Flirting With Florence

Good Lord, three years of cruising along both sides of the Caribbean, and we have to deal with a hurricane as we come within spitting distance of home!!
Scott’s been watching the tropics closely all summer, and we cannot believe how quiet it’s been, as we traveled up the Bahama island chain, into Florida and through the Carolinas. Things began to heat up while we were in the Outer Banks, and we kept a watchful eye on the developments as we traveled north, into and through the Dismal Swamp, and on to the Chesapeake and Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Our plan was to cross back over to the western side of the bay, but worked on a plan B, C and D as we watched Florence, and waited to see where she would actually land.
On Tuesday, we crossed the Chesapeake, entered into the Potomac River and headed for a marina in Lodge Creek, located several turns into the Yeocomico River. Any possible surge would get dispersed on this path, taking the impact down several notches.
We settled into a stressful slip situation for Scott, with short poles made taller with weak boards, but Scott made it work, using longer lines to tie to more poles than usual. We have to do the Hokey Pokey to get off the boat and up the pier, but we’re secure.
Here you can catch sight of our Intracoastal “mustache!”
 Scott went to the local hardware store, and bought wood to make fender boards. Our fenders press against the boards, keeping us off of the pier, while the boards rides up and down the poles. He also sealed the doors and windows with tape. After our crazy refit, we are leek-free when at anchor and into the wind; but in a slip, with rain and wind coming at us sideways, possibly torrential, it was smart to be proactive.
Howard was on hand to supervise, wearing his walking jacket. Without it, he gets far too curious about other people’s boats, and tends to hop on for a look.
As the storm’s landfall was predicted to move more and more south, our forecast got better and better…whew! We’re just getting cloudy, breezy weather, with occasional rain. High tide cover the piers a few inches, but a new moon has been causing this for the last week. Days ago, we were predicted to get a 1-3 foot surge, with much rain as the storm looped north, but now that forecast has improved as well.
Thankfully, Florence missed us, but several of our friends are in its path. We have friends in the Charleston area, including one on their boat, who are trying to sell. They all headed inland safely, and some are already back in their houses, as that area now won’t be so badly affected.
Other friends left their boats in Oriental, North Carolina, and, right near New Bern, North Carolina, which seems to be ground zero for surge and rain right now. Our poor friend Jon was tearing his hair out in California, waiting for news, but we just heard today that all is well with his boat!
While watching Florence’s path, we’ve also been thinking about our friends in the Caribbean, as Isaac threatened the area from St. Barths to Grenada. Thankfully, the storm lost strength as it passed by Dominica. And Helene seems headed for our friends across the pond, in the UK…a busy month!
Here’s hoping the rest of the season is quiet, as we prepare to leave here mid-week and head for Annapolis. At the end of the month, in just a few short weeks, weather allowing, it’s on to Baltimore!!
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

The Goats Of Statia

Goats…..I don’t recall any during our time in the Western Caribbean, but on the eastern side, they were a regular sight. On Grenada, it was common to see goats tethered in a yard, or along the roadside. Their insatiable chewing of all things that grow, make them perfect, environmentally-friendly lawnmowers.

When our friend Karen visited us on Antigua, she and Scott hiked the Goat Trail. The aptly named path was home to goats of all sizes, their droppings making for quite a “fragrant” hike.

During our stay at Ile Cabrit, in Les Saintes, we were greeted buy a goat “guard” at the remains of Fort Josephine, and  were amused by a young goat playing with a coconut along the water’s edge.

On our tour of Dominica, we passed several goats along the roadside, munching on new growth sprouting up after Hurricane Irma’s devastation.

However, on the island of Statia, goats rule. During our first trip to shore, a herd  crossed the road in front of us as we made our way through lower town. We’d never seen so many run wild together, off tether. Oblivious to us, they made a beeline for the nearest pile of ruins, and began to munch.

We watched them hog-down on plants and weeds that grew out of the ruins; eating from crevasses, crawling into holes to munch, and when the easy-to-reach stuff was gone, climbing higher up, for the good stuff.

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The frenzied smorgasbord lasted less than a minute; and then, as is if a bull horn had signaled the end of the meal, they abandoned the ruins restaurant as quickly as they’d entered, and continued on…… trotting down the middle of the street, stopping to nibble stray weeds along the way, with no fear of people, or the cars that drove toward them.

Later, while walking to upper town, we passed a family meal in progress along the road. Like the herd in lower town, the family dinner was short-lived, and they quickly moved on down the street.

We came upon a herd making their way through the cemetery just outside of town. Jumping from gave to grave, eating as they went, these goats had no respect for the dead, at least not for the human dead.

As I mentioned before, the lack of people on the streets in town was eerie, almost post-apocalyptic. What had survived this possible fateful event, that seemed to have wiped out all humans??? Goats. They seemed to dominate the town, leaping back and forth over the walls and fences of both private and public buildings, in search of food, and always eating on the run.

We were quietly eye-balled, as we walked by these Statia residents who appeared to monopolize the island. The message was clear, “What the hell are you doing here?? Stay out of the way, and don’t even think about eating anything…everything you see is ours.”

The upper town herd trailed us through town. It seemed whenever we glanced back, there they’d be, coming up behind us, before running ahead to the next feeding station, as if to beat us to it.

As if the only sign of life in town being a herd of goats wasn’t creepy enough. One of them was downright scary-looking. I think I’d  get the hell out of dodge too, if this guy showed up…

It wasn’t just upper and lower town that had been overtaken, we also noticed a herd living on the steep hills above the anchorage! I’ve heard goats were nimble, but it was intriguing to see them in action, scaling the steep facade like it was an anthill, with the older goats coaxing the kids along. I was sure that one of the little ones would fall, as we watched them lose footing several times, but they always seemed to find their goat feet.

Once they had eaten their fill (although it looked like the pickins’ were slim up on that hill) and were all safely in place, the hill herd settled in for the evening.

Goats had definitely run amuck on Statia. At every turn, there they were, eating, running and keeping a silent watch on us. It sure was amusing, this Caribbean goat island.

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

 

 

St. Eustatius

We left Ladder Bay, and watched Saba shrink on the horizon, vowing to visit this beautiful island again.

We were on a six hour trip south to Saba’s Dutch sister, the island of Sint Eustatius. Statia, as the locals call it, had its own peak for Scott to climb, and I was intrigued by the cruising guide’s description of several restaurants, and shops in restored warehouses along the water.

During the short journey, Scott put his lines in the water, and caught a good-sized mahi. Thankfully, this one had far less fight in him.

Like Saba’s, the Dutch island of St. Eustatius has no natural harbor, sandy beaches or abundance of fresh water. The rocky north end of the island is connected to a dormant volcano crater to the south, by a “saddle” of lower elevation.

In the 18th century, St. Eustatius was was one of the world’s busiest harbors. European powers were fighting each other, and England was trying to put down the American “rebels.” The Dutch island remained neutral during all of this, and became a tax-free haven. By the 1790s, over 3000 ships landed on ‘Golden Rock’ each year, and it wasn’t uncommon to see up to 300 ships at anchor.

At its peak, the capital of Oranjestad was most likely the richest port in the Caribbean. The island’s warehouses were stocked with every imaginable product from all over the world, and plantation owners and European manufacturers could quickly buy or sell anything on Statia, at anytime.

In 1776, an American merchant ship came into the harbor, and gave a salute. Statia’s governor fired off a return salute, becoming the first nation to salute an American vessel. In response, the British government brought the wrath of England down upon the tiny nation, for recognizing the newly independent United States (poor Statia).

The governor surrendered to Admiral Rodney, who confiscated the contents of all the ships and warehouses. Finding far less than expected, he soon noticed that the small population of merchants were having a lot of funerals. Admiral Rodney ordered one to be stopped, and found the coffin full of jewels and coins. A little digging in the graveyard revealed much more. He then had a giant auction, netting himself and his crew a fortune.

In 1796, the French took over Statia and implemented heavy taxes, which drove merchants away. The decline in trade continued, and today the sleepy island’s population is approximately 3,200. The government is the largest employer on Statia, and NuStar Energy’s busy oil terminal is the largest private employer on the island.

We approached Statia and traveled along the eastern coast, past NuStar Oil, and on toward Orangisted.

We dropped anchor, with The Quill (Scott’s hiking quest on this island) looming large off of our bow, and the island of St. Kitts visible in the distance.

Scott pulled the birds in from the paravanes, in order to attach our flopper-stoppers, which provide us stability at anchor. They’d collected quite a bit of seaweed in just six hours.

A rugged cliff splits the city’s capital (and the island’s only city/town) into what’s known as Upper Town and Lower Town. The narrow coastal strip which originally served as the island’s port makes up Lower Town, where a group of buildings just above sea level line the waterfront. A breakwater that protected the coastline here washed away long ago, and as a result, many of the original buildings are now submerged, due to hurricane damage over the years.

Lower Town now includes dive shops, a hotel, numerous ruins, a few restaurants and shops and the commercial harbor. Upper Town has a restored historic center, and is also the island’s main commercial and residential area.

We headed to shore, where the dinghy dock had seen better days. After clearing in, we  walked the waterfront road, as I was eager to explore the shops and restaurants mentioned in the cruising guide. Sadly, the restaurant pickins were slim. Aside from a food truck near the dinghy dock, there were only three restaurants, one located in the only hotel in lower town. Even though only two of the total four were open, it wasn’t the end of the world.

We continued on, past several ruins of the former busy port town.

What was more disappointing was the lack of shops; we found one..also closed. Wait…the dive shop sold some trinkets, so I guess that counts? The closed shop also had a cool-looking bar attached….that was closed.

With lower town a shopping bust, we decided to check out upper town, and see if the “commercial” center offered more. The old slave road was the most direct route, but was closed, leaving two choices…walk the main road along the water, around a bend and up the hill into the far end of upper town, or hike a more direct path up the hill. Bleh. We found the path and began our climb, walking in full sun. It was a hot, steep go, and I grumbled the whole time….what a ridiculous way to get to town!

At the top, we caught our breath and enjoyed a bit of breeze. The hilltop provided great views of the harbor below, Sea Life at anchor and Saba towering on the horizon.

It was a short walk to the main road, passing one of Statia’s many goats along the way (more on these guys later).

On the way to the center of town, the streets were lined with old, and interesting buildings. We passed an intriguing shop….that was closed. Scott noticed Statia’s unique street signs, made from the lids of 55 gallon drums.

There were many restored buildings in the center of upper town, along brick and cobblestone streets. We didn’t see a scrap of trash anywhere, the area was insanely clean; maybe because there were no people. Upper town was nearly deserted. While we were there, two cars drove past us, and we saw only a handful of people. In the main circle, there were several cars, but no people in sight. It was eerily post-apocalyptic.

We hoped someone  would come out of the woodwork and open Cool Corner, because how could you not visit a place called Cool Corner?!

During our stay on Statia we made several visits to town, each time traipsing up the hot, sweaty path, then catching breath and cooling off in the breezes at the top of the hill.

We made a visit to the museum in town, which had interesting artifacts and photos depicting the island’s history. Again, we had the museum, and surrounding streets, all to ourselves…bizarre!

We learned about the interesting history of Statia’s blue beads. Made in Amsterdam out of glass, the blue, pentagonal-shaped beads were the local currency of Statia in the 17th century. They were used to for trade in tobacco, rum, cotton and slaves, and were also given to slaves as “wages”.

After emancipation, legend says the newly-freed slaves gathered at the island’s cliffs, and threw the beads into the sea to celebrate their freedom.

Occasionally the beads can be found on the beach or somewhere in the mud on the roadside. Strong storms that stir up the sea floor will wash also them ashore, but they are insanely hard to find on the rocky beaches.

There were beads for sale in the museum, but we were told that a “real” blue bead will never be for sale for a few dollars, instead fetching prices of $250 – $300 USD. A Statian may give his blue bead away, but would never sell it, out of respect for the history it represents.

Island legend says that you don’t find a blue bead, it finds you, and if you’re found,  you’ll return to Statia again and again. I toyed with buying one of the obviously not real beads for sale in the museum, priced at $20.00. We stopped back by to get one, and…you guessed it, they were closed (even though the posted hours showed they should’ve been open). A bead was definitely not looking to find me.

We found a gift shop on one of the back streets, but all I came away with was a beer huggie.

It came in handy minutes later, when we stopped at Cool Bar, which was open!!!! The beer was more than cool, it was awesomely cold, and we had terrific Chinese food. Yep, a Chinese family, running a dive bar with Chinese food, in the Caribbean, on the island of Statia – go figure.

As always, we trudged back down the steep, hot path to lower town. A stupid way to get back and forth….at least the view along the way was good.

Scott’s mission in Statia was to hike The Quill, which dominates Statia’s landscape. The dormant volcano’s massive crater gets its name from the Dutch word for pit or hole, and its highest point rises almost 2,000 ft above sea level.

Approximately 1,600 years ago, an eruption in 400 AD joined The Quill with what is now the rest of Sint Eustatius, forming a perfectly symmetrical cone.

The Quill is now part of a national park on the island. Hikers can climb to the top, and down into the crater. Just to get to the start of path requires a 45 minute, hot-sun walk, so Scott left the boat early in the morning to begin his trek to the top of the crater. Even at the beginning of his hike, Scott was already high enough to see back down toward the anchorage.

He set out on the usual, island-like trail, passing signs along the way that marked his progress.

After almost three hours, Scott reached the rim of the crater.

The area around the crater is made up of a miniature, but lush rainforest. Everthing was steriod-sized, Scott walked past huge elephant ears, rocks, banana plants orchids, and many twisted, strangler fig trees.

The twisting behemoths are in the same family as banyan trees, and begin their life when seeds, often dropped by birds, germinate in the crevices of other trees. These seedlings grow their roots downward and envelop the host tree, while also growing upward to reach into the sunlight above.

The original “support” tree can sometimes die, leaving the strangler fig to become a “columnar tree,” with a hollow central core. It is also believed that the strangler fig can help the support tree survive storms, which isn’t surprising, after seeing the size of some of the massive roots.

Scott climbed down to the dense floor of the dome, finding signs of those who came before him. He hiked around the dome floor, looking back up at the crater edge above him.

After climbing back up to the top, Scott took time to survey the panoramic surroundings, looking across to the other side of the dome. Beyond it, Saba lay on the horizon, and tiny Sea Life was visible in the anchorage below.

 

 

Behind him, St. Kitts loomed large on the horizon.

Scott arrived back at the boat much sooner than expected, tired and hot, but happy with himself for conquering The Quill. Howard was usually interested in Scott’s shoes. We’re used to him sniffing all over our shoes when we come back from shore, but this was above and beyond. He sniffed them, licked them, chewed them, tried to get his head in them, and generally rolled all over them. You’d have thought Scott walked through fields of catnip all day..it was crazy!

When he’d had his fill of the shoes, Scott backpack got the same treatment.

 

When he’d finally had his fill of Quill smells, Howard  relaxed on his new favorite bed.

After five days, the weather was looking good for us to move on. On our last night, we had dinner at one of the restaurants in lower town, then prepared for travel the next day.

It felt like we’d has Statia all to ourselves, as we’d seen so few people during our visit. Time to leave this eerily quiet island, and head for the buzz of St. Barths! Here are more photos of our time on Statia.

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

 

 

After Almost Three Years, Sea Life Lands Back In The U.S.!!

After a two-day run from the Abacos Islands of the Bahamas, Sea Life made landfall in St. Augustine, Florida on July 28th; stateside for the first time in nearly three years!

She got a maintenance coat of varnish and fresh deck paint in the Bahamas, and a much needed, long awaited, fresh-water bath in St. Augustine, as well as some routine maintenance and minor repairs….a full spa treatment for our fat-bottom girl who’s done us so well!

The good ol’ U.S.A….home to endless stores, selection and convenience! We rented a car and made stops up and down Route 1, in a constant state of sensory overload. I am thrilled to be plugged in again, with continuous air conditioning (aside from two nights in the Bahamas recently, our first time at a slip in nine months!), and am also loving air conditioned stores, cars, restaurants and bars!

We spent time with friends, met some blog followers who felt like old friends, and continued on to Charleston, South Carolina. There we had another great evening with more blog followers, and reconnected with cruising friends we met while in the San Blas islands, who are living on their boat in Charleston while it’s for sale.

We are now making our way through the Carolinas, and plan to be back in the Chesapeake by early September, before arriving at our home slip in Baltimore on October 1st.

Our crazy cruising adventure is quickly coming to an end, but there is still much to tell! We visited St. Eustatius, had an amazing time on to St. Barths, traveled through the Virgin Islands and on to Puerto Rico, where we ate and drank our way through Old San Juan before cruising up the Bahama island chain, and on to the East Coast.

Along the way, as usual, we’ve dealt with internet connectivity challenges, laptop issues and just plain stepping away from the computer to enjoy our surroundings, so I’ve got some catching up to do.

Stay tuned for stories from our last few months of cruising, as well as our time traveing up the East Coast to Baltimore, but until then, here’s a brief video, of our feelings on being back in the states:

If you’re not already an official follower, sign up now to receive an email whenever I post something new. Or, check back frequently, to see what’s going on….because we’re not done yet!

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

 

A Big Milestone For Sea Life And Her Crew

Today, we will officially complete our circumnavigation of the Caribbean Sea, crossing a path we made while traveling through the Bahamas in November of 2015, on our way from the Berry Islands to the Exumas. That’s just four months and four days short of  exactly three years ago!

To see our current location, and to see this route in a larger scale, go to the Where Are We Now page of our blog, and following the link at the bottom of the page. Once on the inReach site, you can zoom in and out, and select “aerial,” in the bottom box on the left corner of the map, for a Google Earth view.

Our entire route and total miles for this adventure extends outside the circle, but completing the Caribbean circumnavigation, and it’s roughly 7,000 nautical miles, is an exciting milestone!

This does not mean our journey is over. We’ve visited many places, since leaving Dominica in March, and there’s much to tell! If you’re not signed up to follow along with us, remember to check back for new posts on our recent experiences.

On a side note, Scott and I met fifteen years ago today, on the lawn at a Jimmy Buffett concert…so there’s much to celebrate aboard Sea Life!

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

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…..in 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!”