Monday, February 27, 2012

Antigua: English Harbour, Falmouth Harbour and Green Island

     Hi everyone, sorry there haven't been many posts lately. I am waiting on Dad to write a few posts about sailing and other things but lately he's been too busy kiteboarding, and when he's not kiting he's talking about kiting or going to bed early. So here's an update on what we've been up to in Antigua.

     We arrived last week after a fairly rough passage from Guadeloupe, happy to anchor in the beautiful green water of English Harbour. The docks were crammed with more mega yachts than I've ever imagined, many based here or around for the Caribbean 600 sailing race. English Harbour has some lovely shops and yacht amenities in the historic buildings of Nelson's Dockyard, once a major British naval outpost in the Caribbean.

     The anchorage in the tiny Harbour was very crowded and during the night we swirled around in various directions, coming incredibly close to hitting other boats, so the next day we moved a short distance to the larger Falmouth Harbour. After a few days of rest and lots of bucket laundry we sailed upwind through choppy waves to Green Island, a kiteboarder's paradise.

     Beyond Green Island a large barrier reef cuts off the ocean swell leaving a perfect green slick behind. On one side of the island there is a white sand beach where kites have been piled about every day since we arrived. A local kiting school brings people out in dinghies each day and others come off the few large yachts anchored behind the kiting grounds. This is by far the best spot we've come across for the sport and the flatness of the clear green water makes for an absolute dream.

     Hopefully you will soon read Dad's perspective on the more technical details of our sailing experiences (as I'm sure you've noticed I tend to lean toward traveling as a favourite topic) and on the awesome kiting we've all been partaking in. Right now we have no plans to leave Green Island in the near future.

All the best,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Antigua Bound

     Yesterday we left Dominica early for a relaxed 50 mile sail to Deshaies, Guadeloupe. Today we are off to Antigua with plans to stay there for several weeks (there are supposed to be great kiteboarding spots, so Dad and Jamie are anxious to get there). Although we only spent a few days in Dominica, it was the most interesting and unique place we've visited yet (and my favourite! Can you tell?).

More to come on Antigua when we get there,

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coasting down the Indian River, Dominica

     At 6:30 am we all leaped out of bed and hurried to get ready for our 7 am tour of the Indian River. Charlie was a bit late and we quickly ripped over the glassy water as roosters ashore had a crowing competition. Several rusted old wrecks sit along the shore of Prince Rupert Bay, evidence of the fury of hurricanes in these parts. One particularly rusty ship commands the entrance of the murky green river. Charlie soon shut down the motor and began to paddle and pole us at a relaxed pace along the shady waters of the tropical river.

     Along the calm water, three hundred year old bloodwood trees cling to muddy banks with huge folded roots. Charlie spoke to us of iguanas, small herons, parrots, and boa constrictors that frequent the river. Although the boas here only grow a few feet long and are not poisonous, he said they often climb trees and on occasion drop down into boats below. At one part of the river Charlie gestured to a gap where a shack once stood for the filming of a scene in the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. 

     While explaining that his solid boat is made from the wood of a white cedar tree found on the island, Charlie pointed out an iguana perched in a tree and a red land crab along the shore. Further along the river the vegetation became denser and formed a canopy of dark green overhead. A sense of calm settled over the boat as we absorbed the tranquil surroundings and I found myself imagining us deep within the interior of Africa along the Congo River. Dominica is covered in plants of such huge size that you’d think there would be bugs and insects of similar proportions, but surprisingly this is not true. I didn’t see even one mosquito along the Indian River.

     As we rounded a corner where mud was silted up, a bright blue boat came into view with a man collecting bamboo. As we came near he held up an iguana for us to see and spoke to Charlie in a version of Creole. After he dropped the iguana in the water so it could swim off, we suddenly noticed that something else had found its way into his wooden boat. Tucked beneath several large pieces of bamboo was a boa constrictor, curled up and ready to lash out at the slightest provocation (which it did as we pulled right alongside the blue boat!) About six feet long, it snapped at us, opening its mouth so wide that I might have seen straight down into its belly if I wasn’t so busy trying to move as far away as possible. Luckily it stayed in the boat, but that didn’t stop my heart from pounding for a few minutes after. Charlie explained that the man was going to remove its fangs and wear it around his neck for the Carnival celebrations. I hope it doesn’t strangle him…I certainly wouldn’t trust it!

     After our exciting episode the trip up the river resumed its calm and the only sounds were doves hooting like owls and droplets of water falling around us as the breeze stirred. Eventually the river narrowed to the point of inaccessibility and we climbed onto a dock to begin a short hike through agricultural fields ripe with bananas, pineapple, papaya, cocoa, ginger, and passion fruit. Charlie plucked some grapefruits for us and we stood on the muddy trail eating the freshest fruit of our lives. What a treat that would be to walk into your yard in the morning and pick breakfast straight off a tree. Along the trail he pulled fresh ginger from the ground, peeled the bark from a cinnamon tree to smell and snatched a sprig of bay leaves to take back to the boat with us (when fresh it lends a lemony flavour to cold drinks and dried it makes a tasty tea). 

     The return trip was relaxing. We saw several small herons, iguanas and an egret. Back at the dock by the river’s entrance the man with the blue boat had his snake tied up with a frayed rope beneath an overturned boat. A group of locals stood at a safe distance and one lady said that she could sell its oil in Guadeloupe for a good profit. When a group of tourists gathered around they started charging money for pictures of the poor snake.


An Iguana- he threw it into the water just after this.

A boa constrictor, only 6 feet long though!

Fresh ginger root right from the earth.

Eating grapefruit right off the tree.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A drive around the magical island of Dominica

     Our trusty cruising guide to the Leeward Islands describes the vibrant greenness of Dominica so well that I feel compelled to share it with you: "Greenery erupts everywhere, thrusting upwards, curling, stretching, climbing, and falling, till the whole land is covered in a verdant tangle of trees, vines, shrubs and ferns. Add to this a plethora of birds, butterflies, and brightly-colored flowers, and you can begin to imagine its almost magical nature." 

     As Portsmouth yawned awake after a long night of loud music, Charlie picked us up in his long wooden boat and took us ashore to meet Alec, driver of the “Red October Taxi” (his favourite movie is “The Hunt for Red October,” which is funny because we have it in our boat movie collection) and our guide for the day. As we set out along an impossibly twisty road to the east every turn brought a new gorge or valley exploding with greenery.  Around each corner a banana plantation emerged with towering palm trees brushing the sky above.

     Stopping alongside one plantation Alec picked us some bananas and explained that each tree takes nine months to grow, gives only one bunch of bananas, and then sprouts little baby trees on all sides. Many bunches were protected by blue plastic bags to prevent spots and blemishes, and once fully grown they are exported to England and other Caribbean countries. Touching the trunks of the banana trees we realized how soft they are—filled with liquid and more like a soft stalk than a tree trunk. Alec also knocked some young coconuts from a tree to cut open later for coconut water and the soft jelly inside.

     Driving along the rainforest-covered eastern coast the vegetation was an endless blur of green. Along the way Alec pointed out a staggering variety of agricultural products: cocoa, coffee, breadfruit, passion fruit, cassava, ginger, almonds, grapefruit, pineapples, mangoes, and avocados. Every so often the canopy would part and we would catch beautiful glimpses of the unusually calm Atlantic Ocean. This fabulous island has completely redefined my concept of what agriculture looks like. Back home in Canada when I think of agriculture I picture large flat fields with long straight rows of corn. Here everything grows anywhere and everywhere, up and down steep valleys and deep within dramatic river gorges. People in the scattered villages live in homes without screens or windows and seem to spend the majority of their time outside in their natural surroundings.

     Inside the territory of a Carib reserve we stopped at a roadside shack open to the air where a man was baking traditional cassava bread. Made of grated coconut and cassava (a root vegetable eaten only by the Caribs here, but popular in the BVIs), it is baked on a large metal dish over a wood fire and shaped into a flat circular bread. The bread was piping hot and made for a delicious roadside snack. Further along at a lovely lookout point Carib ladies sold their handmade crafts and woven baskets from stands made of bamboo.

     After carving our way through endless fields and gorges and passing many villages and agricultural lands with colourful tumbledown homes and local people peering out at us curiously, we came to a beautiful Creole restaurant overlooking the ocean. Woven palm and sugarcane leaves decorated the walls and ceiling, tropical plants adorned vases carved from coconuts, and the benches were built of robust strands of bamboo. A delicious meal of chicken or fish came with a sampling of local vegetables, including breadfruit, dasheen, banana, plantain, cabbage and lemongrass. The freshly squeezed grapefruit juice was absolute perfection. So fresh and natural, it tasted like drinking straight from a grapefruit with a straw. The perfect amount of sugar formed an excellent balance between sweet and sour.

     Glimpses of the sea soon receded as we turned inland and climbed up and up to the World UNESCO Heritage Site called the Emerald Pool. Tucked inside a dense tropical forest, the Emerald pool sparkles green and translucent amidst mossy green boulders below a small waterfall. At the entrance we found a guide who was very enthusiastic about the island’s natural elements and had intensive knowledge of local plants and animals. Throughout the hike to the pool he pointed out spider plants, fly leaf vines, land crabs, elephant ears, leaves that lather to wash dishes, a fuzzy leaf that can be used as toilet paper in a pinch, and a local species of praying mantis. Beneath the dark cool shade of the trees we swam in the crisp fresh water of the Emerald Pool and enjoyed the refreshing spray from the waterfall.

     The road along the western coast back to Portsmouth was markedly drier, but still incredibly hilly. Back in Portsmouth Charlie showed up with a machete to cut open the coconuts for us and we stood along the warm beach enjoying fresh coconut water.

     Getting a tour around this verdant island was by far our best idea yet. Not only did we learn a lot about the island’s plants, agriculture, and economy, but we were able to sample local cuisine and drinks, all made fresh from produce grown right here on Dominica. It’s such a magical notion for us to be able to eat fruits and vegetables picked straight from the earth. Also, having a guide with intimate knowledge of the island and its natural features made our drive far more enriching than it would have been if we’d just rented a car on our own.  

     If anyone out there is looking for an amazingly welcoming, beautiful, lush tropical wonderland to explore, you should definitely visit Dominica. Although it is not the easiest place to get to (no international flights), I promise you, it is well worth the effort.


Alec fetching some coconuts

A bananaquit eating some banana

Banana plantation along the west coast

Cassava bread made in the Carib reserve

Swimming in the Emerald Pool

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dominica: “Nature’s Island”

     Sailing to Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica on Thursday we caught sight of mountainous green peaks touching the clouds and small villages spread along the rugged coast. Before entering the bay we were greeted by Charlie in his long wooden boat “Charlie Love,” a member of the PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security) with a friendly shout of “Welcome to Dominica!” After anchoring among boats from Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Canada, we shared a Carib with Charlie as he told us about tours of the mystical Indian River, a day-long taxi tour of the island, a Sunday night BBQ at a waterfront restaurant called the Purple Turtle, and the fact that the island celebrates Carnival next week. We assured him we’d be sticking around for Carnival and set up a taxi tour of the island for Saturday.

     As the day went on other men in boats approached, either other PAYS members, or individuals selling local produce and collecting garbage. Our guidebook has extensive coverage on things to do in Dominica and recommends giving business to the members of the PAYS as they have many links with other businesses on the island and are reliable and accountable as a group. They are easily recognizable from the names painted on the sides of their boats with a “VHF Channel 16” note alongside. The first day here we became familiar with other members, including Laurence of Arabia, Providence, Sea Bird, and Cobra—who greeted us as he pulled alongside in his colourful wooden boat shouting a loud and friendly “Cobra’s here!” 

     On Friday we made two trips into Portsmouth intending to hike to the source of the famed Indian River. It would seem the world didn’t want us to go hiking however, as our directions led us astray both times, but we did manage to familiarize ourselves with Portsmouth, find a bank, and buy fruits and vegetables from the small market by the town dock. Portsmouth has lively streets with lots of people lounging and enjoying the day, market ladies, dilapidated but colourful concrete houses with roofs made of rusty sheet metal, makeshift bars and restaurants, and lots and lots of interesting noises (music blaring, people shouting and talking, school children chattering like hundreds of little birds in a school yard).

     Amazing tropical vegetation grows freely in yards and gardens, tumbling here, there and everywhere. We encountered several men asking if we wanted tours of the Indian River, but it was easy enough to refuse them with the magic words: “We’ve planned tours with Charlie.” The ladies in the market spoke a form of Creole and little English, and since there was just a few stalls Mom felt she should buy one or two items from each lady to be fair. At the end of the day we returned to the boat with papayas, tomatoes, pineapple, a huge watermelon, lettuce, bananas, oranges, and grapefruits, all grown on this astoundingly green island.

     Here are some facts about Dominica that to help explain how magical a place it is and why I’ve wanted to visit it more than any other island in the Caribbean: It’s pronounced DOM-i-NEE-ka, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, and is often called “Nature’s Island” for its astonishing natural beauty. The local economy is largely based on agriculture, with bananas as the most significant export, and has a developing ecotourism sector. The population is around 70 000 with a varied Creole culture. A small Carib population still remains on the island and has lands on the eastern side of Dominica (the Caribs originated from South America and lived on many Caribbean islands before being massacred by Europeans during the Colonial period).

     The national bird is a parrot, and palm trees grow wild all up the mountainsides (on other islands we’ve only seen palms concentrated around beaches). Dominica has seven potentially active volcanoes, 365 different rivers, several waterfalls, hot springs and the second largest boiling lake in the world. There is even a beach in the south where you can dive to experience hot bubbles boiling up from an underwater volcano. I’m pretty sure we’ve arrived in heaven on earth!

More to come soon,

Thursday, February 16, 2012

J'aime Iles des Saintes!

     So far the Saintes have been our favourite place to visit. Every island has its merits, its attractions and its beauties, but for some reason the Saintes have captured our interest in a way that no other island has. Being a small group of islands, everything is compact and close together, and the islanders are very lively. Last Sunday as Mom, Sarah and I hiked the tallest peak (1000 feet high) to an old stone watch tower, we could hear music blasting from tents in the village as a sailing race took place on the bay.

     From the anchorage at Ile Cabrit, the main village of Bourg des Saintes is close and accessible. There is even an amazing reef to snorkel beside this island with an unexpected concentration of fish and sea creatures. Ile Cabrit also has old concrete roads that make for an interesting hike amongst a large population of wild goats and chickens to several stone ruins and the remains of a fort. With its great hikes, excellent snorkeling, decent kiteboarding, unique shops and colourful culture, Iles des Saintes has everything we've come to look for in a cruising destination, and our time here has been incredibly enjoyable.

     But alas, the time to move on has come and today we'll sail 20 miles to the intriguing island of Dominica, the last of the leeward islands. At present we plan to make Dominica the furthest south we will travel, so from there it is north and north again. Turning back is a sad thought after almost six months of travel, but there are still many more islands to visit on the return journey, so the end is not in sight quite yet.

     Please enjoy some pictures from the Saintes below. Also check out my favourite pictures so far through the "Favourites" link on the Travel Photos sidebar.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How Far We’ve Come!

     On the passage from St. Kitts to Montserrat we passed a huge milestone in our sailing journey. We have now travelled over 5000 nautical miles since the beginning of last summer! It’s crazy to think back on all the places visited and interesting things seen, and I have to say that I’m thankful I’ve written a lot of it down, because it is far too easy to forget experiences passed. It seems to me that it’s those small silly little things that happen in everyday life that we overlook in favour of more significant milestones, and in my mind they are well worth remembering as well. Thank you to anyone and everyone who has been following us on this blog, it’s been a great project to keep me occupied and interested in documenting our experiences and I’m always glad to hear that people are actually reading it!

All the best,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Exploring Iles des Saintes

     The Saintes are a small group of islands south of Guadeloupe and are also a French territory. In the past the economy was primarily based on fishing, and today there are many shops, restaurants guest houses along the small winding streets of Bourg des Saintes catering to tourists arriving off ferries from Guadeloupe. One of the most notable things about the main village on arriving is that the majority of the roofs are red. It makes me wonder if there is a rule about this or if people have just followed tradition when building their homes and businesses. The hills on these small islands are small and dry with reddish soil in many places.

     So far we’ve explored the town, had delicious pizza at a restaurant open to the warm air, and shopped in the unique stores. Dad and Jamie even went kiteboarding in the bay beside Ile Cabrit, where there is a windsurfing and kiteboarding school. During the day the streets are filled with French tourists zooming around on rented scooters, but by night local families emerge into the streets to socialize and enjoy the evening. Last night we heard music booming from speakers and realized that the music was slowly moving along the village streets. After putting ashore for dinner we found that it was coming from a city truck with huge speakers in the back followed by a man playing guitar and a swarm of young people forming a moving dance party. Perhaps this is a Saturday night tradition?

     We are quickly becoming fond of these islands and love how European they feel while maintaining a laid back Caribbean vibe as well. Yesterday we girls grabbed a baguette and a local pastry called “the agony of love” to snack on while hiking the nearest hill to Fort Napoleon for an amazing view of the village and bay. To our surprise, we saw a familiar towering tall ship anchored in the bay and realized it was the Stad Amsterdam, which had amazed us with its huge wooden masts and majestic lines at Norman Island in the BVIs not so long ago. Part of the enjoyment of traveling by sailboat, is seeing familiar boats and cruisers at different islands. So far while in the Saintes we have met several other cruisers from Canada and occasionally see boats we recognize from other islands and anchorages. 

Until next time,