November/December 2018 –
Greetings from Antigua! We last posted from the ABC Islands off the coast of Venezuela, so the move to this corner of the Leeward Islands (in the North Eastern Caribbean) has involved ample quantities of upwind legwork on our dear Contigo, who as always, has been a real champ!
We mentioned in our mid-October update that our parents had just paid us a visit in Curaçao. The Gerchow and Esworthy clan heads stayed at the Santa Barbara Plantation Resort and each graciously invited their salty progeny to stay in their air-conditioned rooms while Contigo was on the hard receiving a much-needed bottom paint job.
During the day, Karl put on his chauffeur cap and drove us ’round the island to see flamingos (pink mops that fly), visit museums, and swim the island’s white sandy beaches.
Days were kicked off with leisurely 2-hour breakfasts at the resort, where we made a sizable dent to the daily croissant stores over fresh coffee (a common theme of this post, you will later note). What better way to catch up with loved ones?
Shown below, the lovely ladies pose before dinner at hotel/restaurant Bij Blauw. Conner is happily reacquainted with a hairdryer here.
The following day, the patriarchs were all smiles/thumbs while enjoying their coffees after a walk through downtown Willemstad.
Unfortunately, Contigo splashed a day too late to take our families out for a day sail, but that gives them more reason to visit us in the coming weeks and new year!
We took a break after settling Contigo back into her slip at the Santa Barbara dock. It’s hard to tell from the picture above, but that new (wickedly expensive) black anti-foul paint on Contigo’s bottom added a full knot to our travels!
After our parents departed, we hopped back over to Bonaire, where we had envisioned staying a few weeks. However, a favorable weather window teased us with the tantalizing possibility of quickly (ha!) working our way upwind to the Eastern Caribbean. As we were mulling over whether to leave this small slice of paradise so soon, a squall put the mooring field into “wind reversal” mild chaos, and several boats (ours included) came a bit close to acquaintance with the concrete boardwalk for comfort; normally, the steady trade winds have all boats swinging out towards the sea.
A face of mild concern.
Several hours later, we nearly got hit by two (!) separate cars while trudging along the side of the road on foot – all of which we collectively took to be signs from the universe telling us that it was time to move on. We still love you Bonaire, and will be back!
Caribbean Crossing #2
Our initial (somewhat aggressive) plan was to take advantage of a solid string of light wind days to motor almost due east to Grenada, in order to start our exploration of the Eastern Caribbean heading North, and mostly downwind. We departed Bonaire with a full diesel tank and an assortment of jerry cans and drums, figuring we had 90+ hours of motoring and ~450 nautical miles of range: surely, enough to get us to Grenada?
Wrong! The west-bound equatorial current was more persistent than expected (1.5+ knots steady) and wind/swell higher than forecast. With every refresh of Karl’s “range” excel spreadsheet, it became increasingly clear that we would likely come up short.
Thirty-six hours into playing “underpowered motoryacht”, not sailing vessel, averaging a paltry 4-4.5 knots/hr, we put an end to the madness, turned off our Volvo, and put Contigo on a starboard tack. Turns out that this was the direction she had wanted to go all along. Our average speed doubled to 8 knots over the next 48 hours as we “elevatored” up to St. Croix in the USVI’s.
Notable events during the four day passage included catching our first Mahi-Mahi, and a night of dodging what felt like an endless lines of squalls. Sadly, we have no pictures to share of the crossing, given Conner’s iPhone met its maker when a truculent wave hit us broadside and positively soaked the cockpit.
US Virgin Islands
We arrived midday on Day #4, dropped anchor in Frederiksted on the western coast of St. Croix, and hitchhiked over to the airport to check in with US Customs. The following day we had a beautiful sail up to Christmas Cove off of Little St. James, where we picked up a mooring for a few nights. This was our launchpad for daily dinghy rides over to St. Thomas (often quite wet) and St. John (not particularly advisable). The team on Pizza Pi were still setting up for the season, so we just missed their pizza-delivery-to-the-boat magic, but it half-jokingly got us thinking, boat taco stand?
Above, a rare moment of calm in Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas) on cruise ship day. Below, St. John’s Leinster Bay as seen from the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.
Like most slave plantations of the day (this was then Danish territory), Annaberg employed two mills to extract juice from its cane. Below are the ruins of the windmill, which was adjacent to the back-up horse-drawn mill when the trade winds weren’t blowing (when is that again?).
We enjoyed exploring St. John and St. Thomas. The locals were especially welcoming, taking time to check on us, ask about our travels, and share island recipes like “Mahi-head and dumpling soup”!
British Virgin Islands
On one beautiful Sunday morning, we made the quick sail over Jost Van Dyke to explore the BVIs, where charter boats roam free (but also amenities geared toward “land people” like fully stocked grocery stores and upscale beach bars are easily found).
Not wasting any time, on our first afternoon in the BVIs, we met the legendary Foxy of the famed Foxy’s Bar in Jost. It didn’t take much coaxing to elevate Foxy out of his rum- (and other substance) induced afternoon slumber and get him talking… or better yet, singing (link)! Heard laughing in the video are the four audience members of this impromptu concert, yours truly plus a nice couple from Tennessee that we met in St. John, who hitched a ride over to Jost with us to spend the day.
Shown below, Conner takes her Economist reading hammock-side while anchored in the Bight off of Norman’s Island. The bar on shore (Pirates Bight) re-opened post hurricane on the second night we were there and was lovely for sundowners.
Grin and bear it! Karl momentarily forgot his sleepless night at Savannah Bay (where the swell was so bad we were just short of anchoring in the middle of the Drake) to add fish to our lunch menu. We escaped at first light for a calmer anchorage in Virgin Gorda, and our reward for being out so early was hooking three tuna in rapid succession!
One of our favorite anchorages in the BVIs was Little Harbor on Peter Island, a bay ensconced on three sides by green mountains. This was also our first “med anchoring” experience, which is when you drop anchor mid-bay and back up to the shoreline, tying a stern line to a tree or rock. The placid water was perfect for swimming, scouting sea turtles, and snooping on neighbors.
Bye bye BVIs, off to St. Martin! Conner looks on to The Baths below.
Our first stop in St. Martin (after the easiest check-in) was Serafina, a boulangerie which has a cruiser’s dream set-up: pull up in dinghy, walk less than five steps, order a legitimate French croissant and coffee, enjoy at a table quayside. Repeat process daily until mild-to-moderate guilt begins to set in.
We split our time between Marigot Bay (site of the double rainbow below) and Grand Anse – the former we moved to in order to take delivery of a new set of house batteries for the boat. Grand Anse was a little calmer and quieter, plus had the advantage of being just within walking distance of L’Express, our other daily croissant joint on the island.
The news of St. Martin is that the island is still fairly beat up from the direct hit by Irma in 2017, but even so, we got a good vibe from the people as they courageously try to rebuild their storm-torn island.
A quick close-hauled sail from St. Martin delivered us to nearby St. Barts, where we picked up a mooring in Anse de Colombier, site of a small nature reserve. That’s Contigo in the distance, third sailboat from the right.
The sea life under the boat was a veritable parade of sea turtles, rays, yellow reef fish, and barracudas. A hungry but otherwise shy herd of ramoras also settled around Contigo’s keel for the duration of our stay, enjoying our post-lunch scraps.
land divebomb into the St. Jean airport never got old. One turboprop pilot was even able to land and stop short of the second taxi way (Karl’s jaw was on the ground).
Grocery shopping in St. Barths was a delight…where the megayachts go, a pleasant trickle down effect ensues. Some say expensive, but unlike the similarly priced Bahamas out-islands (we are still traumatized by an $8 cabbage), you get amazing French provisioning in exchange! Most of the aisles were full of product, but we couldn’t resist a picture of the organic section’s notice: you know you are firmly on French soil when “social movements” impact your daily shopping : )
And the winner of the 2018 French West Indies Croissant Competition (that we just made up) is…. Choisy in St. Barts! Six boulangeries competed on dough fluffiness, crispy edges, and butter-forward flavor: you win, Choisy. We came to this conclusion well before the sweet woman behind the counter threw in a free third croissant table-side and two free to-go chocolate croissants (“pour le bateau”, she said). We must have looked really hungry (or chock-full of “roll up your sleeves” enthusiasm).
St. Kitts & Nevis
Our next stop was Nevis, birthplace of Alexander Hamilton. Our photography game was lacking at this stop, so we leave you with an early morning view from the mooring field in Nevis. The volcano kept us on our toes with a micro climate continuously rotating clear skies, clouds, and rain, but delivered a dramatic landscape nonetheless!
From here in Antigua (which we have yet to fully explore), we will continue island-hopping southbound, slowly making our way to Grenada, the island where we first learned to sail in August 2016. A few things have changed since then… we are better sailors, poorer sailors, and happier sailors.
Lots of love,
Conner & Karl