Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 170- Portsmouth, Dominica

Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic which is approximately 500 miles north of here, is an independent country with British roots.  We had a great sail here from Les Saints with two new Finn friends as crew.  Dominica is noticeably poorer than other islands we have been to and surprisingly expensive.  Upon arrival we were visited by numerous "boat boys", all with catchy nicknames like Cobra, Lawrence of Arabia, and James Bond, selling pretty much any goods or services that we might be interested in.  They come to the boat on anything that floats and we've bought grapefruit, mangoes, papaya, a whole stalk of bananas from them.  The island is known for all the fruit that grows here and the fact that the Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here. We toured the interior rainforest, saw banana, coconut, pineapple, cocoa, and coffee plantations, went swimming under one of the many waterfalls and visited the Carib territory.  The Carib are the original inhabitants of Dominica, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, their ancestors arrived from South America before Columbus landed here in 1493.  Their features are surprisingly Asian.

Downtown Portsmouth

Indian River

Downtown Portsmouth

More messing around on the beach

Local kids messing around

Hope they don't all ripen at once

Cobra showing us a banana plantation, the blue bags protect the bananas from pests

Laundry day at the river

Carib casava bread bakery

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Best holiday wishes to all our friends back home and new friends who we've been lucky enough to meet during our journey.

Day 166- Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

We're enjoying exploring Les Saintes.  Actually so much that I've been lax about blogging.  We're spending more time here than in most places due to weather (high swell from storms in the Northern Atlantic) and wanting to have fairly reliable internet access for Christmas.  The island is small enough to walk everywhere, though most people travel by scooter. We've been keeping busy by hiking, swimming and playing on the various beaches, snorkeling off the boat, exploring most of the shops in town, and attending the local Christmas festivals.   Christmas is refreshingly low key here compared to Antigua or the US for that matter.  There are a handful of houses that have a few decorations up. The Christmas festival is the only place we've heard Christmas music.  Locals sang French songs all to the same merengue type beat,  stands sold crepes, fish fritters, and beer.   The locals start drinking around 10 am but not sure that it has anything to do with the holidays.  Overall a great experience and we're feeling lucky to be able to spend Christmas in a place like this. 

The local library

The view from Fort Napolean

Borealis in the harbor

Our favorite place to get French goodies

Picking up the daily baguette order

Spice market

Monday, December 19, 2011

Day 161- Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

We anchored in L'ilet Pigeon for one night and spent a day exploring the Jacques Cousteau National Park.  The little beach town is mainly comprised of dive shops and the park is known for spectacular diving.  We had a blast snorkeling, though we heard that some of the better sites are pretty deep.  Water visibility is amazing.  This has taken a little getting used to.  At first I warned Pablo about every rock I saw, until it sunk in that they were 50ft or more under the surface.
 We are now in Les Saintes, a group of islands about 10 miles off the coast of Guadeloupe.  The main town on Terre de Haut, one of the islands, is gorgeous.  Lots of cute stores, cafes, cheese shops, and bakeries.  There are basically no Americans here and in general people speak no English.  We did meet a boat briefly, sv At Last, that hails from Wickford, RI and the crew live in Western MA.  Otherwise we've been speaking French, which is pretty funny.  We eat a lot of local produce, papayas, huge avocados, golden apples (like small mangoes), grapefruit and are really getting into a groove with all the French goodies (cheese, fresh bread, wine).
We plan to stay in the area for Christmas and hope to have access to wifi for a bit.  E-mail us if you want to Skype or Facetime.

Sunset over Ilet Pigeon

Coral with an black spiny urchin hiding inside

Dominican grapefruit, French Brie, fresh bread baked by ex pat Finn in Antigua

Les Saintes

Terre de Haute

The local liquor store

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 159- Deshaies, Guadeloupe

We are enjoying a change of scenery and culture. Guadeloupe is very different from Antigua on both accounts. Counter to our expectation, daily life here in Guadeloupe seems to operate fairly efficiently, especially considering that most places of business are closed for lunch between noon and 4pm! This suits us surprisingly well. Especially after the first night as Pablo and I were up on anchor watch all night because a cold front passed through kicking up high winds and significant swell. We spent the morning exploring, the middle and extremely hot part of the day swimming and taking a siesta to catch up on sleep and then went back to town at 4pm to find stores just starting to open up again. There is less of the "Yah mon, no problem" eastern Caribbean influence which may help with the functionality.
Even though we read and were told "don't worry… everybody will speak English", we have found that it just ain't so…. Maybe all the English speakers are in the bigger cities and but certainly not in the smaller fishing villages, like Deshaies. If you discount 'bonjour', 'merci' and 'croissant' and we speak NO French. People are very friendly and patiently help us figure things out. For example, when Pablo was filling out the customs forms, all in French, a kind person helped him figure out that he was from 'Etats Unis'. Probably thinking, "Stupid, Americans don't even know where they're from!" But, kudos to the French on common sense and efficiency on clearing the boat into customs. It simply required filling out a web page at the local internet cafĂ©, the only obstacle being the 12-4pm lunch hour.
The French cheeses, baguettes, butter and wine are all treats. The prices in the grocery store are the best we've seen since leaving home. You can pick up a bottle of French wine for 3 Euros and fresh baguettes for less than a Euro! We picked up fresh bread from the bread truck and some Raclette from the supermarket and had a feast with potatoes on the side. The French definitely have figured out good food.
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Mia removing the Antiguan flag as we depart for Guadeloupe

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 156- Jolly Harbour, Antigua

After Nonsuch Bay we spent a night in Falmouth Harbour.  Falmouth had just finished hosting the a gathering of some of the worlds largest charter mega yachts.  We have never seen boats like this.  The biggest boats we saw on the East Coast looked small compared to those here.  And the toys.... a whole dive room with 30+ tanks and compressors on the stern, a sailboat with a 'haul in chair', usually seen on sport fishing motor boats, a hydrolaulic arm that lifts an anchor out of a deck locker and I'm sure much more that we couldn't even imagine.
Nelsons Dockyard, a historic Georgian dockyard, in nearby English Harbour was more our speed.  Beautiful stone buildings in a lovely protected harbor.
We were getting so low on provisions that I resorted to baking bread.  Remember it is 90 degrees here.  The first loaf of boat bread seemed to get approval all around.  We're back in Jolly Harbor to stock up on food, pick up a new propeller for the outboard and check out with Customs.  The French territory of Guadeloupe is our next destination.


Sailboat or sport fishing boat?

Nelsons Dockyard

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 152- Nonesuch Bay, Antigua

We're back to our circumnavigation of Antigua.  Quite a daunting task considering the island is about only 20 miles in diameter.  Nonesuch Bay is interesting in that we are looking out at the windward side of the Atlantic Ocean but protected by a reef.  Amazing how protective a reef can be wavewise.  Pablo is happy that the wind generator is humming away charging all electronics.  We treated ourselves to lunch and a swim at Harmony Hall, an historic sugar mill turned into a restaurant.  It sits atop a hill overlooking Nonesuch Bay, with a gorgeous view. 

The Christmas spirit has been in full swing here since we first arrived in Antigua.  There is non stop Christmas music on every radio station, reggae versions of ones we're familiar with and one about a sweaty Santa.  It is hard to even consider Christmas when it is 90 degrees and we're spending more time in swim suits than not.

The girls made friends with local kids yesterday.  There was a group of  Antiguans who work together enjoying Hero's Day (similar to our Veterans Day) holiday with a day at the beach.

Getting dancing lessons from the locals

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day 150- Barbuda

We spent the past two days playing on the lovely 10+ mile long white beaches of Barbuda. Barbuda and Antigua gained semi independence from the UK, in the 80's, and share a government. Barbuda is very different from Antigua geographically. It is not volcanic as many of the other islands in this area, so the elevation of the entire island is very low. In fact we sailed past it on our way to Antigua from Bermuda. We were slightly concerned that we didn't pick it up on radar or see any lights as a verification of our position. We later learned that you have to be very close to make visual contact and it has almost no radar profile. The beach that we were anchored off, is exactly what I've always pictured the Caribbean to look like. Endless white sand beach, turquoise water and palm trees. We had the beach to ourselves most of the time and the kids spent hours getting pummeled in the waves. Local fishermen came by with a variety of fish and lobster that they had just caught on the reef. We bought some spiny lobster to compare to those in New England. With the crew of Skylark we came to the conclusion that we either over cooked them or the meat is a little tougher than their clawed counterparts up north.
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Different but a treat none the less

Monday, December 5, 2011

Day 147- Long Island, Antigua

The weather has been cloudy and rainy for the last four days.  It feels like every towel we own is some degree of wet.  Not sure they'll ever dry out at this point.  Can't complain too much, the air temp is still in the mid 80's and the water temp in the same range.  We're still getting used to traveling around the reefs and the ideal conditions for this is a bright sun directly overhead, so we've been exploring our immediate area while waiting for the sun to come back.  We took a trip to Parham; the description in our guide was as thriving port...maybe at some point.  Today it seems like a funky run down local boat yard and not much more, but still interesting.  We also took a trip to Great Bird Island.   All good except it is a sanctuary for the Antiguan racer snake, supposedly the rarest and most endangered snake in the world.  I don't like snakes and had the heebie jeebies for the rest of the day.  The snorkeling on the reefs around the island was a lot of fun.  Oh and little crabs have taken up residence in our deck drains.  They scurry around on deck and then hide in the drains when we come up.

The main shopping center in Parham

Here, you haul your boat onto the ramp with your vehicle

Lunch under a palm

50ft drop to the ocean below, Great Bird Island

View from the top of Great Bird Island

Buddy snorkeling