March 1 was our turn around day. Time to leave our beloved Dominica and begin our slow march northwest. Cay and George were due to arrive in Antigua within a week, and we wanted to make a few stops before arriving there. Besides, the winds were picking up, which would make this anchorage untenable.
Iles Des Saintes, a group of islands at the southern end of Guadeloupe, just 20 miles north, was a special place for us and our first planned stop. Our arrival port from the US, a magnificently beautiful harbor, delicious French food, and a relaxed community all called us to stop one more time. Unfortunately, other sailors also love this port, and they had managed to pick up every mooring available in all of the Saintes. Anchoring was an option, but trying to dinghy to shore in the wild winds from the remote designated anchoring areas would be crazy, so we sailed on by, sadly.
At sundown and twenty miles further north, we found a sweet cove, Petite Anse, to drop the anchor for the night. The next morning, we sailed the remaining five miles to Pigeon Island. Here, we tried to clear customs, into Guadeloupe, but there was no office to do so. Searching for the customs office, we found a great grocery store, Carrefour, and loaded up with 6 bags of French delights. With our pantries full, we dinghied over to the Nature Reserve which is always teeming with fish, to fill our hearts with one last excellent snorkel experience.
Early the next morning we set off to sail 50 miles north to Antigua. The wild winds had died, forcing us to motor the whole way. Alembic has proven to be an excellent motor sailor, I’m ashamed to admit. Arriving in Falmouth harbor felt so familiar, except it was filled with huge yachts at the dock. We anchored in the exact spot we had found the first time, too shallow for many boats, giving us a bit more privacy for swimming and bathing off the back deck.
A few days of projects, hiking, and snorkeling the harbor entrance, went quickly and greeting Cay and George was a welcome sight. I had looked forward to exploring new places with these two adventure seekers! This was their third year of visiting us, and their time aboard Alembic always guaranteed continuous play and learning, rather than projects! Geologists by degree, both had high hopes for exploring the volcanic islands of Montserrat, Nevis, Saint Kitts, Eustatius, Saba, and St Barthelemy before finally arriving at St Martin for their return flights in two weeks.
Bill’s birthday turned out to be an excellent start for our visit. Skat, a huge megayacht from Germany extended an invitation to the entire anchorage and town for a dance party on the dock. Free beer in kiddie pools of ice water, rum punch fountains cascading down ice sculptures, endless food, and a DJ encouraging dancing and ruckus all contributed to quite a wild venue. Regrettably, we were failures with costume, which was supposed to be Hippy 70’s, but the entertainment value of others’ efforts was high! Honestly though, I think I appreciated the beautiful cake Dave, a fellow cruiser, made for Bill, even more than the party!
After a brief overnight stop in Five Islands, Antigua, we set off for Monserrat with perfect wind conditions, hoping for a nice downwind sail. Ironically, the nor’easter that Cay and George ducked out of as they drove to the airport in Maine, chased them down here, and now the residual swell for us was huge. This was the fourth nor’easter from New England this month. Kenny, back in Maine, had been appreciating the surfing, and kept warning us: “watch out Mom and Dad, the swell is coming your way!”
Swells cause several problems for boaters: a roller coaster ride while sailing, seasickness, and rolly anchorages. We experienced all of these! Monserrat was crossed off the itinerary when we heard that even the large ferry from Antigua turned around, abandoning the landing due to steep swells. Our new destination was Nevis.
The hike to the rainforest peak on Mt Nevis was challenging and lush. Luckily, the skies cooperated, moving the clinging clouds so we could experience a fabulous view. Looking for a less rolly anchorage, we tucked into Oualie Beach for the night, which proved to be slightly better than our night in Charlestown.
Hoping to anchor at St Kitts the next day didn’t pan out. The entire west side of the island was plagued with huge swells. Needing to clear customs, to leave Nevis/St Kitts before arriving into the next country, posed a problem that could only be solved by ducking into a working dock at the Marine Works. This involved steering through a narrow opening in a breakwater with giant swells threatening to toss Alembic on the rocks. Then a quick tie at a cement pier. Luckily, the customs office was right on site, open, and quick, all three of which are rare in our experience. How we managed to get in and out of there without damage still haunts me.
Searching for a place to drop our anchor was challenging. Eustatius, which was 12 miles north? Carry on into the night to St Barts, which was 35 miles north? Eustatius won; I didn’t want to arrive anywhere new in the dark with these conditions. Oranji Baai, with its tiny breakwater, provided almost zero protection from the wind or swells, so we endured another loud and rolly night here. Too rough to launch the dinghy, we couldn’t come ashore to clear customs or to explore the Dutch National Park and the Quill volcano and deep crater.
With heavy hearts, missing so many excellent hikes on these ancient islands, we set off again, seeking a quiet anchorage. Gustavia, St Barts was a zoo when we arrived. The Bucket Races were about to begin, unbeknownst to us, filling the anchorage much over capacity! We picked up a mooring, illegally, in order to dinghy to shore to clear customs. Before Cay and I made it back to Alembic from Customs, Bill and George had left the mooring and were circling the inner harbor, waiting for us, also an illegal maneuver! Evaluating this crowded rolly anchorage, we dropped our anchor in a very tight spot and Bill dinghied back to customs to clear out! Thankfully, they allowed us to stay at St Barts for a few days in the remote anchorages, even after clearing out of the country.
Anse de Colombier, three miles north, was blissfully calm. Finally! A quiet night of sleep, a great snorkel spot, and access to a 4 mile hike to town. This anchorage, as well as Ile Fourchue, were perfect for watching the races and enjoying time together for a few days.
Feeling we were overstaying our legal checkout grace period, we reluctantly sailed 12 miles west to St Martin. Another rolly anchorage in Simpson Baai!! This seemed to be the permanent option for us. So tired of being tired, we headed into the lagoon, to Nettle Cove on the French side of the island. Certain to have a quiet night at this spot, we put the dinghy in the water and explored the town. Next to Dominica, this was the worst we have seen of the destruction of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Resorts were closed, condos were mostly abandoned, cars were left everywhere with smashed windows, and debris littered every street. We finally found one restaurant open and went in to give them business. The few open places have almost no visitors in this ghost town. Somberly, we slalomed around the sunken boats to get back to Alembic for the night.
Determined to find a place to play more, we headed out of the lagoon early the next morning, into Marigot Bay. Here we anchored, again in swells, but left Alembic immediately to clear customs, and buy a few groceries. Back on the boat, we sailed ten miles around the north end of the island to a sweet spot, Ilet Pinel. George’s references assured us of excellent snorkeling and we were not disappointed. Here, three restaurants were destroyed in Irma and two were given permission to rebuild. One was recently reopened with the second not far behind. Progress was evident and beautiful here. A quick sail over to Ile Tintamarre the next morning offered us one more glorious snorkel and beach hike before returning into the Lagoon.
Our last day was an exploration of the island by car. Here, we discovered a hike ending at a natural jacuzzi, a beach bar making a comeback after Irma, and a wilderness restaurant with tree houses, ziplines, lounge chairs by the pool, and upbeat locals.
Two weeks with Cay and George was packed with every emotion: catching up with dear friends’ busy lives, sharing our love and challenges of cruising, witnessing the destruction of hurricanes, and the pure joy of experiencing Caribbean offerings. We are once again grateful for each day aboard Alembic, especially when we share this experience with others.