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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We left Les Saintes, a small island group just south of Guadeloupe and headed for Martinique. We passed Dominica knowing we would spend much time there in the near future and were in a hurry to meet up with our friends John and Ellie of SV Serenity who were waiting on the southern end of Martinique for our arrival. The plan was to meet up with them and cruise together like we did in Mexico and the South Pacific.
After a squally, shifty day of sailing and motor sailing we arrived Saint Pierre, Martinique well after dark which we normally avoid doing. We dropped our sails and slowly entered the anchorage. We found what we thought would be a good spot and dropped the anchor. Morning light showed us that it was indeed a great spot under Mt Pelee. The customs computer is in a French restaurant so after clearing into the country we had the most wonderful lunch. The French really do good meals!
Mt. Pelee looms over the town of Saint Pierre with the top usually in the clouds. The verdant green of the slopes and tranquil, tropical atmosphere make it hard to envision the scene the day Pele exploded. The eruption was much like the one at Mt St Helens and a cloud of glowing embers and poisonous gas roared down the slopes and over the town. It was March 8, 1902 when St Pierre had a population around 30,000 and was called the Paris of the Caribbean. We wandered around the town, explored the remains of a church, a grand theater and a prison and read the reports of what the volcano eruption had done. We read that the volcanic explosion released more energy than an atomic bomb. There were only two survivors: a cobbler and an imprisoned, convicted murderer. Twelve ships in the bay were destroyed at anchor. We couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like on that fateful day!
From St Pierre we motor sailed down the lee of the island to St Anne a large, well protected bay on the southern end of Martinique. Along the way we passed Diamond Rock which was fortified by the Royal Navy and commissioned as the HMS Diamond Rock during the Napoleonic wars. Diamond rock is impressive and imagining the sailors hauling cannons up the side makes one marvel at the ingenuity and toughness of the sailors of that era.
We were amazed by the number of masts we saw as we entered the St Anne Anchorage and even more shocked to see even more in nearby Le Marin, but no worries as the anchorage was huge with plenty of room to anchor. We found a deep enough spot for Mermaid in the sand and dropped the hook. The beaches were beautiful white sand lined with palm trees just like a post card! Even better, there were big french grocery stores stocked with French wines, cheeses and yogurt and boulangeries with baguettes to die for and pain chocolate that melt in your mouth.
One of the great things about cruising is the awesome people you meet. We first met John and Ellie of the Seattle based SV Serenety way back in 2003 when they were on Adios and we were both getting ready to head to the South Pacific. We crossed paths again in Mexico in 2013, again last year in Antigua and had another reunion in St Anne. We spent many an hour with them taking hikes, touring the island or sipping a sundowner.
We had a cool tour of the island in a rental car with John at the wheel and Mike navigating. We toured the Habitation Clement, a historic but still working Rum distillery with excellent information on how the distilled rum back in the day and a nice tasting room where we sampled the product. Had a nice lunch at a local place named Kai Nono in Le Francois where we enjoyed the accras, a fried and fluffy fritter made from salted fish and flour that is everywhere on Martinique. Kai Nono served theirs with a vinegary, mouth watering sauce that the waiter said was simply called creole sauce. The French West Indies way is to take your time over lunch and not wanting to upset local customs we savored our fish entree and wine and finished the meal with ice cream.
We joined the Ocean Cruising Club in 2017 and we’re so glad we did because we’ve met so many great people through the club. With the hundreds of cruising boats in St Anne / Le Marin there were many OCC members including a pair of English boats that arrived after sailing single handed from the Canary Islands while we were there. Dan of Escaton knew all the local spots and had us quaffing a beer and munching on accras in a small cafe set up in an ally before heading over to a local barbeque spot with outdoor seating.
With so many cruisers in the area there were many events that we joined in on. The weekly pot luck on the beach that was called a brai by the South African who organized it and a dingy raft up where we shared appetizers and watched the sunset were great and Robin even made it in for the ladies lunch one week.
During much of our time there the trades were howling. It blew 25 knots with higher gusts most of our time in St Anne. This led to a few boats dragging and since we were in the back of the anchorage the wind waves made it a wet ride to get to shore in the dingy. We spent a lot of time reading and doing boat chores. One day
were were entertained by a Yole regatta. Yoles are traditional open water sailboats that were used for fishing back in the day. Around 35 feet long they have a canoe shaped hull with poles sticking out sides that the crew climbs out on to balance the boat under sail. Another day we shared a cup of tea with Frank and Mandy of Infinity B while Frank helped Mike clean out the carburetor of the outboard. Mike took advantage of the opportunity to perfect his Ti Punch recipe, well maybe not perfect because Robin says more practice is needed. Ti Punch is the local drink in the French West Indies. It’s a shot of Rhum Agricole, a raw rum produced in the area, some simple syrup and lime juice. It was very fiery when we tried it in the restaurants but we tried using a vanilla flavored simple syrup and pouring it over ice and viola! It was transformed into a cool, refreshing drink that was perfect for sipping while watching the sun go down.
We upped anchor and headed out of Falmouth Harbor, Antigua early in the morning headed for Deshais, Guadalupe. It was a glorious day with moderate trade winds from the north east and a gentle swell. Mermaid was in fine form plowing through the azure Caribbean at eight and a half knots with the apparent wind at 70 degrees.
Arriving at the crowded anchorage at Deshais mid day we found a nice spot to drop the hook and celebrated the passage with a landfall drink. Guadalupe is part of the French West Indies and the island has a very distinct French flavor. After checking in we headed for a seaside cafe and ordered a Ti Punch, the local drink made from the very strong Rhum Agricole distilled on the French islands, simple syrup and a squeeze of lime. That evening we returned to the same restaurant for a meal straight out of a sit com. Our server was a local girl who was obviously new to the job. We were seated at a seaside table and as she served our drinks the tray they had been on went over the railing into the ocean. She spoke only french so we ordered with
some difficulty as our French is laughably poor and while we were waiting she spilled a large tray of drinks on a customer at the next table. As they were cleaning up a brief but intense squall hit. We were protected by the awnings that lined the restaurant. However, one of the awnings at the other end wasn’t set properly and Robin spotted it and predicted that the awning couldn’t hold the large amount of water that was collecting in it. She was right. A minute later it came crashing down releasing a deluge of water that thankfully missed the people sitting nearby but left the floor very wet. One of the waiters was wearing a pair of shoes that were very slippery on the wet floor. It was quite entertaining watching him slide around the corners carrying trays of food and drink.
We visited the Botanical Gardens with Bob and Carol of SV Oasis the following morning. The gardens were well laid out with some spectacular foliage and flowers. The highlight was a visit to the aviary where you purchased a small cup of nectar to feed the flock of very willing lorikeets.
We’d been looking forward to snorkeling at Pigeon Island. Mermaid was anchored nearby and we had several nice snorkels. There were a lot of nice reef fish but the coral was somewhat disappointing so we moved down
to a Anse la Barque to wait out a couple of days of strong trades. The coral was better for snorkeling in this anchorage.
When the weather broke we headed down to a group of islands at the southern end of Guadalupe known as Le Saints. We rounded the tip of Guadalupe with a squall packing 30 knot winds and big, ugly wind waves. Deciding we didn’t want to be in the Saints that bad we doubled back and dropped the hook for a couple of hours until the squall passed and the seas calmed down. Later we had a nice sail down to Terre Haught in the Le Saints where we grabbed a mooring for the night.
Robin flew to Juneau to spend the holidays with the grandkids.
Stacy and Frank were busy with work and theater so Nonna got to spend lots of quality time with the kiddos. Lots of cookies were baked as well as some delicious meals. Autumn and Kaash enjoyed painting wrapping paper, science experiments, ice skating and lots of play time. They saw the new Star Wars movie, visited Santa Clause. Snow angels were made and sledding was fun.
This was Robins first time to spend these holidays with the kids and thoroughly enjoyed the time. The weather was really, really cold!