I admit it: I was wrong about the Caribbean

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I’ll be honest: I didn’t think I’d like sailing the Caribbean very much. Too many people. No unique experiences. Credit-card captains on holiday. Commercialism. Surly locals. I have no problem admitting that my negative preconceptions were mostly shot down, as these islands have proven to offer a string of wonderful experiences. Here’s a smattering of things we loved about our first foray into Caribbean cruising.

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why yes, that is a rum punch with an umbrella in it.

Lots of (good) company. Sure, there were a few crowded spots—but they were generally the hubs, obvious locations that are easy enough to skip through if that’s not your thing. In fact, there were a lot of sparsely attended anchorages. I couldn’t believe that we were practically the only cruising boat in Barbados! It probably helps that we’re here during the shoulder season, and many boats have already migrated north or south from the hurricane zone. We did have an early introduction to your-anchoring-HOW-close? (graciously handled) and we watched a few demonstrations of what not to do by charterers, but no dramas.

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watching a charter try to sail off a mooring, fairly certain intervention will be necessary

In fact, the “crowd” we found was our own. The awesome kid boats, back in Guadeloupe. The very good friends who joined us for Jamie’s milestone birthday, making it extra sweet…friends who bring Veuve to a birthday! Oo la la!

birthday with friends

Good times in Iles des Saintes

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Guided up the Indian River with friends

Stunning landscapes. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many rainbows. Yeah, so you need rain for those, but it was never enough to get in the way of plans—in just compressed the laundry routine a little.

Dominica rainbows

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See that little boat between the rainbows? DWARFED.

 

These vistas included a crazy abundance of “oh so you want to go up that little hill and take a picture of your boat with a stunning background?” anchorages. There are a bunch of those pictures in this post already. But hey, here’s another!

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It’s easy to be charmed, when faced with delights like…

…curious goats

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…bashful geckos…

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…electric bike rentals…

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…the best alternative to the coffee cart ever: the Drinking Coconut Guy (these bank employees all come out with their glasses ready for a fresh coconut).

sominicas personalities

Easy clearance. After more than a year of sometimes complicated clearances (advance permits, multi-day clearance, $$$, etc.), it’s fantastically simple to check in and out of most Caribbean islands. In the French islands, all you do is plug information into a dedicated computer terminal—which might be in a restaurant, an internet café, a chandlery—print the summary for staff to verify/stamp and you’re on your way. Basically, you can do international clearance while drinking a beer if you wanted to. In others, the SailClear system (where vessel and crew details are stored in a databse, and you send electronic notification of arrival) is even easier…no doing battle with a French keyboard. Only Barbados was old school, complete with a curmudgeonly immigration officer.

logistics ridiculously easy

 

Hikes! I love hikes, especially to a view of Totem, or any height that offers some drone-free perspective on the places we find ourselves…as noted above. Our island-hopping-tour was full of happy hikes, no technical skill or significant fitness necessary. But cool views aside, I think the family favorite right now will be the meandering path we took to this hot spring on Dominica. It started with where we had directions from the friendly neighborhood guy who pretty much stopped what he was doing to walk with us for 15 minutes (certain we’d miss a turn); once in the forest we were separated at one point in what seemed like the thickest part of the undergrowth, bushwhacked back to each other and eventually found this little slice of paradise. A perfectly bath-temperature hotspring, under the canopy of trees, backed by singing frogs and birds.

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Stuff. Sure, we like to think of ourselves as minimalists. But we still need things, boat bits in particular, and they’re often hard to find or expensive. Not here in Sint Maarten! The last time we saw chandleries this well supplied was, well, back in the USA. It’s been a while. I had to hide the wallet and coax Jamie gently out of this store.

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That sign indicates a WHOLE SECTION of watermaker parts! WOOHOO!

Underwater fun. There wasn’t as much of this on the menu as usual, especially considering the pretty spots. And compared to what we’ve been lucky to see elsewhere in the world, it’s… well, it’s OK. But it’s warm, the water is clear, and there’s some lovely marine life to spot…like these gorgonians and, well, what ARE those mollusk-y things? At the point off Ilet Cabrit in Guadeloupe, every other fan seemed to have at least one.

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Hello tradewinds! The sailing has been incredible. Nuances are quickly internalized: how the wind bends around islands, the acceleration when it funnels between them. But mostly, we had gorgeous beam reaching in the flat seas to the leeward side of islands.

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It looks great, but actually, they’re just furling the headsail here.

Montserrat's volcano smokes behind Totem

Montserrat’s volcano smokes behind Totem

The one sad event linked to our Caribbean experience is that our much loved dwarf hamster, Jiaozi, passed away. She was “old” in dwarf hamster years and had packed a lot of stamps in her tiny passport since she came on board in Thailand two and a half years ago. The kids buried her in a sacred spot with a beautiful view…one we might just make it back to visit in 2017.

Jiaozi last Christmas, getting sunflower seeds from her stocking

Jiaozi last Christmas, getting sunflower seeds from her stocking

More than a pocketful of memories…can’t wait to come back to the Caribbean next winter, and make more!

18 Responses to I admit it: I was wrong about the Caribbean

  1. Dan Culpepper May 28, 2016 at 11:32 am #

    It has been such a pleasure to follow your adventures these past few years. As a father of a couple teenage kids it is both unsettling and wonderous to see how they grow and mature. You both seem to have done a great job guiding your children into the future. Thanks and keep at it!

    • Behan June 2, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

      Thank you Dan! Parenting is an adventure and teen years another chapter. 🙂

  2. Scott May 28, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    I believe your molusks are called flamingo tongue snails.

    • Behan June 2, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

      Bam! thanks Scott, that’s it!

  3. Jane May 28, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Totem!!! Wishing you fair winds and safe travels enroute to Bermuda. I know you’re good weather routers so I’ll try not to worry. We’re already keeping an eye on weather in the Atlantic for our houses in the USVI… I’ll be on the east coast (Boston/NY) sometime this summer so will try to look you up! Tim will be in St. John starting in late June for the summer, but probably gone by the time you get back down there. Behan, I’m guessing your schedule won’t allow you to make it, but our UW reunion is the last weekend of September.
    Think of you guys often!

    • Behan June 2, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

      Jane! Thought of you & Tim a lot as we worked out our Caribbean routing. We will be right between Bos/NY most of the summer, we’d love to have you stay on Totem, or will find a way to come to you. Wish I could make the reunion, but $$$. 🙁

  4. Sailing Mareda May 29, 2016 at 4:08 am #

    Thanks very much for this post. I, too, have (had?) certain prejudices about the Caribbean and have never been too keen to sail there, but you’ve convinced me that it might be worth the trans-Atlantic to get there. Question: would your perspective change if you were planning to stay and island hop for a year or more rather than passing through? Fair winds as you head north.

    • Behan June 2, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

      I think I’d like it even better if we could stay longer, and have the chance to find special places / get farther off the beaten path. As it was, we were island hopping and pretty much going from major port to major port (what defines that being relative of course!).

  5. clint May 29, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

    Glad to hear the Caribbean did not disappoint you. We have been following your blog for more that a year now. We are readying ourselves to retrieve our family boat and start our own family adventure. We will be starting in northern Florida this coming January and heading south through the Caribbean. We also have two girls (7 and 8) but no boy. Your blog has been an inspiration and has provided needed hope in the dark months of “oh, by the way you really should replace both motors and saildrives” and the equally dark months of seeing her return to charter to pay for said motors and saildrives. You have also helped us narrow our ever-growing “needed boat items” list. We even purchased, and are practicing with, our new pressure cooker. Our girls love to cook and have found new interest in “one pot” meals. And yes we bought “The book.” We even purchased it new as to support the multiple authors. It was the first non-used book I’ve purchased in years. “Voyaging with Kids” has helped in many, many ways.

    Good luck with the rest of your journey, perhaps we will see you in 2017 back in the Caribbean.

    • Behan June 2, 2016 at 7:24 pm #

      Clint, thank you so much. It is great to know and I appreciate that you took the time to tell me! Oh yeah those one pot meals are a winner… especially if you can use the pressure cooker. Maybe we’ll see you in the Caribbean next season, keep in touch!

  6. Andini Haryani June 7, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    I love this post so much! Smiled all through the post, until.. Jiaozi. I hope Jiaozi is having fun in hamster heaven. Safe travels, Behan!

    • Behan June 8, 2016 at 9:42 am #

      terima kasih Andini! Sad saying goodbye to Jiaozi… we will look for a hamster addition when we get to the USA. Maybe sticking with the “dumpling” name (Jiaozi is Chinese for dumpling) theme… Pangsit next possibly?

  7. Renee June 18, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

    We are new to the cruising community and I just have to say that your book “Voyaging with Kids” was one of the clinchers to us making this decision! My husband feels similarly about heading down through the Caribbean so I hope he changes his mind!
    Happy Sailing!
    Renee

    • Behan June 22, 2016 at 9:21 am #

      LOVE hearing that. Thank you Renee! Let me know if you want more info on the Carib to make your case. 😉

  8. Sue Hacking July 9, 2016 at 9:55 pm #

    HI Behan!

    Just got back on the internet here in Borneo, and was attracted to this post on the Caribbean. Having cruised there from 1981 to 1987, do I need to say we loved it? So when we returned in 2001, aboard Ocelot, we were concerned about “the going back blues”… but not to worry! We found anchorages we didn’t know existed, and found the same friendly, helpful people as before! Your pictures brought back so many memories!

    And now for the mollusk — yes, Flamingo Tongue, aka Cyphoma gibbosum, a member of the Allied Cowries….Those big white egg cowries with a black mantle of the Indo Pacific are a close relative. You’re so lucky to have a great pic of these. I wasn’t into mollusks/shells at all in the Caribbean and obviously missed so much! FUN!

    Sounds like you’re heading back to the Caribbean for the winter season?? Stay safe. Enjoy your Stateside sojourn.

    Sue s/v Ocelot

    • Behan July 10, 2016 at 8:54 am #

      Love having your perspective, Sue! I am so happy my misgivings about the Caribbean were mostly for naught… and, I dont think we even got close to the best of it. You would have loved this spot in Iles des Saintes, Guadeloups- it seemed like every other fan had a Flamingo Tongue cowrie on it, and all at super easy freediving depths– maybe 20, 25′? Welcome back to internet-land, making me nostalgic for borneo!

  9. Andrew Howell August 15, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    I can’t believe we missed you! Behan your family havs been such an incouragement to our family for taking the leap. We crossed paths some time along the way. I would love to know where. We’re currently in Bequia heading south. I think we’re going to head west and circle the Carib next season. Well see.

    • Behan August 16, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

      I’m sorry we didn’t cross tracks this year, but maybe next year? We’ll be Carib bound for the winter and who knows where afterwards!

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