Monday, February 27, 2012

USVI’s – and guests!

Hello again, we’re still in the U.S. Virgin Islands…..

We’ve also had guests aboard Mehari! Although it’s a small boat, and obviously pretty full with our family, Rachel’s sister Stacy and niece Kelsey were able to come for a week-long visit. They arrived in St. Thomas and we were all there to pick them up from the airport. Rachel and her sister are very close and there were a lot of tears at the reunion. They had not seen each other for 3 years and she had never met Miles, so it was pretty emotional. No one has ever come for a visit before any longer than a day sail, and it’s been really fun to be able to show people how we live.
Levi, Kelsey, and Emma rising the local "Safari"

For the last few days, we’ve just been taking our time poking along the southern coast of St. Thomas and over to St. John, doing a bit of exploring in the old town and the ‘duty free’ shopping and trying to find calm anchorages, not always an easy task with the peak season here. There are boats everywhere, but with our catamaran, we are usually able to ‘sneak’ up in from of everyone else and anchor close to shore. Then we headed over to St. John, only a few miles away.

St. John is largely uninhabited, being about 80% U.S. National Park, and it has some of the prettiest beaches we’ve ever seen. There's even have a underwater snorkeling ‘trail’ with signs you can read as you snorkel through the ‘path’ describing different coral and wildlife you can see. Apparently it's a huge cruise boat destination, but it was empty the day we were complaints from us! The kids had a great time going through. Miles, meanwhile, had a great time wandering the beach in his birthday suit and playing in the sand. :)
Add caption

On our way back to the boat in the dinghy we got hit with a rain squall which had quickly rolled in and dumped on us! We were racing back to the boat, and we could watch the rain on the ocean, quickly approaching….and we had left all our hatches open......oops!  Oh well, it was warm and we needed the fresh water rinse (us, not necessarily the inside of the boat), and after a few towels inside, we were back to normal. I’d MUCH rather have rain inside than waves; we’ve been through that before!

So, a few more days to scoot around to the airport again, and I'm sure more tears as we say good bye, or more accurately, see you later. 

Then we are off to the Spanish Virgin Islands on our way to Puerto Rico. 

Talk to you soon, 


Sunday, February 19, 2012

caves, baths, and pirate beach

Hello Again!

We had a great overnight 'sail' in light winds from St. Martin to the British Virgin Islands (BVI's) It was a dark night and Maggie, Levi and I took turns watching. There were a lot of boats out there! As this is peak season, there are always sailors heading from one place to the other, and after a week of unfavorable weather, it seemed like we all left at the same time. We saw twice as many boats in one night as we did in 3 weeks on the Atlantic!

We tried to time it right, so that we arrived at the island of Virgin Gorda at daybreak, to explore a National Park called "The Baths" It is a few dozen acres of hiking trails in and around huge boulders that look like gigantic rock marbles. There are caves, isolated pools, and several beautiful beaches spread throughout. The idea of getting there early, is that tours from cruise ships start arriving by late morning, and we wanted a head start. So, after arriving at 6:30 am, we made a feast of potatoes and eggs (strictly for energy!) and headed to the beach. 

THIS is the trail through the rocks.....Emma, Mom and Miles
The whole park is very clean and well maintained, and the hiking trails are marked out. We had to carry Miles a bit as we hiked through the caves, waded through deep pools where the trail leads, and up and down the rocks with only a rope to pull yourself up. He did great, sliding around, and absoultely loved the pools. He could find ones just right for him to wade through. We took turns snorkeling around the boulders on the edge of the sea, and out into the ocean, and found some big schools of electric blue fish, a barracuda, and lots of underwater caves you could peek inside. I really wish we had a scuba tank with us and Levi and I were sure there had to be some leftover treasure in some of the underwater caves.  We left it for the next explorers. :)

The BVI's and the USVI's are a small cluster of islands, maybe 25, all within sight of each other. So, the sailing is really easy, anchorages are great and we'll be in and around here for the next week and a half. It is like nothing we've seen in the Caribbean so far, and we're glad to be here. Tomorrow is a treasure hunt for "cruising" kids on an island called Norman Island and we downloaded a treasure map and instructions to find it. So the kids are really excited to see what they find!! We'll let you know.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Real Root Beer and Ranch Dressing :)

St. Martin is half and half. The northern half is French and the southern half is Dutch. But there is a large lagoon called Simpson's Bay which is also split down the middle. We came around to the northern side and entered the bay through the French side (because it's free) at the 5:30pm opening and then came to anchor in the big bay.

Since then we've had a busy few days. We had some boat projects we'd been putting off just because we couldn't find the parts or didn't have time. St. Martin's has several cheap marine shops and you can find anything you need here.

We also had a huge shopping day and stocked up on food. We found some American brands which we were excited about and haven't seen in years!! Real Jolly Ranchers, A&W Root Beer, Cheeze Its, and Ranch dressing! :)

We also got a new dingy! For people not living on boats, the dinghy is basically our car. Once you anchor the boat, (and we usually anchor, hardly ever go to marinas....too expensive) you use your dinghy for everything.....hauling water, groceries, fuel, people, run to the store, everything. The one we've been using is the one that came with the boat when we bought it 3 years ago. It's perfect for 3-4 people and has a soft bottom. In the Mediteranean, it worked fine becasue it seemed like we were usually anchored right next to towns and it was a short ride back and forth, even if we needed to make 2 trips. But we seen in the Caribbean, everything is really spread out and we usually have a LONG way to go to town. With all of us in the dinghy, half of us usually arrive have wet pants, the stuff we bring in the dinghy is wet (not good for laptops....see early post in Turkey!), and we all arrive frustrated and grumpy. Well, we were in the marina store and someone had just brought in a flyer for a dinghy he was selling. It was just the size we need and came with a much bigger motor than the one we have. So, to put it in land terms, we went from a VW bug to a Suburban, and with 8 of us you can imagine, it was a happy day on Mehari! Even though it's a bigger motor, it's a 2-stroke which means even Emma can start it and drive it. so now it's not a problem to find someone to run errands ;) It was a great deal and we will probably end up selling it when we're done with the boat.

We checked weather and it looks like we have to wait here for a few more days then planned. So for now I guess we get to enjoy more of St. Martin :) We'll update again in a few days when we head to the British Virgin Islands...

~ Maggie

Sunday, February 12, 2012

St Barts

Hello Everyone! Sorry it's been a while since the last update...Internet has been hard to find. But I'll pick up from Antigua....

We sailed over night to the Island of St. Barts. It was our first over-night sail since the Atlantic crossing and it brought back a lot of memories. However after sailing for just 14 hours....we were still glad to see land again :)

The main harbour at St. Barts was FULL with boats of every kind. There was even a huge cruise ship anchored out with all the boats. We finally found a free mooring ball to tie up to but the bay was a bit rolly and we felt to crowded being shoved in there with about 100 other boats. So we decided to head to the north part of the island (only 3 miles north) and hope to find a bay with a little less boats. We anchored Mehari then took the dingy to shore and parked it on the beach. That's the picture above :) And we had a fun day at the beach as a family :)  Someone else had found a big starfish while snorkeling, and had it up on the rock....very cool!

Miles enjoyed rubbing sand INTO his hair and laughing as he did it (although he wasn't laughing when it took ages to wash out later) Lily and Zoe had fun making drawings and castles in the sand. They also spent time swimming with Dad, Emma and Levi. The weather was perfect and we practically had the beach to ourselves! Mom and I (Maggie) had fun talking together and watching Miles with the sand :)

Then we headed back to Mehari and Mom made a yummy dinner of Mexican Burritos with REAL homemade salsa while we watched the sunset! Not a bad day eh? :)

On Friday morning we moved to a different spot that was supposed to be good for snorkeling. Levi and Dad went first while the rest of us waited on the beach. Then Mom and Emma took a turn. They all came back very excited and had lots of fun. Levi even got to see a few Barracuda fish up close!! As well as tons of other fish and cool coral. Lily and Zoe went shell hunting on the beach and found a big jar's worth of cool shells....Miles, proudly, came back to the blanket with random rocks and wanted me to put them in the jar as well. He was just glad to be helping out...and with his little could I refuse? :) So now we have two full jars: one of rocks and one of shells :)

At around noon we got back on Mehari and set sail for St. Martin.....and so the journey continues...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Antigua - English Harbor

Heading north, slowly :)

We're in Antigua, another, absolutely beautiful island, and FULL of huge expensive boats. I guess this is THE place to be seen. It's especially busy as it's peak season, being winter in the US and England, where it looks like most of the boats are from. We look more than a little out of place where we are anchored for free and have two loads of laundry hanging on the decks, in our little catamaran or as we call her the 'station wagon of the seas.' But, no one has asked us to leave yet so I guess we're OK! 

We had a pretty decent sail up from Guadeloupe yesterday, although so far all the sailing we've done as we've headed north from Dominica, has been "uphill" or really close to the wind and it hasn't been all that great for us. We don't sail well directly into the wind and waves, and yesterday was rolly and we took tons of water over the decks. After big waves come over, they find little ways to get inside, and today is a lot of laundry and drying things out :(  or as well call it....we're having a "house-day" wishing for a washing machine, and no salt water. See? even here in 'paradise' it's not fact in some ways it's really hard. 

We are told that from this island, it's "downhill" as we should be sailing more with the wind and waves. The plan now is to head over to St Barts (Barthalemy) and then on to St. Marten, both French islands. We're also hoping the provisioning starts getting less expensive! We've used almost all our food we had stored up for the crossing, and so far, the places we've been have been VERY pricey! Bread for $5-6 US a loaf and eggs for $6 a dozen! Not good for a big family! Even local fruit isn't as cheap as we would have thought and we're just getting the bare minimums until we get to cheaper shopping, hopefully St. Marten.

Our plan for now is to head up through the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and then through the Bahamas over the next 3-4 months. It is still a lot of water to cover, some 1,800 miles, but if we break it down to bite sized chunks, I think we'll make it!

We'll try to sneak some photos of Eric Clapton's house, just over the hill, and get some pics posted. :) 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guadaloupe - Les Saintes

We launched off from Dominica, from a little picturesque town of Portsmouth, really quaint and clean. We've been in Dominica for a week and a day from the crossing, and I guess it's time to start moving again!

We still have a a long way to go, some 1900 miles as we head north back to the US, over the next few months. We've had mixed feelings about heading back, but a little detail called money and our troublesome, daily habit of eating, we decided it's time for us to head "home".  We sold our home and almost all our possesions when we left for Costa Rica 4 years ago and we think it's going to be a bit of culture shock going back again.

For us, the decision was partially made with Maggie and Levi getting to the age where they are wanting to start planning their own lives. They want to get jobs, earn money, start saving for college, cars, etc. and much more time on the boat would be unfair to them, we thought. As with the rest of life, you make decisions, live with them, make more, and on it goes. I still love John Lennon's song: "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans" So......for now, we are living, planning, praying, and scheming another family adventure in another 5 years or so......lots of new dreams which we'll save for now :)

It was only 17 miles up to a cluster of islands called : Les Saintes, part of Gudeloupe, known for great snorkeling. We have met up with a boat we met back in Rabat, Morocco. They are an American/British couple and have just completed a 7 year circumnavigation! Congratulations Jimmy and Caroline! Anyway, we're traveling together for a while and Levi, Emma and I went on a hike up a mountain with them last Sunday. Beautiful views over the bays and a lot of the pictures look like postcards. It was a steep hike and Emma 'earned' some ice cream (at least that's what she kept telling me on the hike) and we wandered into the main town of ?????? while Rachel and Maggie and the little ones spent a day relaxing on the beach. All in all, a good day and a really pretty island. We ended up a total of 2 nights here and are making our way up to pigeon island, halfway up the coast and another good spot for snorkeling we were told. I'm starting to think all the spots in the Caribbean are relative, because they are all supposed to be "beautiful" and "great snorkeling" and there's no way we're going to even see a fraction, so we'll see what we can.