I can’t believe how fast it seems that Slick and I are swallowing up the Eastern Caribbean. We have visited six different island groups since the last blog post. Granted, mostly they are very small and there is not a whole lot to do on most of them, it is still moving pretty fast. Then again, it isn’t all that far distance wise, so maybe it just feels fast.

After my brief stop in Iles des Saintes, I headed north to Antigua. I made a brief stop on Guadalupe just to break up the trip and then made the crossing the next day. I think there was almost no wind and it was just the usual motor. It was so relaxing that I almost hit a pod of pilot whales sleeping on the surface. I am not sure how I missed them even, there must have been twenty of them and I didn’t see them till they were half way down Slick, about 10 feet of the beam! As I pulled into English Harbor, there was a maxi race going on. It reminded me a bit of Boston Harbor racing, since there was no wind, the only difference was that these boats were all over 100 feet long.

Anyway, I had great expectations for Antigua. It is the sort of place that sailors dream about, and I guess it is a right of passage to pull into English Harbor and stop and Nelson’s Dockyard. Even for racers to participate in Antigua Race Week is something everyone dreams of. Well, that was all the hype anyway. I found the area to be entirely overrated. It was nice for a day or two, but that was about it. I would have liked to explore the rest of the island but when I would enquirer about the best things to see all I got for a response was – English Harbor. I did get to watch the super bowl though, so that was a nice treat.

After too many days in the easy anchorage I left for Montserrat. This was another easy passage over, I actually sailed this time. The remaining anchorage is not the best. There is lots of swell and little protection, so its quite rolley in any weather. That’s OK, it was bearable. But why is this anchorage the remaining anchorage? Because a third of the island and the capital were destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the mid-1990s. To witness the devastruction of another cataclysmic volcanic eruption was really the whole reason to come to Montserrat.

What I didn’t know though was how beautiful the remaining parts of the island are and how friendly the remaining inhabitants. Fortunately, I met another American couple at the customs check-in and they had some friends on the island. They invited me over to the friends’ beach-bar and introduced me. The first unexpected lesson I received was about the music history of the island. It turns out that one of the few recording studios that existed in the 1970’s was here. It was run by George Micheal and all the British greats would come here to record. Aside from being paradise, the main reason was that no one bothered them as no one knew who they were. The actual bar was made from the desks of the old recording studio, I think. The owners lined us up with an island tour of the exclusion zone for the next day.

In the morning we set out to see the devastruction caused by the Soufriee Hills Volcano. The first parts of the island, that are still inhabited, are so lush and green, most of the time you are high up from the sea and have a nice breeze blowing the consistently 80F air creating a very perfect climate. We stopped at the volcano observatory and this was not so pleasant. Usually at least a vulcanologist comes out and meets you and have a conversation about the science side of things, but here they just made you watch a film on a very overused projector and that was that. Never-the-less the view from the observatory was amazing. Then we drove down through the river beds buried by the lahars and up over a ridge to view the remains of Plymouth, the former capital. When I say remains, I mean you could make out the old suburbs but the main part of the city was destroyed by pyroclastic flows, there was literally nothing left. It reminded me a great deal of Rabaul. Fortunately, they had sufficient time to evacuate the residents so only 19 people died, which considering the removal of an entire town, that isn’t so many. We stopped also at what was once a very posh hotel. It was not in the way of the flows or lahars, it was up on a hill overlooking the city. But the ash fall was sufficient to destroy much of the roof, fill in the swimming pool and make a general unusable mess of everything. It was quite amazing to walk through doors that were now only 4 feet tall as the first 3 feet are filled in by ash. Papers were strewn about the offices as the place was evacuated very quickly. The tour guide, who was the former chief of police, took us by his old home as well. It seemed to fair remarkably well compared to the other damage on the island.

The tour was concluded with lunch at the home of the beach-bar owners. And what a fantastic home they had. I think it is the sort of thing you think of when you think of your own place in paradise. Gorgeous hardwood work, a beautiful garden, small pool with a sea view, lots of fresh fruit, you get the idea. They made us a very nice lunch and we had some time to talk and hear the stories of the island. I liked Montserrat so much that I could actually imagine living there for a season ever year, the season of course being winter, especially considering the pounding Boston was receiving while I relaxed with some rum-lace sour-sop watching humming birds flit about a well kept garden.

I’m not quite ready to move to Montserrat yet, so I headed next for Nevis. I had wanted to visit Nevis and St. Kitts since playing Sid Meir’s Pirates as a child. I found Nevis to be a perfectly shaped volcanic island, and that was about it. The problem was not that there was a lack of things to do, the problem was that there was a lack of places to put the dinghy. The dock was two miles from the mandatory-mooring field and the beach nearby was pretty steep-to, so beach landings were exciting to say the least. On top of that, being alone makes pulling the dink up a difficult task, especially with Mutley attached to the back. In any case, I didn’t do a whole lot besides have a few drinks at the local reggae bars and once at the four seasons (they had a dink-dock but didn’t like you using it). I also got some work done, which was nice.

St. Kitts, just across a short passage couldn’t have been more opposite to Nevis. I pulled into a small marina in Basseterre as there was a very unusual southerly coming. I guess the weather was thanks to yet another massive snow storm somewhere that it gets cold. As I pulled into the marina, I could see that it was not going to be easy by myself. The man on the radio told me the most important thing to do was to get a rope around the starboard pilon. The marina had short fingers and then pilons that you tied up to. I missed the pilon, this made for a huge mess. There was no one in the slip next to me and the wind and prop walk in reverse forced Slick over and blown up against the wall. At this point, everyone with in eye-shot came running over to help. Well, I wouldn’t call it help as there were many people yelling at me and jumping on Slick thinking they knew how my boat worked. They all had different ideas and I kept telling them just to hold Slick off the wall. It was so frustrating but then a guy with only one functioning arm came up and he turned out to be the most helpful person. First he got everyone to stop yelling and half the shore-committee left. “He is the captain, let him handle his boat!” That was the best possible thing I could have heard in the stressful situation. Eventually I put the dinghy in the water and rowed out a long line to the pilon and put it on the winch. “That won’t work!” The shore committee insisted but I gradually wound Slick into place. With Slick moored correctly, I sat back and watched as every boat that came in had similar problems, this removed any remorse I had about screwing up docking.

The majority of Basseterre economy seems to focus around the massive cruise ship complex. It is basically a tax-free outlet mall that receives thousands of visitors a day to shop and then get back on the ship and depart my 5 pm. Not my sort of thing, but I did have something else coming – Will, a former racing crew member and lab-mate from MIT. He arrived at the tiny airport and the next day we toured the island with Scope, who had also arrived, without docking difficulty.

The island tour was, um, well, it was OK. Most of the vegetation was destroyed by the British to make sugar plantations and all that entails. The locals were friendly once you got out of Basseterre and our driver was great. The thing that makes it all worth it though was Fort Brimstone. This is the largest colonial era fort in the entire Caribbean. Its big, but not so big as things in other parts of the world. What is amazing is the view. The fort sits on top of a dormant volcanic cone and has a fantastic panorama. One could imagine being an enemy ship trying to approach this place, there is no way you could get by with out being noticed and pounded by the hundreds of cannons. One thing I noticed about the cannons, that I never noticed before, is they all had arrows pointing in the direction of fire, as if that could be confused. Well, obviously it was once, otherwise they wouldn’t have needed arrows. The military hasn’t change much in three hundred years.

It was nice to leave Basseterre, it reminded me of a toned down version of Port Antonio, not as pretty but also not quite as mad. The next island we headed for is one I had held high hopes of visiting for a long time. I had heard fabulous things of this wild cliff-side paradise which was nearly inaccessible. Cruisers from all over the world told me how it was their favorite Caribbean Island.
Even the name, Saba, invokes a mystical quality. Approaching the island from the east, we could start to see why it was described by so many the way it was. The cliffs drop straight into the ocean, the volcano rises straight up, it would be impossible to land here without a little foresight. And that was exactly how we found it, impossible to land. The little harbor allowed Slick in for an hour to clear, but then we had to go around the corner, four miles away to the mandatory moorings. The view here is stunning, absolute rugged beauty. We grabbed the closest ball we could, to try and get even a little protection. The cliff walls rose straight up above us and ran the length of the island. Turtles swam around Slick and sea birds flew from the cliffs. It was every bit of what we wanted, except there was no real way to land. We wanted to do some hiking and diving and so we mentally relegated ourselves to having to take the dinghy four miles back to the tiny harbor. That evening though Slick got wound up in the mooring line, it lassoed her keel. That’s never happened before, I jumped in and cleared it, but realized the line on the mooring was twice as long as it needed to be and half as fat as I would have liked. In any weather at all I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving Slick out there unattended.

Well, all our plans and proposals were rejected the next morning when we awoke to 2-3 meters of swell rolling though the mooring field, slamming into the steep cliffs and returning, helping the waves to curl just a few Slick-Lengths away. Now I knew why the mooring line was so long. We had to get out of there, if the swell increased in size it would transition from uncomfortable to unsafe, especially with the waves breaking so close. So, off we went, dejectedly unable to penetrate the famous mysteries of Saba.

It was a short ride to St. Marten. The wind cooperated even if the swell didn’t and we had an easy time on the normally windward ride. We arrived and anchored in the somewhat less rolley Simpson’s Bay. I don’t even know what to say about St. Marten, other than it is just one massive rotating party. It was a good thing Will was with me and we were able to enjoy ourselves. I also found that there was a fair bit of marine resources available and cheap fuel. This was good as I needed to do some repairs on the dinghy and get some fuel. Most evenings we spent a the St. Marten Yacht Club downing dark and stormies with Scope. We would either do that late or go out for some dancing. On the last full day will was there, my friend, Brent, from the navy came with his wife and kids on a cruise ship. We took them to the most amazing thing on the island – The Sunset Bar. This place famous for topless ladies drinking free (a real family friendly atmosphere) but it is better known for the view it has over a peculiar stretch of beach. Peculiar because it sits at the leeward end of the airport runway. Jets land and are not more than 100 feet off the beach, creating an impressive racket. More interesting though, is when they take off. The people on the beach, obviously there for the first time, refuse to obey the signs and stand behind the jets as they rev up their engines. The wash and thrust coming from the jets is just a blast of hot air at first but when they are coming up to speed then the real action starts. Sand starts to fly, the waves break, tourists scatter if they can, water is torn from the sea surface and people get blown out to sea. When I say blown out to sea, I literally mean blown out to sea. Brent loved it, as I knew he would, and so did I. It was a fantastic place to go with him and that portion of the day was capped off by the take off of the KLM 747 bound for Amsterdam.

It was great to see a very old and good friend, even for a short visit. After they left, I think I just hung out at the yacht club, continuing the pre-hangover activities that started with bloody maries at 9am. Oh, those are so tasty first thing in the morning. After a few happy hour dark and stormies, Will and I headed over to a place on the beach that we heard had a nice party on Tuesdays. Upon arrival we were treated to some great Salsa dancing. To be fair that was an accidental treat, especially since neither of us had a clue how to do this dance. So, we got some lessons and met some great people and had a great night, till about 3am.

Will left the next day. I spent the day making Slick ready to leave, and recovering. After check-out I met Scope for a few drinks at the club and had an early night in bed. I left for BVI at 5am, my liver so thankful to be leaving St. Marten. It was a long boring motor sail. The wind was good, but I had to supplement with the motor to make the pass before sundown as there are lots of things to hurt you on the way in. I came in without issue and right as it was just getting dark put the hook down in the lee of an island in Virgin Gorda Sound. I awoke to paradise, crowded paradise, but still paradise. After check-in, I reachored off the Bitter End Yacht Club and here I sit. The weather has picked up the last day or two though, so I am not really getting out to enjoy paradise as there is a 20 knot squall blowing through every hour, but even that can’t take away from this beautiful sound.

As for me, well, I can’t believe I am almost done. I mean, really close, less than 400 miles to get to 70 West, the line of longitude I crossed first on this trip. Then comes my own track, then a port I have been to before, and then the long walkout back to Boston. I have some friends coming before then though, so that will be nice. All these visitors though I don’t get much work done. Work you wonder? Mostly design work for a start-up idea I plan to pursue. Although I am still a little unsure about the future, one thing I do know though is that the closer I get to the USA – the better the burgers get.