The Lovely Caribbean
Written whilst listening to Before ‘the Fire – Gallon Drunk’. Listen to it. Its good.
When we left Europe it was getting cold. I do have fond memories of Greece in particular but the whole atlantic crossing was a bit of a seminal event for myself, Elayna, La Vagabonde and perhaps Jack also. So when we arrived and it was hot and the beaches were awesome I felt like I had accomplished something. I felt like a sailor. This could go some way as to explaining why I loved this place so much. Europe verses the Caribbean is multivalent enough to warrant its own individual post however for me you could break it down to History, which I love, versus fish, which I eat.
I know that the coast of the Mediterranean has amazing history but often it is slightly inland and then you need a marina, which $$$, or a perfect anchorage and then your worried about your tender getting stolen. For example the temple of Knossos is just another half excavated ruins. For the amount of effort required to get there by Yacht, I prefer the romantic images that are bestirred in ones imagination whilst reading about it rather than the sub par tour and bovinesque meandering queues that are the reality when you arrive.
The average distance between the Caribbean islands is 40 nautical miles. This is a very small distance. One island is very different from the next and despite the reports I had read before I arrived, there are fish. This was important to us. There are many beautiful, crystal clear beaches found on each island throughout the entire chain of Leeward Islands down to the Windwards.
The ease of sailing in the whole Carribbean, especially in the BVI makes it a perfect destination for sailing. No I’m not getting payed to write this. Usually pulling up anchor, invariably a sandy bottom, and setting it in another completely different island within a day. Being so, so easy it is also a sailing mecca which means mooring balls and lots of other Yachts. Beautiful beaches filled with lively bars and restaurants yes, secluded anchorages no. You don’t feel like your completely “away from it all” in the BVI. But it is good fun for a short amount of time and definitely worth the visit.
We have so far been to the BVI’s, Anguilla, St Maartin, Saba, St Eustatius, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique, Antigua, St Barts, Guadeloupe, St Lucia, Cariacou and Grenada.
If I HAD to say to skip one it would be St Eustatius which ironically was the centre of commerce for quite a while in the region. Two of my favourite beaches we visited along the way were White Bay on Jost Van Dyke (BVI) and the main port in Anguilla, Road Harbour.
A few places that stood out to me and brought us some great memories:
Elayna and I stopped in at Redonda which is just a small jagged rock island in between Nevis and Montserrat, with nothing you would call an anchorage. We were lucky enough that the wind and swell was in our favour, so we were able to drop the anchor on the leeward side of the island (which you can’t usually do) and hope conditions wouldn’t change. It didn’t, so we made the most of it and went spearing along the back of this rock for a couple of days with just the two of us and really pleasant conditions. The swell finally wrapped around the island and La Vagabonde started rocking around like anything, so that was our que to head off.
We also really enjoyed the island Saba (in picture below). Saba is excellent for diving and the mountain that you climb there is quite remarkable. One of the best climbs I’ve done. The best, better than Ben Nevis. The two main little villages are quaint, neat and picturesque and not westernised at all. The medical university students means there is cheap healthy food. Thumbing a ride from one village to the next is the norm and you wouldn’t want to walk it too often as the terrain is all mountain. There are mooring balls but the anchorage is very rolly and its still 2 miles to get a different mooring ball to go into town. From the main anchorage at Wells Bay, there are heaps of dive sites to snorkel or free-dive, however, scuba diving is only allowed through the dive centre.
There are always different laws as you sail from one island to the next and checking in and out can get annoying, but thats sailing I suppose. In the Mediterranean, we found this process to be a lot more difficult and expensive. Sometimes checking in or out of a country in the Med has taken us half the day. Finding customs or police buildings scattered in a town or city can sometimes be very annoying and near impossible. There has been many times Elayna and I have been walking around and around in circles for half the day, in a country where no one speaks english to help point you in the right direction. And it doesn’t help when sometimes the only ‘directions’ we had received was along the lines of: “a small blue shack on top of a little cafe near a tall tree with a red door with stripes, you can’t miss it”. In the Caribbean it has just been easy. Plus, everyone is really relaxed which also helps the whole process run smoothly. A guy in Dominica stamped our passports wearing thongs and socks. In the Caribbean I have found myself sometimes jumping up and marching around the boat looking for jobs to do, or mentally planning our next rout, and then I would stop and go lay down, maybe grab a rum.
Wind acceleration. For goodness sake be careful when heading out from behind the coverage of an island. The 20 knot trade winds feel like they have disappeared and then all of a sudden there is a wall of wind. Either down a valley alongside a mountain on the island or (remembering it is a prevailing Easterly trade wind) around the Northern or Southern edges of the island you will experience this phenomenon. In some places we have actually had wind coming from the exact opposite direction of the trade winds for a small while due to mountains, valleys and we think maybe magic.
Elayna and I whilst heading south from Dominica decided that we would do an overnight sail and tow the tender but take the motor off. We experienced 0 knots of wind for 10 minutes then up to 7 as I turned the engine off and about 5 minutes after that it blew from 7 to 35 in about 15 seconds. You will find your boat rounding up and if your as silly as I am your tender flips over and your rope snaps so you have to go looking for the frigging thing in the middle of the night. Sails were dropped and furled in respectively, engines switched on, curses hurled at the heavens and a search mounted.
We actually handled this one really well, Elayna in particular snaffling the tender with a boat hook which is actually a fish gaff tied to a broomstick. So she did well not to pop the poor tender “Cunningham II” who has been through quite a lot really. Don’t forget its still blowing 35 knots now whilst we have gaffed the tender which has now suctioned into the water probably due to the initial submersion after being flipped before the rope snapped. After wrestling with it for a couple of minutes it “pops” free of the sea and is then easily turned over and fastened pretty much in the middle of the cockpit.
The hurricane season is now over, and as of two weeks ago we flew back to Grenada to prepare La Vagabonde for her relaunch. She is now officially floating on the water again, which we are very excited about. From here, we have a few stops on the way to Panama where we plan to go through the Panama Canal in Feb and into the Pacific! Along the way we hope to visit Trinidad, Venezuela, the ABC islands, San Blas islands, and Columbia. There might be a few we have to miss out on, but there is so much to see in the Caribbean and it is a place that we will go to again on our second spin around the globe! Fingers crossed.