March 3 - March 24, 2008: Antigua
March 3 - we arrived in Antigua's Falmouth Harbor Marina around 1500 after a rather interesting travel day. It really started the afternoon before. We cleared out of Guadeloupe in the morning. Though it was Sunday, this was possible by sending a fax with all our boat and personal information from the marina office to another customs office that seems to be working even on weekends. We assume it is located near the Cruiseship Terminal or the Roll-on-Roll-off Pier. The additional cost: Euro 2 for the fax. No big deal. Around 1600, we slowly removed all the docking lines and inched outselves closer to the mooring ball where two of our lines were secured, one with the "European mooring hook", the other just fed through the mooring ball's "eye". It all went easier and faster than we had feared. Thank God the wind was not blowing too hard that moment. We drover over to the Diesel dock where we could purchase Diesel duty free by showing our clearing-our papers, affording us savings of about 30% we think. Then we drove up river towards where we had seen the two moorings a few days ago. Of course, it started to rain - what else? We approached the mooring - saw only one (we found the other one later, drifted off into the mangroves). We also saw our depth meter drop precipitously and too low for our comfort. Back into the channel and closer to the bridge. In the end, we anchored just near the last red buoy before the bridge. A bunch of motor boats which do not require a bridge opening sped past us ridiculously. As the evening progressed and the sun had gone down, this traffic subsided, and we had a decently quiet night.
Of course, we were somewhat nervous about this channel which is not very deep overall and feeds under three bridges, two right where we were anchored and another about 20 minutes later. We did not sleep much, got up shortly before 0430 and were ready, engine running, running lights on. A catamaran must have joined our anchorage in the evening when we had escaped the gnats or mosquitoes and went down below. It, too, got ready for the trip. We let them go first hoping that this would aid our vision. It was pitch dark. Finally, around 0510, the bridge began to open and one sailboat came from up North. they must have anchored North of the third bridge and taken that opening at 0430 (the third bridge has two openings, one at 0430, the other at 0530, while the first two (for us) in Pointe a Pitre only have this one opening at 0500. The catamaran went through rather fast though it was quite narrow and visibility difficult at best. Once through these two bridges one had to make a very sharp turn to starboard to avoid an island with rather unpleasant looking shacks. There were not many buoys in the channel. Once, Juergen almost ended up in the mangroves. Thank God, he avoided it and shortly thereafter, we reached the last bridge where the catamaran was waiting for the opening. We drove through very slowly and then started looking for the moorings that, according to the chart, were supposed to be there. None was found. Still, we decided that the water was deep enough in a small bay, and dropped the hook. We rested for another hour or so before taking our shower, having breakfast and resuming our voyage up the Riviere Salee. I don't know whether I mentioned this before, but it really is not a river, rather a cut between the two islands of Guadeloupe (Terre Basse, the Western island, and Grande Terre, or Terre Haute, the Eastern island).
We were glad that we had taken a lot more waypoints for our navigation than we normally do. The water was extremely shallow right next to the channel. We had seen that and feared to be pushed off by the current. Therefore, the many waypoints. For those of you who are not familiar with navigation, one picks certain points on the chart on the way one wants to go, takes their coordinates (longitude and lattitude) and inputs those into the route on the GPS. As you move along, you go from waypoint to waypoint, just as input into the GPS. Thus, the sequence can be arbitrary in numbers, of course not in terms of the way one needs to go. It worked perfectly. Still, we were very happy that after breakfast, we could see where we were going and could make out sme of the buoys that were quite a distance away. We zigzagged our way out of the mangrove and shallow areas for about 10 nm before we finally reached deep water. From there to the next waypoint, we could go 38.8 nm, not the .25 or .5 or .75 nm from weighpoint to waypoint before. - What relief!!!
When we entered Falmouth Harbor, we were almost shocked by the size of both motor and sailing yachts tied up at the Antigua Yacht Club which is right next to Falmouth Harbor Marina where we had made a reservation based on a recommendation from other sailors (Judy and Bill) who found this marina better if one wanted to leave one's boat unattended for a while. We agree by now. Our boat looks tiny and out of place in the company of all the other boats which are busy with crews of 2 to about 10 or so, at least as far as we could make out. In addition, the crews hire locals for polishing, cleaning, technical work. Amazing. And here we are docked, stern-to, with our anchor out but also a line tied to a mooring ball to avoid too much "sailing around" in the rather strong winds (at times). Since yesterday, we have a Benneteau, a Belgian-flagged boat, as our neighbor and don't feel quite so out of place any more.
After checking in at the marina, Juergen went to customs to clear in - a rather lengthy process but eventually, he was finished. I took the liberty of walking around the Nelson Dockyard (though I was officially not permitted to) and enjoyed the beautiful, still operating dockyard which dates back to Admiral Nelson's times. You should look at the pictures to appreciate how beautiful it all is. We have purchased a few small items, spent some time in the internet cafe (though we purchased WIFI service for one month and it is supposed to be available in our marina, "April Fool" a huge motor yacht, is blocking us. Thus no reception. In the future, I will only purchase WIFI service when I know I have a good signal... famous last words...
In the meantime, it would have been Christa's birthday on March 4, dampening our generally good mood, wishing she was still with us, talking about how much she would have loved being here with us, seeing this or the other beautiful places. The next day (March 5), it was Bert's birthday. He had just come home from back surgery and was still somewhat under the weather. No wonder after so many screws and rods having been inserted into his vertebrae...
March 6 - today, Juergen had to go back to Immigration because we will fly home to New York tomorrow and will not have a return ticket when we return. In order for us to be granted entrance to Antigua again, we needed to follow certain procedures and will have to take some special papers along to show to the Immigration officials when we return. The process was quick and painless. I, meanwhile, tried to print our boarding passes - not possible given the international flight from Antigua to St. Juan, Puerto Rico, checked our emails - some sad news from our friend Margret. Her dad passed away. If I remember correctly, he would have turned 90 on my (his) birthday in July. Well, he had been in a nursing home and had gotten quite frail. Still, it is sad to have a loved one gone... no matter what the circumstances. I also tried to upload the last few pictures of Guadeloupe. For some reason, the internet connection seemed to be disrupted intermittently. Uploading under such circumstances is almost impossible, and I gave up after a while.
We did laundry again today (this way, all is ready to wear when we get back) and plugged in our 110V cable. Otherwise, we would have had to turn off the fridge and freezer, but we have too many valuable supplies in there to let them rot away - or to throw them away prior to our departure. We will have to finish packing our carry-on suitcases - not much to pack, still, we need to remember to bring cables for our cameras and computers, etc., etc.
We will be busy with a bunch of things, including the preparation of our 2007 taxes. We also hope to see family and friends. Alexander will come visit on Monday (for lunch or dinner - he has not let us know yet), Peter and Megan on Sunday (for pancake breakfast); of course, we will visit with Luise and Sid, will see Claudia and Ruben, the Marcuccis (Jean and Bert) and, possibly, even the Costantinos. But we purposely have not really planned any social events because we really have to accomplish a lot in the days we will be gone.
March 7 - we waited in vain for the taxi that Juergen had arranged to take us to the airport at 0700. Thank God, another cab happened to come by the marina while we were standing, waiting. He took us, and we had ample time after check in to have a leisurely breakfast and then "hit the internet" to load up the last few pictures of Guadeloupe I had difficulty uploading.
We had a long layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico and decided to check our luggage in a storage room so that we could go into town without the burden of carrying / watching for it. We went into Old San Juan, a really beautiful little town full of character, history, life. Lots of construction was going on, lots of reparation / restoration of old buildings. There is Moro Castle dating back a few centuries - with lots of beautifully landscaped lawns etc. around. We had lunch at the Convent Hotel, located right across from the Convento, a beautiful little church in perfect shape. We enjoyed the food though the service was clearly more laid back than we had seen even in the other Caribbean islands, the sites, the people to the limited extent we met any. We took lots of pictures - check them out in our gallery - and felt much better about the long layover and the upcoming long flight to New York.Chucky picked us up on time - to rain but acceptable temperatures. At home, we were greeted like old friends, unpacked and went to bed. We would tackle the mail, the taxes, and all the other things for which we came, the following day.
The week only flew by. We say Luise, Sid, Peter, Megan, Claudia, Ruben, Jean and Bert, Alexander, Christine. We talked on the phone to the family in Germany, tried to reach some friends in Germany, spoke to family in the US - never long enough, never to really catch up. For that, one will need to be back home again... We prepared lots of things for the trade show in May where I will exhibit for the first time. The days were long, generally beginning between 0600 and 0700, ending never before 2300, often much much later.
Today, March 16, we are already sitting at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, waiting for our connection to Puerto Rico from where we will then connect to Antigua - scheduled arrival at that airport 2300. We both cannot wait to get back to the boat, (a) to see whether Impromptu is ok (we will need to flush the water maker today for quite some time, no matter when we will arrive) and (b) because we both could use some relaxing time in the shade at about 84 degrees Fahrenheit, rum drink in hand..
March 17 - we are back on Impromptu and very happy about it. Yesterday was pretty miserable given the layovers and the unpleasant and overcrowded environment we were facing everywhere (lots of overbookings, thank God we were not affected). We arrived at the marina around midnight and after bringing all our luggage aboard - a little complicated as it was low tide and our set up to get aboard is not perfect, certainly not because Juergen had made it such for our absence. He quickly fixed it though and all went well - we unpacked and fell into bed right thereafter. We had initially intended to leave the marina today but after we slept quite long and had a very leisurely breakfast we decided to postpone our departure for tomorrow. We have gotten a few neighbors, a Hallberg-Rassy 53 whose owner claims that we have met in Les Saintes (we do not recall having met him) and another larger boat (we don't know the type). The HR sailor will have to take off his mooring line as we cannot depart otherwise. He promised to be there tomorrow morning around 1100. We will see.
Juergen turned on the watermarker last night, not to make water but to flush the system - it seemed to work at least as far as we could tell so far. We will find out tomorrow as we will need to / want to make water. We are planning to just go to the bay "next door", English Harbor, to anchor. From there we will take a bus trip up North to St. John which is supposed to be quite beautiful, and there is duty free clothes shopping which is supposed to be really good. The day or so thereafter, we either will rent a car or have a taxidriver give us an island tour. Whether or not we will make it to Barbuda (my hope) is not clear as we also want to get going to Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts, St. Martin and then the BVIs mid April. This all sounds so far away but since we always like to spend time on each island to get to know it a little, it really is not overwhelmingly much time. By the end of April / early May, we will head up North towards Bermuda... you know the rest. Please keep your fingers crossed that the weather will be fine and acceptable even to my stomach.
March 23 - Easter Sunday. Happy Easter!!! - We hope to depart from Antigua (though we like being here) to go to Montserrat tomorrow. It seems that the Northerly swells which kept us here longer than initially planned subsided. Thus, anchoring in Montserrat should be ok even if not perfect (the anchorages are "rolly" and "untenable" in Northerly swells according to our guidebooks and other sailors who have already visited this island.
We have visited St. John, the capital of Antigua - and were not really impressed. At least I managed to find two bathing suits and Juergen a bathing trunk, some vegetables and fruit from the local produce market. We went by bus at a whopping EC$ (Eastern Caribbean Dollar) 3.50. At a fixed exchange rate of EC$ 2.70 to US$1, an affordable means of transportation even for the locals, and they are using the buses a lot. We also walked up hill to Fort Berkeley which we are looking at right from our anchorage in English Harbor. It was an easier walk than exptected, and we had a beautiful view all the way to Montserrat. It was too hazy to see Guadeloupe. Hopefully, we will be luckier when underway tomorrow. We also walked up the hill in the direction of a beautiful beach (nude bathing permitted) with a great view over Falmouth Harbor. Juergen did not feel like going this far after he already worked in the water, scraping our bottom for two hours. I fully understood and so we turned around before the actual hilly part of the path needed to be tackled. For that matter, we will take a walk with Wolfgang, another German sailor whose boat is right near us, all the way up to Sherley Hights from where we are supposed to have that beautiful view - with a drink in our hands. I think, Juergen considers this a lot more palatable.... Wolfgang is from Dortmund, works for Ford and took a sabattical. His job starts on August 1 again. He still will have to go all the way back to Germany, via the Azores... I don't envy him.
Yesterday, Saturday, we took the dinghy across the harbor, together with Wolfgang, to walk uup to Shirley Heights. Though we took the supposedly easier way up, it was quite a stony climb through a dried riverbed. Huge bolders often made the climb hard, but we all did well, had a lot of fun. We found part of an animal jaw - could not quite make out what kind of animal it had belonged to, possibly a goat? There are lots around as you can see in our pictures. We also saw a sweet water crab making its way up hill. Unfortunately, it was too dark for my camera to capture it without a flash. Once atop the mountain, we were rewarded with unbelievable views all around. We also could see Montserrat in the haze. Due to the volcano constantly "steaming", Montserrat is always in a cloud cover and, therefore, difficult to see. Still, it gave me a great feeling to know of the island's demise, to know that we would go there soon. The anticipation has grown even more than it had been before. The small island of Redondo, part of Antigua/Barbuda, but feuding over this "kingdom" which really never was one. There are a few individuals, however, who seem to call themselves "king" and want to reign the island in that manner. Weird... There was a private party at the restaurant, the Cruising Club of America celebrated whatever. We got to talk to some of the people and are happy to have met them. Now, we are considering joining - at least to look into the conditions to join. We will see. We exchanged some cards and hope to stay in touch. There were many people from the East Coast, from Maine to the Chesapeake, some from Texas, others from California, many "just" on a charter boat, only few on their own yachts. But those we spoke to had all done a lot of sailing, including in Europe, knew the Baltic and Sweden well, reviving memories for us. We bought a few drinks while taking pictures, talking, then began the descent via the road this time. It got dark rather quickly. I tried to hitchhike and was lucky. A policeman and his girlfriend/wife from St. John took us along all the way to Nelson's Dockyard where we had dinner, together with Wolfgang.
Tonight, the bar/restaurant atop Shirley Heights will have its usual Sunday jump up. Wolfgang wants to go. We might join but are not certain yet. Well, in the meantime, after spending almost three hours at the Mad Mongoose to have WIFI service with a strong signal, we decided to go othere tonight. They will have a life band playing light Jazz, to be followed by some "wilder stuff" later on. Wolfgang will join us.
We learned from one of the email that Dietmar who we had met in St. Thomas will be in Montserrat tomorrow. So, after trying for months to get back together, it will happen tomorrow. We are looking forward...
While I was at the Mad Mongoose, Juergen found our dinghy floated onto the beach. For some reason, I did not tie it up properly... He was happy as the same had happened to him in the Bahamas last Winter - not to our dinghy but to that of friends of ours. Theirs was rescued by some motor boaters who happened to enter the harbor while the dinghy floated towards them. Lucky us.
We have had a lot of internet issues which we thought had been resolved by the company extending our one month subscription which really barely ever worked - here in English Harbor it worked sort of, but I was already much happier than in Falmouth Harbor where it did not work at all. Unfortunately, they extended it only by a couple of days, and so I am sitting here without any internet access, without being able to check emails or upload files for the printing company in Maine. I still need cards printed in preparation of the trade show in May. Please keep your fingers crossed that I will be successful later on as, if I am not, I will have to find a way to send a DVD by FedEx, not an easy task on Easter Saturday (when all the stores are closed).