Archive for March, 2014

Three Island Tour

March 29, 2014

posted from Jolly Harbour, Antigua


It was time.  We motored out of English Harbour and sailed around the southwest corner of Antigua to Jolly Harbour.  This was a relatively short cruise that gave us a chance to make sure we had the boat rigged right and that all systems were working.  The trip was uneventful and only a couple small items needed attention.  We anchored in about 7 feet of water – always an interesting experience because Compass Rose draws just under five feet.

Jolly Harbour has easy access to a fancy and expensive food store where we can get items not available in the local island stores.  It also is home to the main Budget Marine store on the island, so last minute items were easy to get.  We also discovered a couple good bird watching ponds on that side of the island.  One is in easy walking distance and the other is off the bus route.  We spent parts of a few days visiting these areas.  The nearby pond was good, but the one farther away had only a couple birds – a letdown from last spring when it was teeming with birds.  We also took a bus and taxi to a salt pond on the north side of the island and saw lots of birds there.


Cruising life is full of hellos and goodbyes as boats move from harbor to harbor and island to island, but the goodbyes are usually just until your paths cross again.  Unfortunately some of the goodbyes are because someone is quitting cruising.  This time it was our friends Dave and Nancy on Vamoose.   Dave set sail solo for the US and we have been tracking him via Single Sideband Radio and reporting his progress to Nancy. We are going to miss them a lot.

Dave sails Vamoose past Nevis on his way north


After about a week in Jolly Harbour we had all our provisioning done, got the weather we were waiting for, and headed west towards Nevis and St. Kitts.  The forecast was for relatively light winds and calm seas.  There was supposed to be a swell coming in from the north, but it never amounted to much.  We started early and motored for a few hours until the wind filled in.  The wind came up from directly astern pretty much as expected.  Compass Rose doesn’t like the wind directly aft, so we pointed a bit north and aimed for the cut between the islands.  This was a longer sail than going around the south end of Nevis, but we sailed a lot faster.

After all this time we still know what to do with those big white things on the boat

We did a little  bird watching along the way.  The most interesting was the frigate bird. He was trying to scoop some small fish who were jumping out of the water to try to escape some bigger fish.  This is a tricky operation because a frigate bird cannot take off from the water.

Frigate bird trying to scoop up fish

Frigate bird trying to scoop up fish

I hope the frigate bird did better than me.


Things got interesting in another way after we got the sails up.  I was in the middle of doing something with the sails when the line began spooling off the bigger fishing pole but by the time I got to the pole, the fish was gone.

A little later the line began spooling off the smaller pole.  I ran back and grabbed the pole and cranked in some drag to stop the line.  Then I cranked in some more drag.  Then more drag.  The line kept spooling off in bursts and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  I looked out behind the boat and saw a sailfish jump! I looked at the reel and the line kept running out in spurts.  Soon I could see the spool, the all that was left was one loop and the knot.  Then the line broke.  The sailfish put on quite a display jumping behind the boat as we sailed away.  It was probably for the better, because we would have a terrible time trying to land and deal with a five foot sailfish.

The line started spooling out a third time as we approached the narrows.  I got the rod, put in some drag and started reeling the fish in.  This one was much smaller and more manageable and he mostly skimmed on top of the water as I pulled him in.  Then just as I got him close to the boat I lost him.  I pulled the line and lure aboard and found that one of the hooks had broken off – probably when the first fish struck.

Lure missing hook, reel missing line


We found our way between the islands and down to Charlestown.  Our information was that all the anchorages in Nevis had been converted to mooring fields, so we grabbed a mooring, put the dinghy together and went in to town.  We just caught Customs, Immigration, and the Port Captain before they went home for the day.  We found out that the mooring we were on was private, so we moved up the coast to Pinney’s Beach and picked up an official mooring, one of the last left in mooring field. This group of moorings are in the shadow of the volcano.  We got some spectacular sunsets to the west as the nearly full moon rose over the volcano to the east.  We got one of the best green flashes we have ever seen.


Cruise ship on the horizon

Our first day on Nevis we took a tour with a taxi driver we met on the dock.  He “scratches the guitar” under the name Watusi, and is sometimes referred to as Bird Man, but his friends seem to call him Dave.  He made me look short and heavy.  He is into holistic stuff and claims that the crumbling masonry in old buildings on the island is good to rub into your skin.

Exfoliation by mortar

Exfoliation by mortar

When we got back to the boat we decided to move to a mooring closer to town.  It was a lot more convenient, but just as rolly.


The next day we took a bus to Golden Rock, an old sugar plantation now run as a restaurant and guest house.  There is a road and trail that leads up one of the mountains into the rain forest.  We thought it would be a good place to see some different birds and it would be much cooler hiking than what we usually get on the islands. Golden Rock itself is beautiful.  There are beautiful flowers, guest rooms, and a nice restaurant, not to mention birds, caterpillars, and monkeys.

Frangipani caterpillar loves the leaves of the frangipani tree and turns into a big, brown moth

Find the monkey

Find the monkey

Resting poolside at Golden Rock

Resting poolside at Golden Rock

The hike is a road that goes up the mountain to support a water pipeline.  The first part is paved and goes through a small settlement.  Then it turns to gravel, and finally just rocks.  The pipeline brings rainwater from the mountain top down to cisterns.

Goat herd we saw on the road

Pipeline brings water down the mountain from the rain forest.  A fairly typical water supply solution in the islands

Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of luck with birds that day.


The next day we took a bus to some botanical gardens.  So here is where you get a break from all the bird pictures and get to see some beautiful flowers.  Unfortunately I don’t know the name of many of them.


Blue flowers

As is usual in work areas, five bees were leaning on shovels watching one gather nectar


Interesting yellow and orange leaf

Black bird

Pink flowers

Humming bird

Yellow flowers

Humming bird

Pink flowers

Humming bird

Pink and green flowers


We tried three different moorings in Nevis, but all rolled.  We motored up the coast to check out some of the other mooring fields, but in the end we sailed over to St. Kitts.  We picked Majors Bay on the south end of St. Kitts facing Nevis.  It looked well protected.  We motored into the bay and realized that one of the terminals for the car ferry between Nevis and St. Kitts is in the bay.  We anchored and waited to see what the ferry would do.  As it turned out we were well out of his way and he created very little wake, so we stayed for a couple days to get a chance to explore the south end of the island.

Ferry under full moon in Majors Bay

Ferry under full moon in Majors Bay

Nevis mooring ball that escaped to Majors Bay, St. Kitts.  You just hope there was no boat attached when the mooring went walkabout.


We moved to Port Zante Marina in Basseterre, St. Kitts.  Basseterre is the biggest town in St. Kitts and Nevis.  The marina is next to the cruise ship port, which is  full of duty free stores and houses customs and immigration, so it is the best place to stay when you need to clear out of the country.

The cruise ships looked huge

Port Zante Marina with more working fishing boats than cruising yachts

The big city is convenient because there are grocery stores nearby and it’s an easy walk to the bus terminal.  We took advantage of the local buses to visit a couple tourist attractions and a restaurant along the coast. The first place we visited was Brimstone Hill, site of one of the oldest and most well preserved forts in the Caribbean.  It was improved over the years and became known as the Gibralter of the Caribbean.  We got off the bus and started to walk up to the fort.  A van came down from the fort, picked up some people, and then stopped for us.  It was the employee shuttle and they gave us a ride to the fort, some 800 feet above sea level.

Jackie and I at the fort with Statia (St. Eustatius) in the background

Jackie and I at the fort with Statia (St. Eustatius) in the background

Just a small part of Fort George, Brimstone Hill

The next day we took the bus to the Clay Villa, an old plantation and the only one on St. Kitts that did not use slave labor.  It is owned by a woman who is a direct descendant of a Caribe, the native tribe that inhabited St. Kitts when Columbus discovered the island.  We got there early and did some birding around the grounds before the tour.  The tour was of the old plantation house and its gardens.


Rare white winged pigeon


We spent our last day in St. Kitts birding with a local bird watcher named Percy.  He took us around to many of his favorite spots and we saw fifty different species that day.


We had a good time in St. Kitts, but the wind was coming a bit north and that would be good for our sail from St. Kitts to Deshais, Guadeloupe.  This trip would be about eighty miles and could easily take fourteen hours.  We had planned to move to Nevis and start from there, but we had trouble catching anyone in the marina office so we could pay our bill.  Also, the customs officer was having trouble printing out our clearance.  He let me leave his office and he brought it to the boat when it was done.

We left the marina at 3:45 AM and motored southeast past Nevis.  The wind finally filled in and we had a pretty good but bumpy sail to Montserrat.  We expected the seas and wind to calm down a bit behind the island, but both wrapped around the south end of the island and we had to motor directly into them.  At times we were down below three knots trying to push through the wind and waves.  The only good thing about it was that we got a great view of the lava flows from the volcano.

West lava flow

Southwest lava flow

The wind and waves came back to a more normal direction when we cleared the south end of the island.  The wind picked up and we flew to Deshais.  We arrived about 8 pm, some 16 hours after we started, and anchored in the dark.

The next day we cleared in and rested.


Deshais is a little seaside tourist town.  It has some restaurants, some souvenir shops (one hosts the customs and immigration computer), and a couple grocery stores.  Just outside of town at the top of a long steep hill there is a very nice botanical garden.  Naturally we hiked up to visit it.    There were lots of interesting trees and flowers and of course a few birds.

Banyon tree drops shoots from its limbs which take root

Flamingos sleeping

Flamingo looking for insects under a rock

Purple-throated Carib

Purple-throated Carib

Sun shining through the leaves

Red flowers

More flowers

Let’s see..put in 50 cents…food comes out the tube..WAIT!! I FORGOT THE CUP!!

Blue flower

Kapok tree

NEXT: RETURN TO ANTIGUA (Where there are no botanical gardens)


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Laid Back in Antigua (Sort of)

March 5, 2014

published from Ordinance Bay, English Harbour, Antigua

I don’t seem to be able to blog as fast as things happen, so this post keeps growing and may be getting a little disjointed.  Here we go.


After a boat work semi-marathon we launched Compass Rose on January 22.  Since then we have split our time between relaxing, hiking, hanging out with friends, and – of course – more boat work.

The work encompasses all aspects of the boat.  Some items are improvements like making an awning for the aft cabin hatch to keep out rain or moving the shower sump to a more accessible location and replacing the float switch; some are maintenance like touching up the rusty spots on the engine or oiling all the padlocks that we use to secure items on deck; and some are repairs or replacements of parts that have failed, such as the fresh water pump, the anchor snubber,  and the watermaker.  Sometimes I tell people I would be happy if I could just fix things faster than they break.

One of the more involved problems was with our portable Honda generator, which we use when running power tools and the sewing machine.  We were doing a few days of sewing projects and the Honda ran fine one day and wouldn’t start the next.  I tried everything, but no luck.  It seemed like the compression was low.  I did a little research online and found that the motor has very tight tolerances in the valve guides and that if you run old fuel it can leave deposits that will cause the intake valve to stick open.  I dug in and sure enough, the valve was stuck.  Luckily I was able to grab it with vice grips and work it loose.

Performing surgery on Mr. Honda

We have done a few hikes into the middle ground – the peninsula between English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour, and along the coast up to the flagpole near Freeman’s Bay on the southeast side of English Harbour.  We have coordinated some of the hikes with local boating events – finishes of more of the Talisker Whiskey Challenge transatlantic rowboats and the Antigua Superyacht races.


We walked out to Fort Berkeley to watch one of the rowboats come in – and got rained on as we walked back.

Fort Berkeley and English Harbour as seen from the flagpole

Coastline where the sailboat ran aground (see previous blog entry)

Not everything stops when rowers finish.  Here we see Mannix cruising in his water taxi and a couple divers are helping the big yachts with their anchors.  These guys had the good fortune to arrive mid-morning when they could see and lots of people were about to welcome them.  A couple boats arrived in the wee hours of the morning.

Another transatlantic rowboat finishes

This pair arrived around dinner time and had only a small reception

One team still remains to finish.  The two women team – Inspirational Friends – had to have a new rudder dropped off to them and after 90 days still have 757 miles to go.


The Antigua Superyacht Challenge is a three day semi-pursuit race.  In a pure pursuit race each boat is assigned a start time based on its handicap with the slowest boat starting first.  If the handicaps are perfect and all boats are sailed equally well, they will theoretically finish at the same time.  To avoid a pileup at the finish, the organizers started the boats at three minute intervals.  As it turned out, the finish was pretty exciting on the final day.  Here is a quick description from the Superyacht Challenge Antigua blog:

“126′ Schooner, Gloria finished the regatta in style scoring their second bullet to elevate the team into third overall, but only just, Gloria was tied on points with 180′ Hoek designed ketch, Marie. Gloria took the podium place ahead of Marie by virtue of two first places in the regatta.

Gloria getting cruising around before the race

182′ Dykstra Schooner, Adela was runner up to Gloria in Race 4, assuring the the Adela team of second place overall, just a point ahead of both Marie and Gloria. In the last race, Adela beat Unfurled by just 2 seconds after time correction. Significantly if Unfurled had beaten Adela, the 112′ sloop would have tied for an overall victory for the regatta. However, the overall winner of the 4th edition of the Superyacht Challenge Antigua was the 102′ Ketch, Marama by a single point from Unfurled.”

Adela on a spinnaker run

Marie hard on the wind

Just another day at the office

Marama going onto the marine railway before the race. The diver is Fire, the fellow who hauled and launched Compass Rose

Each anchorage on each island has its own character.  English Harbour can be thought of as three areas: Freeman’s Bay, the outer anchorage off Galleon Beach; the middle area with Slipway Marina and Boatyard and Nelson’s Dockyard Marina on either side; and the lagoon anchorages consisting of Tank Bay and Ordnance Bay.
We are at the edge of Ordnance Bay, which along with Tank Bay are homes to liveaboards who will probably never move their boats and abandoned boats.  We ended up here because Freeman’s Bay was too crowded when we launched.

Some boats are here to stay

Anchor too close to the mouth of either bay and the park people will tell you to move.  They seem to like to do this late in the day, so you have little daylight left to find a new spot.

Quite a contrast between our neighbors on either side of us

Freeman’s Bay is the main cruiser anchorage, although there are a few more or less permanently anchored boats there.  This is a nice anchorage except that when the wind goes light or swirls and/or the tide changes the boats can swing in different directions relative to each other.  And just to make it more interesting, just today they moved one navigation marker a couple boat lengths into the anchorage, thus widening the channel and reducing the anchoring space.
On the lighter side, we do see a lot of interesting craft in the anchorage.

Zebra boat in Ordinance Bay

We see a wide range of vessels

Commuting to work. It actually folds.

How would you think this guy makes a living? The boat never moves.  (Hard to see but the boat’s name is Daily Bread)

Reality check (sailboat is named Illusion, the dinghy is named Reality)

Jackie paddling back from her afternoon swim with the ladies

Jackie paddling back from her afternoon swim with the ladies


We do a bit of hiking in the hills around Antigua’s south coast.  It’s a combination of bird watching, exercise, and just doing something different.  We often start our middle ground hikes by walking past this old rainwater catchment.

Rainwater catchments like this are common on the islands. This one seems to feed a shade tree car wash operation

Jackie hiking

We haven’t seen too many interesting birds this year, but the goats are out in abundance. On one of our first hikes this year we came across a baby goat that was young enough to be showing an umbilical cord. It had no fear of humans and walked right up to me.

Goats. They are all over the Middle Ground

Enjoying a little coconut water on the beach after a long, hot hike


I mentioned that we have not seen many interesting birds this year, but the birds we do see have kept life interesting.  We are still getting visited by Bananaquits flying into the boat and there always seems to be a frigate bird nearby.

Frigate bird soaring over the anchorage

But the most entertaining are the pelicans feeding.  The fly around the anchorage and go into a steep dive when the spot a fish.  Just as they are about to hit the water they tuck in their wings.  There is a huge splash and the bird bobs back up and either swallows a fish or takes off to look for another one.

Pelican cruising

Pelican cruising

The pelicans love to roost on the local boats

This is what a pelican looks like as it dives into the water to catch a fish

When Jimmy Buffet sings, “I don’t  know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blows” think “Montserrat”.  This island is just to the southeast of Antigua.  We have sailed past it twice – both times at night – and we could smell the sulphur each time.  The volcano has had three major eruptions since the early 90’s.  The last was just a couple months before we sailed by the first time on 2010.
We have always wanted to visit the island, but the lava from one eruption filled in the old harbor.  The new harbor has little anchoring space and a reputation for being rolly so we decided to fly over.  Our friends Jack and Bobbi from Moonrise joined us for the trip.
The plane was pretty small.  Eight seats and two engines.  An airport employee escorted the four of us and our three fellow passengers across the tarmac to the plane.  When we got there one of the other passengers decided to lead us in prayer and it was pretty clear he wasn’t getting on the plane until we complied.

A fellow passenger  led us in prayer BEFORE he found out who the copilot was

We took off and turned south which took us right over English and Falmouth Harbours.

Flying over English Harbour and the edge of Falmouth Harbour. Compass Rose is by the red arrow

The flight to Montserrat went quickly and we got some great views of the island.

Approaching Montserrat

East side of the volcano

Our guide met us at the airport and took us to a trail in the rain forest where the Montserrat Oriole is known to hang out.  They were there, but they stayed in the tops of the trees and were very hard to see.

The elusive Montserrat Oriole

Despite the difficulty in bird watching, hiking in the rain forest was a refreshing change from the arid and mostly shadeless south coast of Antigua.
From there we worked our way to the south end of the island to see the volcano.  Our guide took us to the observation center where we saw a really good movie on the history of the volcano eruptions.  The eruptions impacted the most densely inhabited parts of the island.  Many people left the island because there was nowhere for them to live.  Our guide has lived on Montserrat all his life and he lost his home to the volcano as did most people.
Jack and Bobbi from Moonrise pose with us at the observation center with the volcano in the background

Jack and Bobbi from Moonrise pose with us at the observation center with the volcano in the background

The island has various exclusion zones.  The main one includes the old capitol city of Plymouth and can only be entered by scientists.  The next one was closed until a couple years ago and is now only open during the day.  People can live in the next zone, but must be ready to evacuate within 24 hours.
Much of Plymouth was destroyed outright, but many buildings still stand and some are largely untouched except for ash.  Unfortunately no one can live in the exclusion zones because of the uncertainty of whether or not the volcano will erupt again.

Plymouth was largely wiped out by the volcano

Some buildings are relatively untouched, but many are buried in ash

The flight back was almost as interesting as the flight over.  We passed over Jolly Harbour and got a good look at the Five Islands area.
Will our heroes ever get out of Antigua?  Stay tuned.

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