Parlez-vous un petit peu d’anglais? Guadeloupe

This January 2019 we made our second pass through some of the most beautiful French islands. We were able to spend two weeks exploring the island of Guadeloupe and its smaller sister islands of Iles de la Petite-Terre and Marie-Galante. The French Caribbean islands are as varied as they are beautiful – with lush mountains and volcanoes, white sandy beaches and dense forests.

Since Guadeloupe is a French department (essentially France), the food, wine and cheese are divine. Every French island that we visit, we stock up. The only stumbling block was that the French prefer to speak only French. But luckily, Glenn, armed with his high school French, was a fearless interpreter. And, it was SO worth it!

As we sailed our way south from Antigua, Mira and her crew were in for the surprise of their lives. We were about 5 miles off the northern tip of Guadeloupe when Glenn spotted a large dark stain in the water that was not moving like the rest of the waves – then, a spout of water erupted – a whale – just in front of our boat!! The rush for phones was hysterical!

After the whale excitement, we continued sailing down the western coast and settled into our first anchorage in the bay across from Pigeon Island for the night. Pigeon Island is the home of Jacques Cousteau’s famed Marine Park – a world destination for snorkeling and diving. It lived up to its reputation! And, the sunsets from our back porch looking out over Pigeon were also spectacular!

High winds and waves were predicted for the next week, so Mira made her way into a protected anchorage at Pointe-a-Pitre. Over the past 18 months of full-time sailing, we have learned the limits of our sailing comfort zone. Since we couldn’t explore Guadeloupe by boat, we rented a car for the week. Not as much fun as sailing, but it turned out to be a tremendous week getting to know the beautiful island of Guadeloupe.

Guadeloupe is a butterfly-shaped island separated by the Salee River. Basse-Terre, the larger side of the butterfly, is characterized by rocky mountains and lush rainforests. With completely different topography, hilly Grande-Terre has long beaches, sugarcane fields and white sand beaches.

La Grande Soufrière, is an active stratovolcano on Basse-Terre. It is the highest mountain peak in the Lesser Antilles, and rises 1,467 m high.  Glenn has always wanted to hike a volcano, so I read a few articles on the internet and off we went. Not the smartest thing we’ve ever done – but, again, another “outside the box” experience. We learned later from the locals – that no one attempts to climb Soufriere if the top is obscured by rain clouds. The day we went – the entire mountain was obscured by rain clouds! After an hour and a half of struggling through pouring rain and high winds, we were out. Climbing a volcano is still on the list, though!

The day was not completely wasted though. Carbet Falls is a series of waterfalls on the Carbet River in the Parc National de la Guadeloupe. Its three cascades are set amid the tropical rainforests on the lower slopes of the volcano La Soufrière.  The day that we were there – only the second falls were open – the other two falls were too dangerous to climb. It was a beautiful site to see!

The day after exploring Basse-Terre, we headed off in our car to explore the smaller half of the butterfly, Grande-Terre. We drove along the southern coast and explored one beautiful beach after another. Last stop was in Ste. Francois at the very southeastern tip of Guadeloupe. Found a nice cafe in the marina (of course!) for lunch and also enjoyed the requisite French wine. A beautiful day.

I spend much of my time in the Caribbean seeking out the “markets”. Always an amazing collection of fruits, vegetables, flowers and local spices. Ste. Anne’s beach market was no exception.

Our last night in Guadeloupe, dinner at Chez Margaux in Gosier,  a special place.

Mother Nature spanked us on the way to the Caribbean

Departure Day, Sunday November 4, promised to be a beautiful, crisp autumn day. Glenn, the captain, and crew, Pam, Jason and Karen, stumbled around in the darkness, donning warm, winter gear and grabbing hot coffee to start their journey.  We’d been preparing Mira and ourselves for this journey for months and were feeling ready – though, with the usual anxieties that precede a multi-day passage at sea. Lines were tossed and fenders stored and by 6 am we were off! Since Mira was the only boat of 21 boats participating in the Caribbean 1500 Rally headed for Antigua (the rest headed to Tortola), we chose not to join the official start line at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay later that morning. As soon as we took the turn out of the Bay heading south, the winds freshened to 20 knots slightly forward of our beam, and Mira was off!

The ensuing 1745 nautical mile passage was a true ocean sailing adventure. During the next 12 days at sea Mother Nature seriously had her way with us.  The first 24 hours of the trip were spent sailing south along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts and around Cape Hatteras as we encountered a nasty warm front. The front threw 40 knot winds, choppy Gulf Stream waves, and a 5 knot current in our face.  The crew doused the head sail, centered a scrap of main and turned on both engines – trying to stabilize the boat as we doggedly pressed southward. Continuous rain and squalls added insult to injury, as we turned east at the designated coordinates for our Gulf Stream crossing.  Another 24 hours later the Gulf Stream was behind us and we were exhausted but, as the air and sea temperatures noticeably rose, the crew began to sense a glimmer of the Caribbean waiting for us.

The middle part of the passage had Mira continuing east into the open sea of the North Atlantic. From the US east coast, the Caribbean islands are not only south but quite a bit further east than most people realize.  Traditionally, sailboats head eastward almost to Bermuda before turning south to catch the prevailing trade winds. In contrast, we encountered a stalled high pressure system which sucked away all of the wind we needed to sail east! We were forced to motor for 6 days – seriously depleting our diesel stores. But …. we were wearing shorts and swimming in the 4 mile deep ocean and catching Mahi-mahi!!  Skies were clear, fish were biting, stars were shooting, captain and crew were happy!

Unfortunately, about this time, Mira received weather updates via our IridiumGO satellite system that alerted us to a tropical depression forming in the Leeward Islands and heading northwest directly into Mira’s path. Game-day decision time! Our best option was to head a bit farther east than planned (all the way past Bermuda to the 61st longitude line) and then sail south to Antigua, hoping to come in behind the eastern edge of the tropical depression.

These last five days of our journey were spent sailing straight south – skirting the tropical depression…almost. Collectively, the captain and crew of Mira sailed faster and saw higher winds, waves, and more squalls than in all of Mira’s experiences. 25 knot sustained winds and 3 meter swells directly on the beam catapulted Mira southward. Waves crashed over the cockpit roof. Constant squalls and confused waves took a toll on the crew. Top wind gusts recorded reached over 40 knots, and Mira’s top speed was 15.9 knots – a first for Mira.  She was lurching and bucking like a bronco. Meals were limited to those eaten with a spoon from a bowl.  Water usage was rationed because of low diesel stores and a stressed water maker.

Mira, an Antares catamaran, is one of the best blue water sailboats in the world, but all boats have their limits. As the stormy days wore slowly on, Mira began to show symptoms of the strenuous and difficult passage.  Limping into Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, with reluctant engines, we dropped anchor under sail at 10:39 am on November 16th.  The next 14 days were spent washing, rinsing, scrubbing, repairing, adjusting, and testing all systems on the boat.  The crew also took a few days of well deserved R & R before our kids were scheduled to arrive for Thanksgiving. Happily, Mira is now returned to her former glory while her crew keeps a watchful eye for another sneak attack from Mother Nature.

This is the Carib 1500 Rally map that shows the track of each of the participating boats. Mira is the pale yellow track line that shoots straight east to maneuver around the storm.
This is a screenshot of our instruments showing total nautical miles of the trip – 1745 – and top speed during the trip of 15.9 knots. Considering our average and cruising speed is 6 knots, this speed was way out of Mira’s comfort zone. It was achieved during one of our last 3 days – and for those sailors out there – we were NOT surfing down a wave! Our wind and waves were flat on the beam. ;(
The first day of our passage – bundled up from the cold of November in Virginia.
Jason giving Glenn lessons on the fine art of catamaran sail trimming.
Beautiful sunset at sea.
Pam at the SSB radio (single side band) taking her turn (along with 3 other boats) leading the morning and evening Carib 1500 Rally nets. It was a great way for all of the Rally boats to connect each day and discuss safety and weather information, but also – fun things like Mahi catchings and shooting star sightings.

 

Here are the beginnings of the churned up and confused waves of our Gulf Stream crossing. The next 24 hours became even more difficult. The nasty warm front tossed more wind, waves, and rain in our face as we battled the strong Gulf Stream current.

Small, dark Atlantic dolphins greeted us after we ventured through the Gulf Stream and out into the open Atlantic Ocean.

Relaxing on our favorite perch – savoring the warm temperatures and sunshine that were starting to appear. The middle part of our passage was truly delightful.

Captain and all crew on Mira participated in meal preparation for this passage.  We took turns with cook duty every 4th day in our watch rotation. On our “cook” day we cooked and cleaned all day and didn’t take watch until the nighttime.
Pam enjoyed planning all of the meals, buying the ingredients and provisions, and most importantly, seeing the happy faces of the well-fed crew. Here’s One Pot Beef Stroganoff.

 

This is Barbacoa shredded beef with corn salsa on yellow rice – all prepared in the pressure cooker.
Here’s one of three beautiful and delicious Mahi-mahi we caught on the middle part of our passage. Definitely a highlight of the trip.

Rocking and rolling a bit, but Glenn still got the Mahi grilling done!
Freshly caught grilled Mahi served with lemon garlic butter sauce. Leftovers made yummy Mahi fish tacos the next day.
Captain threw out a line during one of our motoring days and we all dove in!! The middle of the Atlantic (latitude 26.45 longitude 62.23) that was 19,690 feet deep or 3.7 miles. Surreal experience!

A beautiful sunset from Pam and Glenn’s cabin. Seas were starting to build.

As Mira took her turn south on Monday, Nov 12, she was starting to skirt the edge of the tropical depression. The seas got increasingly confused and much larger, winds began to increase and squalls began appearing. The last 3 days were the most difficult of the trip.

A screenshot of the tropical depression smack dab in Mira’s path.

The crew of Mira practiced safe sailing precautions. All crew wore their own PFD when leaving the salon area at night and during rough seas. Each PFD had its own personal locator beacon that would alert Mira’s chart plotter with a GPS coordinate and Mira’s crew with a loud alarm sound – if the PFD went overboard and was deployed. Each PFD also had a light, a knife, a face spray shield, and a whistle. Each crew member also attached their blue tether immediately upon entering the cockpit and would tether onto jack lines along either side of the boat if leaving the cockpit.

Glenn performed a deck check late every afternoon – checking all the running and standing rigging (lines and metal supports) – even in the worst of the weather.

Glenn and Jason supporting each other during their difficult watches during the last few days.
Land Ho! Antigua on the horizon. A sigh of relief from all!
Mira’s engines needed some tender, loving care – thanks to the Antigua Yacht Club for towing us in from the outer anchorage area.
Glenn multi-tasking technology – coordinating a delicate docking operation with the tow boat and his crew.
Mira at rest – finally – in the Antigua Yacht Club – twelve days later!

 

The Carib 1500 Rally – preparing Mira & crew for the tropical migration

The Caribbean 1500 Rally is orchestrated by the World Cruising Club. For this November’s rally from Portsmouth, VA, to Tortola, BVI – 21 boats participated. Mira elected to join the rally – despite our ultimate goal to sail past the BVI to Antigua. The WCC offers a wide range of benefits when you join their rallies. They provide a superbly prepared Rally Handbook with a wide range of safety and sailing system checklists, off-shore seminars in the week prior, and last but not least, camaraderie with other sailors through happy hours and local events.

Contemplating another winter in the Caribbean with limited marine resources and summer 2019 in the Mediterranean, this fall seemed the perfect time to join a rally and complete some additional safety and comfort features on Mira. So, the Captain detailed a long list of projects to be completed and items to be purchased. Annapolis without wind seemed like the perfect spot to accomplish this list.  So …. during the months of August and September …. we added the following,

  • replaced our nearly new two Volvo diesel engines due to an emissions recall by Volvo,
  • new refrigerator handle & stainless kick plate,
  • European power battery charger,
  • 5 zone bilge dry out system
  • Exhaust system in galley over the stovetop
  • New mirror in master head,
  • Fixed freezer refrigerant pressure,
  • New Seagull water filtration system,
  • New life raft & stainless steel mount cage,
  • Mount on our arch for dinghy motor,
  • Newly configured arch davits for dinghy,
  • New outhaul line for mainsail,
  • Protective covers for hatches,
  • New stainless pedestals for cockpit table
  • New salon carpet & mat,
  • Stern anchor,
  • New jumbo ‘super yacht’ fenders & fender covers,
  • 4 inflatable life vests and personal locator beacons,
  • Wide variety of aerial, smoke daytime and night flares,
  • and we completed extensive offshore safety requirements for Carib 1500 including authoring our first official Mira Ships Operations & Procedures manual.

Yes.. it was a very busy (and expensive few months).  As the leaves were starting to drop, Mira sailed down from her fall home in Annapolis and arrived at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA, on October 25. The next week was reserved for additional preparation before the official start of the Carib 1500 Rally on Sunday, November 4th. Pam and Glenn were happy to be joined by Karen and Jason Trautz, who had recently completed a ten year circumnavigation on their own Antares catamaran, YOLO. We were thrilled to have sailors with their incredible sailing experience aboard Mira for the offshore passage to Antigua.  Our week was filled with boat work, seminars, meetings, tours, provisioning, cooking and happy hours.

Mira’s interior was well protected during her engine swap out.

New life raft and stainless steel cradle.
Check in for the Caribbean 1500 at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA.
Glenn and Jason hard at work installing new pedestals.
Glenn installing a thru-hull cap amid provisioning stores.
Chafe gear – always a necessity!
Just a fraction of the provisions necessary for 4 people for a 12 day passage.
The view from above!  A trip up the mast is always required before a long passage.
Mira festively decked out in her dress flags for the Rally.
Mira passing the rigorous safety inspection.
Safety demonstrations included PFDs, life rafts, and flares.

Glenn, Karen and Jason at Happy Hour in historic Portsmouth, VA.
Mira’s crew decked out in their Halloween best.
Pam and Karen off to provision!
Glenn studied weather information for the passage.
Departure Day! Sunday, November 4th!

 

 

 

Video Tour of Mira – Inside and Out!

Finally, a video tour of Mira (for those requesting “..less Glenn and more boat” 🙂 ) – exterior and interior. We had a chance to straighten Mira for guests in Charleston and decided to take the opportunity to film her. She has been our live-aboard home since January, and has far exceeded our expectations in all categories!

“The Ride” – beautiful as advertised!

PAM:  The ride was truly beautiful as advertised! Mira treated us to a delightful 10 day sail – we left Fortaleza, Brazil, on Friday Nov 10 and arrived at St. George, Grenada, Monday, Nov 20. Entire trip from Argentina to Grenada – 40 days and 1 hour!!

After 15 hours of travel time from Atlanta, Glenn and I dragged ourselves through the Fortaleza airport on Monday, November 6. We had been communicating with Mira by satellite off and on for weeks. Pikin (our delivery captain), Miguel and Tomas (crew) were sailing Mira at a good pace up the coast of Brazil. As long as the winds cooperated around the tip of Brazil, Pikin estimated an early Wednesday arrival into the marina in Fortaleza.  We still had plenty to do to prepare for our part of the trip.

 

 

Shopping for last minute fishing gear, scouting out the best provisioning grocery stores, and beach front dinners, Glenn and I kept ourselves occupied for those few days in Fortaleza.

 

 

 

 

Dinner with the requisite caipirinhas at Coco Bambu in Fortaleza.

We got the exciting call at noon on Wednesday.  Mira had arrived into Fortaleza’s Marina Park!  She looked great – despite the long journey. Pikin, Miguel and Tomas took very good care of her. Special thanks also to 40 Grados Sur and their entire team for building such a beautiful sea-worthy Antares.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next few days flew by with much needed R&R for the crew, customs and immigrations visits (took almost 5 hours!), and grocery store provisioning – which took almost as long as the paperwork 😔.

Pikin relaxing
Interminable paperwork to clear out of Brazil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We planned a Friday morning departure, and indeed, we were off by 10:30! Armed with scopace patches and sunscreen, Glenn and I were ready for almost anything!

 

Mira’s Crew – ready for anything!!

So, for multi-day offshore passages Mira sails non-stop; day and night.  Long ago, sailors established a “watch” system to ensure that some subset of the crew would be on deck and responsible for the safety of the crew while keeping the boat sailing in the right direction.  For the 10 day trip to Grenada, Pikin had set up a rotating watch schedule for himself, Miguel and Glenn. Day shifts were 4 hours, because everyone was mostly awake and in/out of the cockpit able to help. Night shifts were 2 hours, which allowed four hour stretches of sleep for each crew. I supervised the night shifts from my bed – but, usually managed to greet Glenn with a hot cup of coffee for his 6-8 am early morning shift.

 

 

I chose to take the “galley watch” – cooking our one big meal of the day, usually around 1:00 or 2:00. Cooking was enjoyable and easy on Mira – though the equatorial heat forced me to revert to lighter, easier meals as the trip stretched north.

 

 

 

It was a really good idea not to have a big nighttime dinner – otherwise the crew on night watch would be even sleepier!

 

 

 

 

Mira is designed for offshore sailing and is equipped with important navigational gear like GPS, chart plotters, radar, VHF and SSB radios, and AIS.

Chart plotter and radar screens at night

We found the most important gear was the auto-pilot — truly the hardest working crew member!  I was most amazed that we never touched the helm wheel the entire 10 day trip – except leaving Fortaleza and entering the harbor at St George, Grenada.  Along the way, winds were usually pushing Mira from 120-150 degrees from the bow.  We mostly kept to one course and adjusted the sails based on the strength and minor directional changes of the wind – asymmetrical spinnaker for light downwind sailing – screecher and genoa when the wind speed increased.

Our comfortable, off-shore daily routine on Mira was punctuated by some amazing highlights!

FISH:  The first scream of “Fish!!!” sent everyone into a mad, hysterical scurry around the boat! Glenn had been reading, studying, and dog-earing “The Cruisers Guide to Fishing”, and he was the most experienced on the boat! After a false start or two, we were able to catch 3 tuna over several days. Glenn was almost an expert by the end of the trip – his catching, cleaning and filleting skills were admirable. Yummy fresh fish – tuna ceviche with homemade chips, sautéed, soy and orange juice marinated tuna, and fresh tuna vegetable salad – with still more – frozen for a special night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EQUATOR CROSSING:  Crossing the equator and watching the latitude slowly count down to North 0 degrees 00.000′, is a big deal for ocean sailors.

 

It’s actually really hard to capture the exact moment …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we didn’t realize, is there is also a day long celebration that accompanies the “crossing” of the equator. Each ship has their own tradition, and Pikin, the only crew member to have already crossed the equator, celebrated Mira’s in style!  I’ve never laughed so hard as when God Eolo (Greek God of the Wind – AKA Pikin) leaped from the salon, gaudily dressed head to toe.

He christened the 3 pollywogs with water poured over our heads and pronounced our new names!
Day long festivities celebrating the transition of Pam, Glenn and Miguel from pollywogs to true mariners. God Eolo made several appearances in full costume – anointing each of us – Golden Dolphin (Pam), White Shark (Glenn) and Dorado (Miguel)

DOLPHINS:  When the shout “Dolphin” ripped the air, we all ran to the bow. For some minutes, Mira was surrounded by the most beautiful dolphins, leaping and jumping. One swam directly underneath my perch on the bow sprit chair, seeming to peer up at me! As quickly as they came, they shot off into the distance. but, we could still watch them leaping high into the air for many miles.

 

The sunrises, the sunsets, the storms and the clouds made the entire trip one to remember!

 

Sailing Mira!

PAM: After the excitement of the splash, there was still much work remaining. The mast had to be “stepped” and all of the rigging installed. There was some last minute window work and electronics calibrating.  We had already tested and re-tested all of the systems while Mira was still in the factory – mechanical, plumbing, electrical. But, now it was time to take her out on the Rio de la Plata and down the coast to Buenos Aires. We would test every sail, every winch, every line in as many wind conditions as we could find over the several days of sailing. As we watched Mira sail effortlessly through the water, Glenn and I became increasingly thankful for the amazing 40 Grados Sur team that put together our beautiful Antares.  Memo Castro, Sancho Castro and Mariano Sellanes led 50+ talented craftsmen through every phase of the build.  It was amazing to watch them bring all their expertise together to produce this gorgeous catamaran.

Mast being stepped on Mira. Shockingly the whole process took less than an hour.

Mariano, Sancho and Glenn SO happy after the splash!

Main and genoa unfurled for the first time
Custom designed asymmetrical spinnaker
Happy new owners
First time at Mira’s helm
The pit masters!
Each time an Antares boat is completed, there is a traditional Argentine Asado celebration with spectacularly grilled meats. Glenn and I were proud to thank each one of the 50 craftsmen personally and enjoy the delicious lunch with them!

Quick Look at Mira – Inside & Out

PAM: Here’s some quick shots of Mira inside and out. They are not great – it was difficult with all of the workers and totes and tools, etc. We will post more later – once we are settled in the Caribbean (and I can get my fun decorative pillows out! hahaha)

 

The cockpit – double helm seat that reverses, two benches, foldable table, sliding glass door leading to the salon.

 

Here’s looking at the cockpit – looking out from the salon. There are two large benches, grill, and lots of solar panels!!

 

Here’s another shot of the cockpit. You can also see that we have panels that roll down to protect the cockpit from weather – either hard clear plastic or screens.

 

Best view on the boat – bow pulpit!

 

Love the co-captain’s chair

 

View coming into the salon from the cockpit. All handcrafted Brazilian cherry wood. Nav station ahead and salon seats around the table. Settee to the right.

 

Another salon view – settee to the right, sliding work table, cabinets conceal printer, charts, stereo system, washer/dryer

 

View of the galley leading down from the salon.

 

Mira’s galley is impossibly large for a cruising yacht – tons of cabinets, counter space, double sink, front-opening refrigerator, large chest freezer, gas cooktop, oven, & microwave! I’m in heaven!

 

Another of view of the galley – looking into the 3rd cabin, which has double and twin beds and full head with shower. At the other end of the galley is another guest cabin with queen bed.

 

Looking down into the master cabin with its queen bed. The master cabin fills the starboard hull with bed, storage and a head with shower.