Islands that brush the clouds

It’s always a bit difficult to know how to start each post and so first of all I am going to give our cruiser friends something to think about. What do you do when you have two dull, windless days? Well, aside from the obvious if you are trying to get somewhere – which is to put the engine on – what you have to do, especially if you are not going anywhere, is to turn the fridge off! Well, in our case you do anyway. As avid readers of this blog will know we now have two solar panels as well as the wind generator. Under “normal” conditions we have been amazed by the difference that the additional solar panel has made but, when there is no sun, all the solar panels in the world aren’t going to make a difference. Fortunately,” no sun days” when it also isn’t windy don’t happen that often and two consecutive ones are even rarer but it can, and does, happen occasionally. OK, OK all you clever people – my comment above about turning the engine on if you are going somewhere could also apply if you aren’t but with fuel sometimes hard to come by every bit of that counts too and we have found that turning the fridge off overnight tends to do the trick. It helps that we don’t have ice making facility in the fridge because, if we did, that would be a bit messier. As it is we don’t get the mess, but we have had to get used to G+T without ice. Such hardships!

I last reported from Dominica and told you about several of the dinghy docks having been washed away. As a result, our walks from and to the boat during trips into the town meant we had to take a different and slightly longer route than previously. We were rewarded though by seeing this lovely colourful, welcoming garden.

But, it’s onwards and northwards and on 15th November we had a great three and a half hour sail up to “Les Saintes” to clear in for Guadaloupe and to pick up some Euro. We really begin to wonder how people manage to get by on the Saintes. Last time we tried to get money it was, you might remember, a Monday so we put it down to weekend usage. This time it was a Thursday with, once again, neither of the ATMs functioning so we did some brief shopping using our card and went to anchor.

As in the UK, at this time of year it starts to get dark earlier and at about 6.15pm as Mike was in the galley preparing our evening meal I was rather concerned to see what looked like a quite large boat silhouette with a very bright light heading straight for our midships.  Initial panic…. – but surely he can see us as we have a cockpit light blazing as well as lights in the cabin.

And, fortunately it stopped. Hey, hang on a minute though…. panic number two. Are we being boarded – there are a lot of guys on the boat and I can’t really make out what is going on here….

Now it seems to be turning and coming alongside…..

But, all was well. Even the coastguards need a safe anchorage for the night and they had manoeuvred themselves into a position to drop the anchor and fall behind us. Quite a scary moment though to have a biggish boat approaching fast in the dark with several men on board.

The following day we enjoyed another good sail up to Deshais. Once into the lee of Guadaloupe we had to put in a couple of tacks as the wind was being “diverted” by Soufriere but we made it to Pigeon Island [about half way up] before we lost the wind completely – well 5 knots – and resorted to motor sailing.

Part of our purpose for stopping in Deshais was to do the river walk which we didn’t do on our previous visit. [You may remember that was when Mike failed to tell me I needed to wear something more suitable than flip flops as it was more of a walk actually up the river than along a nice meandering path]. But, what a good walk it was. We had to cross the river several times by stepping stones and we were really surprised when we emerged just how much elevation we had gained. It didn’t feel like we were walking uphill all the time but we sure were because it took us about 30 minutes to get back down – and that was by road.

The other reason for re-visiting Deshais was to meet up with our mate Jack and his friend Cristale. We first met Cristale when she was visiting Grenada and it was good to see her again. Cristale makes flavoured rums and paints glass bottles to put the rums in for sale. We had to taste them to make sure they were fit for consumption!

Cristale had arranged a meal in a local restaurant and introduced us to her lovely daughter, Natasha, and to lots of other friends from far and wide, including a young guy from Cuba who told us that, being from the UK, we would be very welcome in Cuba but who went to great lengths to tell us that we must not try to sail the Gulf of Mexico. At a BBQ, the following night, Mike was trying bravely to explain in French where it was we were travelling next. It loses something in the written word – but was also lost in translation for Mike when he couldn’t understand why the other folk had suddenly started talking about computers when he was trying to tell them we were going to visit Haiti. The French, as many of you know, do not pronounce the “H”! [thus “IT” – for those who are still wondering what on earth I am blabbering about]

We had decided that we were going to do a full circuit around Guadaloupe so that we could visit the islands of “La Desirade” and “Marie Galant” and, during the two days in Deshais, the weather seemed really favourable for this with light to medium winds from the NE. So, on 20th November we set off for our first stop – Baie Mahaut at the southern end of the Grande Cul-de-sac de Marin which, if you think of Guadaloupe as a butterfly, is the large bay filling the space between the head and the top wing tips. Within the large bay there are a system of reefs which extend four miles north [from the butterfly’s head] to form what the pilot describes as miles of navigable water. Well, yes, it is navigable – but ONLY by following the buoys as a guide. There are a few places just inside the reef described as anchorages which are to be found by leaving the buoyed channel clear and “eyeballing” the reef to find a suitable spot. But, the water is murky so that’s not actually possible. Even with the GPS we decided that we didn’t really fancy the idea so we went right down to the small town of Mahaut.

There isn’t a lot I can say about Mahaut because there isn’t very much of it to say anything about. It’s just a small town with some old buildings…..

and a very safe and calm anchorage. But, in the morning there is a fantastic light and the views across the Grande Cul-de Sac are beautiful.

It actually reminded me of early mornings at Lamlash on Arran when, weather permitting, the water looks just the same as this.

The following day we set off to sail down the Eastern side of Guadaloupe. Whilst still in the bay we noted that the wind appeared to have shifted to the SE – not a good sign for us as we wanted to sail SE from the tip. We thought that maybe it was the land directing the wind but on reaching the NE corner it was clear that there had been quite a significant wind shift and that whilst the land had been having an effect, the only effect had been to shelter us from the full force of it. We debated the options but the debate didn’t last long. You will remember our post about “Gentlemen not going to windward” and it would be very foolish of ourselves if we didn’t follow our own advice and so we turned around and headed back to Deshais .

On our previous passage north we went from Guadaloupe up the Eastern Islands of Antigua, Barbuda and St. Barts and we had said that this time we would try to make landfalls at Montserrat, Nevis, St.Kitts and Statia. These are described in the pilot as “The Islands that brush the clouds” – hence the title of this post. Along with Saba, the four islands mentioned above, rise steeply from the sea to heights of 1,800 feet [Statia] which is quite high for an island only five miles in diameter, to 4,000 feet [St.Kitts]. The high mountains trap passing moisture and their peaks are often in constant cloud. The anchorages can be very rolly – and even untenable – in northerly swells and so whilst the wind shift had been against our circumnavigation of Guadaloupe, it was pretty favourable for these more western islands.

Montserrat is known as “The Emerald Isle”, partly because of its lush northern interior but mainly because the first European settlers in 1630 were Irish. At one time the whole island was verdant and provided the plantation owners with a rich soil on which to grow sugar but now it is like two different lands. The Soufriere Hills Volcano first erupted in 1995 and there have been a further two phases of eruptions.

As we sailed past the southern part we could see the crater smoking and below it a harsh terrain composed from pyroclastic flows [a mixture of gas and rocks which can travel at over 100mph with temperatures of 600 degrees C], mudflows, ballistic projectiles and ash fall.

We spent a half day touring the island with our driver/guide “Sam” who took us to the Observatory from where we had great views of Soufriere

and to those parts of the island close to the volcano which are open. It so happens that whilst we were on the island there was a radio announcement that the following week, the buried town of Plymouth was going to be re-opened for people to visit. We were only allowed on the outskirts but were given some idea of what the buried properties must look like from the remains of this former luxury hotel

and its swimming pool.

There was some speculation among the locals about whether opening Plymouth to tourists would mean that people could once again begin to make their homes there. A young local vulcanologist working there said that he didn’t think it was likely within his lifetime and he went on to explain that the group of scientists observing the volcano still do so from the safety of a helicopter. They haven’t set foot on the mountain since the second eruption in 2006.

We are really glad that we were able to visit Montserrat. The water at the anchorage was beautifully clear, the people were very friendly and, like the Anguillans, proud to be “British”. Clearance was quite easy at the port with in and out clearance all done at the same time for stays of up to 72 hours – though maybe some upgrade to the facilities might be a good thing – or maybe not….

One thing we were told on our tour of the island was: “If you drink water from this burn, to Montserrat you will return”. So, it looks like I am going back….

and, although not photographed, Mike also had a slurp from the waters of “Runaway Ghut” so he must be going with me – even if he does cover parts of photos he takes with his thumb!!

Meanwhile onwards to Nevis, famous for being the place where Lord Horatio Nelson married…..

and also the birthplace of a guy called Alexander Hamilton , born in 1755 “out of wedlock” but who went on to be one of the founding fathers of the US.  What is now the Hamilton museum is a reconstructed Georgian style building on the original site of his birth [and where he lived for ten years before moving to St.Croix].

Hamilton was actually quite an interesting chap whose wife apparently forgave him after he got himself killed in a dual. It didn’t say whether or not she forgave him for the ten children she bore!

The Nelson museum charts much of Nelson’s exploits in a similar manner to that at Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour on Antigua about which I reported some time ago. We are not sure whether or not Nelson would have appreciated this small accessory to his hat.

Anyone thinking of holidaying in these parts might like to know that there are some excellent hotels, this one “Montpelier”

And this, “Golden Rock Estate” where we had lunch on our tour [we sat at the table in the pagoda].

It is not that easy to get to as there is no airport, but it is not that difficult either – just a very short ferry ride from St.Kitts, and as a two centre stay it would probably be ideal. The beaches are beautiful

there is a golf course [for Sheila], a nice bakery for morning coffee and croissant – fortunately no longer served from this van,

and several things to see.  St.Clair, our driver for the day took us to the last operating sugar factory on the island

He had worked there briefly as a young man before it closed down at which time he moved to Leeds and worked in a foundry there until 1993 when he returned to his native Nevis.

We also visited this “Bath House”…

the original of which was popular as a spa in the late 1700’s and was famous for its mineral laden hot waters. I was surprised just how hot it was. The notice said that bathers shouldn’t spend more than 15 minutes in it. I managed about 1 minute and that was just up to my calves!

You will have spotted from the photo of St.Clair above that were once more in the company of Jack [“the lad” McCarthy] who, on Montserrat and Nevis was accompanied by another of his friends, Leigh.

As mentioned above, Nevis is only a stone’s throw from St Kitts and Mike and I had an enjoyable couple of nights there as well. The relationship between the Kittians and the Nevisians seems to be a bit like that between the Red and White Rose counties with each claiming that their attitude, culture, land is more friendly, beautiful, interesting than the other. They were different – but we enjoyed both.

The main town of St.Kitts is also a cruise ship port – though it is only the existence of the “mall” which would really alert visitors to this. The town itself remains relatively unspoilt with architecture based on a mixture of English and French with several “Gingerbread” buildings…..

And parks and churches…

The main roundabout in the town is the Circus – reputedly modelled and named after Piccadilly Circus.

I think it would come as a bit of a shock to most Kittians were they to try to cross the London version if this is what they are used to in the middle of rush hour [the photo was taken at around 5pm]!

There is a fantastic fort at the northern end of the island called Brimstone Hill Fortress which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and well deserves to be as it has been renovated and preserved very well.

Its main claim to fame was during January 1792 when 8,000 French soldiers besieged the fortress and 1,000 defenders made up of a mixture of the Royal Scots and East Yorkshire regiments, the local militia and escaped slaves fought valiantly for one month before surrender. So impressed were the invaders that they allowed the defenders to march out with all the honours of war [whatever those are].

There are fantastic views along the island chain…

and on our way down from the fort we encountered a troupe of wild greenback monkeys.

The monkeys were originally brought to many of these islands by planters but no one has been unable to say why. Mongoose were brought for pest control but most of the islanders now consider the monkeys to be the greatest pest as they significantly outnumber the local residents and eat much of the wild fruit.

Because St.Kitts has a good bus service a taxi tour is not required to see the sights [not that we didn’t enjoy the company of Sam and of St.Clair]. It also has rum shacks and we spent a couple of very pleasant evenings enjoying sundowners with the locals next to the anchorage….

Our last island was Statia – well St. Eustacius to be exact. Despite its small size it has a huge history. In the mid to late 1700’s Statia was the trade capital of the Indies and one of the world’s busiest harbours. Up to 300 sailing ships would lie at anchor and all along the shore a sea wall protected the houses, shops and warehouses – the remains of which are still visible today.

It is therefore hard to believe that this island anchorage is described in the modern day pilot as no place to be in a disturbed weather system or when there is a northerly swell running. Maybe the sailors of yesteryear were made of sterner stuff. Well we know they probably were – can you imagine 250 officers and crew plus cattle, sheep and chickens on a boat twice the length of ours! OK, so there were five deck levels but the bottom one was ballast and they also had to store flour, water, rum and other such commodities. As we also know, often the second deck was lined with slaves lying in ridiculously small spaces, shackled and with goodness knows what illnesses after a horrendous journey across the Atlantic. On arrival in Statia they were made to climb the cobbled slave road up to the town. How any of them made it I have no idea. I haven’t been able to capture the incline, but believe me, Mike and I were panting when we got to the top and we are [supposedly] fit and well fed.

The highest point of the island [1800ft] is the cone of the “Quill” volcano – its name deriving from the original Dutch “Kuil” meaning hole or pit. Well, as you know – if there is something to climb we have to have a go at climbing it and so we spent a very pleasant half day doing just that. And, it was pleasant too. The path from the town to the lowest part of the rim is a nice walk through what looks like north European woodland with dried leaves underfoot and a range of deciduous trees.

I guess its things like gum trees and large purple clawed hermit crabs which help us to remember that we aren’t in the UK….. not to mention temperatures in the high 80’s [F] though the walk remained cool because of the foliage. At the rim there was the choice of up to the highest point [precipitous, guide recommended] or down into the crater [very steep, can be very slippery].

It hadn’t been raining so we thought that we were probably OK on the “slippery” and as Mike doesn’t do “precipitous” it was down into the crater we go. Also, the idea of walking into a volcano crater rather appealed even though it looked more like a rain forest with its huge silk cottonwood trees

and the strangler figs

the seeds of which get blown into the higher branches of neighbouring trees, attach themselves and then grow down the tree eventually reaching the roots and, over time, strangling the old tree.

We decided not to visit Saba, the small island at the top of that chain because we wanted a good line for St. Martin. Despite our best intentions, however, there was absolutely no wind so we had to motor across and we are now back in Simpson Bay Lagoon for a few days to stock up again on chandlery and food and to get lots of laundry done as we haven’t seen a laundrette since leaving Grenada. I guess we haven’t looked that hard but I am thinking that at this point, when reading this, Nicky may be once again be telling Malcolm that she definitely needs room for the washing machine.

I nearly forgot to mention that on passage from Guadaloupe to Montserrat we picked up a small stowaway.

Not sure where our little friend came from or was originally headed to but, after a couple of hours of perching under the fenders and then reviving in the breeze, s/he flew off towards the shores of the southern part of Montserrat.

Talking of stowaways I am reminded to tell you about a few encounters we have had with “officials” – this time the Coastguards. No, I am not going to repeat the incident on Les Saintes – because, in the end, that was hardly an encounter but tell you instead about the three times we have been directly approached. First of all it was during a lunchtime stop in the southern part of St. Kitts on our way from Nevis to Basseterre. We had anchored and been ashore for a walk and were just settling down for lunch when along came a large RIB and made to pull alongside. We didn’t have time to scramble out of the cockpit so their large black rubber fenders scraped along our waterline and took off some of Mike’s new paintwork. Basically all they wanted from us was to see that we had the correct paperwork. We think they realised they had done some cosmetic damage because they moved to a safe distance and just waved to us and went away when Mike stood on the deck holding out our clearance papers. The guy on their bow said something about wanting to see the correct stamp or signature or something – which he clearly couldn’t have done from the distance they were now from us – but since we had produced the documentation within seconds of them arriving I guess they decided we were legitimate and didn’t want us to hassle them about the paintwork.

The next day, in Basseterre, we were in the Pig returning from shore when they [same guys we think] approached again and asked us if the small boat anchored next to us was ours. We said “No that is us, Siga Siga”. We don’t know if they remembered our name from the day before but they politely asked us when the other boat had arrived and then thanked us when we told them and didn’t bother us any further.

Our final visit from the coastguards was on Statia. We had arrived at around 3.30pm and had lowered the Pig, attached the outboard and put together our paperwork in record time so that we could make 4pm Clearance. Alongside came the coastguard – but this time I was ready with fenders as I saw them approaching. They boarded,  we had to produce the paperwork for inspection and whilst Mike was answering various questions put to him by the two guys in the cockpit I had to go down into the boat with a third guy so that he could conduct a search. We have heard various horror stories about these searches with cruisers telling us how all their drawers and cupboards have been emptied and left in a heap and them having to lift all the floorboards etc. Well, I am pleased to report that that didn’t happen to us. We still don’t know what they were looking for but, given the very perfunctory way that a couple of cupboards were looked into we don’t think it was drugs – though the “main guy” did ask to see our rubbish bag when his colleague had looked around with me and not done that. Maybe they were looking for people as they did look in the two wardrobes? Maybe they just decided we were bona fida liveaboards doing exactly what we said we were doing? We still don’t know what it was about, it may just have been that they have to reach a quota and, being the start of the main season all boats are boarded – but, our experience – on this occasion – was not a bad one. Even so, blokes toting guns isn’t exactly a good one either. Having said that, it is their job and we are jolly pleased that they are doing it. After all it’s the coastguard that we also depend on to protect us from “piracy” and other illegal activities and, if necessary to come to our aid. So, maybe we should actually be saying “the more the merrier”.

So, to end this post as I started, here is something more specifically for cruisers [and for our family and friends who like to hear about what life is like aboard as well as history and geography and nature and culture and food and drink!].

We have now bought two 10lb fibreglass gas bottles. We were fed up of the rust marks down the sides of the boat from the old tanks but also wanted more gas capacity [Our previous bottles were 6lb each]. We are lucky that our gas locker will take this size of bottle, some won’t. We believe that we may need even more capacity in the Pacific and may buy another fibreglass one from Panama. We have been able to buy an adaptor so that we can use either European or US fittings and the adaptor easily fits within the gas locker space.

We have also replaced our masthead light so the LED light appears to have lasted about 10 months. It is 14 months since we fitted it but clearly we didn’t use it in Grenada Marine for 4 months. We are a bit surprised that it has only lasted 10 months but Mike has tested it and it is definitely the bulb. It hadn’t gone completely but we weren’t happy with the dim light it gave out so, given that St. Martin lagoon provides a calm anchorage, Mike took the opportunity to climb the mast. It is possible to buy replacement LED bulbs for masthead, nav lights and interior lights in the Caribbean at Island Water World [We didn’t see any in Budget Marine – but no doubt it is only a matter of time].

In a much earlier post I reported on the Ball Valve scenario and said that Mike would possibly write a longer article. That doesn’t look as if it’s forthcoming so I just want to advise cruisers with European through hull and plumbing fittings to buy replacement parts before leaving Europe. The only fittings available in the Caribbean are American. There is a rumour that European ones may be available in Trinidad but, unless you want to visit there – or pay for the transportation – then it is better to bring them with you.

So, apologies to anyone who has found this to be a slightly longer post than usual and got bored [though I suppose if that has happened you won’t be reading this sentence!] but we have done quite a lot in the last month and been to islands I haven’t written about before and I didn’t want to miss anything out.

And, if you were wondering what the top photograph of the pelican statue was all about, well it’s just that I like pelicans and we both quite like statues……. and just to finish off we have another which was entitled “Hippy musicians” and was in the “Government” office garden which we could just wander into on Statia.


Permanent link to this article:

1 comment

    • Malc & Nik on December 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm
    • Reply

    Hi both, thanks for another post 🙂 on the ice situation (nightmare I know ;)), I’m not surE if you have seen our ice tray thing? It sits on the cooling plate and freezes quickly. When we had battery issues this year we turned the fridge off during the night and the ice didn’t melt. Of course youre in slightly warmer conditions than we were but if the fridge insulation is good. I’ll try to find a link. On the led lights that does seem like a very short life. Steve replaced his bulbs with led’s so may be able to help. If you need anything sending over let us know.

    Interesting re the fibreglass gas bottles. Are they common out there? Presume they get re-filled?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.