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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
It’s easy to be charmed, when faced with delights like…
…electric bike rentals…
…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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More than a pocketful of memories…can’t wait to come back to the Caribbean next winter, and make more!