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Voyage of Traveler / Blog

January 30, 2010

Traveler Postcard from Montserrat

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 5:26 pm

I don’t know,
Oh, I don’t know,
I don’t a-know where I’m a-gonna go
When the volcano blows.
–Jimmy Buffet

January 29, 2010
Little Bay, Montserrat

We almost skipped this island, but we’re glad we stopped here.

Almost skipped it for two reasons:
(1) Ten days ago when we were on passage from Guadeloupe to Antigua, we could see, from 30 miles out at sea, the volcano of Montserrat blowing its top, with huge clouds of gas and ash billowing a mile high into the sky and then the trade winds blowing the massive cloud to the west, and (2) following back-to-back devastating hurricanes in the late 80s and the massive volcanic eruptions of 1995 and 1997, the island is just not what it used to be.  But I decided to go anyway.  Call it morbid curiosity.  The recent pyroclastic flow of super-heated ash, pumice and rock went all the way to the sea, burning a few houses in its path.

The volcano was still erupting as we dropped anchor, and continued to erupt the entire time we were on the island.  It was the first time that Brian had seen a volcano, literally, blowing its top.  Pretty exciting.  In addition to the eruptions, the island’s volcanologists (is that the right word?) report that the island has had about 10,000 earthquakes in the past year.  But that’s normal, nowadays, they say.

The devastating 1995 eruption covered Plymouth, the island’s capital and home to most of the residents, in several feet of ash, which then hardened like concrete with the rain, making it a modern-day Pompeii. Fortunately, they had some advanced warning and most of the residents took the advice to evacuate. Most went to London, shipped there by the Royal Marines.  Our taxi driver told us that many of them froze to death the first winter. Of those who stayed behind, only nineteen died from the volcano. The island had a population of 12,000 before 1995, and now has only 4,000.  The 1997 volcanic eruption, one of the largest in modern history, blew ash as far west as Panama, and with it acid rain. The southerly two-thirds of the island are in the so-called Exclusion Zone, which extends two miles out to sea, and is described as “extremely dangerous.”

We toured the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, on the edge of the Exclusion Zone, and saw their half hour film about the island’s ‘95 and ‘97 violent eruptions, while the volcano was erupting again!

A large eruption also happened this past December while a rare southerly wind blew, covering the northerly part of the island with three inches of ash and giving the islanders a ghostly, pyroclastic White Christmas.

On arrival tourists are given a brochure warning of the volcanic hazards.  This includes, “Explosions can throw hot or cold blocks into the air.  Known as ballistic projectiles or bombs, they travel like cannonballs, usually landing within 5 km of the volcano. They can be as big as cars.”  Nice.  No wonder there are no tourists here.

Many British rock stars came here often in the 80s and early 90s to record their music, including Elton John, Dire Straits, Sting and many others.  Sir Elton still owns a home here and came for a week’s vacation recently.  To be sure, the island is not what it used to be, and is still a very dangerous place to live.  Or visit, for that matter.

Living the Dream,
Michael
with Brian and Yansen

P.S.  My next Postcard will be from Redonda.  Where’s Redonda, you ask?
It’s located between Montserrat and Nevis, closer to Montserrat (only 9 miles).  But it is officially a part of the country of Antigua and Barbuda, which are more than 25 miles away. This tiny islet, only 2 sq km, has 1000 ft. high vertical cliffs all around and dangerous surf breaking on its rocky shoreline, with no harbor, beaches or even a safe place to anchor. It was the last island in the Caribbean to be claimed by any government, probably because it is nearly impossible to go ashore. The British claimed it in 1865, and it was made a dependent of Antigua and Barbuda in 1967. But it has a wacky past.  In 1865 an Irishman from Montserrat, Matthew Dowdy Shiel, poking fun at the British for taking claim to Redonda, claimed the island for himself and made his infant son, Matthew Phipps Shiel, the King of Redonda in a ceremony purportedly carried out on the island by a bishop. In 1927 Matthew Phipps Shiel, then a minor author of fantasy novels, launched a new book with the announcement that he was, indeed, the King of Redonda, and the London press played it up. This gave the otherwise unheard of island an international splash of notoriety.  The royal history gets a little foggy after that. At one time there were four claimants to the throne. (Please keep in mind not only is the islet uninhabited, it is completely uninhabitable.) One “King” (Juan I, aka Jon Gawsworth), a colorful resident of London with a bit of a drinking problem, would grant knighthoods to people who would buy him a pint. In 2007, the Wellington Arms, a pub in Southampton, declared themselves an embassy of the Kingdom of Redonda in order to gain diplomatic immunity from a ban on indoor smoking.  For the past decade, Bob Williamson (or as he preferred, King Bob the Bald) held court in the waterfront bars of Antigua surrounded by his knights (drinking buddies) and navy (one derelict sailboat).  But his recent death has opened the door for the next king to claim the throne.  Hummmm…..

January 29, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Antigua

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 2:48 pm

January 23 to 28, 2010
Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua

i-helped-haiti.JPG

Traveler St. Lucia to Antigua (view photo gallery)

“I HELPED HAITI.”  That was the title for the benefit concert and also what the souvenir T-shirts said in big bold letters, with “Dockyard, Antigua January 23, 2010″ in small letters underneath.  We arrived at the historic Nelson’s Dockyard on the island of Antigua just in time to attend the big event–with a dozen bands taking the stage from 5pm to midnight.  A local dance troupe of darling young girls entertained the crowd of 2,000 between bands. Several restaurants had food booths and were cooking up some tasty Caribbean barbecue.  The whole time a slide show of disaster photos of the devastating earthquake in Haiti was projected on a jumbo screen next to the stage, giving meaning to the fundraiser.  (These were the first photos of the tragedy that we saw.)

Superyacht Cup Antigua 2010.  About 30 amazing mega-sailboats gathered for the Superyacht Cup regatta hosted by the Antigua Yacht Club. The yachts were all over 100 ft., with many in the 200 ft. range.  The largest was Mirabella V (Google it for photos and details), which is the largest sloop in the world, at 72 meters (236 feet.)  The mast is 92m (351 ft.) above the waterline and is so tall the boat cannot pass through the Panama Canal because it will not clear under the Bridge of the Americas. The main sail alone weighs 4,000 lbs (2 tons!) and a forklift must be used to take it on or off the boat.  Mirabella charters out at the rate of $400,000 per week.  Brian and I crashed the cocktail reception for the owners and crew at the Admiral’s Inn at the Dockyard and met two of Mirabella’s crew.  They said we could go aboard for a tour, but would have to wait around for five days until after the owner and his guests left, which didn’t fit into our schedule. Oh, well.

Antigua and the neighboring island of Barbuda (along with an uninhabited islet called Redonda, 25 miles to the W–more about that in a later Postcard) make up the country of Antigua and Barbuda.  The islands were discovered and named by Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage.  The British Navy, under the command of Horatio Nelson, controlled most of the Lesser Antilles from the well-protected English Harbor and the neighboring Falmouth Harbor on the S coast of Antigua.  The country gained its independence from the UK in 1981.  Nelson’s Dockyard is a National Park with a dozen or so beautifully restored buildings from the 18th century situated one of the most picturesque harbors in the Caribbean.

We had a blast in Antigua.  Beautiful white sand beaches (they boast of 365 beaches, one for every day of the year), and fabulous and fun anchorages for yachting.

Our next Postcard will be from Montserrat.  Until then,

Living the Dream,
Michael
with Brian and Yansen

January 24, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Dominica and Guadeloupe

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 4:22 pm

Hello from beautiful Dominica and
Bon jour de tres jolie Guadeloupe,

January 16.  We sailed the 42 nm from Fort-de-France, Martinique north to Scott’s Head, Dominica (pronounced dom-i-NEE-ca) in just six hours on a beam reach with reefed sails, averaging 7 knots made good, in perfect sailing conditions.  Unfortunately, I had a miserable head cold, took a pill and slept through it, leaving my sister Melissa, my brother Drew, my son Brian and our crew Yansen to sail Traveler between these two Windward Islands. Drew joined us for a week beginning Jan. 12 in St. Lucia and Melissa joined us for an overlapping week beginning Jan. 15 on the neighboring island of Martinique.

Scott’s Head was too windy to stop for the night, plus anchoring is forbidden here as it is a Marine Reserve and there were no moorings available.  So we continued on another hour to Roseau’s Anchorage Hotel where we picked up a mooring for two nights.  15-17N, 061-22.6W.  We were immediately met by a Rastafarian boat boy who insisted we pay him a $10 per night mooring fee even though the government-owned moorings are supposed to be free to encourage yachting tourism.  For this forced ‘gratuity’ you buy (some) protection from thievery, theoretically.  You still need to lock everything. The dread locked boat boy (about age 30) was nicknamed Smoky because, we were told, he likes to smoke a lot of weed.  “Welcome to Dominica, mon.”

We had a Captain’s Dinner that night to celebrate Melissa’s and Drew’s visit to Traveler.  It was the first time they have been on board together since the ‘07 Ensenada Race, and Brian was on that race, too, making for a nice reunion.  It was Melissa’s second visit on Traveler’s circumnavigation, the first being in Moorea and Huahine two years ago.

January 17.  Melissa, Drew, Brian and I took an all-day tour of the island with a husky, happy guide nicknamed Fat Head. But we called him Stowe, his preferred other nickname.  His real name is Archibald, but he doesn’t like it.  While we toured, Yansen stayed on Traveler to guard the boat and to nurse his cut toe.  Stowe was a great guide and showed us some amazing natural wonders. First we went to Titou Gorge, better known now as the Pirates of the Caribbean Gorge because of the scene with Orlando Bloom and the Carib Indians filmed there. Imagine a gorgeous mountainous rain forest, walking carefully across a swollen river on a sketchy bridge, then swimming 100 yards upstream through a narrow, winding gorge with vertical cliffs to a ten foot waterfall. With the help of Stowe to show us the way–he literally pull us up the last two steps of the waterfall–we then jumped over the falls into the swirling water below. Yes, it rained the whole day, but that was a big part of the allure. The air temp was hot, so the rain felt good.

We then drove a few miles to the Roseau Valley’s Trafalgar Falls, the island’s most popular natural attraction. We climbed over boulders, past a warning sign that said we should not go further due to the high risk of flash floods, and swam in the natural pool below the larger of the two side-by-side waterfalls. This was a spectacular 200 ft. high waterfall with a lot of flow, so there was a huge amount of mist blowing strongly at the bottom of the falls and an equally huge roar from the water crashing onto the rocks.  We loved it!  Then it got even better.  We bouldered some more downstream to where a small side creek merged with the river.  The side creek was fed by a hot springs, with the water temperature a perfect 102 degrees. We found a place where you could lay in the shallow creek with your head under a three foot waterfall, giving your head and neck a naturally heated hydro massage.  And the best part was we had the whole place to ourselves.  We happened to be there on a day when no cruise ships were visiting the island.  Normally, there are 2,000 to 3,000 cruise ship tourists a day tripping over each other here.  Drew told me that before today he has only read about extraordinary natural wonders like this and never thought he would have a chance to experience them, and that it was one of the best days of his life.  We all agreed.  Living the dream!

January 18.  Drew started his day at six in the morning for a long flight home via San Juan. The rest of us motored in light air to the NW corner of the island and anchored at Prince Ruppert Bay near the mouth of the Indian River.  15-34N, 061-27.5W.  Here we hired a guide to row us in his boat upstream through a natural tunnel of palm trees, swamp ferns, wild hibiscus and anthuriums, with herons and egrets stalking the shallows. After rowing us for about a mile we came to yet another scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean, where the woman witch doctor lived, and a casual bar hidden deep in the jungle.  It was very much like a ride on Disneyland’s Jungle Boat Cruise, but real.  That night we had a Captain’s Dinner to celebrate Yansen’s 28th birthday, his second onboard Traveler!–last year he was with us for his birthday after sailing from Bali to Singapore.

Christopher Columbus discovered Dominica in November of 1493 on his Second Voyage and noted in his logbook that the island was “remarkable for the beauty of its mountains…and must be seen to believed.”  It has not changed much since his visit, and we found it to be full of adventure and stunningly gorgeous natural wonders.

January 19.  We sailed north across the channel to Les Saintes, a group of eight small islands just seven miles south of Guadeloupe, and anchored at Anse du Borg on the isle of Terre-de-Haut.  The guide books describe this place as one of the best cruising destinations in the French West Indies, and we agree.  We can see why the French and British fought so hard for these islands.  The largest sea battle between these two nations in the Caribbean occurred here on April 12, 1782. The British, under the command of Adm. Rodney, won the Battle of the Saints, which turned out to be the decisive factor in determining British supremacy in the Caribbean. The French later secured the colony for good in 1815, and it remains as much a part of France today as Hawaii is to the US.  Brian, Melissa and I went body surfing on the Atlantic side of the island, just at the windward end of a small quiet airstrip.  As we dried off, an airplane took off and buzzed us, just 30 feet over our heads.  We had our backs to the runway and didn’t hear him coming until he was VERY CLOSE, and suddenly VERY LOUD!  It really got the adrenalin pumping.

January 20 and 21.  We sailed north to the Ilet du Gosier, on the southern shore of the butterfly-shaped Guadeloupe.  We anchored for lunch and explored the islet’s old lighthouse.  Too rolly to spend the night there, we motored up to the capital of Pointe-a-Pitre.  After anchoring for an hour or so near the city center (not much to see there), we re-anchored a mile south at the Marina Bas De Fort, the island’s yachting haven.  We went ashore and got two loads of laundry done for us at a small cleaners.  On the way back to Traveler via the dinghy, holding our clean, dry and folded laundry, a squall hit us with a drenching rain.  All we could do was laugh and, after drying out back on board Traveler, have a pina colada.

January 22.  Melissa flew home from here early in the morning after a wonderful week onboard Traveler. And we sailed around the southwesterly end of Guadeloupe, then north up to Pigeon Island, where we snorkeled at the Cousteau Marine Reserve (excellent!) We then motored another ten miles north and anchored at the picturesque and well protected bay of Deshaies.

The next Postcard will be from Antigua.

Until then, we’re Living the Dream,
Michael, with Brian and Yansen

January 19, 2010

Traveler Postcard from St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Martinique

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 5:41 pm

January 16
14-35.9N, 061-04.2W
Fort-de-France, Martinique

Happy New Year,

Much has happened since my last postcard to you from Tobago Cays in the Grenadines three weeks ago.

Mustique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dec. 29. This is a private island for the rich and famous. Among other celebrities, Mick Jagger keeps a house here and we heard he was ‘on island’ for New Years Eve.  Prince Andrew likes to vacation here too. This is where he got caught cheating on his wife, Princess Sarah (”Fergie”), with the exotic dancer Koo. Lots of mega yachts when we visited.  When we arrived there was a big surf break on a reef about a half mile off shore.  I dinghied out with Brian to watch him surf and I got caught inside on a huge set that came in.  I floored the dinghy out toward the oncoming wave, adrenalin pumping, worried that it would break on me and flip the dinghy.  It peaked just as I was at full speed on the face of the wave. I got launched riding in the dinghy about 8 feet in the air and came crashing down on the back side of the wave.  I cut my nose on the fiberglass floor board, bleeding badly. At first I thought I broke my nose, but it was just banged up. Barbara was watching us from Traveler with the binoculars at that moment and thought I went wave jumping on purpose for the thrill.  She said she couldn’t believe how high I was able to get the dinghy out of the water.  A few drinks on Traveler and then more ashore at the famous Basil’s Bar helped ease the pain.

Bequia, Dec. 30-Jan. 1. What a popular place for cruising sailboats, especially for New Years! There were over 100 boats anchored in Port Elizabeth on the Island of Bequia (pronounced beck-way), including a few yachty friends that we got to know from Rabat and the Canary Islands.  Also, Larry Ellison on Rising Sun dropped anchor near us. (Is he following us?) Barbara and I had a New Years Eve extended happy hour on our friends’ boat, Feel Free, with four other couples, then dinner ashore at the popular waterfront Whale Boner Restaurant. (That’s really the name of the place.) Big fireworks show at midnight. Then on New Years Day we watched Oregon and Ohio State in the Rose Bowl at a sports bar.  A one-man steel drum musician played for the bar crowd, bringing in the New Year with a distinctive Caribbean flavor.

Jan. 2. St. Vincent.  We sailed up to the gorgeous Chateaubelair Bay on the Island of St. Vincent. (13-18N, 061-14.2W)  This was another filming site for the Pirates of the Caribbean. We enjoyed kayaking, swimming and snorkeling around the boat, which was anchored at the foot of spectacular cliff.  Boat boys paddled out about a mile from the village to sell us fruit and bread.

Jan. 3-12. Vieux Fort, St. Lucia.  We sailed from St. Vincent 25 miles north to Vieux Fort, St. Lucia, and from there Barbara and I flew back to LAX, leaving Brian and Yansen on the Traveler alone for a week.  Barbara had to go back to work teaching after her Christmas break, and I had to go back for a trial in the Estate of Bennett. While in Newport Beach I also got my income taxes done (not much income, so that was easy), got my teeth cleaned and had a few things removed at the dermatologist. I got to visit with my sister Allyson and her husband Matthew as we watched their daughters, Hannah and Emmy, play their soccer games.  And I got to see my other sister Dana and her son George, in NB, where we spent the night on our brother Drew’s new yacht, Huck Fin, at the BYC.  And we got together again at our mom’s and step dad’s home in Rancho Mirage.  We saw three great movies: Avitar in 3D Imax, It’s Complicated and The Blind Side.

Jan. 12-18.  Drew flew with me from LAX back to St. Lucia to “live the dream” on Traveler for a week, and what a week it was. We saw three great Caribbean islands: St. Lucia, Martinique and Dominica.

St. Lucia.  The highlights were snorkeling at the Soufriere Marine Park near the majestic twin pitons–a World Heritage Site, and then spending the rest of the day and night in Marigot Bay, described by James Michener to be “the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean.”  At Marigot, we visited with our friends Rob and Rebecca for happy hour on Bagheera (the ultra sleek Wally 80 race boat–Google it to see the recent article in Yachting World.) We then went to the Discovery Marigot Bay Resort, voted to be the Best Resort Hotel, not just in St. Lucia, but in the entire Caribbean. At the bar we saw the owner of the 312 ft. mega-mega yacht Indian Empress, Vijay Millya (net worth $1.2B), having a beer while two of his 20-man crew were playing ping pong.  Vijay was surrounded by his family, friends and bodyguards–an entourage of about 20, just having a good time.  (We later found out he is the richest guy in India and owns, among other things, United Brewery, Kingfisher Airlines, and a Formula One Racing Team.) Anyway, so Brian goes up to Vijay, introduces himself, they shake hands, and then Brian asks him if he knows how to play beer pong!  Vijay’s bodyguards were watching Brian very closely and not sure what to make of the situation.

Martinique. We had a great day-sail from St. Lucia 35 miles N to Fort de France, Martinique.  This island is just as much a part of France as Hawaii or Alaska is a part of the US.  Our first day we found only one person who spoke English.  She was French Canadian, ran the marine hardware store and handled customs and immigration.  (Earlier, in St. Lucia, we went through a great amount of trouble and expense to get a French visa for Yansen to visit this island, but she didn’t even check our passports saying it wasn’t necessary for crew on cruising sailboats.) We rented a car and drove around the island, seeing Le Carbet where Columbus went ashore on his fourth voyage in 1502.  Brian climbed up most of the way to Montagne Pelee, and active volcano.  In 1902 the volcano erupted destroying the-then capital of St. Pierre and killing all but one of its inhabitants.  The lone survivor was a prisoner in the city jail.  In 1762 the British conquered the island.  By the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French had to give up Canada, which they referred to as “a few acres of snow,” to get back their beloved “Isle of Flowers.” Napoleon’s wife, Josephine was born on Martinique later that year.  A couple of months earlier and the woman who later became the Empress of France would have been born British! In a park in Fort de France, the capital since the ‘02 eruption, there is a statue of Josephine, the pride and joy of Martinique.  But in 1995 a travel guide book pointed out that Josephine had a large roll in re-instituting slavery on the island causing quite an uproar.  The island is 95% black and nearly all are descendants of slaves.  Someone beheaded Josephine’s statue, and it remains that way today.

My sister, Melissa, flew in to Martinique to join us for a week, so her holiday overlapped with our brother Drew’s for a few days. It was the first time the three of us have been aboard since the 2007 Newport to Ensenada Race (Brian was on Traveler for that race, too), and it was Melissa’s second visit on Traveler’s world tour–her first being in Moorea and Huahine two years earlier.

My next Postcard will be from Dominica (pronounced dom-i-NEE-ca) and Guadeloupe (guad-e-LOOP.)

Living the Dream,
Michael

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