St Kitts and Nevis: Short and hefty

St Kitts and Nevis is another very small state in the Eastern Caribbean with an estimated(!) population of 55‘000 only. No state so far was too small to give us a nice Welcome. Here, they sent a pretty large whale jumping out of water several times, leaving huge splashes whenever it plunged back. Good he didn’t decide to cuddle with Yuana.

St Kitts is actually also known as St Christopher, the name given by Columbus after his own name. We have met the traces of Columbus many times here in the West Indies. He discovered most of the Easter Caribbean Islands for Spain. Touching history is so much better then just learning it out of school books.

In Columbus’ wake came other Europeans. Too many times, this ended bloody for the Caribs, also in St Kitts. A small number of aboriginal Caribs remains, today living in Dominica. Today, the lands are mainly owned and populated by the descendants of African slaves. Speaking about population of St Kitts, one should not forget to mention the green velvet monkeys. They are up and around until 10a.m., before sun gets too warm.

Arriving at the Southernmost tip of St Kitts, we were astonished to find a high finish mega yacht harbor. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Miss-leaded Investment? Nearby was the Salt Plage, perhaps the coolest beach bar we have ever seen. The palm trees, lounge sofas and high chairs were arranged on three platforms, partially over the water. Super simple and award winning design, someone did a fantastic job!

When we took a stroll to the other side of the narrow island, we came across a small luxury hotel. Another remarkable place in the middle of nowhere? Also special was that all these places were interlinked with perfectly paved roads with park-like gardens aside. On the way back, a six-seated golf cart stopped and offered us a lift back to our anchorage. The driver was a woman, with a man seated next to her.

We asked a bit what kind of development was going on here, and who in that small country could invest in such top class properties. The man in the cart looked back to me and was saying with a wide grin on his face: “I’m the crazy guy doing all that”. It turned out that he was the American businessman Charles P Darby III. Just google him. You will find the former CEO of the company who developed Kiawah-Island in the US and also Irish Doonbeg Golf Resort which was later sold to the Trump Family.

Charles explained that he bought 2500 acres of land to develop it into a huge luxury residential area, encompassing more than 200 buildings.
The most dramatic Tom Fazio golf course is the next thing they will build. Super impressive! Charles was kind enough to shake hands with us again when he showed up at the beach bar on the same evening.

Another helpful person was Elvis. He drove us high up to the Brimstone Hill Fortress, another large defense installation of the British, this time to fight the French. At those times it was of utmost importance to secure an anchorage in the vicinity of a good fresh water river. No trip back to
Europe could start without the barrels filled with drinking water. Elvis also offered us some economical insights:

As everywhere else in the West Indies the sugar cane business lost momentum decades ago and sent Kittian economy into a long sleep. Only 15 years ago when the cruise ship terminal was opened, tourism got significance and quickly became the most important economic sector. In high season, two or three cruise ships visit St Kitts every day. In the off season, its considerably less, depending on latent hurricanes.

Asking about difficulties with quickly growing tourism, Elvis said that everyone is happy with it because it creates lots of jobs. Then he added: “OK, there is one problem. With the tourists coming, many of us now must work on Sundays. Then we can’t go to Church. But the weekly service is very important for us.” More than a dozen of Christian Churches exist in Basseterre only. They compete for members in a saturated market.

Elvis blown the horn every other mile to say hello to someone else on the road. Once it was the hair dresser, then a family member and then a very good friend, the former Prime Minister who is now in the opposition. By the way, there is no Republican Party as we know it, and a Green Party is not required at all. The parties are more in the range of different shades of Labors, which started forming in the late times of slavery.

The country is proud of celebrating its 35 years of independence from UK this year. The Commonwealth improves the access to international financial markets. They however complain that loans for disaster recovery are becoming more expensive after catastrophic incidents such as most recent hurricanes. The county’s stability is questioned. “Why and how should we pay the bill for global warming which was produced elsewhere?”. A thoroughly wide topic…

Last but not least, such small country could not defend itself in case of an attack. We learned that the military interventions of UK in Falkland and the one of US in Grenada are taken as a sign that Kittians would not been left alone in such a case. In return, US Army is allowed to train in the country, and also to use its geographic position strategically. Young Kittians do not need to serve in an army.

That was a lot for little more than one day only, isn’t it? St Kitts was a very quick go for us. After leaving St Kitts and Nevis, we did a short provisioning stop in St Barths. This is the famous French place where Johnny Hallyday was buried recently. As I conclude this article, we are already on the British Virgin Islands. We have decided to meet up here with some friends for Easter. The BVI’s will perhaps be our grande finale in the West Indies, before starting our second Atlantic Crossing with new crew during May.

Wishing everyone a nice Easter Weekend
Markus and family

PS: There are some great photos from St Kitts on http://www.yuana.life . As always, Klick on our logo to randomly see the next picture.

Antigua – The upper class holiday place

Antigua welcomed us with its English Harbor, a paramount anchorage which can perhaps not be found many times in the world. Very well protected and hardly visible from the sea, it was the perfect place to protect a naval fleet. The whole area around that most beautiful bay is today listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. What is called The Nelson’s Dockyards are the docks where ships tie up for unloading and loading.

This all started 235 years ago, when Piracy was still a big issue in the Caribbean. Admiral Horatio Nelson developed the English Harbour area for the British Navy to support their claims in the West Indies. The place grew strong enough to stop the piracy of those days. Earlier, the British, French, Spanish and other Admiralties teamed up with the Pirates very opportunistically, just to win (or loose) the next battle.

The Nelson’s Dockyards were beautifully restored and are today used as a marina. Also thanks to its nice surrounding, it became a preferred docking place for super yachts. Steering my own ship into English Harbour and tying her up at the great old Nelson’s Dockyards became one of my personal maritime highlights. I realized this only in hindsight. And this was the perfect start for our encounter with Antigua.

The following days brought us back some dear friends from the yachts Krabat, A Capella of Belfast, Dream Catcher and Kisu. All of us were then anchored in Falmouth Bay, just next to English Harbour. We enjoyed sundowners in one or the other cockpit and made sure to party at the local Yacht Club.

Then came the birthday of our son. He turned eleven and was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get an invitation for Hogwarts, the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This was at least what happened to Harry Potter at his own eleventh birthday (we are working ourselves through that book, English edition, every evening bit by bit). All of us enjoyed the day with a bit of sailing, swimming, beach games and an e-reader as top birthday present. It was very important for him to get into a marina with internet connection. Sure we did, and we closed this great day with an appropriate dinner at a great Greek restaurant.

Because we liked Antigua and wanted to get more of it, we decided to explore the Northwestern part of the country. We found dozens of quiet islands, reefs, almost white beaches and turquoise waters. We spotted breeding Pelicans and pure nature. On Long Island, one-story luxury hotels lined up along the beach, offering peace and privacy for several thousand dollars per night – the place to be.

Antigua actually has a little neighbor, with is the island called Barbuda. Barbuda is said to top the beauty of Antigua. We didn’t go there. Sadly, Barbuda got totally destructed by storm Irma, and other sailors who tried to visit the place confirmed this. So we decided not to go there.

Antigua is something special, not only for its natural beauty, but also for rules and regulations. They are so good that they need their own electronic pre-arrival notification system for sailors, whereas the other East Caribbean States teamed up for one common solution. Moreover, one has to throw the hook and dinghy in for the customs and immigration, before the boat can be tied up on a dock. ‘Work your way in if you want to be part of our place!’

The hight was when we had to register our kids as passengers rather than crew, which cost a lot of money. Dear Antiguan authorities, the sailing community just laughs about such advanced level of ridiculousness.

Other strange things? Yes, when we were on the beautiful uninhabited islands with no supermarket around the corner, we tested some canned meals which we bought earlier in Martinique. We assumed that we can find the same cans again further up North in Saint Martin, as stock for our second Atlantic crossing. Guess what? Those canned meals must have been produced in the same factory which produces the food for our cats. So: No canned meals for the long way back to Europe ;-)!

By the way: Nelson’s Dockyards called up some nice memories from the great old harbors we’d visited in England. That made me starting to like the idea to pay some more visits there on our way back 🙂

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Picture: Copper and Lumber Store, now a hotel inside Nelson’s Dockyards

Grenada

Grenada welcomed us with one of the better sailing days when cruising down their open ocean coasts with nice winds and almost no waves. We soon parked Yuana in the Marina of the Hotel Resort http://www.LePhareBleu.com

Le Phare Bleu is a Swiss owned and operated boutique hotel and marina, with all facilities open to the sailors as well. The name relates to the Swedish lighthouse ship which serves as their landmark, as a breakfast and music place, and which also houses some showers for the marina guests. This was our starting place to explore Grenada.

We arranged for a couple of onshore family runs, together with our friends from Mirabella, Kisu or Magellan. The rain forest refused us: loads of mud and flooded trails made it impossible to hike. We decided to give up and turn back after one hour, one kilometer and full of dirt. At least, we found some monkeys and waterfalls accessible by car which gave us an impression how it looks inside the jungle.

Our drivers stopped several time along the narrow and steep roads to show us trees where banana, mango, papaya, coconut, passion fruit, grape fruit, sorrel and other more exotic things grow. We also liked to learn where cloves grow and how cinnamon is produced.

Nutmegs are a chapter for itself, as the edible nut is packed in a triple shell, here described inside-our: Shell number one is very thin and hard and opens with a nut cracker. Shell number two is a fancy looking red netting called ‘mace’. It is the most precious part and used for flavoring of beverages or as a fragrance. The outermost shell finally is a thick cover comparable to a chestnut over in Europe.

The various fruits and spices amazed us and the kids. The kids favorite however was the chocolate factory, and inside the factory particularly the place where the products could be tasted. We bought a 1kg chocolate bar which shall soon give us a nice chocolate fondue. Hope nobody will die from the sugar flash.

Sure we were at the dinghy concert which was given on a raft in our bay. It was like on the street parade in Zurich, just with one stationary love mobile only and much better music. A small crowd of 300 gathered there to hang out on the water with friends, having a couple of drinks and enjoying great local sounds from the stage.

Visiting Grenada unveiled also some aspects where some might need to get used to. We want to write about this because we found it to be a part of their country or culture:
– Staff in a restaurant sometimes seem to be quite hesitating about serving customers. So we just grabbed the menu from the front desk and met the waitress at the bar for placing orders and paying the bill.
– Roads are very small. A safe driver won’t bring you farther than 30 kilometers in one hour. The hundreds of car wrecks rotting along the roads tell sad stories about the unsafe drivers.
– Locals pay no income tax. The state makes its money with import taxes only. The is a 150% surcharge on cars and 50% for the goods bought at the ship chandler where a lady used 5 minutes to bring a hand written invoice up to shape for me. Efficient?
– Many business potentials seem to be wasted without taking the chance to materialize them. Why isn’t the nutmeg place proudly serving cakes and drinks flavored with their products? Perhaps because they are proud that they haven’t changed their factory since the early days 50 years ago.
– The post system is dead slow. Still after three weeks, our new flag didn’t arrive and we had to leave without it. Too bad!

Still, do it as we did and visit this beautiful island! It‘s definitely worth it!

Feiertage im Paradies! Oder: Erste verpasste Weihnachten

‚Sankt Vincent und die Grenadinen‘ (SVG) ist womöglich der Staat mit dem längsten Ländernamen ;-). Für uns zählt vor allem das angenehm tropische Klima und die vielen kleinen Ankerbuchten oder Riffe. In den Tobago Cays beobachten wir farbige Fische und schwimmen den Meeresschildkröten nach. Die weichen, palmenbestandenen Sandstrände laden sowieso zum Verweilen und Spielen ein. In der Salt Whistle Bay essen wir tagsüber selbst gesammelte Kokosnüsse. Abends geniessen wir Poulet und Gemüse von einem der lokalen Restaurants. Die nächste Bar ist lediglich 20 Schritte entfernt, und Schuhe braucht es hier sowieso nicht.

Lokale Restaurants bestehen typischerweise aus einem einfachen Gerüst aus Holz oder leichten Stahlprofilen. Dieses Gerüst stützt ein Dach aus getrockneten Palmwedeln. Anstatt vier Hauswänden gibt es lediglich eine Rückwand mit einem Tresen davor. Unter jedem zweiten Tisch liegt lethargisch ein Hund. Der Fussboden ist der Sandstrand. Die Küche ist stets hinter einem solchen Schuppen platziert. Sie besteht aus einem Holzkohlegrill und drei Gartentischen unter einer Plastikplane. Toilette? Irgendwo zwischen den Palmen steht neben dem Stromgenerator ein allzu gemeinschaftliches Baustellen-WC.

Auf den Getränkekarten findet sich eine grosse Vielfalt an Drinks. Wenn man sich als Captain ausgibt kosten die Drinks weniger, weil man ja schliesslich eine ganze Crew mitgebracht hat. Zu essen gibt es stets frischen Hummer, Fisch oder Poulet. Keiner differenziert sich vom anderen und jeder sagt, dass er der beste sei. Irgendeiner hat recht! Das Geschäft beruht gänzlich auf Crews von den besuchenden Yachten. Bei 10 bis 20 Yachten pro Bucht und Nacht kann man sich leicht ausrechnen, dass es für die Locals nicht allzu viel Arbeit gibt. Sicherlich ist hier nicht alles paradiesisch. Und wie immer kommt es eben auf den Standpunkt und ab und zu auf den Geburtsort an.

Wir unterstützen die lokale Wirtschaft dadurch, dass wir den sogenannten Boat Boys den einen Fisch oder den anderen Bananenkuchen abkaufen. Die Sachen werden direkt am Schiff verkauft, und die Fische auf Wunsch auch filetiert. Allerdings kann hier nicht unerwähnt bleiben, dass die Preisvorstellungen zuweilen eine Frechheit sind (zB 30 USD für 500 Gramm Bananenkuchen). Man kann es ja mal probieren.

Im Gegensatz zu Barbados kann man in SVG von der Weihnachtssaison überhaupt nichts spüren. Das passt bestens mit der Stimmung von uns und unseren Freunden zusammen. Jedenfalls haben wir auch nichts von einem Vorweihnachts-Stress gemerkt, haha! Einzig Gotti Birgit hat mit ihrem herzigen E-Mail-Adventskalender dafür gesorgt, dass wir täglich etwas vom Schweizer Dezemberwetter mitbekommen haben! Und schliesslich gab es für unsere Kiddies sogar noch das eine oder andere Päckli!

Bei unserer Weihnachts-Strandparty waren fast 30 SeglerInnen, die Hälfte davon Kinder. Zusammen haben wir den Atlantik überquert, und zusammen haben wir Weihnachten gefeiert. Weihnachtlich war es in dieser Umgebung jedoch niemandem zumute.

Unsere internationale Weihnachtsgesellschaft hat sich mittlerweile in verschiedene Richtungen verstreut. Die einen wollen nach den kleinen Antillen in die Azoren, nach Kuba, in die Bahamas, oder durch den Panamakanal in den Pazifik. Das führt zu verschiedenen Zeitplänen. Wir gehen erst mal in Richtung Süden nach Grenada.

Zunächst treffen wir – immer noch in SVG – heute mit den drei anderen Schweizer Schiffen zusammen, welche ebenfalls mit uns herübergekommen sind. Die Sylvesterlaune ist vollständig intakt, und wir sehen mit viel Vorfreude einem ‚gmögigen Sylvesterhöck‘ und einem guten neuen Jahr entgegen!

Ein herzliches „Prosit Neujahr” allseits!

Cape Verde Islands

When we took first sight of the Cape Verde Islands, it was a thin line of sparsely grouped lights of the islands Sao Antao and Sao Vicente, half way through the night. Early morning light unveiled misty mountains, steep, not too high, somehow magic. They were just there, as ever since, certainly not waiting for us.

After another couple of hours we arrived and set into the harbor, first to the fuel dock, then into the well managed Marina, manager from Northern Europe. All staff greeted us with ‘Welcome to Cape Verde!’. It was lovely to be welcomed into a new country after several days on sea.

Now we had our feet on African soil, this time also politically African. We found a clean town with a couple of ATM’s around the corner and a the mobile communications company selling 3G SIM cards for 2.50 Euro, 3.5 Gigabytes included. So far so good!

The standard of living is definitely a different one here compared to what we are known from Northern Europe. This was a good exercise for our kids as well. Next to seeing what’s going on in the streets, one can easily spot that buying things goes with a different logic. Samples? As most people have no fridge at home, no fresh butter or yoghurt is available in the shops.
Or: As people want to consume fancy products but have only little money, soft drinks are sold in very small bottles, and cigarettes can be bought by the single piece.

A local helped us with finding fresh bread on a Sunday morning. We were glad when he offered to show us the bakery. Finally it was a 1.5km run to the other side of Mindelo and the bread was not really great. I offered to buy some bread for him as well, but he preferred to receive a large box of dried milk powder for his baby twins at a price he couldn’t have afforded. We went into further social engagements. Expecting some gratitude from the receivers usually turned out to be wrong. It may be like that.

Being asked whether independence from Portugal was a good thing, the milk powder man says that he sees economic disadvantages in the now globalized world. But he would also mention that his grandfather still likes the independence since locals felt treated incorrectly those days. Today, the relation between Cape Verde and Portugal seems to be quite friendly.

Low standard of living means low cost for basic things of daily live. This attracted a good dozen of old sailing boats and crews who dropped anchors around the Marina. The boat names tell about dreams which have run out of fuel, and those boats lousy poor appearance tell about the sailors who didn’t manage to find the way back into Northern civilization.

One of our better day trips so far happened in the Cape Verde Islands. We used the ferry to go to Sao Vicente island. We were rewarded with absolutely stunning views, see picture. As much as the Eastern side of the island is dry and brown, the Western side is humid and green. There are sugar canes grown as much as avocados, grape fruits, or papayas.

Back in Mindelo, we find the perhaps safest playground in the world. An armed watchmen would guard the playing children. His job description unfortunately also includes to tell the kids continuously what not to do. It was not appreciated when kids were running too fast, hanging head over on a wooden beam, or if only two kids would sit on a swing which was designed for four kids.

Now we are done with all preparations for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Yuana is ready again and lots of fruits and veggies are washed and individually wrapped in paper towels. That’s the way how to keep them fresh for a long time on sea. Feelings are like ‘When can we finally go?’. All four weather models predict light winds in right direction all the way to Barbados. So at least the first couple of days should be an easy go. Markus’ brother Joe is now also on board and we are ready for departure tomorrow Thursday November 23rd.

Good bye, Africa!

Young visitors

Blue water cruisers by definition visit many places all around the globe. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place we would attribute with the word paradise. This may be our impression when we spot the most beautiful beaches, rock formations or palm trees. But those palm trees or the roof of the hut behind the beach may cover poverty and anything else than paradise. And as often in such situations, the weakest are the ones which starve the most.

So it would be nothing else but human to meet these people and try to give them some comfort. This is many times easier said than done. Cornell Sailing offered us the opportunity to cover a bit of our responsibility by bringing us together with the kids from the local SOS Children Village. Ahead of that event, the crews from our rally donated money to buy a trumpet, an e-piano and an accordion for the local kids music group.

When Saturday came, drums on the pontoon would announce a crowd of girls and boys from that SOS Children’s village. They were given the possibility to meet us on the boats. We welcomed four of them aboard Yuana. As soon as I indicated that four is a good number to start with, one girl on deck and on one left on the pontoon started to cry and calling each other to come. They seemed to be sisters who were very much afraid from being separated from each other. Who knows that they had to experience earlier in their lives? So we weren’t hesitating to have the sister on board as well.

Inside the boat, our son would invite them to play with the paper roller coaster he developed over the past days. He would give them the balls made of crumpled aluminum foil. Everybody enjoyed playing the game. The daughter would take them into the sleeping room and suddenly now eight kids were sitting on the beds, wondering how soft a bed can be. We gave some finger rings and necklaces as a present. Back they went with a warm souled woman they would call ‘Mama’. Together we went to the big gathering for some culinary refreshments and local music. This was also there the music instruments were handed over.

Cornell Sailing made it a tradition for many years that the sailors of their Rallies can contribute directly to local aid projects. Taking into account the number of rallies throughout the year and contributors year after year, one would expect that this engagement makes a difference for the receivers. We saw many happy children’s eyes.

How to discover you are in UK?

So we have arrived in UK, and it was not really first time in life. A couple of things are different here, aren’t they? You’d wish some examples?

– Teach kids that cars appear from the other side when crossing roads!

– BREXIT, and the British Pound

– Cooler radio stations

– Kate

– “Lovely!

– Weetabix (urkh!)

And sure, lots of other examples how the Brits and their country could possibly be characterized. Some even say that the Vikings took all the nice women away, long time ago (Kate’s great-grandma was on the continent that day). I can live with almost everything.

One thing I will however never ever understand are the separated water taps in bathrooms and in any place where civilized folks would expect to choose their own water temperature for washing hands.

Not in the United Kingdom. They give you a noble choice of three options: Wash hands cold. Burn hands hot. Mix your own temperature in a bowl which is not always as clean as in the nice Brighton Marina.

I will perhaps never understand this unique thinking of housing investors. Incredible: They actually know how it goes! Imagine, they have a water mixer in the showers! So why not for the hands?

Spotting that bl…y pair of water taps was when I understood that I have arrived in the great UK 😉