Sunday, April 26, 2009

The US Virgins is where yachts heading north to the US say their final farewells to those leaving their yachts in hurricane holes in the Caribbean, or those heading back to the UK. Physical goodbyes could have been made several weeks and islands before but this is where the hard graft north begins, and paths divide. We continue to sail in company with Seawalk, sailed by Sergej, Isabelle, Alec (6) and Katie (3) but it was “Fair Winds” to amongst others Double Helix, Exuma, Odyssey and Nutmeg.

Like many families at this time of year Double Helix will be heading home soon. Catamaran Double Helix, with John, Lizzie, Ellen (5) and Ana (3) completed their Atlantic Crossing in Bridgetown, Barbados. Seraphim, Seawalk and Double Helix then sailed together from Barbados to Martinique and north through the Caribbean islands to Antigua. The ebb and flow of cruising friends adds spice for the adults but is sometimes difficult for the children. After a tearful farewell from the British yacht Nutmeg girls in St Lucia, we had a deliberately casual “we’ll see them again soon” with the Double Helix girls in English Harbour, Antigua.

Soon after, along came Charlotte (6) on Heatwave, a Leopard 42. Mummy Judy is two months younger than me and was born in the same hospital as John. Jimmy, her Dad was a New York fire fighter, then a cowboy in the West, and now a sailor, all in one lifetime …

Jack first came across Charlotte in McDonalds in St Martin which was a focus for parents with children. The offspring crazy-ed on the huge, padded climbing frame whilst the parents did ditto on free WIFI. Charlotte and the boys remained pals from St Martin to the British Virgins and the US Virgins. In Charlotte’s case the anticipated farewell play date was postponed as weather dictated we head out sooner. To paraphrase the Beatles, “All say hello and too soon say goodbye”.

Decisions to move on from Antigua, to St Barts, to St Martin, to the Virgins, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos and Bahamas are primarily based on the weather for that day or week. In December the Caribbean chain stretched out before us with literally months to go, however, as we discovered in our 02/04 journey, the time swiftly passes with exploring new places, fitting through weather windows plus all the usual mundane stuff - supermarkets, laundry and boat maintenance. Our momentum is also kept up by the knowledge that it there is a Shuttle Launch in Florida in May, it is over a thousand miles to New York and hurricane season is on our summer horizon.

The Atlantic from the US Virgins, through the Spanish Virgins to Puerto Rico and the Dominica Republic is difficult to navigate. The sea bed is mountainous with numerous shelves, changing rapidly from thousands of feet to twenty under the keel, and from smooth waters to confused and steep waves. Violent currents sweep yachts off course which when negotiating small islands and coastlines is hazardous.

The Mona Passage has a fearful reputation however, our crossing from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic was not so awful. To greet us on the east coast of DR was Punta Cana, a huge new marina, which was almost empty. Luxury apartments overlooked swimming pools measured by the acre which overlooked a long Caribbean beach. At one end of each pool was a bar with seats in the pool. Rest day’s toughest choice was which pool next? They even had their own lifeguard, and, dull but essential, free laundry.

Covering the miles from the Virgins north to the Turks meant a lot of engine hours. Twelve hour days of pounding engine was exhausting. But, at the end we had powder sand and crystal waters, pretty much everyday, unless it was Ocean World where we had dolphin shows, seals shows, shark shows, parrot shows, love birds and tigers. A totally different experience to Luperon, the third world anchorage which is the usual jump off from DR to cross the Mouchoir Banks to the Turks.

Big Sand Cay in the southern Turks and Caicos is where the real superlatives start. Idyllic, paradise, and heavenly all applied as we worked our way to and through the Bahamas. Although late in the season we had hoped for whales, and at day break as we sailed into Plana Cay, in the southern Bahamas, a sperm whale swam past.

Plana Cay where we spent Easter Day was heaven on earth. It's a hard won paradise surrounded by at least forty miles of Atlantic Ocean which even in the best conditions can force an arduous passage.

From Plana it was onto Conception Island (where Jack was made) George Town, Rat Cay, Black Point where we visited the Garden of Eden, Staniel Cay where the boys swam in the James Bond Thunderball Cave and then to Wadderwick Wells in the north of the Exuma chain. All are sublime, breathtaking and glorious.

As Wifi is sporadic here, we’ll post more pictures and more about them all when we arrive in the USA in a week or so.