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OCC RoRC report on how to cruise the Caribbean

by Alastair Hill 18 Dec 2020 07:09 UTC
Another busy day in beautiful Barbuda © Alastair Hill

North or South?? Oct 2020 - So, you've arrived on the ARC or ARC+ 2020....your passage took a bit more than the 14-day quarantine requirement...

So, if this is your first time in the Eastern Caribbean, once the festivities in Rodney Bay Marina are over and you've caught up on some sleep you're wondering where to next?

The first decision (assuming that any Covid-related entry regulations allow you to do so) will be whether to turn left or right when leaving Rodney Bay. In early December there's a good chance that the ENE trades are not yet at full strength. We usually head North at the beginning of the winter cruising season and take advantage of the lighter winds for pleasant inter-island passages and often end up in Antigua around Christmas time.

Turning right out of Rodney Bay your first stop will be Martinique. St Anne and Marin make excellent, safe anchorages where a short (or long in the case of going to Marin) dinghy ride will allow you to sample a cornucopia of delicious food and spirits. There's even a dinghy dock in Marin right by the big Leader Price store so you don't have to lug your supplies of Bordeaux and Cote du Rhone too far. A short walk up the hill will bring you to Le Carrefour which is a first-class supermarche. Also, there is a huge selection of marine services and suppliers in and around Marin harbour and by tuning in to the VHF net you can pretty much get any question answered. It's a perfect place to take a breather, get stocked up and fix any niggling (or major) issues with your yacht. Grab a copy of 'Ti Ponton', the free services guide, and you'll be all set.

Next on our list is Dominica, totally different to Martinique. It's the place to chill out and explore. Hike in the forest, scuba dive, take a boat trip through the mangroves or swim in waterfall pools, visit (unusually cold) geothermal springs and stock up on a fantastic selection of island fruits and vegetables at the Saturday market in Portsmouth. It is one of our favourite islands with spectacular scenery and friendly people.

Where next..well, a short stop in Les Saintes is always welcome, a cute little town with a nice promenade and a few short but nice hiking trails including Fort Napoleon, or for more exertion the road up to Le Chameau peak is a good morning workout. The town gets busy later in the winter season when smaller cruise and 'expedition' ships call in but it has some nice restaurants.

Our next destination is usually Antigua. This island and its sister Barbuda is a great place to hang out for some socializing when the trades are blowing hard as there are numerous anchorages on the leeward side, some like Jolly Harbour typically quite busy as it has a good range of services and supplies, but some like Great Bird Island are quite remote, but remain sheltered. After a while, you might be looking for more peace and solitude, so clear out of Antigua and take a day sail up to Barbuda. Arrive on the west side and drop the hook in clean sand off Low Bay and the Codrington Lagoon which, last season, was open to the sea. There should be plenty of swing room as this beautiful beach is more than 10km in length. It is right off Codrington village and you can either dinghy in yourself or call on the VHF and someone will likely come out in a panga to meet you and sell you lobsters, give you a ride into "town" or give you a day trip to the Frigate bird sanctuary. If you want to be right off the grid, head round to the southern tip of the island and, with good light and the sun just behind, you can tuck in amongst the patch reefs of Gravenor Bay in lovely clear water.

Heading still North, my next stop would be St Barts. Cruisers are often divided on whether it is a "like" or not. I like it because, providing you can find a spot to drop the hook, you can ogle a collection of beautiful yachts, sail and motor, in Gustavia Harbour. Wander the streets and enjoy the weekend market with its eclectic street food. If busy harbours chock full of multi-million dollar yachts are not your thing, it's only a quick hop round the corner to Anse Colombier which has clear water, a superb beach and easy hiking trails back into town. If you want more seclusion keep going over to Ile Forchue, even clearer water and nice snorkelling along the southwest side near La Petite Isle. Just watch out for the rock located 0.1NM off the entrance to the bay, visible as the swell breaks over it.

Ready for some Dutch culture? St Maarten is now only seven miles away, although it's really cosmopolitan. Entering the lagoon through the Simpson Bay swing bridge around 5 pm on a Friday allows all those downing a cold beer on the viewing platform to check you out as you go in, although they're really there to watch the superyachts squeeze through the 17-metre gap, especially if there's a wind blowing. For us mere mortals on cruising yachts it's easy!

Going Southbound in the spring makes for some great sailing, the weather gets much drier, there are fewer cold fronts and the islands are less busy. Gunkholing around Bequia, the Grenadines and Carriacou is a real joy. I'll write about them next time.

For first-timers in the Eastern Caribbean who may want to make new friends or find assistance to services or learn a bit more about 'de ilans', the long term cruisers here have a wealth of knowledge. You can tap into this by joining the OCC Eastern Caribbean SSB radio net (6227 MHz weekday mornings at 0730 local time) or join one of the OCC Facebook groups. Or just holler on the VHF for any OCC boats or cruise the anchorage looking for the little flying fish burgee...if it's not too tattered by the Trades!

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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