Gomera to Caribbean
March 1, 2008
Aloha Captain Koo,
I just checked the web site and see that you filled in for my tardiness in writing. Thanks. My last update was from La Gomera in the Canaries on October 15. I was enjoying La Gomera, but restless to get on with the Atlantic crossing. I busied myself with boat projects, island walks and socializing with other yachts awaiting passage starts to Gambia, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil and the Caribbean. I did some dives with James off Rahula and Andy, the local German dive operator. The Canaries are too far from the tropics to have much coral, but there is a lot of sea life and the water is usually very clear. I managed to get in a territorial dispute with a sea urchin causing a painful week of healing time.
November 15 I flew to Seattle for a 10 day visit with family in lieu of the more typical Christmas trip that I couldn’t make this year due to passage timing. Seattle was cold, but my family and friends were warm. My grandsons have passed from being children to young men. They have become great company. Sadly education takes priority over world sailing. I would love to have them along as crew.
Back on La Gomera I busied myself with projects to outfit for the January 1 departure date. I met a number of the competitors on the Cross Atlantic Rowing Challenge. These 30 rowboats were in an organized race to row the 2650 miles from La Gomera to Antigua. Most of the boats had two crew and two boats were solos. Three of the boats were female crew and one was rowed by a physically handicapped couple. What a challenge. The fastest competitors were expected to reach Antigua in 60 days. Some people are definitely a lot tougher than I. On December 2 we saw them all off with great excitement. La Gomera went all out for Christmas with decorations and 3 nice concerts. I spent Christmas Eve with a group of German friends at a traditional Bavarian fest based on duck and red cabbage. As the celebrations started to die down, the town began the NY Eve buildup that peaked with an all night live music dancing and partying fiesta. My pal Alvin stayed with the show, while I crashed to get ready to sail.
We sailed on NY Day for the Caribs, but turned back with a failed alternator in less than an hour. What an anticlimax. In two days a spare was fitted and tested and we got away the morning of the 3rd in nice downwind sailing conditions. The passage was a classic sleigh ride in near perfect conditions. Most of the time we had a reef or two in the mainsail to avoid any need to reef after dark. The genoa was on a spinnaker pole all the way. Alvin supplied ukulele music and singing most nights. With that rig we averaged 169 miles per day very consistently, the fastest day logging 183 miles and the slowest 154. Sunshine followed us almost every day. We may have had two hours of rain the entire 16 days and 5 hours to the yacht harbor at Marin on the French island of Martinique where we cleared in and took a berth the afternoon of January 20. Alvin’s time was limited to ten days. We decided to spend them sailing up the Leeward Island chain as far as Antigua.
After two days of shopping, exploring and resting at Marin we went to the leeward side of Martinique, past Rock, that the British converted to a fixed battle ship to harrie shipping going into French Martinique in the late 1700s, to Anse dÁrlett, a lovely small bay with a little village. Our next stop was the city, Fort de France, the capitol of Martinique. We anchored just under the ramparts of the fort itself in strong winds. The city of 200,000 was a bit low in the heels but vibrant. The central market is immense and very complete. We both thought the local women to be unusually attractive and stylish as well, but we resisted and sailed for the Island-nation of Dominica. We passed up the leeward shore of Martinique, beautiful green mountains, light green sugar cane fields and attractive towns. The small city of St Pierre was a lovely anchorage and a definite candidate for further visits. The town and 29,993 inhabitants were destroyed when the Pele volcano erupted in 1902 spilling superheated gas over the area. There were only two survivors. Now it is rebuilt and a very pretty scene. We had a lumpy passage of the Dominique channel and ran up the rugged island to anchor in Portsmouth Bay at the north end. Across another choppy channel we anchored at the Illes de Saintes, a charming group of small islands settled in the 1700s by fishermen from Brittany. They now exist from tourism, but it is all tastefully done. The swimming and hiking were great and kept us active a few days before we set off the explore the lee side of Guadalupe Island, stopping 32 miles later at the Village of Deshaes with lots of other boats readying to cross to Antigua. To avoid officials we didn’t go ashore and sailed early in the morning for Nelson’s Dockyard, British Bay, Antigua.
This bay was the place the Brits established a Navy dockyard in the early 1700s. Horatio Nelson served here early in his career. It is mostly restored and offers a great anchorage, the back bay being one of the finer hurricane holes. Here I got into cruising mode and grew stuff on the anchor chain for 2 weeks. After a trip to the capitol, St John, a couple of hikes, dockyard exploring, a climb to Shirley Heights and greeting the first 3 Rowing Challenge Race arrivals, Alvin flew out to return to work in Hawaii. There could be worse place to go to work! I worked on relaxing. While I was there 13 more of the rowing competitors arrived creating a lot of cannon fire and fireworks to celebrate each arrival. By the way, none of the competitors I spoke to had any interest in an encore. Three boats dropped out safely; all the rest finished. The first double in arrived in 61 days and the last single made it in 73 days. I got some boat repairs done, visited with friends from La Gomera, drank lots of coffee and read. Nice.
Cellular telephones. They are the big challenge in the Caribs. Each of the countries protects it’s own system, you need separate sim cards for each island country and the phones are locked out of using anyone else’s sim card. In addition some of the countries use different cell phone frequencies. This is not a handy situation for those of us that travel between islands. My pal Stan Meek on St Lucia gave me the best, for me, solution. You buy a quad band phone, cheapest in St Martin at $150 but I paid $250. You sneak and have it unlocked in a back alley for $15. Very hush hush, but we all do it. Then in each place you buy a sim card for $10 or so and keep an envelope with a bunch. When you change islands, you switch cards. The phone will accept sim cards for any country in the world. Life is relaxed in the Caribs, but not simple.
I decided to head back south to meet friends in Grenada in a month or two. After a rainy night stop at Anse le Barque on Guadalupe to replace the head pump (nasty, nasty) I rounded the bottom of the island in monster seas and beat the 10 miles back to the Saints for another week visit of a few windy days. When the wind went back to a reasonable 20 knots I crossed to Dominica and then back to Martinique for a longer visit at St Pierre. In normal trades this is a nice anchorage. I had no trouble securing in the dark among the 30 or so yachts that were there. In the morning the views of the mountain and town were glorious. For customs clearance here you go to the Internet café and fill out a form on line. That’s it! The coffee in the café was great as was the food. The French do some things really well. Many of the buildings in the town are built on the surviving scorched stone walls left from the 1902 eruption. I did a lot of foot sightseeing and enjoyed some nice meals with some other yachties. I think that Martinique deserves a few days of land touring next time. The French have been here since before the landing of the Mayflower in New England. The island has some great architecture and plantation scenery. I decided to go visit pal Stan Meek who I met in Gibraltar a few months ago. He is a Brit of colorful background who has had a business on St Lucia for 20 years. While living there he has done many passages and deliveries, 9 Atlantic crossings among them to visit Mom and his Harley in England.
I did another one night stop at lovely Anse dArlet and had a great fish dinner. The crossing of the St Lucia Channel to Rodney Bay was HUGE! There was one other boat out there. When I passed him I tried to get a few pictures when he was on the top of a wave, but I wasn’t quick enough. All I got was a couple of mast shots. Those passages always a great fun after the anchor is set in a calm anchorage. I had a great few days on St Lucia hanging out with Stan. I anchored in the outer Rodney Bay, as the marina area is muddy due to construction. This is one of those spots where people drop by for a few years. I can see why. Shopping is easy. There is a great marine store. At Castres, the city is big enough to get anything fixed. We drove the island with a friend of Stan’s. The people were nice for the most part and the scenery is great. I caught up with Barcelona American friends Bill and Judy Stellin (Jaywalker) at Marigo Bay for a nice visit at a terrible place, horribly overdeveloped.
I sailed across to St Vincent in another strong wind, checked out the coast and decided on a short hop to Bequia, where I have been settled into Admiralty Bay for a few days. Bequia lives for yachting. Most business are seasonal and shut down during the summer months when few yachts are moving past. It is one of the Grenadines, lovely small islands that lack adequate protection should a hurricane happen , as the frequently do. I plan to hop slowly down the chain to end up in Grenada in a month or more.
I bought T-shirt yesterday. The front “Live Slowly”, the back “Sail Fast”, will be the Grenadines motto for me.
Love, Denny Mon