After the relative excitement of populated Guadeloupe and Pointe-a-Pitre, it was time for some peace and quiet at anchor. Illes de la Petit-Terre consists of two uninhabited green islands protected by reef. A national park has provided moorings (no anchoring allowed to preserve the reef) in between the two islands for cruising sailors. There are day charter boats that come over from Ste. Francois, and their guests swarm the islands during the day, but after 3:00 – wondrous peace. The snorkeling right off the back of Mira is marvelous, and the hiking on the larger of the two islands is enjoyable, too.
Petit-Terre is not easy for the sailor to reach. With prevailing easterly winds, you must sail directly into the wind for several hours to reach it. Also, if the swells are over 5-6 feet, the waves start to break over the entrance reef and makes entry to the islands dangerous. We picked a fairly good day – winds were just under 20 knots and waves were about 6 feet, but we set off early from Pointe-a-Pitre, and we were so glad that we did!
The breaking waves on the reef were intimidating as we approached Petite-Terre. Even more nerve-wracking was threading the needle between the reef and the shallow beach, as entered the cut.
It was all worth it – as we saw the view inside the cut. In front of us were the crashing waves on the reef that separated us from Africa and on either side of Mira were tropical islands straight from Caribbean posters.
The kids gave us a drone for Christmas, and this was the perfect spot for Glenn to practice. The results are amazing!
The coolest part of Petite-Terre was the sea life that was swimming right around our boat. We usually have to swim or dinghy over to a reef or rocks but, here we jumped off the back of Mira with a snorkel mask, and were treated to spotted rays, turtles and tons of fish!
We spent the next few days – swimming, hiking, sunning, relaxing – cruising and sailing in the Caribbean doesn’t get any better than this!
As always, the sunset off the back porch can’t be described.
We could barely tear ourselves away from Petite-Terre, but we needed to keep moving. We headed southwest to the small French island that is also part of Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante. This island is fairly flat but is thickly wooded and green, with palm trees lining the coast. Marie-Galante is perfect for touring by scooter or car. Traffic is light, and there’s really just one road that circles the island. But, most importantly for us, it is a quiet, unspoiled haven.
We rented a car on a cloudy, drizzly day and saw all of the sights. Quaint colorful homes, rocky cliffs, mangrove swamps, beaches, wooded hiking trails, plantation and distillery ruins and of course, the BEST sunset happy hour beach bar ever – Chez Henri!!
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.
Barbuda is wild and uncrowded, just the opposite of its close neighbor to the south, Antigua. Sadly, Barbuda is most recently remembered for taking a direct hit by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The prime minister declared the island uninhabitable and the 2000 residents were evacuated. 95% of the buildings were destroyed or badly damaged. There was no water, electricity or communications for many months.
We visited Barbuda this past December – more than a year after the hurricane, and the island is slowly getting back on its feet. Most of the residents have returned. Homes have been rebuilt. Small hotels, restaurants and shops are under construction. The famous frigate bird colony is thriving. The residents of Barbuda own the island communally, and they are a fiercely proud group that are determined to rebuild their island, while maintaining control of the island and its natural resources.
We set off for Barbuda from Deep Bay on the northwest side of Antigua in the morning. Only about a 25 nautical mile sail, winds were perfect at about 14-18 knots and at an angle just forward of our beam. We were sailing an average of 6-7 knots and were anchored in Low Bay just west of Codrington Lagoon by mid-afternoon.
The approach to Barbuda was stunning. The water is striped with the magical pale blues of the Bahamas and the blinding white beaches shimmer with specks of pink coral shells. It is a site not to be missed!
That afternoon we contacted George Jeffery for a tour the next morning of the famous Frigatebird colony. We were so happy to discover that the colony was thriving despite the hurricane interruption.
Frigatebirds are the masters of the sky with black feathers, long forked tails and hooked bills. Wings can span up to 7.5 ft, the largest wind area to body weight ratio of any bird. Frigatebirds are so large that they can only skim along the surface to catch their fish, any deeper and they will sink. For this reason, they have become experts at letting other birds do their fishing and then will harass them until they drop their prey. We were lucky enough to be in Barbuda during mating season – so we got to see males in action, females tending to their babies, and teen birds wreaking havoc around the colony.
After anchoring for a couple of nights at Low Bay near the Lagoon and the town of Codrington, we made our way down the southern coast to the famed Cocoa Point. The gorgeous pink sand beach along the southern end is also known as Princess Diana beach. Barbuda was one of her favorite island destinations to relax in privacy with her boys.
The next morning just after sunrise we dinghied around the southern tip to Gravenor Bay and the Spanish Point Reef for snorkeling. It was so worth the early adventure!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
After enjoying several weeks hopping around the British Virgin Islands, it was time to move on. We really wanted to spend some time exploring the Bahamas and see the gatorade blue shades of water and white sugar sand beaches.
After talking to other cruisers about the current state of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic post-hurricanes, we decided to skip that traditional sailing path to the Bahamas. Most cruisers sail from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to the Turks and Caicos to the Bahamas. Hopping from country to country – with just a few overnight sails – fairly easy to do with a crew of two. But, we decided to sail straight from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in a single passage – skipping PR, DR and T&C in between. Since we would be sailing without stopping for 5 days (impossible to anchor in 3 miles of ocean 🙂 – we wanted an additional crew member to help keep watch. Thanks to Neil and Shawn’s introduction – we met their cruising captain buddy, Jim. It was a perfect match!
Jim had many years of sailing experience that he was willing to share with us – as well as endless mechanical “MacGuvyer” problem-solving skills.
Mira, with her expanded crew, left the BVI mid-April and sailed for 5 days and 4 nights. Every day was different. Winds 25-30 knots from behind us with 10 foot waves and intermittent squalls greeted us for our first two days out. Winds and waves decreased by the third day – and, we motor sailed with our big screecher headsail out. The 4th day dawned bright and sunny and flat calm – motoring that day. And, the 5th day had fairly strong winds on our beam – a bit of a rambunctious and bouncy sailing day. We all agreed that this is the best and worst part about offshore sailing.
Our route took us from St. Thomas west across the top of the northern coast of Puerto Rico to northwest along the top end of Dominican Republic and then south of the Turks & Caicos and north of Acklins Island (one of the Out Islands of the Bahamas) to north around the top end of Long Island in the Bahamas.
As we rounded the top end of Long Island, we got our first glimpse of the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas. Our first anchorage in four nights, we were literally in shock. No need to dive on the anchor – you could see it from the bow! So very beautiful!
The next day, we docked Mira at Emerald Bay Marina on the island of Great Exuma – just north of George Town. We usually plan a short marina stay after a long passage – giving us time to rest, take advantage of endless water, and thoroughly clean Mira – inside and out.
Glenn and I enjoyed several relaxing days on Great Exuma. We visited George Town – some say the Mecca for cruisers in the Bahamas. Hundreds of sailboats spend the winter in the huge Elizabeth Harbour – enjoying social and athletic activities of all sorts – many marine facilities – as well as an international airport close by.
The Grand Isle Resort – adjacent to the Emerald Bay Marina – offers day passes to marina guests. We were able to experience the beautiful blue waters and white sand beaches up close and personal – just as gorgeous as advertised!
Our time on Great Exuma Island was brief as were were eager to explore the long Exuma island chain to the north.
Since January, Glenn and I have mostly puddle-jumped our way north up the Caribbean chain of islands from Grenada. Our sails have ranged from 4 to 10 hours during daylight only. The sail from Saint Martin to Tortola in the BVI was 92 nautical miles and took us about 14 hours. Glenn and I did it alone – alternating sleeping and taking watch at the helm. I was nervous, but Glenn was excited. He spent a lot of time analyzing the weather and winds, and felt good about our travel window. In addition, our good sailing friend, Glen, who is single-handing his Privilege 49, Sirenitie, was going to buddy-boat with us.
We raised anchor at 1:30 am on March 20 from Marigot Bay in Saint Martin. I am not yet comfortable being alone at the helm during the night – so, Glenn took the helm to start, and I went back to bed. I relieved him at sunrise, so he could get some sleep. It was a beautiful motor sail – the winds were light, but that was fine with us for our first long sail alone! We arrived in Soper’s Hole, Tortola, around 3:00 pm, exhausted but happy.
The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over 50 other smaller islands and cays. The islands have a population of about 28,000 with approximately 23,500 living on Tortola. The islanders are British citizens as of 2002. These islands are well known for their delightful sailing opportunities. The islands are close together providing line of sight navigation and usually, fairly consistent trade winds. There are beautiful, serene anchorages and snorkeling opportunities around every corner.
Over the past years, we have chartered sailboats many times in the BVI. Our family has wonderful memories of sailing, snorkeling, swimming and exploring almost every one of these islands. Special memories for the kids include learning to sail Hobie cats at the Bitter End Yacht Club and climbing the boulders at the Baths.
Sadly, our first look at the BVI post-Hurricane Irma was distressing.
But, during our two weeks in the BVI, we discovered that the waters are still just as blue and the sand is still blinding white, and the islands will recover from this latest tragedy. There are many signs of progress – lots of building and activity going on – on every island. Especially on Tortola and in the capital of Road Town, the streets and surrounding areas are clear of debris, but lots and lots of buildings are still heavily damaged. It will take time.
Meanwhile, we loved every minute of our time in the BVI. It was a special treat for us to sail our own boat to all of our familiar anchorages – where we had only taken charter boats previously.
We jumped from island to island – sailing alongside Sirenitie with Glen and Marilyn. And later on in our visit, my sister Cathy and brother-in-law Sam came to sail on Mira with us.
One of our first BVI stops is always The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The Baths are an unusual formation of large granite boulders. The sea washes in between the huge rocks, and pools have been created where shafts of light play on the water for a dramatic effect. A path weaves through the boulders – climbing and winding up and around – for a fun adventure. The beaches on either side of the boulders are beautiful with crashing waves and powdery white sand.
We got a treat at anchor late one afternoon – mama and baby dolphins swimming right next to Mira.
We were “lucky” enough to find ourselves right in the middle of the one of the races in the BVI Spring Regatta. It was the offshore multihull class which includes Gunboats and catamarans over 60 ft. – they passed us like we were standing still!
Acting on a tip from a fellow cruiser, we discovered that Oil Nut Bay – an exclusive private resort that is normally off-limits to visitors – was allowing marina and day guests to use their amenities! Mira and Sirenitie flew over to take their spot in the lovely marina and Glenn, Pam, Glen and Marilyn spent some luxurious days – by the pool and beach and enjoying some pampering time!