Sailing south from Bermuda was certainly warmer than the first leg out of Rhode Island. The stars filled the sky during my watch and I wasn’t retreating down into the cabin from the cold. During the day the water on a brilliant blue hue during the day.
We reached St. Barts after seven days, spotting the fuzzy bumps and ridges of the island in the early morning hours. When we finally anchored, I could see the vague outlines of people walking the beach and palm trees. It looked amazing and after being on the boat, there was nothing I wanted more than to walk up and down that tropical looking beach.
But getting the dinghy ready to go ashore required a lot of steps. It meant rigging the boom as a makeshift crane and carefully lowering a ~100lb outboard engine onto the dinghy as it rocked up and down in the water. Richard deemed the swells too big to try and then threw on his swim trunks, donned his snorkeling fins and was gone in a splash. A little later I could spot is fuzzy outline joining the others as he walked the beach. Not being a that strong a swimmer and lacking my own fins, I sat and watched.
A day later and we were in Saint Martin, on the Dutch side. The lagoon was filled with party boats, the bass from their stereos vibrating in unison with the teak joinery on the boat. Jet skis raced across the waters, helicopters whirred overhead, and cars roared up and down nearby strip, no doubt it a mad rush to a black jack table somewhere. We got the dinghy down and the outboard carefully lowered and mounted.
Each port has detailed instructions on how to clear customs and immigration and this one required that crew stay on board while the captain goes ashore to process the paperwork. And so I sat.
Later, with the light failing, Richard took me ashore. We didn’t know where the public dinghy dock was so I got off on the first dock we saw with an agreement that he would pick me up in an hour and a half. It turned out to be a gated resort community with security stations left right and center. Lacking the requisite wristband, I walked in circles on the roads and pathways, turning whenever I came close to one of the security stations. Not ideal, but it felt great to stretch my legs and be on real ground.
Back on the boat, the night and next day was noisy with thumping bass and parties. I was happy when we moved over to the French side after a few days and I could explore the old fort and the relatively quiet streets of Marigot. It reminded me of Cuba but everyone spoke French and I paid for things in euros.
The next two weeks we island hopped. Sometimes just staying overnight, sometimes for a few days. St. Eustasia ‘Stasia’, past St. Kitts and then Nevis where Alexander Hamilton was born. Stasis and Nevis see few tourists as there are no deep protected bays or coves. Just a leeward side of the island, protected from the trade winds blowing in from the east, where one could anchor and hope the swells would not be too big. We hiked the volcano in Nevis and it felt good to be on trails and to get under the tree canopy.
I’m writing this from Antigua at a picnic table in Nelson’s dockyard, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’ve enjoyed the old forts and trails here, but hope someday the history of Nelson and slavery is made a bit more clear. That’s a different essay that I’ll let smarter people write.
It’s my last port for this journey. The shores of Dominica will come another time. Tomorrow I fly out, heading north to JFK and then south to Raleigh, NC to spend time (and hopefully some sailing) with my Uncle John.
Written December 1, Antigua.
Pictures added and published Dec 10th, New Bern, North Carolina.
Some things I learned on this trip:
- Even new boats are maintenance headaches: My boat is over 40 years old, and like an old house I feel the weight of many things to fix. While I will probably never be able to afford a new boat, the image I’ve had in my head is of something where the ratio is inverted and you can actually spend more time sailing than fixing. The truth is boats have a lot of moving parts, sailing puts a lots of stress on everything, boat builders cut a lot of corners – even on high end boats, and regardless of whether new or old- there is always stuff to fix. In short, there is no escape.
- There is no place like a 1000 miles from land to see the Milky Way.
- I’m not a big fan of all the cruise ship tours. Maybe there is some kind of ecological argument, or something to be said for helping older people travel and see other countries. But I find that they overwhelm the streets in these small ports, ignore the local customs, and generally just look unhealthy. I should probably go on a cruise before I criticize further, and I know some people really enjoy them. But I don’t think they are for me.
- The electronics and software we had for weather routing, emergency communication, and anti-collision was really helpful. But the time it took to configure and understand was massive; more than the time it took – it also took some of the wonderment, solitude, and adventure out of the journey.
- Coastal sailing is more my thing than blue water sailor. It’s nice to be able to go ashore each day and walk trails. Sure, the vast expanse, solitude, stars are amazing on the open ocean. And I like not having to worry about boat traffic or rocky coastlines out on the ocean.