Six Hops and Seven Islands in Nine days! Ep. 49

Our last web entry left off with us just having explored the very interesting town of St. Pierre on the island of Martinique. We need to make a wake and keep moving northwest as we have to be in St. Croix (300 miles from Martinique) by the 24th of April. We figure that we must make a hop to the next island up in this chain of islands almost every day. We have built in a two day stay in Les Saintes (group of islands off south west point of Guadaloupe) to say a final “good bye” to our friends on “Heaven Won’t Wait”.

Here’s how we made the 309 mile northwest move on Thalia:

Sat. Apr 14 – left Martinique for Portsmouth, Dominica (54 miles)

Sun. Apr 15 – Hopped to Les Saintes for a two night stay (21 miles)

Tues. Apr 17 – Hopped to Deshaies, Guadaloupe for a night (32 miles)

Wed. Apr 18 – Hopped past active volcanic island of Montserrat to Nevis (70 miles). Spent three nights anchored off Charlestown, Nevis.

Sat Apr 21 – Hopped to the island of Saba (47 miles) and discovered it was too rough to remain there as they have no protected anchorages and the seas were running quite big. At 3:30 in the afternoon, we made the decision to sail overnight to St. Croix (another 86 miles) — one of the US Virgin Islands.

Sun Apr 22 – Arrived at 7 am in the morning, ready to stay put for a few days!

We arrived back in Dominica–a place we had spent over a week exploring on our way south–feeling like adults coming home to see family in a familiar neighborhood. We are so used to being newcomers to each place we arrive at that it is a treat to return to a known anchorage and town. We filled our water tanks with the sweet, pure Dominica water and walked around the town one last time. We were able to say ‘goodbye’ to our river tour guide (Albert) and were very pleased to have caught him as we did not say goodbye when we left a few weeks prior. He is such a dear person. So kind, quiet, gentle and caring. I always felt so comfortable in Dominica after having met him. He would have helped us with any troubles that arose … thankfully none did.

We left Dominica early Sunday morning so we would have the afternoon with our friends from the boat “Heaven Won’t Wait” on Les Saintes–a collection of 5 islands which are part of Guadaloupe and, therefore, French. Les Saintes is another location which stirs our hearts’ emotions. A sweet and welcoming place. A place which feels like home immediately – even though they speak French! Maybe it is the baguettes and chocolate croissants, but I am more inclined to believe it is the neat architecture and homes surrounded by beautiful flowers … the narrow, boutique lined streets, the number of people strolling with little purpose in their stride. The aspects which make one relax, gently close the eyes and breath slowly with a slight up-turn to the lips while being very thankful to be able to experience a day like the current day.

While on Les Saintes, we walked to the top of a hill overlooking the channel between Les Saintes and Guadaloupe where the French built this fort which stands strong today. It is a terrific fort with a very informative museum inside. Here is an iguana – one of the 7 we saw hoping to gain access to food stuff dropped by the day’s visitors!

This guy (or gal?!) was nearly 6 feet long from the tip of his tail to his nose! Amazing creature – so prehistoric looking. Here is a frontal shot.

Although I know I should not be scared of them, I can not quiet the raised hairs on my neck and arms.

The beautifully cared for grounds surrounding this hilltop fort illustrate the arid climate of Les Saintes in evidence here …

Great fort, isn’t it? Here is another shot which shows its complex layout inside the high surrounding walls. The boys love exploring these old forts and evaluating why one design might work better than another or for another purpose.

Getting together with Richard, Marni and Devin on “Heaven Won’t Wait” always involves wine, great food and lots of laughs. This time was no different. We enjoyed one terrific dinner aboard their boat and the next night had appetizers and drinks on our boat before enjoying a restaurant on shore. Other than hiking to this fort, we also snorkeled.

When Tuesday morning arrived, we found ourselves on the move again. This day’s destination would be the town of Deshaies on the northwestern coast of Guadaloupe. The days seem to be getting increasingly hotter so we were all ready to cool off when we dropped our anchor in the early afternoon. We all enjoyed an invigorating swim (complete with turtle tracking) and readied ourselves for the following day, which would be a longer one. As we thought about preparing dinner, we were surprised by an impromptu visit from the couple on “Our Island” from the Caribbean 1500, Margaret and Brian from Australia. These two have lived aboard for a few years now and are literally seeing the whole world! They seem to have no fear. In the next several weeks, they will be crossing the Atlantic to spend the summer in the Mediterranean Sea! Good luck, Margaret and Brian!

We lifted up our anchor under the cover of darkness at 4:30 am on Wednesday, April 18th. Mornings are wonderful as they are cool and crisp, but not cold. At this time of day only fishermen move about, skillfully setting nets or pulling buoys. By the time we normally have breakfast (8 am), we were seeing Montserrat come clearly into view. We have all been excited to see this island up … well… sort of up close! You see, this island has an active volcano continuously sending plumes of hot steam, gasses and ash into the air as domes and spikes grow and collapse! The Soufriere Hills volcano on the southern end of Montserrat experienced a major eruption in 1995 which buried the capital town of Plymouth. Since that time, nearly two-thirds of the population has left the island as the living conditions are harsh and unpredictable. Two years ago, scientists thought the volcano would quiet down; yet, this has not been the case. The entire southern half of the island is classified as an exclusion zone which can not be inhabited and this exclusion zone extends three miles out to sea in all directions. We honored this boundary, happily. The amount of steam and gas being continuously released from the volcano was impressive. Judge for yourself.

This was a completely cloudless day and yet there was no end to the billowing steam from this caldera! We are about 4 miles off shore and the peak of the volcano is another few miles past that. This next photo shows the flow (from the peak in the top right almost to the shore bottom left) which covered buildings and roads in its path. The homes remaining are layered with ash. The downward sloping plain in the center of the photo is flow from the 1995 eruption. The neighborhood streets are the lines near the shore on the left side of the photo. In our binoculars, we could see streets going up the hill away from the water and then abruptly halt at the same location where only partial homes now exist. When Montserrat was quite a distance off of our stern, Zachary turned to me and said, “I must say I’m happy to distance ourselves from that island”. Though it was amazing to view, it did put us all on edge a fair bit!

The sea life seemed not to mind their proximity to Montserrat as we were delighted to view a whale for quite some time on his journey southwest and were then visited by this pod of dolphins. Here are three right at our bow. These guys were having such a terrific time, it appeared, as they zoomed at us at top speed and strength, twirled in the water in front of us and zoomed away to make room for another few to enjoy our bow’s wake. We always feel so honored to have these personable creatures come to spend time with us. We talk to them, laugh and marvel at them and wish we had a way to extend a sincere thank you for their visit. We are always sad to see them go. This group didn’t stay with us as long as some have, but their amount of energy and spirit was contagious.

We arrived at the anchorage off the town of Charlestown, Nevis just as the sun was setting … it had been a long, hot day.

The Island of Nevis – This is our first time at Nevis as we didn’t stop here on the way south. We did, however, visit her sister island (St. Kitts) on our previous pass through these waters.

While Nevis would probably not make it onto our list of top three islands to visit, it did have some great qualities which I hope to share with you. The seas were running quite large while we were here so fishermen were putting their boats off of the main dock and onto moorings. We helped a few get back to the dock after securing their boats in the harbor. Here is a picture of the boats used by many of the locals in these islands. I love the colors and simplicity.

One of the men we helped gave Tom a ride to the gas station to fill our jerry jugs and waited to bring him back to the dock. The fishermen down here are much more friendly to pleasure boaters than the fishermen in Maine – our home waters. I often ponder why this is so. Maybe it is more obvious down in these islands that our tourist dollars bolster their economy significantly. If only Mainers recognized the same fact instead of being angry for us being in “their” waters. I’ve wanted to brooch the subject with Maine fishermen before but they are a tough crowd. I wish they would realize that we would be there for any boater in trouble — fisherman or cruiser — just as we trust that they would too. Oh well, some things will not change.

One of the attractions to Nevis is their many restored plantations which are in use today as inns, restaurants and such. We visited a restored plantation called Golden Rock Estates. Here is the sign at the entrance.

Both Nevis and St. Kitts are famous for their green monkeys which thrive on these islands. They can be seen everywhere and are very fun to watch! Zachary photographed a bunch of them munching on mangoes fresh off the tree! Here is a shot of two sitting on the ruins of the old sugar plantation (one is on the peak and the other is perched on the vine-covered wall in the bottom center of the picture). They both have a mango in their hand, though it is not obvious.

I wish I had taken more photos of the restored plantation buildings. Below is the outside of the main plantation house which is now a bar and restaurant. The brick work inside and out was beautiful and quite skilled, especially considering the work was done around 1800.

Another trivia item which Nevis maintains claim to is being the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton – a founding father of the United States of America. He was raised on Nevis and then on St. Croix before going to the British colonies in North America for education. We toured his home in a lovely old section of Charlestown.

The only real anchorage at Nevis was exposed to swells while we were visiting, so we were ready to move on very early on our third morning there, April 21st. We have to be in St. Croix four days from this point, so we decided to spend two days at Saba before making our final hop to St. Croix. We all understood that the conditions of the sea at Saba would determine our ability to stay there, so we were prepared to evaluate it and make a determination as to weather to stay or move further on to St. Croix. We had been getting a southeastern wind for several days and this typically makes Saba untenable. However, we all wanted to visit again after having been gypped of our time there with the broken rudder in January. However, as we approached the harbor we knew it was not to be. The seas were smashing onto shore and tossing large fishing boats about as if in a bath-tub, making dinghy use nearly impossible. We all hated to say good-bye to Saba in this manner … from looking at her from our stern without being able to get ashore. Here is one of our final views of Saba … this trip!

You will notice all the sailboats on the moorings visiting Saba — NOT!! There was only one pleasure boat at this island and who knows how long they were planning to stay!

So, here we were at 3:30 in the afternoon, wishing we could open a cold beer and relax. Yet, we have another 86 miles to go to Christiansted, St. Croix. It will take us all night and the sky is darkening with storm clouds in all directions. Tom and I discuss the weather forecast, our intended course and our ideas for a potential watch schedule. The winds are suppose to die down before midnight so it will probably take us the full night to make this passage. This means at least 2 three hour watches each. Yikes, and we have been up all day. It is times like this that I yearn for my cozy bed at home. I am definitely apprehensive to go into this night and assume all the responsibility that will be upon me. Zachary, my incredibly perceptive 12 year old son, senses my fear and I feel him watching my every move.

I have the first three hour watch so Tom goes below to get some rest. The boys stay up in the cockpit with me and we have some great chats. However, every once in a while there is an unexpected bright flash of light. Could this be lightning? We have not experienced lightning at all since leaving the coast of the US, but with the ocean temperatures and air warming up significantly with the arrival of Spring lightning will become a part of our lives, unfortunately. It is the weather factor which instills the most fear in me while at sea. I make a simple dinner for the four of us, wake Tom and get ready to rest myself. I notice Zachary also “going to bed”, but it is only 6 pm. I say nothing in case he is feeling sea sick in these somewhat large seas. While I am resting, I hear anxious voices discussing the lightning storms surrounding us. Great, this ought to be easy to sleep through. Now there is thunder thrown in the mix and Tom is talking with the boys about the importance of steering away from lightning storms, if possible. Great, an even LONGER night. I wake just before 9 pm for my next watch. It is now completely dark, cloud covered and it isn’t until lightning flashes across the sky that there is enough light to appreciate the size and number of the storm clouds around us. Terrific. Tom and our youngest are briefing me on how to read the storms distance from us and its possible direction of movement. To my immense relief, Zachary emerges into the cockpit fully dressed and ready to help me with the watch. I’ll be ok now, I tell myself and encourage the other two to get some sleep.

It is an anxious three hours as we see storms straight ahead of us, off our port bow and off our starboard bow. What should we do? The one off our port bow seems to be intensifying and closest so we decide to change course 20 degrees to starboard. We both agree that this course change has a positive effect on our relationship to the storm on our port bow, so we stay with it for a while. A half hour later, the storms straight ahead and off the starboard bow are strengthening. The wind is fluky so we don’t have a clear idea in which directions these storms might travel. It has appeared that some storms moved off to starboard while some remained stationary. Ok. With this information, Zachary and I decide to change our course back 20 degrees to port. This move does not offer us the same measure of confidence as our previous decision. We remain on this course while evaluating our options. Both storms appear to be just off our bow – one on each side. Our move to port did not help, yet earlier storms appeared to move to starboard. If we make a move to starboard, we might close on a course with the storm’s path. Darn it, if only our radar could read weather patterns further into the distance. We hold course a little longer until the storms feel like they are coming uncomfortably close. We toss the dice and steer 30 degrees to starboard. This move takes us into the next watch change. It is midnight and Tom is coming on. Zack and I explain the situation and our thought process then head down to sleep for three hours. I know this is not my last watch and that I will be returning to the deck at 3 am – a very painful hour to begin a watch, ouch!

I sleep well on this off-watch, thankfully. Yet, three hours pass quickly and I find myself re-dressing and stumbling up the companionway in much quieter seas than I retired during! Tom gives me a very welcome report that he is on a direct course for St. Croix’s Christiansted Harbor and has not had to dodge lightning storms since just after he took over. What a HUGE relief. Tom retires and I settle in and I am relatively content. Fifteen minutes later, a little face peaks up through the companionway and asks if I need help. My first thought is that this is Zachary. Then I realize it is not quite his voice and that my child who can not wake for anything is talking, fully dressed – complete with life jacket – AND offering to help. Those of you who know our youngest recognize this as a significant event. They didn’t wake when Santa slipped down our companionway stairs on Christmas Eve making tons of noise and with me pinching them in hopes that they will wake to see Santa ON OUR BOAT! With a very warm heart, I say that I don’t necessarily need help but would really welcome the great company they could offer to me. They ascend into the cockpit all chatty and I just couldn’t place this kid. We talked, snuggled and then noticed some dark clouds off on the horizon. They moved over to the radar and began punching a bunch of buttons to see if they could determine how far the storm was from us. It was at this point that I asked them if they awoke thinking about the radar and how much fun they and Dad had on the previous watch when they were tracking storms. The cutest smile spread across their face and now I understood.

My final few hours with our youngest were very special, as were my hours with Zachary earlier in the night. At 6:30 am I woke Tom, as we were coming into the tricky harbor and I didn’t feel fresh enough to do it. Zachary got up to offer his help. As my kids and Tom confidently took Thalia into the harbor, I slept like a kitten. A very fortunate kitten, indeed!

My two special kids – one is caring, affectionate, thoughtful and perceptive and the other is a deep thinker, problem solver … always asking ‘what if’ or ‘how’ … not sleeping because curiosity is poking at them! Thank goodness for my two special kids and for the gifts they each have to give.

Hug your family. Appreciate differences and, always, live each day!

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