Festivals | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

Finding Festivals When Cruising

By Sheryl Shard, copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

Distant Shores_Festivals4

Happy Easter! The end of winter and the coming of spring is an event celebrated by most cultures in many splendid ways around the world. Paul and I have been fortunate to participate in quite a few of these celebrations in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Scandinavia throughout our 25 years of cruising aboard sailboats. We have had fun filming and writing about the experiences to help you plan your own cruising adventures…

Fun Festivals All Year Long

We often plan our sailing voyages to arrive in places in time to participate in local festivals. And not just in the spring. There are amazing festivals around the world in places you can sail to all year long! Festivals and feasts are a great venue to meet local people since everyone is out and in a festive mood. As a result they are often more open to chatting and usually proud to explain their traditions. There is always lots to do and photograph at festivals including tasting new foods, watching parades, playing games and practicing the local language if different from your own. Take into consideration the best time for sailing in these places first and then look to see what events are going on during those times.

Distant Shores_Festivals3
Easter procession in Malta

What are our favourites? The most memorable spring celebrations for us have been Easter ceremonies in Malta, which is located in the central Mediterranean, and the festival of Smell the Breeze in Egypt, both of which we filmed for the Distant Shores sailing adventure TV series. Many festivals in Spain and Greece as well as Caribbean Carnival are tops on our list too. Check out past Newsletters under the category Festivals.


Last spring we had a special Easter experience at the small island of South Caicos in the Turks and Caicos after a 5-day passage from the British Virgin Islands. We arrived and cleared in on Good Friday and had our papers stamped by the Customs and Immigration officials at the local church where they were directing the youth group reenactment of the Easter story! We were welcomed in and had a memorable weekend with the people there. (See newsletter 21/04/14.)

Distant Shores_Festivals1

How to Find Festivals when Planning Your Cruise

You can find out what local events are taking place before sailing there from tourist board websites and travel guides, sailing blogs and Facebook Groups about various destinations and watching travel shows as part of your research.

Easter Week in Malta

The Maltese are enthusiastic Christians. St. Paul was shipwrecked here as documented in the Acts of the Apostles 27:39 to 28:10 so the Maltese are amongst the first Christians and proud of the tradition. They celebrate religious events with great passion and ceremony. The events leading up to Easter are especially colourful and dramatic - candlelit night processions, astonishing acts of penance such as dragging chains through the streets on Good Friday, reenactments of the Easter story and processions of great splendour. We filmed Easter Week in Malta for episode #56 in Distant Shores season 5 (more info here) before sailing to Italy. Here's an excerpt from the show to give you the idea of what you can experience if you sail there…

Sham El Nissem (Smell the Breeze) in Egypt

This festival in Egypy dates back to the 3rd millennium BC and is now a National Holiday celebrated by both Christians and Muslims on the day after Orthodox Christian Easter. The name Sham el Nessim also has ancient Egyptian roots meaning "renewal of life" but with the adoption of Arabic language, the term “Shemu” in ancient Egyptian morphed into “Sham el Nissem” or literally "Smelling the Breeze" and that is exactly how Egyptians celebrate this popular festival. There are colourful parades and everyone spends the day outside enjoying picnics with friends and family. The food is traditional - a) eggs decorated the night before as a family event symbolizing life (did you know it was the ancient Egyptians that started the tradition of decorating eggs?) b) onions to ward off evil spirits and 3) salted mullet fish honoured as a symbol of prosperity. This fish is extremely stinky and the Egyptians pride themselves as the only people with the stomachs to eat it. We joined in the Sham el Nissem festivities when sailing up the Suez Canal from the Red Sea and filmed it for episode #50 in Distant Shores season 4 along with four other episodes about boating in Egypt.

There are great festivals going on at all times of the year and planning to be in a cruising destination when they occur can add greatly to your cruising experience.

What festivals have you attended while sailing and would recommend to other sailors or travellers? We welcome your comments below…

You might also enjoy
Distant Shores Tech Blogs

Sheryl and Paul Shard have been cruising internationally for 25 years. They are sailing authors, instructors/consultants and the fun-loving hosts of the Distant Shores sailing adventure TV series (AWE TV, Vimeo on Demand). The Distant Shores series profiles the world's best sailing destinations and provides insights into the joys and challenges of living aboard a cruising sailboat. The shows are also available on DVD and as HD downloads.

Join our email list and get hints, technical articles and tips plus videos to help you achieve your cruising dreams.
  • FREE 1/2 hour video on cruising the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas
  • Technical Blog shows you how to deal with issues facing the cruising sailor
  • Destination information from some of the world's best cruising areas
  • Special discounts and promotions

Click Here to Sign up


Grenada - J'Ouvert Carnival

Carnival called "Spicemas" is underway shortly after 3am as we are woken by music ashore. We are docked at Marina Port Louis right in the inner harbour at St Georges Grenada. Remarkably there wasn’t any difficulty getting a berth. It’s off season and the rates are good. We walk out of the front gate to a scene of revelry at 5am...
Wear some old clothes as almost no one goes unscathed - however most people ask if you want some paint first... red anyone??
Traditional outfit has horned helmets, and body smeared with motor oil or molasses (we saw mainly used motor oil).
MANY thousands of revellers take part. Trucks with sound systems lead individual "bands" and you can join a band if you like. More on that later... This is the Carib beer "band"
Many of Grenada’s "St Georges University" medical and veterinary students attend and participate.
Silver and Gold body paint looks excellent!
Paul decides to go for the gold!
Hopefully this will wash off!
The golden look! Veterinary student in the horns has added some red paint!
Silver band!
Passing revellers interact with the crowd and offer to add to the costume...
Dancing revellers approach Paul to say hello!
Shake your bungee!!
"What a freindly island this is" says Paul
Grenada has solved the question of what to do with used motor oil... the "Black and Greasy" Jab-Jab band approaches...
If you do choose this option it is a good idea to put on some lard or baby oil as a barrier first!
Mud is another traditional coating, and many carry chains!
I have now "paid EC20 to get the band kit from the truck on the left. This included the attractive hat, a pot of paint, a shirt and a nice waterproof phone case! Fellow cruiser Lynn adds purple paint.
Sheryl doesn’t escape ... Paul offers a "painty" hug and Jab-Jab offers additional motor oil from behind!
Paints are latex and will wash off later...
Motor oil will be much harder to get off...
We discover the Chocolate band!!! Yes real chocolate made on the island. You can eat the stuff right out of the paint pots, or just pour it on!!
700am we are back at the Marina. Marina security guards have set up a J’Ouvert cleaning station with some soap and a hose... How thoughtful!!!

St. Lucia - Carnival

We had spent over 3 weeks cruising around the French island of Martinique and were now looking forward to a return visit to St. Lucia, the next island to the south. Carnival festivities would be starting in St. Lucia in a few days so it was a perfect time to be there.

We raised anchor in Marin at 0730 on July 12 and as we did a dinghy shot out towards us from across the anchorage. It was our French sailing friends, Jean-Noel and Babette from SY Julie Premiere who we had first met 6 months earlier in Morocco, coming to say goodbye. Babette passed us a bottle of excellent French wine with instructions to open it later and remember the happy times we had all spent together. Our friends are staying in Martinique to work for a while so we won’t be meeting up with them on the cruising circuit for another couple of seasons.

To reach St. Lucia we had only to sail 25 nm across the St. Lucia Channel to Rodney Bay, our destination on the northwest corner of the island. It was nice that the winds were light since we'd just re-rigged the sails after taking them down during Tropical Storm Chantal a week ago. it was a good opportunity to make sure that everything was as it should be in gentle conditions.

Dolphins came to play at the bow of the boat as we sailed along adding further to the sense of contentment we were feeling this day.

Pigeon Island, which protects the north side of Rodney Bay, soon appeared on the horizon. The last time we had sailed past Pigeon Island had been in December when after 15 days at sea sailing from the Canary Islands of Spain we had crossed the finish line for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) completing our 5th transatlantic crossing.

Clearing-in at St. Lucia
To clear-in we went into the Rodney Bay Marina, one of the IGY group of marinas found throughout the Caribbean which are all lovely and well equipped.

Customs, Immigration and Port Authority officials are all in one office right in the marina found upstairs next to the marina office. Information on clearing in with your boat can be found here.

We liked the saying that the port authority officer had painted on the wall behind his desk: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

Marina Services
Rodney Bay Marina has every type of yacht service and facility you can imagine along with restaurants, boutiques, ATM and bank, laundry services, a swimming pool, a florist and a couple of nice spas. Following 15 “fast and furious” days at sea on our transatlantic crossing in December, I visited one of the spas and the ladies there gave me a morning of pampering which completely restored my sense of well-being. So naturally I had to go and say hello and have a pedicure on this visit. It's good to treat yourself to pampering every once and a while.

When Paul and I had been at the marina following the ARC, we'd had some sail repair work done by the local sailmaker, Kenny Abernaty of Rodney Bay Sails (Mobile: +1 (758) 584-0291 or rodneybaysails@hotmail.com) Kenny had done an excellent job at very reasonable rates so while we were there on this visit we took in our mainsail cover to have the zippers re-stitched. After 3 years of exposure to the sun and wind some of the stitching was disintegrating. We dropped off the sail first thing in the morning and Kenny had it done before lunchtime.

Saturday is market day at Rodney Bay Marina. It's such a treat to be able to buy fresh locally grown produce right in the marina and have a chat with the friendly vendors that run the market.

Lucian Friends
We also caught up with local friends including Sean Compton, a Lucian architect and owner of Melon Design, who serves on the ARC Planning Committee. We'd met Sean through the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and when after the rally we’d sailed north from St. Lucia up through the islands to St. Maarten to meet the family for New Years, Sean and his girlfriend, Vern, had joined us for a fun-fllled week of sailing and lessons in local cuisine.

With our chores done and water tanks topped up we left the marina to anchor outside in Rodney Bay where we could swim and enjoy the festive beach atmosphere. Sheryl’s auburn hair is going strawberry blonde in the tropical sun!

The marina offered good wi-fi. Out at anchor we used our cell phone with a local sim card as a modem using a plan through Digicel that made our iPhone a personal hot spot. This was good since it meant we can be online while walking around allowing us to update our social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) with photos of events when they actually happen. The Digicel office is across the street from the Rodney Bay marina. In the Rodney Bay anchorage we were also able to pick up free wi-fi from one of the beach bars at the south end of the beach but it was a very weak signal so we prefered to use our phone to get internet access on board.

Lucian Carnival
Monday July 15 was the Lucian Carnival so we hopped on one of the local buses that stop in front of the marina and headed into Castries, the capital city where the parade was to end in front of the city market. We’d been told that the parade started at 9 a.m. and would arrive in Castries at about 11 a.m. so we got there about 10 a.m. to get a shady spot along the route. However, for most of the morning we saw costumed dancers strolling casually around town and the parade didn’t actually get to Castries until about 1:00 p.m. (You may recall that the same thing happened to us the day we went into Phillipsburg to see the St. Maarten Carnival!)

Well at least we had a good spot to watch the parade. While we waited we watched this woman and her friend prepare fresh food before our eyes for their street food stand.

They did it all by hand and right at the roadside – chopping and grating salads and vegetables...

...boiling potatoes and roasting bread fruit, BBQ’ing chicken, frying fish and making sauces in pots and pressure cookers on traditional charcoal stoves set up on the sidewalk.

We got so hungry sitting there watching them all morning we were first in line when everything was finished! It was noon and still the Carnival Parade hadn’t arrived. However the local Piton beer being served had a special Carnival label on it so we knew we had the right day.

Finally the large floats and bands of dancers began to arrive about 1:00 p.m.

We were impressed with this band who walked the whole parade route on stilts!

It was a hot day and the dancers were out in the blazing sun so this water truck shadowed the parade and offered the participants refreshing showers of fresh water to keep them cool.

There were large gaps in the parade, sometimes of almost half an hour, while the group arriving had their costumes judged in front of the market. Lots of rum was being consumed and everyone was having good silly fun.

Here the parade spectators - both on the roadside and on boats out in the Castries anchorage - wait for the next band to arrive. The boats in the anchorage had a front row seat.

It was actually kind of fun because with the large gaps in the parade the spectators created an on-going street party to keep themselves amused. Families brought chairs and picnics plus there were lots of vendors selling interesting street food.

The parade actually became background to the local party. In the photo above, the women is BBQ’ing chicken and fish as well as grilling "bakes" a type of local bread that is baked, grilled, or fried. It’s a bit like an English muffin.

It seemed as if everyone was cooking. One of the popular local foods was grilled kidneys.

It was all really fun but by 3:00 p.m. our shady spot had become too sunny so we didn’t stay to the end (finish time was 7:00 p.m.!) but we had a great day, met a lot of great people, and got to experience a local event. Since it’s off-season this is not an event for tourists. It’s a day when the people of the island relax, kick pack, and just enjoy each others company. We felt privileged to be there and to be included.

Wishing you all a good week,

Sheryl and Paul Shard
Aboard SV Distant Shores II
Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

Click here to check out our DVDs for more cruising adventures and tips!

Distant Shores TV Show Facebook
Distant Shores TV Show Twitter


St Maarten - Carnival 2013

St Maarten Carnival Parade

Hello Everyone!

It's May 1st and therefore the May Day public holiday in the Dutch/French island of St Maarten/St Martin, as it is in many places around the world today, so most businesses are closed and people are enjoying time with friends and family.
There have been a series of public holidays in St Maarten since we arrived here last Friday sailing from the BVI. Yesterday was the St Maarten Carnival in celebration of the Dutch Queen Beatrix's 75th birthday. She is actually the former queen since she abdicated yesterday and her son Prince Willem-Alexander is now king, so the celebration continues for new reasons.
There was a big parade for the St Maarten Carnival in Philipsburg, the capital, so we met up with Canadian friends, Dave and Alex from SV Banyan, at St Maarten Yacht Club at 9:00 a.m. and caught one of the little buses that runs along the main road in front of the club to go and see the parade.

The little local buses in St Maarten are great. You can just flag them down anywhere along the road and for $2 US a person make the 15-20 minute trip into Philipsburg from where we are located near the Simpson Bay Bridge into Simpson Bay Lagoon. The buses are vans that seat about 8-10 people. Just look at the license plate. It says BUS followed by a few numbers. Taxi vans say TAXI on the license plate followed by a few numbers. When you get on the bus it is courteous to say “Good Day” to everyone on board. Tell the bus driver where you want to get off and he'll stop there for you. You can ask to stop anywhere along the route. Everyone is very helpful if you're not too sure where the best place to get off is.
We'd been told that the parade would start at around 11:00-11:30 a.m. and that we should get to Philipsburg early since they'd be closing the road but when we arrived the streets, and even the usually crowded waterfront promenade, were pretty much empty. There were a few people setting up stands who told us the parade didn't start until 1 p.m. but that was further out of town and it wouldn't get to Front Street, where we were now, until around 2 or 3 p.m.!
Well, no problem. It was a beautiful morning so we strolled along the promenade and then Paul, Dave, Alex and I went for brunch at one of the pleasant waterfront restaurants. Some of the shops were open too, since Front Street in Philipsburg is a tourist zone and home to many duty free electronics shops, so we were able to pick up an additional computer drive that we needed as we wandered in and out of the stores filling time until the parade started.
It was well worth the wait! I think more people living in St Maarten participated in the parade than were watching it - and there was a good crowd!
The live bands on floats and troupes of fantastically costumed dancers were amazing!
People of all ages participated and since the parade route was so huge everyone attending could get a front row position to watch it somewhere along the streets.
The parade went on for over 2 hours. Wow! What a day!
These are just a few photos. The highlights are on video and will be included in a new episode of the Distant Shores sailing TV series.

Alex on SV Banyan is a really good blogger so check out her story and photos as well at http://www.sailblogs.com/member/banyan/

Happy Carnival, Everyone!

Sheryl and Paul
Aboard SV Distant Shores II
Simpson Bay Lagoon
St Maarten

Click here to check out our DVDs for more cruising adventures and tips!