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.
September on the Chesapeake Bay and in Annapolis had to be better than August! August was hot, hot, hot and deathly still. Be careful what you wish for ……
Mira continued to have some lovely finishing touches completed on her by workers in the Boat Yard. So, while we were waiting for the work and the wind to blow, we spent Labor Day weekend exploring the Naval Academy and some of the historic homes of Annapolis.
Growing frustrated by the lack of wind, Glenn and Pam tried out some local culture. Saw Chris Isaak in concert at the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts. Strolled through several fall arts and crafts festivals. Sat waterside on blankets for a blue grass concert and food trucks. We made the most of our stationary time in Annapolis!
Late one Friday afternoon when the workers weren’t appearing, we squeaked Mira out of her tiny marina spot and motored (of course!) up the Chesapeake Bay to eastern Whitehall Bay and down Mill Creek to Cantler’s Riverside Inn. An iconic seafood restaurant located down a lovely, meandering creek that offers free dockage for the night when you have dinner. It doesn’t get any better than that! Thrilled to be out of the marina – even for a weekend.
The next morning we were up bright and early and headed north up the Bay to the town of Rock Hall. We picked up a mooring on Swan Creek. Finally, peace and quiet. Walked down the street for a delicious dinner at the Wheelhouse and Thursday night football with the Falcons, and the next morning grabbed some bikes to explore Rock Hall.
Once back in the marina in Annapolis, we got some of the wind that we had hoped for. Sadly, the wind came only in the form of Tropical Storms and Hurricanes during the month of September. The remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon swept through that night and gave us 25-30 knots of wind and rapidly rising water. After several days of solid rain – power was shut off at the docks to prevent electrical trouble. Directly on the heels of Gordon, Hurricane Florence was picking up steam out in the Atlantic. She appeared to be headed directly for Annapolis. Pam continued to puzzle about why we got out of the hurricane zone north of Florida – only to be threatened by hurricanes.
At one point in September our weather tracker showed 4 active tropical storms in the Atlantic – it was crazy! 600 feet of new nylon hurricane dock line later – Hurricane Florence barely brushed us, but wreaked havoc in North Carolina, as she dumped days and days of rain.
After Florence finished threatening, Pam and Glenn had a beautiful evening out to celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary at O’Leary’s Seafood. A special night!
Kelly came down for a weekend, and we took Mira out for a spin. We actually sailed! The sail lasted for about 4 hours, but it was phenomenal to be sailing again. Our destination was Fells Point near Baltimore. So we headed north under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Just before nightfall, we tied up in the Fells Point area – just east of Inner Harbor. Waterside Fells Point is known for its hip pubs and taverns, many with live music, as well as seafood joints serving Chesapeake Bay crab (more picking!) and oysters. Small galleries, record stores, fashion boutiques and eclectic restaurants line the cobblestone streets along the harbor and main square. We had a blast jumping from bars to restaurants and back again, and enjoying some ice cream somewhere in between. 🙂
Sunday morning dawned grey and pouring. After a quick brunch, we headed back. The motor-sail (of course) was freezing and rainy and bumpy. Pam was certain that Glenn never told her about this glamorous(?) side of sailing!
The Annapolis Boat Show in early October has always been a favorite of ours. A highlight this year was seeing the brand new Antares 40GS exhibiting – SV Seahorse. She was showing off some new exterior features such as a larger boom and hardtop, solar panels, dinghy davits, and a very clever rain water collection system. And we got to welcome its owners, Kal and his wife, to the Antares family.
But the big difference this year was we now had our own boat!! Our time perusing other people’s boats was over, and we loved just walking in and out of the many vendors booths – buying some “necessary” Mira gear.
People come from all over the world to the largest sailboat show in the US. We were able to catch up with old and new sailing friends. Had delicious dinner at the Reynolds Tavern with Matt and Valerie of SV Valley Cat and Jeff and Paula of SV Sea Larks. And, hosted a happy hour on Mira with all of them including Paul and Maureen of SV Grace. The highlight of the weekend though was an Antares owners get together – hosted by 40 Grados Sur boat builder, Memo Castro.
Here’s a look at our new temporary home along the dock in Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard in Back Creek, Annapolis, MD. We were excited about the yachty vibe in Eastport and Annapolis. Everyone either owned a sailboat or sailed on someone else’s – great energy and memories of sailing from Annapolis in our twenties. There were more marine services, stores, professionals than we had ever seen – Glenn was like a kid in a candy store!
Another great part about being in Annapolis – was that it was close to our daughter Kelly in DC and to lots of friends and relatives – living in Richmond or Maryland or Philadelphia! So we got lots of visitors.
Kelly and her friends, Anna and Chris, headed down from DC early one Saturday morning in early August – we piled aboard Mira and headed out into the Bay. St. Michael’s – an adorable waterfront town – was our destination.
It was also important to provide a how-to video for crab pickers everywhere.
A few days after Kelly and friends left, Glenn’s cousin Bruce and wife, Lee Ann, arrived from Pennsylvania for some more Mira fun. Again, we headed out in the Bay for St. Michael’s – again we motored. 😦
Glenn and Pam’s very good high school friend, Al, brought his daughter to visit Mira in Annapolis. This time we didn’t even attempt sailing, but we had a great time visiting and of course, picking crabs!
In the middle of August, we “sailed” Mira overnight back to Norfolk to Cobb’s Marina. We spent almost 10 days there having our two Volvo engines replaced. Volvo recalled the engines due to an emissions issue, and we got brand new engines!
Heading early in the morning into Norfolk – we encountered the USS Bush heading into the Naval Base. It is huge!!
The only good part about being stuck in a marina getting Mira torn apart for new engines – is that we got to see our sweet friends, Babs and Bob, in Virginia Beach again!!
Heading back north to Annapolis once again, we had 3 ft seas and strong winds on the nose due to a cold front sweeping through. The first 7-8 hours were quite bumpy then the Bay calmed down. It’s really shocking how much the Bay can seem like the Ocean.
Pam was able to see the sunrise and sunset and planets at the same time while on watch – hard to hold the phone still with the bumpy waves and wind!
Time for Pam to take a break Mira and her boat work, so she headed up to DC to spend the night with Kelly.
As August came to a close, we were able to entertain a little more. Pam’s sister, Cathy, and our niece, Ellie, were able to drive over from Richmond to spend the night and explore Annapolis with us. Again, no sailing. 😦 Maybe September will bring wind!