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Koukla Charters at www.sailkoukla.com

It’s been a year since we’ve been back, and Koukla is all spiffed up and now available for day or overnight charters out of Rockland, Maine

For anyone looking for info about charters, day sails, or overnights, go to www.sailkoukla.com

This page is the blog of the trip to the Caribbean aboard Koukla from 2013 – 2014

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Northern Grenadines / Bequia

Hello faithful readers, yes we are still posting about the islands that we never had a chance to post about during the trip.

After leaving the Tobago Cays, we briefly stopped at Canouan, which was notable for being not ‘touristy,’ but really wasn’t very interesting, so lets move on to the main attraction of this post and our last stop in the Grenadines, Bequia.

The harbor on Bequia

The harbor on Bequia

We had heard good things about Bequia from many cruisers and we were all looking forward to getting there, but we didn’t really know much about it. Ultimately, what made Bequia special wasn’t any particularly amazing attractions, but just the pleasantness of everything: a nice-sized town, good restaurants, not too crowded or built up, and most important, a popular cruising destination where we reunited with friends we’d made elsewhere. It just had the feeling of the perfect island community.

Whaling is traditional on Bequia, an a limited number are still caught each year. Thus, the whaleboner restaurant

Whaling is traditional on Bequia, and a limited number are still caught each year using traditional methods. Thus, the decor at the whaleboner restaurant.

There was a unique grocery / provisioning store with odds and ends shoved into ever nook and cranny. They make their own chocolate croissants there, which were ultimately the best of the trip (even better than the French islands). After trying them, Ted put in a special order for a dozen to pick up the next day, and informed the crew that four were for himself, and we could figure out how to divide up the other eight.

One neat attraction on Bequia is Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary on the other side of the island. We decided to walk the couple of miles over to go check it out. On the way we saw many great vistas and beaches along the northern shore.

Isaac pets a turtle

Isaac pets a turtle

The turtle sanctuary sprang out of decades of effort and the dedication / obsession of one man without any public funding. His idea was to gather turtle eggs from the beaches and raise the turtles in captivity for the several years it takes them to reach maturity, and then release them to the ocean. This avoids the high-mortality period when the turtles are small and have many predators.

He has raised and released thousands of turtles over the years and the operation has grown into a small warehouse full of pools of different aged turtles. There isn’t much in the way of tracking or follow-up after he releases them, so it is hard to know for sure the impact, but regardless it was neat to hear the guy’s story about how he has dedicated his life to raising turtles. Note that these are a different species than we saw in the Tobago Cays (Hawksbill vs. Green). The hawksbill turtles raised at the sanctuary are critically endangered, because they were formerly harvested for tortoiseshell.

So, everything is going great on Bequia, it sure is nice here… *CRASH* in the middle of the night. Everyone scrambling up on deck, in pajamas, a couple hours before dawn, a light rain is falling, and a boat is smashed t-bone style across our bow, our bowsprit broken through their railing.

“IS THERE ANYONE ON THIS BOAT!” shouts Horatio. It takes time for them to appear, dazed, unhelpful, one just curled up and clutching his head. I guess it was up to us. Their boat’s weight in the wind and current pushed us tight on our anchor, the chain was straining and we couldn’t back up. Danica and Horatio jumped in the dingy, maneuvered into position against their port side, and let loose with the 25 hp outboard motor. They expertly push the other boat straight sideways, getting them off without getting our bowsprit any more tangled up in their railing or rig.

Oddly, their boat then began to drift slowly out towards the sea. Ted decided that we better go find out their name for insurance. And so he and I (Isaac) got in the inflatable and chased them out of the harbor. The dingy is bouncing along as we’re approaching more open waters, it is still dark beyond the range of our flashlights, and with the misty rain and lack of clothes, cold. Their name is hidden behind a swim platform, and they yell at us to come back tomorrow. It was pretty odd, so we wrote down their hull number and left.

While on Bequia Horatio carved a new bit out of a piece of lumber. Pretty good!

While on Bequia Horatio created a new cleat out of a piece of lumber. Pretty good!

Ultimately everything turned out okay. They hadn’t really been running away… we later learned they were all hungover (which is why they were no use during the crisis), and I still don’t really understand why they had seemed to be leaving, but they eventually came back and re-anchored. Though part of their rail was destroyed, Koukla sustained no real damage. But one thing we did come away with was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

The view on the walk to the turtle sanctionary

The view on the walk to the turtle sanctuary

St. Lucia

There is a saying that whenever two boats are going to the same place, they are racing.

The rugged coast of St. Lucia. The sharp peak of one of the Pitons.

The rugged coast of St. Lucia. The two peaks on the right are the Pitons.

Remember back in Guadeloupe, we had met a family with two kids trying to catch a cat? Well, we ran into them in Fort de France, and it turned out they were also headed south, so we raced our new friends from Martinique to St. Lucia. Since their vessel was much smaller and sleeker, we figured we didn’t have a chance in our heavy gaff-rigged vessel, but we passed each other several times. At one point, they came right up alongside Koukla, such that the teenage kids could have swung over and boarded us pirate style. We had a great time waving and shouting to each other each time we passed, but eventually they pulled ahead and beat us in to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. But it made what would have been a long boring sail pass quickly and enjoyably.

We almost skipped out on St. Lucia due to a recent event on the island. A cruising couple had been boarded and robbed in the middle of the night, leaving the man dead and the woman severely injured. But it would be a long way to skip the island, and supposedly the perpetrators had been apprehended, and we’d be going nowhere near that area.

Despite the recent unfortunate events elsewhere on the island, we were surprised to find one of the most active and rewarding cruising communities in the Caribbean in Rodney Bay, and we had a full social calendar for our entire stay.

The top-heavy flag / produce / miscellany selling boat that puttered around the bay

The top-heavy flag / produce / miscellany selling boat that puttered around the bay

On our way in to shore the next day, we swung by our racing buddies to see if they would like a lift ashore. Subsequently, their son was sent in along with us to refill their propane tank. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad went to get a small puncture in our inflatable repaired. They found out that it could be repaired that day, but this meant that we were all stuck on shore for the day, including our young friend, who now with no way to get word back to his family, we’d practically kidnapped. Basically that meant Scott, Molly, Isaac, and I were charged with accompanying a rambunctious 13-year-old boy for the whole day who liked to roll around on the ground, touch everything in the stores we went to, catch rides on passing custodian golf carts, and asked everyone we met where to get kittens.

He and his sister were obsessed with finding a boat cat. Everywhere we went that day, he asked, “where are the kittens, do you have any kittens?” He was obsessed. At lunch, when he was ordering, he said, “I’ll have a burger with no onions, a milkshake, and where are your kittens?” The waitress didn’t know how to respond.

Anyway, eventually the rest of his family made it to shore, and that evening all ten of us went out to dinner at what was basically a Caribbean Chucky Cheese, but better. There was good pizza and an excellent playground where all the kids got to run around and play, including a free-spinning metal platform, of a type likely banned in the U.S. by this point. My mom called it a kiddie killer. But it was great fun for the kids, including some local boys who made fun of us and said their grandmas could spin them faster. And there were also slides, swing sets, a jungle gym, a trampoline, and even a bouncy castle. And as the other families left, we 20-something kids could play on the equipment without getting many dirty looks.

The whole time the kids had been going on about catching a cat, going all the way back to Guadeloupe, we really didn’t take them seriously. Then their family showed up to dinner with cat food and a litter box. They asked a local where the best place was to catch kittens, and sure it enough, it was right next to a rather upscale restaurant. So after our pizza, while people dined a few feet away, the father opened up a can of cat food and not five minutes later a kitten came out from under the porch and started eating. Then another, and another, and another… He snatched up the first one out, because clearly that was the smartest and boldest and would therefore make the best boat cat. The father had it cuddled up in his shirt while they dinghied back to their boat. And sure enough, within just a few days, the kitten was adjusted to its new home, climbing all over the boat and running along the boom.

The Unicorn

The Unicorn

The next evening we went to a cruiser’s potluck aboard the Unicorn. The Unicorn was a well-known boat, built in 1948 and had appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies. It had recently sold, and was being refitted as a floating bar/restaurant for tourists. It was a bit sad to see it being retired as a true sailing vessel, but at least it was being well kept and maintained.

The potluck itself was great fun. There was tons of good food and fellow cruisers from around the world. Isaac and I found another couple close to our age. They were from Sweden, and we talked with them for quite a while. They both worked online, in web and graphic design, thus enabling them to sail around the world while still earning a living.

Getting around the extensive marina / dock complex at Rodney Bay involves a floating dock with a rope

Getting around the extensive marina / dock complex at Rodney Bay involves a floating dock with a rope

But the most interesting people we met were a family from Seattle. I got talking to the mother and a friend of hers from France about nutrition while waiting in the (very long) line at the buffet. It was wonderful to be able to talk with like-minded people about food and nutrition, as I’m constantly surrounded by engineers. In between our food discussion, I learned their amazing sailing story.

Most live aboard cruisers have some sort of tie to sailing. In my family, there have been lots of seafaring Cowans going back many generations. Not so with this family. Apparently, it all started when the husband was at home watching TV, recovering from minor surgery. And he saw a report about the 16 yr old girl who’d sailed around the world, and thought, well, if a sixteen year old can do it, then I can do it. He had never been on a boat before. A few months later, he and his wife sold their house and most of their belongings and flew to France to buy a boat, taking along their two children. They spent a year cruising the Mediterranean, learning how to sail in the relatively safer waters of an enclosed sea (though that gives no protection against freak accidents like having their mast struck by lightning… but that’s a different story). They must have figured it out, and now with their sealegs, they crossed the Atlantic without major mishap, and from St. Lucia are headed to Panama, through the Canal, and then on to the South Pacific.

After making so many new friends in St. Lucia, we were a bit sad to leave, but it was time to be moving on. Especially since we were so close to our final destination—Grenada.

Dominica

A tallship anchored at Roseau, Dominica

A tallship anchored at Roseau, Dominica

Dominica is quite simply one of my favorite places in the world.  Our cruising guidebook states that of all the islands in the Caribbean, Dominica is one of the few Columbus would still recognize.  In my opinion, this island pretty much has it all—beaches, pristine rainforests, waterfalls, a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, unique geothermal attractions.  This is probably why it was chosen as a filming location for several of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  And everyone on Dominica seems to be quite proud of that fact, as all of the tourist maps point out the various filming locations.  They must have been a welcome boon to what appears to be an otherwise flailing economy.

At least it rather seemed that way from the ramshackle town of Portsmouth amid the white sandy beaches of Prince Rupert Bay in northern Dominica.  As soon as a cruising boat came close, while often still a couple miles out, it would be met by a one of the local wooden work boats, rushing out to offer tours, produce, laundry service, garbage disposal, Dominica flags, ect.

The first boat out to greet us was manned by Alexis, who is a member of PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Security), an organization that works to keep Prince Rupert Bay safe for cruisers.  They patrol the harbor at night and keep watch for potential boat robbers. We decided to book a tour up the Indian River with Alexis, one of the main local attractions.

Our Guide, Alexis, rowing us up the river

Our Guide, Alexis, rowing us up the river

The following morning, Alexis came right out to our boat to pick us up for the tour.  It was just four of us—Scott, Molly, Isaac, and me. At the mouth of the river, Alexis turned off his outboard and switched to oars.  It’s quite impressive that these river guides can row these heavy boats full of people for long distances, sometimes multiple times a day.

As he rowed, Alexis told us all about the various flora and fauna around the river and the island at large.  He mentioned that there is nothing poisonous on Dominica, and stated that if there was, he’d be dead by now.  He especially liked to talk about all the different birds, fish, lizards, and amphibians he grew up eating but are now protected.  He always followed with, “And you know what it tastes like… chicken.”  Even with many species protected, there are still plenty of wild fruits, vegetables, and animals to feed just about anyone on Dominica willing to go and get it: mangoes, breadfruit, papaya, bananas, plantains, and grapefruits grow wild throughout the island, just to name a few.

The movie prop shack on the river

The movie prop shack on the river

Our first stop on our tour was a small shack with a dock along the river, which looked almost exactly like the voodoo lady’s from the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  It turns out its actually a recreation of the same shack, in the same spot, for a different pirate movie, since the first was take down. This time, the Dominicans made them leave it up. Apparently many of the river guides had been involved in filming.  Alexis puffed up a bit when he said he knew Jonny Depp and Keira Knightley.

Gnarled tree roots on the jungle / mangrove / swampy riverside

Gnarled tree roots on the jungle / mangrove / swampy riverside

As we proceeded on down the muddy brown river, the trees crowded overhead to form a bright green canopy.  Crabs scuttled about in the roots of mangrove trees along the shore. The river gradually narrowed as Alexis rowed along.  Where it became quite narrow, we rowed over to a small dock, which led to a bar covered in thatched roofing with rough-hewn wooden seats.  We all ordered banana smoothies, most likely from bananas picked right around the corner.  While we waited for our drinks, we watched as several fearless little birds munched on fruit specifically left out for them.  At one point, when Scott had finished his smoothie and left it briefly unattended, a yellow-bellied bananaquit hopped up on his glass rim and stuck its beak in his straw.

Danica with the birds made out of a palm frond

Danica with the birds made out of a palm frond

As we relaxed and drank our smoothies, Alexis was hard at work making tiny birds out of palm fronds, which he artfully stuck into flowers and presented to us as souvenirs.

After our river tour, all six of us spent the afternoon ashore, exploring the city.  The village is stretched along an expansive white sandy beatch.  The town is made up of concrete buildings with flaking paint or grey weather worn wood.  To get from the dingy dock inland, we had to walk down narrow alleyways and over wooden planks over drainage ditches.  It was getting late by the time we were finished exploring, and decided to get a pizza for dinner.  They had some unusual topping options—including corn on the veggie pizza.  By the time we finished, it was almost sunset.  We watched through a chain link fence next to a hardware store as the sun set, and we all saw the famous green flash.  The four of us had seen it several times on our first trip, but it was a first for Isaac and Molly.  It can be a bit of a let-down for some, as the small green dot at sunset would be a better name.

The tree crushed by a schoolbus in a hurricane. Bus: wrecked. Tree: still going

The tree crushed by a schoolbus in a hurricane. Bus: wrecked. Tree: still going

The next morning we sailed down the coast to Roseau, the capital of Dominica, on the southern coast of the island.  We had now officially gone farther than we had on our first trip.  Last time we didn’t make it past Prince Rupert Bay.  We walked around the slightly less ramshackle city, and visited the nearby botanical gardens.  It was unlike most botanical gardens, as it was more of a public park with a scattering of strange looking trees that may or may not be labeled.  The highlight was a schoolbus that had been smashed under a tree in a hurricane.  A large tree had fallen on the (thankfully) empty school bus and went right on growing.

An immense tree in the Roseau botanical garden

An immense tree in the Roseau botanical garden

We decided to postpone exploring the waterfalls and hiking trails of Dominica’s interior until we were heading back north, so after a short stay in Roseau we sailed off to Martinique.

Guadeloupe

Our next sail took us across the channel between the United Kingdom and France, but we didn’t need to go to Europe. We were crossing from Montserrat to Guadeloupe, which, along with Martinique (coming in a later blog post), are fully incorporated parts of France, with all the same rights and status as the mainland, similar to how Hawaii is for the US despite being far away.

The  town of Deshaies in Guadeloupe

The town of Deshaies in Guadeloupe

We arrived in the village of Deshaies in the northwest of Guadeloupe, and it was soon clear that it was very different from most of the islands we had been to recently: there were large fast roadways full of cars, lots of boutique shops and restaurants and just development in general. There were numerous French bakery and pastry shops (we ate many baguettes and croissants), a large modern library, and even recycling, which sadly, most islands lack. Unlike the other islands we’d visited that are administered by a distant nation but still had a Caribbean character, Guadeloupe really did feel more European.

Also, everyone spoke French. It turned out they usually knew English as well though weren’t always willing to admit it. In the French islands, they have farmed out customs check-in for boats to private businesses, which basically just provide a computer terminal for you to fill out electronically. In Deshais, this was in a tourist knick-knack shop. Ted asked the shopkeeper if she spoke English to help clarify some things on the form. Shopkeep: “oh, no no no no no” while waving hands. Minutes later, while hovering over, she interjects in English, “you filled this part out all wrong.”

Sailing down the Guadeloupian coast

Sailing down the Guadeloupian coast

We didn’t stay long before moving down to Basse-Terre, the capitol of Guadeloupe. Here we met a family with a set of entertaining 13-year-old twins engaged in trying to catch a cat wandering around the dock to become a pet for their boat. The method was a felt mouse tied to fishing line, or in this case, “catting” line. This worked pretty well at luring the cat over to attack the mouse, but I think he eventually clawed it off of the line and ran off. The cat was actually a pet from another boat, so we figured they were just playing around.

The boat house in the Saintes

The boat house in the Saintes

Our next destination was a clump of small islands known as The Saintes just south of the Guadeloupe “mainland” (the Saintes are administered as part of Guadeloupe). Quaint red-roofed houses dot the green hills.  The main part of town borders one continuous beach.  Many sidewalk cafes offered delicious yet inexpensive baguette sandwiches and free wifi.  And just a short walk out of town the scenery became positively rural. These tiny islands have a balance of civilization and nature that is quite rare in the Caribbean.

The wide, empty beach on the east coast of Terre de Haut

The wide, empty beach on the east coast of Terre de Haut

Danica and I had an enjoyable time wandering around the various attractions around Terre de Haut, the island we were anchored at. For one, there is a house shaped like a ship bursting out of the cliffside, built by the island’s single resident doctor many decades ago. Why? Who knows, but it looks cool. It is a doctor’s clinic to this day. Next, a short walk took us over to the large beach on the east side of the island. Exposed to the open ocean, massive rollers crashed violently against the rocks and sand, so it wasn’t really a swimming beach. However, we essentially had the dramatic expanse of rugged shoreline all to ourselves, and it was great just to walk around it. The pounding waves throw many things up on shore, which makes for great beachcombing with many seafans and shells, but unfortunately also including a lot of plastic trash that washes in from the ocean.

As our last thing, we made a long uphill trek up to Fort Napoleon, which sets itself apart from the other Caribbean forts by also being a botanical garden. The garden, it turns out, is basically just built right on top of the roof and walls of the fort, and it is quite a unique experience to walk around the parapets among cacti and iguanas.

Overlooking Terre de Haut from Fort Napoleon

Overlooking Terre de Haut from Fort Napoleon

St. Kitts & Montserrat

Sailing past Brimstone Hill

Sailing past Brimstone Hill

As you might expect, when you arrive in a new country you have to clear through customs and immigration.  When you arrive by air, this is automatic, but when you arrive by sea, you must seek out customs and immigration, which can be in surprisingly hard to find locations.  It has become tradition that my dad and I always go to clear customs together. In a boat, it is only mandatory for the captain to go and declare the other passengers, that is why not everyone needs to go in.  It is interesting and often telling of the entire island how their customs procedure is set up.  In St. Kitts, we got to listen to the customs lady singing along to “Make time for Jesus” and see immigration officials aggressively playing candy crush on their smartphones.

As we exited customs, we were met by a friendly yet aggressive tour guide named Veronica wanting to sell us a tour of the island.  It was late in the day, so we said we’d think about it, but really we’d just intended to pass.  But when we arrived on shore with the whole crew, she was waiting for us at the dock, and began dropping her price, eventually telling us to just get in her van and pay at the end only if we liked the tour.  She was fiercely proud of her island home and wanted to show it off to anyone willing to come along. How could we refuse?

So we all piled into her lovely air-conditioned van and off we went.  Veronica was extremely knowledgeable about the history of St. Kitts, and pointed out the house and grave of the first governor, as well as the site of the Carib Indian massacre now known as bloody point.  Legend has it that so many natives were killed that the river ran red with blood for days.

An batik artist giving a demo

An batik artist giving a demo

Our first stop was Romney Manor, originally owned and built by Thomas Jefferson’s great-grandfather, Samuel Jefferson.  It is now the site of a well known batik factory, where we got to watch the waxing and dying process of making batik fabric art.  We had come to this same place twelve years ago, and I had purchased some lovely pillow covers that had since turned to ribbons from overuse, and I was anxious to replace them.  Outside the batik shop, we walked around their lovely manicured gardens and saw monkeys playing about in the branches above us.

But soon we were off to our next destination—Brimstone Hill Fort.  We had also visited this location on our first trip, but this time around, it was a much more pleasant experience.  The first time, we had not taken a taxi, but a local bus and hiked up the considerable hill to the fort in the searing midday sun.  Also, I remembered the distinctive suffocating sulfurous stench for which the fort is named.

 

Enjoying the view from Brimstone Hill Fort

Enjoying the view from Brimstone Hill Fort

Thankfully, this time it was a pleasant temperature for late afternoon, and the smell of brimstone was noticeably absent.  Since it was near closing time we practically had the place to ourselves as we wandered about the huge complex and enjoyed the spectacular views of the sea and villages below. Brimstone Hill is sometimes called the Gibraltar of the Caribbean, and for good reason.  It is a massive fort overtaking a large hill, which is actually a sulfur vent of the larger volcano.

The thin isthmus on southern St. Kitts. The Atlantic is on the left, the Caribbean on the right.

The thin isthmus on southern St. Kitts. The Atlantic is on the left, the Caribbean on the right.

Then we were off to the opposite end of the island—a favorite spot of Veronica’s—where you could see the Caribbean sea and Atlantic ocean separated by a thin strip of land.  We passed through poor shanty towns with brightly colored yet crumbling clapboard or concrete structures.  But what they lacked in financial resources they made up in natural ones.  Just about every house had papaya, mango, and breadfruit trees in their yard. The far side of the island was a whole other world with McMansions and all-inclusive resorts.  It was beautiful but soul-less.  As we returned to the dinghy dock, we thanked Veronica, #1 tour guide in the Caribbean, for her knowledge and hospitality, and before long it was time to be moving on.

In fact, we were incredibly anxious to move on from St. Kitts because of the terrible anchorage.  It never stopped rolling the entire time we were there.  The constant side-to-side motion made everyday actions incredibly difficult, especially eating dinner off of our gimbaled table.  However, it was somewhat pleasant for sleeping.  I’ve come to enjoy the rocking motion of the boat as I drift off to sleep.

On our sail from St. Kitts to Montserrat was pleasantly uneventful.  We had the privilege of sailing past the famous Kingdom of Redonda and seeing its fabled shores.

Montserrat was one of the few islands we didn’t visit back in 2002, as it was actively erupting at the time.  We had watched steaming boulders rolling down the mountains as we sailed past.  Now, things had calmed down enough that we had decided to stop here.

And our visit was immediately off to an exciting start.  Just as soon as Dad and I were heading back to Koukla after clearing customs, a man at the dock pointed to a small sloop and asked if it was our boat, as it was drifting out to sea.

We have two outboard motors, a 25 and a 2.5 hp as backup. Since the little one hadn’t been used in a while, we had put it on for a change to let it run for a bit to keep it in good working condition… it seems like we had picked the wrong day for it.  We raced back to Koukla as fast as we could (very slowly at 2.5 hp), but when we were almost back, our little outboard motor died. Dad started to paddle while I kept pulling the motor’s start cord over and over.  Eventually it restarted, we got back and switched to the 25 horsepower motor in record time (this involves hoisting the heavy thing over the side and onto the dingy using our anchor burton), and Scott, Dad, and I went off after the boat.

We pull the boat in from being adrift at sea, while one of the other guys strikes a jaunty pose

We pull the boat in from being adrift at sea, while one of the other guys strikes a jaunty pose

Another neighboring boat had also gone over to help, so the three of us plus the two of them worked on a plan.  Scott and I, along with one of the guys hauled up the anchor by hand, while Dad and the other guy tried to get the motor started.  It was no use, their engine appeared to be dead. Thankfully, we had our 25 hp outboard motor now in place, so we pushed the boat back in.  Scott was at the helm, dad was driving the inflatable, while I held it in place next to the sloop.

We weren’t sure how to re-anchor the thing, so we tied it off Koukla’s stern, and said our goodbyes and thankyous to the other guys, while we rushed back ashore to notify the authorities in hopes of finding the owner.

We gave the name of the boat to the customs official, just before they were about to leave for the day, and miraculously they managed to get a hold of the owner.  He came over soon after, and expressed his deep gratitude.

Our second day on Montserrat was almost as dramatic as our first.  We took a taxi tour of the island, specifically to see the volcano and its destruction.  First we went to the volcano observatory, and watched a short film on the history of the volcano and its recent eruptions.  On a clear day you could see the peak of the volcano from the observatory.  It was not a clear day.

Into the ruins

Into the ruins

Before we went into the exclusion zone, the area of the island that has been surrendered to the volcano and deemed uninhabitable, we had to check in with the police station and sign in our names and nationalities into a big leatherbound book—should anything happen.

It was a bit unnerving being in the shadow of an active volcano, but even with all the recent eruptions, only 90 people had died over the past several decades, and nearly all due to their own ignorance and negligence, not heeding scientists’ warnings.

The swimming pool has become a frog pond

The swimming pool has become a frog pond

The devastation was spectacular.  The grey ash covered hills stood out in deep contrast to the lush green vegetation.  We walked through a formerly posh resort, now piled thick with ash. The swimming pool, half filled in, was now home to aquatic plants and numerous tadpoles.  We were allowed to roam freely in the post-apocalyptic setting, into hotel rooms, lobbies, backrooms, and so forth, now wrecked and filled with ash and mud.  Melted shower curtains still hung from their rings. In other areas, houses were filled with ash up to their roofs.  We were able to peer into second story windows.

On our way back, we stopped at Runaway Ghaut, a fresh mountain stream with mystical properties. Next to the stream it says, “if you drink from this burn to Montserrat you will return.”   So apparently we will all be back someday.

 

 

Two Dutch Islands: Saba & Statia

Sailing away from the BVIs

Sailing away from the BVIs

After our swing through the BVIs, it was back to St. John to wait for weather. There is a gap between the dense clump of Virgin Islands and the rest of the Caribbean island chain. Since it was also to the east, into the prevailing tradewinds, it was going to be an overnight beat into the wind.

But, after a bit of a wait, some good wind did show up and we were off. For once, the weather predictions actually held in our favor, and we made the whole run in one tack. In a way, it was too good. Instead of requiring an overnight to get to Saba, we made such good time we arrived in the middle of the night. Moorings are provided for boats to use on the west side of the island, as the water is very deep and much of the area around Saba is a protected marine park. However, trying to first spot, and then catch from deck with our boathook, a tiny white mooring ball floating in the pitch black ocean at midnight is not an easy task. We were all exhausted, the wind was whipping over the mountain throwing the bow off course whenever we slowed down to catch the ball, and add in the distraction of fish just going mad all around us as schools as flying fish were flung into a frenzy being chased by larger fish leaping into the air right after them, and you get some idea of the scene (one of the fish actually smashed Danica in the thigh!) But anyway, after much yelling and three failed attempts, we had our mooring and could sleep.

Yes, people decided to settle this island

Yes, people decided to settle this island

And the next morning, we awoke to the startling view of Saba: little more than a sheer cliff thrust up from the sea, the coast flat and absent of any sort of harbor or habitation. If we didn’t know better, you would believe this was just another unpopulated rock. The fact that people did manage to settle here is just amazing, and this is part of the main attraction of a visit to Saba.

The Ladder

The Ladder

We took our dingy around to the south side of the island, where there is a small port with a man-made breakwater. From there, roads wind straight up the mountainside. This is “the road that could not be built,” according to professional engineer’s survey’s, but was built anyway by a native Sabians in the 1930s, led by a man who took a civil engineering correspondence course. The two main villages are both well above sea level, on the slightly flatter areas above the cliffs.  Prior to the road, Sabians used to hand carry everything (including a piano and a visiting cardinal) up a 400-step stone staircase now called The Ladder.

Other than just tour the island, our other main goal was to do some hiking. Scott, Molly, Danica, and I hiked up Mt. Scenery, where at the top a sign announces that it is the highest point in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the peak was covered in cloud and didn’t have much view. But there was a very pleasant walk through what might have been a mahogany orchard near the bottom. We also got a cool glass-making demonstration by a jewelrymaker on Saba.

The villages perched atop Saba

The villages perched atop Saba. All houses on Saba, by law, must have red roofs, white walls, and green trim. This makes it look pretty.

Some cool ruins on Statia, with Koukla in the background

Some cool ruins on Statia, with Koukla in the background

Next up was Statia, the nickname for St. Eustatius, another small Dutch island about a day’s sail east of Saba. The sail over opened with a gust of wind coming over the mountain on Saba just as we finished raising sails, heeling us way over and dumping water through the open portholes. Ug. But, once we got away from the island, it wasn’t too bad and we pulled into Statia before sunset. To my surprise, despite being a small island with little development, there were tons of huge fuel tankers anchored all around. Apparently it is used as a major fuel depot for the Caribbean region.

DSCN4787Ashore, a single road runs through a thin strip of flat land along the coast, lined by near-vertical cliffs. This is ‘Lower Town.’ To reach the top, where the main town of Oranjestad spreads out, we walked a steep cobblestone path called the Old Slave Road, so named because it is was once used to lead slaves up from ships.

Mysterious garden terraces, with goats

Mysterious garden terraces, with goats

Oranjestad spread out on the plateau above. At the top of the Old Slave Road, we overlooked terraces lined with potted plants being grazed by goats. What was the story on this? We don’t know. There was no explanation available, as overall Statia seemed to be not at all designed for tourist visits. We wandered around the streets, passing occasional small restaurants and bars, some corner markets (but no tourist shops), and many residential houses, all of which seemed to have at least one dog, and most with more. Actually, one dog joined our wanderings for the day and barked in our defense at any other dogs we passed. Eventually, with little to do, we returned to the boat.

Descending into the crater. It was really tiring getting back out!

Descending into the crater. It was really tiring getting back out!

It seemed that the only thing to do on the island was to hike up The Quill, the name of the collapsed volcano dome just about a mile outside of town. On the way up, it was a unremarkable forest walk, other than the countless large “solider crabs” everywhere. But when we reached the crater rim, it became something completely unique. Ropes were strung up along trees and boulders to aid in the steep, rocky descent. When we reached the base, we found ourselves in a thick jungle, sealed off from the outside world and ringed on all sides by the crater, like the sort of place you might find a small band of surviving dinosaurs. Many simply gargantuan trees filled the crater. After visiting many of them, we scrambled back up with the help of the ropes and went back to the boat. Next up, St. Kitts!

Danica and I next to a giant tree / strangler vine

Danica and I next to a giant tree / strangler vine

Scott inside of a solid cage of wood

Scott inside of a solid cage of wood

Atop the crater rim

Atop the crater rim