|Wahoo at Sea|
It’s a Swell day!
In the Caribbean there are waves and then there’s Swell. Waves are formed by wind and are bigger or smaller depending on how much the wind is blowing. They come at you from the direction of the wind. Swells have nothing to do with your local conditions. They are caused by the strong winds that are blowing out in the Atlantic. In the Caribbean there’s always some swell; what matters to you is how high and from which direction and whether your chosen anchorage will protect you from it. Swells don’t follow the course of the wind so they can come at your boat from a different direction than the one you are pointing into. At anchor the swell can make for rolly conditions and give you an uncomfortable night if the anchorage you have chosen is unprotected from the direction of the swell. While sailing the sea state is a combination of the swell and the wind driven waves. What you are looking for is that the direction of the swell is close to the direction of travel and that the timing between each of these swells is longer than it’s height. For instance a 5 - 6 ft swell at an 8 sec interval is far better than 5 - 6 ft swell at 4 sec. The first allows the boat to comfortably ride up and over while the second is a very lumpy passage!
|Jane and Dave from LaDivina|
Putting aside the weather - Part of the fun of cruising is hooking up with other cruisers and Partyiiing as Kermit says. Basseterre Marina in St Kitts brought us many cruising buddies to hang with. Martine and Cedric where one of the couples we shared the Marina’s scant electric hook-ups with. They live in Guadeloupe. Several nights of cocktails led us to New Year’s Eve aboard their power boat sharing champagne as the fireworks exploded around us. We hope to see them when we get there for Guadeloupe’s Carnival which nicely coincides with our New Orleans Mardi Gras (Feb 16 & 17). Fern and Steve on an Outbound 44 are New Yorkers. Their boat is appropriately named “Fuhgedaboutit”. You can imagine the fun they have when ever they need to say the name of their vessel! Then there was Captain Bradshaw from Tortola who gave us much wise advice and helped all of us escape from the marina in St Kitts when the wind was blowing so strong. It’s been great hanging and traveling with Dave and Jane Mitchell on La Divina. They are from Toronto and on a 6 month charter. This is a trial run to see if they would like the cruising life. We sailed the longest with them and hope to meet up again also in Guadeloupe for Carnival. A pleasure that you know will end - the shared cabs and buses, stumbling through new ports to find laundries, ATMs, groceries and the inevitable Customs Office. Always happy hours and sundowners which inevitably always lead to a parting with the exchange of emails and phone numbers and the hope that your paths will cross again. AND happily sometimes they do.
|Monkeys ready to order|
|swinging at anchor|
On January 7th we had enough of Marina life so together with La Divina and Fuhgedaboutit we left the protection of the Basseterre marina and sailed five miles South. We weren’t exactly sure what conditions awaited us in the bays of St Kitts' Southern Peninsular but after the excitement and (loud) music of Sugar Maz we were ready for a change of pace. We knew the mighty North swell that had been affecting us was dropping for a few days and winds were down to a more moderate 20 kts. We found good conditions at South Friars Bay and collectively breathed a sigh of relief to be at anchor again. Each new beach calls for exploration so we dinghied ashore and tied up at Carombola Restaurant's new dock. They were closing for the day which was fine by us as we wanted a walk. 1/4 mile south was Shipwreck’s Beach Bar just waiting to serve us. The wild monkeys were adorable, the drinks strong and watching our boats swing at anchor made us feel mighty fine. Next morning Fern and Steve left to head to Antiqua as their time in the Caribbean was about up. Fuhgedaboutit would wait for them in Jolly Harbor. I didn’t envy them bashing right into the Eastern trades with 7 ft seas. We were glad to get an email saying they made it in safely. Our next stop would be the island of Nevis just a couple miles south.
|Clearing Customs in beautiful Nevis|
We, along with La Divina, picked up one of Nevis’ mooring balls along the prime anchorage area of Pinney Beach. The mooring balls have been installed to discourage anchoring and protect the grassy sea beds which are home to turtles and rays as well as fish. Let no one tell you any different, this is a great anchorage! The winds blew and we heard the swell was as high as 8 - 10 feet in the Eastern Caribbean but we had quiet seas and only a slight rocking motion to lull us to sleep. Lovely!! Looking at the charts you would never believe what a good harbour this is. It seems an open roadstead but the submerged reef running through the Narrows between St Kitts and Nevis provides a backbone which protects and defends.
|Nevis Peak from one of the Sugar Mills|
Nevis Peak, an impressive 3000 ft high sleeping volcano. It’s usually surrounded by clouds which cling to the mountain side. Columbus named the island “Nuestra Señora del las Nieves”, Our Lady of the Snows. While there have been no eruptions in recorded history Nevis has had its share of cataclysmic events. The first attempts of settlement was by English residents of nearby St Kitts. A few hearty souls founded Jamestown in 1628 which sank into the sea after an earthquake and tidal wave in 1680. Once British interest were firmly established in the area after the Treaty of Versailles (1783), Nevis flourished as an English plantocracy. Its fertile land made it the most prosperous of the islands for a time. Not so much on the tourist map, Nevis has retained it’s old world feeling from it’s Caribbean stone and wood buildings in Charlestown to the beautifully re-invented plantations which today house Inns and restaurants among beautiful gardens.
Nevis is associated with two important historical figures. Alexander Hamilton was born here and Horatio Nelson, when not yet and admiral, met and married his wife here. He and Fanny Nesbit were married at Montpelier, her uncle’s plantation.
|Alexander Hamilton's Birthplace in Charlestown, Nevis|
A short dinghy ride takes us to the only town and capital of Nevis, Charlestown. This is a good thing as unfortunately there is no dinghy dock along the expanse of Pinney Beach. This is sorely missed as this beautiful beach with several great beach bars and restaurants call out for the cruisers moored nearby to visit them. Seems a communal dinghy dock would be a good thing. Sure seemed strange to us especially when we remembered the happenings each night at Yoli’s in Placencia where yachties congregated every evening for happy hour and strolled through all day for coffee, lunch or just a chat and a Belikin.
|Lunch in the gardens at Golden Rock Plantation|
Our first night the four of us braved the steep beach and rollers to go ashore. It was a lovely evening. The bars serving great drinks have a beautiful view; the service is friendly and the food is good. But getting the dinghy back into the surf and away with us all safely aboard was a feat we never tried to repeat. Four Seasons is the only large resort on the island and they are a short dinghy ride away, but they discourage use of their dock we were told. And so four great beach bars went un-revisited. We spent our happy hours on one boat or another watching sunsets and telling sailer’s tales.
After my long rant about Wifi in the last blog I must say that Four Seasons does come through for us cruisers, if you have a high gain antennae and WiFi booster. Our Bullet was able to use the Public Four Seasons WiFi Access Point much of the time we were there.
On our 11th day in Nevis we were under the mistaken belief that the winds had become favourable to set sail for Montserrat, the island SE with the active volcano. Why is it so hard for us to remember that weather is changeable? On Thursday morning the forecast said the winds would dip below 15kts by Friday. So on Friday morning we were up and departing while on the radio Chris Parker was saying things had slowed down and that Saturday would be a better day. The winds were still SE (the direction we were heading) and the seas still high. But we were already underway, ignoring both Chris and the old sailor’s superstition that says not to start a journey on a Friday. Believe me, Never again! It was one of those times when you could easily see where you wanted to go but couldn’t possibly get there. Beautiful blue skies aloft but with 22kt winds gusting to 27 and seas high enough to knock our forward motion down to 3kts at times. We sailed and tacked, sailed and tacked and sailed and tacked some more. Felt like the longest 27 NM I’ve ever done. But like childbirth it’s eventually over and forgotten. After clearing in and sharing a beer and the best wings ever with the crew of La Divina we were glad to be in Montserrat.
|Soufiere Hills Volcano venting!|
We had heard there was nothing to do at Montserrat but that didn’t deter us from visiting. Seemed only right to drop a little money here to help their struggling economy plus a chance to hear about the volcano first hand was intriguing. We were sorry not to be there on a weekday as both the Volcano Observatiory and the Nevis Museum are closed on weekends. We hired a guide for an island tour and ended up with the ex Deputy Chief of Police who had been in in charge of volcano evacuations. Needless to say we had a first hand account.
Montserrat had suffered mightily in 1989 from Hurricane Hugo and just 6 years later, 1995, Soufiere Hills volcano started erupting. There have since been eruptions regularly and it is still active today. Lava and ash buried the South half of the island. The capital city of Plymouth has been completely covered by the flows. When Soufiere Hills volcano started showing signs of life volcanologists were called in and once it became obvious that an eruption was evident everyone was evacuated North. But days went by, then 1 week and then 2. People wanted to go back to their homes, they were too crowded, had forgotten something, wanted privacy, wanted to pick their crops. A small group of evacuees left the tent city and went back into town. Of the 3 dozen people who went back 19 lost their lives, the others escaped by climbing the hills to the side of the flow. Today the Southern half of the island is an exclusion zone and Montserrat’s only export is gravel and rock, from the volcano.
|Gate to AIR Studios|
Some of my hippie friends may remember that AIR studio was in Montserrat. Destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The recording studio was the inspiration of Sir George Martin, the Beatles Producer. Many of our favourite musicians recorded in Montserrat and held a grand benefit concert for the people of the island in London after the loss of Plymouth. Sir George still has a home here and visits but AIR studio is in the exclusion zone.
|Montserrat's capital city of Plymouth is under that ash and mud. White spots are the roofs of houses.|
|Signs like this mark the Exclusion zone|
|That sign says it all - we hope to return|
It might have been a rough sail over but the ESE wind gave us calm nights at anchorage. The guide book tells us if the wind is N or NE the anchorage at Montserrat can be rolly to terrible. Glad to have missed that.
|Drinking from the burn|
|Sunset overlooking English and Falmouth Harbor|
Sunday Wahoo and La Divina left Montserrat for Antigua. The wind was favourable for a NE sail with 5 - 6 ft seas at an interval of 8 sec. Roy and I enjoyed letting Wahoo strut her stuff. We are now in Antigua, anchored in Falmouth Harbour, which is a short walk from English Harbour. This is the heart of Sailing and Racing in the Caribbean. Three of the most prestigious sailing regattas happen here. Antigua Sail Week brings boats/yachts/ships from around the world, in fact they are already arriving. The famous Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta is held the week previous when square riggers, clippers and beautiful classic sailing yachts race and then have a parade of boats through the harbour. Also there’s the RORC 600 which starts and finishes in English Harbor, a 600 mile race around the Caribbean that must be completed in 4 days.
|These pillars held up the sail loft|
|Roy in the careening yard|
Antigua was discovered, but never visited, by Coumbus in 1493 (2nd voyage). it was settled by the British in 1632 and together with Barbuda remained a Crown colony until the two island nation gained Independance within the Commonwealth in 1981. Due to the safety and security afforded by English Harbour, Antigua was never conquered by any of the other European nations fighting for West Indian possessions. In 1621 the English discovered the safety given to ships anchored in English Harbor by the natural shape of the entrance. When other ships were destroyed by hurricanes ships here remained unscathed and sometimes even better, unseen. During sieges a chain could be run across the narrow entrance and with Fort Berkeley high on the surrounding hilltops the fleet was safe from attacks. England built 22 forts to surround the island and ensure its safety. The Dockyards were built here so that British ships could be protected and repaired without sailing back across the oceans giving another reason that England was the scourge of the seas.
The huge ships would be careened (pulled over on their sides) and their bottoms cleaned and repaired. Ships in the warm waters of the Caribbean were in constant danger from worms, termites and barnacles. Every service needed to keep the ships in good order was here from the massive sail loft to wood and metal work to provisioning. Keeping the fleet in the Caribbean insured protection of British shipping from pirates, privateers and other nations.
|Falmouth Harbor at night. Every red light is a sailing yacht with a mast over 100 ft tall.|
Today Nelson Dockyards in English Harbour is so beautifully, yet functionally, restored that it’s still where you want to come for repairs. In many ways it’s like a maritime Williamsburg yet it’s home to yachting services of the highest caliber. We availed ourselves of both upholstery makers, to have our cushions resown and AC services to make both of Wahoo’s units function again.
Nelson came here as a 26 yr old Captain of the frigate Boreas to enforce England’s Navigation Laws after the North American colonies became the United States. He became Senior Captain and Second-In-Command of the Leeward Islands Station headquartered in English Harbour. He left in 1787 to go on to greater glory taking, his Nevis born wife Fanny Nesbit with him. The dockyards predate Nelson by many years but they were renamed for him after the Battle of Trafalgar.
|Nelson's famous signal|
VICTORY - Nelson’s flagship, First Rate Ship of the Line
6000 mature oak trees were required for building
Hull at water line was 2 ft thick
Beam: 51ft 10 inches
Weight: 2,162 tons
Number of Sails: 37
Cost: £63,176 (about £50,000,000 today)
Sitting in the cockpit we can watch a constant parade of beautiful sailing yachts. We’ve seen Clipper ships raise their sail by moonlight, classic yachts glide by and 200ft racing yachts go out to practice. If you love sailboats being here is the epitome of your dreams.