16 Days in January…days 1-9

How does one ever manage to capture in words and a few select photos the kaleidoscope of experiences and moments that fill just a few short days? It seems like I could write a book on all that we have done in just 9 days. It is a beautiful morning and Oh! is motor sailing south along the leeward coast of Guadeloupe in rippled seas against a current. The wind comes in strong gusts up to 30 knots then settles back down to 15-18. With each powerful gust Oh! surges ahead leaving a lot of white water in her wake, then minutes later she is calmly gliding through the water with almost no wake. Just to keep it interesting for the helms person, the gusts and background winds are from different directions, so we cannot just set the sails and let “auto” steer. The lush rainforest covered peaks of Basse-terre are barely touching the clouds and the view from Oh! is spectacular. It is a beautiful day to be out sailing.

A quick review of my camera indicates close to 500 pictures in the past 9 days. As always, there are lots of duplicates and some of poor quality and focus, but there are at least several hundred keepers. Everything from special moments and activities we have done, to the spectacular sunsets and wonderful meals. A typical 9 days of sailing in the Leeward Islands? Well…yes.

Marlene and Tim joined Oh! for the passage south from Saint Martin to Martinique. When they arrived the trades had been blowing strong and steady from ENE at 25-30 knots for the previous 4 days. The forecasts predicted the winds would remain strong for at least another 5 days, so we were staying on the leeward side of Saint Martin waiting for the strong winds to pass. Our days were spent hiking, exploring Grande Case and Marigot, as well as a few short day sails to get them familiar with how Oh! sails. Each of the familiarization sails were flag flapping high wind tacks across the channel that separates Saint Martin from Anguilla. It didn’t take long for the high winds to start spreading our a Canadian flag. Plus with up to 3-4 m swell the ride was “lively” as we made fast tacks across the channel. The tops of the white caps were blowing off in the winds and Oh! was down to a third reef with only 1/3 of the Genoa deployed…but it was fun sailing.

By the fourth day the winds were predicted to start easing and we needed to start moving south. We rigged Oh! for the high winds and departed. Our first destination was Ile Fourchue, a small horseshoe shaped private island with a well protected bay. The clear waters, beautiful sand bottom and hills of the deserted island are a spectacular setting; of the most beautiful and peaceful in the Leeward islands. We arrived tired and ready for a calm night after a 25 nmi. sail in lumpy 2-3 m seas and winds steady above 25 knots and gusting to as high as 40 knots. However, the lumpy sail was well worth the effort and we enjoyed a beautiful evening hiking on the islands trails, swimming in the warm clear bay and enjoying another spectacular Caribbean sunset.

The next morning started out as one of those perfect Caribbean days, warm but not hot, deep blue sky and a gentle cool breeze. I had work to do on the Yamaha 2.5 hp outboard as it was still feeling the effects of its inverted salt water dip in Orient Bay. It would start, but then choke off and stop. Classic symptoms of a dirty carburetor. Our plan was to depart for Antigua after lunch, so the calm morning was ideal for cleaning the carburetor. After a successful removal of an amazing amount of sand, salts, and gummed fuel, the little Yamaha was back to perfect health.

The sail to Antigua took us close to the leeward coast of the island of St.Bart’s. The bays and harbour of Gustavia were full of mega super yachts, both power and sail. The winds were still brisk with long rolling swell of 2-3 meters from the NE mixed with a smaller swell from the east. The cross pattern of the waves meant the ride was lively but it was a beautiful afternoon sail. Overnight the beat to Antigua was under star filled skies, and decreasing winds that gave Marlene a spectacular introduction to the magic of open ocean night sailing. After a beautiful sunrise we arrived at Jolly Harbour Antigua at 9 am to clear in. To me, Jolly Harbour is the best place for a yacht to make landfall in Antigua for 3 reasons:

  1. The bay outside the harbour is large and always easy to anchor in should you arrive at night.
  2. The customs and immigration building has a dedicated dock directly in front of the building, so getting to Customs is very easy. However, Antigua is still British so clearing in or out is a lengthy “multi-step process”.
  3. Finally and most important, the Epicurean market at Jolly Harbour has the best one stop provisioning in Antigua for visiting yachts …and Hazelnut creme for my coffee. Yes!!

Once the precious creme was acquired and we had stocked up on fresh veggies and fruit we departed Jolly Harbour for Falmouth. Along the way there would be a stop at Middle Reef to snorkel and enjoy lunch. Middle reef was badly damaged in one of the previous hurricanes but is slowly recovering. It is a beautiful place to take the dingy up wind then do a long drift snorkel back to Oh!

Falmouth Harbour is located at the southern tip of Antigua and offers a little bit of everything that I enjoy in the Caribbean. Pigeon beach is beautiful, there is some decent snorkelling, lots of area to paddle board and a large collection of cruising yachts to meet and some good services onshore. Plus the local hikes are some of the most accessible and scenic in the Caribbean. The hike that starts at Pigeon Beach and goes to English Harbour is a favourite that offers stunning 360 degree views.

The restored buildings, yard works and docks of English Harbour are a must see for anyone visiting Antigua. Home to the British fleet in the Caribbean, English Harbour is a natural hurricane hole that allowed the English to keep a sizeable fleet year round in the Caribbean. Today, English Harbour is a Unesco World Heritage site and managed by the National Trust. During January the harbour is alive with parties and celebrations every time one of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge row boats arrive. The single, two, three, four or five man crews row across the Atlantic from La Gomera, Canary Islands. Having encountered them at sea on Oh! west bound Atlantic crossing and talked with many of the rowers about their experiences, it is clearly a huge accomplishment to endure and complete that journey. However, I will take Oh! as she is faster, more comfortable and we enjoy daily warm fresh water showers and great food. No freeze dried foods on Oh!

A weather window of lighter winds was predicted for the evening which would make it a very pleasant sail to Guadeloupe. So after a week of high winds the crew of Oh! decided they would like to take advantage of it and do a night sail to Guadeloupe. The decision meant we would cut short our stay on Antigua, but would end up with more time to enjoy the rest of the islands along our passage to Martinique. The night sail was truly magical. The winds started out light from the stern quarter and using only the genoa sail, Oh! sailed with a gentle motion under a moonless star filled sky. During the night we saw many shooting stars and shortly after midnight the moon rose silhouetting Guadeloupe. It was one of those nights when the 2 hour watch seemed somehow too short.

By the time we reached Deshaies on Guadeloupe’s north western tip of Basse-terre the winds were blowing up to 20 knots and Oh! was in her element. With a final broad reach to the harbour entrance our night sail came to end. As the sun began rising behind the mountain peaks we waited while several boats left Deshaies’ crowded anchorage, freeing up room for Oh!. The lush vegetation and heavily treed mountain sides are due to the cloud and rain that envelopes Guadeloupe’s peaks. Moisture is trapped and condenses on the foliage while higher up heavy rain showers are frequent. The result is a vibrant and lush rainforest that is in stark contrast to the dry hills and thorny vegetation that covers most of Antigua.

After clearing into Guadeloupe, a short walk exploring the town, visiting the patisserie, the farmers market and fishing docks, we returned to Oh!, weighed the anchor and continued our passage south. With the high mountainous islands comes plenty of rain and squalls around them. The silver lining to the frequent squalls are fresh water boat washes and brilliant rainbows.

We were now amoung “the islands that touch the clouds”. To be continued in part 2.

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