Category Archives: Island exploration

Indian River, Portsmouth, Dominica

When we arrive at an island we  like to investigate the local area and often hire a car with other cruisers or use a local guide to take us on an island tour. On the French islands we tend to hire a car but on  others, there are always locals readily available to show you their island. And so it was recently on Dominica.

Photo courtesy of Aussie mates, Annie and Cam on s/v Annacam

We arrived in Portsmouth on the north of the island after a brisk sail from Les Saintes and were greeted by a boat boy recommended to us, Martin, aka Providence. All the boat “boys” have nicknames: Lawrence of Arabia, Cobra, Providence. In Portsmouth they have a system where yachts are assigned a boat boy to assist you. It might be with mooring or anchoring, rubbish disposal, trips like island tours, etc. Really, whatever you want to know, just ask your boat boy and they will try very hard to help you out. Dominica is a poor country so they need yachties to stop by and inject some cash into their communities. There had been a small number of incidents in the past where yachts had been boarded or robbed and so a group of locals (boat boys) decided to set up Dominica PAYS – Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security – and provide services for yachties and this includes providing a safe anchorage. They do a great job and everyone is happy because EVERYONE loves Dominica 🙂

Martin aka Providence showing us some crabs on our Indian River Tour.

We participated in two tours with Martin: a day tour with eight other cruisers (five boats in all) visiting the northern part of Dominica and the Indian River Tour with four other cruisers (three boats).  The latter tour commenced at 6am in the morning with Martin rowing the six of us up and back down the Indian River in just over three hours.

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L-R: Rosemary and Tony (s/v English Rose), fellow Aussie Annie (s/v Annacam) and me paying close attention to Martin.

It is a magical place especially in the early morning with birds and crabs in abundance and Swamp Blood Trees (Pterocarpus officinalis) lining the river banks with their extraordinarily sculpted root systems. The river, like several places on Dominica, was a backdrop for the film Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and various skeletons adorn the banks creating a fun atmosphere (see pic below).

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Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
Reflections

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Banks of the Indian River
Crab in roots of Swamp Blood Tree
Indian River

It really was a magical few hours listening to and feeling the rhythm of the river. Martin even sang the Dominican national anthem whilst rowing back down the river which was a goose-bump type of moment.

We spent a few weeks on Dominica in Portsmouth and down south in the capital Roseau, where we watched the 1st day of the Australia vs West Indies Cricket Test. Now, that’s a story for another time!

Thanks for reading and, until next time, take care. Sue & Mal.

 

 

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Sint Maarten: Shopping and Carnival!

We arrived in Sint Maarten at 7am after an overnight passage from Cooper Island in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). You may recall that Sint Maarten/St Martin is an island divided into two countries: The Netherlands and France. In the past we have stayed on the Dutch side in Simpson Bay outside the lagoon and dinghied in for shopping, restaurants  and to access the French side but the swell and winds were pretty uncomfortable on this occasion, even for a cat! The upside of staying in the bay is the water is cleaner allowing for  swimming and water-making. So, while everything was going up and down including my tummy,  we spent the day making water and swimming whilst planning to enter the lagoon the next day at the 9.30am opening for inward-bound boats.

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Simpson Bay Lagoon bridge in Sint Maarten. Photo taken from the lagoon side.

It’s funny to watch everyone ‘queueing’ beforehand. At 9.10am we lifted the hook and prepared to get in the queue. They appear to keep the bridge open until everyone is through but you want to make sure you’re in line, ready and waiting so you don’t miss the boat, I mean bridge! We motored over near or thereabouts to what looked like other boots jostling for position. Everyone is waiting, circling, waiting, but, as you can imagine, it’s hard to stay in a queue when everything is moving: the water, the wind, the boats! There was a large French Customs (Douane) boat wanting to go through and he was reversing and going forward whilst other smaller boats  circled. The queue looked like a dog’s breakfast! I took three short videos  if you are interested and you can check it out here.

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Large cat going through the bridge ahead of us. Photo taken when leaving the lagoon.

Being in the lagoon was good; windy but no swell and easier accessibility to shops, buses, restaurants. And, as mentioned above, we couldn’t swim or make water so we were just as keen to get out of there when we finally left for Nevis a week later.

During the week we caught up with old friends Izzy R and Wild Cat and met new ones, including some Aussies. George from Wild Cat organised a dinghy-drift where we met Annie and Cam (s/v Annacam) from Horsham in our home State, Victoria, and Frances and John (s/v Kia Ora) from Margaret River, Western Australia. We also met Canadians Catherine and Henry (s/v Mowzer) and Americans Janice and David (s/v Livin’ Life). Janice and David have been following our blogs and Facebook for about six months and it was lovely to meet them. A dinghy drift is normally done close to a full moon where dinghies tie up to a lead dinghy and cruisers share food, drinks and lots of stories whilst drifting along. As this one was in the lagoon and as the evening wore on we looked like side-swiping some moored boats, George and Jan tied up to a vacant mooring ball and we all hung off them just bobbing along. A very nice way to while away the evening 🙂 Photos courtesy of s/v Distant Shores.

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We were lucky enough to be in Sint Maarten for Carnival this year and it was fabulous fun. Each island seems to celebrate it slightly differently but it is always a mass of colour, costumes, loud music and super-friendly people. This Carnival was the Dutch-side celebration and held in Phillipsburg which plays host to 4-5 large cruise ships nearly every day but, the port was closed for Carnival thereby enabling all locals to attend. A group of 10 of us took a bus over and had a great day. If you’d like to see some short video clips of the carnival click here.

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Gorgeous women….
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Captivated crowds…… L-R: Guillaume, Gwen, Mark and moi.
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A rewarding beer after another great day with friends…

The last time we were in Sint Maarten we purchased a piece of beef tenderloin or, as we Aussies know it, fillet steak. We loved it so much we bought another one this time and using our FoodSaver vacuum system, we portioned it out and have several meals ready in the freezer. It’s such a great meal for the boat: quick to defrost, quick to bbq and delicious to eat with a salad or veggies. 🙂

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Our tenderloin ready for the freezer.

After a week of shopping for boat supplies, waiting for parts, provisioning, socialising and just having fun, a weather window opened and we left Sint Maarten for Nevis.

Until next time, cheers, Sue and Mal xox

So much to do and see!

Since our last post we visited the northern-most point of our journey for this season, Puerto Rico, and have now started our trip home to Grenada. In our last post we had just arrived in St Croix, the southern-most island in the USVI (United States Virgin Islands).

We spent about 10 days on St Croix with good friends Gwen & Guillaume from Slow Waltz and Dalynn and Glenn from Amoray. Initially we anchored off  the pretty township of Christiansted but after a few days moved around to the beautiful anchorage of Fredriksted. We hired a car for a  day tour and, given the driving is on the left-hand side of the road, I volunteered to drive. The strange thing is they have American cars so the driver sits on the left! Crazy! When it came to returning the car it was evident we were subject to the ‘GG curse’: a flat tyre only to be replaced by a flat spare tyre! Note to self: don’t hire a car with Gwen and Guillaume.

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Ready for our day-trip around the island.

We enjoyed a wide variety of cultural activities: rum sampling, hermit crab races and Art Thursday, which is where we heard about “chaney”. Apparently, during a slave uprising in 1878, plantation houses were attacked, set on fire and valuable items such as china bowls and jugs were smashed. Crucian children found the broken shards and used them as play money. The term chaney is a combination of “china” and “money”. They have been found across the island and created into jewellery. Dalynn and I purchased two pieces and were also lucky enough to find a piece when scouring the beach in Fredriksted. Cool!

The diving under the Fredriksted Pier was sensational. We had two very special finds: two seahorses and one baby octopus being harassed by a blue-headed wrasse.  Whilst enjoying a beach BBQ organised by Lynne and Eric of s/v Amarula, we discovered there is a  ‘friendly’ green turtle called Charlie near our anchorage. Apparently a local has been feeding him sardines so we went to meet him. He was pretty friendly and swam amongst us but when I stupidly put my hand out he bit my finger! He wasn’t too happy with the taste so didn’t hang around too long. We were super lucky to also experience swimming with dolphins in this location too. How good is that!

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Charlie bit me!

Leaving St Croix behind, we sailed north-west with Slow Waltz to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. We discovered Culebra is part of Puerto Rico and that there isn’t really a “Spanish” Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico is part of the US but, for some reason, we had to clear-out of the USVI in St Croix and clear-in to Puerto Rico, exactly as if it’s another country. Anyway, Culebra was great and we loved it.  Playa Flamenco is a beautiful beach and down one end there are abandoned tanks once used  by the US for target practice but now decorated with funky graffiti. Apparently there is unexploded ordinance on the island so we ensured we stayed on the walking tracks thereby avoiding any unwanted explosions!

Again, we had another ‘special’ find: a mobile octopus. We see them hidden in crevices but very rarely out and about so this was a good sighting. Check out our Team Kool Kat Youtube Channel for a 36-second video of his amazing variety of camouflages.

Street art on the tiny island of Culebra was gorgeous.

Whilst in Culebra we took advantage of the $1US fare for the 1.5hr trip by ferry to mainland Puerto Rico. Again, we hired a car and spent the day in the capital, San Juan, and doing some much-needed shopping at the fabulously-priced US malls. Given they drive on the right-hand side, Guillaume offered to do the driving. No arguments from us there and we’re delighted to say the ‘GG curse’ has been lifted – no flat tyres!

Old San Juan was a pleasant surprise – so European and very elegant. The streets have blue cobblestones, there is a majestic fort and the city villas were stunning!

We enjoyed our taster and vowed to return to Puerto Rico next season for a decent amount of time.

So now we need to turn around and go back down the island chain. Back to the BVIs to clear-in and out at Jost Van Dyke. We stopped at The Baths on Virgin Gorda and left for Sint Maarten from Cooper Island. Check out our video of The Baths on youtube.

We did an overnight sail to Sint Maarten which means with 80+ nm to cover we left Cooper Is at 5pm anticipating a 14hr sail. Normally we’d have a schedule of two hours on and two hours off for each of us. Unfortunately, I was ill and Mal had to do the whole night without any help from me! Needless to say he was exhausted when we arrived in Simpson Bay. I was well enough to do the anchoring but egads the remote control for the windlass wasn’t working so I had to motor around for almost an hour whilst Mal worked out what was wrong! A broken connection! Mal did a quick temporary fix joining the wires back together and we eventually dropped the hook 15 hrs after leaving the BVIs.

Aah, the joys of sailing! I’ll put a halt here so until next time, keep well, and warm if you are in Oz.

Cheers, Sue and Mal xx

Wow – The Virgin Islands

We have been in The Virgin Islands for just on a month now and they are stunning! There are over 100 islands, both large and small, inhabited and uninhabited and they are a cruiser’s delight! It is very quick and easy to sail to other islands or to find a protected bay if needed.

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To the east are the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and to the south and west lie the US Virgin Islands (USVI). There are three larger islands in each country and lots of smaller ones dispersed throughout. We are currently in St Croix (bottom of the map) in the USVI and really enjoying this low-key island.

These photos are just a quick snapshot of our month here. Most islands satisfy our basic needs: good hiking, interesting flora and fauna and fabulous snorkelling.

We started on Virgin Gorda in the BVI:

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A rest from hiking, overlooking Saba Rock.
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Spotted Eagle Ray

We swam with Spotted Eagle Rays who seemed to feed under our boat! They have beautiful markings and the tail is three times longer than the photo shows. Absolutely majestic and not worried about us.

After much toing and froing through Facebook we were able to coordinate a gathering at Norman Island (six boats) so we hightailed it down the Francis Drake Channel, which I liken to a water super highway and reminds us of the Australian Whitsundays. It was great to catch up  with friends and we did some fabulous snorkelling off the back of Izzy R at a rocky outcrop known as The Indians.

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L-R: Gorgeous but crazy girls, Gagi, Sunny & Gwen
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Snorkelling preparations!

Then it was off to Peter Island for a night before heading to Jost Van Dyke Island (JVD). We were lucky to catch up with Jo and Gregg from s/v Serenade and their guests.

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Enjoying the famous BVIs Painkiller at One Love on Jost Van Dyke Island

The next day we walked to the Bubble Pool on JVD. Looks pretty calm…..

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L-R: Gwen, Guillaume & Mal waiting for the bubbles!
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Here they come…..
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Whoa, get me outta here!

Off the next day to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. A very pretty anchorage and we enjoyed a few quiet days here.

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Very typical of the bays on many Caribbean islands.
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Pristine beach on Sandy Cay

Over to Sandy Cay, near Little Jost Van Dyke. This is a tiny island that Laurence Rockefeller owned and gave to the Brits. It’s home to the biggest collection of hermit crabs I’ve ever seen! It’s also totally untouched and a pleasure to take the short trail around the island.

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We then cleared out of the BVIs and entered the USVIs at St John. What an amazing island. Again, thank goodness for the philanthropy of Laurence Rockefeller. He bought huge tracts of land (almost 2/3rds of the island) and bequeathed it to the US subject to it gaining National Park status. It is now a National Park with fabulous hikes and underwater marine parks. This is where I swam with an endangered hawksbill turtle and saw my first nurse sharks.

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Not worried at all. Green turtles are more skittish but the Hawksbill is much more relaxed.
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Apparently it’s common practice for nurse sharks to sleep under ledges.

As with most Caribbean islands, St John has had many ‘owners’; Spanish, British and Danish. It was built on slavery and had a substantial sugar industry until sugar beet came on the scene and slaves were freed in 1848. There are lots of sugar mill ruins and plantation estates throughout the island which make for very interesting hikes. We often caught a glimpse back in time and got our minds imagining what life may have been like with some of the estates looking very grand. The US purchased the islands from the Danes in 1917 for 25 million in gold.

On St John we stayed at the following bays: Caneel, Maho, Waterlemon, Salt Pond and Little Lameshur. Each had their own beauty with hikes and snorkelling – what more could you ask for?

This cactus is common throughout The Virgin Islands and has a wonderful little fruit very high in Vitamin C. Check out the pics.

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Turks Cap Cactus at Rams Head, Salt Pond Bay, St John.

Then it was a hike to the Petroglyphs, the ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill and the ruins  of the Reef Bay Estate atop a hill. The Petroglyphs are attributed to the Taino Indians and date to between 900-1500AD.

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Fabulous rock walls litter the whole island.
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Rock carvings are attributed to the Taino Indians.

Then it was Mal’s birthday. He had a breakfast fit for a king, enjoyed his present and shared a beautiful meal at night with Gwen & Guillaume.

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Birthday breakfast!
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Birthday present,  a Stand Up Paddleboard, sure comes in handy when doing the rubbish run!

Below are some underwater pics I just love taking!

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Reef Squid
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A Red Hind harassing a Spotted Moray Eel.
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The well camouflaged Peacock Flounder

We are now six as Dalynn and Glen from S/V Amoray have joined Kool Kat and Slow Waltz and we are spending a week or so here in St Croix.

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S/V Amoray
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Gorgeous corals on the Fredriksted pier in St Croix.

This is a month’s worth of news so I’ll stop here. St Croix has heaps of interesting bits and pieces too so that will have to be in the next update!

Throughout Antigua and Barbuda, and now The Virgin Islands, we have been boat buddies with Canadians, Gwen and Guillaume from s/v Slow Waltz. They have been a delight to travel with and we have shared some amazing times together and created incredible memories.

Until next time, stay well, Sue and Mal. xx

Antigua to St Barts

It’s always great having guests to share our experiences and this time we had family! Mal’s sister and niece, Jan and Bri, arrived in Antigua on Jan’s birthday (11 February) for the start of their 3-week Caribbean holiday and took a few days to overcome the jetlag and heat, and to gain their sea-legs.

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Day 1 – overlooking Falmouth Harbour with Kool Kat to the right of my head
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Cooling off
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Hiking to English Harbour

We had an early start at 6am for our 67nm crossing from Antigua to St Barts and dropped the hook 10 hrs later. Winds were slight but it was memorable: we had dolphins off the bow, a pod of humpback whales out to starboard and caught dinner; a Little Tunny and a Cero, both part of the mackerel family. This is what cruising is all about 🙂

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Jan and Mal underway
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Little Tunny
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Humpbacks off our starboard side

St Barts has been fought over by the Brits, the Spaniards and the French. However, the French gave it to the Swedes in the 18th Century in exchange for free port rights in Gothenburg. Thanks to the Swedes for making it a free port which it still is to this day. Many of the buildings reflect the Swedish heritage but it was sold back to the French in 1878. As with other French islands, it is a commune of France but without many European laws. Visiting French islands for us is always like having a taste of France; cheap AND good wines, excellent food at reasonable prices and there is that certain joie de vivre!

Gustavia in St Barts:

Shell Beach, within walking distance of Gustavia:

We were lucky to witness their annual Carnival. It is a fabulous family-friendly parade with everyone encouraged to dress up and enjoy the festivities.

Lunch at Dos Brazil
Lunch at Dos Brazil

The next day we hired a car and did a day-tour of the island. It’s tiny with some gorgeous beaches but it has windy, narrow roads with lots of hairpin bends, big trucks, and they drive on the wrong, I mean right-hand side of the road! I was the designated driver but I had two back-seat drivers helping out! Thank goodness Bri was in the front providing support. All the beaches had beautiful signage and we loved their ashtray idea! Take a can of coke, read ashtray, off the hook, use it whilst at the beach and then return it to the hook. Voila, no dirty cigarette butts in this beautiful environment!

Jan and Bri had their first of many up-close and personal turtle experiences with Bri being crowned official turtle-spotter! We also enjoyed some great snorkelling at Gros Ilets (off Gustavia) and in Anse de Columbier.

A hike to the village of Columbier gave us some amazing views across to Ile Fourchue and St Martin.

Steve Jobs’-designed boat, Venus, was anchored behind us in Gustavia. What do you think of her design?

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Amazing

We stopped overnight at Ile Fourchue, an uninhabited island half-way between St Barts and St Martin. Again, there were turtles aplenty and a good variety of fish. Both in Anse de Columbier on St Barts and at Ile Fourchue, we were fortunate  to snorkel and swim with turtles and off the back of the boat. How good is that!

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Our next stop (and post) is Saint Martin/Sint Maarten which is shared by Holland and France, thus the two spellings. Until then, keep well, Sue & Mal xx

Barbuda

Barbuda is an island in the country of Antigua. It is such a contrast to all the volcanic islands we have previously been to; it’s low with the highest point just 125 ft above sea level. It is also very undeveloped and boasts a population of only 2,000. It is surrounded by shoals and reefs with beautiful long beaches, two of which we visited were 11 miles and 16 miles! We travelled with Gwen & Guillaume from Slow Waltz and had a beautiful few days.

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What can I say? Beautiful Barbuda!

The island is about 30 nm from Antigua and we had a lovely sail, averaging 6.5 kts with ENE winds up to 15 kts. We had a reef in as the forecast was for greater winds but we didn’t need it. Gwen took photos of Kool Kat and I took photos of Slow Waltz 🙂

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I’m taking photos of Slow Waltz
Good conditions
Good conditions
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Slow Waltz

On arrival we anchored in Low Bay and soon met the locals.

The next day we hired bikes and rode to Two Foot Bay on the north-east coast of the island.

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Bike owner Johnathon slept through our knocking so we rang him from outside his home and woke him up. Always ring otherwise I may not hear you!
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Easy riding with no hills.

Following our yummy hamburgers for lunch we then went with our guide, Clifford, or Guinness to his mates, to the frigate bird sanctuary. They are currently nesting so there were thousands either sitting on nests, attracting a partner or building a nest. The male can have a wingspan up to 7.5ft and even though they are a sea-bird, they can’t swim so they can’t land in the water. Clifford mentioned that they co-feed with the brown booby bird who plunges deep into the sea, herding a school of fish to the surface where the frigate bird swoops down and picks up dinner. Sounds like a good arrangement for the frigate bird!

To attract a female the male inflates his red-coloured throat pouch and makes a drumming sound with his beak. If that’s all he does she’s not particularly interested. She also requires him to gather twigs for the nest. She only lays one egg per season, both will sit on the nest and gestation lasts 44-51 days. At birth the chicks are naked but they develop a soft white down soon thereafter. It was a great experience to see these magnificent birds breeding.

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After a big day we’ve earned a Wadadli, or two!

The next day we navigated our way around the reefs to the south of the island, Cocoa Point. You definitely need your polarised lenses when coming into these areas. We spent a few days here anchored off the 16-mile beach snorkelling, collecting shells, reading and enjoying sundowners on the beach with other cruisers.

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Hawksbill turtle below sea fan coral
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One of my favourite shells, Bleeding Teeth – can you see the little teeth in bleeding gums?
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Sundowners and frisbee on the beach

During the sail back to Jolly Harbour on Antigua, Mal caught a barracuda, which we threw back, and a wahoo, which we didn’t! This is our first major catch on Kool Kat and he attributes his success to a new system of arranging the lures which Josh from s/v Cavu explained to him (the gorgeous young guy in the green/orange shorts above). Thanks Josh, we owe you!

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Mal with his 3ft+ wahoo. Woohoo!

Whilst in Jolly we caught up with friends we hadn’t seen for a few months, met some new ones and replenished our larder before heading around to investigate the eastern (windward) side of Antigua. But, that’s in the next post!

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Old friends Izzy and Jeff, Gwen and Guillaume, new friends Carol and Paul enjoying 1/2 price pizza night at Al Porto Restaurant.
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Anne and Tony from Pavo Real with Gwen, Guillaume and Mal on board Kool Kat having just finished Wahoo fish tacos! Yummmmm!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as we had living it 🙂 Sue & Mal xx

Antigua – west and north coasts

We are fortunate that two sets of guests are flying into Antigua as it gives us a good excuse to spend a month or so of reconnaissance work on the two major islands in the country, Antigua and Barbuda.

On arrival in Antigua, we anchored in Falmouth Harbour to celebrate NY Eve with friends but, as soon as the celebrations were complete, we were out of there! We had been buffeted around for a few days by a swell coming around the corner and for us to feel it in a Cat gives you an idea of how bad it was. It was also quite crowded so when it came time to raise the hook, well, let me just say it was an experience and one referred to in a previous post, Anchoring – Highs and Lows. We did enjoy our time in Falmouth and if you want to read more, check out a recent post Nelson’s Dockyard.

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Fort Berkeley in English Harbour

As there wasn’t much wind and it was a short trip, we motored around to Jolly Harbour on the west coast and dropped anchor in Mosquito Cove. Antigua has beautiful beaches and make claim to 365! Sailing to Jolly we went past several and they did look beautiful.

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Approaching Jolly Harbour

Jolly was a lot calmer but it is a funny little place. It is a marina and condominium development with mostly holiday townhouses on canals and a boat tied up at their door! There is no local village but lots of resorts and the marina is host to many charter boats so it’s got quite a transient population of yachties and holiday-makers.

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Townhouses in Jolly Harbour – can you spot the pelican?

After a few days in Jolly Harbour we refuelled and headed around the point to Hermitage Bay in Five Islands Harbour. There is a very pretty resort which has the best internet we’ve encountered on Antigua so it was time to catch up with blogs and Facebook! Slow Waltz and Nahanni River also arrived and, after checking emails, we played a few rounds of our favourite card game, Wizard. Nahanni River had an early morning start the next day (2am) for their sail to St Maarten so it was an early night.

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Calm and serene Hermitage Bay with Slow Waltz on left

The next day we sailed to Deep Bay where the Andes Wreck is lying just below the surface and right in the middle of the bay entrance. We anchored, had lunch and then joined Gwen and Guillaume to snorkel on the wreck. It was fabulous. The variety of soft corals were terrific and there weren’t any fish we hadn’t seen before but to see the ship lying on the seabed was extraordinary. Part of its’ mast is still standing and you can see the framework and holes through the bow.

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The ship’s mast
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Coral growth
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The ribs of the ship
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Diving on the ship’s bow.
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A Blue Tang with lots of coral growth

Later we walked to the top of Fort Barrington with 360 views.

The next day we headed to the north of the island and navigated our way through the Boon Channel to Long island. We anchored in a very pretty little bay known as Jumby. Long Island is privately owned with resorts and private homes; the restaurants are only open for resort guests and yachties are not encouraged to go ashore. So with 20-30 kt winds forecast, good protection, fast wifi and gorgeous blue water, we hunkered down for a few days and made the best of it  😉

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Jumby Bay, Long Island, Antigua
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Can you spy me reading in the cockpit?
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I couldn’t stay out of that beautiful water!

We spent a few days here before heading north to Barbuda, but that’s another story, I mean post!

Until next time, fair winds and smooth sailing, Sue and Mal xx