June 2014 ~ Circle Tour

Chronological Order

Day 1385 ~ June 30th, 2014

 

Day 1384 ~ June 29th, 2014

 

Day 1382 ~ June 27th, 2014

 

Day 1380 ~ June 25th, 2014

 

Day 1379 ~ June 24th, 2014

 

Day 1378 ~ June 23rd, 2014

Well, we had to do it.  Once we made the decision to go to Eustatia and Saba, returning to St. Martin was inevitable.  Well, unless we wanted to bash into the wind for a day, no thank you. Not even if we get stuck there for another week.  So, off we went, backtracking.

Made good time at 8-9 knots with wind mostly on the beam.  Not the most comfortable ride, but it was fast.  Pulled into Marigot Bay and set the anchor.

 

Day 1377 ~ Head in the CloudsJune 22nd, 2014

Today was a good day for a hike.  We loaded most of the crew (not all wanted to go), dogs and adults and drove to the Sandy Cruz trailhead.  The rainforest trail skirts Mt. Scenery about two-thirds of the way up its 2,877 ft peak, from its north to its east face.  Completely enshrouded in a rainforest, with a few open viewpoints here and there, the trail is cool and shaded.  The peak itself, with its near-permanent misty cap, rarely sees the light of day, but our trail was just at the cloud's base.  The proprietor of the Trail Shop said there would be a short uphill followed by a longer downhill with flat on either side.  By the time we were done climbing and descending the whole way, we asked ourselves if we took a wrong turn somewhere.  Despite the differing interpretation, we all enjoyed our three-hour jungle walk.  Pippin, cooped up on a boat and beginning to act depressed, was in heaven.  Between romping with Amy and keeping tabs on both the front-runners and stragglers, he probably walked the trail three times.

The trail lets out at a hotel where we ate a few snacks while the guys went back for the cars by taxi.  We returned the cars a bit late then returned to the boats for a snorkel to cool off.

 

Day 1376 ~ Living on the EdgeJune 21st, 2014

We shared two rental cars and drove the island which amounts to just over an hour considering the island is only five square miles total.  Since the rest of the crew was a steep descent and long dinghy ride away, the adults decided to scope it out first.  We drove the available main roads and found a couple of spots we could bring the kids later.

 

Day 1375 ~ Saba RockJune 20th, 2014

Downwind sail to Saba Island, a rock that is more inhospitable at first glance.  The first settlers must have had a very active imagination to post a sign, "if you lived here, you'd be home right now".  There are no sand beaches only steep rocky cliffs or boulder filled shoreline.  The 'harbor' with its manmade spit of land for protection looks like it was blasted out of the rock to create a small flat space.  A few businesses, along with Customs and Immigration, and a small parking lot just barely fit.

Around the corner on the way to the eastern anchorage, we pass a lone building perched on the cliff-side 274 steps up from sea level.  The guidebook says it used to be the Customs house back in the day and, up until the 1940s, the only way to access the island and the only means of hauling goods up the 461 total steps into town.  Ships could only arrive in calm seas and, even then, sailors had to stand waist-deep to offload the goods; a piano being one of those items in history.  There was never a need for military fortresses like other islands; the residents just piled boulders behind wooden supports that could be cut down and let loose when any invaders got halfway up.

Once up the steep mile climb, one finds an oasis of community.  Red-roofed dwellings cluster on every available flat-ish space, stone walls edge the well-manicured postage-stamp size yards.  The concrete roads have no potholes.  Just about every driver who passes waves a friendly greeting.  The island boasts two main towns, The Bottom and Windwardside (bet you can't guess where they're situated).  Until the 1950s, travel between the two happened along a steep, narrow mountain path.  Engineers from the Mother country, Holland, said a proper road could never be built.  However, a local resident didn't share the same pessimism so he took a correspondence course in road building and the Saban people hand-built their road and finished in 1958.

The airport shares a similar history.  A brave (or crazy) pilot from St. Barth's took a look at Saba's one and only flat-topped rock and said it would make a fine airport.  The locals smoothed out the surface as much as they can and the French pilot proved the naysayers wrong...again.

While the Sabans achieved incredible construction feats, their management of money wasn't quite so keen.  Holland entrusted them with a large sum of money and, several years later, they were bankrupt.  It was at that point that Holland took over the money management and said they could not be independent.  This goes for Statia and Bonaire as well.  The locals say with their lost autonomy, their taxes went up with no visible return on 'investment' but all we saw were pristine towns, flawless roads, well-kept yards and trails everywhere for the outdoor enthusiasts.  They even imported sand, placed huge boulders to break the surf and created a beach and swimmable bay near the airport.  Not a bad return for 1,500 residents and a few tourists who even know it exists.

 

Day 1374 ~ Crater ClimbJune 19th, 2014

We met another cruising family who recommended climbing the crater so we rounded the kids and dogs and went on a nature hike in lieu of math and other 'boring stuff'.  The mile walk to The Quill's trailhead was a bit warm and slow, but the trail itself was shaded the whole way and not too steep.  At the top (639 m) we looked down into the deep cloud-enshrouded crater, now a rainforest.  A couple of friendly local dogs followed us the entire way there and back; we wondered if this happened often.  One we dubbed "Death Wish" as he chased after every moving vehicle that drove by, corralled cows wandering too far into the street, pulled on a bull's tail and ferociously barked at every house with guard dog that we passed.

On the way back it rained most of the way so by the time we reached the bottom, we were covered with mud and soaked to the bone.  The kids, ages 6-16, did quite well and few complaints.  Well done!

 

Day 1373 ~ Diver DownJune 18th, 2014

We'd heard the diving in Statia was spectacular, but a local dive shop must be hired.  Evidently there were too many antiquities disappearing so they made the rule.  Could also provide some job security for this small island of 4,000 residents, but who knows?!

John happened to have a friend who used to work at Golden Rock Divers which also was located right next to the dinghy dock.  They've been in business for 20 years and also offer discounts for using your own equipment so we went for it.  Fills were also half that of St. Barth's.  Glad we waited.

The first dive was on a wreck around 60 feet and the second was a coral reef at around 40-50 feet.  I went on both and John and his family joined me for the second as his kids wanted more experience but need to stay relatively shallow.  Visibility was good and both were full of sea life and coral, including a few friendly turtles.

In the afternoon, some of the kids went to town with Michelle and I.  The kids had discovered the library and wanted to go back.  The town is quaint and full of history.  The island was first settled by the French in 1629 and they started the Bay Path and fort before leaving a few years later.  The Dutch came in 1636 and began to grow crops, build warehouses and start exporting.  Established as a free port, they became prosperous and, thus, a prime target.  By 1816, Eustatia had changed hands 22 times with the Dutch laying claim to present day.

Many old buildings are still in use, others have been worn away with time and weather and only partial walls remain.  The stonework is incredible and everywhere; we found one road in progress so they are using the same techniques even today.  The original roads were built to prevent erosion and the Bay Walk from lower to upper town also served as a water chute during heavy rains.

 

Day 1372 ~ June 17th, 2014

Left for Statia island in light winds.  A rain squall came through followed by a half hour lull during which we had to motor, but the wind returned and we were able to sail the rest of the way into the bay.  Picked up a mooring ball by Discovery and went ashore to check in.

 

Day 1369 ~ West End TourJune 14th, 2014

Today, we got going and toured the western end of the island with the Middles. Since they didn't have a color preference, they rode in our car and Erik and Emily rode with the adults.  More signs, more scenery.

 

Day 1368 ~ East End TourJune 13th, 2014

Our kid boat triad is comprised of 6 adults, 12 children, 2 dogs and a cat.  The kids are divided evenly into age groups to which we've assigned names: Biggles, Middles, and Littles.  What works really well is that each group has four kids so there are no odd-man-out scenarios.

With the island and boat budgets being small and the kids only interested in island tours if their peers go, we opted to share two cars and swap out the kids.  This afternoon we covered the eastern half of the island with the Biggles who opted to ride in the red car with John and Michelle.  The other four adults piled into the boring grey one.  We all like exploring and took as many side roads as we could find.  Some fascinating scenery and interesting signage awaits.

 

Day 1367 ~ June 12th, 2014

 

Day 1366 ~ June 11th, 2014

 

Day 1365 ~ June 10th, 2014

 

Day 1364 ~ GustaviaJune 9th, 2014

Anchorage turned rolly and our friends were feeling a little ill so we opted for the calmer anchorage at Colombier on the northwest end of St. Barth's.  We motor-sailed the two mile passage and took a mooring ball in between our friends' boats.  After lunch, the adults piled into Discovery's dinghy and headed the 2.5 miles to town for clearing in the island.  Our plan was to get a few freshies, but it turned out to be a holiday and most everything was locked up tight.  Hard to keep track of all the French holidays.

After taking care of official business, we set off to wander the deserted streets, some of which bear Scandinavian names.  Come to find out, the French gave St. Barth's to the Swedes in 1784 in exchange for free port rights in Göteborg.  While it was sold back to the French in 1852, it still remains a free port today.

The island has become the chic hotspot for the rich and famous and, in January's high season, over a hundred mega- and super- yachts may descend upon it.  The town reflects the influx of wealth and the harbor and town are well-maintained and manicured.  Rather than a garbage bin in a back alley, there is a garbage 'room' off the main dock with bins for each type of trash.  One can buy a scoop of ice cream not much bigger than a walnut for €2.50 ($3.45) or a 'small wallet' for €200 ($275).  Even clearing in is expensive by comparison.  Other French islands charge between zero and five Euros.  Here, we pay by the foot and our boat is €22.55 flat fee if we stay in Colombier, per day if we go to Gustavia.

 

Day 1363 ~ Five Star DiveJune 8th, 2014

While Nina and Kate tackled a Boston Cream Pie recipe and the others involved themselves with creating art, the adults went diving.  Diving off of La Petite Île to the south was fantastic. The dive book said it was five stars and they were right.  Tons of fish, clear water, lots of color.  Awesome.  The guide book mentions a fair bit of current for this dive so John and Lisa, with more experience, went the first round but found the water quite calm.  Peter snorkeled above with the dinghy to conserve our air.  After some lunch, Lisa and I went exploring while John followed by dinghy.  The late afternoon light wasn't quite as good, but there was plenty to see anyway.

 

Day 1362 ~ Southward, At Last!June 7th, 2014

Checked out and managed to drop the Oyster Pond mooring ball about Noon.  Had a decent sail with one tack to Île Fourchue Marine Park where we found only a couple boats already there.  We moored and, taking advantage of swimmable water for the first time in a long time, we jumped in for a snorkel.  Didn't find much to look at along the rocks, but hiking the island in the late afternoon turned out to be quite picturesque.

 

Day 1361 ~ June 6th, 2014

 

Day 1359 ~ June 4th, 2014

 

Day 1358 ~ June 3rd, 2014

 

Day 1357 ~ June 2nd, 2014

 

Day 1356 ~ June 1st, 2014