Saturday, December 31, 2011

Foreign Fruits

One of the fun things about cruising is sampling the island’s local fare, and finding out if there are any island specialties. Sometimes, we'll get adventurous for ourselves and try to prepare them aboard, usually with some success. So, when we come across a fruit or a vegetable at the local market that we don’t recognize, we always ask what it is…and ask as many questions as we can about preparing it. I have an old Caribbean Cooking cookbook (copyright 1973!) which is a great resource, but we've found the best recipes by simply asking the person selling the vegetables!
Yard-long beans, sold in bunches. I thought they were scallions at first!
Take, for instance, the yard-long green beans we found at the market. Also known as Chinese beans, the beans are pencil-thin, flexible pods that can grow as long as 3 feet. We found a couple shorter-length bunches of 18" or so, and bought them for our holiday meal. They are not as juicy and sweet as the regular green beans we’re familiar with in the States, but have a sharper, more pronounced flavor and are denser in texture. The recipe in the cookbook said to make them like Szechuan-style spicy green beans (yes, this was in a Caribbean cookbook - go figure!) but we had them simply steamed as an accompaniment to our turkey dinner, and we all agreed, they were quite good!

Another new item we discovered is the soursop fruit, which abound here in Antigua. It’s so popular that the juice is processed and sold here in the supermarkets. Soursop is very common in tropical climates, but most Americans aren’t that familiar with them as the trees can’t survive in most of the US -- it’s simply too cold. (According to Wikipedia, temperatures below 41 °F will cause damage to leaves and small branches, and temperatures below 37 °F can be "fatal". Ouch!) Soursop fruit are large, green ovals with short stubby spines; the thin outer skin is easily cut away to get to the juicy, cream-colored fruit inside. The fruit is used in many ways, from ice cream, sherbets and desserts to beverages throughout the Caribbean. Always willing to try something new, we gave soursop juice a try, and found it to be delicious! A pale, grapefruit color, it tastes rather like strawberry but more tangy and tart. (It’s a great mixer with either rum or vodka, by the way!)
Soursop for sale at the St. John's public market
Yesterday, after checking out the local market, we were walking along the streets and checking out the stalls of the  many street vendors and found one woman selling noni, a whitish, potato-sized bumpy fruit. I'd certainly never seen them before!! They are found on the noni tree, or the morinda citrifolia. (I had to Google "noni", as I wasn't even sure I'd heard the name of the fruit correctly, since the woman had a thick West Indian accent.) and apparently have a very, um...distinctive smell. Its odor is so unpleasant that it's nicknamed the “cheese fruit” or (even worse) “the vomit fruit”. Really! Thankfully, I couldn't smell them (I'm not sure Ron got close enough to them to do so) but the woman was most insistent that they were quite healthy for you, being the “aspirin” plant, having all sorts of uses, from curing headaches to being an aphrodisiac, to easing arthritis, cuts, bruises and even gout, among others. We passed on the noni, nevertheless.

Upon later investigation, we discovered that you have to ferment the fruit first before getting any juice. You place the fruit in a glass jar and let it sit for a week to a month (or more!) in the sun, and then extract the juice. A lot of folk mix its juice with honey or other fruit juices to make it more palatable, since it’s fairly nasty tasting. Knowing that its smell and taste are unpleasant, I am so glad we don't have it fermenting aboard the boat!

In any case, whether they are foreign fruits or ... forbidden fruits, it's your choice when out cruising! Enjoy!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Family Time

We’ve had a fabulous week, having family time! We’ve had Karyn’s sister Kiki and her husband Peter aboard with us, sharing and experiencing what cruising is like firsthand. We’ve worked and played, repeating a few of the things we did with Ally: we sent them on the helicopter tour of Montserrat, then went zip-lining again. We had a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings for the holiday, before we cruised aboard Equinox south from Jolly Harbour down to Falmouth Harbour. We did a bit of fishing along the way (no mahi-mahi this time, only a barracuda) and walked around Nelson’s Dockyard on Christmas Day with all the other revelers. They have a huge champagne brunch party there, so the boats are tucked in to capacity and obviously, champagne is flowing! It’s a neat place, with so much history! Billed as the only continuously working Georgian Dockyard, its 18th century buildings are beautifully restored, and house the marina, a museum, a hotel, art galleries and gift shops, restaurants and other marina businesses.
Captain Horatio Nelson, who served in Antigua from 1784-1787
An art gallery/gift shop in one of the many restored buildings
In the late afternoon, we took a taxi up to Shirley Heights, a restored military lookout. It’s named after a Governor of the Leewards Islands, one Sir Thomas Shirley, who strengthened Antigua’s defenses in 1781. At that time, with England having lost all other West Indian colonies as well as the one in North America (due to that pesky revolution!) Antigua was of great value, in part to its huge sugar production and the important Dockyard.
The Shirley Heights fortifications have been restored to function as a bar and restaurant, with spectacular 360ยบ views of the surrounding hills and harbours, including amazing sunsets over the waters as the sun sinks behind Montserrat to the west. There is a traditional Sunday afternoon party, complete with steel band, barbeque and dancing. There was so much to see; we realized we barely scratched the surface, for there are walking trails and much more to the National Park than we realized!
The view of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour  from Shirley Heights
Other days were more mellow; with many places closed for the holidays, we stayed aboard and did some projects. Ron and Peter replaced the pressure relief valve on the hot water heater, as our water pump pressure is such that we keep tripping the valve and getting a bit of water in the bilge. (We like our bilges dry!) They turned up the temperature a bit too; the factory setting was quite low and it was frustrating to have barely enough hot water for two quick showers! But, the most important project completed was that they got the dive compressor back in action! With parts from Nuvair, and some ingenuity and modifications, they replaced a bit of tubing on the cooling side of things, double checked the settings of the pressure relief valve, and reseated the auto drain gasket. With Peter’s mechanical expertise and Ron's assistance, it went very smoothly. So...happily back in business!
From snorkeling to exploring the local towns to dinners on the aft deck and movie nights aboard, to heralding the sunset with the conch horn to discussions of latitude affecting the view of the moon, we showed them what we do when we’re cruising. We all had a great time, and it was hard to say goodbyes at the end of the week. We will miss their smiles and enthusiasm! 
Sunset seen from our Falmouth Harbour anchorage

(And, by the way, the view of the moon IS different at different latitudes! I checked it out on an astronomy website and discovered that the view of the crescent moon is strongly dependent on latitude: it's very common to have the crescent lying on its back at low latitudes (the "Moon as Boat effect"), because the moon rises and sets in these latitudes with its north-south axis roughly aligned with the horizon. The higher the latitude, the more strongly the latitude affects the perceived tilt of the lunar crescent, making it appear to be angling up and to the right in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, the moon seen in the Southern hemisphere appears upside down when compared to that seen in the Northern hemisphere. This means that if the concave part of the crescent points "left" in North, it will point "right" in the South. I bet you never knew cruising could be so educational!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Speaking of the Weather

Well, well, well, happy holidays! A tad early, but we have received the apparently usual gift of the Christmas Trade Winds! Yes, the winds are picking up as a cold front is dissipating and stalling out, bringing winds....right before we have family to arrive. Of course!! As the Antigua Meteorological website reports about the weather today:

Synopsis: A moderate to strong northeasterly wind flow associated with a broad western Atlantic high-pressure system is generating patches of clouds and pockets of moisture over the western Atlantic. These patches will combine with shallow moisture from a diffused frontal boundary to generate variably cloudy skies over the Leewards today and tonight
Wx: Today: Partly cloudy to cloudy with occasional widely scattered showers
Tonight: Partly cloudy to cloudy with widely scattered showers
Winds: ENE at 10 -20 kts reaching to 25kts over open waters. Higher gust will take place in some showers.
Seas: Very rough with swells 3.1 - 4.0m or 10-14ft mainly in the Atlantic Ocean east and north of the islands. Warnings for small craft operators and sea bathers remain in effect for hazardous marine conditions. Residents of the Leewards and BVI are advised that the waters around these islands are deemed highly unsafe and therefore should be avoided…
I had to laugh at the last line. Clearly, Mark Twain had it right! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eleutherodactylus Johnstonei...

…otherwise known as the Lesser Antillean Whistling Frogs! We got to know these charming little tree frogs in Bermuda, where they are also known as “singing frogs”. What I didn’t know is that they are found on other islands! I love checking out the local flowers, birds, and wildlife while cruising, and on every island where we made landfall, from Anguilla to St. Kitts, Nevis and here in Antigua, I kept hearing the distinctive, cheerful chirping of tree frogs, so decided to check it out.

It turns out that these frogs are actually native to many of the Caribbean islands, from Anguilla in the north to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the south, including Antigua. (They aren’t native to Bermuda, interestingly enough, as they were introduced there and elsewhere as stowaways via trade amongst the islands a few hundred years ago.) After some investigation, I discovered that the chirping I was hearing comes from Eleutherodactylus Johnstonei…the one and the same whistling frogs as those found in Bermuda! I knew it!! I love their happy, cheery peeping!

Antigua has a great abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna. The island itself is unusual in its make-up, formed of both limestone and volcanic rock, buffered by clay between them. Having both limestone and volcanic rock provides many unique habitats for an amazing variety of birds, plants and animals. Beauty, in many forms!

I have no idea what these flowers are, but we loved their colors!
In the south, volcanic, side of the island the landscape is hillier, and with that there is usually more rain. This allowed very different territorial ecosystems to develop, with one area along Fig Tree Drive being described as “rainforest”. We got to see some of that while we were ziplining with Ally. It’s gorgeous: the plants are much more tropical, lush flowering and vibrant in the steamy hills there than on the scrubby, dry, cacti-filled bluffs to the north. The north and east parts of Antigua have been carved from limestone rock, easily seen in the profusion of reefs, rocks and little islands offshore. These have a totally different climate and resident wildlife. We found this plant on our hike along one of the limestone bluffs along the water: 
I think this is a century plant -- or a really huge asparagus stalk.
The century plant blooms just once in its life span of  25 years or so,
 but its bloom stalk grows so prodigiously --inches in a day --
that it consumes all resources of the plant and then dies,
 leaving the tall wooden seed stalk behind.
In fact, there are few places in the Caribbean with as many offshore islands as Antigua. Brown pelicans and ospreys, Antillean grackles and yellow warblers, white egrets and little blue herons, frigate birds and boobies, banaquits and grassquits (little finches), red-billed and yellow-billed tropic birds, whistling ducks and white-crowned pigeons….they all call Antigua home, and the abundance of small, uninhabited islands in this archipelago support them. Some are endangered, some are plentiful, all are beautiful. I find them fascinating to watch -- probably because they are so different from the robins and wrens, cardinals and blackbirds I grew up with in the northern US! 

I love seeing the variety of life in the islands, but my favorite remains the Lesser Antillean Whistling Frog. I’m glad they’re here to provide a musical backdrop to the sunsets and evenings on the water!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lucky Enough!

Well, it’s been a week of ups and downs. Which is typical of anyone’s week, I suppose, but when you’re living aboard a boat in a foreign country, occasionally feeling somewhat isolated, things just seem more intense. You can be up one moment -- intensely, happily up, and then the next moment -- abruptly, brutally down. (And no, I’m not manic-depressive, either!) As life is to be lived to the fullest, we just try to go with the moment! I know that we are lucky enough to simply be here!

Ups: Many and plentiful, and we are appreciative! First off, we’re here in Antigua, living on our own boat, with beautiful skies and we're happy to revel in good weather -- light winds, long, easy swells! We’re exploring in the dinghy and enjoying the vibrant reef during scuba dives, we’re walking barefoot on warm sand along sun-drenched beaches, we’re enjoying cool, refreshing dips in the freshwater pool at Jolly Harbour. And, we’re enjoying a little quiet time together, just the two of us. We are so lucky!

But there are some downs. Downs include: Ally left earlier this week. We had such a great visit with her --- it was hard to say goodbye and see her go. (There were tears, I admit!) The boat is very quiet without her! But, as much as a bilge rat as she was growing up, she is now off to college far from the sea and having her own adventures. Currently, she is back in Colorado, skiing with Aunt Lisa, so we know she’s having fun. Still…we miss her!!
Ally and I before dinner one evening in western Antigua
Other downs (and unfortunately there are a few more): there's nothing worse than routine maintenance gone wrong!! Yep, the oil fill cap to the 12kw genset went missing after its oil, oil filter, fuel filter and impeller change --- we think it ended up in the boatyard recycling area when we took the used oil and old filters ashore. Then, one of the gauges on the scuba tank air fill whips decided to lose its plug and drain glycerin oil all over the aft cockpit, which was a mess and a half to clean up. Ugh! Then ... it gets worse: the very next day, the dive compressor hiccupped during a tank fill and shut down. When we turned it on, there was no compression -- compressor out of action! 

We got on the sat phone to one of the techs (gotta love good customer service!) who helped us diagnose the issue. It should be pretty easy to repair, (of course, should is the operative word!) so we are awaiting the right replacement part – and in the mean time, we can get fills at the local dive shop here. It turns out not to be all that bad, yet believing we were without diving sent Ron into a funk…a major down. Diving is something he loves to do! 

As for me? My epitome of unhappiness came this afternoon. After relaxing and reading a book on my iPhone in the shade on the pilot house sun pads, I paused to tighten one of the straps to the aft deck sun shade, which was flapping annoyingly. I set my iPhone down behind me as I did so, and when I finished, I turned around and …. accidentally punted my iPhone off the fly-bridge!! Yep, directly… into… the… water!!  (My first thought: “NO!! That did NOT just happen!!) Well…yes, it did. Argh!! While we don't use our cell phones to make calls when overseas (way too expensive!), now I can’t finish my book! Bummer.

So…ups and downs, in the here and now. Just like everyone else on the planet! So, as momentarily joyful and saddening as the events are, we’re just dealing with it. It's not the end of the world! We are still here, healthy and active, the boat is on a mooring in a beautiful country, and...we have family coming in less than 5 days!! Yes!! So how lucky are we?? Lucky indeed! As Scott Kirby sings, in “Lucky Enough”:

”If you're living to love by the ocean,
And loving to live by the sea,
Just lucky enough to live on blue water...
You're lucky enough by me.”  

And we are. I hope you are, too!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Poetry in the Sky

I’ve been thinking about clouds a lot lately, and I don’t know why. For some reason, they keep drawing my eye, becoming my focus of late. Not that that they are shy about it, towering up there in the sky, huge and hovering over the islands as they are…they just demand my attention. And I've been giving it to them!

As a cruiser, where living aboard means that the weather dictates all, we’re always keeping one eye on conditions. Wind and waves are physical constants to contend with, but clouds...clouds are just more ephemeral and fleeting, the stuff of contemplation and serenity. Far enough away to be benign, yet here, out on the water, they seem much closer than they do back on land. They seem larger...or perhaps, I am just more attuned to them? (Really, how often do you notice clouds?) 

Literally, clouds are always with us. In my view, with their ever-changing, ever-momentary beauty, they are a bit of poetry over the sea. Whether lacy and fleecy, dank and threatening, or flowing and billowing, they are truly expressions of the atmosphere! And wherever we are -- out at sea on deck aboard Equinox, exploring the coast of some island in the dinghy, or gazing up from an secluded beach, clouds are my constant companion above. Clouds display the current mood of Mother Nature. I love watching them, and being aboard allows me time -- and space -- to do so!

So, I admire, I daydream, I gaze at them, and revel in them. We all do it; just the other evening Ally and I were marveling at the sunset clouds, with their vibrant colors and sun-lit facades, pointing out to one another what we could see in their shapes: animals or faces or other flights of fancy. It's a facet of cruising that is priceless, when something so ordinary as clouds are a daily source of awe. To be able to share this with my daughter and husband: precious indeed. Heading out in Eclipse to dive the other morning, we were offshore the west side of Antigua when we saw this amazing sight above us. All three of us were transfixed by the play of the early morning sunlight, so fresh, so full of power, so full of possibility...and so full of dreams. 

It was a moment not to be missed, and we shared it together. There's certainly nothing wrong with keeping your head in the clouds!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Adventures Ahoy!

Since the weather has been so gray and gloomy (with the low pressure “troughing” over Antigua continuing to persist and linger) we’ve been doing what we can to get off the boat and have fun! As a result, just about every day, we’ve had a new adventure!! Fun indeed!

Monday we explored in the dinghy, running up to St. John’s, the capital of Antigua, to see what that was like. We docked up at Redcliffe Quay, where we found a quaint wharf area of restored Georgian buildings and old dockside warehouses all converted into shops. Gifts, clothes, shoes, accessories, locally made pottery side by side with restaurants and coffee shops, many with outdoor seating. It’s a fun area! We headed back south and had a delightful afternoon seeing the rugged shoreline and amazing coves of Antigua’s northwest coast.
A charter day boat at the wharf of Redcliffe Quay
Tuesday we took a helicopter tour of Montserrat, to view the Soufriere Hills Volcano and lava dome. The ash cover and rivers of ash mud – lahars – were devastating to the southern half of the island; the destruction of Plymouth and its surrounding villages is heart-breaking to see. Some homes were completely buried, others had bits of the roofs sticking out of the ash, shorelines extended some hundreds of yards and new deltas of ash and mud were created. The helicopter ride was awesome, as the pilot flew us in us close enough to feel like we were just feet away from the mountainside foliage on one side of the helicopter, and hundreds of feet up from the valley floors on the other. Wild goats and a few cattle still roam the exclusion zone, amongst the scientific monitoring equipment  of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. (Check it out at!) It was an amazing experience, and a vivid reminder of the strength and power of Mother Nature. The tour is not to be missed, if you can arrange it!
Sulphur dioxide and smoke seeping out of the lava dome of
the Soufriere Hills Volcano
Buildings and entire towns were destroyed by the ash and
 mud flows -- lahars -- that came down the mountain. Tragic.
Wednesday, we went out scuba diving with Indigo Divers on the southwest side of Antigua, on a couple of different sites on Cades Reef. While the visibility wasn’t great (in fact, so bad at the first site we moved to a second site) the reefs are very healthy here, with lots of juvenile fish and many varieties of coral on the low ridges. Ron found a couple of adult spotted drums under a long ledge, and Ally made friends with a small southern ray that was very insistent upon following her around! Always fun to see the sea creatures!
Ally gearing up for the first dive of the day
Other afternoons we beachcombed and lounged on the beaches. Antigua has 365 beaches, according to their tourist brochures and travel literature, and while we haven’t counted them ourselves, they are indeed numerous and gorgeous! We swam along several shorelines and thoroughly enjoyed the waters. The temps are perfectly refreshing – not icy cold – and the surf is great fun. Although we’ve been careful to use two anchors, bow and stern, to secure the dinghy offshore in the beautiful bays and coves, sometimes the surge is a bit much for close-in anchoring and we have to swim to shore a good distance. We inadvertently surfed the dinghy onto the beach on one occasion, and had to really scramble to get it back out again before it was damaged! (Whew!)
The dinghy, safely anchored offshore
We spent one day running about in the dinghy, doing a bit of exploration south to Falmouth and English Harbours. The 50th Annual Antigua Charter Yacht Show was taking place, with mega-yachts in abundance, all dressed with flags a-flying! It was a sight to see, but odd in that there weren’t any crowds…Miami Boat Show this is not! But the reason there weren’t any crowds was that this no ordinary show open to the public, but was only for the high-end charter brokers and their agents who do the charter bookings. Nevertheless, great eye-candy for the rest of us!
Some of the charter yachts dressed and gleaming
The latest adventure was zip-lining through the rainforest canopy high up on Fig Tree Hill north of Falmouth Harbour We spent a good 3 hours, doing all the zip lines (12 of them) and then completing the challenge course afterwards. It was so fun!! The operation was well-run and the rangers helpful and friendly -- made the experience a real treat.  The challenge course was a combination of rope and wire balance runs beneath the ziplines near the rainforest floor, which required a different sort of focus from the aerial feats. Still, we all enjoyed flinging ourselves through the treetops on the different zip lines high above, and scrambling along the different swinging challenges. It was a blast!
Ron on one of the zip lines. Great fun! 
So….weather notwithstanding, we’ve been enjoying what Antigua has to offer!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Customs and Courtesies

With the weather continuing to be dismal, we used the relatively calm seas to make the crossing to Antigua. We left with first light (what light there was, at dawn on such a gray and gloomy day) and made our way from Nevis through the northeasterly 4’-6’ swells and north winds. It was a fair ride, since we weren’t taking it right on the bow, for which we were grateful!

We soon arrived in Antigua, the original bastion of British civiiization in the Caribbean. First settled by the British in 1623, Antigua became the headquarters of the English fleet in the Caribbean during the 1700s and 1800s, home to Nelson’s Dockyard (named after Horatio Nelson, famed British Admiral, who arrived in Antigua in 1784 and guided the development of the British naval facilities in English Harbour). Antigua’s rich yachting history is still in evidence today, being home to the world famous Antigua Sailing Week, which draws sailing enthusiasts from around the world. And, as we discovered on arrival, Antigua is also home to its own local customs as well, different from those found in the rest of the Caribbean and elsewhere!

We made landfall at Jolly Harbour, and had to clear in. We always try to be respectful when clearing in; for example, Ron is very careful to dress appropriately in a collared shirt and tailored shorts when he goes in to meet with Customs officials. But every nation is different, and has slightly different ways they conduct clearance. So, we research it as best we can, by checking with Noonsite ( and our cruising guides as to the latest info on clearance formalities. In Jolly Harbour, Antigua, for instance, you cannot anchor and just go to the dock in your dinghy to get to Customs, as it is a requirement that “the boat must be in plain sight of the Customs”. One of our cruising guides also noted that only the captain could go ashore to clear in, no one else. So, we were vigilant that only Ron got off Equinox at the dock to meet with Customs; Ally and I remained aboard until practique was granted, as required.

We’ve always adhered to the international rule that you do not fly a nation’s courtesy flag until your vessel is properly cleared by Customs and Immigration. Until clearance is complete, you are required to fly the yellow Q (quarantine) flag from the starboard spreader, which is what we did when we came into Antiguan waters. However, Antiguan custom is apparently very different, for when Ron took our documents into the Customs building, the Customs officer immediately and angrily berated him for NOT flying the Antiguan courtesy flag upon entry into Antiguan waters! Ron was startled – this was so contrary to written flag protocol -- and also taken aback by the vehemence of the officer! Ron explained our understanding of the Q flag, but again was reprimanded!! Rather than argue, Ron simply apologized, which mollified the officer. After that, clearance went smoothly! (Needless to say, the courtesy flag went up in a hurry!)

We knew we couldn’t be totally wrong about the Q flag though, so I checked several reputable sources, from a book on yachting flag usage that we had on board, as well as several yachting sites on the internet. Every one said the said thing, that when cruising abroad, there are some international “flag regulations” that should be followed in order to avoid misunderstandings:

As a matter of courtesy, it is appropriate to fly the flag of a foreign nation on your boat when you enter and operate on its waters. However, it is hoisted only after the appropriate authorities have granted clearance. Until clearance is obtained, a boat must fly the yellow "Q" flag.”  
                                       ~From etiquette

Still, the old adage dictates that when in Rome, do as the Romans! Since we are guests in these wonderful countries that we are lucky enough to visit, we will follow their customs! In the words of Jimmy Buffett, from his song Fins:

Sailed off to Antigua
It took her three days on a boat…” 

Just be sure to fly the Antiguan courtesy flag when you do so!! Flags up! 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Waiting on the weather...

"Scattered showers and clusters of isolated thunderstorms
are in the moist sector of the Caribbean while the 
 of the Caribbean is under fair conditions this morning"
…to improve!! There are very few certainties about cruising, but one inevitability is that you are always at the whims of the weather. Always!! Even when we aren’t actively waiting for a good weather window in which to cruise, we are always watching the weather, whether to ensure that our anchorage is adequately protected from the prevailing winds or from a forecast of unsettled weather, or simply hoping for plenty of sunshine and visibility in which to dive. Sunshine in the Caribbean is a given most times – as is the heat – but there are times when winds or storms change plans. Right now, there’s this big low pressure trough over the Leewards that is persistent to say the least. No sunshine, no diving, but at least seas are somewhat calm for the moment….but we are tired of the gloomy gray that is permeating the days. Solid cloud cover, periods of relentless rain…good thing we enjoyed the sunshine while we had it a few days ago!
Boreas, the north wind
Here is the National Weather Service's Atlantic tropical weather discussion for the Caribbean and the Leewards; of course, we are in the “moist sector”, referred to above! 


I didn't know that "troughing" was a word, but it seems fairly descriptive of the gloomy weather we are experiencing! Never fear...another certainty of cruising is that we'll just take the weather with us and make the best of it!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beach Bums!

Pink Sands of Harbour Island, Bahamas
Yes, we're living the life! (Finally...between oil changes, shower sump cleanings and boat projects, that is!) We’ve gone "on vacation" and spent the last couple of days simply enjoying being together as a family, simply enjoying where we are. It's been relaxing, to say the least...we've been beach bums, swimming in the turquoise waters, lazing on chaise lounges under umbrellas, reading books, getting massages on the beach, tossing about the tie-dye "rasta" football, all on the beaches of St. Kitt’s and Nevis. It's been a great contrast to the usual diving and snorkelong we usually indulge in! The weather has been somewhat less than optimal as a low pressure system has been sitting over the Leeward Islands creating windy and rough seas offshore -- no diving for us, as a result, but exploring the beaches has been a decent substitute!
White sand of Anguilla's Shoal Bay
It’s interesting how each island has a different personality, and … different colored sand! Harbour Island, Bahamas: pink. Providenciales, Turks & Caicos: pale yellow. Anguilla: snow-white. St. Kitt’s….well, St. Kitt’s is rather different, for it shows clear evidence of the volcanic past of the island: its sand is a dark mix of salt and pepper. On the Atlantic side, there’s actually a beach with jagged volcanic extrusions of black rocks, and its sand is pitch black (and therefore hot!). But no matter the color of the sand, here on St. Kitts & Nevis, the sun is warm, the water clear and refreshing, tossing the football fun and sociable, the local Ting & vodka drinks (“Stings?”) quite potent! All fun! Ah....vacation! 
Volcanic sand at Friar's Bay, St. Kitt's

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

St. Kitt's: Two Days in Paradise

After enduring the bad weather and the swells rolling relentlessly through the  anchorage, we  regretfully slipped away from Statia and cruised over to Basseterre, St. Kitt’s. We all needed a respite from the lurching and rolling, so we were more then happy to take a slip at the Port Zante Marina. We were delighted with a starboard side-to slip, inside the marina away from all the swells. Ah…!

We had a fabulous two days in St. Kitt’s; we took a taxi tour around the island with Lorenzo, who was a great tour guide. Cheerful and talkative, he was quite proud of his island and was more than happy to share all sorts of history about St. Kitt’s, including its name. Columbus named it after the patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher, after sighting the island in 1493. While he never landed here, in 1623 the British did, and shortened the name to St. Kitt’s – Kitt being the British nickname for Christopher. St. Kitt’s thus had the first permanent European settlement in the Leeward Islands at a site called Sandy Point. The French soon established a colony here as well, farther south at Basseterre, and from time to time, they teamed up to fight Spanish incursions when they weren’t fighting each other. (This continued for the next 150 years – typical in the Caribbean!)

One of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the Caribbean
Enjoying the gardens at Romney Manor
Predominantly British since the 1700s, we saw numerous old stone churches -- Anglican, Roman Catholic, Moravian, among others -- many still in use, before stopping at Romney Manor and walking about its beautifully landscaped botanical gardens. Romney Manor was part of the larger Wingfield Estate, which belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s family, prior to being sold to the Earl of Romney. 
The belltower at the top of the gardens
The "lipstick tree" -- roucou plant
Inside one of the fuzzy pods
As we walked about the beautiful gardens, Lorenzo showed us the Roucou plant, or the “lipstick tree”, which fuzzy, flowering pods contain little bright red seeds that were used by the Indians for pigment. Or lipstick, as Lorenzo demonstrated, by putting it on his lips and posing! The seeds, when popped, spilled out a waxy red substance very reminiscent of lipstick indeed! It washed off with a little water and elbow grease. Fun!

The manor is home to Caribelle Batik, and their workshop is filled with an array of works of art, beautiful to behold. It was fascinating to watch the women apply the wax, demonstrating how batik is traditionally done, and before showing different pieces in various stages of completion. We had a great time checking out all the intensely colored fabrics and items for sale; so many to choose from! 
The start of the process: cotton with the first application of
wax on the pencil sketch
A finished panel in gorgeous shades of blue
The remainder of the day, we spent scrambling about the Brimstone Hill Fortress on the west side of St. Kitt’s. The fortress, known as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies” is a UNESCO world heritage site, and impressively restored. (Check it out online for yourself at !) We all had been there before -- Ron and I most recently in the spring -- but again, it was fun to explore and rediscover. From the eastern Place of Arms to the uppermost gun deck, we toured the exhibits and learned more about this significant piece of history. The place is wide open for exploration, with lots of areas accessible -- and some not so accessible -- but impressive as can be and we really enjoyed ourselves, climbing about! A great time was enjoyed by all!
Just a few of the cannons overlooking the sea
Ally loved seeing the mountains shrouded by clouds
The central courtyard. Note the stone grooves for water collection

Old square nails found near one of the sites undergoing restoration
And they had these two rooms side-by-side?? 
The front arches of the officers' quarters
Some places weren't as accessible...!
In the ruins of the Commander's Quarters
The Fortress in the background

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Golden Rock

One of the things we love about cruising is the chance to view history up close and personal. In the Caribbean, history is literally right there in front of you, where it blends into daily life through the many homes and buildings that are centuries old. Some are beautifully kept up, some are in various states of disrepair, but all are still in use and a part of every community. Living history, truly.

We arrived in Statia to find the weather worsening, and unfortunately, Oranje Baai is a rolly anchorage even in the best of weather. We hooked in the stern anchor to keep us facing into the swells, and dampen our sashaying about, but it still was rather uncomfortable. We couldn’t even get out to dive, as torrential rains and resulting runoff muddied visibility.
Rain rain go away!
We adjusted our game plan to land-based activities, instead. It was nice to get off the rolly boat and simply enjoy being on-island. Ally had been to Statia years ago while on a Broadreach diving trip, so we were revisiting old haunts. From the Lower Town area on the water we walked up the steep cobblestone path up to Upper Town of Oranjested. Oranjested is an excellent example of an old-world, colonial Caribbean settlement, as its architecture is predominantly traditional West Indian/Dutch-influenced gingerbread-style houses and buildings. The well-built cobblestone streets and tidy homes still in use today reflect its wealthy history, when Oranjested was the trading capital of the West Indies, bustling with merchants from Spain, England, France, Holland and other parts of Europe.
Typical Upper Town Oranjested architecture
Cobblestone streets from the 1700x
We made our way over to the nearly 370-year-old Fort Oranje where we scrambled about, enjoying the views from the hilltop fort. Dating from 1636, the fort was the site of the first foreign recognition of the fledgling United States in 1776, when the then governor gave an 11-gun salute to the Andrew Doria, a US Naval ship. In fact, despite the stated neutrality of the Netherlands, St. Eustatius was a vital supply center  for the  upstart Americans. Many of its merchants, having excellent contacts in the colonial cities of Newport, Charleston and New York, as well as France and Netherlands on the other side of Atlantic, were perfectly situated to provide the American rebels with shipments of arms and military supplies prior to the American declaration of independence.
Cannons overlooking Oranje Baai
Following a  meandering path from the fort, we came across the restored ruins of the old Dutch Reformed Church, where its lovely stone arches face the sea, and a quiet sense of history fills the churchyard cemetery. Several ornate grave markers and family plots dating from the early 1700s can be found under the large mango trees outside the stone church walls. Just down the road, there is a partially restored synagogue in Oranjested too, Honen Dalim, which dates from 1738, making it one of the oldest in the Caribbean. There was a large Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish population on the island at that time, merchants and their families who came from Curacao and Amsterdam during the first quarter of the 18th century because of the lucrative trade on the island. I love the sense of strolling through history here!
Detail from the gravestone of Governor Jan De Windt, who died in
1775. Jewish merchants donated the marble gravestone as a tribute
to the governor, whom they held in high esteem.