Saturday, 25 August 2012

A look back at the Eastern Caribbean

Over the last 6 months, we visited most of the Eastern Caribbean islands all the way to Puerto Rico. Along the way we learnt some useful tips and tricks that may just come in handy for other cruisers following a similar route.
Admittedly we did not go to Trinidad so cannot comment about their services. We also didn't hike every island, see every beach, buy every trinket but here are a few of our musings based on what we saw.

1. Communities. Grenada has the best cruisers network in the Caribbean in our opinion. St Martin a close second. There are loads of yachties who seem to live in Grenada. There is always loads to do too. Everything from cooking classes to hashes (think of them as fun runs in interesting places) to BBQ's and cruiser specials. 

2. Stocking up. There are a variety of places to go to do this. Of course, Walmart in Puerto Rico is good for some bulk shopping, however certain items (funnily enough) you will find cheaper in other places. For instance, tinned tomatoes were really cheap in the main supermarket in Jolly Harbour (Antigua). Walmart / Cost Co are fairly cheap, but lacks a wide range of products and not everyone is interested in going all the way to Puerto Rico just to stock up. Grenada has some decent stores (CK Value) and reasonable prices as does St Martin (Grande Marche).

3. Booze. St Martin was probably the cheapest place for imported booze. Recommend stocking up if you happen to have a weakness for russian vodka, gin, whiskey etc. If you are like me and happy to slurp Caribbean rum, then find a place with decent tasting rum (at a decent price) and stock up there. Every island makes their own rum but for me, Grenadian rum is tops from a price and quality perspective. Westerhall or Clarks Court are good rums and at $7 USD a bottle not bad value!

4. Best snorkelling. An interesting one this as the usual caveat ensues (it depends…). We found a lovely reef off of Carriacou (Grenada) at Sandy Island. Loads of fans, brain corral etc. But I am a fish person and for fish of decent size, I really loved the BVI's.

5. Best fishing. Without a doubt the Virgin Islands (US and British and Spanish). We once had 3 takes in a single day passage of 8 hours. Fantastic fishing. You only have to count the amount of pleasure fishing boats in Puerto Rico to realise how big an industry it is and that there must be loads out there to catch.

6. Best sailing. British Virgin Islands and the Grenadines (St Vincent & the Grenadines). You can see why charter companies operate out of these two areas. One could spend a few months in the BVI's just pottering around and going from anchorage to anchorage. Planned well, no sail would take longer than a few hours before you are swinging on a mooring enjoying a cocktail (if you are a charterer). 

7. Best diving. I think that every island in the chain has dive schools and something to offer. We did not do enough diving to provide a well rounded opinion on diving in the caribbean other than to say that most dive schools have interesting dives to offer. We dived on the RMS Rhone in the BVI's and loved it.

8. Best fruit and veg. This had to be Roseau (Dominica). The market there was so well priced that it topped our list. We paid very little for fantastic fruit and veggies. The ladies that run the stalls are also really enthusiastic to tell you recipes and consult on how to cook certain unknown veggies. 

9. Best treat. For us, it had to be a Soursop (type of Caribbean fruit) smoothie from Spice Island Mall (Grenada) from a place called Native Food and Fruits. Cost is about $3 USD for a smoothie but boy is it worth it. They do all sorts, but that is our best.

10. Most relaxing. Tobago Cays. Surrounded by turtles and rays in clear shallow water. It is a great place to chill out for a few days. Charterer's love it for the same reason so it is popular year round, but out of season it is definitely much quieter.

11. Best local vibe. Montserrat closely followed by Dominica. We loved the locals of Montserrat, a country of hand waving people so willing to help you. They all stop and say 'morning' or 'afternoon' when they pass or get on a bus. Dominica is very similar.

12. Best boat boys. Dominica - Portsmouth. These guys have sorted themselves out with an actual authority keeping things organised. The boat boys don't hassle, they actually offer proper services and at a decent price. 

13. Best hiking. Dominica. This island has a well marked trail covering the whole island from coast to coast with segments able to be accomplished within a day. There are guides available, its rustic and takes you right into the heart of the local villages and forests.

14. Best beaches. Barbuda (part of Antigua). The beaches here are a pink colour from the coral and gorgeous long sandy deserted strips with coconut palms lining the shore.

15. Best shell collecting. Dog Island - Anguilla. The shallows of this small island are teaming with deserted shells of a decent size.

16. Best souvenirs. St Lucia. Where else do dread locked rhastafarians paddle out on a beaten up kayak to sell hand carved calabash and regale you with stories of Jah.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Grenada Carnival

We made it back to Grenada with a day to spare until Carnival. Hearing all the stories from last year we were keen to get involved with the Carib float - the local beer. 

Getting hold of a Carib pack each, we opened the bag feeling like it was Christmas. Inside the plastic package was a t shirt, glow bands, glow in the dark headband, a beer mug, necklace and wand. Not liking the frumpy t shirt in my goody bag I set to work customising and unpicking the sleeves and neckline. 

That evening we got dressed up for Monday Night Mas and headed into town with a bus full of other cruisers. We were dropped off at 8:30 which was already past our bedtime! 

The bus turfed us out on Lagoon Road and we went in search of the Carib truck. Hardly 2 mins passed when we spotted the hundreds of other people dressed in the yellow t shirt uniform and glow in the dark accessories. As we neared the yellow sea of people, the music started up, vibrating inside our chests as the boom boxes got down and dirty. Locating our friends we went in search of a drink. Not that I like beer, but that was the only beverage on the menu this evening! To get a drink we had to stretch up to the top of the beer truck, fending off the locals, ignoring the jabs in the chest and eyes and get your mug balanced on the top of the float for the beer man to fill from his tap. All of this went on whilst the truck was in motion. I (not thinking) had just worn flip flops so every step I took the local behind me would step on the backs of my shoes sending me flying. Was an experience! O and the beerman would fill the mugs to the top and not really caring, the locals would bring the mug back down to mouth height, sending the contents slopping over the sides, giving us a lovely beer shower. Yum. Reminded me of standing near the front at a music festival.

To really blend in with the locals, you couldn't just walk behind the boom box float, you had to do a kind of shuffle. Very similar to what I imagine someone would look like if they had shat themselves. Stick your bum out, legs apart (second position for fellow ballerinas out there) and then shuffle one foot at a time whilst shaking your booty. After a night of doing this my hips were killing me!

As we did the shuffle down the streets we were contained with a rope either side separating us from the street crowds that had come to watch. The rope was moving with us, guys were employed to hold it at waist level and knock away anyone that dared enter the Carib crowd. As we were all wearing bright yellow, it was pretty easy to spot an intruder!

After a good hour of exercise in the humid evening, we slipped the rope and went in search of food – coming across a chicken shack. Not the best I have ever tasted and I'm thankful we never got salmonella but we happily devoured the cold chicken and chips that were put in front of us with a generous helping of tomato sauce. Suitably fed we joined the throng and once again started the shuffle. You should see how the locals dance, wow they can move. The ladies felt nothing to grind any man that came behind them! I too was propositioned but gave them my best death glare and they soon scuttled away.

The chicken shack
Yum yum
The atmosphere was electric, everyone having a great time, suitably inebriated and shaking their thang. Don't get me wrong, you could totally tell who the cruisers were but we were loving life so it didn't matter. By the time we got to Port Louis we were aching, drenched in sweat and tired! But wow these locals now how to party, far from letting up, they were just getting started and they had already been doing this for 2 days straight!

Their songs of choice that played over and over were 'Getting High', 'F**k Off' and 'Grenada has vibes'. We even knew the lyrics to sing along by the end of the evening. We pondered how Grenada managed to play such lyrics as 'I said f*ck off' full blast down a street at a family friendly party and were soon put straight a couple of days later by a taxi driver. Apparently the lyrics say 'its good for cough'!!

Midnight came and we spotted our ride home, more than ready to call it a night we piled into the taxi and scooted back to Orion. What an experience!

The next day was Fancy Parade where all the colourful costumes paraded the streets. Getting dropped off by Port Louis we could immediately hear the boom boxes so just followed our ears to the start of the festival. When we got there the teams were just getting ready, gorgeous sparkly costumes everywhere. Each float had a different costume and anyone could enter for a fee of $150. So a couple of cruisers were mixed in with the locals.

Getting ready to put on the costumes

One of the many boom boxes
Dylan and I had no money on us so we decided to leave our friends and walk to the carenage to an ATM. Hoards of locals lined the streets as we walked by, the sun was hot hot hot with little shade to protect us. We welcomed the air conditioned booth of the ATM and stayed in there a good few minutes to bring our body temperatures back down to normal!

Found a peanut stand!
Our perch for the day was at a reserved table in Grenada Craft Centre, looking over the main road where the parade would be passing. We could see everything from the shade of a balcony, what luxury. There were pretty amazing costumes going past with huge head dresses and feathers. God knows how they put up with it in the hot weather.

Crazy man about to run up a hill towards the spectators

Cute kid dancing away

Parade over we sampled more local fried chicken and called it a day. We absolutely loved Grenada Carnival, so much so we have added Rio Carnival to our bucket list :) 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Heading South

As long as we constantly checked the weather, we were pretty comfortable continuing to visit the islands we wanted to back down the chain despite it being late in the season. My condition was that we got back to Grenada in time for Carnival! Weather dependent when leaving Statia we wanted to re-visit Dominica, Bequia, Tobago Cays, Union Island and Carriacou before arriving in Grenada. Worked out well as we were rewarded with quieter anchorages and a more local feel to the islands now the majority of the cruisers and tourists have gone.

Dominica is still one of our favourite islands we have visited so we went to both of the anchorages, Portsmouth and Roseau. When entering Portsmouth, rather than seeing the bay rammed with boats like when we were there this April, we were one of only 2 others! Spoilt for choice on our anchoring spot we dropped the pick near to shore in the hope of picking up free internet signal. But alas no cruisers means no wireless it would seem. The boat boys still as friendly as ever, were a little more desperate for business. We bought a few things to help them out as we have a lot of respect for the Dominica boat boys who do not harass yachties and in season put on a great show every sunday with a loaded BBQ.

We go for a wander into Portsmouth town and bump into a local boy on a bike who tells us its his 13th birthday. He then proceeds to ask for my sunglasses as a birthday present! Erm no, he won't be getting my ray bans despite how much he may like them. He continues to follow us into town stopping us every so often to ask for my sunglasses. Finally we get through to him that he won't be receiving my glasses and he sulks off.

Trying to get a 2 day old kitten to come to me
A couple of vendors were out on the street selling their wares from the road side. We bought a fruit we hadn't seen before called 'ganepas' – although they pronounced it 'canip'. Its a small green fruit, you make a hole in the skin with your teeth and then suck out the inside. Its similar consistency to lychee but tastes sweet and creamy. May make an interesting smoothie if you could squeeze enough of them!

Keen to keep moving, the next day we headed to the south of the island, Roseau. Its steep to in this bay and most people pick up a mooring ball but with it being off season, most of the balls had been winterised leaving only plastic bottles to mark the location. We puttered about trying to find a spot sub 50ft and eventually found one. Roseau to me means cheap fruit and veg so we wasted no time rigging the dinghy and going to the market. We tried 2 new items from here, a sapote and toloman. Sapote is a brown fruit that tastes like perfume – I won't be buying that again. Toloman is powdered arrowroot and acts like a thickner. When we got back to the boat we tried it to make porridge and boy does it thicken! Only 2 teaspoons turns water /milk into a thick thick paste. Doesn't have any flavour so I'd liken it to cornstarch.

Back in Roseau, we got hungry so went to check out a local place to eat. Passing Itala we saw it packed with locals, a great indicator that it must be a good place to go. I ordered a 'chicken dinner' and Dylan was going to order a fish until he saw that it was fish heads and opted for chicken too. Even he isn't that adventurous. Wow it was a lot of food, packed with chicken, rice, spaghetti, breadfruit, plantain, baby banana and salad – I waddled around afterwards with a massive food baby. As we sat eating our lunch a local came over with one arm and started chatting to us and telling us his sob story. We rarely give money to tramps but as we wanted to eat our lunch and not be put off – we gave him 5EC and he went on his merry way.

Next passage was an overnight sail to Bequia. On the way we managed to lose another 2 lures, one to a big strike that got away and another to the wind gen...That takes our total loss to 4 now, we must buy better traces!
Raising flag for SVG
Whilst ashore in Bequia we wandered down the back roads and came across a guy selling lettuce in his garden. This was Dennis the Lettuce man. He actually cuts them straight from his raised lettuce beds and bags them for you. Costs you $5 EC per head (we had a bunch of young leaves instead). His 3 year old son raced around the garden with a spade and proceeded to blow me kisses. Dylan on the other hand received zap signs which the little guy and Dad thought to be a grand joke with much hearty laughter shared between father and son.

On the way back to Orion we stopped in at the book swap in Porthole restaurant and met Bequia's local grinch. A surly old bat who did not subscribe to a customer service mantra. But we got some interesting books though to restock the library. Dylan was pleased with his haul until I bagged them all, sprayed them with baygon and relegated them to the cockpit for quarantine.

Dylans note: God knows when I will be able to read any and when I do the fumes may force me to succumb

From Bequia we headed down the Grenadine island chain to Mayreau with the intention of going to Salt Whistle Bay. When approaching though we saw that the bay was rammed so we gave it a miss and headed for one of our favourite spots, Tobago Cays. A lot quieter than when we were last there, we anchored right near the turtle area. Snorkelling was made very interesting with the strong current that we had to swim against, as I jumped into the water and was busy putting my fins on, I was pushed about 2 boat lengths away from Orion. Sleeping was also difficult as the water had a chop on it and the wind howled through. A small price to pay though for 2 days in paradise.

View from the galley
Never letting us down, Tobago Cays sealife was great. As I dived down to bed the anchor, a trunk fish greeted me and showed me where to find it, even blowing the sand off to reveal the shiny metal below. How very friendly of him! Once I had finished playing with the little guy, I turned around to see a ray swimming by with its followers of 2 fish. The area we were anchored in was teaming with turtles. On one snorkel we came across a bale of 6 turtles looking like they were having a meeting that we inconveniently broke up. Just a few yards away we saw 2 moray eels having a squabble over who was going to live in an abandoned conch shell. The bigger one won and the smaller one remained a safe distance away scowling at us, trying to make up for the fact it had just been beaten.

Bedding the anchor
Lunch aboard Orion
A short hop from Tobago Cays is Union Island and thats where we went next, Chatham Bay. As we neared the bay, another boat was leaving which meant we had the whole bay to ourselves for most of the day. Anchoring in the lee of the headland, the place was full of pelicans and ashore the beach was dotted with a couple of huts serving drinks and beach BBQ each evening. A boat boy came by letting us know of happy hour at his place, Palm Leaf Restaurant. Not one to pass up on a cheap beer, Dylan rowed us ashore and we pulled the dinghy up on the beach. Rum punch for me and beers for Dylan whilst we made friends with Tim and the owner Jerry. Tim let me feel his dreadlocks and even posed for a picture. Palm Leaf Restaurant like the other shacks in the bay is literally a shed on a beach, no electricity, no running water. When it got dark we had a paraffin lamp on the table and they switched on a generator to power some naked lightbulbs. Flying ants loved them though which caused them to hit the light and go into a death dive on our table so they got switched off again pretty quickly!

Tim and I
The Palm Leaf Restaurant

Dylan attempting to drag the dink by himself
At the far end of Chatham Bay is Aqua, a posh looking bar and boutique. They have thatched roofs but we were most put out when we touched them and realised it was plastic! In the dark it looked most convincing. Dylan tested out his rock climbing skills and then I ushered him back to the shack as we had decided to have their combi BBQ – conch, fish and chicken. The meal was amazing, table was piled with barracuda, conch in some yummy sauce, chicken drumsticks, garlic potatoes, baby banana, rice, coleslaw salad. We were stuffed by the end of it. On the table next to us was a huge family of white Barbadians with a funny rhasta accent!! Dylan made his usual cringe comment, asking them whereabouts they were from in the US! Only Dylan can get accents so terribly wrong, this is the same guy that asks Irish people where they are from in Scotland!

As Dylan rowed back to the boat and I eased the waistband on my dress (food baby), we were navigating in the dark, with no torch and no moon. As each oar stroke hit the water, a cloud of phosphorescence glowed beneath us. It gave the impression that we were throwing out magic fairy dust as we inched towards Orion.

Early the next morning we were hailed by one of the Barbadians in a dinghy. Turns out he went for a morning fish, caught a barracuda and Spanish mackerel and had come to give us one. Such nice people we of course accepted and ate very well that evening.

Land ahoy!
Next stop, Frigate Island, another spot we hadn't checked out when going up the chain earlier this year. A lovely anchorage nestled in the lee of the island and close to the sleepy town of Ashton. We were treated again to the place all to ourselves. Needing to clear out of SVG we took the dinghy ashore to Ashton and walked to the customs office in Clifton (the only other town on Union Island). A boiling hot day we shadow hopped under the trees along the road as we commenced the walk, checking out the great views out to sea. Locals were very friendly stopping and saying 'afternoon' every time we passed. The shops in Ashton were plentiful but had almost bare shelves. We walked into a store in search of ginger and were greeted with naked shelves apart from a few bottles of Clorox, bags of nuts and a cooler full of local fruit juice. This seemed to be the case for the other shops too, rather than feeling frustrated at not being able to get what was on the list, I lapped it up. How bizarre, it certainly makes you wonder how these people get by when they have such little stock on sale. In one shop as I was scratching my head, a song from Adele came on. It seems even in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, the British music industry can still reach it!

View from Ashton out to Frigate
Town of Ashton
Orion near Frigate Island
Almost at Grenada now, we made one stop in Carriacou to clear in before reaching our destination.
As always seems to be the case with us, we reached the customs office just as they decided to break for we did too. We sought out the roti place that we frequented last time we were here but I made the mistake of not asking for boneless chicken so had an awful time chewing on gristle and spitting out bone. Don't think I could ever get used to that, it's enough to turn me vegetarian where as Dylan is in his element, sucking the bones until every piece of meat is digested. Bleurgh.

From Hillsborough (the capital of Carriacou) we motored across to Sandy Island and found the best reefs so far in the Caribbean. BVIs are definitely the best for sea life but here, the reefs were amazing. A marine protected area, all boats have to pick up a free mooring ball. The island was too far to swim to so we got in the dinghy and went to the east side for some snorkelling. One of my fins broke when swimming against the strong current here so I started to lose the battle and headed back to the dinghy. Typically, the only time I wimp out early, Dylan spots a 2ft nurse shark! Intent on not missing out, we take the dinghy over to where he spotted it but alas it had finished it nap and disappeared.

Not keen to stay overnight in the unprotected area of Sandy Island, we slipped our mooring for the second time that day and sailed around the headland to Tyrell Bay, anchoring near shore to pick up the free internet. This bay was even busier than we saw it in high season, with many boats opting to hurricane here due to the nearby mangroves.

Dinghying to shore we went in search of Venus aka crazy shack lady that we had met back in February. This lady sells fruit and veg from a shack at the bottom of her garden. We found her 'liming' with a competitor. She remembered us and took us back to her shack where she proceeded to sell us custard apples, mangoes and a coconut. She is totally in love with Dylan and continually calls him 'baby' and tells him 'you make me fall down' (meaning you make me laugh). Venus had a new wig but wouldn't let us take her photo making us promise that we would return and go for a walk to the beach so we could snap her in her bikini instead! Scary!

Looking for Venus
With only a couple of days to go until Carnival we made our final island jump to Grenada, catching a decent sized black fin tuna on the way. Now all we need to do to prepare for Monday Night Mas is pick up our Carib packs and get out the glow sticks!

Black fin tuna

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Preparing and avoiding Ernesto

31st July
5pm: Sat at the Anchorage Hotel, Dominica checking the weather. Front coming our way that looks pretty ugly and NOAA has classified it as a tropical storm for now with 30% chance of it turning into a cyclone. Both agreed to leave the next morning and head South out of its path. Being our first season in the Caribbean, we would like it to be hurricane free!

1st August
7am: Left Dominica for Admiralty Bay, Bequia, requiring an overnight passage of 140 miles. 
10am: 3 yachts go zooming past us heading North, we are the only boat heading South - slightly disconcerting!
4pm: Lost 2 lures already, one from a big strike that took the whole trace and lure with it and another to the wind gen…
5pm: Text Mum to ask her to check the hurricane website for update on the tropical storm. Its a storm with 70% chance of becoming a cyclone now and has been named Ernesto. We read up on the rest of the islands potential for decent hurricane holes if the worst were to happen and both agreed we would stick to our plan of going to Bequia.
8pm: Very light winds in the lee of Martinique so engine has gone on to save our sanity and increase the speed from 1.6kts to 6kts. How we love our refurbished gearbox!

2nd August
8am: See 5 yachts heading North, why is everyone heading North, what do they know that we don't know?? Slightly more concerned...
12pm: Made it to Admiralty Bay, Bequia and immediately went online to check the status of Ernesto. The eye is heading for St Vincent which is only 30 miles away so should miss us but we are going to prepare for the worst anyway.
1pm: Dylan jumps in and I let out the rode for a second anchor which Dylan beds. We then lash the bimini down, put the mainsail cover on, clear any loose lines from the deck and cockpit, take the pegs and washing line down and take off the monitor wind vane rudder.
3pm: Ernesto is downgraded to a depression so we stop our preparation there and don't go as far as taking the sails down that we had intended to do.
8pm: Go to bed and keep the VHF on for any updates from the coastguard.

3rd August
2am: Wake up to hear the coastguard saying the depression has been upgraded to a tropical storm and will hit the Windward Islands around 8am.
7am: Wake up and prepare for the incoming storm.
8am: Nothing happens….
9am: Nothing happens and there is so little wind, Orion is dancing around the 2 anchors doing 360s. Luckily the charter cats that anchored really near us on both sides have left (nutters).
11am: Heavy rain with a couple of gusts that only reach 31 knots.
3pm: Dylan jumps in to check our 2 anchors in case strong winds follow the depression. He gets chatting to a French couple who ask him to help re-anchor their boat. Good job he did as the anchor hadn't been set and if strong winds came though they would have gone walkies.

After all that preparation, the wind didn't come through very strong other than the usual trade winds (20-25 knots). Being our first encounter with a tropical storm we were glad of the practice, learnt a lot and hope that we never have to do it for real!

Goodbye Ernesto and hello Florence. Maybe this one will be for real? For anyone wanting to keep a track of the potential hurricanes, we use this website -

Boobies, coastguards and a volcano

Ha made you look didn't it! Of course, I mean boobies of the bird variety and not of the female anatomy...

Heading to Statia from St Martin we were keen to get our hands on fish for dinner so out went the lure. After 15 mins the usual sound of the line starts whizzzzzzing and up jumps Dylan to wind it in. Catching seaweed has become the norm on Orion and this time was no exception but what did make it more entertaining was the blue billed boobie that appeared from nowhere. Swooping down to survey our catch the boobie clocked the lure thinking it was a fish and started circling its 'prey'. Dylan kindly asks the bird to go away but it didn't respond to his polite push so we resorted to shouting at it. Both of us really didn't fancy killing a bird and it ruining our line but Billy the boobie had other ideas, getting more and more excited as the glimmer of the lure drew nearer to the surface. Luckily this time we had an intelligent birdy on our hands who must have recognised the difference between seaweed and a fish so content on missing nothing, it flew off. Phew!
Entertaining myself on the journey

Huge tankers off the coast of Statia
No sooner had we dealt with the bird we saw a huge inflatable rib fast approaching. We were now just off the Statia anchorage, dodging oil tankers. The rib turned out to be the Dutch coastguard who had come all the way from St Martin to board our boat. The captain expertly pulled alongside and 2 heavily booted and suited men jumped aboard. This was our first boarding so we couldn't help feeling a little anxious even though we had nothing to hide as they entered our cockpit. One guy got started on the paperwork as the lead guy asked us questions such as where we came from, where we are going, where are we registered, do we have any drugs or weapons on board etc. When the Q&A session was done and our passports and clearance papers had been inspected, he asked for me to give him a tour of the boat. I went below with one of the officials and he instructed me to open a few cupboards and drawers whilst he took a flashlight to look at the contents. O I had a lovely time showing him my wardrobe, my shorts drawer, my pots and pans...By the fourth door opening I could see his eyes glazing over and he announced he was happy we weren't storing anything illegal, ha! We were probably not the profile that deemed a full search would be required. Handshakes all round and and off they zoomed back to St Martin in the rib. All the time this boarding had happened, the Captain of the rib was standing off a couple of metres away whilst Dylan continued to sail Orion into the anchorage. Overall a pleasant, professional ordeal considering the horror stories we had heard of ridiculous fines being paid to the Dutch authorities.
Coastguard leaving us

There is only one anchorage in Statia and its steep to so all boats need to pick up a mooring ball that are maintained by the national park. A habit we have got into is to check the mooring ball and base as soon as we switch off the engine so no sooner had we pushed the button we jumped into the clear water for a much welcomed swim and snorkel. Its a lovely little bay, lined with palm trees and the dramatic backdrop of the Quill volcano. Tucked in close to shore we were out of the way of the commercial traffic going to and from the oil station on the North of the island.

Quill volcano in the background
The next day we were determined to climb the Quill volcano despite our complete lack of exercise for the last couple of months, I was also eager to try out my new Tevas purchased in Puerto Rico. Checking in was a painless process, the customs people work in an air conditioned container at the head of the town dock. The only slight inconvenience was that although we were leaving that night, we couldn't clear in and out at the same time. So it meant we cleared in at 10am and had to go back again before 4pm the same day to clear out.
The containers home to customs
The main town on Statia is reached by a steep old cobbled road leading up the cliff, rewarding us with great views over the coastline. The town reminded us of Codrington in Barbuda, a series of small colourful houses lining the bricked streets with locals just sat outside their houses or shops watching the world go by. Everyone was so friendly, making a point to stop as they passed us and wish us 'Good Morning'. How lovely to be back in a place that makes us feel so welcome, the islands up North are full of tourists and as such have lost some of their community focus we love.

View from the old road
To hike any of the island you need a National Park permit which is valid for a year, costs $6 per person and is purchased at the National Park Centre near customs. With this permit we also got loads of cool little leaflets on the island and hiking trails. Armed with 2 bottles of water, towel and some snacks we commenced our hike to the summit of the volcano. It was a pretty difficult hike just because of the heat and humidity found in the forest and at times the steep incline. We must have sweated out our weight in water. 

The trail
Wildlife was abundant, seeing red bellied snakes, loads of hermit crabs, doves and huge buttress roots as we wound our way up the forested floor. As we neared the summit you get a fantastic view of the crater below and feeling adventurous we decided to go to the bottom of the crater. This involved a 45 min scramble to the base over huge boulders and aided by rope that was strung from tree trunk to tree trunk. With only Dylan for company I felt nothing opting to go down most of it on my bum, shuffling from rock to rock like a spider. 

Anyone home?
The bottom of the crater wasn't much to write home about and we saw nothing that we hadn't already seen on the hike but hey, we can now say we have been inside a volcano crater (no-one needs to know that it has been dormant since 400 AD!) Faced with a 45 min scramble back up the side of the mountain and needing to be at customs before 4pm we quickly retraced our steps and got back to the dock. Dylan obviously not having enough exercise for one day decided we needed to scrub the hull clean of all the noo noos that had made their home there so we changed out of our sweaty walking gear and into swimming stuff armed with scrubbing brushes. We certainly slept well that night!!