February 16th to February 19th – Inland exploration of Eastern Puerto Rico

 

On Monday, February 16th, the anchor is up in Esperanza, Vieques for the 23-mile run to the town of Ceiba on the east coast of Puerto Rico.  Ceiba is located just a few miles south of Fajardo.

The wind today is out of the northeast, which makes for a pleasant broad reach under cloudy skies along the southern coast of Vieques.  Clearing the west coast of Vieques, our course to Ceibo places today’s gusty, 20-knot winds, directly on the bow.  Intermittent rain showers add yet another element of intrigue to the journey.   Cutter Loose reluctantly accepts her assignment, pounding through the wind-driven waves and hobby-horsing her way to Ceibo.  Our destination for today’s bouncy trip is Puerto del Rey Marina.

Puerto del Rey Marina

With 1,000 wet slips, 500 dry-stacked spaces, a travel lift and a boat storage yard, Puerto del Rey is the largest marina in the Caribbean.  Many Puerto Ricans prefer to moor their boats on the island’s east coast for easy weekend access to Culebra and Vieques.   This is a massive marina, filled to capacity with mega yachts, large, sport-fisherman-power boats and sailing vessels.  Our slip at the outer extremity of the facility requires a 15 minute walk to the marina office.  Marina “wet slip customer service” personnel are on hand 24/7 to provide transportation via golf cart from the drop off area to one’s slip and vice versa.  Each golf cart pulls a small trailer to carry the customer’s bags, groceries and boat supplies.  Marina employees are efficient, polite and bi-lingual.  The marina’s laundry facility alone makes our visit worthwhile.

Laundromat Puerto del Rey

Cutter Loose is one of only a handful of transient cruising boats in the marina.  Since our visit takes place during a weekday period, we enjoy the exclusive use of showers, rest rooms and laundry facilities. The marina is currently undergoing a facelift, including the construction of a new cascade pool.  On site is a Thrifty car rental office, which provides wheels for our inland exploration of Puerto Rico.

CasaBlanca Hotel exterior

Our first venture is an overnight stay in the Old Town section of San Juan with Pittsburgh friends Nancy and Glen.  Thanks to Nancy’s travel planning, our comfortable accommodation at the Casa Blanca Hotel on Fortaleza Street provides an excellent base for the exploration of Old Town on foot.

GNEP at hotel

Hotel wall of vases

After a paella dinner, a leisurely stroll through the charming, European-style streets of Old Town, leads to a cozy bistro owned by jazz pianist Carli Munoz.  Fortunately, our arrival is perfectly timed to listen to Carli’s final set of the evening.  The hour is late when we return to the Casa Blanca, but the streets of Old Town are still filled with late-night revelers.

Carli Jazz

The following morning begins with a stroll along Paseo de la Princesa, a promenade that passes alongside the massive original walls of the City.

La Princessa Walkway

Reentering Old Town through the San Juan gate, it is an easy walk through pleasant neighborhoods to El Morro, the imposing fortification overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

street scene

El Morro

After dropping Nancy and Glen safely at the airport, the next stop is a suburban Costco to purchase 24 rolls of paper towels and other provisions in support of our voyage.  After three years of plying the waters of the Eastern Caribbean, being in Puerto Rico with easy access to Costco, large supermarkets and a giant West Marine store is a cruiser’s dream come true.

The major highways of Puerto Rico feature all of the familiar commercial trappings of the U.S., except that the billboards and road signs are in Spanish.  Many of the secondary roads near major population centers are congested with traffic, particularly from mid to late afternoon.  Puerto Rican drivers are aggressive but mellow.  Unlike in the U.S., horns in Puerto Rico are not generally used as an expression of road rage.  All of the major expressways have EZ Pass auto-pay lanes.  Even our rental car is fitted with an EZ Pass transponder.  Our automotive GPS does a reasonably good job of guiding us to the marina at the end of the day’s travel.

On Wednesday, it is off in the rental car again, this time to explore the Cordillera Central, a scenic route of twisty, narrow, local roads which traverse the east/west mountainous “spine” of Puerto Rico.  The route in its entirety covers 165 miles from Yabucoa on the east coast to Mayaguez on the west coast.   With frequent stops, we managed to cover only about a third of the Cordillera in one day (from Yabucoa to the town of Aibonito) before returning to Ceiba late in the afternoon.  Directional signage is not abundant along the Cordillera.  Therefore, one must allow extra time for becoming lost on narrow roads where there are limited opportunities to stop and reverse direction.  This is a travel scenario where even one’s mistakes leads to breathtaking scenery.

Central PR vista

An automobile ride along the Cordillera reveals a facet of Puerto Rican life that is distant from that of the major coastal cities.  The setting is rural, much of it in rainforest.  The pace of life in the mountains is slower and less complicated.  Along the route, modest homes dot the roadway promontories, offering outstanding views of the lush, green mountains and the expansive valleys below.

Caballero

On Thursday, our final tour in the rental car, involves a drive to the El Yunque National Forest in the Luquillo Mountains.  This is the only tropical rainforest in the United States park system.  Today’s hike through the rainforest along the Mount Britton trail leads to an observation tower that provides a bird’s eye view of San Juan and the northeast coast of the island.

El Yunque sign

Eric on Trail

CCC bridge

Tomorrow, we bid farewell to the comfort and security of marina life.  An early departure is planned for our cruise of the Puerto Rico’s south coast.

four amigos

 

 

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February 7th to February 15th – The Spanish Virgins

 

On Saturday, February 7th, the anchor is up at 9 AM in Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, USVI.  Sailing downwind in light to moderate air, Cutter Loose is bound for the easternmost islands of Puerto Rico known as the Spanish Virgins.  During this 26 nautical mile passage, we bid farewell to the now familiar waters of the Lesser Antilles (i.e., the Windward and Leeward Islands from USVI to Grenada) and enter a geographical area of the Caribbean Basin known as the Greater Antilles (i.e., Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico).

Sail Rock

Since this is previously unexplored territory for us, there is an air of eager anticipation and excitement aboard Cutter Loose as we barrel roll alongside Sail Rock and enter the territorial waters of Puerto Rico.  Travel to new and different places stimulates one’s curiosity.  Already, our sensory antennae are hyper-extended, anxiously processing every facet of our new surroundings.

The term Spanish Virgins implies that these islands are as beautiful, slow-paced and cruise-worthy as the islands of the USVI and the BVI to the east.  Our destination today is the island of Culebra where Pittsburgh friends Glen and Nancy will be visiting aboard Cutter Loose for a few days.

Nancy Glen Vieques

La Isla de Culebra once served as a target for U.S. naval sea and air weapons.  Today it is a relaxed beach destination for Puerto Ricans seeking an alternative to traffic congestion and hectic lifestyles on the mother island.

Culebra bridge

From our anchorage in the protected harbor of Ensenada Honda, there is easy access to the nearby village of Dewey.  The harbor is uncrowded.  About twenty cruising boats are anchored here, some which have established long-term residency in Culebra.  Small, twin-engine, commercial aircraft routinely buzz the anchorage during takeoff from a nearby airfield.  A shallow canal extends from Ensenada Honda to the ferry dock which fronts on the Bay of Sardines.

Culebra ferry

The town’s ferry dock comprises a large part of the public plaza that forms the nerve center of island activity.  Each day, there are three departures and three arrivals to/from the City of Fajardo, on the east coast of Puerto Rico.  Two dollars (one dollar senior rate) buys a ticket to ride on the 90-minute, fast ferry to the mainland…an incredible bargain.

Hotel Kokomo

roosterCulebra is not a pristine resort island.  While there are two small resorts located outside of the town of Dewey, most buildings in the village house small, funky restaurants, bars and guest houses.  The primary form of transportation by residents and visitors alike is golf carts.  The slow pace, unstructured appearance and casual, non-pretentious image is what makes Culebra so attractive to many visitors.

On most weekdays, the island is quiet.  Weekends, however, are a different story.  Taxis cram the ferry plaza to meet arriving passengers.  On Saturdays and Sundays, many day visitors arrive on the morning ferry and take the 5 PM ferry back to the mainland.  From the ferry dock, visitors can board a publico (shuttle bus) for the 2-mile ride to unforgettable Playa Flamenco, the island’s premiere beach attraction.  This attractive semi-circular bay is ringed by a silky, soft, white-sand beach.  It is named after the pink flamingos that once nested in a nearby cove.

Flamenco Beach

Since the roads outside of the Village of Dewey are relatively free of traffic, our Bike Fridays prove to be the perfect means by which to explore the outlying parts of the island.  This is the first time the boat’s bicycles have been deployed since our visit to the French island of Marie Galante in March, 2013.

bikes in Culebra

To our surprise, the out and back to Playa Zoni on the northeast coast of Culebra is quite hilly, requiring more effort than we had anticipated.  There are no restaurants or commercial amenities along this route.  In fact, most of the island outside of the village of Dewey remains undeveloped.

Throwing statue

A stalled cold front remains stationary over Puerto Rico during our visit, resulting in cloudy skies and considerable rainfall for a period of three days.  Some of these downpours result in localized flash flooding.  As we travel further north and west, cold fronts exiting the U.S. east coast will exert more of an impact on our movements.  This is the price to be paid for departing the relative predictability of weather in the Windward and Leeward Islands.

Despite the gray skies, heavy cloud cover and intermittent rain, the anchor is up in Ensenada Honda on Sunday, February 15thCutter Loose is bound for the island of Vieques, about 20 miles to the south.  Our destination is the town of Esperanza on the south coast.

The U.S. Navy purchased about two thirds of the island in 1941 for the purpose of aerial and naval bombardment.  Many Puerto Ricans objected to this misuse of Vieques.  Finally in 2003, the U.S. Navy ceased the bombing and decommissioned the base.  To this day, many of the bays and beaches on Vieques are off limits due to the danger of unexploded ordinance.

Promenade Vieques

An attractive promenade extends along Esperanza’s waterfront, providing access to restaurants, picnic shelters, roadside vendors and the beach.  The movie Lord of the Flies was filmed here in 1963.

Dominoes

On Sunday afternoon, the waterfront is active with beachgoers, family picnics, card games, domino games and loud music.  By sunset, the waterfront bars and restaurants are filled to overflowing with patrons.

Dusk Vieques

Tonight, we have signed on for an evening tour of Puerto Mosquito, one of three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico.  A twenty-minute bus ride transports us a few bays to the east and into another world.  Cloudy conditions have erased any semblance of light in the night sky, which is beneficial to our purpose tonight.

Here, aboard a pontoon boat equipped with an electric trolling motor, we are treated to an awe-inspiring, underwater light display.  These are not electric lights.  Rather, they are single-cell organisms that emit an eerie glow when disturbed by underwater motion.  When feeding fish swim nearby the boat, they leave a trail of sparkling light in their wake.  When human arms and legs are immersed in the water, thousands of sparkling lights remain on one’s limbs for a brief moment after resurfacing.  This phenomenon is an incredible display of nature…one that will not soon be forgotten.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.53.25 PM

The hour is late when we return from our evening adventure.  Tomorrow, Cutter Loose is bound for Puerto del Rey Marina near the town of Ceiba on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.

 

 

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January 27th to February 7th – St. John, St. Thomas and British Virgin Islands

 

At 0800 on Tuesday, January 27th, we depart from our picturesque West Beach anchorage at Buck Island for the 34-mile sail to St. John.  The wind and seas are cooperative today, sending Cutter Loose on a delightful broad reach to Lameshure Bay.  This begins a period of relaxed cruising in the USVI and BVI where we began our Caribbean adventure in November of 2012.

The south coast of St. John is a lovely, remote cruising area.  Lameshure Bay is surrounded on three sides by lush green mountains that remain undeveloped because they are located within the National Park.  Few cruising boats venture to the south coast because it is out of the way from the mainstream of activity and there are few amenities.  This is precisely why we are here…to enjoy the peaceful solitude and natural beauty of this special place, free of crowds and distractions.

After breakfast in the cockpit on Wednesday morning, January 28th, we depart Lameshure Bay for the busy harbor at Red Hook on the island of St. Thomas.  The harbor is predictably crowded with anchored boats.  Ferries arrive and depart every few minutes from Red Hook.  Our mission this morning is to deliver our malfunctioning radar unit to the marine electronics technician here in Red Hook.  By chance, he happens to be working on a nearby boat in the harbor and notices the arrival of Cutter Loose.  He radios us on the VHF with instructions to deliver the goods to his present location, which saves us a lengthy dinghy ride to the marina.  Within a total elapsed time of 30 minutes, our mission has been accomplished.  Rarely is a boat task accomplished with such efficiency.

The anchor is up in Red Hook and we are returning to St. John…this time to the harbor at Cruz Bay.  Following a brief visit for lunch and provisioning, it is on to nearby Francis Bay for an overnight stay.  Named in honor of explorer extraordinaire, Sir Francis Drake, this large Bay is filled with National Park service mooring balls.  About three fourths of these balls are occupied by cruising boats today.  The others are empty because charter boats from the British Virgin Islands rarely take precious time away from their vacations to clear Customs and enter the USVI.  Besides, there are no restaurants or beach bars dotting the shoreline of Francis Bay…just a choice of gorgeous white sand beaches at nearby Maho Bay, Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay.

The overnight rental fee for a mooring in the USVI is $15.  However, our National Park Senior Pass reduces the fee to $7.50.  Payment is made on the honor system by depositing an envelope in the receptacle on an NPS float in the harbor.

For cruisers that yearn for a taste of the U.S. while visiting the USVI, Francis Bay is the place to be.  In terms of entertainment and news, there is access to both the public television station and public radio station on St. Thomas.  In addition, ATT cellular service is available.  This eliminates expensive roaming fees.

West End dinghy dock

From Francis Bay, it is on to Leinster Bay, USVI for snorkeling and a one-night stay on an NPS mooring ball.  On Friday, January 30th we arrive at Soper’s Hole in the West End of Tortola, BVI.  After clearing Customs and enjoying a late breakfast, it is on to The Bight at Norman’s Island to rendezvous with cruising friends Richard and Jan aboard IP 370, Morpheus of London.

The BVIs are somewhat unique. There are dozens of small islands encircling the large, central island of Tortola.  With clusters of islands in close proximity, the views from the water are a gorgeous sight to behold.  On the south shore of Tortola, Sir Francis Drake Channel is protected from wind and wave by the outlying islands.  During our visit, it more closely resembles an inland lake than the Caribbean Sea.

Since January is the peak of the winter sailing season, ferries and pleasure boats are everywhere.  Piloting the Channel can best be described as an exercise in defensive driving.

Norman island beach

It was fun to reconnect with Richard and Jan in The Bight at Norman Island, but the sheer density of boats on moorings here serves as a reminder that the BVIs are being loved to death by charterers.  The mooring fields have expanded, resulting in a scarcity of places to drop the hook away from the crowds.  In this simplified version of cruising, the daily itinerary involves mooring hopping from one harbor to the next, being careful to time the arrival at one’s destination by mid-afternoon before all of the balls become filled for the night.  The going rate for mooring balls in the BVI is $30 per night.

BVI boasts the highest density of charter boats in the Caribbean.  At one time, the average charter boat was in the 30 to 45 foot range, which comfortably accommodates one or two couples.  Today, 50 to 70 foot sailing catamarans and power cats are becoming the norm in the BVIs.  These larger vessels can accommodate up to 12 passengers.  Larger vessels with more passengers require larger, go-fast dinghies and tenders, frequently powered by outboard engines of up to 70 horsepower…an accident waiting to happen.  More passengers per vessel can also lead to insensitive group behavior on the part of some that interrupts the peace and quiet of others in the harbor.  Such was our experience in the Bight at Norman Island.  This is not the style of cruising that we have come to know and love in the Eastern Caribbean.

Norman island

Scrub Island pool

Rather than prolong our time in the BVIs, we complete our circumnavigation of Tortola by visiting Marina Cay, Scrub Island and Trellis Bay before returning to Red Hook, on the island of St. Thomas, where our repaired radar unit awaits.

Metal Man

Fireball cutting

 

Fireball

Perry from TropiComm is waiting on the dock at American Yacht Harbor marina when we arrive at 10 AM.  Within 90 minutes, the repaired radome is installed and thoroughly tested.  We take advantage of our time at a marina by thoroughly cleaning Cutter Loose inside and out, attending to laundry detail, filling the empty propane tank and topping off the fuel tank for the long journey ahead.

Roti hut

Our visit to the USVI is made more enjoyable by the warm hospitality extended to us by Pittsburgh natives, Cindy and Tom and their cat Felix who live on the island of St. Thomas.  The highlight of our stay here is a visit to their lovely home featuring incredible water views of Jost Van Dyke.

Tom and Cyndi

After an overnight stop in Charlotte Amalie, our next port of call will be the island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgins of Puerto Rico.

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January 23rd to January 27th – St. Kitts to St. Croix

 

Under clear skies, the anchor is up at noon in White Horse Bay, St Kitts.  Our departure this afternoon is timed for an early morning arrival in Christiansted, St. Croix.  To our dismay, the stalled cold front in the Mona Passage continues to curtail the supply of wind to our area of the Caribbean.  We had hoped for vigorous northeast winds and a rollicking beam reach.  But the wind today is slightly south of east at a paltry 8 to 13 knots, which places Cutter Loose on a downwind slog to Christiansted.  The sea state is quite benign, with four to five foot waves at ten second intervals.  It will be a calm motor/ sail passage to St. Croix.

dawn breaking

Not far north of St. Kitts is the island of St. Eustatius (aka Statia) with its enormous installation of oil storage tanks and a queue of anchored tankers waiting to unload their supply of liquid gold.  Clouds to the southwest spawn occasional rain showers, all of which contributes to a colorful sunset.   At dusk, the mountainous outline of Saba fades to black in the northeast.  Then at 2130, the crescent-shaped moon slips slowly below the horizon.  Nature has turned off its light switch.

Further away from the islands, clouds dissipate and the night sky comes alive with a stunning array of stars and constellations.  The Go Sky Watch app on the Ipad deciphers the details of the heavens.  From its location directly overhead, Jupiter is clearly in charge tonight.  To the northwest and lower in the sky is Sirius, a beacon that guides our passage towards St. Croix.  Canopus is low in the southern sky tonight, eventually falling below the horizon just as Procyon is rising on the northeast horizon.

It is also a very quiet night in the nav station.  AIS information shows a tug on a parallel course ten miles to our north, making its way to San Juan.  Another tug passes six miles to our stern.  Other than the stars, these vessels are our only nighttime companions.

At 0400, there is an eerie orange glow on the western horizon.  It is the lights of St. Croix, vaguely visible from 25 miles out.  One hour later, the eastern sky shows encouraging signs of first light.  Finally at 0645, the sun makes its appearance above the eastern horizon, casting a brilliant orange hue on Point Udall, the easternmost point of land on St. Croix.  Having completed this 130-mile passage in 20 hours, the anchor is down in Christiansted Harbor at 0845.

Sunrise from boat

Bleary-eyed and tired, our first obligation is to clear Customs in Galleon Bay.  Once the formalities are completed, we beat a hasty retreat to Cutter Loose for a few hours of shuteye before exploring the town of Christiansted on foot.

Hotel St Croix

Formerly the capital of the Dutch West Indies, much of the town’s original 18th century architecture has been preserved.  Shops, hotels, bars and restaurants are located along the boardwalk and strewn throughout the many porticos and interesting pedestrian walkways and plazas that impart a sense of character and identity to this unique place.

peach porticos

On the day of our visit, a local establishment is sponsoring a beard contest.  Moses won this competition hands down.

Beards

The cruise boat dock is located ten miles away on the west side of the island in the town of Fredericksted.  While some passengers take advantage of day excursions to Christiansted, it is not a town whose retail establishments are primarily geared to the cruise boat trade, nor are there aggressive taxi drivers or sidewalk vendors.

Christensted walkway

There is a friendly vibe here with congenial interaction between Cruzan natives, Caucasian transplants and cruisers.  As an active arts community, Christiansted offers chamber music concerts and organized gallery crawls.

Yellow government building

Near the end of the afternoon, the boardwalk bars become filled with locals and visitors, anxious to catch up on the news of the day while gazing at the seaplanes landing and taking off in the harbor.  From here, it is a short 25-minute flight to Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas. Christiansted is one of the most interesting and architecturally-attractive towns that we have visited thus far in our Caribbean cruise.

seaplane takeoff

On Sunday, January 25th, a rental car has been reserved for our self-directed tour of St. Croix.  Denmark ruled this island for almost 200 years, dividing it into 375 sugar cane plantations.  Evidence of the plantation era can be found throughout the island, including ruins of plantation homes and windmills where the cane was ground.

St. Croix is 15 miles in length and seven miles wide at its widest point.  Some 50,000 people call this place home.  The island is topographically and economically diverse.  Route 70 is the major east-west transportation spine of the island.  Located on this highway are the University of the Virgin Islands, Kmart, Home Depot and several shopping plazas with food stores.  On the southern coast is Hovensa, reputedly the largest oil refinery in the western hemisphere.  Our driving tour takes us through Fredericksted, (aka Freedom City), where the slaves of the Danish West Indies were peacefully emancipated in 1848.

Point Udall monument sundial

Point Udall is promoted locally as the easternmost point of the United States.  In addition to offering superb views, an interesting sundial Millenium Monument has been constructed here in 2000 .

Satellite dish

Nearby is a dish antenna measuring 82 feet in diameter that is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.  We are considering adding this to our antenna array aboard Cutter Loose with the hope of achieving improved Internet access.

Buck Island signage

On Monday, January 26th the anchor is up in Christiansted harbor.  Cutter Loose is bound for Buck Island, some three miles to the northeast.  Roughly a mile in diameter, Buck Island is uninhabited and protected by the National Park Service as a National Monument.  Buck Island is a gem not to be overlooked.

Buck Island Beach

The entire island is surrounded by a coral reef.  The anchorage area is on the west side of the island within swimming distance of a gorgeous white sand beach.  A short dinghy ride to the eastern side of the island is the marked entrance to a lagoon inside the coral reef, complete with an National Park Service underwater-snorkeling grotto.  A series of moorings have been placed inside the lagoon for shallow draft dinghies, dive boats and snorkeling excursion boats.

Buck Island hike shot of St Croix

Our visit to St. Croix has been thoroughly enjoyable, made even more so by our visit to pristine Buck Island.  Tomorrow, we set sail for St. John.

Shot of water from hike

Ten ways of knowing that one has arrived in the USA:

  1. There are no less than 23 lighted aids to navigation entering Christiansted Harbor (we have not seen 23 lighted aids to navigation total in the three years since leaving the Virgin Islands in December, 2012)
  2. 5 bars of 4G ATT
  3. Upon entering the Customs office, the officer in charge greets us by saying “welcome home”
  4. Waiters and waitresses refers to us as “you guys”
  5. Prices are quoted in U.S. dollars
  6. There is no need to purchase a temporary international driver’s license to rent a car (a Pennsylvania license is sufficient)
  7. Fuel is sold by U.S. gallon
  8. Steering wheel is located on the left side of vehicles (although in the USVI, one must drive on the left side of the road)
  9. Home Depot and K Mart
  10. NPR and public television
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January 20, 2015 to January 23rd, 2015 – Antigua to St. Kitts

 

On Tuesday, January 20th, the anchor is up in Jolly Harbor for today’s 58-mile sail to Basse Terre, the capital of St. Kitts.  In terms of weather, it is an unusually quiet period here in the Eastern Caribbean.  Our wind generator is taking some well-deserved time off.  A stalled frontal boundary in the Bahamas has shut down the Atlantic wind machine, reducing gradient wind to ten knots or less.  The sea state is benign with waves in the 4 to 5 foot category.  While this weather phenomenon is highly beneficial for eastbound boats, there is insufficient wind to push Cutter Loose downwind to St. Kitts.  Today is a motor sail event… an excellent opportunity to keep the battery bank charged while running the power-hungry watermaker.

Nevis

Our course to Basse Terre, on the west coast of St. Kitts, takes us through The Narrows, a reef-strewn cut between St. Kitts and her sister island of Nevis located a few miles to the south.  The favored channel hugs the southern coast of St. Kitts where a large-scale resort and condo development is underway.  Back into deeper water on the west coast of St. Kitts, the gigantic cruise boats docked five miles to the north, provide a visual clue of the character of Basse Terre.

Port Zante Cruise Ship Terminal

By 4 PM, Cutter Loose is at anchor in the shadow of the cruise boats.  Despite the relative absence of wind, there is a slight swell in the harbor which causes anchored boats to roll slightly from side to side.  A small marina is located within the breakwater nearby, but we opt instead to remain at anchor in the harbor on Tuesday night because it provides insulation from the hustle and bustle of Port Zante, the cruise dock area.

Shopping Mall Plaza

Port Zante is a redevelopment project aimed at the cruise boat trade.  In addition to the passenger terminal, there are three square blocks of intense retail…mostly jewelry stores and clothing shops.  Local vendors are working the massive crowd of cruise boat passengers, selling everything from island tours, arts and crafts, a taxi ride to the beach and photo ops with tiny green monkeys wearing diapers.  Every shop has a designated greeter on the sidewalk whose job is to entice the unwary visitor into the store with a free gift or a free drink.  Inland from Port Zante is the traditional downtown area of Basse Terre where narrow streets are filled with traffic and historic French and English buildings are in various stages of deterioration.

The Circus

Mercifully, the Customs, Immigration and Port Authority clearance process is straightforward.  Since our stay is brief, it is possible to obtain both inbound and outbound coast-wise clearance in one easy step.  This provides an opportunity to explore more pleasant anchorages in St. Kitts without the need to return to Basse Terre to clear out.

Anglican Church

After a half day of Customs formalities and exploration of Basse Terre on foot, the anchor is up in the harbor on Wednesday afternoon.  Our destination is White House Bay, a quiet, attractive anchorage about four miles south of Basse Terre that offers unobstructed sunset views.  Here there is no swell, no noise, no salesmen and no crowds.  At night, the sky is ablaze with stars and constellations.

Salt Plage from dock area

The anchorage is not totally void of commercial amenities.  There is a small beach bar with a dinghy dock nearby.  It is called Salt Plage…an adaptive reuse of a former salt reclamation facility that once operated on this site.  This serves as our portal for a hike through the development called Christophe Harbor that is currently under construction.

Bar with Basse Terre BG

From 4 PM to 10 PM, Salt Plage becomes a hip gathering place for tourists and locals alike. Given the pricey menu, the objective of spending our remaining Eastern Caribbean (EC) cash is easily fulfilled at this establishment.  EC currency is not honored by banks other than those located on the former English islands in the Windward and Leeward chain.

Bar with torches

For the crew of Cutter Loose, St. Kitts serves primarily as a logistical stopover rather than a cruising destination.  A layover in St. Kitts reduces the distance of our forthcoming overnight sail to St. Croix. Our stay here signals our final stop in the Leeward Islands and our gateway to the Virgin Islands.  Stopping here provided an opportunity to rest, relax and check weather before departing.  As such, St. Kitts has fulfilled its purpose.

Sunset from Salt Plage

Under normal circumstances in the Eastern Caribbean, watching for a weather window means waiting for calmer wind and seas.  In this unusual instance, however, our departure from St. Kitts for St. Croix has been delayed due to the relative absence of wind.  The prospect of windless conditions listening to our diesel engine for 20 hours is unappealing.  On Friday and Saturday, the wind is expected to peak in the 15 to 20 knot range before settling back down to 10 knots on Sunday.  Hopefully, the Friday/Saturday time frame will provide sufficient breeze to sail Cutter Loose on a broad reach all the way to St. Croix.

boat with moon

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January 6th to January 19th – Sainte Anne, Martinique to Jolly Harbor, Antigua

 

Prospects for improving weather signal that the time has come to bid farewell to Martinique.  The anchor is up at Sainte Anne on Tuesday, January 6th.  Our plan is to transit the Leeward Islands with the goal of reaching Antigua by Friday, January 9th, before another episode of squally weather arrives in the Eastern Caribbean.

Diamond Rock

The first leg of our journey through the Leeward Islands takes Cutter Loose downwind past Diamond Rock, then north along the coast of Martinique to the coastal village of Sainte Pierre.  Along the way, the metropolis of Fort-de-France looms large on the eastern horizon.  There is still some punch remaining in the weather.  Steady winds at 18 to 27 knots in the lee of Martinique provide for a powerful but comfortable broad reach to Sainte Pierre.

Having already cleared Customs in Sainte Anne, there is no compelling reason to go ashore at Sainte Pierre.  Rain showers are frequent here in the shadow of the Mount Pelee volcano, as evidenced by the lush green hillsides that form the backdrop for this attractive coastal village.  Today is no exception.  Off and on rain showers throughout the late afternoon and evening create a cozy environment aboard Cutter Loose.

On Wednesday, the anchor is up at 6:15 AM for leg two from Sainte Pierre to Prince Rupert’s Bay on the island of Dominica.  Clearing the lee of Martinique and entering the Dominica Channel, the wind is still blowing at 18 to 27 knots.  Unlike yesterday, however, the seas in this open-Atlantic passage are every bit of 8 to 9 feet.  Heavily reefed and on a beam reach, Cutter Loose makes short work of today’s assignment, delivering us to Portsmouth by 3 PM.  A unique aspect of Dominica Customs is that one may clear in and clear out during the initial visit to the Customs office provided that one departs within seven days and further provided that the port of departure is the same as the port of arrival.

With Customs formalities behind us, the next stop is Tomato’s Café on the campus of Ross University.  This establishment serves traditional Italian cuisine, which is rare in our Caribbean travels.  We visited Tomato’s during a stop in Portsmouth last season.  The food is good, the portions are large and the prices are geared primarily to the student market.  To our dismay, Tomato’s is closed today.  The students have begun to straggle in from semester break, but most of the campus-oriented establishments are closed or empty today.  Disappointed and hungry, we settle for a meal at another  local establishment.

The anchor is up in Prince Rupert’s Bay at 7:30 AM on Thursday, January 8th for a routine journey to the town of Deshaies on the northwest coast of the island of Guadeloupe.  The weather is beginning to moderate, which treats us to a comfortable reach under sunny skies and in calmer 5 to 6 foot seas past the mountainous islands of Iles des Saintes to Guadeloupe.  Given our early start and our rapid progress, a 4 PM arrival in Deshaies appears achievable.  In light of yesterday’s unfulfilled hankering for Italian food, we can almost taste the delicious pizza that is served at one of our favorite restaurants on the waterfront next to the dinghy dock.

At 1 PM, just inside the lee of Guadeloupe near the town of Basse Terre, the wind dies to a whisper, as is its tendency.  The sails are slapping in light and variable wind.  This is nature’s message to furl the sails and motor to our destination.

Upon starting the engine, there is a loud noise and no propulsion.  Curiously, the wheel stiffens, becoming difficult to steer.   In the twinkling of an eye, the pure bliss of a delightful beam reach degenerates into despair.  Something is terribly amiss here in paradise.

The first thought that comes to mind is an entanglement of line wrapped around the propeller and wedged into the rudder post.  After all, we have seen several lobster trap floats since sailing into the shallower waters in the lee of Guadeloupe.

Donning a mask and snorkel for an underwater look at our predicament reveals a much different, more sinister story.  The propeller shaft has become longer.  The aft edge of the shaft is now butting up against the rudder post, impeding its movement.  Back on board, a quick inspection of the engine compartment confirms the problem.  The coupling that connects the propeller shaft to the transmission has parted.  The remains of a sheared coupling bolt lie in the bilge.  Cutter Loose is drifting at the whim of the current without steerage or propulsion.

The mind shifts into high gear, sifting through our circumstance.  Absent a replacement coupling bolt, it is not possible to effectuate repairs at sea.  Even if steerage could be regained, it is not possible to sail the boat in today’s light and variable wind conditions.

While this is a serious setback, it is not a dire emergency.  Cutter Loose is safely afloat.  Since she is being pushed gradually away from land by the current, there is no danger of running aground.  It is clear, however, that we need to reach out for help from others.

Our “pan-pan” announcement on VHF 16 alerts other vessels in the vicinity to our circumstance.  Almost immediately, a response is received from CROSSAG (an acronym that stands for Centre Regional Operational de Surveillance et de Sauvetage Antilles – Guyana).  Through a system of repeaters In the Windward and Leeward islands, our announcement has been heard some 150 miles away at CROSSAG’s headquarters in Fort de France, Martinique.  This does not come as a surprise.  CROSSAG continually monitors VHF radio Channel 16 for distress calls.  Each day in the Eastern Caribbean, CROSSAG broadcasts frequent emergency search and rescue messages in both French and English on Channel 16. CROSSAG is the equivalent of the U.S. Coast Guard in the French West Indies.   In a heavy French accent, the marine radio operator at CROSSAG refers to our vessel as “Cutter Loser”, which adds insult to injury.

towing the line

After calmly recording our pertinent information (lat/lon, description of vessel, number of persons on board, etc.), CROSSAG telephones a private tow boat service in nearby Basse Terre, Guadeloupe.  Within an hour, m/v Hooker arrives on the scene.  Thankfully, Captain Marin Marcel speaks a few words of English.  He maneuvers his 30+ foot fishing boat alongside Cutter Loose and heaves a heavy towing line on the foredeck.  With gestures and a few key words in English, he explains that our destination is  Marina Riviere Sens in the town of Basse Terre, about three miles from our present location.

Dock Basse Terre

Once inside the marina breakwater, Captain Marcel deftly maneuvers Cutter Loose alongside the fuel dock.  It is now 3 PM on Friday afternoon.  Although we never felt in danger, we are profoundly thankful to be safe in a marina.  This eliminates the potential of a catastrophe.  Now we face the prospect of securing the services of a diesel mechanic on a French island, not the least of which is overcoming the language barrier.  Since the weekend is rapidly approaching, the first opportunity to connect with a diesel mechanic will be Monday at best.  Given our experience with the waiting game here in the Caribbean, it could easily take a week to sort this out.  Most importantly, however, Cutter Loose and her crew are safe and sound.

French police

Within minutes, the Gendarmerie (Police) arrives at the fuel dock in their go-fast pursuit boat.  They are armed with weapons.  From their gestures, it is clear that they are asking us to move away from the fuel dock.    They explain in French that they are here to take on fuel.  We explain with gestures that our boat is dead in the water.  They seem agitated with us, but become calmer when we invite them to tie alongside so that the fuel nozzle can be extended across the deck of Cutter Loose.  After more maneuvering and gesturing, the Gendarmerie vessel is finally tied alongside.  At this point, the office informs the officers that the marina’s tanks are temporarily out of fuel.  Clearly frustrated by their inability to secure fuel, they shower us with multiple mercis and au revoirs and proceed on their way.  Happily, we are not in trouble with the Gendarmerie.

coupler on towel

Captain Marcel docks his boat nearby and climbs aboard Cutter Loose to have a look at our mechanical problem.  Since he speaks some English and has a cellphone, we ask for his help in contacting a mechanic.  Marin is not a mechanic, but he is a fisherman with mechanical skills and access to hardware.  Marcel urges us to relax while he searches for a replacement bolt.  Within 30 minutes, he returns with an assortment of nuts and bolts in hand.  To our amazement and delight, the repair is completed by 6 PM.

We are pleasantly surprised by the attention granted to two American sailors late on a Friday afternoon in Guadeloupe.  We breathe a heavy sigh of relief, not just because of the efficiency of the repair, but because we were confronted with a potentially dangerous circumstance on a perfectly calm day in flat water just three miles from Marin Marcel’s home port.  It is frightening to think about what might have been.  Had today’s predicament occurred during an ocean passage in heavy weather, it would have been a completely different story.  The seas in the Eastern Caribbean are almost never as flat as they are today.

Since it is already dark, the decision is reached to spend the night at the marina.  Several hours later as we are settling in for the night, there is a loud knock on the hull.  It is the night manager of the marina.  He informs us in French that under no circumstances are we permitted to overnight alongside the fuel dock, as this is a potentially dangerous situation.  We explain that our repair was recently completed, the hour is late, we will depart at the crack of dawn and besides, there is no fuel available at the pumps.  He will have none of this, insisting that we move immediately to another slip in the marina.  We are guests in a foreign country, we do not speak French, we have no legal standing and we have no choice but to comply with his wishes.

Begrudgingly, we move Cutter Loose to another slip.  This is a stern-to, med moor marina, which requires us to back a fat boat into a narrow berth wedged tightly between two nearby neighboring boats on either side.  Working the bow, Pat must locate and retrieve two mooring floats, threading our port and starboard bow lines through eyelets in the mooring pennants while the boat is backing into the slip.  The bow lines must be set such that the stern is close enough to the dock to jump off for access, but far enough away from the dock to avoid a loud bump in the middle of the night.  This maneuver is difficult enough in the light of day let alone in darkness.  Not surprisingly, our new French-speaking neighbors are alarmed at our late evening intrusion.

The marina manager collects a dockage fee in the amount of 32 Euros.  He also requires photocopies of the boat’s official papers, i.e., the USCG registration certificate and our proof of insurance.  Providing this information is somewhat disconcerting inasmuch as we have not cleared Guadeloupe Customs and Immigration because we had no intention of making landfall in Guadeloupe. Given the hour, the path of least resistance is to remain silent on this issue since we are not leaving the marina on foot.  Besides, the Customs office is now closed and the yellow Q flag flying on our spreader clearly announces to the world that we have not yet cleared.  Thankfully, the French islands are less rigid than their English counterparts about clearance procedures.  It has been an interesting day…one that we do not wish to repeat…ever.

At 6 AM on Friday, Cutter Loose departs Marina Riviere Sens bound for Jolly Harbor, Antigua.  Once out of the lee of Guadeloupe, we are treated to another delightful beam reach in 18 to 20 knots of wind.  The active volcanic island of Montserrat passes to port as a vague image of Antigua finally comes into view on the northern horizon.  Since the weather is expected to become squally over the next five days, we elect to take a mooring in the well protected inner harbor at Jolly.

Over 200 miles have passed under the keel of Cutter Loose since we departed Sainte Anne, Martinique four days ago. It is now time to pause for the purpose of attacking radar problems, a mechanical check of the propeller shaft alignment, laundry and other boat tasks.

Marina

Jolly Harbor is a cruiser friendly community.  Besides the marina, boatyard and a brand new Budget Marine store, there are a dozen or more restaurants and pubs that are filled with cruisers during the late afternoon and evening.  On Sunday afternoon, U.S. football fans gather in front of the large screen TV at The Crow’s Nest restaurant to watch the playoff games.  As predicted, the weather turns sour with four full days and nights of line squalls that move through Jolly Harbor every 30 minutes.

Cap at Mast

On Monday, January 12th, Cutter Loose moves to a slip at Jolly Harbor Marina.  The local Raymarine technician removes the radome to perform a bench check of the radar system at his shop.  Then on Wednesday, the yard mechanic at Jolly Harbor Marina removes the transmission coupling for inspection.  His micrometer test clearly shows that the opening for the propeller coupling has worn to the point of becoming oblong, inducing excess play that causes increased vibration and, in turn, stress on connecting hardware.  The replacement coupling must be ordered from the U.S.  It will be sent to Antigua via overnight delivery.  Thus begins the waiting game for replacement parts to arrive and repairs to be effectuated.

coffee cart

We are determined to enjoy our stay here in Jolly Harbor, despite the inclement weather and circumstances.  Each morning, we relax over a freshly brewed cup of espresso at the stylish Café Go Go Italian microvan right here in the marina.  Mornings are spent checking e mail and working on boat tasks.

Linda's Coffee

At lunchtime, a visit to Linda’s coffee shop in the adjoining boat yard provides generously-sized chicken roti for $10 EC each  ($3.70 USD).  One half of one of these tasty monsters satisfies even the heartiest of appetites.

Roti

Making new cruising friends at Jolly Harbor is as easy as saying hello to a neighboring boat or greeting a passerby on the docks.  Happy hour celebrations with Paul and Carol from Colorado Springs aboard s/v Odysseus, trans-Atlantic sailors Graham and his son Alex from Toronto aboard s/v Salty Ginger, Toby and Sherry from Sarasota aboard m/v Corabelle , and Ed and Sue aboard s/v Angel Louise  who recently completed an Atlantic Circle, including two winters in London and an inland cruise of European rivers.  Everybody has fascinating travel stories to share.

IMG_6627

The sun is shining brightly as squally weather dissipates on Thursday, January 15th resulting in an exodus of many yachts from the marina.  There is pent-up demand on the part of many cruisers to move to new and interesting destinations.  The improvement in the weather creates an opportunity for a late afternoon swim and a long walk on the beach.  The proximity of the beach to the marina is one of the many amenities of Jolly Harbor as a cruising destination.  It is a short 10-minute walk from the marina, past the Crow’s Nest pool and tennis courts, to a lovely one-mile, curved, white-sand beach with an abundance of shells.

Jolly beach

A total of six Island Packets are docked at the marina and anchored in the harbor.  A spontaneous IP rendezvous is organized at West Point, a centrally located bar and cafe overlooking the marina.  Included in the celebration are Kewaydin, Pengelly, Island Time, Seabattical, The Dove and Cutter Loose.

Jolly Island Packet Friends

On Saturday, January 17th, a major victory is achieved when the shiny new transmission coupling is installed.  The story on the radar, however, is not as encouraging.  The parts needed for the repair are on back order from the manufacturer and will not be available for several weeks.  Rather than remain in Antigua waiting for the parts to arrive, this project will be deferred until we reach St. Thomas.  The Raymarine dealer located in Red Hook will order the parts and advise us when they arrive, at which time we will schedule an appointment for the repair.

After ten days in Antigua, the time has come to move on.  On Tuesday, January 20th, we will set sail for the island of St. Kitts.

Billy

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December 31, 2014 to January 6, 2015 – St. Lucia to Martinique

 

Wednesday’s 26-mile journey from Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia to Sainte Anne, Martinique is easily accomplished in under four hours.  The wind today is from the northeast at 20 knots, which makes for a somewhat bouncy but invigorating close reach in 20 to 25 knots of wind.  Good fortune is with us today inasmuch as we are able to lay the harbor in Sainte Anne in a single tack.

Anchorage from shore

The weather forecast calls ominously for windy, squally weather over the next several days.  Rather than compete with the charter boats for limited space near the dinghy dock, we elect to plant the hook in the outer reaches of this protected harbor.  Here there will be sufficient breathing room to pay out 150 feet of chain for ultimate holding power in a blow.  This location will also insure an adequate supply of wind to keep the house batteries fully charged.

Several of the waterfront bars and restaurants loudly proclaim the arrival of the New Year with live entertainment.  Aboard Cutter Loose, however, the celebration consists of a simple chorus of Auld Lang Syne prior to turning in at 10 PM.

stretch of beach

New Year’s Day dawns clear and sunny.  To start the year off on the right foot, a hike from Sainte Anne to the beach at Grande Anse des Salines has been arranged with Canadian friends Chris and Fran of s/v Changes.  Predictably, the beach is packed with families enjoying the holiday weekend.  Strolling bikini vendors walk the beach to meet the needs of consumers who require a new look for the New Year.  The vendor will cheerfully model any suit in her inventory for prospective buyers.

Bikini lady

Upon arriving at the beach, our first stop is at the juicer for a freshly-squeezed smoothie made from passion fruit, watermelon and banana.  After a refreshing swim, the luncheon plat du jour consists of barbequed chicken with rice, salad and banana flambe for dessert.

Juice stand fruit

 

juiceman

Returning to Sainte Anne, we pause at a waterfront café to enjoy the late afternoon lighting and to witness the sun setting over Diamond Rock.

Paille CoCo Restaurant

As predicted, wind speeds begin to increase on Saturday, January 3rd.  By 11 AM, we are already beginning to feel the effects of an approaching low pressure weather system. The sky is sunny and clear, but the wind is already piping through the harbor at 25 knots sustained with gusts to 30 knots.  These conditions create a favorable scenario for powering the water maker.  By day’s end, our tank is filled with drinkable water using the D400 wind generator and solar energy.

As the TROF inches closer on Sunday, January 4th, dark, threatening clouds bring recurring squalls to Sainte Anne.  As a squall approaches, wind gusts increase to 35 knots, kicking up a nasty chop in the harbor.  Elevated wind gusts send us scampering to close the hatches as wind-driven showers are imminent.  When the showers pass, the hatches are re-opened for ventilation.  This pattern is repeated every 30 minutes throughout the day.

Sunny skies reappear on Monday, January 5th with wind speeds in the harbor settling back down into the low 20 knot range.  A moderating trend in the weather is expected by mid-week.  Our goal is to take advantage of the anticipated favorable weather window to make rapid progress northward.

On Tuesday morning, January 6th, the anchor is up in Sainte Anne.  Cutter Loose is underway for the 40 mile run to Sainte Pierre, Martinique where we will clear Customs and stage for our pending departure to the island of Dominica on Wednesday morning, weather permitting.

umbrella girl

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In Memory of Jeanne

 

JeanneToday, we mourn the loss of our friend, Jeanne.

We first laid eyes on Chuck and Jeanne in September, 1985.  It was dark by the time Pat and I returned their Island Packet sailboat to the dock that night in Rock Hall, MD.  Our charter vacation aboard their beloved Relationship was coming to an end, having been rudely interrupted by Hurricane Gloria.  We were overdue, having been delayed by the storm.  With the concerned owners of the yacht perched anxiously on the dock awaiting our arrival, we were tired and more than a little nervous about executing a reasonably proficient dockage maneuver in darkness.

Chuck and Jeanne greeted us warmly as they assisted with dock lines.  We briefly summarized the charter experience and the excitement of storm preparation while they helped us pack our belongings into our car.  Bidding farewell that night, we agreed to meet again in the near future to become better acquainted.  Little did we know at the time that this was a landmark moment, marking the beginning of a close and formative bond that would flourish for thirty years.

With encouragement from Chuck and Jeanne, we became part of the Island Packet family by purchasing our very own IP 29 in 1991. We participated in the annual Island Packet summer raft-ups in Rock Hall, MD.  Ever the life of the party, Jeanne was always first in ceremonially firing the first water balloon salvo.  She served as an example to other boaters by unloading her high-pressure water cannon on enemy positions.  She was not constrained in any way by the confining limitations of adult behavior.

During annual buddy boating vacations to Williamsburg, VA, Block Island, RI and Washington DC, Jeanne always pushed hard to achieve bragging rights by finishing each leg ahead of the other participants. On a more serious note, we attended lectures and Safety at Sea Seminars and accomplished our first overnight sailing experience together.

As Chuck and Jeanne approached retirement, they purchased a brand new Island Packet 40 for extended cruising.  In 1996, I served as a crewmember aboard Relationship for a shakedown sail to Bermuda…my first offshore experience.  Later that same year, I crewed aboard their boat in the Caribbean 1500…a voyage that began in Hampton, VA and ended in the British Virgin Islands.  Jeanne took these rallies very seriously, constantly urging the crew to increase boat speed in order to cross the finish line first in class.

In subsequent years, Pat and I were frequent guests aboard Relationship as Jeanne and Chuck circuited the Caribbean.  Jeanne was always the consummate entertainer, inventing fun things to see and do while making the hard work of provisioning the galley and preparing meals onboard appear effortless.

Collectively, these experiences planted the seed for our own explorations under sail.  I dare say that we would not be cruising the Caribbean today had it not been for the example set by Jeanne and Chuck.

In all of these events, Jeanne was a delight to be around.  She was energetic, quick-witted, adventurous and competitive. She was not one to shy away from espousing or defending an opinion.  When I was seasick during the first few days of the sail to Bermuda, Jeanne comforted me.  When we stood watch together at night during the 1996 Caribbean 1500, we were politely asked by our fellow crew members to mute the laughter.  Jeanne paid little attention to this criticism.  From her perspective, a little fun to keep the night watch awake and alert always trumps the need to keep the off-watch crew rested.

Last year at this time, Jeanne and Chuck joined us for a week aboard Cutter Loose to sail the waters of St. Lucia, including a visit to the Pitons.  Being together on the water again took us back to another place and time.  During their visit, we recalled many fond memories of good times spent in one another’s company, both on and off the water.

Well done, Jeanne.  You stood your watch with dignity, purpose and a sense of humor.  May you rest in peace.  We will surely miss you.  Our hearts are filled with loss and grief, even as our thoughts, hopes and prayers are with Chuck during this difficult and lonely time.

January 4, 2015

Sainte Anne, Martinique

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December 28th to December 31st – Bequia to St. Lucia

HNY

At 5 AM, the intrusive bedside alarm announces the start of a brand new day in Bequia.  Without even the slightest hint of light in the morning sky, preparations are underway aboard Cutter Loose for the long, 75-mile day sail to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.  Even under the best of circumstances, the Bequia to Rodney Bay run is a sunup to sundown experience.

The anchor is up at first light.  Under a deeply reefed mainsail, the Devil’s Table lighted buoy passes to starboard as Cutter Loose pokes her nose into the eight-mile channel between the northern shore of Bequia and the southern shore of St. Vincent.  Here, the easterly trade winds become compressed between the two islands, creating a funnel of intensified wind known as the “Bequia Blast”.  The strategy here is to remain under-canvassed until well into the channel where actual wind speed and sea conditions can be sampled first hand.  This morning, the maximum wind speed is relatively benign at 25 knots, sending Cutter Loose scampering across the Bequia Channel towards the lee of St. Vincent.

Once in the lee of St. Vincent, the wind becomes fluky.  This is a signal to restart the engine and motor/ sail to Baliene Point at the very northern tip of the island of St. Vincent.  Here, the process of putting one’s toe in the water to test wind speed and sea conditions begins all over again.  It is important to maintain boat speed today in order to arrive at Rodney Bay before dark.

Today’s goal of reaching Rodney Bay is, in part, a defensive measure aimed at avoiding potential “hot spots” in St. Vincent and St. Lucia where personal safety and security is questionable.  The cruiser’s coconut telegraph is ripe with tales of aggressive boat boys, theft and injury in this neck of the woods.  While it is unfair to paint an entire island as a potential threat to personal safety, it is just plain easier to follow the path of least resistance by being careful and stopping only at places we know from experience to be cruiser-friendly destinations.

The 30-mile leg of today’s journey between the northern tip of St. Vincent and the southern cape of St. Lucia is yet another Windward Island washing-machine experience.  Today, this passage is hard on the wind, in eight-foot seas.  Our old nemesis, the adverse current, is back at work today.  It is setting us to the west at 2.5 knots. The foredeck is submerged at times in green water as Cutter Loose plows her way to weather in 20 to 25-knot winds.  Though still twenty miles south of St. Lucia, the tips of the mountainous Pitons become clearly visible, providing a convenient steering target on the horizon.

Pitons

More motorsailing in the lee of St. Lucia takes us past the magnificent Pitons, Soufriere Bay and Marigot Harbor.  Further north, the Queen Mary 2 is anchored in the coastal waters west of Castries.  At more than 1,000 feet in length, the cruise ship dock in Castries is of insufficient length to accommodate this massive vessel.

Queen Mary 2

At sunset, the landmark cone-shape of Pigeon Island at Rodney Bay lies just over three miles to our north.  With only 30 minutes of remaining daylight, the throttle is increased to boost our speed.  The anchor is down in Rodney Bay in darkness at 6:20 PM…a 12.5-hour day on the water.  Tired but satisfied with our progress for the day, we celebrate with a simple dinner of leftover pizza, a fresh salad and a glass of red wine.

On Tuesday morning, December 29th, the anchor is up in Rodney Bay for the short trip inside the lagoon to our assigned slip at Rodney Bay Marina.  Last year at about this time, we were placed on a waiting list for a slip because the marina was filled to overflowing with ARC trans-Atlantic boats and other visitors.  This year, there are many vacant slips at the marina.  Local tradesmen who provide services to visiting yachts are despondent due to the lack of opportunity for work.  St. Lucia’s tourist-based economy is fragile, and there is an expression of desperation on the faces of semi-skilled workers that ply the docks in search of work.

FullSizeRender (6)

At the opposite end of the economic spectrum, the local marine electronics technician cannot allocate time to repair the ailing radar system on Cutter Loose because of his backlog of unfinished work.  The holiday work schedule also contributes to his backlog with most businesses being closed on the day before the holiday, the holiday itself and the day after the holiday.

Our two night stay at the marina provides an opportunity to thoroughly clean the accumulation of salt from the deck and to purchase provisions for the galley at the local grocery stores.  There is even surplus time at the end of the day to socialize with Canadian friends Chris and Fran aboard s/v Changes, including a delightful meal at Razzmatazz, a local Indian restaurant.

FullSizeRender (3)

On the morning of New Year’s Eve (aka here in the islands as “last year’s day”), our visit to Rodney Bay comes to an end.  The time has come to move on to the next stepping stone of Martinique, the northernmost island in the Windward Island chain.

FullSizeRender (2)

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December 23rd to December 27th – Christmas in Bequia

Christmas masthead

On Tuesday, December 23rd, the anchor is up in Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou for the journey to Port Elizabeth  on the island of Bequia.  Based on previous experience, this is a passage that requires patience, endurance and perseverance.

Under Sail to Bequia

It is not the distance of 45 miles that makes this passage challenging.  Rather, it is the fact that our course will take us to the northeast, directly into today’s 20 to 25 knot winds that are north of east.  Sailing on a close reach in six to seven foot seas creates the sensation of being trapped in a washing machine for eight hours on the high-agitation setting.  Under these conditions, every square inch of the boat and her crew is covered in salt spray. To add major insult to injury, there is a nasty 3 knot current setting Cutter Loose to the west.

Our course today skirts the lee shore of Union Island.  A few miles further to the east are the island of Mayreau and the remote and wonderful Tobago Cays.  Further off in the distance is the faint outline of Mustique.  These landmarks conjure up a flood of fond memories having visited these places in prior seasons.

Cutter Loose beats her way to within a few miles southwest of the entrance to the harbor.  From here, the engine takes over the heavy lifting, ever so slowly powering through adverse wind, wave and current toward our destination.

Christmas Rainbow

Finally within the relative calm of Port Elizabeth, the harbor is a flurry of activity.  Fortunately, Port Elizabeth is a harbor where there is always room for one more boat.

M/V Talitha, a private Bermuda-based charter vessel built in 1920.  With her classic art deco lines, she is absolutely gorgeous.

M/V Talitha, a private Bermuda-based charter vessel built in 1929. With her classic art deco lines, she is absolutely gorgeous.

There are hundreds of anchored cruising sailboats flying flags from the U.S., Canada and virtually every country in Europe.  A dozen or more sailboats are proudly flying their ARC pennants, having recently completed their transatlantic crossing from the Canaries.  Crewed and bareboat charter boats are anchored everywhere. Two boutique cruise ships are anchored here for the night, as are several large private motor yachts.  Dive boats are returning their payload of afternoon customers to the dock.  The ferries to and from Kingston, SVG are filled with holiday passengers.  All manner of boat boys are working the harbor in their skiffs, offering everything from moorings, lobster, fish, ice and water taxi services. At dusk on Christmas Eve, boats continue to pour into the harbor.  It appears that Bequia is THE destination of choice for Christmas.

Admiralty Bay

Exhausted and anxious to conclude this passage, the yellow Q flag is hoisted to the spreader and the hook is set in the Lower Beach area of the harbor, well away from the crowd.  After a quick deck and cockpit wash, hot showers and a delicious plate of pasta with vegetables for dinner, it is lights out early aboard Cutter Loose.

Customs and Immig

The following morning, our first duty is a visit to the local Customs and Immigration office.  A long line of skippers has already formed in the Customs office, reflecting the sheer volume of boats anchored in the harbor.  After queuing up and clearing Customs, it becomes apparent that Immigration officials are visiting a cruise ship in the harbor.  Officials permit us to walk around town, but ask that we return later in the morning to complete the Immigration paperwork.  The sidewalk food vendors are busy this morning, catering to the last minute shopping needs of folks preparing Christmas dinner.

Butcher

Christmas Eve is a time reserved for quiet relaxation aboard Cutter Loose, listening to holiday music, reconciling another Christmas in the tropics, thinking of family and friends and remembering Christmases past.

Daffodil

Christmas Day dawns sunny and breezy…a perfect setting for today’s Christmas brunch served by Miss Daffodil.  She’s the smiling lady holding the water bottle.  Daffodil’s primary job involves the provision of mobile laundry services to visiting boats in her colorful fleet of yellow catamarans.  It appears that she may now be preparing to expand into the restaurant trade.

Speedy delivery of one additional table for Christmas brunch at Daffodil's

Speedy delivery of one additional table for Christmas brunch at Daffodil’s

Christmas Brunch Bunch

 

Today, Daffodil and her colleagues have prepared an delicious feast of pumpkin soup, lamb, turkey, pork and ham with mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, vegetables and salad.  We are in good company today as we break bread with cruising friends Scott and Paula of s/v Scherzo, Chris and Fran of s/v Changes and a group of 30 other cruisers from around the world.

 

Littering Sign

Saturday, December 27th is our final day in Bequia.  In the village, shops are re-opening after the Boxing Day holiday.  This includes Doris’s amazingly well-stocked grocery store.  Doris’ husband bakes fresh bread, croissants and cookies every day.  This little gem is one of the better places in the Eastern Caribbean to provision the ship’s galley.

Doris Market

Sunday’s weather forecast appears conducive for northbound travel.  All systems are GO for an early morning departure to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.

Rasta Shack

 

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