British Virgin Islands – like coming home

In April, we crossed the Anegada Passage in an uneventful 90 mile overnight downwind sail from St. Maarten to Tortola. The British Virgin Islands are always a favorite with our family and on Mira. In fact, we started our sailing charter lives in the BVIs. So, it’s appropriate that this would be our last stop in the Caribbean for awhile! Our good friends, Lori and Mark, were coming to visit for a few nights also, and we were excited to show them some of our favorite spots.

Lori and Mark arrived in the late afternoon to our slip in Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola. We were off early the next morning for the bouncy, up-wind slog in the Sir Francis Drake Channel to visit the iconic Baths on Virgin Gorda. Following a leisurely lunch on board, and we headed off to Marina Cay. Happy hour and dinner at the somewhat reconstructed Pusser’s was a perfect ending to our sailing day. Our third day started off with some amazing snorkeling at George Dog. The conditions and visibility were perfect. A quick sail over to Monkey Point on Guana Island ended with lunch on board and another perfect Caribbean snorkel off the boat. We motor-sailed down the back side of Tortola to the palm-tree ringed, white sand beach of Cane Garden Bay for the night and dinner at Paradise Club Sports Bar. The next morning we took off around the southern end of Tortola to snorkel the Indians and settled into our anchorage for the day and night in secluded Privateer Bay on Norman Island. A lazy afternoon was spent snorkeling the Caves off Treasure Point and swimming off the boat. Delicious Caribbean curry chicken on the boat was our last dinner. It was hard to drop them off the next morning for their ferry back to St. Thomas. But, we were so thankful for the chance to hop through the BVI one last time!

Then it was back to reality, full-on ocean passage preparation began in earnest. At the end of April, Mira would make her longest off-shore passage yet!

Pam

Lori and Mark relaxed and happy in vacation mode.

Our favorite picture-taking spot in the Baths on Virgin Gorda.

Our anchorage in Marina Cay

First mate maneuvers Mira to pick up a mooring ball.

Dinner at Pusser’s on Marina Cay

Sunset over Jost Van Dyke

One of the most peaceful, beautiful anchorages in Privateer Bay, and it is right around the boulders from the very busy Bight at Norman’s Island. We spent an entire day and night here – swimming, snorkeling the caves and rocks all along the bay.

We couldn’t keep Mark out of the water!

Something tells me that Lori will be back for another visit on Mira – maybe in Europe???

Our daughter’s first overnight passage – St. Lucia to St. Maarten

We’ve enjoyed sailing as a family for many years. Our adult children love the water, the outdoors, and travel of all kinds, and the six of us sail and travel on Mira at least once or twice every year. Usually short day sails around a favorite Caribbean island, so we were excited when our daughter recently shared her dream of sailing across the Atlantic with us.  We love that she has a passion for sailing and outdoor adventure, and we invited her to join us for an “intro passage” – a 2 night, 275 mile passage from St. Lucia to St. Maarten on Mira.

So …. in late March, she took a week’s vacation from work and met us in St. Lucia.  A quick few days of showing her our favorite St Lucia spots for sightseeing and hiking, and we were off!  Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, was left behind at 5:30 pm on Monday, and Mira arrived in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten, at 9:00 am on Wednesday. The remainder of her vacation week was spent working on the boat and some restful, sunny beach and pool time.

Kelly got a good sense of what an overnight offshore passage can be like! We sailed the entire way with strong beam winds never below 20 knots, and some pretty aggressive waves on the beam as well.  A couple of waves even splashed over the bow for added excitement, as Mira happily rolled her way up the Caribbean chain.

For night watches, Glenn and I don’t usually do the conventional 3 or 4 hours on and 3 or 4 hours off schedule. Because Glenn can sleep anytime, anywhere – I usually take the first long watch from 8 pm to 1:00 am or so.  Then, he watches from 1:00 am to 6:00 am, while I sleep. Kelly took watch with me from 8 pm to 11 pm then slept 4 hours and watch with Glenn from 3 am to 6 am. On the job training!

The passage was going very well. Despite strong wind and waves, the sail plan was stable – no dramatic increase in winds or change in wind direction was predicted.  There were a few tankers and cruise ships sprinkled around the AIS display, but otherwise not a lot of ship traffic. Kelly loves the night sky and was feeling quite comfortable watching the wind speed and direction, sails, and instrument screens, even in the pitch dark. In fact, when I came up early one morning around 5 am to relieve Glenn, I discovered him sound asleep in the salon! Panicked, I discovered Kelly perched alone on the helm seat – carefully watching the ship traffic  – scrutinizing the AIS and radar screens with Mira bouncing around underneath her! She was happy as a clam!

I think the Atlantic crossing might be in her future!

Pam

Leaving St. Lucia behind, heading out to sea!

Kelly enjoying her galley duty!

Approaching the bridge opening into Simpson Bay lagoon in St. Maarten.

The captain at the helm.

Some much-needed R&R at the pool at the Simpson Bay Yacht Club marina.

The stunning beach on Simpson Bay.

Beach day at the super-fun Karakter Beach Bar.

Loading our new anchor chain – all 300ft

Kelly went up Mira’s mast to check on the electronic instruments.

Hiking the Pic Paradis at Loterie Farm in French Ste. Martin.

Outstanding views from the top – looking over Marigot Bay.

Last lunch together at Oplongeoir.  Daddy is so happy with his sailor girl.

Merriment in Martinique

Martinique is not only a French island, but actually a part of France.  For us cruising sailors this means that we get to take advantage of all things French, as we hop from French island to French island.  France ships food, cheese, meats, wine, etc to Martinique and do not add additional taxes. So what it really means is that Pam can buy her fav bottle of Sancerre for $12 instead of $28 (at the Whole Foods)!!! We love France!

With 20+ knots of breeze and 9-10 foot swells off our beam predicted, we set off cautiously from St. Lucia for Martinique. Sailing along the leeward coasts of all of the Caribbean islands is usually fairly benign with the topography of the islands as protection. But, things can get a little crazy in between the islands. It is pure Atlantic Ocean with waves and winds to match. This day was no exception. We had about 2 hours  of rocking and rolling with strong winds and waves. But, arrived in Anse Mitan – a bay in the central part of Martinique – in about 5 hours.

Anse Mitan is fun beach town across the bay from the largest city and capital of Martinique, Fort de France. Fort de France is the home of Martinique’s famed Carnival. This is one of the reasons we headed to Martinique. We were going to catch up with other cruising friends for our first Carnival experience in the Caribbean.

Six of us grabbed the ferry from Pointe du Bout over to Fort de France on Fat Tuesday in time for the parade celebrating the Day of the Devil. Red was the color of the day with lots of wild costumes and colorful original interpretations. Our heads were spinning – there was music, singing, drums pounding all around us!

There were parades all over the streets of Fort de France with all towns in Martinique participating. 

All dressed in red!

Friends from SV Alegria and MV Iriana.

Exhausted from Carnival celebration, we all headed down the coast of Martinique for St. Anne’s a few days later. St. Anne’s is a huge sheltered anchoring bay where hundreds of sailboats put down their anchors – sometimes for weeks at a time. The quaint town of St. Anne’s has restaurants, bars, laundry, markets, a beach – everything you might want or need.  There is also the added bonus of Marin, just around the corner. Marin is a small town, but one of the largest yachting centers in all of the Caribbean. There are haul-out facilities, all kinds of marine stores and marine technicians for everything imaginable. We had our rigging adjusted and electronics updated and were thrilled with the quality of workmanship.

The anchorage in Ste. Anne’s

The next days in Ste. Anne’s were spent working on the boat, socializing, provisioning, eating, sight-seeing and a bit of hiking.

Experienced riggers in Marin repaired a sub-par rigging tune done in  Antigua.

View from Pointe du Morne Gommier – overlooking Marin and Ste. Anne’s

One day a group of us rented a van and did a bit of sightseeing, but mostly shopping. We hit every home goods, sporting goods and home improvement store we could find. Their stores were better than Home Depot and Dick’s Sporting Goods!!

We hiked down the coast from Ste. Anne’s 6 miles – through several interesting smaller beaches – Anse Trabaud, Pointe Catherine, and others culminating in  a magnificent white sand beach, Grande Anse Des Salines. And, we had lunch and drinks at the end. Well worth it!

Grande Anse des Salines

8 sailboats got together for a two stop night of fun. First, cocktails and appetizers on Mira and then, Mexican pot luck dinner on Freebird.

 

Delicious lunch at Zanzibar in Marin celebrating Tim’s bday – SV Lone Star, SV Shanti, MV Iriana
Last night in Ste. Anne’s

Grande Anse D’Arlet was our last anchorage in Martinique. We spent two nights there alone just winding down from all the merriment of the previous weeks. There is a little village with a white sand beach and magnificent mountains surrounding. We spent a lovely weekend there – hiking up Morne Champagne, snorkeling for turtles, relaxing on the boat.

Grande Anse d’Arlet

At the top of Morne Champagne

View from the back porch on our last night in Martinique.

 

 

Everyone should visit St. Lucia!

St. Lucia is one of our favorite island destinations. Despite not having many “friendly” anchorages, we love it so much that we made 3 visits this winter! Mira had visitors for several weeks in St. Lucia this February and March. St. Lucia has a little bit of everything – gorgeous beaches, colorful snorkeling, towering mountains, challenging hiking, bubbly hot springs, botanical gardens, authentic fishing towns, and great people.

One of our first stops – Marigot Bay is a well-protected little bay known for its picturesque beaches, blue waters and lacy palm trees.

Marigot Bay resort and marina is especially friendly to cruisers. If you pick up a mooring ball or stay in their marina, you have full access to their two pools, spa and restaurants. Of course, we made full use of their beautiful, tropical facilities!

Marigot Bay Resort and Marina
Yummy Indian dinner at Masala Bay with new friends from SV Alegria and SV Freebird.

The towering twin Pitons (volcanic mountain peaks) are iconic symbols of St. Lucia. Our next anchorage located in between the Pitons was exceptional. The surrounding waters are a marine park enabling great snorkeling off the stern of your boat.  Anchoring in this amazing place was a dream come true.  A few years ago, there was some trouble between visiting yachts and the locals from the nearby town of Soufriere. Consequently, yachts stopped anchoring there. Luckily for us, it is once again a safe and beautiful place to spend time.

Spectacular bird’s eye view of our anchorage between the Pitons.
Mira enjoying her anchorage.

The posh Sugar Beach Resort is located beside our anchorage on the white sand beach between the Pitons. A beautiful spot to relax and enjoy a delicious meal with Glen and Marilyn.

Grilled fresh lobster is a wonderful treat in the Caribbean. Glen on SV Sirentie’ gave us a valuable lesson in steaming the rascals, which kept trying to escape.

Sunset between the Pitons cannot be described. It’s best viewed at the Ladera Resort high up in the hills.

Soufriere is the town just beside our anchorage in the Pitons. Adorable kindergarteners paraded around the town to celebrate St. Lucia’s independence.

Banners and flags for St. Lucia Independence Day decorated the streets of Soufriere. Colorful local fish and vegetable market provided fresh dinner on the boat for us.

Sunshine, our favorite local boat boy, caught some fresh Caribbean lobster for Glenn to grill for Patti and Jim’s first night on Mira.

A wet day with Patti and Jim to visit Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens.

A hike up the Tet Paul Trail gave us a brilliant view of the Pitons and Mira’s anchorage below.
At the top of the Tet Paul Trail with Patti and Jim.

Relaxing day cruising up the coast of St. Lucia. Two leisurely snorkeling stops at Anse Chastanet and Anse Cochon.

Kelly’s first sunset between the Pitons in St. Lucia was stunning.

Happy hour on Mira’s bow never fails to entertain.

We have to share our favorite view with all of our visitors.
Our drone always draws a crowd.
A drone’s eye view of the Pitons and Mira’s anchorage.
A fitting good-bye sunset at one of our favorite Caribbean islands.

 

Focus on Favorites – Bequia and Tobago Cays and Union Island

Lying at the southern end of the Caribbean chain, the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are one country. Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Tobago Cays, Mayreau, Union Island, & Palm Island are just a few of the Grenadines. These relatively unspoiled islands have some of the most beautiful waters and scenery imaginable. We were lucky enough to re-visit three of them again this February.

Bequia has long been a favorite of cruising sailors with just the right mix of authenticity and entertainment and a dose of Caribbean beauty tossed in. Some cruisers spend many enjoyable weeks anchored off the expansive white sands of Princess Margaret’s Beach.   The island was our first stop as we sailed south from St. Lucia.

Having visited Bequia many times over our sailing years, this trip was spent mostly socializing with other sailors accompanied by a bit of boat work.  We were buddy sailing with our solo sailor friend, Glen D on sv Sirenite and were looking forward to reuniting with some other sailing friends from last year and making some new ones!

We barely had the anchor down before Glen D. was hustling us off to a happy hour at a local’s home up in the hills of Bequia. We were amazing at his stunning home overlooking the white crescent shaped beach of Industry on the northeast side of Bequia.

Glenn and Glen D. from Sirenite´
Enjoying happy hour on our first night back in Bequia….windy!.

Next stop, dinner with old and new friends, at the Firefly Plantation, on the east side of Bequia. Passion-fruit margaritas, toasted, shaved coconut and lots of laughter were the highlights.

Renee and Dave from SV Alegria, Pam and Glenn, Mark and Sarah from SV Due’, Kevin and Cheryl from SV Kracken, Tom and Pat from SV Lone Star.

Long, lazy days on Bequia continued on with a mixture of hiking, swimming, diving, and lots of happy hours – our favorite kind of island!

Glenn, Glen D. and Pam spent a wonderful morning hiking to the highest point on Bequia. According to legend, Ma Peggy, with her spectacular eyesight, would climb to the highest point on the island of Bequia and perch on top of a rock and point out the schools of fish to local fishermen. We were rewarded with a tremendous view.

 

Sara and Mark from SV Due’
Happy hour at Bar One, a floating bar off Princess Margaret Beach, Admiralty Bay, Bequia.

On our last morning, Glenn dove with 3 other sailors, off the coast of Bequia.

Mira and her crew set off early heading south from Bequia to the Tobago Cays. We only had a short window to explore a couple more Grenadine islands before we had to be back in St. Lucia to greet our best friends, Patti and Jim. It was a beautiful sail – 25 knots a little aft of the beam. Winds that strong make for a beautiful sail, but a little more uncomfortable in our anchorages. The wind had been howling since early February, but we were determined to keep exploring. We tried picking up a mooring just behind the reef in the Cays, but we were rocking like a rocking chair in 25 knots. We moved into the cut between the islands, and the rocking settled. Wind and current were still super strong, but Mira wasn’t rolling around.

The Tobago Cays is a national park composed of a group of small, uninhabited islands protected from the sea by Horseshoe Reef. The colors produced by the water and reef are spectacular. Snorkeling among fish and turtles in the Cays is one of the best in the Caribbean. This trip we spent most of our time snorkeling in the cut – waves and current were too strong out on the reef. We spent most of one afternoon playing with 3 turtles that were lazing and swimming around one of the islands.

Sunset off the back porch in the Tobago Cays.

We spent another entire day doing boat work. Pam polished the stainless, and Glenn did some maintenance work and went up the mast for an amazing 360 degree view.

View of the Tobago Cays cut from the top of Mira’s mast.

After the Cays, we zipped over to Union Island for one night to attend the Full Moon party in Clifton and see the kite surfing exhibitions. Sadly, our weather router said we needed to take off for St. Lucia by 5 am the next morning – so our party plans were curtailed!

But, we did manage to have drinks on Happy Island! This is a tiny island built with shells by hand by the owner. Perfectly placed on the edge of the reef off Union.

And, we had front row seats on our mooring in Clifton, Union Island, for an amazing display of kite-surfing!

Sunrise between islands as we sailed back north to St. Lucia.

Grenadines – we will be back!

Our buddy boat, Sirentie’, was able to get some shots of Mira in action – on the way north to St. Lucia!

Exotic Dominica mesmerizes once again!

As Marie Galante and France retreated from our view one morning in early February, 15 knots of wind on our beam greeted us. The beautiful conditions allowed us to fly our screecher head sail and full main and make an average of 8 knots. Perfect Mira conditions! Prince Rupert Bay and Portsmouth on the north end of Dominica appeared all too quickly, and a mass of sailboats welcomed us.  But, an even better site for us were the lush green mountainsides that barely looked touched by Maria’s viciousness just barely 17 months before. Mother Nature was rapidly repairing her own destruction. Closer look showed that the treetops are still sheared of like with a weed-whacker, but vines and greenery are climbing all over the forest and jungle of Dominica. So happy to see!

On our two previous visits to Dominica, we explored the southern end of Dominica extensively – Trafalgar Falls, Middleham Falls, Titou Gorge, and the Indian River. This trip we ventured into the waters above and below Dominica and into the north and east coast. Glenn had one of his best dives ever in the beautiful Dominican waters this trip!

On our day trip down the east coast, villagers greeted us at every turn.

After winding our way on switchback roads through tiny villages along the northeast coast, we stopped for an hour long hike up and down steep, rocky hills to the Chaudiere Pool. It felt awesome to wade into the cool water after our sweaty hike.

Red Rocks near Calibishie are made of compacted mud that has been etched into strange gullies and shapes. It looked and felt like Mars, as we wound our way – in and among the rocky cliffs.

Our mesmerizing guide for Red Rocks and a walk through “his” jungle proved to be the most interesting part of our day.

Dominica has the most beautiful and fascinating flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables. Most of the residents of Dominica grow and consume their own food.

Virginie and Remi from Cabrits Dive Center took Glenn on one of the best dives in his life through the Toucari Canyons and Tunnel in the Cabrits Marine Park. The colors of coral and sponges and the variety of marine life took his breath away.

A lobster barely visible in his hidey hole.
Spotted trunkfish floating around the colorful coral and rocks

Spotted eel snake comes out to greet Glenn.

We can’t wait to return to this amazing island paradise!

 

2018 Review – Our first year, our hardest year?

By the time we pulled into Falmouth, Antigua this November, 2018, we had not only completed our longest non-stop passage, but also eclipsed our one year anniversary aboard Mira. It had been an amazing and certainly, eventful year. But, this auspicious anniversary didn’t really sink in til well into January as the remainder of November and early December were spent fine-tuning Mira from her recent long ocean passage and hosting family on board for Thanksgiving. We returned home to Atlanta for Christmas, while Mira enjoyed a week in the spa. Actually, she was on the hard, being pampered by Karen and Jason, and receiving a fresh coat of anti-foul paint.  As we began preparations to return to the boat in January, we reflected on our amazing year.

When we first joined the Antares cruising community, we recalled other owners telling us that the first year is the hardest. “Hang in there, and the second year will be more fun”, they said.  So how was our first year?

Intense and fun!  As first time boat owners, the learning curve was steep.  It seemed we were doing everything for the first time. We read tons and took any advice we could get as we dove right into learning. We built lots of lists and spreadsheets. All in a effort to develop a set of comfortable routines for life aboard our boat. The wonderfully supportive Antares owners community were key in shortening the learning curve. Thanks guys!  Despite all of the reading, preparation and lists, we still managed to make plenty of rookie mistakes.

Here are a few of our take-aways from 2018: 

Defining roles and responsibilities — After thirty three years together, this was fairly natural.  Captain Glenn: navigation, sail handling & trimming, fix stuff; weather routing, and all the more physically demanding work.  First Mate Pam:  Chief Communications Officer – blogger, travel planner and researcher, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Risk Analyzing Officer, assistant helmsman, Chief Provisioner and chef, and social chairman!  Yes, we managed to strike a pretty good division of labor.

Boat maintenance and repair — You can always find someone to pay to repair the boat, but it turns out that if you want to maximize your time sailing versus sitting in a marina, it’s helpful to be willing to do much of it yourself. It ain’t rocket science.  Invest in a good set of tools and spare parts and plan to do some maintenance task every day.  Cruising has been cheekily defined as “doing boat maintenance in exotic places”.  We get it!

Learning to sail the boat — Antares is a very well designed and built catamaran.  She is capable of both performance and comfort and the learnings on sail selection and trim are continuous.  We’ve come a long way and are still learning and trying new techniques.

Staying connected – We have been able to get reliable mobile phone & data service (plug for Google Fi) in all but the most remote destinations, often while we are offshore.  For the longer passages, our IridiumGO! satellite system has proven quite serviceable for receiving weather data, text and short email messages.  Gotta love modern technology!

Weather routing — Interpreting weather data and marine forecasts.  Since we depend more heavily on the weather living on the water, this was something new for us. Fortunately, modern weather modeling & forecasting has become quite reliable – particularly for 1-3 days ahead.  We are constantly checking the weather from PredictWind, Windy, and Chris Parker to plan our travel.

Learning to live aboard a boat — Keeping our home self-sustainable and moving requires managing our energy requirements and water consumption.  Something that definitely didn’t come naturally to us! One huge bonus that we appreciate every day is the amount of solar energy capacity on Mira.  Though we haven’t yet made the leap to lithium batteries, she has 1200 watts of solar charging capacity, and we have found that we are rarely required to run the generator – usually only to make water or do laundry.

Maintaining our health and fitness — Other than random cuts and bruises, we have remained quite healthy (as evidenced by our recently completed annual physicals). We love the water and most days there is opportunity to swim, dive, paddle, or snorkel.  While ashore, we try to walk to the local grocery store or chandlery and are always looking for trails for hiking and scenic vistas. We also keep a set of elastic fitness bands, small dumbbells, and exercise mats aboard for those days when we just need a good work out.

Learning to slow down — Most of our recent sailing experiences have been one week charter trips. We needed to change from the “vacation mentality” drilled into brains over years of cramming all the fun into one short vacation window.  This has not been so easy for two type “A” people. We are learning to slow down, be flexible, and cherish every experience. Our goal is to have as many C+ days as possible. 🙂

Questions we are often asked —
  • Don’t you get bored?  The only times we ever get restless are when we are stuck in one anchorage or in a marina waiting for bad weather to pass.
  • Don’t you miss your family and friends? Yes, every day!
  • Don’t you get tired each other? never 🙂
  • Are you still having fun?  most days – occasionally, the continual maintenance and repair of our floating-in-salt-water home gets tiring.
Mira’s first year milestones:
  • Total distance traveled:  10,086nm (Argentina, Caribbean, Bahamas, Chesapeake Bay, and back to the Caribbean)
  • Longest non-stop passage:  12 days, 1,745nm (Virginia to Antigua)
  • Maximum speed:  16 knots
  • Countries visited:  15
  • Islands visited:  lots
  • Magnificent sunsets:  too many to count
  • Sundowners shared with friends:  not enough
  • Fish caught:  a few (let’s just say we are getting better)
  • and, brand new Volvo diesel engines installed (by recall – at no charge)!
As we head into year two aboard Mira, we are still learning every day, though not as intensely. We love that every single day is different. Indeed, this is an intellectually and physically engaging lifestyle which we truly love and are blessed to be part of.