29 December 2016


Ah, Antigua... 

... our first Caribbean land fall back in November at the end of a six day off shore passage from Bermuda. After a joyful week recharging on this partially mountainous island we ventured south to explore the islands of Dominica, Les Saintes, and Guadeloupe only to return to Antigua a couple weeks ago for a longer stay. I could get used to this island, or perhaps I already have.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

English Harbor  at the southern end of Antigua quickly became our comfort zone and home base; we explored beyond primarily by land - walking mostly, but also via rental car and the adventurous public transport mini bus that manages to cram in an amazing number of passengers.

I loved anchoring in the clear water of Freeman's Bay jumping off Argon in to the reliably warm and clear water more times than I can count to swim, snorkel, check the anchor and bathe.

View of our anchorage in Freeman Bay English Harbor from atop Shirley Heights. Excellent hiking trails weave through these hills.
Argon spent many nights on the hook in Freeman's Bay in English Harbor. We loved the view and immediate access to swimming. The conditions were sometimes tricky with variable holding and intermittently numerous neighbors.
The dinghy was in constant use when we were at anchor to shuttle us between Argon and Nelson's Dockyard and Galleon Beach.

Snorkeling between Argon and Galleon Beach.

Excellent Dockmaster at Nelson's Dockyard and all around great guy, Sherwin. It was fantastic to quickly meet several trusted locals for advice, guidance, and conversation.
Mannix (aka M&N) runs a water taxi and superette and is always up for a chat. Mannix is a great source of local information and various boating related advice having spent many years on yachts.

There seems to be a very friendly, casual interaction among most everyone on the island with comfortable greetings and easy conversations. It did not take long to connect with several locals. As with many Caribbean Islands, in addition to English, there is a local dialect spoken quickly that is still considered English but which I cannot yet understand.

Christian helping to pick out some fresh produce from Aubrey's local stand.

I have been enjoying the local Caribbean produce including making fresh passion fruit juice - by simmering the juicy seeds in hot water and straining. Fresh passion fruit juice is great over ice or kicked up with a splash of vodka and tonic and a squeeze of lemon.
Franklin from A&F Sails, Ltd. at Nelson's Dockyard efficiently made a custom hatch awning for Argon so that we can keep the large forward hatch open when away or sleeping for needed ventilation (it's hot here!) without fear of drenching our V berth when one of the frequent rain storms pass by.

Cheeky Marlin is a funky beach bar overlooking Argon's anchorage in Freeman's Bay. Rupert and Tina recently opened this inviting and eclectic watering hole with unforgettable sunset views.

We spent quite a bit of time in Nelson's Dockyard which dates back to the early 1700's. Largely built by slaves, the site was chosen due to the topography of the harbor... it faces south with protection from the prevailing easterlies and so that the English could keep a good eye on their French neighbors in Guadeloupe; in addition it is quite protected from severe weather with rising hills around and a relatively narrow opening. Nelson's Dockyard is now part of a national heritage site in Antigua that includes the nearby Clarence House and Shirley Heights. The stonework throughout is amazing. I especially liked how this is a working marina that continually hosts many visiting yachts and sailing events, has a sail loft, bakery, restaurants, small grocery store for provisioning, and access to various types of expertise needed by sailors. It is a very popular tourist attraction luring large number or cruise ship passengers and other visitors down from St. John's on the northern part of the island.

Copper and Lumber restaurant and hotel used to store supplies for the dockyard in the 1700's and 1800's.

Many, many high end, impressive sailboats in both English Harbor and nearby Falmouth Harbor.


Perhaps the highlight of our time in Antigua was having my younger son and his girlfriend spend a week with us. After splurging for a couple of days at the fancy Saint James Resort, Christian and Brittany sampled the nautical life staying aboard Argon.

Christian and Brittany exploring the impressive (and dangerous) Devil's Bridge on the eastern side of the island south of Long Bay.

Christian and Brittany joined us for a short but rigorous sail from Mamora Bay back to English Harbor. It was only several miles but the winds were 25+kts and the seas were 8-10 feet. We ended up tying up to the dock (med moore style) at Nelson's Dockyard instead of staying out on anchor for ease of coming and going and to avoid getting tossed around too much while guests were aboard.

We had about as close to a perfect week together as a mom and son can expect. Really special.
Coincidentally, friends from Boston came dinghy'ing to shore right next to Argon while we were tied up at Nelson's Dockyard. We were thrilled to hang out unexpectedly with Ineke and Rudy. (Bob learned not to try to match Rudy drinking beer.)

Another friend from back home... Melissa recently sailed from the states to Bermuda to Antigua (again) and is staying nearby in Falmouth Harbor.

Back to Boston

Bob took this time of being stationary in Antigua to head back stateside to get some time in the office at work and visit his son Jon in upstate NY.  He flew out on the 20th and returned on Christmas day. The return was not straightforward as he ran into a bit of a snag at the airport. Without documentation of a return flight, they were not going to let him leave the country! After explaining/arguing enough with the airline employee and her manager, I sent Bob a totally illegible photo of the crew manifest document from Antigua Customs. By that time, they were tired enough of arguing that any document would do so they let him return. He still is complaining about the cavity search though.

Bob left the warm sunshine of Antigua traveling back to New England for work and, importantly, to bar hop with his now 21 year old son, Jon.
End of one of the many hiking trails. This one terminates on a patch of rough volcanic rock overlooking ragged cliffs peering southeast.

One of many breathtaking sunsets. The volcanic island of Montserrat is on the horizon. Montserrat ended up being our next destination after Antigua. More on this enchanting island later.

11 December 2016


Most mornings commence in a similar pattern... awake with only the morning sun through the hatch as an alarm, prepare a pot of deep brown coffee with the french press (no electric coffee maker available, of course), relax in the cockpit sipping the dark brew and take in the surroundings.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Sometimes there is a cooling breeze while the sun remains low in the sky, other times the heat and humidity blanket is felt immediately having never quite lifted during the night, at other times there is a passing shower or thunderhead. Ahhhh.... exhale. Most mornings but not all... sometimes prohibitive conditions make even preparing coffee impossible (more to come on this below).

I love the mornings at anchor. Coffee, some reading, writing, a swim, bathing in the salt water.

Dominica - The Most Unspoiled of the Caribbean Islands

Although our initial landing in the Caribbean after the off shore from Bermuda was the lovely island of Antigua, this blog chapter begins with the beautiful island of Dominica (accent on third syllable), or Dominique as also called due to her French history, or Wai'tu Kubuli (which means "tall is her body"). Dominica should not be confused with the much larger country of Dominican Republic 400nm to the northwest.

Dominica is rugged and dramatic. Her mountainous composition forces a ripple in the easterly trade winds. As the warm air is forced up along the mountain sides, the higher altitudes form frequent clouds and brief but intense rainstorms. The regular rainfall and unspoiled landscape give rise to seemingly endless rain forests as well as hundreds of rivers. Dominica has many hot springs and the world's second larges boiling lake (which was unfortunately closed to visitors currently) as well as many rare bird and plant species. It is a nature lover's paradise.
Our sail to Dominica directly from Antigua consisted of 100nm initially at about 190 degrees then shifting to 160 degrees as we passed Guadeloupe off to port. We decided to tackle our first Caribbean hop rather aggressively by departing Antigua one Friday afternoon in late November, sailing overnight largely in the lee of Guadeloupe, arriving in Prince Rupert Bay Portsmouth, Dominica at daybreak Saturday. The initial leg between Antigua and Guadeloupe was choppy and we were surprised that our normally strong stomachs were not feeling so well. At about 0200 in the dark of night we were asking ourselves why we ever decided to make our first Caribbean run a long overnighter as we counted down the hours to daybreak. (Most Caribbean island sailing consists of 10-40nm hops from harbor to harbor or island to island.) This was a difficult sail for much of the passage and we welcomed the approach to Dominica at first light.

The sail from English Harbor Antigua to Prince Rupert Bay Dominica was fast - 100nm in less than 15 hours, but also difficult much of the way. The open waters between Antigua and Guadeloupe were choppy, then we experienced the variable winds created by the mountains of Guadeloupe off to our port causing swift wind shifts and, as the night progressed, frequent squalls with bursts of 30 kt winds. This sailing leg felt more like an off shore passages than a leisurely island hop. We decided after this passage that we will stick to shorter day trips and harbor jumping for a while.
Plenty of heavy weather on our 100nm sail south from Antigua to Dominica. Dominica is the southern most of the chain of Leeward Islands (some consider it the northern most Windward Islands) and will be our most southern latitude during our Caribbean journey. This may mean a return trip to explore the Windward Islands in the future

European colonization of Dominica happened later than with most of the other islands in this region of the world, perhaps initially being considered too rugged to be of interest. French eventually inhabited the island in the late 1600's hence the continued common creole cuisine and sprinkling of french language. The British eventually took over in the late 1700's and, having abolished slavery in all their territories (except India) in the 1830's, Dominica became an island of refuse for many slaves from neighboring islands in the 1800's.

Dominica is the most mountainous of all the islands in the expansive Lesser Antilles range. Much of its nearly 300 square miles is a protected natural park including extensive rain forests and mountains. Dominica has many waterfalls and hot springs and a whopping 365 rivers! There are few predator species on the island and no large mammals.

Until fairly recently, Dominica had a surly reputation with cruisers due to crime and pollution throughout the two main harbor cities (north in Portsmouth and south in Roseau). Several years ago, however, an organization was formed called PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) to provide security as well as tours, local information, and other services to visiting yachts. Working with one of the many "PAYS certified" Dominicans proved to ensure we had a fantastic stay.

One of the several PAYS boats that provide security, tours and overall great support for visiting cruisers.

It has become part of our routine upon setting anchor to snorkel to check the placement. The clear waters allow for great visibility and assurance that the anchor is holding well and there are not nearby risks to fouling.


Customs procedures is different for every country. The cruising guidebook provides some helpful information as does noonsite.com. For Dominica, the customs office is closed on weekends thus our Saturday arrival required me to go to the home of someone who acts as a contractor for the customs official. (But I did not know this at the time.) A PAYS guide (who I had just met 2 minutes prior and was pretty sure he was legit) wisked me away quickly from Argon towards the south side of the bay and walked me through some intimidating gates, down a deserted broken concrete passage way, to a weathered concrete building with no obvious activity around. (I kept telling myself "I can trust these PAYS guys" but I admit I was a tad uncomfortable). I was brought up to the second floor of an apartment building when my PAYS friend knocked on its door several times, obviously waking up whoever was inside on this early Saturday morning, and then told me to wait a few minutes while he went off. Eventually a sleepy eyed, friendly young man gave me papers to complete outside his apartment door on a table with toys, then I was summoned inside to the one room apartment where he checked Argon's documentation, our passports, and I paid him. Whoops.... he needed cash and I did not have enough EC on hand! But by this time my PAYS friend, Daniel, had returned and he lent me the needed money! All was well and I felt ridiculous for ever feeling uneasy.

Unconventional, weekend version of the customs office for check in clearance. Although strange and initially disconcerting to be lead to a back roads concrete residential building, it was ultimately fairly easy. Dominica also does not require a separate checkout upon departure for short stays, which is very convenient.

Land Exploration

We found Dominica quite intriguing and fantastic on land (not so much on the water... see further below). Portsmouth is the town on Prince Rupert Bay and the second largest city in Dominica, next to the capital of Roseau at the southern end of the island. There is a mixture of French and English spoken (the local dialect can be challenging to understand for my naive ears, even when English is being spoken) and the currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (about 2.7EC to 1USD). People were extremely friendly and seemed to welcome cruisers. The buildings are seemingly haphazard; amenities and commodities are very rudimentary. This is clearly third world lacking any sign of abundance except for the never ending fresh fruit.

Open local produce market along the main strip in Portsmouth. I initially was accidentally offended a couple of vendors when I tried to negotiate on the price. Whoops. I soon learned that this was not the way here and I felt a tad ashamed.

Fresh coconut milk being poured in the market.

Busy town dock.

Dozens of small, simple fishing boats bring their daily catch to the main concrete dock in Portsmouth.

Alexis, one of the PAYS guys, guided us up the enchanting Indian River. Scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean II were shot here.

Alexis from PAYS arranged for Robert (aka Bob) to take us to explore the Syndicate rain forest and waterfall. Robert was a complete joy to spend the day with sharing his knowledge and experiences. Dominica has strict requirements for their certified tour guides who must be very knowledgeable about the island's history and plant & animal species.
The Syndicate rain forest is part of Morne Diabolitin National Park and is filled with the gigantic Gommier trees (dacryodes excelsa).

Enjoying freshly picked and peeled grapefruit along the path. Robert also found and gathered cinnamon, sage, basil, lemon grass and thyme. We were able to use the spices in our cooking on the boat during the following days.

Yes, we really swung on long vines across a river!

In addition to the beauty of the rain forest, it was surprisingly serene. Only two other hikers were passed over several hours as we made our way eventually to a waterfall.
Restaurant options with good local food seemed to be scarce perhaps partially due to it being a bit prior to the real tourist season. But we experienced some eclectic places.

We joined the PAYS sponsored beach BBQ Sunday night with grilled fish and chicken and very strong rum punch along with a reggae band.

My PAYS friend, Daniel. Daniel helped me with the unconventional customs check in upon arrive our first morning.

Very funky beach bar and WiFi by Felix who also displays his beautiful art inside.

View of Argon anchored in the distance across a calm Prince Rupert Bay with a bottle of Presidente beer in the foreground from Sandy's beach bar. Unbeknownst to us, this calm water would soon be changing.

Experimenting muddling various local fresh fruits for some yummy beverages on board. Yes, there was rum in addition to the club soda!

But All Was Not Well in Paradise... 

The initially serene anchorage became very uncomfortable as some weather far off to the southwest produced some waves that rolled easily into Prince Rupert Bay. The two and a half mile wide bay opening offers no protection from seas with a westerly component.  The relatively constant trade winds had the boats pointing mostly south-east which put these rollers on our sides causing some pretty dramatic rolling side to side.

After a sleepless night and no sign of the conditions easing up, we decided to deploy a stern anchor using our Fortress 23 (which is perhaps one size too big for this purpose but manageable with the dinghy) to keep us somewhat pointing into these waves. The stern anchor helped a bit, however, when a squall would come through with an associated burst of high winds from a different direction, our stern anchor either held us parallel to the rollers not allowing us to swing with the changing winds, or other boats would swing too close to us and we needed to redeploy.

This two and a half minute video shows a bit of the conditions leading us to deploy the stern anchor in an attempt to keep Argon perpendicular to the rollers. Needless to say, no relaxing morning coffee in the cockpit! Conditions "improved?" when we moved to the southern part of the harbor but not enough for us to stick around.

Along with a handful of other boats, we decided to move to the southern part of the large harbor which seemed like it might offer some protection from the rollers, however, we would be outside the protection zone of our PAYS friends. At first, we got some relief from the rolling but we continued to experience squalls. In addition, we were unsure if it was safe to leave the boat unattended in this part of the harbor which is out of range of PAYS oversight. Later, the rollers started coming in from slightly more north and this part of the harbor no longer provided any protection from them.  After two days of these rolling conditions, we reluctantly cut our time in Dominica short, hauled anchor, and set sail for the french islands of Les Saintes 24nm north which would offer more protection.

Good bye Dominica!

Although we were disappointed to limit our time in Dominica to less than four days, we were to soon be anchoring in an unexpectedly gorgeous and relaxing harbor off Terre-de-Haut, part of the french islands of Les Saintes. Dominica was our southern most stop on this journey; we now begin leisurely exploration and island hoping northward for the next few months.