Ecuador – Sani Lodge

We flew from Quito to Coca on the banks of the Napo river to begin our 2.5hour trip in a motorized canoe to Sani Lodge. This highly recommended tourist destination is deep in the jungle of Amazonia; set up and run by and for the benefit of the Sani community. The wide and brown river – a bit of a navigation nightmare with sand banks and studded with tree trunks is busy with boats ferrying locals to their homes and tourists to resorts along the river.

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From the main river, it was a 10 minute walk, then a paddle in a canoe before we reached the lovely Sani Lodge.

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sani bedOn our first evening we meet Lucy, the resident 3m long caiman who lives under the deck. Fortunately she only ventures ashore when she is encouraged by staff.

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A night walk uncovered very large, very hairy tarantulas, millipedes the size of dinner plates, frogs, bats and owls but fortunately no anacondas or pumas.

Our small group for all activities was great fun. David from London, Shome,  a Brit who now lives in Sydney and Karen, an American travel writer.

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The day starts early here. We met for 5.30am breakfast so that we could get to the 35m viewing platform early when the birds are most active.

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The birdlife (500 species) varied from tiny humming birds to toucans, many species of parrot, macaws to osprey and vultures and spoonbills and cranes. We were so lucky, as we could see a wonderful assortment of colourful birds from the viewing platform. Our favourite was the toucan, feeding very close to the viewing platform.

touc3touc4Our superb guide (Victor) who speaks the local Indian dialect of Kichwa, Spanish and English who was born in Sani. He was amazing – he could spot a monkey at 200m high in the trees through dense jungle. We saw capuchin, spider and squirrel monkeys. We heard, but did not see the noisy, elusive but very aptly named howler monkeys.

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We spent several days paddling the creeks, walking the trails,  learning about the medicinal properties of plants and spotting a tiny fraction of the bird and animal life. Some favourites were many magnificent prehistoric ‘stinky turkeys’, large herons, and tiny bats which spent their day on a tree in the middle of the creek.

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Victor took us in our small canoe piranha fishing one afternoon – you don’t do that everyday! Victor caught our dinner but the only piranha hooked flicked off before Victor landed him in the boat.

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sunset cerilloWe joined other boats to view the hundreds of parrots who visit  the ‘clay licks’ each day. The clay is important to detoxify palm seeds which form a main part of their diet.

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We walked through more pristine jungle to a recently established butterfly farm run by a local family.

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girl1After our tour of the Sani community centre’s school and food growing areas, we were given the opportunity to taste some delicious traditional local food cooked by the Sani women.

sani commsani cooksani lunchWe turned down Victor’s offer of eating a live larva from the palm tree beetle. These very mobile, thick white critters are about 8cm long and are eaten alive, head first, (as demonstrated by our guide Cerillo) are a great delicacy. The fact that they taste like prawns I’ll have to take their word for!

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The Sani women raise money for the community by selling handcrafts and coffee.

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After our faces were painted in traditional patterns we tried our hand at the art of blowgun hunting – amazingly accurate even for us mugs.

 

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Our last night paddle spotted a number of caiman lurking along the river – surprisingly easy to spot as their eyes reflect the torch light beautifully.

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A too early departure left us wishing we had a few extra days at Sani Lodge. A wonderful place – we’d definitely recommend you add this one to your bucket list! The staff, food, accommodation and guides were all fantastic. Not to mention the sunsets…..sunset 5sunset 6

Back on Sea Cloud – Curacao to Colombia

Six months back in Australia flew by with work (for Ian) catching up with family and friends and preparing for our next long stint away on Sea Cloud.

We were very pleased with our choice of Curacao Marine. It was a great spot to leave Sea Cloud out of the hurricane zone. The new management is very hands on and the work done by the yard very good.  It was easy to get parts shipped in, the ‘yacht in transit’ system works well here. Once launched, Sea Cloud had a few days in the small marina while we worked madly to get her ready for the season. Not so easy when the temperature was in the mid 30’s during the day.

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Although we didn’t see as much of the island as we’d have liked, Curacao was a pleasant place to stay, we did get to sample a few of the restaurants in the restored Pietermaai, area.

curacao curacao2Mundo Bizarro’s Thursday salsa evening was great fun, with a very talented group of musicians.

mondo bizarrosalsa bandWith Sea Cloud ready (well almost) and a favourable weather forecast we left for Santa Marta, Colombia.

To break the journey, we anchored overnight in Rogers Lagoon, Aruba. The view in front of the boat was far prettier than that behind!

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The Columbia basin has a notorious reputation that we were well versed about, but despite all due risk management strategies, it was tough. The local conditions are well known and are driven by a bad combination of strong trades with 1,000 mile fetch + katabatic winds coming down from the Andes + rapid depth gradient from 3,000 m to 200m + strong countercurrent against wind (= steep truly horrible seas). To cap it off,  this area to Panama is called the lightning capital of the world – which we can vouch for!

Although we had good conditions, the relatively short (2 day, 320Nm) passage from Aruba to Santa Marta (Columbia) was more stressful than 95% of the Atlantic crossing due to a combination of waves and very impressive electrical storms.

We kept 75miles clear of the Venezuela/Columbia coast and well outside the 2,000m depth contour. Although wind rarely > 30kts, the combination of ALL of the above created a sea state that we’ve never seen before. Very steep waves ave 2-3m, with horrible sets of 10 or more every 30 mins > 4m and cresting waves. We took a large amount of water into the cockpit and one sneaky one down companionway.  At some point we had to chip away at the 75miles off to get into the Columbian coast, but at this time these horrible seas are more on the beam – it certainly focussed our attention! We know of several boats suffering knock downs and one dismasting in this little patch. To cap it off, most of the 2nd night we had colossal thunder storms with strikes all over the place. At one stage the radar showed us encircled by red storm cells with a small gap at 1 o’clock which we headed for and managed to sneak out the gap unscathed. Needless to say, not much sleep was had!

We were very glad to see daylight and the skyline of Santa Marta in the distance.

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The marina is very pleasant, with friendly staff and many cruisers staying for a few weeks to enjoy this interesting part of the world.  As we arrived, Santa Marta was getting ready to host the  Bolivarianos games – a big event with 34 sports, and participants from South and Central America.

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Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of the games as we left Sea Cloud in the marina, and headed off to enjoy fascinating land content in Colombia and now Ecuador.  Cartagena & Medellin in Colombia were well worth a visit. The bus trip down from Santa Marta to Cartagena was an eye opener as to the poverty in the country side. We were the oldest backpackers on the bus by > 40yrs! The “bohemian” section of Cartagena, Getsiminde,  was very colourful, with some wonderful street art.

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get art2get art3Our hotel was very close to the very lively Plaza de la Trinidad, the hub of the area.

IMG_1635One night there was a great band with the best juggler

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the next evening, a Zumba class

Fortunately, our hotel, like many others in the area was set well back from the street.

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Once you work out that a restaurant bill of 1/4 million pesos equates to $15 a head, the living is cheap! The street food, which looked very good, was even cheaper.

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Cartagena was lovely with Spanish colonial architecture.cart4

cart5cart3cart 2 Probably shouldn’t have watched Narcos before visiting Medellin! It’s 3.5M population is nestled within a high mountain (> Kosckiusco) valley.

medeThe Comuna13 tour, a 5 hour walking tour of the city filled us in on the complex and difficult history of Medellin.  Comuna13 is where the guerrillas and Narcos ran the show for many years till 2003. Unbelievable the extent of anarchy there in 80’s and 90’s. The area was so dangerous the police couldn’t go there as they were shot by snipers. It took a full scale 3 day military operation in 2003 for the govt to regain control of the district again – the challenge now is to prevent it happening again.

The city has implemented a number of interesting projects. Gondolas and series of escalators have been built to connect the residents of the comuna with the city, cutting a 2 hour commute down to 45minutes.

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As explained by Walter, our terrific comuna13 guide, graffiti plays a huge role in the life of the people living in these areas. The early street art symbolised the battles and difficulties these people experienced, with later art being much more upbeat. These very talented artists are all young, and prolific!

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art8art7On the whole the Colombians are very hospitable and helpful, the food superb. A very lively, enjoyable and colourful place to visit!

We flew into Quito (Ecuador) last night and just spending one night in transit in a tiny village out of town. It’s just 30 miles south of the equator but at 2,500m altitude it’s beautifully cool – a welcome change from the heat on the coast. Sitting on the verandah of a hacienda – watching 3 lamas grazing in the yard – You don’t see that every day!

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llamasOff to Amazonia and up the river tomorrow so have started malaria prophylaxis (had yellow fever shots in Sydney!) and covering up + lots of mosquito repellent.

Bonaire to Curacao

The 3 day sail from Grenada to Bonaire was an absolute pleasure. Good wind, calm seas, up to 3knots of current behind us, a full moon – what more could we ask for?

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We were pleased to get one of the moorings in Bonaire, as some boats tend to stay a very long time. The dinghy dock at Karels bar was very convenient.

karelsBonaire is well known for its diving. The island has so many dive spots, with many sites accessible directly from the beach. Gooodive was a great choice of dive companies, with very professional staff and good gear.

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Bonaire has a beautiful, rather rugged coastline and lots of cactius bon

cactus1cactcact3cactus fenceSalt is a major export – the colourful salt pans were rather beautiful in the afternoon light.

salt1salt2The flamingos are numerous and very pink

flamingoWe needed to be on the lookout for wild donkeys, both on the roads and the paths leading to the beach

donk signDCIM100GOPROWindsurfing and kitesurfing are also big on Bonaire

windsurwindWe could have easily spent much longer in Bonaire, but needed to get Sea Cloud to Curacao for the hurricane season.

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Willemstad is such a pretty, colourful (World Heritage listed) town. The swing bridge opened and Sea Cloud passed through into the waterway up towards Curacao Marine where she will spend the next 6 months.

cura sail2cur3curac sailcur sailAfter a few frantic days of preparing Sea Cloud we moved her into the shallow slipway for hauling out. The process, as usual was very nerve wracking, but all went very smoothly and Sea Cloud is now propped on her cradle ready to be tied down for the next few months.

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sc lift2Knowing very little about Curacao, we were very pleasantly surprised. Willemstad is still very Dutch in appearance. It is a very cosmopolitan, vibrant town with beautifully restored historical areas, many good restaurants and bars and a floating vegetable market.

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We were really lucky to be in Curacao for the Harvest Festival (Seu) – an annual event. Having started in the outskirts of Willemstad in the middle of the day, no one seemed to know when the parade would reach the centre. For a while we hung around in the cool with the locals,

robbiesbefore moving to a restaurant close to town with a great view of the centre square

pre paradeand the cruise ship leaving Willemstad.

IMG_2271 After 5 hours of dancing in the summer heat, the colourful parade finally reached townparad1parade2parad5parade4parade6Curacao also has beautiful beaches, and apparently good diving.

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With Sea Cloud safe on the hardstand, we have headed back to Sydney for 6 months of catching up with family and friends and a little work.

Since leaving Corfu, Greece in May last year, we have travelled 8000+Nm in Sea Cloud and have visited 32 countries. The plan for the end of the year is to sail to Colombia, the San Blas Islands through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific.

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Carriacou was fun. The beautiful small Sandy Island had great snorkelling. The water was crystal clear and full of fish life.

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A local had recommended we go to the Friday night party at the Lambi Queen in Tyrrell Bay to hear one of his church members, who “sings like an angel”. It was obviously the place to be, the small restaurant/bar was full to overflowing with locals and visitors. The band was great and the African drummers, a specialty of Carriacou were fantastic.

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drummersWe toured the island on the local bus, particularly wanting to see Windward where they still make the traditional timber boats. There weren’t many boats to see, but the houses were very picturesque.

windward2.jpgThe buses are so much more casual than at home. There is no schedule, the bus leaves when full. Our driver did his shopping while doing a few loops of the town waiting for customers. Coming back from Windward, the bus driver was stopping off along the way to sell chicken rotis (with bones) to her regular customers.

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Tyrrell Bay is a favourite with cruisers. It has internet and you can even have your hair cut at the waterfront bar.

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barbershpGrenada, was our last stop in this island chain. We went into Clarkes Court Bay, then then the Marina so Mike at Palm Tree Marine could work on our generator. Not the pristine anchorage we’d been used to! The rum distillery is close by, so the water in the bay is the colour of stewed tea. We worked hard getting many jobs done.

jobsWe were very pleased to find Cardius, a local who restored Sea Cloud’s very sad looking timberwork. He was a pleasure to have around and did a beautiful job.

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Like St Martin, the cruising community is very strong here, with many people sitting here permanently enjoying the many social activities and services organised by the cruisers advertised on the morning’s local net.

We’d decided to rent a car for the weekend – a hint – don’t use Thomas and Sons car rental! Instead of the new car shown on their website, they gave us a wreck which died within the first half hour, so we resorted to the very good local bus system for the day. Saturday market in the main town of St Georges, was colourful and busy.

Klaus and Helene on Lusea (a HR46) joined us for a day tour of the island. It was much more relaxing to be driven and not to have to navigate the small winding roads. Grenada is lush and green with many hills and waterfalls.

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walkThe tour of the Belmont Estate where they still process cocoa and grow many different types of fruit was well worthwhile.

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choc shopcocoa2We anchored in Prickly Bay for our last evening in Grenada – what a change from Clarke’s Court Bay! We could see why cruisers stay in this spot. The St George University Club was a great place for our last dinner in this part of the world and prepare Sea Cloud before our 3 day sail to Bonaire.

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The Grenadines

Passing the Pitons of St Lucia  in the early morning, pitons1

we sailed past St Vincent to Bequia, the northernmost island of the Grenadines. The anchorage off Princess Margaret Beach was very pleasant.

beq1It is either a short dinghy ride to one of the many dinghy docks in the town, or a walk along the coastal path, past the picturesque restaurant and shops along the waterfront.

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beq3The tropical fruit at the Rasta market was delicious, but of course ended up being overpriced as I’m not good at bargaining.

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It was a hot walk across the island to visit Brother King’s turtle sanctuary.

beq turbeqtur1The Sugar Reef resort in the old plantation building was a delightful place for lunch.

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beqsug3beqsugbeq sugar1beqwalk2Alik, the sail and canvas maker in Bequia had been recommended. His service was fast and very good.

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The islands are all so close in the Grenadines. A brisk sail took us to the island of Mustique, where we picked up a mooring. The bay has a reputation for very rolly, we were lucky and had a few very calm days.

must anchThe famous Basil’s Bar was being demolished, a disappointment as it was the place to go on Mustique.

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Other than that, Mustique quickly became one of our favourite islands. The beaches are beautiful and snorkelling good.

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And you can get a really good coffee and croissant at Sweetie Pie bakery.

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Mustique is the only place we’ve seen where you need to reserve a picnic table for lunch. As we wandered past to find a snorkelling spot, tables were being decorated and set with white tablecloths in preparation for island guests. The old cotton plantations have been turned into exclusive resorts, such as the very beautiful Cottonhouse.mustdinner

Unlike peak periods, there were no restrictions as to where we could walk. We only saw two other people in our 4 hour hike along north and east coast track.

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IMG_1963mustwalkThe lunch time view over the bay from Firefly was beautiful, unfortunately the meal very ordinary and overpriced.

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Navigating through the reefs into Tobago Cays takes plenty of concentration, but is well worth it. Turtles are everywhere, fish are plentiful and the colour of the water spectacular in this marine park.

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Having read John Caldwell’s book, Desperate Voyage we really wanted to see Palm Island. As a non sailor, he bought a boat and sailed from the US to Australia post WW2, almost killing himself numerous times along the way. He settled on what was initially called Prune Island, developing it into a small resort, which is now the beautiful Palm Island.

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palm3Chatham Bay on the lee side of Union Island, was a wonderfully calm anchorage after days of sitting in the wind. Apart from the numerous small establishments offering beach barbeques, there is nothing much here, except, once again, the big Sea Cloud.

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The people, the veggie market and the town of Clifton, the capital of Union Island are all very colourful.

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clifton2clifton3Happy Island, a small island on the reef was built by a local out of conch shells. At sunset the bar was a very lively spot, with very interactive dancing staff and killer rum punches.

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Antigua to Dominica

Nelsons Dockyard is the place to be in Antigua. Sea Cloud was docked next to Nina Too. It was good to catch up with Andy, her skipper, who we’d in Corfu at the beginning of last season.

ant scThe Dockyard has been beautifully restored.

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ant pillarsSome of the beautiful old yachts are here – Antigua race week is less than a month away.

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The Sunday night BBQ at Shirley Heights was fun. The view of the anchorage at Freemans Bay, the Dockyard and Falmouth harbour was wonderful at sunset.

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The Dockyard seems to be the end of many great journeys. How people paddle across the Atlantic is a mind boggling concept for us. Sea Cloud seems small at sea, but these craft?

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The horns of the large boats started blowing early one morning, heralding the arrival of Chris, a South African who had just arrived after paddling his stand up paddleboard across the Atlantic, in 93 days. he’s talking about continuing around the world…

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He had arrived earlier than expected to a small, but enthusiastic crowd. Seeing the 3-4m seas off the coast to Antigua we could see why he didn’t linger to arrive later in the day.ant sup1Antigua was a good place to get jobs done, our hair cut, and enjoy the Dockyard.

The view out of the hairdressers window.

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It is always fun to see the items for sale in local supermarketsant drinkThe wind dropped below 30knots, and the seas below 3m, time for us to leave for Dominica.

We were met by at the mouth of Prince Rupert Bay by Cobra, who helped us with a mooring and tours. The bay is very well organised by the local group, PAYS who provide security, tours and services for the many yachts (60 in the anchorage) who visit this wonderful island.

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dom cobraThe local town of Portsmouth is very colourful, the dogs friendly and the beach lovely.

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dom baeachA tour of the north of the island took us through small colourful villages, rainforests and fishing villages.

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dom raindom rainfOne village boast being the home of the oldest woman in the world.

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We walked through the rainforest and jumped off the rocks into the Chaudiere pool

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then were guided around the beautiful windswept red rock area by the resident caretaker.

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dom red rockDavid, one of Cobra’s team was our guide for an early morning tour along the Indian River, spotting many river birds, crabs and iguanas along the way.

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dom indDominica is so green – lots of  rainbows, and rain.

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dom rain copyAfter a few days of sun, the rain had set in. We left Portsmouth for Roseau, the capital of Dominica hoping to do some walks.rosea anch

Unfortunately, the unseasonably heavy rain made many of the walks we’d hoped to do unsafe. Our planned hiking tour out of Roseau abandoned, we pottered around the colourful town.

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We’d hoped to do some walks in Guadeloupe as well, but as this was all we could see of Guadeloupe we moved on.

IMG_1939IMG_1902We thought we’d have plenty of time to explore the Caribbean slowly, but here we are with only a month before we need to be in Curacao. The sailing has been great, with Sea Cloud and crew speeding down through the Leeward Islands, with just short overnight stops before moving on to the next island. We’ll spend our last few weeks in the Grenadines and Grenada, hopefully relaxing, before our 4 day passage across to Bonaire in the ABC islands.

Anguilla to St Barths

The sail from Anegada to Anguilla was relatively pleasant, given we were crossing a dreaded piece of water and had to work to get there.

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Anguilla

Anguilla looks beautiful, but more for land based tourists than yachties. We anchored in Road Harbour and found that to take Sea Cloud anywhere other than Road Bay (and there are lovely looking anchorages) we would have to pay US $56 per day, and double that if we wanted to anchor overnight. After a night of not much sleep, the thought of chilling out on an island was pretty appealing, so we left Sea Cloud at anchor and caught the water taxi out to Sandy Island. Good that we did, as the northerly swell would have made anchoring unpleasant and crossing the reef to the island via dinghy looked positively hairy!

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The water taxi guys made it look easy, backing their boats to the beach so we could jump off without getting too wet.

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Some needed a little help.

What a great place to spend a day! Pina Coladas, music, beautiful water for swimming, a yummy lunch and friendly guests.

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I enjoyed watching the boats coming in and out of the ‘lagoon’.

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Ian had his eyes elsewhere…

St Maarten

Relaxation over, we sailed the short hop to St Maarten, where we anchored in Simpson Bay, before navigating our way into the lagoon to a berth at Simpson Bay Marina.

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We settled into a frantic pace of trying to get jobs done – sails tweaked, rigging and steering tightened and most importantly, sourcing a new dinghy to replace our leaky one. We were so pleased to find a home for our old one – two Aussies Ben and Chloe.

dingy-ownersThe daily 7.30am net on Channel 10 was a great source of information. There is a real cruising community here – it seems many cruisers settle in here, stay for weeks and I think some never leave. We settled into a routine of shopping at the great chandleries, the inevitable sitting around waiting for service people to come and meeting other cruisers at the Lagoonies happy hour. It was wonderful to meet up with Karen and Dave Bowes almost a year to the day since they stayed with us in Sydney. We’d last seen them in Gibraltar, so had so much catching up to do. Ian and Dave didn’t stop discussing boats and widgets..

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Saba

Jobs finally done we set sail for Saba, an island we’d been really hoping to visit.

sabaSaba can be a tricky place for yachts, as it has limited shelter in a number of winds and can be affected by swell. What it does have is good, secure mooring buoys on the west and south coasts and a safe dinghy dock in the harbour at Fort Bay. With relatively calm conditions and Sea Cloud secured to a mooring buoy off Fort Bay we had the opportunity to explore this gem of an island.

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Saba is tiny, but has so much to offer. It is so beautiful, lush and green with picture postcard villages. The locals (population of less than 2000) are extremely friendly offering lifts up the very steep hills and around the island. They are all very proud of and committed to their wonderful safe island. We were so lucky, Glen, the head of tourism picked us up at port and gave us a mini guided tour and potted history of the island.

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You have to love a place with a capital named The Bottom that is actually at the top of an incredibly steep hill, but is also at the bottom of other steep hills.

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The main town is Windwardside, and yes, it is on the windward side of the island. The main road between the two main towns was built by the locals after all the experts deemed it was impossible.

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Saba is known as a top dive spot. The water is crystal clear, blue and pristine. An afternoon dive with Saba Divers was fantastic. The colours of the corals, the geography of the rock ledges and the fish life were the best we’ve seen.

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DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPROUnfortunately we only had time for one of the many walks on the island.

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The climb up 1064 steps through the rainforest to the top of Mt Scenery was rewarded by magnificent views of the island towns and the surrounding islands.saba-walk

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Windwardside

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St Maarten in the distance

Saba’s peak is the highest point in the Netherlands.

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You had to access this point via a very steep climb.

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Saba’s other claim to fame is that its airport runway is the shortest in the world.

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The walk ended back in Windwardside, with lunch at Juliana’s, one of the small boutique hotels of Saba.

As the northerly swell had calmed down, we moved around to a mooring off Ladder Bay on the west coast. For many years this steep series of steps was the only way to access the island. Everything had to be brought in this way.

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It was a beautiful anchorage. Currently there are 7 yacht moorings, with more planned.

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After a last snorkel in Wells Bay, we reluctantly moved on. It would have been very easy to settle in and stay longer so there were so many more walks, diving and snorkel sites to be enjoyed. Saba was well worth the visit. It has definitely been a highlight of our time in the Caribbean.

St Barths

What a contrast to Saba! Where very few make it to Saba, it seems everyone gets to St Barths, the home of the superyachts and beautiful people.

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That said, our stay has been great. Apparently the anchorage off the main town of Gustavia can be very rolly, but in the strong easterly winds it has been very pleasant anchored off Anse Corossol.

img_5194Our timing was impeccable, we arrived the day before Carnivale. Gustavia town closes completely and everyone dresses up whether or not they are part of the main parade. Lots of fun, colour and movement and music.

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Gustavia, with its Swedish heritage is an attractive town. It is very French, full of designer shops, good restaurants and bars. The port is always busy, but has great secure dinghy docks for cruisers.

img_5189Driving the winding roads is the only way to explore the island which has no public transport. The views are spectacular and the island and beaches very beautiful.

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Strong easterly winds and nasty seas meant that our planned 2 days here has turned into 5 while we wait for calmer conditions for our 80Nm sail to Antigua. Not a bad place to be stuck!