SAILING IN THE LEEWARD ISLANDS
By Joe McGauran
On a cold, snowy Saturday afternoon, Joe Fox picked me up at home and we were off to Talbot’s to pick up Sandi. We met Mark and Mary Jo at their house where things were in utter chaos. Mark took time to fix us all an omelet. Mark’s Mother and Stepfather had driven from North Carolina to watch Alex and Spencer while they were gone. Mark’s brother Greg drove us to O’Hare. We checked our luggage and were told that the bags were to go all the way to Antigua. We quickly grabbed the things that we would need to spend the night in Tampa and off we went. Naturally the plane was delayed and we got into Tampa late. By the time we got to the hotel, it was after one A.M. We all jumped out of a sound sleep when the alarm screeched at 4 A.M. Off to the airport for coffee and another plane for San Juan. Following a short layover, we took off for Antigua. After clearing immigration, we went to get our bags. After the bags were recovered, Mark and I were bag-less. We filled out lost-bag forms and found a cab. Then we couldn’t find Joe Fox. In a minute, out he came with some cold beer. That was the best beer I ever had. When we arrived at English Harbor, it was hot and sunny. Our boat was ready and stocked with ice, beer and rum. I went to the local market and bought a pair of flowered shorts and a tee shirt as all I had were long pants and a long sleeve shirt. After we checked out the boat, a 43’ Jeanneau with three cabins and three heads, everyone decided on a cabin. We then headed for a outdoor restaurant in English Harbor and dined under the stars.
The next morning Mark’s bag showed up but not mine. Joe, Mark and I went to the chart briefing and told our instructor, Sylvan, where we wanted to go. He told us that if we were going to cover that much ocean we would have to sail over night. Based on our experience he gave us permission. We did the boat check out. One of the new gadgets on the boat was a counter to let us know how much fresh water we had used. We then walked over to Falmouth harbor to gaze at some of the biggest yachts in the world. We were able to walk to Maltese Falcon, a new square rigged boat 278’ long. Also moored nearby was the worlds largest power yacht (according to the cab driver).
We got back and headed out to Jolly Harbor on the west side of Antigua. We anchored off the harbor and swam. The water was cloudy but warm. We then went ashore and had dinner at the Dogwatch Inn. Sandi had quite a surprise when the sandwich she order had jalapeno peppers. She thought they were green peppers. The next day we provisioned at the largest grocery store we had found in the islands. We got what we needed but forgot the ice. Joe & I took Mark to immigration to check us out and we went for ice. While there we bought ice cream bars. They were great but had to be eaten quickly as they melted fast in the hot sun. We paid a $100.00 departure tax and headed to Barbuda. After a great 25 mile sail we arrived at our anchorage on the south side of Barbuda. During the sail Mark caught a 15" Bonita tuna and he let him go. But much excitement. After a swim and shower on the dive platform, we tried to light the charcoal. We had Matchlight charcoal and we couldn’t get it going. We even used some of our rum. Finally we tried another bag and, viola’ we had fire. Mark & Mary Jo cooked pork loin & rice that was delicious. That night the stars were magnificent and soon a nearly full moon rose. After a breakfast of French toast, we went snorkeling. The water was warm and clear but not much to see except a few shells. We then swam shore and walked on the pinkish sand beach.
We then headed north for the east side of Antigua to a place called Nonsuch Bay. After a tough power as the wind was on the nose and blowing over 20 knots, we arrived in a calm bay. During our trip Sunsail had called and told me the airline had found my bag and would bring it to a restaurant in Nonsuch Bay. Mark was fishing and a large fish took his hook and lure. After we set the anchor, Mark and I dinghied ashore. No bag. The restaurant was a beautiful spot with a swimming pool. We stayed for a drink or two and while there the bag arrived. Much happiness. Back to the boat to swim and put on fresh clothes. That night we had pasta and meat balls then early to bed. The next day we went ashore to visit a resort and art gallery named Harmony Hall. The resort was on a hill overlooking Nonsuch Bay and the views were spectacular. Flowers galore and Humming Birds buzzing in and out of the flowers. We had coffee and juice on the verandah and felt like we were in another world. We then motored a short distance to Green Island where we snorkeled. The fish were varied and plentiful but the coral didn’t have much color. We then had an early dinner of chicken breasts, yellow peppers, garlic and onion. Tasted great. Mark is such a good cook. As the sun set we headed south to Guadeloupe. We had a gorgeous night sail with a ¾ moon and warm winds.
That morning we arrived in Basse Terre, a small city on the Southwest corner of Guadeloupe. Mark and I went ashore to visit immigration and get rid of our garbage. We were going to get fresh water at the marina but decided against it as it was tight quarters in the marina. It was the first time we had run into a language problem; They all speak French. We went back to the boat and I stayed on the boat and had a nap while the rest of the crew went ashore to get provisions and always the precious ice.
We then headed for the Saints, a small group of islands south of Guadeloupe. The winds were really kicking up and we motored two hours to get to Bourg des Saints, a small, picturesque village with a protected anchorage. Sandi and I dinghied ashore to buy groceries and ice. It was very hot ashore as there was no breeze. No English was spoken and the locals would not accept the American dollar. We put the groceries on a credit card and found an ATM machine and got some Euros. After a swim and a transom shower, cocktail time was again upon us. We then went ashore for a fish dinner cooked in the French manner. It was a memorable dinner and that night we slept like that babes as we had little sleep the night before. In the morning Mary Jo & Sandi cooked French toast with French bread, very apropos. Mark, Joe & I went to the Yacht Club to check on fresh water for the boat. There was a garden hose that ran under water to a buoy. You called the yacht club on the VHF and they turned the water on for 20 Euros (about $27) for all the water you could use. We then took Mark & Mary Jo to town and Joe, Sandi and I went snorkeling at a near by anchorage. The water was crystal clear and warm. The fish were abundant and varied with lots of colorful coral. We decided this was the best ever. We joined Mark & Mary Jo in town and bought fishing lures and ice cream. At the ice cream store we met a man from Chicago who had done 15 Chicago to Mackinaw Races and was now cruising. We then took a swim to cool off and that evening went to town for pizza. The pizza place was closed so we looked elsewhere for dinner. We found a French restaurant and it was hot and the food was wasn’t too good and it was expensive. The next morning, after making coffee, I went ashore to the bakery. When I got there they were taking croissants out of the oven. They were still hot when I got them back to the boat.
We then departed the Saints and headed north for the Sunsail base in Guadeloupe. It was a great sail and as we neared Guadeloupe we had rain showers. It was nice to get the boat washed with fresh water. Upon arrival, we put Mark in the dinghy to reconnoiter. He came back and we backed into the Sunsail docks and filled with fresh water. It was hot with no breeze so Joe, Sandi and I went back to the river and went for a refreshing swim. There were showers (no hot water) at the Sunsail base so I stood under the shower to my heart’s content as I did not have to worry about the precious boat water. That evening we went to a pizza place Sunsail had directed us to. It was closed. So a little further down the road was a Pizza King. Everything was in French but we got what we wanted, almost. The next morning Mark checked us out of Guadeloupe and Joe, Sandi and I went to the market to get provisions for our trip back to Antigua. We hired a driver to take us for a tour of Basse Terre, the larger of the two halves of Guadeloupe. Our drive out was amazing. We went through Point a Pitre, a very big city. We were on a 6 lane freeway with lots of congestion. As we drove into the more rural area there were large fields of sugar cane and pineapples. We then drove into the rain forest. The driver dropped us off at the top of a muddy hill and we began the climb down. The trail was all clay and very slippery. Mark & Mary Jo removed their shoes. The trail was like a ski hill only hot. By the time we got the bottom, our legs were covered with clay. The bottom had a waterfall and a fresh water pond. We washed off the mud and went for a swim. The area was so beautiful it was worth the trip down. The trip back up was easy in comparison. Our driver then took us to a seaside restaurant on a black sand beach. Nearby was Pigeon Island which is a Cousteau Underwater Park. We had no Euros and the restaurant would not take credit cards so we, with the help of our driver, finally talked them into taking dollars. We drove back through the rain forest and it was raining. Our driver said it rained every day. When we got back we all had long showers and cleaned our shoes. That evening Mark & Mary Jo went out for dinner and Sandi and I brought pizza back to the boat and Joe, Sandi and I ate under the stars.
The next morning I got Mark & Joe up at 3:30 A.M. as we had to be at the bridge at 5. The bridge on the Rivere Salee opened promptly and the south bound boats came through first. The bridge was so narrow, it didn’t appear we would fit. However a catamaran went through before us so we knew we could make it. We reached the next bridge at 5:30 and again it opened promptly. The trip through the river was uneventful with a moon and the dawn beginning to appear. By the time we reached the ocean it was daylight and we set sail for Antigua. We had a reach all the way doing 7 knots. We caught another Bonita Tuna but again set him free We arrived at English Harbor and went to the fuel dock. Sylvan came to the boat and filled the boat with fuel and then backed the boat to the dock. Joe, Sandi and I went snorkeling at the mouth of English Harbor where we saw our first Barracuda of this trip. We beached the dinghy on a secluded beach and lounging in the sun was a beautiful young lady topless with a thong bikini bottom. Quite a sight. Joe and I then walked up to Fort Berkeley to see all of English Harbor. That night we ate at a nearby restaurant and then went to Falmouth Harbor for ice cream and a walk on the dock. A crew from Maltese Falcon was auctioning off donations to raise money for a crew member that had seriously injured himself. Over 100 people were bidding.
The next morning my alarm went off at 6:30 and we packed and cleaned the boat. Mark went to check us into Antigua with immigration and naturally they were late. We found the fastest taxi driver on the island and made the check-in at the airport with only minutes to spare.
It was a great trip and I would recommend it for anyone with sailing experience.