Saturday, April 07, 2007

St. Marten to Guadaloupe

How sweet a broad reach is after months of bashing into the wind and waves to get to St. Marten, the turning point for the southern islands. To St. Eustatius, the next island, the wind was at 15-20 knots over the port beam and we were in heaven cruising at 6.5 to 8 knots. Along the way a tuna decided to take our lure and provide dinner for two. Two days that is. We pulled into Eustatius hoping to go ashore for a beer or two but, it was not to be the case. There was a festival of some sorts on the small beach and four booths were competing against each other for the loudest and most distorted music prize. So much for a peaceful anchorage and a good night’s sleep. The buggers kept us up until 2:00 am and then cranked it up at 7:00 am! It wasn’t a hard decision to weigh anchor and head off the St. Kitts/Nevis.

This was quite a pleasant island with friendly people, clean streets, and some nice historical buildings. Not much going on for entertainment apart from the regular church meetings, choir practice ,and preachings. Very religious island!

One day in the waterfront bar Meri came in and called my name. Suddenly I hear some speaking Greek and asking me what part of Greece I was from. I stood and scanned the bar but couldn’t see anyone resembling a fellow Greek. Then I heard the voice again and was surprised to see it was coming from a very distinguished looking black man. To say I was surprised is an understatement for sure. We joined him at his table and discovered that he was a Nigerian who had studied law in Athens, in Greek, met his wife there, from Nevis, and moved there to become the Chief Justice. It was great to speak my mothers tongue again. He even offered us teaching positions there and would assist with the visas. He was concerned about the quality of English teachers on the island and wanted an infusion of outside blood. Nice offer but not for us at the time.

Next stop was the ill fated, volcanic, island of Montserrat. The volcano had erupted –from memory it was sometime in the nineties – spewing mud and ash down the slopes into the town below and covering most of it. Residents were evacuated to a neighbouring area and islands, or just fled to relatives in other countries.

The trip was fine again with a nice beam reach in 15-20 knots and racing two other boats. Unfortunately as we neared the steep island a gust caught us unawares and blew out the head on the jib. No problem, I went forward, dropped it, and proceeded to raise the staysail. As my back was to the sea I didn’t notice a steeper than usual wave coming. The bow rode up over it and crashed down with me following. My knee hit the hawse pipe and felt like it exploded. Turned out to be a torn ligament that needed some treatment and a long time to heal.

The anchorage was horrible and almost as rolling as St Martin on a bad day. Sleep was impossible so we decided to see the town as soon as possible and get out of there. We arranged a tour with some other boaters and a local guide took us into the town for the day. It was one of the most surreal experiences I can recall. A whole town evacuated within hours of the eruption. Breakfast dishes on the table, newspapers open to the last page read, closets full of clothes, etc. There was obviously no time to pack anything at all. People just grabbed their families and ran for their lives without so much as a single glance behind them. A very spooky place indeed.

Upon return to the anchorage, most of which is a commercial and naval facility, we bumped into some British sailors at the bar and had a pretty good time well into the evening. Next day saw us off early to Guadeloupe via the east coast of Montserrat to avoid being covered with ash. The view from seaward was quite spectacular to say the least.

The sail to Guadeloupe was uneventful but we had strong winds, especially across the pass between the islands, of around 25-35 knots on the beam for the duration. Staysail and reefed main worked just fine to push us along at 7-8 knots.


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