Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

As we start writing this, it is definitely not beginning to feel a lot like Christmas here.  Milvina is anchored in about 2 meters of aqua coloured water in Aruba.  Neil is off taking a kitesurfing lesson while I am doing the pre-Christmas thing.  Once we leave here it will be very busy till Derek, Michael and Claire then Becca arrive for the holidays.  (We were in Cartagena by the time we finished this)

Neil has to return to Canada in December for another injection into his eye.  It is big on the ugh factor but  it does not hurt at all and luckily the treatment for his central retinal vein obstruction is working and he is keeping his eye sight in his left eye.

We started 2018 in St Lucia and spent the first few months of the year cruising the South East Caribbean islands.

St Lucia is a beautiful island with of course the classic warm Caribbean climate.  We enjoyed St Lucia but found the locals mostly unhelpful with far too may harassing us to buy trinkets we did not want.  Petty crime is rife.

Watson and Wiz Leslie, roommates from 50 years ago, joined us for a couple of weeks fun.  The photo shows the Rodney Bay anchorage from one of the many delightful restaurants in the area.

Relics abound of the colonial days when Brits, French, Dutch and others cruised the region in wooden ships taking pot-shots at each other.  Some of the old buildings are restored and offer interesting tours.   The forts with heavy guns at the top of cliffs are a testament to the ingenuity and brutally hard work of the pre Victorian sailors,

After rough 15 mile ride across the St Lucia Chanel we arrived in France.  The island is Martinique, which is technically a part of the mother country, not a colony.  Standard of living is European, excellent French bakeries abound and Euro is the local currency.    

Like all the Caribbean islands, Martinique has a turbulent history.  Some irate locals tried to destroy this statue of Napoleon’s wife, protesting her alleged support for slavery.   They succeeded only in pulling her head off.  It has been preserved as a historical landmark.  The head is reputedly in a government warehouse.

With stable government and relatively efficient civil service, Martinique has a thriving economy based on agriculture, rum and tourism.  We enjoyed it a lot, including a good hike to the top of Mount Pelee, which erupted destroyed the town of St Pierre just over 100 years ago.  Unlike some recently active volcanos, there is no sign of activity at the top.

Next island North is Dominica, a former British colony.  It is desperately poor, but we found the people welcoming and friendly.  We arrived about 5 months after the island was devastated by hurricane Maria.  Like many yachties, we helped with reconstruction of a charitable kitchen and other buildings.  Some of the locals have worked hard to rebuild, while a lot just sit around, effectively living off their hard-working brothers.

Dominica has several beautiful waterfalls, and we visited some of them, and swam in their pools.   Access to many of the falls requires a hike, and we were impressed a how hard the locals had worked to rebuild the trails after hurricane Maria downed so many trees.

After the relatively primitive Dominica, we sailed on North to France again, on the island of Terre de Haut, in the Saintes group of islands, a few miles South of Guadeloupe.  Very French, great food and several colonial forts worth visiting.  Historically,  the people on the Saintes rans a pretty closed community, and after the military left in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat, the population eventually became quite inbred.  Having observed the problem, some bright Parisienne civil servant solved it by decreeing that a French Navy ship to spend a few weeks every year in the same beautiful anchorage as we used.  Today’s local population seemed very healthy and enterprising to us.   

There is less visible wildlife on these islands that we have been used to in Scotland, but lizards abound.  They move like some of the reptiles in Jurassic Park, but are fortunately much smaller.

We spent a week or so on the main island of Guadeloupe which was enjoyable, but not so interesting as Martinque.

The giant P&O cruise ship, Azura, came gliding 50 metres or so from us while we were at anchor in Ponte à Pitre.  The captain, Evans Hoyt, is an old sailing friend so he invited us the other Ocean Cruising Club members in the anchorage to visit his ship.

Azura is a spectacular vessel.   Effectively a five-star hotel afloat.  Although the passenger accommodations are exotic, we sailors were more impressed by the technical features.  The bridge is like the Starship Enterprise, with fingertip controls for handling the huge ship.  Like other cruise ships, passenger desires dictate that they sail to ports built for the much smaller ships of yesteryear, so manoeuvring into the dock is often a challenge.  Azura’s bridge is 50 metres wide.  The photo looking across it cannot show it all, because it is along, graceful curve.

After a couple of stops at quiet anchorages on the west side of Guadelope, with good snorkelling we headed on North to Antigua.   It was our first visit since 1979, so we saw lots of differences, mostly for the better.  

Antigua is much drier than the islands to the South that we had been visiting, so it lacks the lush jungle greenery and spectacular waterfalls.   On the other hand, hiking is more pleasant in the low humidity, so we covered a lot more ground on foot.

The annual Classic Yacht week in Antigua was in full swing when we arrived, so there were some beautiful old wooden yachts there to participate in the racing.  The smallest yacht in this picture is about the size of Milvina.

Derek’s girl-friend, Becca, joined us for a week. We had some good sailing and swimmig

Derek and Neil went diving in the typically clear Caribbean water.  A couple of remora had a look at us, but kept their distance.

Gary and Leslie Bryan joined us for a few days and introduced us so some of their very hospitable friends, made when Gary had lived on Antigua years ago.

After Becca left, Derek stayed another week and we sailed across to Monserrat.  About 20 years ago this island was devasted by a volcanic eruption which lasted on and off for a few years.  There is still some visible volcanic activity.  We had a great tour of the island with a local guide.  His iPad carried pictures taken before the eruption, and he showed them to us when we stopped at each location.  The comparisons are spectacular.

The roof beams are still showing in this picture because the eruption generates a pyroclastic flow of steam, dust, sand and rocks, which was not as hot as lava.  The flow was faster than lava flows we have seen on TV,  but not hot enough to catch fire.   Most of the population left their island but about 5000 remain, living in the undamaged north end by agriculture and tourism

When we sailed back to Antigua, we learned that we had not complied exactly with the ambiguous instructions on the new on-line system for clearing out.  This resulted in being summoned to the capital for an idiotic 2-hour tongue lashing by the assistant director of the immigration department, who suffers from verbal diarrhea.  It was a waste of a morning, but Helen and I burst out laughing as soon as we got out of sight of his office.

After Derek left, Heather Tyler joined us for the 500 mile voyage across the Caribbean to Bonaire.  With a strong fair wind we had a fast and uneventful trip.

The island is a pleasant semi-independent part of Holland, with stunning diving and snorkeling conditions.  Anchoring is prohibited, to protect the coral, so we picked up a mooring in 10 feet of water on the coastal shelf, with our

stern dangling over the deep.   The sea-life around the boat was worth quite a lot of
snorkel time, as were a couple of scuba dives and snorkel trips by dinghy   

The locals enjoy festivals, and we were lucky enough to be there at the right time for the one in the village of Rincon.

Like may boats in Bonaire we were head for Curacao, a days sail to the West to lay up for the hurricane season and go home.

We got home from Curacao in early May, and jumped into the usual house maintenance First Responder work.

Time seemed fly by as we worked on things around and in the house.  Helen’s Mom has a very nice apartment at the Manoir in Knowlton and everyone is very helpful and caring.  Frank, her companion for 14 years, died last December at the ripe old age of 102.  Because of the caring of the staff at the Manoir, he was able to spend his last days in peace with Mom at his side.

After a couple of weeks at home we became foster parents to a pair of orphaned baby racoons.  They were lots of fun.  Initially they played with us like puppies, living in a small cage we built, mostly for their protection from predators at night. 

Derek and Becca drove across from Calgary for a visit while the wee guys were still very friendly and had fun with them.

Michael and Claire came for a week shortly later, so we had a good time with them too.

After that we headed west to BC to see Michael and Claire who had moved to Comox on Vancouver Island.  Quite a change from living in Vancouver but they love it.  They have bought a 26 foot sail boat and Neil was able to help Michael with an engine problem it had – it felt right at home digging into the engine compartment!

Claire’s parents had invited us to use their ski chalet at Mount Washington.  The hill must get masses of snow in winter as entry is on the second floor and they tell us in winter you want straight in the snow is so high.  There are great walking paths in the valley floor – the swamps areas have board walks – great for the environment and for super easy walking!

We toured the middle part of Vancouver Island, admiring the scenery including the giant, old-growth trees in Cathedral Grove

As summer turned to Fall, the racoons became wilder but still came along at nights to eat dogfood we put out for them.

Neil left for Curacao soon after we got back.  He was sweating buckets as he worked in small spaces to get the new watermaker and refrigeration system in stalled.  A three-week project soon stretched to 5 weeks but he finally got them done and into the water before I got there.

Helen arrived in Curacao in early November and we launched Milvina  to join the Ocean Cruising Club OCC) Western Caribbean Rally, better known as the Suzie Too Rally, after the very competent volunteer organiser Suzanne Chappell on the yacht Suzie Too.   We had a week on Aruba, a day to the west of Curacao, but found it overly loaded with hotels and jewelry stores and trinket shops catering to cruise ships.

Early December saw us in Santa Marta in Colombia, which we found fascinating and enjoyable.

Neil and Diane Norwood joined in to a four day hike to a pre-Columbian “Lost City” which was abandoned about 1650 when the Spaniards introduced European diseases which decimated the population.  The relatively large towns were of course worst hit by the epidemics, and became considered as cursed by the indigenous peoples.   The city was truly forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1973.  It is somewhat similar to the better known Machu Picchu.


We are now in Cartagena for Christmas with Michel, Claire, Derek and Becca.  The city has lots of fascinating history.    It is also crowded and hot, with lots of activity.   Masses of modern high-rise buildings dominate some areas whilst other areas a quite poor and crumbling.

The massive fort of San Philippe has stood guard over the city for four hundred years.

After Christmas, we plan to sail West to quiet and undeveloped islands in Columbia then Panama

We want to wish you all a very merry Christmas and health and happiness in the New Year.

Helen and Neil