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Lockdown in the US Virgin Islands

We sailed from Antigua making brief stops in Nevis and St Kitts. From there we had a 30 mile beat up to St Barts through heavy seas. When we arrived, the forward head was flooded due to a bad seal on the forward hatch and all paper products were reduced to sludge.

St Barts is French and the port of Gustavia is beautifully maintained with lots of shops and restaurants. But it is the most expensive island we have visited so far (e.g. USD $25 hamburgers). The harbor is large but with so many boats it was difficult to find a place to anchor and we settled for a spot just outside the channel. During the night there was a wind shift and we were awakened early in the morning by the harbor police asking us to move and make room for an approaching barge. We headed a mile up the coast to picturesque Anse du Colombier and enjoyed some peaceful snorkeling and hiking.

We had long anticipated visiting St Maarten for the Heineken Regatta, the largest sailing regatta in the Caribbean with boats participating from all over the world. We arrived early and decided to head over to Anguilla where we found the anchorages limited and expensive. We made a day trip to highly touted Prickly Pear Island in hopes of doing some diving but found only sand and rocks. We headed back to St Maarten where we could watch the racing boats arrive and enjoy great food in a festive atmosphere.

St Maarten has a large lagoon that is accessed via a lifting bridge and a 56-foot-wide channel. The bridge has scheduled openings and we enjoyed many happy hours at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club watching the “parade of boats” entering and leaving the lagoon. A lot of the racing crews donned costumes and hammed it up for the spectators. Just two months earlier a super yacht took out the bridge operator’s shed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFqBEs7UQAg

We very much enjoyed St Maarten and its well-stocked chandleries. We hooked up with friends on Viridian and Greg, a racing enthusiast, knew may of the boats and crews and educated us on who to watch and what to look for. We took our dinghy out to the starting line of the first race and watched the near collisions as boats jockeyed for position. At the end of each race day everyone headed for the regatta village for food, entertainment, and drinks.

I was BBQ’ing on the back of the boat one night with the flood light on when a school of tarpon showed up. Their eyes glowed orange in the light and appeared a bit frightening until I realized what they were.

We left St Maarten well vaccinated against COVID-19 with countless rum drinks. Our first stop in the British Virgin Islands was Virgin Gorda and we headed to the north end of the island which is noted for its bars, restaurants, and water sports. It was quit sobering to see the lasting effects of hurricane Irma that struck a direct hit in 2017. There was only one restaurant and one bar open and it was unclear if any of the other business would rebuild. We got an unexpected surprise one evening when hundreds of flamingos passed in front of a full moon and landed in the adjacent lagoon.

The BVIs provided a pleasant cruising ground with islands clustered close together. We often sailed between anchorages with only the jib to stretch out our passages and stay relaxed. We enjoyed snorkeling and did a scuba dive on the shipwreck Rhone.  We particularly liked The Bight on Norman Island with its secure anchorage and two functioning restaurants; a nice one for our 49th wedding anniversary dinner and a raucous Willy T’s for a good time. We spent our last night in the BVIs at Willy-T’s in the company of the Yachting Week participants who are real party people with dancing on the bar, body shots, and ….  We felt this would be a good time to start our quarantine period.

We checked out of the BVIs as the harbor was closing for COVID-19 and moved the 6 miles to the US Virgin Islands. We had called ahead to make sure that we would be allowed to check in. We completed the formalities on St John and headed to Francis Bay on the north side of the island where we have been in quarantine ever since. The bay is filled with boats doing the same thing so there is no visiting other than standing off in a dinghy. We are fortunate that we are in a beautiful marine park with good protection. We busy ourselves with boat projects, puzzles, cards, and sunsets.

We have changed our cruising plans and have contracted to have the boat shipped from St Thomas to Vancouver, BC, sometime in April, although timing is somewhat unpredictable with the virus restrictions. We plan to cruise Canada this summer and Alaska next summer.

St Maarten, Heineken Regatta

Diving

 

St Barts, BVI, USVI

Bequia to Antigua

Our stay in Bequia was delightful. It is truly a cruiser’s paradise with a floating bar in the anchorage, fuel delivery to your boat, and great restaurants. We had our boom vang repaired (the only casualty of our Atlantic crossing) and watched the 49ers clinch a spot in the Super Bowl, closing down the bar since we appeared to be the only “gridiron” football fans.

The winds finally dropped to seasonal trade wind levels and we had a wonderful sail to St. Lucia, but much of the beautiful scenery was obscured by rain. We stopped in at charming Margot Bay and checked into the country without realizing that we arrived a few minutes after “closing”; the overtime charges were surprising steep.

We spent a week in Martinique with one night at Sainte Pierre in the shadow of Mt. Pelee volcano that erupted in 1902 killing the 29,000 inhabitants. While in Dominica we went scuba diving in the marine park and watched the 49ers lose to the Chiefs, once again closing down the beach bar.

We stopped in Guadeloupe at the Saints and celebrated Sandie’s birthday with dinner on the beach. Then on to Basse Terre where we put in to the Marina Riviera-Sens and gave Persephone her first proper fresh-water washdown since the Canary Islands. With the boat safely moored in the marina, we rented a car and explored Guadeloupe. We hiked through rain forests to the 350-foot Chutes du Carbet waterfall and swam in Crayfish Falls. We spent a couple of days anchored in the Cousteau Underwater Park at Pigeon Island and enjoyed some snorkeling. One night while sitting in the cockpit at Deshaies, we were treated to a nighttime rainbow courtesy of a full moon; a first for us.

We next sailed to Antigua and Falmouth harbor, the mega-yacht charter capital of the Caribbean with many of the world’s largest yachts. Everything in the harbor was up-scale including the chandleries and sail lofts which we took full advantage of.

We have worked our way up to Jolly Harbor where we have checked out of Antigua in preparation for our morning departure to Nevis and St. Kitts. The weather has been great except that rain squalls seem to pass through every few hours so we are expecting a wet trip.

An interesting note from our Atlantic crossing. Six days out of the Canary Islands we crossed paths in the night with a 4-man/woman rowboat that was part of a trans-Atlantic race. It made our passage seem like a piece of cake.

 

Diving Dominica

Atlantic Crossing

Our departure from the Canary Islands was delayed a week by bad weather. On the plus side, a large concert venue was erected 100 yards from our boat and we enjoyed an evening with Spanish singer Raphael and an afternoon of Christmas entertainment for all the children on the island of Tenerife. The city of Santa Cruz put up their Christmas decorations and there was something happening every day. We continued to plan for our crossing (it is possible to over-plan), dinned out, and did jigsaw puzzles to pass the time. Finally, we set sail on December 20.

Our crossing consisted of 18 days of light winds finishing with 5 days of brisk trade winds with breaking seas. Highlights included whale sightings and, of course, dolphins. Our only failure on the boat was when the boom vang broke one week out, but that was only a minor inconvenience. Christmas and New Years passed with little recognition.

We made landfall on Union Island in the Grenadines on January 12. We learned that there was a large high-pressure area out in the Atlantic that was causing unusually high winds and dangerous sea conditions. This explained why the tradewinds had seemed a little feistier than expected.

We celebrated our arrival at Sparrow’s on the north side of Union Island where we relaxed in lounge chairs on the beach, drank rummy drinks, and ate dinner while watching the sun set.

Our next stop was Tobago Cays where we hoped to revisit some dive sites from 25 years ago. But the Atlantic high was still in full force and we had to seek shelter from 30 knot winds in the lee of Mayreau Island. From there we headed north to Bequia where we anchored this afternoon. Here we plan to have the boom vang repaired and attend to some minor boat projects. The weather is expected to die down and we might be able to get some scuba diving in.

Santa Cruz prior to departure

 

Atlantic Crossing

 

Arrival at Union Island

Road Trip Through Spain & Portugal

With the boat safely moored in the Almerimar Marina, we rented a car and headed off on a two-week road trip through Spain and Portugal. We left on the heels of a heat wave that had swept through Portugal and northern Spain and we dressed accordingly; sandals, shorts, and T-shirts. By the time we were finished there was snow in the mountains and we had purchased winter-wear.

We drove through southern Spain with its vast olive groves that eventually gave way to cotton fields. Our first stop was Granada to see the Alhambra, but evidently we were at high season and tickets were sold out for a month. We even tried buying tickets at midnight when cancelations are posted, but no dice. Next was Seville with its huge gothic cathedral, third largest church in the world, and the Alcazar with its blend of Islamic and Christian architectures.

We drove north through Portugal visiting small coastal towns on our way to Lisbon. We enjoyed seeing endless sandy beaches which are a rarity in the Med. Then on to Santiago (aka Galicia) and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the terminus for the Christian pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James. The cathedral was undergoing restoration and scaffolding and plastic sheeting obscured much of the interior views. But the neighboring Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago was well worth seeing.

The weather turned cold and rainy as we drove along the northern coast of Spain. Again, we focused on the small towns tucked into snug harbors. We especially liked Luarca with its rugged coast and fleet of small fishing boats.

The Palacio Real in Madrid was a magnificent reminder that royalty has its perks. The palace included an extensive display of medieval armor and weapons. Next door stood the rather modern Cathedral de la Almudena with the Altar Santa Maria. In Toledo we visited the impressive Cathedral de Toledo, repository of the Monstrance which was made from the first gold Columbus brought back from the New World.

When we returned to the boat we did a major replenishment of food in preparation for our upcoming Atlantic crossing and then we left Almerimar headed for Gibraltar. The overnight trip was marked by two wonderful events. A pod of pilot whales joined us and swam in front of the boat like dolphins, turning occasionally to look up at us. The second event was in the middle of a moonless night when a pod of a dozen dolphins joined us. Their bodies glowed with bioluminescence giving them a ghostly appearance as they crowded each other to ride our bow wave. The luminescence was so bright it was as if we were shinning a light on them.

We arrived early the next morning in Gibraltar and checked into a marina. We will do a little sightseeing, a bit more provisioning, and then head off for the Canary Islands.

Granada & Seville

 

Portugal

 

Northern Spain

 

Madrid & Toledo

 

 

Back to the Boat

 

Barcelona & the Balearic Islands

We ended up spending five weeks in Barcelona while Sandie made a quick trip back to the States and Brian worked on the boat.  We kept the boat at the Port Forum Marina that was great except that there was a beach club in the marina with outdoor pool and dance floor, and very loud music.

Barcelona is a beautiful city with lots of attractions and tree lined streets with outdoor cafes and tapa restaurants.  We visited several Gaudi structures including Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, and the spectacular Sagrada Familia. We enjoyed the Picasso Museum, the Barcelona Aquarium, the Barcelona Cathedral, and the Parc de la Ciutadella. But most of all we enjoyed everyday life in Barcelona.

We finally pulled ourselves away from the city and headed out to the Balearic Islands with their white sand beaches and crystal-clear water. We started at the northern most island of Menorca and worked our way south through Mallorca and Ibiza. We were fortunate to arrive on “drum night” at Benirras Bay, Ibiza, a hippie retreat where once a month everyone brings out their durms for a concert. We had to keep a constant watch on the weather because the winds could shift 180 degrees during the night leaving us on a lee shore in the morning. We primarily anchored out except for a few days in Palma for sightseeing and re-stocking supplies.

Our trip back to the mainland was uneventful and then we day-hopped southwestward along the southern Spanish coast. We arrived in Cartagena during a weekend festival. There was a foot race for adults and arcades for the children. It seemed that every family in Cartagena turned out for the event. We enjoyed an outdoor dinner while watching the locals; everyone seemed to know everyone. What a great sense of community.

We eventually arrived in Almerimar where the boat is safely moored in a marina while we tour Spain and Portugal in a rented car.  More on that in a future post.

Barcelona

 

Gaudi Architecture

 

Picasso Museum

 

Balearic Islands

 

 

French Riviera

We left Genoa headed for the French Riviera, but first we had a couple of stops to make. San Remo used to be a major playground and gambling site for the rich before the meteoric rise in popularity of Monaco only 15 miles to the west. It still has a lot of charm and is still popular with tourists.

The monarchy of Monaco is only 2.2 square kilometers but is home to the highest density of millionaire/billionaires in the world. The city-state was in near financial ruin before the monarch established the Monte-Carlo Casino and soon afterward he abolished income tax with the stipulation that residents could not gamble; a rule still in force today. We toured the city along the route of the Monaco Grand Prix, visited the Monte-Carlo casino, saw the residence of Grace Kelly, and dinned in the harbor amidst beautiful mega-yachts. We enjoyed a drink in the plaza by the casino watching a constant stream of the most exotic cars pass by. Monaco certainly has a magical feeling.

As we entered the French Riviera there was a high wind advisory so we took shelter in Rade de Villefranche, a large bay just east of Nice. Everyone else had the same idea and the bay was packed, including mega-yachts and a very large cruise ship. The first weather front passed in the afternoon and many of the boats dragged and there were fouled anchors and boat collisions throughout the bay. Even the cruise ship dragged. The second front passed during the middle of the night and was worse. Several boats had to jettison their anchors and motor around the crowded bay in the dark with blinding rain. Even we dragged about 100 yards before the anchor re-set. No one slept that night.

Our next stop was Juan Les Pins next to Cannes. We had been unable to refill our propane tanks in Italy and were glad to find that here we could rent tanks with the same connection as the adapter I had made in Tunisia. Then I had to decant from the rented tank into our tank. It was a pain but worth it.

We spent two days anchored at Saint-Tropez, again in a crowded bay. It’s interesting to watch the charter boats come in and drop anchor with little scope and without backing down on it. It’s nightmarish when they are up-wind of you. The town was quaint and totally crowded with tourists.

We spent some time in the beautiful Iles d’Hyeres off the coast of France. But we were getting tired of crowded anchorages and we started looking for a weather window to cross the Golfe du Lion. Our crossing was one of our easiest with equal parts motoring and sailing on calm seas. We made landfall the next day at Roses, Spain.

We are currently in Barcelona, Spain, where we will keep the boat in a marina while we do inland travel and Sandie makes a quick trip back to the States. Then we will head out to the Balearic Islands off Spain.

Cinque Terre, Paris, and the Alps

We spent two weeks anchored in a protected cove off the charming village of Le Grazie near La Spezia. Much of our time was spent doing boat projects and preparing for our guest Mike and Jan who arrived on the 4th of July. La Grazie is largely unspoiled by foreign tourists, catering mainly to local Italians, and we fell in love with it.

We headed north with our guests along the picturesque Cinque Terre coast with its terraced gardens and small villages that until recently could only be reached by foot or by boat. Our first stop was Monterosso al Mare where the town was holding its festival for “old timers”; we felt right at home. It was a wonderful evening with good food, entertainment, and a comfortable anchorage. But that was soon to change.

Our next stop was at the crowded anchorage in north Sestri Levante. A swell had been building that wrapped around the headland making for a rolly anchorage. We decided to tough it out and spend the night. During the night the wind died and the boat settled into the trough of the waves and we and our guest were nearly thrown from our berths. We left at first light and headed for Rapallo and the Italian Riviera.

The marina at Rapallo was destroyed in a storm last year and is currently being rebuilt so we anchored behind the breakwater at Santa Margharita. We stayed there three nights enjoying the local restaurants, the sights, and a rainy day of bridge. We took the dinghy and had lunch in the renowned village of Portofino that had been isolated for six months when its only road was destroyed in last year’s storm.

Our cruise ended in Genoa with the boat moored in a marina at the heart of the old city. We walked the streets lined with lavish homes from a bygone era and dinned at an authentic Italian restaurant where we were the only tourists and the menus were only in Italian. We were sad the next day when Mike and Jan departed for Spain. We always enjoy their company.

We decided that since the boat was in a safe marina, we should take the opportunity to fly to Paris where we have never been. We arrived the day before Bastille Day and the city was alive with preparations. We walked to the Eiffel Tower where an orchestra and opera singer were rehearsing for the next day’s performance and ascended the Tower as the late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the city.

On Sunday we headed for the Champs-Elysees to watch the Bastille Day Parade, passing through three security checkpoints and being thoroughly searched. The parade included everything in the French military arsenal, including flybys by what seemed like the entire French air force. From there we walked the 2+ miles to the Louvre since most of the streets were closed to traffic for security reasons. The best part of Bastille Day was sitting in the park by the Eiffel Tower listening to opera followed by a very grand display of fireworks. Fortunately, our hotel was within walking distance since the streets were still closed off.

Our last night in Paris we went to the Pigalle (red light district) for dinner and to see Moulin Rouge which was great fun.

During our flight over the Alps we were awed by their beauty. So, we returned to the boat, re-packed our bags with warmer clothes, rented a car and headed north. We drove along Lake Como with its celebrity estates and on into the Alps. We spent a night in Vaduz in the principality of Liechtenstein where our room looked out on the Alps. As we drove into Switzerland and Zurich we left the Alps and the scenery became boring. So, with the help of Google, we headed for the alpine village of Kandersteg where we explored Lake Oeschinensee, the alpine meadow at Klettersteig/Via Ferrata, and once again enjoyed amazing views from our hotel room. This may be our favorite place on earth!

The road ends in Kandersteg and it is necessary to put the car on a train that takes us through the mountain and disembarks at Ferden. From there we continue south and eventually out of the Alps.

We are back at the boat in Genoa preparing to continue west through Italy and into France.

Cinque Terre & the Italian Riviera

 

Paris

 

Bastille Day

 

Drive Through the Alps

 

Kandersteg, Switzerland