Our month-long charter made it possible not only to visit some out-of-the-way anchorages that wouldn’t normally tempt us, but also allowed us to linger in the most beautiful and sought-after anchorages. At the southern end of St. Lucia is the famed marine park between the two Pitons. We spent three glorious days there with only one minor irritation, checking into customs, which by this time had lost some of its charm. One of the drawbacks of our long run from St. Martin to St. Vincent was that we changed countries about 10 times and each time had to clear in. A few offices are beginning to modernize. For example, in Martinique we checked in and out by computer, but in St. Vincent the process was downright primitive. We were initially charged $200 because the owner of the boat wasn’t with us, but we managed to haggle the price down to $100. Most customs offices charged a modest fee of around $10.
By the time we reached St. Lucia, we were growing a bit weary of anchoring and picking up mooring balls, the time-consuming customs rituals, motorsailing along the lee side of islands, and even cooking. Our best intentions to prepare most of our meals on board gradually weakened, and by the end of our trip we were spreading money around in local restaurants, much to the relief of the customer-starved harbor haunts.
There are inevitable downsides to a month-long charter. On islands with fewer charter boats, like Statia or Dominica, making contact with the charter company is impossible without a cellphone. We solved this problem by purchasing local SIM cards in several of the islands, which allowed us to use our unlocked GSM quad-band cellphone, which we brought with us from the U.S. Getting reliable weather information was also tricky: the Sunsail bases were not well informed about weather conditions outside their bases, and many of the radio reports were in French. My French is reasonably good, but I am not familiar with nautical terms or weather words. Dale solved that problem in Roseau, Dominica, by subscribing to Virtual Buoy (buoyweather.com) and Windguru, services he could consult when we had Internet access. This allowed us to avoid ocean runs on days when the waves were ten or more feet high, or when the wind was too strong.
Again, such delays allowed us to spend more time exploring the islands and hanging around the harbors. In Roseau on Dominica, for example, Dale enjoyed a head massage and haircut, and later we caught a local bus that was filled with kids on their way home from school. On our ride way up to Laudet, high in the mountains, we saw a lush tropical forest with breadfruit, grapefruits, coconuts, and bananas going unpicked. These were all sights and smells we would not have enjoyed on our usual trips.
In Deshaies, on Guadeloupe, we spent a whole day at the magnificent botanical gardens; one evening in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts, we lingered to watch a parade of carnival dancers dressed in exotic costumes; in Portsmouth, on Dominica, we had time to do the Indian River trip. On St. Vincent we were able to tarry long enough on our trip up to the gorgeous Montreal Gardens to watch a villager prepare a potion of herbs to ease my sniffles.
Some of the crossings between islands were numbingly long for casual sailors like us. Especially in unfavorable or uncomfortable conditions, we ended up doing more motorsailing, especially in the Leeward Islands, than we would have liked so we could reach a harbor in time to anchor, clear customs, and enjoy cocktail hour. But all these minor irritations were insignificant, and you can bet we’d do it all again—if we have the opportunity.