat or a baguette. Whenever we bought a baguette we always bought an extra one because the first one was eaten by the time we got back to Mermaid.

The wind turned a bit north again so we continued our southbound voyage and sailed to Dominica for a night to visit with our great friends Alexis and visit one of our favorite hole in the wall run shops the Green Bar. It’s just a card table set up on the front porch of Osborne’s house where he sells all manner of spiced rums, dispenses medicinal herbs to the locals and has cold beer. We always enjoy his megawatt smile and hearty laugh. With the weather still favorable we sailed on to Bequia with quick stops in Martinique and St Lucia. In Bequia we discovered a new floating rum shack in Admiralty Bay which had the best passion fruit rum punch! It gets our vote for one of the best places in the Caribbean for a sundowner.

Again the wind turned a little north (very unusual for this time of year) and we headed south again sailing to Tyrrell Bay on Carriacou. On a dingy adventure we found a new favorite snorkeling spot. It had great topography, nice coral and lots of fish. Robin spotted a nurse shark but loved watching the school of squid that were hanging in the shallows. From Carriacou we sailed down the windward side of Grenada to Woburn Bay and went to Whisper Cove Marina which would be Mermaid’s summer home. We worked hard during the day decommissioning Mermaid and in the evening we enjoyed the local night life and music. We got Mermaid all buttoned up and ready for hurricane season and headed to the airport for our summer adventures.

Antigua!

We returned to Antigua and settled in. Antigua is one of our favorite islands and we enjoyed seeing many old friends there as well as making many new ones. Many an evening were spent in English Harbour toasting the queen with the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda where chairman Mike Rose rules the roost. Another favorite haunt was the Lime in Falmouth Harbour where Mike often joined in on the jam sessions with owner and great musician Garrick.

Living aboard Mermaid is fantastic but sometimes a little land time is nice. We happened upon a six week dog/cat/house in a gorgeous home with a sweeping view of Falmouth Harbour. It was odd to be back on land in a home but we thoroughly enjoyed having pets again. The dogs were incredibly loving and friendly and the cats though shy at first became good friends as well. Mike spent days working on sanding and painting some inside parts on Mermaid and Robin loved on the animals and enjoyed cooking in a real kitchen.

It was regatta season in Antigua and we had a blast at the Antigua Classic Regatta, Antigua Sailing week and the Royal Ocean Racing Club Caribbean 600. If you love old, classic boats there’s no better setting than the Antigua Classics Regatta. Robin was a photographer and went out on a Carriacou Sloop, a traditional Caribbean boat made on the beach in Windward on Carriacou, Colombia, a beautiful classic schooner and Ocean Star crewed by a great group of college students spending a semester at sea. Mike, spent the week as a volunteer editing the thousands and thousands of photos Robin had taken.

Our son, Alan with Rachel and her family visited for a week so we toured the island, ate, drank and had a great time. Mike even hosted Alan and Rachel at a tot.

Hanging out in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

With weather forecasting some large northerly swells and strong winds, we decided to head into the very well protected bay of Pointe-a- Pitre on the south side of Guadalupe. It’s not a scenic place as it’s near the container ship docks and the power plant but it’s convenient to town and as we learned last year it’s to be a good place to wait out weather and swells. Guadeloupe is actually two large islands separated by a river. It’s a good island to explore by car and a good spot to provision and do work on the boat.

We waited for breeze to fill in and headed to Guadalupe enjoying a lovely sail along the way. We threw out a line and tried to catch a fish but only caught sargasso weed. We sailed right into the harbor but had to anchor four times before finding a spot we were comfortable with. The bottom was soft mud and Mermaid is a very heavy boat so we just seemed to plow through the mud when we tried to set. We finally set next to our friends on SV Coho.

Weather reports still predicted high winds and seas but it was quite calm in the anchorage most of the time so we took advantage of the time in Pointe a Pitre to refinish the teak in Mermaid’s cockpit. Mike sanded everything down to bare wood. A task made more complicated as much of the teak is hand rails with many curves and hard to reach spots then put several coats of Cetol on. The teak in the cockpit went from looking shabby to fabulous and the Mermaid Lounge was ready for business.

It wasn’t all hard work and no play… we ended up extending our stay because friends kept showing up. We enjoyed evenings with friends in a cockpit for sundowners and a night aboard Kalunamoo with Oasis for a jam session.

We rented a car one day and took off on a tour of Basse Terre, the bigger and higher island on Guadeloupe along with our Romanian friends Sorin and Ana of SV Mehalah. We took a hike in the rain forest to see the Chute du Corbet waterfall. Driving up the west side of the island we happened upon Fort Louis Delgres and went in to check it out. Much to our surprise the fort was in amazingly great shape and it seemed much work was being done. There was even a brand new museum inside and we were impressed because it was all free! We did inquire as to the work being done and found out that the museum should be finished in March and we assume and will not be free any longer. Good timing! The fort has a long and twisted history. It was originally built by the French but later stormed and captured by the English. Years later the French recaptured it. The cycle repeated itself many times and the fort was renamed and added onto dozens of times through the years.

Heading back over the hill a traffic accident stopped us on the road through the middle of the island and we were stuck for quite a while. Just as the police finished clearing that accident, another one happened right in front of us. The roads in the rain forest were quite slick. Because of the road delay we didn’t have time to do the next hike we hoped to do in daylight and headed back to the harbor with a stop at a grocery along the way.

That One Particular Island, Marie Galante

You know those places that you pass but never stop? Marie Galante was one of those places for us. It’s a small French island near Guadeloupe and we’ve wanted to visit but to us it was just a low, mysterious island off in the distance. The reason we hadn’t visited is that Marie Galante is a bit east and the wind normally blows from the east, which means that you have to bash into the trades to get there. We’ve been told stories of what a sweet spot it is but it had always remained a closed book to us. The wind gods must have been looking out for us because while we were in Dominica (just southwest of Marie Galante), the winds shifted to the southeast setting up a comfortable reach for Mermaid to lay the island. We hauled up the anchor and headed out. The forecast was good to it’s word and it was a lovely sail to Marie Galante.

Marie Galante is very laid back with friendly inhabitants and very few tourists. Brush up on your french before you go because only a handful of the population speak any English. It’s different geologically from the other islands in the area. Marie Galante is made up of a limestone plateau while the surrounding islands are volcanic. Back in the bad ‘ol days the island was covered with sugar cane harvested by slaves who turned much of the cane into Rhum Agricole. That’s rum made from suger cane instead of molasses like the regular rum. Rhum Agricole is a fiery liquor but as we were to find out, it can be tamed.

We found our friends Gordon and Louise on SV Coho in the anchorage who told us that they made the trip Marie Galante to stock up on their favorite rhum. That’s a long way to come for rhum so we knew right then that we had to try it. They had already rented a car to go to the distillery the next day and invited us to tag along. The next morning the four of us hopped in a rental car and headed to the Bellevue distillery for a tasting. We stopped and played tourist at the ruins of an old plantation house on the way as well as a pond where the slaves had poured out the stock of Rhum Agricole during a rebellion.

Habatation Belvieu is a large Rhum Agricole distillery and their 59º brand is found throughout the French West Indies. it’s called 59º because it’s 59% alcohol or 118 proof. You can’t carry it on a plane because it’s flamable. Luckily, that wasn’t what we had come for. Louise’s favorite drink is the Belvieu shrub rum and it’s only available at the distillery. We headed for the tasting room and found it very different and quite good. Shrub rum is a generic term for any rum that is infused with herbs or spices. It’s a very popular drink in the French West Indies as well as down island in the Windwards. This one was special. It was as smooth as silk with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. A taste is all it took for us to stock up. Gordon and Louise are ardent hikers so while we had the car we were treated to an island tour that included a couple of short hikes to beautiful vistas.

The water where we were anchored was gin clear so next day we took a long dingy trip in search of some snorkeling. We’re always in search of an off the beaten path snorkel spot but didn’t find it this time. We saw beautiful bays and beaches but found the snorkeling not the best. With a big north swell heading our way from an Atlantic storm but the it was time to move on. We hope to return someday but at least Marie Galante is no longer a mystery island.

North to Dominica!

We checked out of Martinique, departed St Anne’s and enjoyed a downwind sail to the southwest tip of Martinique. This was quite enjoyable because we so very rarely get a downwind sail in the Eastern Caribbean. We were surprised to be able to continue to sail up the lee side of the island making it almost all the way to St Pierre near the north end of the island before having to call on Henry. Henry Ford that is. That how we refer to our 120 horse power Ford Lehman. We stopped just to sleep in St Pierre under Mount Pele which was surprisingly not covered in clouds.

Early the next morning we hauled up the anchor and raised the sails heading for Dominica. Mermaid motored into Prince Rupert Bay, a large bay protected from the prevailing trades with the town of Portsmith on the shore. We almost always anchor out but in Prince Rupert Bay we make an exception. We always take a mooring from our friend Alexis who is one of the PAYS boat boys. PAYS stands for the Portsmouth Area Yachting Services. The group was formed by a group of “boat boys” in the area. The group installed moorings in the bay and holds a weekly barbecue that is famous for serving a deadly rum punch. PAYS works like a collective where the revenue generated is accounted for and split up among the members. We heard rumblings that the boat boys weren’t getting a share of the revenue last year and things looked like they may be coming to head but more about that later. First, some fun. We found our friends Mick and Gil of Blue Jacket already there and we took an island tour with them the next day.

Island tours are a mainstay of Dominica and are offered by all the boatboys. Alexis has his own van and driver who picked us up bright and early and headed out. We headed over the central mountains and down to the windward coast passing through towns like Calibishie and Wesley. The culture of Dominica is a mixed bag. The island was originally settled by the French but after trading hands several times the British got the upper hand. English is the official language but there’s an undercurrent of French. Along the way the driver tried to teach us a bit of the local patois which is a mixture of mostly French with a little African and Carib and a dash of English and Spanish. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember any of. One of our first stops was at a chocolate factory. The owner’s name sounded familiar to Robin who had just finished reading “Black and White Sands”. It’s written by a free spirited Scottish woman who moved to Dominica with her husband and grand children in the early 1930s. Turns out the author was his grandmother.

As you likely recall Dominica was devastated by hurricane Irma in September of 2017. When we visited last year just a few months after the storm the island was in the early stages of recovery. Many of the homes still had blue tarps over their roofs but now most of the roofs have been repaired, the roads and infrastructure are in better shape and life is returning to normal for much of the population. The forests are starting a new cycle of recovery, just as they have many times before after hurricanes.

After a lunch stop we headed inland to Spanny Falls. Robin loves swimming in the waterfalls in Dominica and Spanny is her favorite. You have to hike a quarter of a mile from the parking lot to the falls with much of it a steep path down the side of the valley where the falls are. The water is quite “refreshing” as we used to say when it was freezing. In spite of the chilly water we all had a nice splash around and stood under the falls.

Dominica has a lovely Saturday morning produce market so when Saturday rolled around we grabbed bags and headed in for fresh veggies and fruits. Everything was fresh off the vine and picked up some very tasty papaya along with staples like onions and tomatoes.

One of our favorite places on Dominica is the Green Bar. It’s in Portsmouth but it’s kinda hard to find. There’s no sign and if you ask someone for directions they’ll tell you its across from the chicken place. Of course, the only sign at the Chicken Place says “FISH” in big letters. As you may have guessed its a hole in the wall, local place. Osborne, the owner was very happy to see us as we had lots of friends along and filled his little bar. Osborne is a tall man with a bushy mustache, megawatt smile and an infectious laugh. Mike bought the first round including a few for a couple of locals who ducked in when they saw Mike was buying and were happy at the opportunity. The Green Bar consists of a table and a few chars on Osborne’s front porch and a small bar in his converted living room. Osborne serves cold beers from a fridge and a variety of fiery, spiced rums. Dominicans love spiced rums and infuse the local rums with just about every possible combination of sticks and twigs imaginable. It would have been impolite not to sample a few. While there we learned by the stream of people who stopped in that Osborne is also an apothecary. He dispenses herbs, bark and leaves from plants gathered in the forest to relieve the ailments of his neighbors.

An OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) rally kicked off a few days after our arrival so we joined in on some of the fun including a beach barbecue. The event calendar showed that the first event was the PAYS barbecue and Martin, one of the PAYS boatboys and the OCC host for Dominica came by and sold us tickets. Later, another boatboy came by selling barbecue tickets and says what we have aren’t tickets to the PAYS barbecue. Hmmmm, it turns out that Martin is holding a competing barbecue just down the beach from the PAYS pavillion. It’s the same menu and the same all you can drink rum punch as the PAYS barbecue but Martin gets all the proceeds. OK, after some digging we learn that several of the boat boys aren’t happy with PAYS. To be clear, these aren’t boys, they’re grown men many with families and they say that they haven’t received any money from PAYS and that the accounting for the funds that PAYS collects hasn’t been released as required by the by laws. Meanwhile, the president, who they say has appointed so many family members to the PAYS organization that ensures reelection every year, has found enough money to open a bar on the PAYS property. PAYS has been held up as a shining example of how locals can band together to build a business but some cracks are starting to show and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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.