Saba…An Island In The Clouds

From Anguilla, we headed south, to Saba, which was on Scott’s must-stop, cruising list. Similar to Montserrat, the weather needs to be pretty stable to stop at Saba. The island has no natural harbor, and the mooring balls on the island’s west side aren’t protected, essentially placed in the open Atlantic.

The winds were far from calm, and offered only a two day window before they would increase even more, and force us on, but we decided to make a go of it. After having to give up Montserrat, we decided that visiting Saba would be worth a few days roll on a mooring ball.

As we traveled, Scott put lines in the water, hoping for a bite. He got one…just as we noticed a waterspout on the horizon!

The bite was a big one, in the form of a sizeable white marlin! Scott worked on reeling the fish in, while I kept my eye on the spout.

Obviously, we weren’t going to eat the marlin, and I forbid the fish from entering the cockpit, with its inhospitable bill. Scott didn’t want to lose the lure, so he reeled the fish in, pulled the lure further up the line and cut the marlin free. He sure was pretty up close, even with the inhospitable bill.

Not long after he’d cut the marlin loose, Scott reeled in a mahi. It was much easier to reel in, but that fish put up quite a fight in the cockpit, before Scott declared victory.

The tiny island of Saba is the peak of a 500,000-year-old volcanic cone, soaring 5,000 feet from the sea floor. You may not have heard of Saba before, but chances are you’ve seen it: the producers of the original 1933 King Kong movie were enthralled with the island’s craggy, volcanic silhouette, and used its likeness as the backdrop for the colossal gorilla’s “Skull Island” home.

As Saba came into view, it could definitely have passed for a prehistoric island.

Aside from its brief brush with fame, the island remains widely unknown, and is referred to by locals as the “Unspoiled Queen” of the Caribbean. Untouched by cruise ships and chain restaurants, with an insanely small airport, lack of a real harbor, sandy beaches and sheer cliffs all around, Saba is in no danger of being over-commercialized any time soon.

We tied to one of the free moorings in Ladder Bay, on the island’s west side, and spent the rest of the day taking in the view of Saba’s majestic cliffs, and rocky coastline.


Saba even impressed Howard.

Sadly, landing the dinghy along the rocky coast was not an option, which upset Scott greatly, as he noticed the many caves along the waterline, begging to be explored.

But what really upset Scott, was not being able to land his dinghy and climb The Ladder. Ladder Bay is named for a steep set of 800 steps, carved into the rock, known as The Ladder.

The steps lead to Saba’s old custom house, and before the island’s only road was built in the 1940’s (more on that crazy project later), The Ladder was the only way to reach the island’s capital city. Anyone or anything had to ascend these crazy, winding, Lord of the Rings-style steps.

Here’s a great three minute video I found online, posted by a guy descending The Ladder in 2014. He starts the journey down at 26 seconds, and at about a minute and a half (1:30), the steepness factor turns up a notch.

Our mooring was approximately seven miles from the  Saba Bank, a huge submerged atoll, and the third largest of its kind in the world. The bank is a flat-topped seamount that rises almost 6,000 feet from the ocean floor, to within sixty feet of the surface. It’s teeming with life, and home to a vast array of corals, sponge and fish species, some of the richest diversity in the Caribbean Sea. A pretty cool tidbit, even though we weren’t here to dive.

Back to the view from our mooring ball. We continued to stare at our beautiful surroundings, which became even prettier at dusk, and then enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

The next morning, we took the dinghy on a lumpy ride around the corner, and into the small commercial harbor at Fort Bay, to clear in. The island has been a Dutch territory for the last 345 years, but today’s official currency is the USD, and English and Dutch are both official languages.

The island’s four villages are all located at much higher elevations than the harbor. We’d read that a taxi ride to the town of Windwardside, where we were headed, would run $50.00, and include a bit of a tour and local information. Done deal, as walking the steep, winding road was not an option. It actually is an option, but since we weren’t in  training for a triathlon, the cab option was just fine.

One of the dive shops along the harbor called a cab for us. We were told Dawn was on her way from the other side of the island, and not to get into any other taxi. In less than ten minutes, Dawn arrived and we were on our way up The Road (yes, another “The”).

Before The Road, life on Saba was much more difficult. Traveling the island’s twisting trails was an arduous task, as everything including the kitchen sink was transported by hand, and donkey, across the island’s grueling elevations (after being carried up the steep steps of The Ladder), beneath the unforgiving Caribbean sun.

Both Dutch and Swiss engineers claimed a road couldn’t be built on Saba, due to the island’s extreme topography.  However, local Saban, Josephus Lambert Hassell, had issues with the word “couldn’t.” He earned an engineering degree through correspondence courses, and in 1938, with the assistance of his fellow Sabans, got down to the business of building the impossible.

The first section of road was completed after five years of work, using no heavy machinery (yes, this crazy road was all built by hand!). In 1947, the first motor vehicle arrived, and in 1958, “The Road That Could Not Be Built” was completed, with its highest point rising over 1800 feet above sea level.

As we traveled, the expansive views across the mountains, and back down to the water below were amazing.

The Road itself, scared me to death. We could see it winding along the mountain ahead of us, full of twists and turns, many of them hair-pin and switch-back. In many places, one side of The Road was too near the edge of a steep incline, and other times it just seemed to hover in mid air (Remember…this sucker was built by hand!).

On our way to Windwardside, we passed through the village of….wait for it, The Bottom (what’s with the “The’s?!?), It’s the capital of Saba, and home to The Saba University School of Medicine.

Started by a local doctor, and initially funded by American expatriates and the Dutch government, the university is a lucrative business for the island. When classes are in session, its 400 students become islanders, and aside from providing healthcare for the island’s people, the school also adds a few million dollars to the Saban economy through its fees….win-win.

When we arrived at the village of Windwardside (named for its location on the island’s windward side), it looked like someone had picked up a picturesque European town and dropped it onto this volcanic island in the Caribbean. As we’d seen on the French islands, many of the homes looked as if they’d been freshly painted. Gingerbread trim, which accents many homes throughout the Eastern Caribbean, and neat and tidy gardens, full of tropical plants and flowers framed the quaint houses, and picket fences or other decorative wooden enclosures complete the picture.

What made the homes on Saba different, with a few exceptions, is that they all looked the same, at least from the outside. Red zinc roofs, that decorative Caribbean gingerbread trim, and green shutters seemed to define the architecture.  We learned that this uniform look is the law!

Apparently, locals never questioned how their homes should look, until approximately 30 years ago, when a few foreigners moved to the island and changed their new homes to suit their own preferences. Sabans, some of whom can trace their ancestors back to the first settlers in 1640, were shocked.

As a result, the local government decided it was time to make what was a long-standing tradition into a law, with homeowners abiding by strict style and color schemes.  “Saba houses,” one-story wooden homes, typically built on a stone foundation, are all white-washed. They have similar sized windows, with shutters that are painted either green and white, red and white or all white.

Those red roofs, all have the same  pitch of about 35 degrees (though over the years some homeowners have replaced the original shingles with sheets of corrugated iron, for easier upkeep and a bit more stability against hurricanes), and picket fences are trimmed in an approved color.

Dawn had relatives who lived on Saba, and recently moved to the island herself from St. Thomas, being lucky enough to buy a “Saba house” that had come up for sale soon after she arrived.

You’d think all of this uniformity would look uninspiring and dull, but in Saba the result was absolutely charming. Through the main part of town, and in surrounding hills, the fresh-looking red and white houses sparkled against sun, and made the view down to the sea far below even more beautiful.

Scott’s sole reason for coming to Saba was to hike Mount Scenery. A dormant volcano, Mount Scenery last erupted in 1640, and is the island’s most dominant feature. It rises to 2877 feet, which also happens to be the highest peak in the Kingdom of the Netherlands! Here’s an aerial view of Saba’s Mount Scenery, with the capital city of The Bottom on the left, and Windwardside on the right.

Behind a shop in Windwardside, a trail comprised mostly of 1064 stairs leads to the top of Mount Scenery. The staircase was constructed (by hand of course) in1969, to access the communications tower being installed at the summit, and was completed in 1970. Scott left me to wander the town, and began the climb. (I had the camera in town, so Scott shot these photos with his iPad, and they transferred over pretty small, and not as clear as I’d like…apologies).

A cloud forest dominates Mount Scenery’s upper 150 feet. Rain forests are located at lower elevations, so they tend to be much warmer. Cloud forests, on the other hand, are usually located at much higher elevations, and are much cooler. The difference in temperature causes mist and fog, often visible in a cloud forest, as the milder temperatures slow the evaporation process. Despite being cooler than rainforests, cloud forests are still very humid…yay for Scott! Here’s an aerial view of Saba, with it’s “head” in the clouds.

Scott walked up, through thick, lush vegetation, passing ferns, elephant ears and other plants, all huge in size.

The forest absorbs water from the humid air, so its plants and trees are constantly moist and grow abundantly. Saba’s cloud forest is unlike others found in the Caribbean, due to its 200-year-old Mahogany trees, which dominate the peak, and can grow up to 49 feet tall, while canopy heights in other cloud forests rarely exceed 20 feet.

These large trees are smothered with plants and mosses that hang from the branches and act like sponges, soaking up moisture from the clouds and rain, providing the forest, and vegetation at lower levels with a constant trickle of life-sustaining water.

At the peak, this is the view one would hope to see…

Unfortunately, this is what Scott saw, due to said cloud forest…

He waited a bit, and began to get a peek at the view below…

And then…cloud…

A bit later, another peek…..

Scott decided to linger, wander around and enjoy the surroundings….because how often do you get to hang out in a cloud?!?

Scott’s patience paid off, and voila!, the sun came out and the view below became much more clear.

Having waited out the clouds, Scott began his decent along the many stone steps, passing several Saba houses along the way.

At the bottom, he received a certificate in the trail shop, documenting his achievement. Only twenty more trails to conquer on this five square-mile island! But they would have to wait for another visit.

While Scott was sweating it out on the mountain, I was enjoying the town of Windwardside. The restaurants and shops in town seemed to follow the rules as well, with red roofs, white paint and green trimmed windows.

Several of the shops in town had pieces of Saba lace for sale, which has an interesting history. In the 1870’s, Mary Gertrude Hassell Johnson was sent by her parents to study at a convent in Caracas, Venezuela. There, the nuns taught the girl how to create the intricate designs of this needlecraft.

Mary brought the craft back to Saba and in 1884, when regular mail service first connected the island to the outside world, the wives and daughters of Saba’s seafaring men turned the craft into a home-based, mail-order industry.

The women came up with an ingenuous way to market their needlework. As boxes of merchandise were sent from the United States to Saba, the ladies would copy addresses of the American companies and send them letters, explaining their work and listing prices. Often, a sympathetic person receiving the letter would post it on the company bulletin board, and ultimately the lace makers would receive orders for their work. By 1928, the Saban women were exporting almost $15,000 worth of needlework annually…that’s a pretty darned good amount for 1928!

Now, more than a century later, the skill learned by a young Saban girl still provides a means of support for many families on the island. Blouses, dresses, tablecloths and napkins, in a variety of colors, are only a few of the pieces the Saban women create. The lace was beautiful, but pricey, so I had to pass on this piece of the island’s history.

I meandered the main street, past a beautiful church sat in the center of town, one of the few buildings that didn’t look exactly like the others, but surely used approved colors.

Stone walls lined most all the streets throughout town, and up into the hills, hand-made (like everything on Saba) from volcanic rock.

I continued to wander the streets, taking in the sights and admiring this unique and picturesque town.

And of course….the views!

As I walked, Mount Scenery was always visible in the distance, where Scott was making his ascent.

Tuckered out from my tour of town, and beyond, I settled in at a table outside the Bizzy B Bakery & Cafe. I ordered a beer, checked the internet and waited for Scott to show.

He soon appeared, soaked in sweat, but happy with himself. We traded stories of our day over another cold beer, and then went to grab a few groceries before Dawn arrived to take us back down to the bay. We would loved to have stayed into the evening, and spent time at some of the bars and restaurants in town, but weren’t keen on taking the dinghy around the island in the dark, so back down the mountain we went.

Instead of heading right back down to the bay, Dawn drove us to the west side of the island, where we had a good view of the airport below.

In 1963, Saba residents built the Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (that’s a mouthful). The runway is challenging  1300 feet in length, with the span of actual “usable” runway between the white lines measuring just under 1000 feet! It’s reputed to be the shortest commercial air strip in the world, and to put it in perspective, that’s just over a tenth of the size of London’s Heathrow Airport!!

Obviously, due to its size, the airport can only accommodate small planes and helicopters. Officially, the runway is permanently closed to all air traffic, designated by an “X” on each end. However, aircraft are permitted to  land on Saba by obtaining waivers from the Netherlands Antilles’ Civil Aviation Authority. Here are more good online photos of this tiny runway, from a crazy person who flew in.

Depending on wind conditions, it is possible to land on both ends of the runway. Incoming pilots have to navigate over steep hills before coming to a stop on the short runway, to avoid a sheer drop into the ocean on the other end; passengers get more of a sense of landing on an aircraft carrier rather than on an island. Yeesh, looking down at that tiny airstrip made me glad to have arrived by boat!

The views were just as amazing on our way back down to sea level as they were on our ascent to Windwardside.

And The Road was just as twisting-turning.

We said goodbye to Dawn, had a beer at one of the dive shops along the bay, then hopped into the dinghy.

Back on board, we collapsed in the saloon, having seen and learned a lot in our single day ashore. We’d come to Saba for Scott to hike it’s highest peak, and my plan was to “kill time” while he did. I didn’t expect to love the island’s soaring views, and the lovely village of Windwardside as much as I did. We’d taken in much of the island’s beauty during our short, two-day stay, and the rugged but beautiful island of Saba had definitely been worth the roll.

Here are more photos, from our visit to Saba.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


A Little Piece Of Home On Anguilla

After passing The Kingdom of Redonda, we continued overnight, toward Anguilla. I went down for a short sleep before my night watch, and of course, missed another whale sighting..dammit!!

By dark, Howard was through with travel, and restless.

Giving up on sleep, he decided to check the radar, and help Scott keep watch.

Night watch soon became tiring, as it always does, and Howard settled back into his usual passage routine.

I relieved Scott at 9pm, and stayed on until just before dawn. During my early morning nap, the skyline of Sint Maarten came into view. We’d heard from friends that this Dutch side of the popular island had rebounded much better after Hurricane Irma than the French side, referred to as  St. Martin.

Even before its extensive damage from Hurricane Irma, we’d decided to skip St. Martin/St. Maarten. The island is popular with both cruising and charter boats, as well as tourists, and we didn’t want to deal with the crowded anchorages and busy streets. Our cruising time frame doesn’t allow for us to visit every Caribbean island, so some get dropped from the list, and this one just didn’t interest us.

I awoke to find us making our way along Anguilla’s rocky coast, where many huge, high-dollar houses lined the hills.

In the Eastern Caribbean chain, or the Lesser Antilles, there are two types of islands. Both are volcanic, but the “younger” islands, like Dominica and Grenada, are mountainous and steep, while “older” ones, which were once like the younger ones,  have eroded over time. These older, eroded islands became nearly flat, sinking below sea level, where they acquired limestone capping, before being uplifted and resurfacing.

Saint Martin, St. Barths and Anguilla are the older type, and are much more arid than their younger “cousins.” The shallow water surrounding these islands allowed for the growth of coral and shells, which over millions of years have become long, white, sandy beaches….huh!

Christopher Columbus named Anguilla after the Spanish word for eel, due to the shallow island’s low shape on the water. Today, the island is British, though self-governing, and is one of the most expensive in the Caribbean. In addition to pricey restaurants and shops, Anguilla’s cruising fees can add up quickly. Clearing into the island in general is fairly cheap, at approximately $50 U.S. dollars for us. Anchoring overnight is allowed in Road Bay and Crocus Bay. All other anchorages are for day-use only. To visit any anchorage other than Road Bay, day or overnight, a cruising permit is required…and it ain’t cheap.

Sea Life fell in the over 20 ton range for a cruising permint, at a fee of $150.00 a day, and $900 a week! As a result Anguilla isn’t a popular stop for most cruisers. The good news? Anguilla isn’t a popular stop for most cruisers, and the anchorages are generally quiet.

Elvis’ Beach Bar is located on Anguilla, and one of the owners, Brett Fetterolf, and I went to the same high school, so the island had been on my radar since the beginning of our journey as a must-stop. Like most cruisers, our budget didn’t allow for Anguilla’s steep cruising fees, but lucky for us, Elvis’ is located on the beach in Sandy Ground…along free-to-stay, Road Bay!

We dropped anchor in the bay, with Elvis’ in sight at one end of the long beach at Sandy Ground (Aerial online photo).

It was  mid-afternoon, and we were beat, so I left Brett a message that we had arrived, and would see him the following day. After a relaxing evening and a good night’s sleep, we did some boat chores during the day, and then headed in to Elvis’ for happy hour. It was fun to spend time with Brett, and see the bar he and his friend Elvis had built. It’s always good to be with “home folk,” as my mom would say.

After happy hour drinks, and dinner at Elvis’ (Man, it had been a long time since we’d had Mexican food..yay!) , we headed back to the boat to give Howard some fish light time. An insane amount of sizeable tarpon showed up, their eyes glowing creepy orange in the light..ick.

The next day, we decided to head over to Rendezvous Bay, on the south side of the island, and do a beach bar crawl. We landed the dinghy at Elvis’, and asked Brett about getting a cab. He warned us that a cab would most likely run close to $30 each way…welcome to Anguilla. As we mulled it over, a friendly expat who was waiting for take out food offered us a ride, saving us a one-way cab fare! We immediately took Jim up on the incredibly kind offer, climbed into his car and headed across the island.

Along the way, we chatted with Jim, who was deep in the process of fixing damage to his house caused by Hurricane Irma. He was nice enough to stop at the local Ace Hardware, so Scott could look for a part. With no luck, we were back on the road, and soon arrived at Rendezvous Bay. Thanks a bunch, Jim!

Jim dropped us at the Sunshine Shack, where we planned to have lunch and then walk the beach. The open-air, beachfront restaurant had recently re-opened after Irma’s damage, and sported fresh paint in bright, happy colors.

Eating lunch with our toes in the sand, we couldn’t believe how beautiful the beach was. It was a gorgeous day, and the colorful beach umbrellas popped against the clear-blue sky. The bright-white, powder-soft sand made the turquoise water seem even more brilliant in color. It was definitely one of the prettiest beaches we’d seen in the Caribbean.

We walked the beach, realizing that this area of the island was still visibly recovering from Hurricane Irma, and most of the beach bars we planned to visit were closed. Like Dominica with Maria, Anguilla received a direct hit from Hurricane Irma in September, ravaging the island. With help from the British government, and other countries, the island had recovered well by the time we visited. Aside from the bars resorts and homes along Rendezvous Bay, we saw little damage during our visit, and visual reconstruction was minimal.

We were especially hoping to visit a bar run by local reggae singer Bankie Banx , known as the “Anguillan Bob Dylan.” He formed his first band in 1967, taking inspiration from top 40 hits in the UK, that a local radio station transmitted from a frigate ship moored off the coast of Anguilla. Bankie released his first album, Roots and Herbs in 1978, pioneering reggae music in the Eastern Caribbean.

We hoped that Bankie’s beach bar, The Dune Preserve, had rebounded as well, but no luck. Like many Caribbean beach bars, The Dune was built from pieces of scrap wood, and an old boat for a bar. Ever growing, it spread from the beach up into the palms.  The rustic bar was a staple on the beach at Rendezvous Bay, and we so wanted to spend time there.

Sadly, all that remained of the bar was a partial wooden structure. We could hear the sound of chain saws running in the palms, and knew that there was no chance of reggae music and a cold beer.

Bankie has been hard at work, and as of this spring, The Dune is beginning to take shape again. A new bar is in the works, with the addition of a full-service bar, and a re-opening is planned for November of 2018. I guess we’ll  have to return!

We turned to head back down the beach, passing the  five-star CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa, which had temporarily closed due to significant hurricane damage to its grounds, and 98 luxury suites. Tidbit: Dan Brown, who wrote The Davinci Code, spends winters at the resort….but not this winter.

Back at the Sunshine Shack, the owner called us a cab, that took thirty minutes to arrive. The island’s not that big, so the wait was a bit frustrating, but we had a beer and took in the view of nearby St. Martin on the horizon.

Back at Sandy Ground, we walked down to the far end of the beach, past many bars and restaurants, most closed until dinnertime. Roy’s Bayside Grill was open, so we stopped in for some shade and a drink.

Our friendly bartender had visited much of the U.S., seeing many more states than we have!

The next evening, Scott picked Brett up in the dinghy, and brought him aboard for a tour of Sea Life and some happy hour drinks.

After chatting away for several hours, we headed back to shore and had a drink at Elvis’, before Scott and I walked down the beach for dinner at Sandbar. Our tapas meal was soo good, Like our meal at Elvis’, it was a nice change from the island-food choices we’d had of late: barbecue chicken, fried chicken, or fried fish. I was without a camera at dinner, but here’s a photo of Sandbar during the day, and an evening shot I borrowed online.

Anguilla would be the last island where we’d use the Eastern Caribbean dollar, but we still had a decent amount of it left on board. Brett graciously offered to exchange it for USD, so we headed to Elvis’s to do some “banking,” and I took the chance to snap some photos of the bar.

Brett arrived on Anguilla via Eldersburg, Maryland; Breckenridge, Colorado; Catalina Island, California; and St. Croix, U.S.V.I. (where he also owned a restaurant). He landed on the island, and soon realized he wanted to put down roots. After seeing an old boat on the side of a road, Brett and his friend, Elvis, hatched a plan to open a beach bar.

Elvis’ has grown from just a boat bar, serving beer from a cooler, to one of Anguilla’s hottest spots, popular with both tourists and locals. There are televisions throughout the bar, as well as a big screen right on the beach, so sports fans can settle in with their toes in the sand, and live music brings in a nightly crowd ready to dance.

Whether you choose to belly-up to the boat bar, sit at a table with your toes in the sand, lounge under an umbrella by the water or swing in a hammock, Elvis’ has it covered.

Brett’s commute to work is brutal….all of thirty steps. His tiny house sits just behind the bar!

When Hurricane Irma hit the island, Brett weathered the storm in a friend’s house with a higher elevation than his at-sea-level bungalow. Luckily, Brett had stored the boat bar in a container, and with donations from loyal customers, the bar is back up and running, better than ever. Elvis, Brett and his sand-digging, coconut-lovin’ dog Blu are back to providing visitors with the quintessential beach bar experience. (was so busy chatting and spending time with Brett, that I forgot a photo of Elvis! I included one from Brett’s Facebook page, and one of him in action, that I found online.)

The Travel Channel got wind of Elvis’, and recently featured Brett’s story, and the bar, on an episode of  “Life’s A Beach.”  It’s a great piece, with a cool story and beautiful scenery…check it out here! Ok, enough about my island-beach bar-owning friend (for now).

The next day, Scott and I were back on the water, taking the dinghy over to a beach at nearby Little Bay. Not far from our anchorage at Road Bay, we passed a resort nestled in the hills, with rows of white rooms and villas, surrounded by colorful, tropical foliage, that cascaded down to the water.

Houses of all sizes dotted the rocky cliffs.

Many had built stairs stretching down to the water, but one house in particular had quite the set up, with multiple small decks along the way down, maybe for a rest and a scenic view. At the bottom, a large, multi-level deck, just begging for a party.

We rounded the corner, and were met with an awesome view of the seventy-foot cliffs that surround Little Bay, and some swanky villas with amazing views.

Shades of black, gray, orange and white melded together on the rugged cliffs, highlighted by scraggly shrubs and several types of cacti.

The textured surface was full of holes, large crevices, and caves of all sizes at the waterline. And speaking of the water, it was a gorgeous, bright, turquoise-blue, that seemed even more brilliant in color against the cliffs.

The beach at Little Bay was “little” as well, but there was more than enough room for us to pull the dinghy up out of the water, and spread out a towel. Scott went for a snorkel, while I relaxed in the sand, and took in the view.

Before long, it was time to head back to Road Bay. It was our last day on Anguilla, so we wanted to visit Brett one more time. We set the dinghy afloat, climbed in and said goodbye to our little beach, and those beautiful cliffs at Little Bay.

All roads lead to Elvis’ on Anguilla, and we were back for a final happy hour. We met this awesome girl, who is also from Maryland, and was on the island attending medical school. It seems every Eastern Caribbean island has a bloody medical school, but why not?…who doesn’t want to learn in the sun?

It had been great to spend time with someone from home, and to see Elvis’ in person, but it was time for us to move on while the winds were in our favor. Ladies and gentlemen…..Sea Life has left the building (or should I say the island).

Here are some more photos from our visit to Anguilla.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”







The Kingdom Of Redonda

As we turned away from the coast of Montserrat, the tiny island of Redonda came into view. At just over one mile long, and almost 1000 feet at it peak,  Redonda has a very interesting history.

Redonda is the all that remains of an extinct volcanic cone. It offers no protected or “proper” anchorage, and landing on the island is a challenging, to say the least; possible only on the leeward coast, when the seas are flat-calm.  Most of the island is extremely steep and rocky, with only a small, sloping area of grass at its summit; climbing is difficult at best, and can be dangerous.


The island is teeming with bird life, but has no source of freshwater other than rain.  All that guano (bird poop), rich in phosphorous material, led to the production of phosphates on Redonda in 1865.

In 1872, the British decided that they’d better claim the island before America did, and annexed the island as a part of Antigua. Phosphate production grew, and 100 people worked on the island, which at the time had a wharf, and houses for the miners. By 1914, phosphate production had stopped, and the mining lease was given up in 1930.

Now for the quirky and amusing part of the island’s history…The Kingdom of Redonda. There is much written about this, so I tried to condense it into the most interesting bits:

Generally, the story goes that Matthew Dowdy Shiell, an Irish-Montserrat merchant, had a long-awaited son, after five daughters. Obviously, he wanted a kingdom for his son, and since no one had claimed nearby Redonda, he did. In 1880, when Sheill’s son, M.P., was 15, they took a day trip over to the island with the Bishop of Antigua and other friends, and Shiell had the bishop crown his son “King Filipe I of Redonda. “They all had a good time, and consumed much alcohol.”

M.P. moved to England and became a science fiction writer. He took his kingship and ran with it, spreading the word about Redonda in pamphlets that many took as one of his works of fiction. His writings may have damaged the legitimacy of the island, but nonetheless, Redonda’s notoriety spread. Before his death in 1947, M.P. (King Filipe) determined that rather than the Kingship being hereditary, it must be passed through a literary lineage, i.e., to another published author. When M.P. died, he left the island and title of king to a man named John Gawsworth, who changed the history of the island forever.

Due to series of bankruptcies, Gawsworth was known to sell the title of king multiple times. This fattened his pocketbook, and Gawsworth appointed multiple monarchs. As a result, the succession became somewhat confused.

Of the various “pretenders” to the throne of today, one of the most important is self-proclaimed King Robert the Bald, crowned in 1998.

King Robert the Bald (a 64 year old Canadian novelist) lived in Antigua, and visited the island by yacht, declaring himself ruler in front of a group of 61 people who’d accompanied him. He also took the liberty of knighting approximately 100 people during his reign, including various bartenders of his favorite pubs and such.


The most recent claim to the throne of Redonda is Michael Howorth, a travel writer who assures the realm that he inherited the kingdom from King Robert, upon the Royal deathbed. Howorth, a British yachting writer, was crowned King on Dec. 11, 2009, in a ceremony at Fort Charlotte, Antigua.



Howorth was required to visit Redonda and raise the kingdom’s flag, so he flew by helicopter, and adopted the title, King Michael the Grey.

In 2007, Bob Beach declared his English pub an Embassy of Redonda, in an effort to gain diplomatic immunity from the public smoking ban. According to the British Foreign Office, “the “kingdom” is not entitled to have an embassy wherever it pleases”. The pub was refused its status by the British government, but it is said that the pub’s owner was later given knighthood by the latest king of Redonda.

The Kingdom of Redonda has several websites, each warning readers to beware of impostor kings. The virtual kingdom, with nine or more people claiming to be king of the island, has multiple flags, emblems and anthems.

“The legend is, and should remain, a pleasing and eccentric fairly tale; a piece of literary mythology to be taken with salt, romantic sighs, appropriate perplexity, some amusement, but without great seriousness. It is, after all, a fantasy.”  Jon Wynne-Tyson

You can’t make this stuff up….now on to Anguilla.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


Montserrat: The Emerald Isle Of The Caribbean, And A Modern-Day Pompeii

We left Dominica and headed back to Iles des Saintes for a few days, until the winds calmed a bit more for us to continue on. Once again, we took a mooring ball off of Ile Cabrit.

After a quick trip into town, to stock up on veggies and baguettes (for Le Capitaine), we headed back to Sea Life to relax.

While unloading our groceries, we noticed a young goat along the waterline of Ile Cabrit, playing with a coconut; quite an amusing site.

We spent our St. Patrick’s Day moored off of Ile Cabrit, sulking on board. Our frustration at not being able to make Montserrat’s celebration was amplified even more, when we spied these cruisers going by on their dinghy. Arrggh!!

A day later, we left the mooring field, and Iles des Saintes. We were headed for Anguilla…by way of a Montserrat drive-by.

If you’re unfamiliar, pear-shaped Montserrat is quite an interesting little island. It’s is known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland, and the Irish ancestry of many of its people. The island is also referred to as a modern-day Pompeii, after a massive volcano eruption in 1997.

First…St.Patrick’s Day: Montserrat is the only country outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday (come on, U.S.A., join in!). When clearing in, your passport is stamped with a shamrock! If that doesn’t say come visit for St. Patricks’ Day, I don’t know what does!

Ireland and Montserrat go way back. Ireland was invaded and defeated by the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which caused many of the Irish people to be expelled from their homeland.

Catholics knew they would be murdered if they stayed in Ireland, and were desperate to escape. Many who could not afford the fare across the Atlantic made a deal to work as indentured servants in the Caribbean, and worked among the African slaves. By 1678, a census showed that nearly 60% of the island’s people were Irish.

In the 1630s, Irish Catholics sailed to Montserrat from St. Kitts and Nevis, to escape religious tensions there, bringing their own slaves with them, and by 1768, African slaves outnumbered the Irish Catholics (including the indentured) by three to one.

On March 17, 1768, a slave rebellion was planned, to coincide with the annual Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. While the British governed the island, Saint Patrick’s Day was observed, due to the large Irish population, and it was anticipated that the British and Irish would be distracted by the Saint Patrick’s Day feast and festivities (I sure would be). It is said that an Irish woman overhead a planning session, and the rebellion was discovered and squashed. Nine slaves were executed, and more than thirty were imprisoned, and eventually banished from the island.

Today, the people of Montserrat are a mix of African slaves, Irish indentured workers and a bit of English Protestant blood, and the celebration of St Patrick’s Day has a different meaning than in Ireland: “It is both sad and happy, and there is a lot of eating going on.”

March 17th became an officially designated national holiday in 1985, and since 1995 has become a week-long festival that includes a parade in national dress, a road race called “the slave run”, dinners, fashion shows, beauty contests, dancing and pub crawls. While in Antigua, we could pick up Montserrat radio stations, and there was much talk of the upcoming celebration. 2018 marked the 200th anniversary of the slave uprising…..Dammit!, this is what we missed! (obviously online photos, since we weren’t there.):

Next, the volcano: I’d never heard of Montserrat, until my sister spent six weeks on the island in 1997, helping them build a website. Sally had never heard of the island either, and was unaware that the massive eruption had occurred just a year before. Needless to say, “island” life during her stay on Montserrat was much different than she expected.

Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills is an active volcano, with many lava domes forming its summit (I’ve learned that many volcanoes in the Caribbean are named Soufrière, which is French, for “sulphur outlet”). After being dormant for 350, the volcano came back into life in 1995, and started to build a new lava dome. When pyroclastic and mudflows began occurring regularly, the capital city of Plymouth was evacuated.

A few weeks later, on July 18th, 1997, a massive pyroclastic flow buried Plymouth in more than 39 ft of mud, destroying the city, causing widespread evacuations and rendering more than half of the island uninhabitable. Here are some amazing, online images:

Between 1995 and 2000, two-thirds of the island’s population was forced to flee, primarily to the United Kingdom, leaving fewer than 1,200 people on the island as of 1997. Because of the size of the existing volcanic dome, and the resulting potential for pyroclastic activity, an exclusion zone was established, extending from the south coast to north parts of the island.

Since the devastating event in 1995, the volcano has continued to erupt, and is one of the most active and closely monitored volcanoes in the world. It’s activity includes periods of lava dome growth, followed by brief episodes of dome collapse, causing pyroclastic flows, ash venting, and explosive eruption. As recently as February 2010, a partial collapse of the lava dome sent large ash clouds over sections of several nearby islands, including Guadeloupe and Antigua.

Before its lower two thirds became devastated, Montserrat was a carefree, island paradise (also the birthplace of Alphonsus Cassell, creator of the soca hit “Hot, Hot, Hot”). In 1979, Beatles producer, Sir George Martin, built AIR Studios Montserrat, and for more than a decade, it played host to recording sessions by musicians including Dire Straits, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Sting and The Rolling Stones.

For my Buffett fans, Jimmy recorded the album, Volcano, and hit song by the same name, in May of 1979 at Air Studios. The album and song were named for the then-dormant Soufriere Hills volcano. Sadly, Hurricane Hugo destroyed the studios in 1989.

Two decades later, this modern-day “Pompeii” is slowly recovering. The population is growing, and sand mining and geothermal energy provide new sources of income. The northern part of Montserrat remains lush and green, largely unaffected by volcanic activity, and a new town, port and government center have developed on the northwest coast.

Tourists are slowly trickling back to the island, mostly for volcano-related day trips. The volcano is always a wild card, but all in all, Montserrat is a safe place to visit, offering great hiking, bird watching, and a slow pace of life.

We may have missed the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, but didn’t want to pass up a chance to see the island, and the volcano’s effects, up close. It was a beautiful day, with clear visibility as we approached from the south.

And Lady Soufriere was smokin’ away.

As we got closer, the wide avenues of hardened lava flow extended all the way down to, an into, the water, creating new sections of coastline.

We followed along the island’s west side, where vegetation had again taken hold, and the still-active volcano smoldered in the distance.



Further along, at Plymouth, what was once the island’s capital city, the views were more creepy and ominous. Abandoned homes, ravaged by the eruption, had been encroached by twenty years of vegetation growth.

A photo of houses after the eruption:

And what we saw twenty years later:

In other areas, only shells of buildings remained, virtually buried in hardened mud and sand, from the massive pyroclastic flow.



We moved away from the coast, and continued on our course to Anguilla. Despite the catastrophe of Soufriere’s eruption, the Emerald Isle of Montserrat is still intriging, and its St. Patrick’s Day celebration is still on our bucket list….we will be back!

Here are many more photos from our drive-by of Montserrat.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”





Waiting On Weather, Time With Friends And A Big Decision In Dominica

Dominica’s capital, Roseau, was only a short bus ride away from our anchorage, so we decided to spend a day in the “big city.” We walked to the bus stop in Portsmouth, and were soon on our way, with the bus half-full; quite a change from Antigua and Grenada, being pack in like sardines. I found an aerial photo of the bus “terminal” in Portsmouth.

The ride to Roseau was approximately 45 minutes, and soon we had been dropped off at the “terminal” in town, which translates to many buses (remember, we’re talking vans here) parked along a long, random stretch of road. From there, we walked several blocks to the center of town. As is usual in Caribbean towns, the sidewalks were narrow, came and went, and there wasn’t a breath of air….it was a hot go. (Online bus photo)


Right away, we noticed storm damage, especially on the churches in town.

The streets were lined with building of all shapes, sizes and construction types. There were many very, very old buildings, and some were trimmed with iron balconies, that had the look of those on Bourbon St. in New Orleans.







Along the waterfront, a brightly colored pavilion waited to welcome cruise ships back to the city.


We wandered into a small shop across from the pier, that had just reopened for business (and it had air conditioning!). The owner told us how different the city looks now, and that all she felt when seeing it after the storm was sadness and tears. I found some good before and after photos of Roseau’s waterfront online.


After chatting with the store owner, and cooling off a bit, our stomachs were telling us that it was time for lunch. We were recommended a local place, and set off to find some food. A few blocks away, we found the large, two-story building, offering take-away downstairs, and seated service on the second floor. We sat on the porch, enjoyed a buffet of local food, and  watched life go by on the streets below.


Hot and tired, we decided it was time to head for home.  Back at the sea of buses, drivers headed our way as we approached, hawking their services, and trying to beat out each other for our 4.00 (total) fare. We chose a winner, using the fist-come, first-serve rule, and followed him back to his bus.


On the edge of town, traffic came to a crawl. As the bus inched along, we eventually realized that a barrier wall had come down in the storm, and high tide was bringing  water across the road. Once the passing cars and buses slowly made their way through, we were on our way. We enjoyed our day in Roseau, but were happy to be back in Portsmouth, with cool breezes coming down from the nearby mountain.


We’d planned to stay a week or so in Dominica, and then make our way to Montserrat, for their St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but it was looking more and more like Mother Nature would intervene once again. Back home in the U.S., four major nor’easters affected the Northeast  in a period of less than three weeks… March! This very unusual weather was bringing large, north swell down to the Eastern Caribbean, and unfortunately, the anchorage at Montserrat isn’t protected from north wind…go figure. We kept our fingers crossed that the forecast would change, and focused on our current surroundings.

We had met new friends, Mark and Lynne, on s/v Roxy, after they put out a call on the vhf for people interested in playing Mexican Train Dominoes. We quickly replied, and I soon learned that like me, the two of them had also attended Ohio University!! What an awesomely small world…Go Bobcats! We all shared cruising stories, and the three of us talked all things Ohio, as we played dominoes on board both boats.

The four of us attended the weekly Sunday barbecue put on by PAYS, with music, food and killer rum punch (as Scott can attest to)! I forgot my camera, but cruisers on s/v Aspen and s/v Argon captured some good images of the evening.

Spearfishing of any kind is prohibited in Dominica…but,the invasive Lionfish are fair game, so Mark and Scott set off on a hunting expedition.


It’s believe that Lionfish were introduced off the Florida coast in the early to mid-1990s, and they quickly became an invasive species off the U.S. East Coast, and throughout the Caribbean, increasing by up to 700% in some areas between 2004 and 2008. (Wikipedia photos)



Described as one of the most aggressively invasive species on the planet, they have few natural predators, due to their venomous spines, and thrive well in the nutrient-rich waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean. With few predators, Scott finds them relatively easy to catch, and just fan out their pretty quills, as if to say…come and get me!

Scott caught several Lionfish, but gifted them to Mark, as cleaning the little buggers is tricky, due to their spines. Lynne was nice enough to cook us up a Lionfish meal, as we played a dominoes game aboard Roxy…mmmm.

Saturday is market day in Portsmouth, so we headed to town with Mark and Lynne, to stock up on some fresh veg. Local farmer’s markets are quite the social event in small Caribbean towns, and this was no different. People chatted in the street, and vendors called out to those walking by to come see what they had to sell.

The selection was much better than we expected, given the state of the island in general, and we came away with bags full of fruit, vegetable and eggs.



In addition to the strong north swell north of us, a brisk, west wind picked up off of Dominica…completely unusual for this time of year, go figure. The anchorage was open to the west, making for several lumpy days in the mooring field.


Our odds of going to Montserrat were getting slimmer by the day. We drowned our sorrows at one of the local bars, where Scott sampled several flavors of bush rum, and stuffed our bellies at Coral Pleasures.

The airy, wooden building didn’t look open, but as we peeked in, two ladies waived us inside. We drank cold beer on the waterfront porch, while waiting for our lunch.


Our meal was so good, we returned again to feed our faces again. Thanks ladies!





Scott and I had spent the past few months mulling over whether or not to extend our cruising adventure for another year. After much back and forth, we finally made the decision to head back home to Baltimore, sticking to our original, three-year plan.

We both loved our time in Panama, and were very, very tempted to return. However, we just weren’t up for the passage there, and especially the journey back north…the Eastern Caribbean had softened us quickly!

Going back home now would keep our bank account more fluid, and we could all three benefit from some doctor visits. Menopause has been an very unwelcome stowaway on this cruise, and I look forward to getting my symptoms in check. Howard will get a once-over from our vet at home, and poor Scott has the prostate of a 60 year old that needs tending to.

The thought of going home is both exciting and a bit sad, as our journey feels somewhat unfinished. I love my hometown, and look forward to being home for the many fall and holiday activities, and having regular contact with family and friends. Scott will struggle more, especially as we’re going home right into cooler temperatures; I expect much grumbling this winter! However, we’re both looking forward to some “real-world” conveniences!!

So when the winds settled, we made a plan to turn Sea Life north. Our friends on Roxy left a day ahead of us, bound for Martinique.

Montserrat was officially off the table, as the north wind was still too unsettled for the anchorage there…which was a huge letdown for both of us. However, there were still several Eastern Caribbean islands on our list, before we would head for Puerto Rico and then north through the Bahama islands chain.  After crossing back over to the U. S. East Coast, Sea Life will head north for Baltimore, and arrive at our home slip in October.

From Dominica, we would head back to Iles des Saintes, before continuing on to Anguilla, with a Montserrat drive-by along the way. We enjoyed this lovely island, and its friendly people during our stay, and know that Dominica will only get more beautiful as she recovers.

Here are a few more photos, and a really good link that has many vivid before and after hurricane images of Dominica.

Obviously, these posts are not in real time, but you can always check our current position by using the link on the Where Are We Now Page of our blog, which takes you to the inReach Satellite site. Scroll over the bottom square box at the top left of the map, and then choose Aerial, to get a Google Earth, pretty-blue-water view!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Touring Dominica

Despite the hurricane damage, we were still eager to tour Dominica, and set up a day-long island tour through Eddison. We arrived at the PAYS pavilion, where a van was ready and waiting. Peter and Nicki, a Swiss couple who were also moored in the anchorage, joined us for the day.

Just outside of town we saw piles of lumber, waiting for use in various reconstruction projects, and our first up close views of Dominica’s stripped landscape.

Ascending the hills, we saw many roof tarps, and houses still damaged in every direction, including one man who had set up house in a tent (I snapped photos like mad through the window of the van, so apologies for the occasional blur and reflection).


Our guide drove us down to a local fishing pier, where we stopped to snap photos and chat with some locals. They tried to coax Scott into staying for a beer at one of the small bars onsite, but he managed to hold firm and climb back into the van.

And who wouldn’t want to ride in this snazzy van?!


Our next top was the local chocolate factory, always a hit in my book. Unfortunately, they were still repairing damage from the storm, and weren’t yet open for tours. Luckily, we were invited in to purchase chocolate bars…so our stop wasn’t a total loss!

Leaving the factory with a chocolate fix, we traveled a bit further, before pulling off to the side of the road in a quite random location. A barefoot man with long dreadlocks approached the car, and we were told he’d be our guide to Red Rocks. O…kaaay. Like sheep, the four of us hopped out of the van, and followed Danny into the trees.

He was concerned about our footwear, and suggested that we go barefoot instead. We all chose to continue on with our shoes, and before we’d gone two steps, both men slipped almost immediately on the slick. soupy mud. Scott caught himself, but poor Peter ended up with mud covering his entire back.

After several more minutes of trekking gingerly along the mucky trail, we came out of the trees, and into this!…

This area of Dominica’s shoreline is referred to as Red Rocks. It’s like nothing we’ve seen anywhere in our travels, and I’m guessing it’s the only area like it in the Caribbean. The red, compacted mud appeared Mars-like (or what I imagine Mars is like), and we just wandered the rust-colored, mounded surface…taking it in.

Danny guided us down a slope, and into a small ravine. He showed us a small cave, which Scott immediately crawled into.

He also managed to squeeze himself into this crevasse.

We walked over to the  north edge of the Red Rocks area, with views of Calibishie in the distance, before heading into the woods and back to the van.

Danny insisted on rinsing our shoes using a nearby water spigot, as they were completely caked in mud, and then we were off on our way in the van.

Our guide drove us along the western coast, where the beaches were lined with much storm debris. The van climbed up, up, up into the mountains, and as the steep winding road came to it’s highest point, and dropped off in front of us, I couldn’t look out the window. Scott took over photo duty, standing out of the large sun roof above the van’s passenger seats for a better view.

We were headed to the Carib Territory. Since signing a treaty with the Europeans, descendants of the original Carib Indians live on Dominica’s windward coast. The Caribs are lighter skinned than native Dominicans, with Asian features. They still build dugout canoes, and sell baskets and other crafts to tourists. We’d hoped to visit their museum, but it had been destroyed by Maria.

The road leading to the Carib Territory was in terrible shape after Maria’s flooding rains. So badly so, that the van got stuck in a mud rut along the way, and we all had to jump out and push!! Luckily, our efforts worked, and the van was able to get past the beat up section of road.

At the territory’s highest point, we stopped to buy some trinkets from two Carib women, who had tables full of handmade items for sale alongside the road. These ladies definitely had an office with a view.

Next, a stop for lunch, which was great timing, as we were all starved. The Islet View Restaurant was classic tiki/tropical, with amazing views.

And, a friendly greeter…

“Bush Rum” is very popular on Dominica. All combinations of herbs, plants and spices are added to rum for infused flavor. This homemade island libation comes in bottles of all shapes and sizes, and Scott enjoyed sampling the many different flavors during our visit. The Islet view had quite an extensive selection, making it hard for him to choose (although he tried more than one flavor on several occasions)!

Our lunch options were the typical local offerings of barbecue chicken, stewed chicken, or salted fish. I decided to finally try salted fish, and was not disappointed. All of our meals were delicious, but our hands-down favorite was an amazingly yummy sauce that the owner/chef made to go with our fried plantain chips (Sorry, but I rarely take photos of food, as I’m too busy shoving it into my face)!!

The four of us lingered for another cold beer after lunch, enjoying our surroundings, before boarding the van to continue on. As we came outside, the owner was purchasing fresh vegetables from a local truck.

With full bellies, our next stop would be a short walk to a waterfall. The drive through this area of the island was noticeably gray, and the trees much more visibly stripped.


Before Maria, the view may have looked something like this..

What we saw after the storm…

Our guide let us off alongside the road, where we followed an easy path to the waterfall. We walked past massive trees that had been completely uprooted, others that had been snapped off, and soaring knobby timbers that used to be coconut palms.

Even though the way had been recently cleared, we still had to side-step piles of debris, and climb over downed trees. It was a strange mix of destruction and lush, green regrowth.

A steep set of stairs lead down to the waterfall, which was just coming into view (Just for reference, the first photo is one I found online, pre-Maria).

The stairs led us past a beautiful “wet wall.” Moss, vines and various plants were constantly bathed in dripping water and mist, making for quite a cool “jungle” effect.

The four of us enjoyed the cool air coming from the falls. Our guide told us that before Maria, daylight was barely visible here, but we now stood in an area was awash in light. I’ve included another before-Maria photo.


It wasn’t the largest one in the world, but waterfalls are always cool.

Back in the van, we drove through areas that were much more green, as we made our way down to the island’s eastern coast. We passed an area where sand was being loaded onto trucks, for export to places like Florida (really….that’s a thing, exporting sand), and drove through several villages right down at sea level. Here, we saw houses, still abandoned, filled with sand.

Understandably, roads along the coast received significant damage from the storm. We came around a scary turn where half the road had slide away, leaving only one lane. As our van approached drop off, a truck coming the other way sped by us as if there was plenty of room, leaving himself only inches to spare. I was sure he’d slide down into the abyss, but he just sped on.

Just a bit further was evidence of how long storm recovery can take on an island. We detoured around a bridge that had been washed away by Tropical Storm Erika, in August of 2015, and had yet to be repaired.

We came into Portsmouth, passing Ross University, which offers both medical and veterinary schools of medicine.  Since the hurricane, some students were currently living on a cruise ship docked in St. Kitts, and attending classes on board, while others had transferred to a temporary campus in Knoxville, Tennessee. At the time of our tour, the university hoped to have the campus open in March, for the 2018 spring semester, but we later learned that it was unlikely the university would be fully operational in Dominica before 2019.

The anchorage came into view as a full moon rose, and our long day was over.

Our guide presented both Niki and me with a colorful souvenir of our day, a beautiful bouquet of tropical flowers that he’d stopped along the road to cut for us. Sadly, I could only enjoy mine for a hour or so, before Howard found them and started munching, so overboard they went.

We’d gotten a great overview of the island, and seen both gorgeous and depressing sights. The forests of Dominica would take a dozen years to rebound from Maria’s beating, but luckily, our guide told us that most crops will produce next year. The island was truly beautiful, despite damage that was still very visible. I cannot imaging the lushness of Dominica before this powerful storm touched it. Maybe we’ll have to return in ten years or so…..


Here are many more photos of our island tour.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


After saying goodbye to our friends who’d headed off for southern destinations a day before us, we slipped the lines from our mooring ball, and cruised away from the Ile des Saintes to begin the short, six hour run to Dominica.

We’d hoped to visit the island last year, on our way south for hurricane season, but as time got short, Scott grew anxious to get settled in Grenada before the peak of the season. We passed by Dominica, planning to visit on our way north in 2018…..who knew Hurricane Maria would make a direct hit, and devastate the island.

Dominica is located midway along the Eastern Caribbean islands, just a few miles from Martinique to the south and Guadeloupe to the north. We were heading for Portsmouth, on the island’s northwest side.

The name Dominica is derived from the Latin word for “Sunday,” as Columbus is said to have passed the island on a Sunday in November of 1493. The island is sparsely populated compared to its size, with 70,000 people inhabiting the island’s 289 square miles, and a significant portion of that population lives in and around the capital city of Roseau.

Dominica is the youngest island in the Lesser Antillies, still being “formed” by extensive, geothermal-volcanic activity…even underwater. It is also home to the world’s second largest hot spring, Boiling Lake (we didn’t visit the lake, but I found some great photos online, from other bloggers, and on Wikipedia).


Known as “The Nature Island,”tropical rain forests cover two thirds of Dominica, and it is home to many rare species of plants, animals and birds, protected by an extensive natural park system (The Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Caribbean). Rivers (365 of them), lakes, streams and waterfalls cover the island, fed by a high annual rainfall.

It is said that if Christopher Columbus came back to the Caribbean today, Dominica is the only island he would recognize. Unlike most all other Eastern Caribbean islands, Dominica has remained both commercially and residentially undeveloped, with only a few small hotels and inns. When trying to describe the mountains of Dominica to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus resorted to crumpling up a sheet of paper, in order to illustrate the dramatic form of the land, with it’s valleys, gorges and peaks. Sadly, the island’s appearance is much different now, after Hurricane Maria.

On the evening of Sept. 18, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Dominica at full, category-five force, with 160 mph winds. The brutal storm damaged or destroyed roofs of 90 percent of buildings, toppled power lines, and sent some of the thickest, strongest and oldest trees in the forests smashing to the ground. Maria’s rains triggered landslides that turned the island’s 365 rivers into raging coils that washed away bridges and crops, and slashed deep cuts along what had been well-laid roads. The storm is now the island’s worst natural disaster on record.

Hurricane Maria was one of the fastest intensifying hurricanes ever recorded, blowing up from a tropical storm into a major Category 5 hurricane in barely more than a day. Dominica was this fierce storm’s first victim, and it’s clear from these before and after photos from Google Earth, that she showed no mercy, changing it’s hills and valleys from lush green to brown. When Maria hit the island, poor Dominica was still recovering from Tropical Storm Erika, which killed 30 people, destroyed more than 370 homes and caused extensive flooding in August of 2015.

I found some online images of Portsmouth, just days after Maria, and of relief supplied arriving from neighboring islands.

As we approached, Dominica appeared much greener than expected.


We made our way into the anchorage at Portsmouth, and hailed PAYS on the vhf. In the past, Dominica was far less safe for cruisers, with many reports of theft from boats at anchor. Realizing that this was affecting their livelihood, local tour guides formed the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, or PAYS, who run regular patrols in the anchorage at night, and since the association has been active, there have been no reports of trouble.

The men of PAYS have “interesting” names, such as Lawrence of Arabia Providence, Cobra, Spaghetti and Sea Bird, and usually have several boats working under their name (photos from other blogs) They come out to greet boaters entering the anchorage, and help  them secure to mooring balls. We could have dropped anchor, but chose to take a ball, as the fee goes towards supporting PAYS. The guys also help set up island tours, dispose of trash and host a weekly Sunday barbecue that has become well known in the Eastern Caribbean.

Daniel, who is affiliated with Eddison, replied to our call and came out to the boat as we entered the bay. He told us that Eddison would meet us in the anchorage, and then headed out to fish. Eddison was ready and waiting, and waved us over to an open ball, helping us tie on.

We settled in to enjoy the evening. Scott and Howard (aka, Bartles and James) made themselves comfortable in the cockpit, and we watched one of the sailing cruise ships raise sails to head south, which was quite a sight.


The next morning was a bit more clear, and we were able to get a better look at the hills surrounding the anchorage. Heartier, weedier foliage was definitely coming back green, much more than we would’ve expected, but the hills were “striped,” where swaths of trees had been stripped, and the many mud slides left their mark.


The harbor was still scenic, and we were pleased to see so many boats visiting, both at anchor and on mooring balls.

We made our way to the PAYS dock, that had recently been rebuilt, along with a new pavilion that’s used for Sunday barbecues.

From there, it was a short walk to town. The road was lined with homes and buildings covered in tarps, and others left with a foundation and some pieces of wall.

Piles of downed power lines often blocked the sidewalk, and on the far side of town, a sizable cruising sailboat that washed ashore by Maria had been left for dead.


Here is view of the main road in town, when we saw it, and just after Maria (approximately the same location).

However, signs of repair and rebuilding were everywhere we looked. Many homes had fresh paint, and others were being reconstructed. We passed loads of building supplies, and people at work repairing roofs.


For the most part, it was business as usual in town, stores were open, including the local bars, and several people were set up along the sidewalks, selling fruits and vegetables.

We passed several locals along our walk who were more than friendly, and many stopped to talk. At first, we were leery, waiting for them to ask for a hand-out, but none came. Most told us about their hurricane experience; hiding in bathtubs, and holding doors closed with all of their strength. Despite the fear of that night, and the devastation that they’re now working to rebuild from, Dominica’s people still had much pride in their home, and were happy to have us visit. We looked forward to spending time on this still very beautiful island. Here are more photos.



“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”



Iles des Saintes

Forgive the delay in posting, we’ve been off grid for the past few weeks……

With unfavorable weather predicted for heading north, we’d decided to make our way south instead. Our next destination was Ile des Saintes, a small group of islands off of mainland Guadeloupe, encircled by shallow reefs. We’d heard endless raves about “the Saints,” from every cruiser who’d visited, so it was a must-stop on our list.

Instead of making an overnight run, we opted to break up the journey and make a return stop at Deshaise, Guadeloupe for the night. Even in the “more favorable” direction from Antigua, our seven hour run was unnervingly lumpy (paravanes are the best invention ever), making us glad we’d decided not to travel north, and into the wind.

Despite the sea state, we enjoyed traveling along the scenic coast of Guadeloupe. I caught sight of a large, above-ground cemetery, crammed with graves of all shapes and sizes. There can’t be many more vacancies available.

As we approached Deshaise, Howard perused the coast. However, having no more patience for lumpy travel, and ready to just drop the anchor already, he soon tired of the view.

We dropped anchor in the harbor, went to shore for the easy-peasy clear in at a gift shop in town, stocked up on Scott’s French staples…baguettes and Orangina, and then made our way back to the boat.

The next morning we continued on, and caught sight of our friends Rob and Lindy (s/v Sea Shak) further down the coast, traveling off of our starboard side. We’d met them during our last days in Jolly Harbour, and were both headed in the same direction. We had a quick radio chat, before they tacked away from us and continued on. After a much less lumpy ride, we arrived at Ile des Saintes. The forecast for the coming week predicted strong northeast winds, so we planned to settle in.

The islands have been French since shortly after they were colonized, with a small community that used to rely almost entirely on fishing. Unlike most Caribbean islands, the Saints were never agricultural, and therefore no slaves were ever imported. As a result, residents of African descent arrived and live on the islands by choice.

There are many mooring balls available at affordable rates. However, demand far exceeds the supply, and you have to be quick and crafty to get one. A cruiser referred to the challenge as mooring ball “Hunger Games,” and he’s not far off.

On our approach, we perused the mooring field off of town with binoculars. Seeing nothing available, we slowly snaked our way through, hoping to catch sight of someone up on a bow, ready to slip their lines and leave. While scanning the mooring field, we also had to keep an eye out for other boats coming in, looking for available balls as well. It was a race of eyesight, as boats tried to beat each other to the punch. Boats already on moorings will call friends on the radio, to let them know a ball is coming open. They then speed over to the ball by dinghy, essentially claiming the spot until the boat arrives to tie on.

With all this rigmarole going on, there was no chance of getting a mooring closer to shore, and town. We moved over to the outer edge, and managed to find an open ball..hurray! Not long after Scott grabbed it and secured us, we realized why the ball had been available. It was on the outer edge of the harbor, with an almost entirely open exposure to the ever increasing winds.

We rolled like crazy, even with the flopper-stoppers in place. Winds were predicted to blow like mad over the next week, and there was no way we could stand seven days of bobbing and rolling, so the next morning, we did another pass through the balls closer to shore, and after no luck, headed over to nearby Ile Cabrit. It had just a few mooring balls, but as we approached almost half were open; but,at least two sailboats were making their way over as well. Not having to slow and bring in sails gave us the jump, and we quickly chose a ball and tied on. Mission accomplished!

Later that afternoon, we happened to notice Lindy tied to a ball near us…sitting on  her stand up paddle board.

Apparently Rob had seen the open ball through binoculars, and quickly ferried her over in the dinghy to claim it. She floated there for almost an hour, while Rob made his way back to their boat, raised anchor and brought it over….amusing! We were happy to have them so close by.

The smaller, unpopulated Ile Cabrit was a popular weekend spot for boats of all sizes. Locals would anchor or take a ball, and then head to shore for picnics and fun. A small pavilion and several picnic tables with grills were scattered in the trees, and people lounged on the beach, enjoying the water. The water surrounding the Saintes was deep, but the clarity was terrific. Snorkeling in the area was very good, and Scott even heard whale songs while underwater!

We made the short hike up to the remains of Fort Josephine, which sits atop Ile Cabrit. The woods that line the shore are home to a huge flock of roosters and chickens. They share space with several cats, who are regularly chased by the bossy birds (I’d run if something with a pointy beak was chasing me too!), and an occasional goat. As we walked along the lower path, Scott was like the Pied Piper, with roosters, chickens and cats in tow.

A cement path made for an easy hike up to the hill, and we were met at the ruins of the fort by resident goats, who didn’t really seem to care that we had arrived.


From here, we had a great view of the anchorage below, and of some poor boats making their way out in the white capped water.

The view over to the main island of Terre d’en Haut was gorgeous, with the town of Bourg des Saintes nestled in the hills, and Fort Napolean on the island’s north side.


We wandered what was left of the fort, and then headed back, noticing nearby Guadeloupe on the horizon as we made our way down.


The winds were sustained in the upper 20 knots, and the water between Isle Cabrit and town was a washing machine, riddled with white caps. We were protected from the brunt of the wind, but insanely strong gusts would come down the hill at us often, lurching the boat sideways and sending anything not held down inside the boat sailing through the air.

After several days, Scott felt comfortable running the gauntlet over to town, and managed to convince me that we wouldn’t flip over and drown on the way. We donned our raincoats, which were useless. The waves slapped at us from all sides, sending water into my hood and down inside my coat. Scott was too stubborn to use his hood, and water drenched his head and face. Sunglasses kept water out of our eyes for about a minute…of the ten minute ride, so Scott steered blind most of the way.

Once at the town dock, it was work to drag our soggy selves up onto the rolling, pitching pier and brace against the strong wind gusts. We were so wet, and it looked more like we’d swam over, rather than taken a dinghy.

First things first…we needed to clear in. As I’ve mentioned before, the French islands make this so easy: enter your info. into a computer, usually found in a gift shop or cafe, have your form printed out, pay four or five Euros and go on your way! In the Saints, there was a marine office of sorts, with air conditioning, wifi, laundry service and cold beer…we were becoming big fans of the French! We both enjoyed a beer, while Scott filled out the online clearance forms and I caught up on emails. With jobs complete, it was off to walk through town and find some groceries.

Bourg des Saintes was picturesque and quaint. Buildings were bright, clean and colorful, and the streets spotlessly clean. Neighbors chatted with each other, and people sped by us on scooters, their baskets full of baguettes. We felt like we were in coastal France, instead of the Caribbean.


We couldn’t completely understand the menu boards posted out front of the many cafes and restaurants, but delicious smells invited us to come sit and eat. Souvenir and gift shops were awash in color, with items displayed outside, hoping to lure passing customers inside.

Several ferries arrived from Guadeloupe each day, making mornings in town very busy. By noon, they had departed back to the mainland, or nearby islands, and most businesses closed several hours for lunch. The grocery stores closed during the day as well, but each at different times. During most of our travels, we often need to visit two or three stores to find essential items on our list, so it was a bit challenging to get our shopping done. As we wandered past a specialty food shop, (closed for lunch), we noticed that humans weren’t the only ones in Bourg des Saintes who took a lunch break.

As we walked the streets, passing people and scooters loaded down with baguettes, Scott became nervous about the town’s supply. I assured him that of course there would be plenty of baguettes in the stores when we got was a French island after all. We arrived at the first store to find the many baguette baskets empty….oops. Scott went into a panic.

I assured him that we were fine, there were two more grocery stores in town. The second store was closed when we arrived, and wouldn’t be reopening again for three hours…..double oops. I could now feel Scott’s panic (not to mention, he was venting loudly at me). We continued on to the discount store, and arrived to find their baskets full of baguettes….thank God. I could feel Scott’s blood pressure drop, as he grabbed an armful of long, crusty loaves.

I purchased some trash bags at one of the stores, to wrap our bags in and keep our food dry. Back at the pier, we stopped at a spot out of the wind, and covered our bags, backpacks and most importantly, the baguettes. We were going with the wind on our return ride, making it a bit less soggy. Nevertheless, I was glad for the trash bags, soggy baguettes would have put Scott over the edge!

We returned to the main island for a walk up to Fort Napoleon, which stands on a hill north of town. This time, I was ready for the soggy slog. In addition to cinching my hood so tight against my face that it left a mark, I cut holes in some large, black trash bags, and wore them as rain pants (think MC Hammer). I made Scott do the same, and we headed to town. The winds had died, and our ride wasn’t as brutal, but I was still glad for my homemade pants; Scott vowed never to wear his again.

We followed the main road out of town, and up to the fort, admiring the town below. At the last turn, we stopped to take in the postcard view.



The fort had been well restored, and the grounds were one, big botanical garden, dedicated to local succulent planes and iguanas.

In the trees along the north side of the fort, we spotted several iguanas. We’ve since learned that there are both indigenous and invasive iguanas in the Lesser Antilles Islands. The Lesser Antillean Iguana is pictured below, bright green, and more solid in color. They are considered endangered, and are rarely seen on  many islands.

The invasive Green iguana is larger, and out competes the Lesser Antillean for food. They have also interbred, causing a hybrid species. We saw both the Green Iguana, and a hybrid type as well, in the trees at the fort.

Here is an invasive, Green Iguana.



And here is they hybrid iguana, keeping the bright green of the Lesser Antillean.

Notice how long his tail is! Look closely, it goes all the way up the branch behind him!


We walked the perimeter of the wall, for more  views of town and the bays below us.


We strolled past the forts massive, thick walls, and headed back to town. On the way, we noticed many colorful fishing boats moored in the harbor below, and passed a small hotel with an inviting bar!


Having our friends Rob and Lindy just a few mooring balls away was great. Knowing Scott’s cravings for baguettes, they often returned from town with one in tow for him, and were also nice enough to deliver wine!

We introduced them to Mexican Train dominoes, and spent several nights playing on board Sea Life. One evening during a game, I felt Howard’s wet tail on my leg. I assumed, as usual, he’d dipped his tail in the water while watching fish from the swim platform. I turned to find a completely soaked cat, who’d obviously gotten too excited while watching Tarpon chase Needlefish. I went for a towel, and some wipes, to help dry him and get most of the salt from his fur. If you’re keeping track, this brings Howard’s “swim” count to seven, in five countries (thank goodness we’ve taken to securing a towel off of the swim platform, to help Howard “Phelps” get back on board)!!

The four of us decided to take advantage of the picnic areas on Ile Cabrit, and headed to shore with food and drink in tow. We grilled some food over the fire pit, and the chickens helped themselves to the scraps.




When they dispersed for the evening, Lindy and I fed the cats (impossible to do while the chickens were still around). If I thought Howard would share his boat….or more importantly, his food, I’d have quickly scooped up this little guy.

We had loads of fun, and hung out well after sunset, snapping fun, silly selfies.

One morning, Scott noticed our friends on s/v Chill coming in to take a nearby mooring. Dan and Jackie are fellow Marylanders we met while in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua. We dinghied over to say hello, and invite them for drinks and a catch-up. They came aboard, with friends in tow, and we enjoyed a great evening. Dan and Jackie purchased one of the Chesapeake Bay lighthouses, years back,when they were up for auction. They’ve did an incredible renovation, and enjoy it as a summer get-away. Check it out here.

The winds were dying, which meant we would all be continuing on, in different directions. Lindy and Rob left early one morning, bound for St. Lucia. We spent one more evening ashore for drinks, while Scott burned some of our trash, and the next morning, they passed alongside for a final goodbye, then headed for the horizon.

Dan slipped his mooring a few hours later. He was taking Chill to Martinique solo, where Jackie and some of their children would join him. Dan gave us a wave as he made is way out of the mooring field, and headed south.

Scott and I lingered one more day, giving the seas a chance to calm a bit more. We enjoyed an early dinner in town, and prepared for the next day’s journey, while Howard eyed some young pelicans swimming near the boat.


Our next stop….Dominica. Here are many more photos of our time in the Saints.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”