Monday, April 16, 2012

Blue Again

View from the water at Coco Beach
We've been sailing in the deeper darker waters of the Caribbean since last spring and haven't seen anything like the bright blue shallow Bahamian waters we sailed in early last year. (See Bahamian Blues, January 2011) That all changed when we arrived in Barbuda over the weekend. Barbuda is just a day's sail north of Antigua and with a forecast of a few calm days before a big north swell was due to arrive we decided to head north and check it out. 

A rare smile from me on the way to Barbuda
We had 4 to 6 foot seas and 18 to 24 knots of breeze on the way and moved along at 7 or 8 knots. (I wanted to write that we had 15 to 20 foot seas.... but the truth prevailed.) I tried to load a short video of the sail but apparently I've reached the limit of the wifi signal I'm poaching and couldn't load it. I thought the conditions were.... let's say "brisk". And unnerving at times when an especially big wave (think: wave the size of a city block) came sideways at us. After all this time it's pretty clear that I am not a natural ocean sailor. Skip LOVES this kind of sailing. In fact, the captains log for this particular sail says: "GREAT SAIL to Barbuda today!!" We acknowledged our different points of view over rum drinks after we anchored in Barbuda. More on this "opposites attract" thing some other time. But, I digress...

Still in deep water, approaching Coco Beach, south coast of Barbuda
This looked pretty good as we approached! What this photo doesn't show is that the beach went on for miles in both directions. Though there were a handful of boats anchored here, we were the only American flagged vessel. Most of the others were Dutch and German and several with little kids on board. It was fun to watch the kids bouncing around the boats and sitting up front on the dinghies, legs dangling overboard as they zipped back and forth visiting each other. 

Coco Beach has one functioning and outrageously expensive resort called the Coco Beach Club. There's another defunct resort tucked into the palms on the beach called the K Club that is slowly being reclaimed by mother nature. It looks like they closed the hurricane shutters on the whole place one day and never came back. We imagined that behind the shutters all the beds are perfectly made and everything stands ready for the next guests. Very sad. In Barbuda there are confusing laws regarding property rights - all property is supposedly communal - so it's not clear how this property has been left to decline. 

A bungalow from the old K Club on Coco Beach
The John H Turner, Saralane's dinghy - on the Coco Beach shoreline
The upside for us was that the property was lined with very fruitful coconut palms that dropped coconuts everywhere without anyone to gather them. We took full advantage and gathered as many as I could coerce Skip into cracking open. They are the proverbial 'tough nut to crack' and after only four he said "Is this enough?"
I guess for now four is enough. (Photos to come of tasty things we make with coconuts.)

Skip tries to open a coconut on a table of sand. Not such a good idea.

Using the hatchet to injure himself... I mean... open the coconut against a harder surface.

Halfway there!

It was incredibly beautiful here. The beach went on for miles and miles with no one in sight. We walked and swam and walked and swam.

 I love this pseudo toy camera shot... 
Looking to our right....
...looking to our left.
We're happy to be right smack in the middle of it. (Inside info for my family: this is a TJ photo)
As spectacular as this beach was, we'd heard that the beach around the west coast of Barbuda was even more beautiful. We had another day before the north swell was due to arrive so we sailed around the corner and took a look.

On the move again.
Looks good so far....
Oh yeah... this looks good.
Wow. Can I just say? This place is unbelievable. And we've barely seen anything yet. There's so much to see here and we're already blown away by the bit we can see before we even set the anchor. 

Saralane at anchor on 11 Mile Beach, west coast of Barbuda
Different angle.. same caption: Saralane at anchor on 11 Mile Beach, west coast of Barbuda. There's no one around for MILES.

This is what gives the sand it's pink hue here. 
Will someone please photoshop in a few Coronas here?!
There is another outrageously expensive hotel over on this beach at the northern most point. The cruising guides say it's a delightful place to go for lunch. I'm sure it is... but unfortunately we don't have access to our Swiss bank account out here.

Note: All prices are in US dollars... not EC, so don't multiply by .38!
One thing we'll do when we return is some land based exploring. We met one guy on the beach named Jala who's a one man band - bar owner, tour guide. He was working on his small building about half way down the beach and lamenting the fact that business was non-existant for the time being. Seems the ferry from Antigua to Barbuda had broken down three weeks ago and until it was up and running there was no way for people to make it to Barbuda to sit in his bar or go on tours with him. That is unless you're staying at the Coco Beach Club where complimentary helicopter travel from Antigua is included in the price of your stay.

A few enterprising tour guides post hand made signs on the beach advertising their services.
This was the other photo I thought about using at the start of this blog. How perfect is this scene?
We're heading back to Antigua to avoid rocking and rolling out here during the north swell (and to see some of Antigua!) but we're definitely coming back as soon as conditions allow. 

On the way back to Antigua
Since sailing from St. Martin we've been looking off to the west seeing the faint silhouettes of islands we've passed along the way... St. Barts, Saba, Eustatia, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. Here in Antigua we're closest to Montserrat and on the way back from Barbuda to Antigua we could clearly see Montserrat with the volcano steaming in the distance.

Not surprisingly, the more places we visit, the more places we want to visit. We'll spend some time here in Antigua and go back to Barbuda but Montserrat is high on our "to visit" list.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Antigua Mini-Blog

Enough mega blogs for now.... here's a mini blog just to say we're in Antigua. We left St. Martin around 3 AM with a forecast of light northeast winds - perfect for our passage east southeast to Antigua. Instead of "forecasting" perhaps it should be called "foreguessing". We ended up motor-sailing into east to southeast winds and squalls for the entire 20 hour trip. Someday we'd like to actual be sailing down wind and not directly into the wind.

Squall near Antigua
Skip should really be writing this blog since I was either sick or asleep through most of the passage. I guess hanging around for three weeks in St. Martin pulled the rug out from under my sea legs.

We tried our luck once again with our fishing gear and actually caught a good sized mahi. He got away before we could get the gaff into him though. Very disappointing!

About 8 hours to go until Antigua I thought I saw a white boat in the distance - but then it seemed to disappear. I thought that was odd until I looked again and saw whales breaching and crashing back down sending up huge sprays of white water. We followed the spray from their spouts as they came closer to us, but they sounded and this was the only photo I got. 

A passing sailboat in the evening
We arrived in Deep Bay Antigua late Sunday night, dropped the hook and dropped into bed. In the morning we sailed around the corner into Jolly Harbor to clear in.

Captains only please.... Skip takes our ship's papers and passports into Customs & Immigration
A revived first mate hoists our homemade Antigua/Barbuda courtesy flag. It's been pointed out that it looks a bit like the Days Inn logo.
Saralane (center) anchored in Jolly Harbor
Our first day here was a public holiday (Easter Monday) so we walked around just to stretch our legs but found almost everything closed. Even this vaguely familiar looking coffee shop!

Now that we have the conversion from dollars to euros down pat... we have to switch to converting dollars to EC. The local currency for Antigua, Barbuda and several other Eastern Caribbean nations is the EC which is worth roughly 38 cents. I'll need my calculator....

Saturday, April 7, 2012

St Martin Megablog - part deux

Another photo heavy blog post. You know the drill.... get your coffee or glass of wine/beer and settle in. We've been here almost three weeks and once we got most of our immediate chores done - computer fixed, phone working, packages shipped - we got around to exploring. We got the lay of the land from Fort Louis at the top of a hill overlooking Marigot.  

The water on the right is Marigot Bay, the body of water in the center is the lagoon.
The local beer. (This photo is for my friend Kim, a Heineken devotee.)

Fishing with hand lines near Happy Bay
We don't spend much time lounging around on beaches (really!) but we do love to check them out. The beaches here come in many shapes and sizes... as do the nude sunbathers on many of the beaches. (Sorry - no photos.) Cupecoy is a shallow beach backed by cliffs with little places to tuck in.



I know it's not a MANTA (!) but this eagle ray was beautiful to watch.
We snorkeled at Tintemarre and though we saw turtles and an eagle ray the coral was in really sad shape and there were very few fish. The island has just started to put in mooring balls to try to minimize damage to the reef. We dove on our mooring ball and found this as the base. Aside from the fact that it's not sitting on it's bottom, it looks pretty substantial.
 Mooring ball base at Tintemarre 
However.... it didn't stay where it was originally planted! They have no apparent limitations on the size of a boat that can pick up a mooring ball; perhaps this one was dragged across the seabed by a big boat in a big wind?

The windward side of Tintemarre
A sad ending to a boat's life
There's always lots of colorful junk (sea junque?) washed up on the windward side of an island and I came up with this little collection of bottlecaps. Our sailing friend Christina (s/v Sophie) has mulled over the concept of creating jewelry from sea plastic which is always overlooked in favor of the more elegant sea glass.... this handful of plastics should get her business started.

In between beach visits we (by 'we' I mean Skip) tinkered with our SSB. We can receive fairly well but still don't seem to transmit well. I think Skip just wanted a reason to empty the seat locker again and crawl in.

Take out everything....
....and crawl in. It's a tight fit.
This also entails pulling out all the electrical doodads from multiple storages spaces in the boat and covering all available counter space with them. Will this make the SSB work better? Stay tuned....

Boat projects are ongoing, much as house projects are on land. When we first arrived we saw a young couple working on this boat, a proa, in a nearby boat yard. On one of our trips through the bridge they were ahead of us and we watched them on their maiden voyage. A very cool looking boat!

There are mega yachts, super yachts and generally giantic boats of all sorts in the marinas on the Dutch side of the lagoon. Instead of just little dots of light from little sailboats (like ours) swaying in the night sky, the mega/super/gianto boats put on a light show. It looked like a mini Miami skyline (see 'Miami Nice' December 2010)

Nighttime in the lagoon.
We like to tune into whatever the local radio station is just to see what they're playing and what's going on in local politics. (It's the same old political power struggles everywhere) and we heard mention of the raft Antiki that was leaving through the early bridge one morning and is headed for Eluethera in the Bahamas. We zipped over in the dinghy to see them off. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in this raft. Here's more about the venture.... It's pretty interesting/inspiring/crazy, depending on your point of view. 

An interesting contrast.... Antiki and a mega yacht both readying to go through the bridge.

Hope those eyes keep a lookout. 

She looks small out there.... good luck Antiki!
We finally got around to having a drink at a local hangout, Barnacles. A gathering of dinghies on the night we went was for an open mike night which turned out to be surprisingly good. The bar is kid-friendly with sea related movies playing all night. 'Overboard' ended and 'Jaws' started while we were there. Like kids anywhere in front of a big screen, the cruising kids were transfixed.

A massing of dinghies usually means a good sailing crowd. 
Evening clouds seen from Barnacles dock

We've decided to take advantage of the good weather to head for Antigua tomorrow though there's more to see and do here. It's hard to decide to leave but there's so much more ahead to see. Luckily we were still around to catch the Time Out Boat Yard's first Saturday of the month flea market. We walked around just enough to see that indeed one man's trash is another man's treasure. That didn't stop us from buying some stuff.... we got two quarts of oil for $4.... what a deal! Our big score though, was a free HP computer. It'll probably be worth just what we paid for it. It's similar to the one that died on us and took our charting program with it so we figured maybe we could create one frankencomputer out of the two. And like the guy who gave it to us said, if we didn't take it "it'll just go in the shitter." Nice.

He didn't say "Argh!" but he sure looks like he would/should. Is there cafe au lait, or rum in his mug?
We made another trip to the colorful Saturday markets on the waterfront on our way out too. I love the spice displays. Wait.... all those lovely spices and signs in multiple languages... and a sign for "Philly mix"? Go figure.

Patricia, the vendor with gorgeous French linens, told us she'd arrived in St. Martin by boat too. She and her husband and their five year old son crossed the Atlantic seventeen years ago with plans to sail around the world. When they reached St. Martin they found that their boat's engine was beyond repair. So they stayed. 

There are a lot of interesting stories out here. 

Linens from Provence
We topped up our fuel and water and caught the 2:30 bridge out of the lagoon. Next stop.... Antigua.

One last chore.