Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Homeward Bound


It was still dark-thirty when the alarm clock beeped us awake at 0550.  We had planned an 0700 departure for our sail from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic, and the admiral insisted on perking some proper coffee before weighing anchor, despite the captain’s grumbling at what he deemed an unnecessary luxury. But the admiral considers her coffee to be one of the major food groups, so on went the Starbuck’s.

Our charted course included a transit of the infamous Mona Passage, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. This 80-mile stretch of sea is bordered on the east by Puerto Rico, and on the west by the Dominican Republic. It’s considered to be one of the most difficult passages in the Caribbean, which is why, for days, Ken had been religiously studying the forecasts for a good weather window, and why we’d been lingering on PR’s west coast waiting for favorable conditions.

The topography of the ocean floor in the Mona is the reason for the flukey and challenging conditions. The Puerto Rican trench, lying off PR’s north coast, has a maximum charted depth of 5.3 miles, making it the deepest point in the Atlantic. The deep waters of this trench meet the Mona Passage, which, on the Dominican Republic side, has depths in some places as shallow as 200 feet or less. This abrupt and extreme change in depth can give birth to some very high seas in parts of the passage.  Strong and variable tidal currents run through the passage, along with shoals and sandbars, and the high capes on the DR’s east coast can add sudden wind shears to the mix. The whole area, therefore, is subject to the caprices of oceanic and meteorological whimsy.  (Makes you just want to sign on for a passage, doesn’t it?)

But on the morning of April 27, 2016, the ENE wind was a light 10 knots, the seas were about one foot, and we had an encouraging blue sky. We weighed anchor from Mayaguez, PR, and headed out into the Mona.  We had 80 miles ahead of us to reach the east coast  of the DR, and another 60 from the coast to our destination in Samana Bay.

The day passed in benign conditions, but at 11 pm, our approximate time for change of the watch, Ken woke Katie with the ominous news that we had heavy weather ahead. The radar screen was almost black with squall activity, and flickers of lightning illuminated a towering inky cloud mass in front of us.

We dropped the (already double-reefed) main, put a drop board in the companionway, and Ken took the helm, suited up in his foulies. For the next two and a half hours, Sand Dollar plowed into a white-out of driving rain, with lightning strikes every few seconds providing light but no visibility, and thunder claps adding sound effects to the drama. Thankfully, the sea state remained more or less benign.

By dawn we were entering Samana bay, located on the NE coast of the DR, under clear skies, and we tucked into a berth at Marina Puerto Bahia at 0815.  The beautiful upscale marina was full of welcome amenities, and we took advantage of the  luxurious (to us) conveniences like washing machines, showers, and a mini-market (with ice!). We topped up water, diesel, and gas, scrubbed the decks, and at night listened to the rumble of distant thunder as we lay safe and secure in the comfort of our bunks.

Two days later we joined fellow cruisers Eric and Anne (of S/V Kahuli) for happy hour drinks, and decided to buddy-boat for the 24-hour passage to Luperon on the DR’s north coast.


That trip proved to be quite pleasant,  a combination of sailing and motor-sailing, clear during the day and squall-free after dark, with a star-studded night sky and Kahuli’s lights visible across the water.


Entering the channel to Luperon, we approached the starboard turn into the anchorage, closely following the recommended route through the shallow mangrove-lined channel.  Kahuli was just ahead of us, and Ken noted that she’d suddenly stopped. As we neared the turn, Eric called out that they were aground, just as our depth sounder readings dropped from nine feet to 4.6 feet, and SD bumped to a halt. (We draw 5 feet.)  The tide was near dead low, with the next high tide due many hours later. As we all mulled solutions to our predicament, a local fisherman motored over to assist.  Kahuli popped free when Eric used her dinghy to push her off, but SD, in a shallower spot, was more firmly stuck. (Obviously, the bottom had shifted since our entry guide was written.)

Ken had put out a kedge anchor, and Eric brought Kahuli’s dinghy to SD’s bow. With the dinghy pushing like a tugboat, our fisherman friend pulling with a tow line, Katie winching the kedge anchor, and Ken gunning the engine, our ship was afloat in short order. We all proceeded to the anchorage without further drama, where we picked up a mooring for the bargain price of two dollars a day.

We dinghied ashore the following morning to check in with the assorted officials - Comandante (Navy), Imigracion,  and Aduano (Customs), bleeding money here and there along the way. Strolling through the little town we passed cows tethered beside the main streets, chickens skittering along the sidewalk, and local toddlers, who apparently found us fascinating.  We stopped for a cold beer at the funky outdoor Lazy Ass Bistro, a popular watering hole for ex-patriates, who number quite a few. It reminded us of Key West as we first saw it 40 years ago. A family sitting nearby, who said they’d stopped here five years ago and never got underway again, likened Luperon to the Eagles’ “Hotel California” – “You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave”.

A few days later, jonesing for a pizza, we stopped in at “d’La France Pizza Restaurant”, which proved to have nothing to do with France and very little to do with pizza. The only other occupant of the place was an apparently self-appointed greeter who introduced himself as “Happy Jose”. He did indeed appear quite happy, grinning broadly as he pointed to his camouflage cap emblazoned with the words “God’s Army’.  We ordered a plain cheese pizza and a couple of Cokes, and invited Happy Jose to select a drink from the cooler, our treat. Our pizza arrived fairly quickly, and while it was essentially edible, it bore little resemblance to any prior pizza we’d eaten. We gave up after a slice or two and donated the remainder to Happy Jose, who was delighted with this largesse. He parked himself at a small table with his pizza and Coke and tucked in with enthusiasm, oblivious to the considerable attention he was drawing from a handful of local guys who stood by, grinning good-naturedly.


On a couple of evenings we joined friends from the anchorage at the Marina Puerto Blanco across from the mooring field, for happy hour drinks and final pre-departure dinners. Included in our group were a couple of colorful ex-pat good ole’ boys (one of whom was an Okie from Muskogee) with the nicknames “Southern Breeze”and “Loose Marbles”.

We checked out with the officials on a Friday, citing our departure day as the following evening (Saturday), even though we hoped to sneak out early Sunday morning. With the immigration officer’s non-existent English, and our attempts at Spanish (it’s possible we used some words that don’t exist in either language), we weren’t exactly sure what we’d said to each other, but the official seemed satisfied, so we were good to go.

As luck would have it, Saturday was a dark, miserable day with  heavy rain, and to our immense surprise, the Comandante himself called us on the VHF to say that weather conditions were too dangerous for sailing, and we should delay our departure until Sunday morning. What a country!  Aye, aye, Senor Comandante!

So on Sunday morning, May 8, 2016, we weighed anchor for the last time in a foreign country and pointed SD’s bow westward, setting a course toward America, and home. Our first night out saw us flying wing-and-wing under full main and poled-out headsail, zipping along at 7-plus knots. We sighted a couple of ships on the horizon, including a distant cruise ship, merrily lit up like a carnival in the moonless night.

The morning brought squally conditions and 8-9 foot cresting seas, so Ken double-reefed the main and shortened the jib.  By the next day, Tuesday, things had moderated, and with the east wind blowing 20 knots, the seas had dropped to 5-6 feet and we were sailing under headsail alone, making 5-7 knots.

Wednesday and Thursday saw conditions continue to settle a bit, as we transited the Old Bahama Channel, north of Cuba, and at one point, a tiny little bird appeared in the cockpit. He flew through the cabin and out the forward hatch a few times, in no apparent fear or distress, before eventually taking off again, much to our disappointment. At one point during his inspection tour, he perched for a while on the steering wheel, and as the wheel pilot steered the boat, turning the wheel left and right, he gamely hung on as if he were on a ride at an amusement park.


 Early Friday morning, we were in the bumpy seas and brisk north-setting current of the Gulf Stream, and at 1000 we were making 8-9 knots, with the Miami skyline off the port bow. By 1400 we were passing Port Everglades, where our AIS reported 145 targets! (We turned the thing off.) We were abeam our old home town of Pompano Beach at 1600, and three hours later we entered Lake Worth Inlet, dropping our hook in the Intracoastal Waterway and opening a bottle of wine to toast each other and our beloved, sturdy little ship.

We took a berth at the Riviera Beach Marina the following morning, and were picked up by our generous good friend Roy for the long drive to Palm Beach Airport to check into America. After three leisurely marina days, putting SD and ourselves in order after the passage, we moved up five miles to the North Lake Worth anchorage, where we were held hostage for two more days by a series of ferocious electrical storms. We finally got underway for the trip up the ICW, anchoring each night along the way.  After one night at the Vero Beach Marina, we were motoring through a narrow exit channel between the mangroves when the bottom suddenly shoaled up, immediately bringing SD to a halt and prompting the captain to say some bad words.  Happily, the breeze had come up, so we raised the headsail, and she immediately heeled over and extricated herself.

Our ICW passage provided a smorgasbord of scenery. Huge waterfront homes lined the shores in Palm Beach County, with an occasional Old Florida cracker house tucked in among the McMansions.  Further north, our favorite areas were the stretches of undeveloped subtropical coastal habitat that once covered all of SE Florida. Osprey (aka sea eagles, or fish hawks) apparently favor the ICW channel markers as nesting sites, and we passed several nests occupied by bewildered-looking chicks, apparently waiting for mom and dad to bring home some chow.


On our last night we anchored behind the Eau Gallie Library, near a restaurant where a live band provided happy hour entertainment.  At one point the music seemed to be fading, and when Ken climbed into the cockpit to investigate, he discovered that we’d dragged anchor some thirty yards. He hauled it up, and found that the bottom was like oatmeal – soft sand and marl, so we moved off a bit and re-set the hook.

We inadvertently almost ended our last day with a bang – literally. Nearing our destination of Titusville, we were stripping off our cockpit sunshade when one zipper refused to budge. Minutes passed while Ken struggled with the zipper, as we approached a channel marker ahead. Katie recommended a course correction on the wheel pilot, but she didn’t actually do it. (Why not? Nobody knows.) Ken was totally absorbed and very irritated in his battle with the zipper, so Katie joined in to try and help, as SD motored obediently along on the last course we’d set for her. Moments later, we both looked up in horror to find that we were practically on top of the mark, and we held our breath (right after we said, “Holy Shit!”) as we slid by, with the pointy corner of the mark inches from SD’s rigging.  Having narrowly escaped an expensive and embarrassing end to our voyage around the planet, we entered Titusville City  Marina at last, and tucked SD into her new home berth.

All three of us will spend the hot summer months of hurricane season idling in Florida. We’ve totally enjoyed all our travels, but it’s great to be back in America, where we have ice, A/C, unlimited water, and most of the people speak English. The future offers multiple cruising choices…….Bahamas, Florida Keys, Chesapeake Bay, and more. 

In the meantime, it ‘s fun to look back and recall the ports and passages of the past eight years:

2008:  (Pacific Ocean Crossing)   Hawaiian Islands, Johnston Atoll, Marshall  Islands

2009: Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Lamotrek in the Federated States of Micronesia

2010: Pulau (Koror and Peleliu), Philippines, Malaysian Borneo

2011: Brunei, Miri (Borneo), Tioman Island, Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia

2012: Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia

2013: Turkey, Greece

2014:  Italy, Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, the Canary Islands

2015: (Atlantic Ocean Crossing) Caribbean Islands

2016: Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic

Sand Dollar has sailed the Pacific Ocean, Philippine Sea, South China Sea, Sulu Sea, Singapore Strait, Malacca Strait (to the edge of the Andaman Sea), the Aegean, Ionian, and Mediterranean Seas, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. She also “sailed” the Red Sea and Suez Canal without us, as a passenger on a big ship.

Well done, our good and faithful, indefatigable little ship!

Until we meet again, Cheers!

Katie and Ken






Saturday, April 30, 2016

Puerto Rico


Sand Dollar arrived  on the south coast of Puerto Rico after a dark and gloomy 33 mile sail from the vacation hot-spot of Sun Bay on Vieques island. We anchored in the quiet bay at Puerto Patillas, where the thumping bass of onshore music and the wasp-buzz of water taxis was blessedly absent.  The following morning, after a huge 0700 downpour gave us a much-needed boat-wash, we set sail for Bahia Salinas, 20 miles west. We had 4-5 foot following seas for the first 15 miles, and then tucked in behind the big reef via the pass at Boca de Infierno (“the Mouth of Hell”!). Once we’d passed between the foaming breakers on the reef, we had lake-smooth water for our final few miles.

We anchored near Marina de Salinas, where a dinghy dock provided easy access to fuel, water, and the little village with its handful of restaurants. One of these restaurants, “Sal Pa’ Dentro”, is owned by a SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Assn.) cruising station host, a local named Jean Lassus.  He had agreed, via e-mail, to accept some boat parts we’d had shipped from the USA, and he ended up being not just a wealth of local knowledge and info, but also a friend. (And his restaurant has great food!  We recommend the grouper!)

We had planned to rent a car to drive up to Old San Juan, and by the time we got around to doing that, one of our 3-year-old house batteries had decided to call it quits, and our West Marine shopping list was reaching critical mass. So Jean and his wife Anna gave us directions and printed up a map for a terrific battery store enroute to San Juan, phoned the store to be sure they had our battery in stock, arranged a discount for us, and finally threw in some tips for a special restaurant and some not-to-be-missed sights in the old city.

Thus armed, off we went one sunny morning, successfully making our intended stops, and only going in the wrong direction two or three times. (We plead “not guilty” to poor navigational skills; the fault lay in the lack of signage on the big highways.)

Missions accomplished, we checked into a little “boutique hotel” in Condado, a quaint beach resort town just east of Old San Juan. The charming hotel was conveniently located just a short walk from Jean’s recommended restaurant. After dinner and a stroll that evening, we bought a pint of rum and retired to our room to wallow in the unaccustomed decadence (for us) of A/C, TV (NCIS re-runs), and unlimited ice for our rum-and-Cokes.  In the morning, following the best complimentary breakfast we’ve ever had, we drove into the old city, parked near a shady square, and wandered along the lovely and unusual blue cobblestones of the narrow streets. 


La Plazuela las Monjas (Plaza of the Nuns) 


Blue cobblestones and colorful facades in old San Juan 


Restaurant interior, old San Juan 

The main and most imposing feature of Old San Juan is El Morro, the huge fort that dominates the headland, towering over the Atlantic. Its 140-foot walls, some up to 15 feet thick, date back to 1539. In the adjacent cemetery, imposing marble angels and stone statuary stand guard over an impressive crowd of old tombs. 


The lighthouse in the distance has been in operation since 1846. Old cemetery lower right.  


At Parque de las Palomas (Park of the Pigeons), we waded ankle-deep in a sea of pigeons all hoping for a treat, which, from team Sand Dollar, was not forthcoming. (Sorry, guys.)   


Iglesia San Francisco de Asis (church of St. Francis of Assisi), dating back to 1756, had an eerily beautiful crypt chamber under the church. 


 Above: interior of Iglesia San Francisco de Asis.    Below: the crypt


In every guide book, the old city is billed as a must-see, and the colorful old buildings, narrow streets, blue cobbles, shady squares, and cluster of historic sites did not disappoint. 

On our way home from San Juan, what DID disappoint was Arecibo, the site of the largest radio-telescope in the world.  A long drive up a steep, winding, narrow mountain road ended at the gates, where a guard informed us that the site was closed for renovation. Mega-bummer, as we’d really looked forward to seeing what Lonely Planet describes as looking like a huge “extraterrestrial spaceship”.

Back in Salinas, we shared a final evening with friends Steve and Pat, who sail aboard Steve’s Panda 40 sailboat, “Oz”.  We’d met Steve back in Culebra – he’s a truly colorful character who hails from Georgia, and has travelled the oceans of the world, with the adventures and stories that come with such a past.  (He once had a boat literally sink from under him, a tale we’ve had yet to hear in detail.)  “Oz” and her crew set sail a day later, bound for Boqueron on the west coast of PR, but our paths are sure to cross again, especially since our boats will both be berthing in the city marina in Titusville, FL.

We ourselves sailed from Salinas to Ponce, 22 miles west, dropping our hook in an anchorage near two small marinas. At the dock we met Miguel, a big-hearted local who drove us into town for some shopping and a visit to old central Ponce, with its ornate old architecture.  


Building in central Ponce.


 Plaza las Delicia, old Ponce.

Pretty quiet in the harbor, so our big entertainment one morning was the grounding of another cruiser. These two unfortunate fellows had run hard aground in a well-charted shoal area just outside the anchorage.  They were buddy-boating with another yacht that was a mile ahead of them, and who returned to lend a hand.  Despite their help, and the input and assistance of Ken and a local guy in a dinghy, it was all “no joy”. After four long hours of varied manuevers, a Sea Tow boat arrived on the scene, and with a Herculean effort, she freed the grounded vessel.  


Hard aground.

From Ponce we made a short 16-mile sail to a beautiful and serene lagoon-like anchorage bordered on three sides by reefs and mangroves. A small island among the mangroves, called “Cayo Aurora” and nick-named “Gilligan’s Island”,  has shady, sandy little picnic areas for day-trippers. In the clear, flat water, clumps of turtle grass wave lazily in the gentle current, and in the air the only sound is bird-song. The whole place feels miles away from the hum of civilization.


It appears that this big frigate bird is not as heavy as he looks! 

We tore ourselves away after a few days and continued on to La Parguera, where small waterfront homes are nestled in the mangroves, with porches overhanging the water. It’s a popular day-trip destination for locals, and we treated ourselves to an evening ashore at a tiny seafood cafe, where the grouper was tender and succulent and the mojitos were perfect.







Local fisherman mending his nets in La Parguera.

We continued westward, and rounded the SW “corner” of Puerto Rico to anchor in the big bay at Boqueron, where we re-united with Steve and Pat. We spent a few evenings ashore with them over happy-hour beers, before saying our good-byes and harbor-hopping a few miles north: one day up to Joyuda, and then later to Mayaguez.  The main attraction of the last two stops was the convenience of big supermarkets for provisioning – the last such stores we expect to see before America. We also ended up with a better wind angle and a slightly shorter distance for our passage to the Dominican Republic.


Lighthouse at the SW “corner” of Puerto Rico

So now we continue westward, ready to see another new-to-us country as Sand Dollar continues her voyage, homeward-bound. Hasta luego!






Friday, April 1, 2016

Kicking Back in the Spanish Virgins


After spending a most enjoyable 19 days in St. Kitts, we departed at first light for the 160 mile passage to Isla Culebra. We had patiently waited for a good weather window and our timing paid off. The sailing was down-wind in moderate to light air all the way, and about 20 hours into the passage, the dark of the Caribbean night was broken by the bright glow of the lights of St. Croix off to to the west , followed soon after by the glittering lights of St. Thomas to our east. The trip was pleasant and uneventful and turned out be one of our most comfortable passages in the Caribbean.

A little more than 15 miles east of the “big island”, Puerto Rico’s little islands of Culebra and Vieques are often referred to as “the Spanish Virgins”. Distinctly island-y and decidedly low-key, these charming islands have but one fast-food chain restaurant (a Subway opened on Vieques about four months ago), no high-rises, and no cruise ships. In fact, they barely have towns: Culebra has one, and Vieques has two. What they do have is stunning beaches, pristine open lands, and laid-back ambience.

We checked into the USA in Culebra, where the office of Homeland Security is located in the tiny airport. The single official on duty was friendly and helpful, with a dry sense of humor, and even asked us if we needed any information about Culebra in general. Not at all a heavy-handed humorless official, but more like a pleasant local information officer.

It takes about half an hour to walk through all the streets of Dewey, the only town, after which you can quench your thirst at one of several convenient watering holes. We had dropped our hook near the town dock in the huge bay of Ensenada Honda. It was a short dinghy row from Sand Dollar to The Dinghy Dock Restaurant, a colorful little cafe/bar whose covered dining area opens to the bay. A school of about a dozen four-foot-long tarpon prowl the dockside waters, hoping for diners to toss them a french fry or two.  One afternoon, a server stepped to the edge of the dock with a plate heaped with fish trimmings, and began flipping pieces into the water, inciting a spectacular and entertaining feeding frenzy. (Among the tarpon, not the diners.) He then extended his arm high above the water, holding a large chunk of fish, and within seconds, an enormous frigate bird swooped down to snatch the treat from his hand. This performance was repeated several times, to the obvious delight of a group of young Asian tourists, who clustered at the edge of the dock, chattering excitedly and snapping photos.



We took the ferry for a day trip to Fajardo, on the big island, to do some boat-part shopping at West Marine, and found ourselves surrounded by the commercialism of mainland America – Walmart, CVS, Walgreen’s, Auto Zone, and others. After all this time in the small markets of the islands, it was very convenient, but a little surreal.

We rented a golf cart (a popular mode of local transport) one day to tour the island. Evidently these things are designed for the manicured fairways of golf courses, where the vehicles’ suspension need not be particularly muscular, but our little cart was no match for  the potholes of Culebra’s asphalt and dirt roads, and we had a hilarious, teeth-rattling ride. We made a stop at stunning Playa Flamenco, a mile-long beach curving around a protected bay. It is regarded as one of the finest beaches, not just in Puerto Rico, but in the world.  The pristine white sand beach is backed by low scrub, shady almond trees, seagrape, and mixed woodlands. Nestled among the trees were hundred of tents in a well-groomed camping area, packed during our visit for Easter Week and Spring Break. No motor homes, fifth-wheelers, or private vehicles of any kind marred the scene, and other than a few small concessions at the entrance, there was nothing but natural beauty.

After a week in Culebra, we sailed to her sister island of Vieques. A fast, lively, wet, ten-mile sail in heavy, washing-machine, beam seas brought us to the east end of the island, where we altered course to head 15 miles west along the south coast. Anchoring in the protected NE corner of  mile-wide Sun Bay, we were surprised to find ourselves all alone, save for a small local sailboat. We agreed this was one of the most beautiful bays we’ve ever anchored in. A thin forest of masts could be seen a mile west in the next bay, off the town of Esperanza, but except for a handful of campsites on our beach, Sun Bay was empty.



Local Vieques resident

For over 50 years, the US Navy used 70% of Vieques for military target practice, shelling beaches and dropping live bombs on nearby atolls. Ordnance was stored in bunkers on the west end of the island, the east end was for target practice, and the local populace was left to reside in the middle. With the military officially withdrawing in 2003, after years of international protest, environmental authorities moved in and wasted no time in claiming all former military land for the Department of the Interior, designating the east end a US Fish and Wildlife Refuge, thus insuring that the bulk of the island remains virgin territory. The Vieques Fish and Wildlife Refuge consists of 18,000 acres of mostly pristine beaches, mangrove wetlands, coastal lagoons, and dry subtropical forest. Sea grasses and coral reefs flourish offshore.


The tiny town of Esperanza, just west of Sun Bay, is a funky little beach town with brightly painted open-front cafes and a few shops. A small, attractively tiled malecon (esplanade) skirts the sand, where beach shacks rent bicycles and kayaks and offer local tours.


We opted for an island tour with Viequensa Angie Adams, who was born and raised here, and proved to be an animated and enthusiastic guide. She took us to see the natural wonders of the island, including a 400-year-old Ceiba tree, where we stopped for a photo-op, while  a dozen semi-wild horses grazed nearby. Although most have owners, horses have free rein of the island and are a common sight on the roads and fields.


Katie with our very excellent tour guide Angie inside the trunk of the 400 year old Ceiba tree.




On Vieques’ west end, the old military bunkers stand empty, some with doors which have been covered with professionally enlarged old Vieques photos (courtesy of 3M), blown up to life-size, creating a realistic mini-mural.




Not far from Sun Bay, we stopped at a quiet place, accessable via a dirt footpath. Here, among mammoth grey stones, an archeological dig in 1990 unearthed some human skeletal remains, determined by carbon dating to be around 4,000 years old. “He” came to be known as the Man of Puerto Ferro, and although the remains now rest in a museum, the serenity of the surroundings and the presence of the curious stones give the place a rather haunting and otherworldly feel.


Our week-long visit to each of these islands made for a refreshing departure from cruise ship ports and tourist-oriented areas. These little natural treasures were well-worth our time and we’ll remember them with smiles.


The big island of Puerto Rico lies a short sail to our west, and we’re looking forward to a month or so of touring and harbor hopping there.

Hasta luego! K&K

To see where we are now, go HERE



Saturday, March 12, 2016

Last of the Leewards


Our departure from the little island of Nevis on Ken’s birthday began on a most inconvenient note. During the previous night, the twists and turns of the mooring ball had incorporated its underwater line with our own mooring line, resulting in an enormous underwater dreadlock. (King Neptune must have been a Rastafarian.)  After hanging over the bow pulpit for 15 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to “unlock the dreads”, Ken got in the water and pulled the mess apart by hand.

A pleasant 10-mile downwind sail put us in the roll-y anchorage outside Port Zante Marina in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitt’s. We hadn’t been in a marina yet this year, so two days later, when a berth became available, we treated ourselves and moved inside.

Some years after its discovery by Columbus, the first English colonists arrived in St. Kitt’s in 1624, followed a few months later by the French. The two groups joined forces to massacre the 2000 local Carib inhabitants, after which they fell out with each other over possession of the island. Although influences of both nations remain, today St. Kitt’s and its sister island of Nevis are a fully independent nation.

Lush and green, St. Kitt’s has a dramatically steep, cloud-shrouded central mountain range, its slopes covered by tropical rainforest, which descends to fertile agricultural lands. The dormant volcano of mighty Mt. Liamuiga towers over it all.


During colonial times, sugar was the cash crop, and as plantations sprang up on the island, the horrors of slavery came to St. Kitt’s. Those days of slavery are blessedly gone, as is the heyday of the sugar trade, and  tourism is the new moneymaker, with cruise ships arriving daily. But the visual beauty of the plantations lives on, with many having been converted to upscale restaurants and small luxury hotels.

A railway for transport of the sugar cane once ran right around the island. An abbreviated portion now runs about two-thirds of the way, and a bus route completes the final third of the circuit, with the whole tour making up the St. Kittt’s Scenic Railway. We bought tickets for this “must-see” luxury ride, which proved to be the highlight of our time in St.Kitts.   

The driver of our modern air-conditioned mini-bus kept up an interesting commentary on sites and sights as we drove up the west coast of the island, where we transferred to the train.  The railway itself traverses the northern and eastern coastlines, crosses tall bridges over steep canyons, and winds through small farms and colorful villages, where we and the children in the schoolyards waved at each other. From the covered, open-air upper level deck, we had spectacular views of the sea, the cliffs, ruins of some old cane mills, and the towering volcanic core of Mt. Liamuiga.

Beverages (with or without rum!) were complimentary, and at several intervals, a trio of local women appeared to serenade us “a capella” in perfect 3-part harmony.  A constant on the ride was our hilarious tour guide, who treated us to a colorful narrative on the island and its history. The rainforest here has been overrun by little vervet monkeys, who now allegedly outnumber the humans on the island.  Introduced years ago by the French, who brought them here as pets, they’ve now become the scourge of the farmers, munching their way through the crops.  Our tour guide, tongue-in-cheek, remarked that one suggestion to deal with the problem was to market the monkeys to the local restaurants.  “Try it, you’ll like it!”, she teased; “Tastes like chicken!”.  She also pointed out that they’d make the perfect St. Kitt’s souvenir to take home to friends, and she encouraged each passenger to take six monkeys when they left. “Duty-free!”, she added.


We spent almost three weeks in St. Kitt’s, awaiting the return from New Zealand of our repaired AIS – automatic vessel identification system - now working perfectly again – and a weather window.  We strolled the streets of Basseterre, where handsome old colonial-era buildings sport decoratively-painted shutters.


From the historic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, two tall stone towers look down on the shady park of Independence Square.


The Cathedral’s interior is lovely, with elaborate stained glass and a soaring vaulted ceiling.


We certainly didn’t have to venture far for entertainment.  At the port, sidewalk vendors grill up juicy BBQ chicken, and icy-cold local Carib beer can be bought for one dollar US. Local ladies sell frosty, spicy, sweet-hot, home-made ginger beer from coolers, still half-frozen in the bottles. The marina itself offers plenty to look at , with fishing boats, local tour boats, the Port Pilot, and the occasional yacht, all coming and going. It became our habit to sit in the cockpit over morning coffee and watch the cruise ships arrive;  toward sunset, we’d observe their departure over our evening glass of wine. And all day long, a dozen brown pelicans (the national bird of St. Kitt’s)  would dive headlong, kamikaze-style, into the marina water to try and score a meal.



The smile on this pretty girl’s face typifies the Kittitian spirit. The locals here are some of the most cheerful, easy-going, helpful people we’ve met in our travels.  Entering a room or passing on the street, everyone says a smiling hello, and when we’ve asked for directions, we’ve not just received information, but have sometimes actually been led to our destination. The gentleman in the Tourism Office, on hearing that we have no phone, voluntarily made multiple phone calls for us.

Adult beverages flow freely in St. Kitt’s, but the only evidence of intoxication we’ve seen is confined to the cruise ship crowd. Among locals, a little nip during the day is just part of island life. A young Coastie who wandered over to chat with a tour boat crew was given a rum punch, and the marina security guard occasionally quenches his thirst with a beer as he walks the docks. 

The Kittitians’ persistant good humor may not actually be related to the laid-back approach to a nip here and there, but we applaud  the smiles, the joie de vivre, and also the nips. Cheers!

Life‘s good! KandK 

To see where we are, go here

email: SandDollar_N4KS@yahoo.com


Friday, March 4, 2016

Moving On


Antigua (pronounced “antee' ga”), like multiple Caribbean islands, was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Briefly occupied by the Spanish and French, it then had more than three centuries of British occupation, so despite its now being an independent state, it is a very British place.

We spent a week there, anchored off the south coast in Falmouth Harbour, which sits side-by-side with English Harbour, only a short walk away. The era when the British Navy was based here is memorialized in the beautifully reconstructed Nelson's Dockyard National Park. The Naval Officers' Residence, the Copper and Lumber Mlll, and multiple other main buildings have been reconstructed and now hold shops, restaurants, the well-done Dockyard Museum, and a busy working sail loft. All that remains of the original Boat House and Sail Loft are a line of massive stone pillars, which once supported the loft.


 A&F Sails - where we helped the local economy by having a head-sail restitched.




 The Pillars


Here are seen sailing craft of all sizes, and during our stay English Harbour was the final destination of the Atlantic Challenge, a trans-Atlantic rowing event. Teams of one to eight rowers had departed the Canary Islands to row (row!) across the Atlantic ocean, taking months (months!) to make the passage. Having crossed the Atlantic ourselves, albeit in a much more comfortable craft, we can only begin to imagine the hardships these rowers faced. A rower on one team was lost at sea when a wave washed him overboard. Another team capsized and had to be rescued.




This boat was rowed across the Atlantic some years ago by a single-handed rower, and is on display in the Dockyard.

English Harbour is smaller and full of history, while Falmouth Harbour is larger and full of all manner of yachts, from cruising sailboats to floating palaces. Charter yachts of sail and power, mind-boggling in size and ultra-luxurious in their appointments, tower over smaller craft. The sailing super-yachts have masts so tall that at night they have red lights at the mastheads so that aircraft don't run into them. One of the multi-million-dollar power yachts carried a helicopter on its top deck.


The high-rent district; note the helicopter on the deck of the power yacht on the right.


Above: Super-yacht docking in English Harbour

Also much in evidence were a host of big-money professional racing yachts, full of scurrying uniformed crew, preparing for the Caribbean 600, a challenging 600-mile race around multiple islands.

Oddly enough, with all this maritime hubbub in the area, there were surprisingly few amenities. Plenty of restaurants, but only one ATM, 2 very small chandleries, and 2 mini-markets. Conversely, quite a few shops sold resort wear, with bikinis selling for $185 US and flip-flops for $100 US. Happily for us, the services we required were readily available; our balky outboard was repaired in an hour and our headsail was re-sewn in one day. The Happy Hour prices at Antigua Yacht Club Marina were reasonable, so we treated ourselves to some gin-and-tonics (very British, no?) over a game of dominoes in the second-story harbor-view lounge.


View of Falmouth Harbour from Clogger’s Restaurant, on the second floor of the Antigua Yacht Club Marina.


Grilled chicken on the barbie at the roadside “snackette”.


The captain enjoys a cheap and tasty local lunch; grilled chicken, salad and a cold beer! 

A special treat for us was the discovery that the catamaran “ 'ti Profligate” was anchored behind us. This boat is owned by Richard Spindler, the editor of the wildly popular (and free!) San Francisco sailing magazine Latitude 38. Ken, on his previous boat, “True Blue”, first met him in 1994, when Spindler was “the Big Burrito” on the inaugural Some Like It Hot! rally from San Diego to Mexico, in which Ken and his family participated.  Truly a legend in his own time, Richard is personable and easy-going, and we had an entertaining 15-minute visit; turned out that he actually remembered Ken from that rally. It would be terrific some time to sit down with him over a couple of cold ones and swap sea stories.


Richard “big burrito” Spindler – creator and editor of the very popular Latitude 38 sailing magazine

As we departed “ ‘ti Profligate”, climbing into our little hard dinghy, Richard inadvertently put a hex on us.  He asked if we’d ever tipped her over, since hard dinghies are less stable than the popular inflatable RIB’s. Only once, we replied, when Katie capsized her nine years ago in the Sacramento River. We should have kept our mouths shut. A mere five days later, on Ken’s birthday, having fortified ourselves with some celebratory refreshing rum beverages, we were boarding the dinghy when Katie managed, once again, to capsize her. We’re certain that the rum had nothing to do with it, but there you have it.

Antigua is special in its own right, not just because of its nautical history and activities. We took a 90-minute hike high up into the hills, which afforded us views of the sea and of both harbours, all at the same time. The rough and rocky trail is nick-named “the goat track”, allegedly because it is frequented by goats, but we were inclined to re-name it “the goat-pellet track”, as we were seeing pellets aplenty rather than goats. But the hike was beautiful, with sights and scents reminiscent of the hills of southern California. Among the occasional ruins from British occupation, there were big century plants, painful-looking cacti, and fragrant acacia trees, with honeybees rummaging among the blossoms.


Falmouth Harbour as seen from the goat track.


(Rather than hustle her kids up the goat track, this mama preferred to munch on the harborside foliage.) 

After a week, we departed Antigua one morning at first light for our 53-mile sail to the island of Nevis. The wind was light and variable, but our passage was predominantly down-wind, and we averaged five knots, sailing wing-and-wing under mainsail (with a preventer) and poled-out headsail. We arrived at Charlestown, Nevis in the late afternoon and picked up a mooring off the little ferry dock.

Nevis, dominated by majestic, cloud-shrouded Mt. Nevis (3100 feet), whose slopes are blanketed in thick green rainforest, is the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton (check the face on your 10-dollar bill). Born in poverty and out of wedlock, Hamilton at age nine was sent to St. Croix to work to support his mother. He eventually moved to NY, where as a lawyer and statesman he became the Father of the US Coast Guard and America's first Secretary of the Treasury. A small museum in Charlestown chronicles his rags-to-riches life and accomplishments.

Admiral Horatio Nelson is also remembered in Nevis, where he met and married a local girl, Frances Nesbit, in 1787. Nelson met his end when he was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Reluctant to consign Britain's favorite naval hero to a mundane burial at sea, Nelson's officers opted not to plop him into the ocean, but instead pickled their commander in a vat of brandy and carted him back to Britain for a properly dignified interment three months later.

Charlestown during our time there was beset by a particularly muscular swell, making landing at the dinghy dock an unusually exciting endeavor. Ken managed to get “Loose Change” safely to the dock, and he put out a stern anchor to keep our little craft from being bashed into the dock with the surge. Even so, there must have been some drama during our absence, as we returned to find her unharmed, but with several gallons of seawater sloshing around inside. The following day, loathe to put the dinghy at risk, Ken dropped Katie off for grocery shopping and returned later to pick her up.

That afternoon we moved a quarter mile north and picked up a mooring at Pinney Beach, a pretty and popular stretch of sand where the swell creates a significant shore break. We watched a few inflatable dinghies manage to land safely on the beach, and saw one large 20-passenger tender get caught sideways and wallow from gunwale to gunwale in the surf. The passengers hung on while some folks on shore struggled and managed to get her bow in to the beach, and we finally decided that our little hard dinghy was probably not ideally suited to those conditions.

The following morning we motored three miles to the NW corner of Nevis, picking up a mooring in protected little Oualie Bay.


Oualie Bay, Nevis – St. Kitts Island in background (SD 2nd from left)

Ashore is the Oualie Beach Resort, with cute little cottages whose lawns stretch down to the beach, where guests relax in lounge chairs under the shade of palms and almond trees. Quiet and un-touristy, far from any village, it was a lovely and relaxing final Nevis stop for us.



Next stop: Nevis’ sister island, St. Kitt’s, eight miles north. Ciao for now – K&K

To see where we are, click on the “SHIPTRAK” gadget.