Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nevis - Montserrat - Antigua

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 SeƱora 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
Horatio Nelson

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
AIR Studio
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. 

A Classic!!
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
Length: 227ft
Beam: 51ft 10 inches
Weight: 2,162 tons
Speed: 8-10kts
Number of Sails: 37
Guns: 104
Crew: 850
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.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Communications and Fuel - Island Style

Hanging out in a marina for 11 days is NOT our usual style. But when Chris Parker, our weather Guru, used such daunting words as "a whole pile of wind" and "really really strong winds" to describe conditions this past week it seemed only right to follow other "prudent mariners" and stay put. Even staid NOAA described conditions as "the most significant weather of the season". Luckily we were in St Kitts.

Not quite the Bearded Oysters
As soon as we arrived in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts, we knew immediately that we were in the real Caribbean.

Nothing was as advertised; the marina website didn't work, phones were down, we're 3 boats sharing one electric meter, drums were loud and there were plenty of smiling, helpful people giving us confusing and contradictory advice.

Sugar Maz - we be liming (hanging out)
Need fuel? The only way to get it is to contract with a guy and his 55gal drums. He comes around in a pickup. You go with him to the service station and buy what you think you need (no one says they are selling Imperial Gallons). You and the guy come back and he pumps them into your boat. Hope you didn't buy too much cause there sure ain't any returning anything.

We sailed the 42 miles from St Maarten Saturday, Dec 27th in moderate (18-20kt) trades and 4 - 5 ft seas on one tack. Once we got behind the island and seas settled I went down to make lunch when suddenly things went haywire. Wahoo heels suddenly, Roy's calling me topside - the wind is gusting to 35kts and he's trying to reduce sail! Wow, the guide was right as you come opposite Brimstone Hills the wind does go crazy. Soon all is in order and we get to have lunch while sailing along and admiring the verdant mountains and colourful towns of St. Kitts.

Before long we're "checking" in with the Marina office (no time for paperwork - it's Sugar Maz), we discovered that their much advertised WiFi had been down for months. Disappointing, but times like this are why we have a Mobile Hotspot aboard. I get my phone off Airplane Mode to see what carriers I pick up, thinking these would be the strongest and lead me to get the best and strongest simm for the hotspot. Ahhh, Digicel appears. This is a carrier I recognise and used in the BVIs. Trying to cover all bases I send a Viber text to John Edward to see whether Digicel was blocking VoIP (talking over the internet) like they did in St. Martin. Great, text goes through; all's good. Now we just need to find that Digicel store.

Monkeying Around
Like I said it's Sugar Maz. Think of a rowdy low key kind of carnival with loud, loud music coming from two story trucks with concert sound systems!! People are so enamoured of marching behind their favourite trucks that they wander from the back of the parade up to the front for a constant round of dancing and partying. They stop off at a favourite bar or go get some BBQ and then rejoin the dancing costumed troupes. This goes on all of December. The big days are Dec 28th until Jan 4th which they call "Cool Down Day". So it took us awhile to get through the crowd and find the store; but, of course, it's closed. After all its Sugar Maz! We shoulda known betta, right.

Gibraltar of the Caribbean - Brimstone Fortress

Our best bet was to use the WiFi at restaurants to pick up email and make some phone calls. Just like at Mardi Gras getting a table was tough and getting online was slow. But there was plenty to do including going to the finals of the Calypso Band competition. By Tuesday I go to the store and wait in line until, eventually, it's my turn. I know I need a simm with pre-paid data. You need a new one in each island country as they each have their own service setup - imagine needing a new AT&T simm for your phone when you travel between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. But hey, the young lady is so helpful. She tells me there's 3G and even 4G connections on the island, and it's good in Nevis too. I'm even shown the coverage area, dammed impressive. To be sure it's good-to- go I ask her to watch while I get an online connection with the simm in the hotspot and me using my phone. $75 later I'm on my way because Hooray it Worked!!  ............................................................................................................................................

.......until I get over to the marina and on the boat. Not only does connection speed drop to 2G, when it connects at all, but it seems the Digicel Data Simm does block Viber and all VoIP.  Not with the phone simm just with the data simm - Grrrrrr. Now I know installing a VPN will take care of this but I need a connection to install ANYTHING. Totally frustrated I play Candy Crush on my phone :-((.
Lo and behold, some mistaken finger tapping brings me to the connection with our Bullet Antenna. This is the long distance WiFi device at the top of the mast that brings in WiFi if we can connect to an open Access Point ashore. This is what I had expected to do with the marina's WiFi. I see a strong open signal from Lime, the other island carrier. I connect and immediately we have WiFi aboard.

Seems Lime is sponsoring Sugar Maz and for the duration of the carnival they're offering WiFi FOR FREE!!!

See that Anglican Church tower above -
See those stone spiral steps leading up into the tower.
While poking around we got locked in there!

St Kitts is fun and historic. It was the first British settlement in the Caribbean, dating from 1623. The French also established a colony here in 1625. A plantation economy was established and as long as both French and English battled the Spanish and the Carib Indians they managed to get along. Together they nearly wiped out the native population in 1626. After the Spaniards were taken care of war broke out between France and England in 1666 and spilled over into the West Indies. The Brits, being Brits didn't like sharing the island and built the biggest fort in the Caribbean, Brimstone Fortress, driving out the French in 1713. St Kitts continued under British rule until 1983 when the federation of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla was formed. Anguilla sued to be released, wanting to return to British oversight and so the Federation today is St. Kitts - Nevis, two islands - one country.

Interestingly though the battle at Bloody Point massacred most of the Caribs a few families survived and eventually prospered. We visited a plantation that has been in a Carib family for over seven generations. Today the only significant Carib populations live on St Vincent and Dominica.

Clay Villa - Carib owned plantation
The slave population increased dramatically as sugar cane replaced coffee and cotton on plantations. It rose from about 1,400 slaves verses 1,650 whites in 1678 to 23,500 slaves and 1,900 whites in 1775. England passed the Slave Act in 1807 abolishing trading in slaves but not until 1833 and the Abolition Act was slavery itself abolished. Antigua was the first island to abolish slavery in the Caribbean doing so in 1833 all other islands, including St. Kitts, followed by August 1838. Sugar remained the main economic force on the island until 2005 when all sugar production ceased and the government began to develop a tourist based economy.

The Jefferson home on St Kitts
Taking local buses around the island we've done lots of sightseeing including seeing the home of Thomas Jefferson's great, great, great, great grandfather who was from St Kitts. Besides the connection to Thomas Jefferson we found several things to remind us of home(s). The National bird of St Kitts-Nevis is the Pelican and a Chief Justice from St Kitts had a son who was Chief Justice in Belize.

We are hoping to move on to Nevis before the next round of high winds.
And we finally got another crab! At this size we didn't need more than one.