Hasta La Vista

28 October 2009 to 28 February 2010 Granada to Antigua to the British and US Virgin Islands

After four months in Port Louis Marina, and only occasionally leaving to go out on anchor in other bays, we were ready to leave and resume our sailing. I had a two week trip back to Australia, spending most of the time in Brisbane with my daughter, Naomi, then a short stay in Mackay to visit my parents and Mal’s Mother and sister in Proserpine. Mal decided to stay with Hasta La Vista to ensure that she was safe. The hurricane season was a very quiet one this year with very few hurricanes forming. Mal found being committed to being in one spot for four months, very difficult and often commented that we had made the wrong decision to book into the marina, and that we should have used the time to sail to islands further south. Yes, it’s OK to say that when it was a quiet hurricane season, but what if we were caught in a hurricane and had nowhere to safely anchor the boat! We made some wonderful lifelong friends and had some really good times. Our stay in Granada, will be remembered as a special part of our cruising the Caribbean.

On Wednesday 28 October 2009, we left Port Louis Marina, to motor/sail north, planning to visit those islands that we missed on our way south and to revisit those islands that we particularly enjoyed. Our aim was to arrive in Antigua by 14 December to collect my son, Lawrence, who was flying directly from London, to spend four weeks with us on Hasta La Vista over Christmas and New Year.

We arrived in English Harbour, Antigua, on 25 November 2009, four weeks after leaving Granada. Most of our island stays were short, anchoring for one or two days only. We did, however, spend a little longer at those islands that we had not visited before or particularly enjoyed on our last visit.
Some of the highlights were:

Mustique is unique among the Grenadines. It is a privately owned island that has been developed as an area of holiday homes for the wealthy. Mansions with tennis courts and swimming pools sit on rolling grassy hills and long lawns stretch to beautiful sandy beaches. Each house lies in spacious grounds; there are only about ninety on the whole island, plus one hotel, a guesthouse, one beach bar, a few boutiques, a small local village, and a fishing camp. A roll call of those who have owned property reveals some glamorous names, including Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Raquel Welch and the late Princess Margaret. Parts of the island are wild; other areas are well tended. About half the houses are available for rent when the owners are not in residence. As you would expect for an island of this type, prices are relatively high.
We were enthralled with these two delightful gingerbread houses located in the small village on the waterfront of Mustique. They house two boutiques and are named “The Pink House” and “The Purple House”. The boutiques sell everything for beach life and designer fashion accessories for men and women.
A fruit and vegetable store in the small waterfront village of Mustique.
The fishing boats of the local fishermen on Mustique.
Mal enjoying a leisurely walk along one of the stunning beaches of Mustique.
Kerry by our inflatable dingy, Lagoon Bay, Mustique.

The island of Mustique is managed by a Body Corporate which is funded by fees paid by the property owners. The island is well cared for and has bitumen roads leading to the magnificent houses scattered over the island. Mal and I went for a long walk up and down the hills to see what we could see and to our surprise, we came across land tortoises everywhere.

From Mustique, we motor sailed north to St Vincent anchoring for short stays at the Blue Lagoon and Wallilabou, a bay where we had previously anchored, and at Rodney Bay, St Lucia, an island that we particularly enjoyed last time, having toured it by car with our American and English sailing friends, Lesley and Adrian.

Blue Lagoon is a bay surrounded by reefs off Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent. We had not previously visited Kingstown, so decided to anchor for a couple of days and explore the town. We walked to the main road which passes the Blue lagoon and hailed a local bus to take us to Kingstown. The local buses are the same as the buses on many of the other Caribbean Islands. They are a large mini bus, with a driver and an assistant. The assistant instructs the driver to stop to either pick up or drop off passengers and opens the door of the bus for passengers. These rides are usually a couple of dollars per person and it is just a matter of letting the assistant know where you want to go. We were able to find seats in this particular bus but it was quite full. We counted thirteen passengers. To our amazement, by the end of a short trip to Kingstown, the bus had stopped to collect another eight passengers! There were passengers sitting on other passengers’ laps! We were quite horrified when the bus took turns at a very fast speed and we had to hang on hoping that the bus was not going to tip over! Obviously, as on all the islands, these drivers try and fill their buses to make the trip worthwhile but this was ridiculous and not very safe!!

Once in Kingstown, the next couple of hours were spent wandering the streets. It was a typical Caribbean town, however, one always sees something new. Mal was intrigued by the timber wheelbarrows that were being used to transport goods.

A fruit stall on a street of Kingstown, St Vincent.

Our next stop after Rodney Bay, St Lucia, was Martinique, another island that we had previously visited, details of which are earlier in our blog. Martinique is the largest of the Windward Islands and apart from a few short spells under the British, has been French since it was colonized. It is a part of France with excellent roads and a thriving economy. We anchored at Marin, St Anne’s, Fort de France, and St Pierre.

We had previously explored Marin and Fort de France but our second visit gave us an opportunity to explore the towns even further.
During a walk along the streets of Marin, we were reminded, by the remains of old buildings still standing, that there is much history in the settling of the Caribbean Islands.

Fishing nets being dried and mended by the local fishermen along the water front at Marin, Martinique.

During our second visit to Fort de France, the capital of Martinique, we decided to catch a bus to a large shopping centre “The Galleria” which we had heard about. During our bus trip, we were amazed to see how large and prosperous the island is. Driving along the highway, we could easily imagine that we were in a major city in France and not on an island in the Caribbean.

St Pierre, Martinique
St Pierre lies at the foot of the Mt Pelee volcano. On the 8th May 1902 at two minutes past eight in the morning, the side of Mt Pelee facing St Pierre glowed red and burst open, releasing a giant fireball of superheated gas that flowed down over the city, releasing more energy than an atomic bomb. An estimated 29,933 people burned to death, leaving only two survivors in the town; Leon Leandre, a cobbler who was in his cellar, and a local who was imprisoned for murder in a stone cell. Twelve ships in the bay were destroyed at anchor, one managing to limp away with a few survivors.

At the time, St Pierre, with a population of 30,000, was known as the Paris of the Caribbean and was the commercial, cultural, and social centre of Martinique. The wealth of the island lay in the plantations and the richest of these surrounded St Pierre. Ships would take on rum, sugar, coffee, and cocoa, and enough was sold to make several of the plantation owners multi-millionaires. All that remained were smoking ruins.

Many ruins still remain. Post-disaster buildings have been built onto old structures, so many new buildings share at least one wall with the past. Ruins also form garden walls, and some have been tidied up as historical icons. A museum in a modern building depicts that era and the tragedy. It stands on top of old walls that are artistically lit up at night, making an enchanting backdrop for those anchored below.
St Pierre
A view of the town of St Pierre from the old fort.
Mt Pelee
A family’s house and the family enjoying time outside on a Sunday on the main beach of St Pierre – this photo was taken from Hasta La Vista.

Pointe á Pitre

From Martinique, we sailed past Dominica, anchored at Iles des Saintes for the night, then onto Pointe á Pitre, Guadeloupe, the next day. Guadeloupe has a population of 330,000 and is part of France. It is partly agricultural, with the emphasis on sugar cane, and the local “rhum” is highly valued in France. Tourism is also important.

Guadeloupe is composed of two islands “Basse Terre” and “Grande Terre” which are linked together by the Rivière Salée. The shape of the islands gives Guadeloupe the shape of a lopsided butterfly. Yachts of up to 6.5 foot draft can navigate between the two islands on the Rivière Salée.

We hadn’t visited the island previously so decided to anchor off the marina, Marina Bas-du-Fort in Pointe á Pitre, Guadeloupe’s largest and most important city. The marina is home to a number of charter boat companies and is a town in itself, with numerous restaurants ranging from take-aways to up-market French restaurants, supermarkets, boutiques, hairdressers, bars, yacht brokers, chandleries etc. There is a large supermarket/shopping centre in close proximity. We were anchored for a couple of days outside of the marina and enjoyed the restaurants, stocked up on groceries and explored the local area.

Sailing east and around the leeward side of Basse Terre to head north to Antigua would cover a distance of 50 nautical miles. The Rivière Salée is not so much a river as a saltwater mangrove channel. For the most part, Rivière Salée is 9 to 16 feet deep. The minimum (low tide) depth in the channel is 6.9 feet. Hasta La Vista has a beam of 24 foot and a draft of 4 feet and would be just able to navigate the river. There are two opening bridges. (Technically three – one opening is two bridges close together – a pedestrian bridge and a road bridge that open at the same time. Currents can be fairly strong in the river and manoeuvring, while waiting for a bridge, can be a little tricky. Navigating Rivière Salée vastly shortens the sail to Antigua, but bridge times are restrictive, so this route, as we have been told, is best approached as adventurous, rather than just a short cut. We decided that we would take this route as it would shorten our trip to Antigua by 50 nautical miles.

The first bridge opening time is at 5am. We rose at 4am, pulled up anchor and motored slowly towards the first bridge arriving in close proximity to the bridge at approximately 4.30am. We had been told that, if the bridge attendants didn’t see any boats waiting, they would not raise the bridge, and return back home to bed. Our eyes searched the bridge looking for the “controller”. He arrived at 5am; the bridge was raised, and under we went. We motored along to wait for the raising of the second and third bridges. The same “controller” raised all the bridges, so we watched as he made his way to the next control box on his bicycle. After a little while, the next road bridge and foot bridge were raised and we motored under. Mal concentrated on holding Hasta La Vista in the middle of the river, as we were just able to squeeze between the bridge supports. We had read that the tide could be quite strong and could easily force us against the bridge supports. Our fenders were out in readiness. As we were motoring under the last bridge, our starboard brushed the right bridge support but our fenders protected the boat. All looked good, and both Mal and I gave a sigh of relief. I was at the bow on the starboard side guiding Mal through, when suddenly, just as we passed under the third bridge, I saw a bank and mangroves directly in front of us. I yelled out to Mal. Mal saw the bank at the same time and realised that the final bridge was located on a sharp left turn of the river. It was dark and we had confused the red and green markers as they were the reverse of our system in Australia. Mal quickly put Hasta La Vista in reverse and we were able to navigate the sharp turn, making our way out through the narrow deep channel that led to deeper waters.

We had previously spent many weeks in Antigua. It is one of our favourite islands. Having arrived on 24 November, some three weeks prior to my son, Lawries’ arrival, we anchored in English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour, and sat back and relaxed.
It was wonderful to see my son, Lawrie, again. It had been three years since he last visited me in Australia and had met Mal for the first time. Lawrie lives in London and leads a very busy “London life”. He grew up in Mackay and the Whitsundays so was looking forward to his time in the sun and sailing with Mal and I.
We explored English, Falmouth and Jolly Harbours and spent a day in Dickenson Bay, then sailed to St Bart’s, an island that we had visited previously, then St Martin, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands, from where Lawrie would fly back to Antigua to catch his return flight to London on 11 January 2010.

St Barts
It was our first visit to St Barts, the “Riviera of the Caribbean”. St Barthelemy (St Barts) is a part of France, although a free port. With its sharply contoured rocky hills, a picturesque port and beautiful beaches, it has become a world famous chic destination. Gustavia, the capital, is small and quaint and it feels like you are in a French Village as you wander through it. Quaint boutiques and exclusive trendy national chains line the streets along with sidewalk cafes and restaurants. Because of this, it is also known as the “Paris of the Caribbean”. We were anchored off Gustavia for a couple of days, explored the town and enjoyed watching the harbour’s coming and goings. Lawrie discovered a beach not far from Gustavia and had a day swimming and relaxing in the sun.

Sint Maarten/St Martin
In Sint Maarten/St Martin, we met up with our Aussie sailing friends whom we had met in Granada, Nicholas and Lynn, from the Gold Coast, on their mono “Girl”. Anchored in the Lagoon on the French side over Christmas, the five of us had some great times including Christmas dinner at Jimbo’s, a bar and restaurant that has been cleverly designed to create a delightful open garden atmosphere and is arranged around a small pool and waterfall.
Christmas Dinner, St Martin, with Nicholas, Lynn (our Aussie sailing friends from the Gold Coast), Kerry, Lawrie and Mal.
Lawrie spent many days lazing on the beautiful beaches of St Martin. Here he is on the beach at Simpson Bay.

Did you ever see the advertisement on travel shown in Australia a couple of years ago, where there was a man standing on a beautiful beach with blue water in the background talking about how cheap his family holiday was? Then all of a sudden, this 747 came down just above his head into an airport close by. The man was then sandblasted by the jet stream blowing the sand everywhere. Well, that beach is a beach in St Martin. It is a narrow beach which lines the edge of the Sint Maarten/St Martin airport. There is a bar on the beach which is famous as tourists frequent this bar waiting for the planes to land and take off and to experience the blast of the jet stream. Tourists climb the fence, against all warnings, waiting, in particular, for the jets to take off so that they have the experience of flying horizontally while holding onto the fence.

Nicholas, Lynn, Lawrie, Mal and I had a fun afternoon at the bar watching all of the antics. Lynn and Lawrie held onto the fence and experienced the jet stream from the largest passenger jet flying out that day!

Nicholas and Lynn sailed to the British and US Virgin Islands with us and there, the five of us spent some wonderful times together. Mal and I had previously sailed the Virgin Islands in January 2009, with my parents in April 2009, (details and photos of which have been previously posted on our blog), and now again with Lawrie in January in 2010.
Lawrie, wake boarding, in Virgin Gorda Sound, British Virgin Islands.
Lawrie, Nicholas and Lynn enjoying pina coladas on the beach at the Baths, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.
Lawrie and Kerry on the deck of Hasta La Vista anchored in Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Lawrie, sitting on ruins in Leinster Bay, on the island of St John, US Virgin Islands.

We remained in the US and British Virgin Islands after Lawrie left us on 11 January 2010.

In February, Hasta La Vista was hauled out at Nanny Cay, Tortola, once again, to have her hulls cleaned and anti-fouled. We were on the hard for three days having had the anti-fouling completed in two days, thanks to Nicholas and Lynn who helped us clean and get the first coat on at the end of the first day. A very dark blue anti-foul was chosen this time rather than the lighter blue previously used.

Mal’s daughter, Kathryn, her partner, Jeremy, and baby son, Levi, joined us on 1 March at Charlotte Amalie to spend the month of March with us. Photos of their time with us will be posted in our next entry.