Leeward Islands

imageThe Lesser Antilles on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea includes the Virgin Islands, Leeward Islands and Windward Islands. A few hundred years ago while the Spanish spent more time in the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba), the English, French and Dutch spent their time squabbling over the smaller fertile islands of the Lesser Antilles. The period between the 1600s to 1800s attracted privateers, pirates, pillaging and plundering! European powers with colonisation on their minds, removed then replaced indigenous peoples with thousands of African slaves to work sugar cane crops and such for the European market. imageThe Treaty of Paris in 1814-15 settled much of the rivalry resulting in the sovereignty of islands between England, France and the Netherlands. Finally after slavery was abolished and there was no economic gain to be had, Britain relinquished their power over their group of islands, while France retained their islands as Overseas Departments and the Dutch territories remain as a small federated group. There are still some ‘pirates’ around but they are usually connected in some way to the new industry – tourism!

Our travels along the Leeward Islands took us from St Maarten (Dutch), past Statia (Dutch), to St Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua (all three formerly British), Guadaloupe (French) and Dominica (also formerly British). From St Maarten which had been our home for two (long) months, we sailed south close hauled until we reached Ballast Bay on the southern tip of St Kitts, dropping anchor in the open anchorage at 8pm (57nm). We have to take the easterly winds when we can get them as the trade winds from the south east blow consistently making traveling south along the Leeward Islands slightly challenging. I can’t remember when we had our last downwind sail – haven’t used our spinnaker since who knows?

The next morning we motor sailed five miles to Nevis where we caught up with Brian (Coruisk). He had hired a car and took us for a spin around the island, stopping for a lunch of pig feet soup and goat-water soup at a local roadside bar. Many of the islands’ currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar which is around AUD$1 = EC$2. The French islands use the Euro and USD can usually be used anywhere. Customs into Charlestown at Nevis cost EC$112 which included minimum two nights on a mooring, plus EC$30 customs fee.

From Nevis to the north end of Montserrat we sailed, tacked, tacked again and tacked once more. The 35nm trip after tacking was more like a frustrating 50nm trip – for the past few months we’ve done nothing more than bash into winds. A quiet night on anchor at Rendezvous Bay on the north west of the island of Montserrat, we left early the next day in the hope of reaching Deshaies at Guadaloupe. Unfortunately the wind was more southerly than expected so we changed our minds and decided to head north east to Antigua instead!

As we left Montserrat, Coruisk caught flotsam of rope and floats around the prop. Wayne jumped in to cut it free and after a while a huge lump of rope and crap was brought on deck to be dumped later on land. Not long after and just north of Montserrat, Blue Heeler snagged some fishing floats and rope. Luckily it just snagged the prop and didn’t wrap around. We stopped the boat by furling the sails and Wayne jumped in to free the rope. We continued our sail watching out for bobbing floats.

Approaching Jolly Harbour, Antigua

Approaching Jolly Harbour, Antigua

Jolly Harbour on the western side of Antigua has a wide outer anchorage and easy approach. It can get a little bumpy with 25+ winds though. The customs dock further inside the harbour has a large yellow flag indicating the customs, immigration, and port offices. The customs guy was particularly impressed with the computerised eSeaClear online clearance system. I hate to burst his bubble but the process is still not as easy as the French islands and is limited only to Antigua.

A quick visit to Immigration. Three immigration staff, all women, were watching a daytime chat show while they worked in their tiny office. The hot news story was about Madonna showing her ‘ass’ at a recent celebrity event. This outrageous act had all three women verbally asserting their opposing views as to whether ‘old women’ should carry on so. Finally, as she stamped our passports, one young woman who was clearly unimpressed with a 57 year old woman flaunting her bum declared “Shez too old for dat; she shud put some clothes on, that’s wha’ she shud do”! Ha ha!

We stayed at Jolly Harbour five days until the winds shifted to the east. One day Wayne and I caught the local public minibus (number 20) to the capital St John where we had a brief look around, then another bus (number 17) to historic Nelsons Dockyards at English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour. The dockyards restoration began about thirty years ago and the area is well worth the visit.

View of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

View of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

The next day we joined Brian for a trip up to Shirley’s Lookout to the east of English Harbour with spectacular views overlooking English and Falmouth Harbours. Here we listened to the Halcyon Steel Drum Band belt out a few contemporary and many golden oldies on their shiny steel drums and enjoyed a BBQ meal with about 300 other tourists!

From Antigua we sailed south to Deshaies at Guadaloupe. We were here last year so clearing in was familiar to us and is easily done for four Euros at the tourist shop La Pelican. Fortunately we managed to grab one of the free moorings right outside the dinghy dock. I went in for a swim, and even though the water wasn’t particularly clean I saw a couple of turtles lurking in the sea grass below.

Impressive coast of Guadaloupe

Impressive coast of Guadaloupe

The following morning, again taking advantage of easterly winds, we motor sailed the incredibly scenic coast of Guadaloupe, vowing to return next year to explore further (I think we said that last year!). The short 7nm from the bottom to Iles de Saints was breezy, but the next leg 20nm across to Dominica had plenty of squalls over 25knots plus a few rogue waves that washed up and over the bimini. We arrived at the large open bay of Portsmouth on Dominica’s north west corner in late afternoon.

I always had an idea that sailing in the Caribbean would be in fine weather, light breezes over aqua water, being careful not to spill one’s drink. But it’s not really like that much of the time. Sailing south against the trade winds can be surprisingly tough and anchorages within the ports of volcanic islands can be deep with dark sandy beaches.

Dominica is a rugged island with a wild history of colonisation, slavery, pirates, and eventually independence. Here we met Mr Bond…

Portsmouth, Dominica

Portsmouth, Dominica

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Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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