Dec '96 July
'97 January '98
July '98 March '99
The Caribbean Sea is approximately 500 miles north to south and 1500 miles east to west. To the south it is bounded by South America, to the west by Central America while its northern and eastern sides are formed by beautiful lush green islands extending from Cuba in the north through the Virgin Islands and then out and down in a gentle curve through, the Leeward and Windward
Islands which stretch south to meet South America.
Ventana's plan for 1998 and part of 1999 will be to complete a clockwise circumnavigation of the Caribbean Sea beginning at 12 o'clock in the Virgin Islands. It was here Dee and I first sailed together on our honeymoon 15 years ago. For the first half of this year we will have an opportunity to revisit and spend extended periods in areas we have seen several times previously. Since January we have visited thirty-five major islands and dozens more islets and small cays. The high point of January was the same moment for us as for all our friends in Denver-- watching John Elway lead the Broncos to victory in the Superbowl!! We watched the game on TV at a sports bar in Sopers Hole, Tortola. At the table with us were our friends from Wisconsin complete with cheese head hats. At the next table were a foursome visiting from Denver and the captain of the boat they were on.
The Captain was from Greenbay. As Rob has watched the Broncos since the early 1960's the victory was indeed sweet.
The Virgin Islands are wonderful for scuba diving from a sailboat so we were able to do nearly 20 dives among the various islands. In early February we departed the Virgin Islands after 3 wonderful months and sailed to St. Martin an island jointly owned by the French and the Dutch. The Dutch side feels American and everyone speaks English while the French side feels just like one is in France. We spent several wonderful weeks here, Dee enjoying the terrific French restaurants and daily trips to the butterfly farm while Rob enjoyed the topless beaches. We also had a visit from Dee's sister Betsey and her husband George who stopped for 2 days in St. Martin on their way to spend their 30th anniversary in Barbados. With Betsey & George we visited the small town of Grand Case a village of maybe 1,000 people which has no fewer than 30 gourmet restaurants. George treated us to a fantastic Italian meal complete with an opera singing maitre'd. While we were in St. Martin we met several vacationing couples on the beach. One day we took 5 couples out for a
day sail to a nearby island, For most of them sailing and actually living on a boat were radical new concepts. A few days later we were with the same group of new friends to watch the solar eclipse which reached 96%. At islands just a few miles south it was 100%. At our next stop, St. Barts we tied our boat stem to the dock or "quay" as it's called in Europe. This is a little like having your front porch overlook the Boulder mall- you are really in the center of everything. We rented a motorcycle and toured the island as we had when we were here in 1982. St Barts is known for having the shortest and most difficult runway of any commercial. airport in the world. While its legal for a pilot who has only been licensed for one day to fly into JFK or O'Hare airport, every pilot no matter how experienced must receive local training and a sign-off from a local instructor before landing here. Landing planes must clear a hilltop and the main island road by 50' as they fly through a gap in the hills then try to land on the postage stamp runway without running off the other end into the ocean. The airport is so unique it's featured on postcards and calendars as a highlight of St. Barts. Of course it was all too much for Rob to just stand by and watch so an instructor was arranged and the next day started with a scenic flight after which Dee was let off and Rob proceeded to do half a dozen landings-all successful but very challenging. Next we sailed south through the islands of Saba, Statia, St. Kitts and Nevis. We explored the small towns, hiked up the volcanoes which formed each island and read their history in the museums. Saba is only 5 square miles and goes up 3,000'- it looks like a forbidden mountain from a fairytale. From the sea the path to the village was via 800 steps carved into the cliff, In 1950 Saba was told by Dutch engineers that building a road was impossible. Undaunted, one of the locals took a correspondence course in road building and then by hand over a period of 8 years the Sabans built their incredible road. The road makes Colorado's Independence Pass look like a freeway and the taxi fide to the top was scary as
hell. In St. Kitts we visited what was once the largest fort in the Western Hemisphere high on a hill overlooking the Caribbean which was being fought over by French, Spanish, Dutch and English. Some of these islands changed hands up to 20 times. On St. Kitts we had a typical island experience- we watched Speilberg's Amistad at the movie theater where we were the only white people in a sea of dark faces. Antigua, the crossroads of the Caribbean, was the next stop. Antigua was the home of the British Fleet in the 1800's and today is still the most English of all the islands. It is here that the mega yachts of the Caribbean congregate. Many of the huge European yachts spend winters in Antigua and summers in the Mediterranean. Ventana was like a toy ship in this harbor as John Paul Getty's beautifully restored motoryacht sat side by side with "Limitless " which at 3 15 feet and 100 million dollars is the most expensive private yacht ever built. If you shop at The Limited, Victoria's Secret, or The Gap you helped finance this boat. (I'm sure my niece Emily helped a lot). From Antigua we left Ventana to fly to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to join Rob's family for his father's 80th birthday. We wondered why we flew 5,000 miles just to get to a beach, but the family reunion was terrific. Back in Antigua we were joined for a week of sailing by our friend Rick Iracki from Denver/Milwaukee. A few days after Rick's departure was Antigua's Classic yacht regatta. This is one of the premiere regattas in the world for classic yachts - those older than 25 years. Favorites were Endeavour & Velsheda, two of only three remaining J boats in the world. These 130' J boats were raced for the America's Cup in the 1930's by people such as Cornelius Vanderbuilt and Sir Thomas Lipton. The oldest boat was the Marguerite T built in 1893. All the boats featured gleaming chrome and brass, brightwork with I5 coats of varnish and acres of teak decks. A week after the Classic Regatta Antigua hosts a regatta for modern boats that draws sailors here from the US and Europe for some very serious racing. As a break from all the partying and rum drinking we retreated to Antigua's sister island- Barbuda. Barbuda is a low sandy islet similar to the low islands of the Bahamas. Here we had a 10 mile long beach all to ourselves and great snorkeling where we were able to catch 4 lobster in one brief afternoon swim. The next day
provided a classic example of why sailing is sometimes referred to as, "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror." On the return to Antigua we sailed along peacefully for several hours then just as we neared the reefs at the tip of Antigua we saw the entire race fleet- 200 tightly packed boats headed on a course perpendicular to ours. They were stretched out for several miles and we would have to cross right through the fleet. Imagine trying to run on foot across a freeway like Interstate 25 at rush hour and you get the idea. Knowing it would take precise steering Rob switched off the autopilot. Suddenly the rudder jammed and we had no steering at all- we were careening along out of control with reefs nearby and the first boats only a few hundred yards away. In near-panic Rob dove into the steering control locker and began throwing gear wildly into the cockpit to get to the autopilot control. Fortunately it only took a moment to diagnose and fix the problem. In the meantime Dee was able to slow the boat down by dropping one of our sails. Less than sixty seconds later we were in the midst of the fleet dodging boats on all sides. After five tense minutes we were through the entire pack. As our pulses slowly came back to normal Ventana continued sedately bobbing along the waves.
South of Antigua lie Guadaloupe and The Saintes- two delightful French islands. In Guadeloupe we repeated a hike we had done the year before up a river that leads to a country road. Following the road down we picked mangoes, papayas, limes, coconuts, soursops and a few fruits we couldn't even name. Each time we went ashore we would buy a loaf of French bread to take home for dinner but unfortunately as we walked along Rob would just taste it a bite at a time until there was nothing left for dinner. After the fifth day of this Dee quit complaining and simply started buying two loaves each trip.
In Guadeloupe and again farther south in Martinique we rented cars and explored
the islands. We found it fascinating to explore the old rotting or occasionally
restored sugar plantations and the operating banana plantations. On Dominica we had a wonderful dinner with Mike Cook who was just a few weeks away from graduating Medical School there. We had met Mike in Dominica in 1997 and had sailed with his family in the Bahamas in 1996 & 1997. We anchored for several days in St. Pierre, Martinique just below the Mt. Pelee volcano that had erupted killing 30,000 people in 1902. Farther south along Martinique's coast in St. Anne we stocked up with cases of good French wine at $2.00 per bottle. Each day would start with a trip ashore to the bakery. Here we would run into half a dozen other boating friends and all buy fresh croissants and pain au chocolaut for breakfast which we would eat at tables under the trees on the beach. Spotting a seaplane here Rob was soon airborne for some practice water landings and takeoffs. As the instructor spoke no English and Rob no French we used hand signals to communicate the finer points of float plane flying. In St. Lucia we climbed hundreds of feet up to the top of Signal Hill and read about how the French and British navies fought battles involving hundreds of ships and did so with only signal flags to coordinate intricate battlefield movements. No radios, no engines to maneuver with, only awkward lumbering boats that carried up to 100 cannons. Most of the cannons faced out the sides of the ships so often two opposing boats would get side by side and just slug it out until one sank. The most important battles were sometimes determined by a fluky
wind shift which would allow one side to bring their guns to bear while the enemy boat was caught unable to maneuver her guns and would sit defenseless until she was destroyed. The next islands we visited were the charming Grenadines. These are all small islands with a scale we appreciate. You can walk around town in half an hour and after a week we would know many of the local merchants. We visited Bequia, Mustique (home of Mick Jager, David Bowie & Princess Margaret), Canouan, Union Island, Carriacou and the Tobago Cays. The Tobago Cays are everyone's favorite. Normally boats anchor behind the lee of an island out of wind and waves.
But here you sit with nothing before you but a small reef. The reef breaks up the waves and you are left sitting in smooth water looking out over the Atlantic ocean with 10 foot waves only half a mile away. No other land intervenes between you and Africa thousands of miles away. If Dee and I decide to circumnavigate the world - a multi year undertaking we will end our trip here crossing the Atlantic from Europe to make a landfall in the Caribbean, completing the circuit. The snorkeling on the reef here is excellent and becomes a staple part of each day. We also find a few nice scuba diving spots and make use of the second hand compressor we purchased to fill our tanks on board. In Bequia I buy about $100 worth of new fishing lures and line. The very next day using my new gear I hook into a huge fish. I put the drag on very hard and at this setting I can not possibly pull the line out by hand, yet the fish strips 150 yards of 90 lb. test line from my reel in 10 seconds and the reel is literally smoking. There is now over 230 yards of line out and only 20 yards left on the reel. If he gets all the line out it will break and I will loose line and lure. Using a pliers I tighten the drag further, if only I can get him to stop running and turn I may land him, but the line continues to stream out. I try one more notch with the pliers and suddenly the line goes stack. It has broken at the lure. I lost the fish and lure but at least saved the new line. It must have been a marlin or very large tuna and I contemplate how we would ever have landed him if I did get him alongside? The last island of the Caribbean string is Grenada -the spice island, and site of the US intervention to ward off a communist coup in 1979. In 1979 the US was welcomed with open arms and that feeling persists today. The Grenadians are very friendly to tourists and delight in sharing their island with us. Strangers often approach simply to find out if we are enjoying ourselves here. We are on our second visit so they give us a knowing look, but if you tell them it's your first time here they shake their heads sadly as if to say "what a shame, over 40 years old and just finding paradise." Next stop is Trinidad where we will pull Ventana from the water for awhile. We will return to Colorado August 2-September 8, where we will be at Rob's folks then travel via plane and land to Peru & Chile from September 8- October 15, before returning to Ventana in Trinidad for our continued voyage. Stay tuned.
Rob & Dee