Cruising the Caribbean – Antigua, Barbuda, St.Martin, Virgin Islands
April 25, 2008...It's Carnival in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the music is thumping into the night as I write this. Sleep is out of the question with all the festivities going on here so I thought it was a good time to catch up on my news to you. Tomorrow is the main parade and those that aren't dancing to the bands playing in the streets of Charlotte Amalie tonight are making finishing touches to the spectacular costumes they will be wearing in the parade tomorrow. Participants have been working out for weeks to build up their stamina, tone their muscles, and trim their waistlines for the event. The parade starts at 10:00 a.m. and goes all day.
“The costumes can be pretty skimpy,” says Mike, a local guy who works at the chandlery we have been frequenting here on our visit to St. Thomas where we've been stocking up our spares locker and doing a few boat projects before heading offshore next week on a passage northbound for the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. (See “After 5,000 Miles” under New Boat Blog where Paul writes about some of the projects we've been doing.) April 15th is considered the end of The Season here in the U.S. Virgin Islands when cruise ships start winding up their winter voyages in the Caribbean and begin heading for destinations in the Mediterranean. Cruising sailors like us are heading north to the U.S or Canada for the summer or south to Venezuela to get out of the Caribbean for the hurricane season. So the St. Thomas Carnival is a time for the locals to relax and let loose after a busy winter of tourism.
“No matter how cool or stuck up some people can be all year,” Mike continues, “Carnival changes everything. Those same people just let everything go and they can get downright raunchy!” He laughs robustly at the thought. “You really shouldn't miss it.” Mike is participating in the parade himself. He is a member of the Zulu troupe, a group that prides itself in creating authentic Zulu costumes, music, and dance. “You won't see any of our guys wearing sequins. No way!” He laughs loudly again and we promise to be there with cameras rolling, sequins or not. He advises anyone attending the parade to get there early to stake out a place on the main street and to bring lots of drinking water, food, and something to protect yourself from the sun like an umbrella. “It'll be hot,” he warns.
What a winter it's been sailing aboard our new Southerly 42 shallow-draft sailboat, Distant Shores, through the islands of the Caribbean! There is so much to tell about our journey from Antigua up-island to Barbuda, St. Martin/Sint Maarten, British Virgin Islands and now the U.S. Virgin Islands where we have been at anchor in turquoise water off a deserted golden sand beach in Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island for the last week. I'll do my best to recap the highlights.
In our last newsletter, we had just completed our 4th transatlantic passage, an 18-day voyage from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic Ocean, to English Harbour on the island of Antigua. Sailing with us on that passage were British sailors, Wayne and Angie Attwood, who had planned to fly home to England once we reached Antigua. However, we all had had such a great time at sea they decided to stay on board for another week or two to do a bit of cruising with us and to get a taste of island-hopping in the Caribbean. We took this as a real compliment since we'd just all spent a lot of time together in a small space on a big ocean and had had such fun! These two are great company and we were delighted to have them stay aboard. Wayne and Angie are considering making the crossing in their own boat sometime in the future so it was nice for them to see a little of what was waiting on the other side of “the pond.”
Also joining the crew for the next couple of legs of the voyage, were Canadian sailors, Bill and Camille Bohnhardt, who were interested in building some overnight/offshore sailing experience. The route between Antigua to the British Virgin Islands includes a few such passages so they signed on for 2 weeks. Wayne and Angie kindly moved into the 3rd cabin which has 2 bunk beds, so that Bill and Camille could have the double guest cabin in the bow. We sleep in the aft cabin. The table in the saloon also drops down to form another double bed so we have plenty of room aboard our new boat for guests. This is such a thrill for us since our old Classic 37 boat, Two-Step, was really just a 2-person boat and we rarely had guests on board. We have always enjoyed sharing the experiences of the cruising life through our TV shows, DVDs, magazine articles and the cruising seminars we conduct but now with the space we have on the new boat we can share the adventure first hand through our Share the Sail program which has been a great success! We have had a fabulous winter with wonderful guests aboard introducing them to the things we love about life on board - sailing, navigating, snorkelling, exploring, cooking and sampling new foods, and connecting with people of different cultures.
After the first night at a dock in Antigua following 3 weeks at sea we were ready to set sail from the historic Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour (a picturesque restored Georgian Naval Base but hot and stuffy and full of mosquitos!) and get back out into fresh breezes to anchor our new shallow-draft boat in one of the many beautiful tropical anchorages around Antigua/Barbuda. Nonsuch Bay was the anchorage of choice on Antigua the first night out and we weren't disappointed. After a boisterous motorsail into the now-restored trade winds, we motored through the crowd of boats which were anchored in deep water at West Bay off Green Island, to our own private expanse of shallow swimming-pool blue water with a golden sand bottom, where we anchored in less than 6 feet/2 m of water and took our first swim in the Caribbean.
We dove off Distant Shores' stern platform, enjoying a freshwater deck shower afterwards. There are also 2 other showers down below in the 2 heads (bathrooms) and, even with 6 people aboard, conserving water is not a problem with our Schenker watermaker which was nicely installed by Paul and Wayne in the Canary Islands. This new boat is built for people who love swimming and diving that's for sure! Paul is already planning to install a dive compressor for next winter's cruise, one of the reasons we had the Mastervolt generator installed on this boat. We're at an age where we want the freedom to enjoy our toys :-)
Our next stop was on the south coast of the island of Barbuda where we had fun navigating through the reefs. Angie was great at working the chartplotter and calling the course changes and Camille enjoyed working with her and learning more about electronic navigation. Wayne stood at the bow watching for coral heads while Bill and I kept our eyes peeled amidships and Paul helmed. We felt such a sense of teamwork and accomplishment when we arrived safely at Gravenor Bay where we were rewarded with terrific snorkelling. Paul discovered a nurse shark in a cave and had fun filming him. Wayne and Angie are both certified divers and Wayne helped introduce Bill to snorkelling. Bill caught on fast, quickly developing his finning technique, and it became a favourite pastime for him for the rest of the 2 weeks he and Camille spent with us. We have a large collection of masks, fins and snorkels on the boat so that anyone who wants to, can give snorkelling a try.
Leaving Barbuda was a bit exciting as we had to anchor off Codrington, the main village on Barbuda and take the dinghy ashore to clear out. The surf was very strong and the group suffered a couple of dunkings in the process but we kept the ship's papers dry. Then we had to walk across a sand bar and hire a water taxi to cross the lagoon over to the town in the middle of the island. It was a Friday afternoon and the weekend “jump up” had already begun so it took a while to locate the officials. But our water taxi driver took care of us and went right to their homes in the little settlement and we got the clearing papers we required.
We repeated the process in reverse with water taxi, beach hike, and surf jumping in the dinghy to get back to the boat and then did a night passage to the island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten. Half of this island is owned by the French and the other half is owned by the Dutch. We had a great sail there and Camille, who had never done a night passage before, was so happy and excited. She and I (Sheryl) did the sunrise watch together and it was such a pleasure to see Camille's delight and sense of achievement doing this passage, not to mention her eagerness now to do the next passage which would be on to the British Virgin Islands in a few days.
We cleared in to the French side of the island in Marigot, St. Martin, and tied up stern to the quay at Marina Royale after entering Simpson's Bay Lagoon through the swing bridge at Sandy Ground. After a little bit of sight-seeing, Bill, Camille, Paul, and I sadly said our goodbyes to Wayne and Angie who flew home to England from the airport on the Dutch side of the island. Once again, we had all had a good time together on board.
When we got our weather window we sailed on to the British Virgin Islands for a week of island-hopping, sunning, swimming, wining and dining with Bill and Camille before they flew home to Toronto. The British Virgin Islands are perfectly situated for cruising with easy daysails and plenty of anchorages in lovely clear tropical seas.
I will continue with more sailing adventures in our next newsletter and tell you some of the history of these jewel-like islands of the Caribbean.
Before signing off we have a few announcements:
Wishing you smooth sailing.
Sheryl and Paul Shard
SV Distant Shores
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
U.S. Virgin Islands