With full boat north in the Caribbean
With Heidi’s parents and Peder (Eivind’s son) well on board after our arrival in Cul de Sac du Marin in Martinique, we headed out to St. Anne just outside Cul de Sac for Peder’s birthday celebration. Our visiting crew was going to sail with us for three weeks to somewhere in Caribbean with an airport, to fly back to Martinique where an already ordered flight to Norway would be waiting.
5 years have passed
Peder has been visiting several times since last time he sailed with Empire – as a 5 year old across the Pacific Ocean from Chile to New Zealand. Eirik was happy to give his bed to Peder, and move to the upper bunk bed. It was great to have big brother visiting.
Peder looked forward to finally use his sea legs again, but first we had to celebrate his 10 years birthday. At St. Anne’s Kresten (12), Jørgen (16), Kirsten and Jens from the Danish yacht Exabyte were waiting for the celebration. Later also the German Catamaran Blue Callalloo with Tina and Markus came for the birthday party.
With the celebration behind us, we headed north toward Dominica and the islands named Leeward Islands. We visited Windward Islands, the islands from Martinique south to Trinidad and Tobago when were in Caribbean 2005/6. We would have loved to see some of those islands again during this second visit, but with plans for a northerly route toward Norway with arrival in Oslo during 2012, time didn’t allow for too many stops en route…
Underway to Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica we discovered shadows in the ocean close to Empire. There were no clouds in the sky and next time we looked we saw a couple of whales surfacing. The whales were about the same size as Empire, and they seemed as curious about us as we were about them. The whole crew was hanging over the side, enjoying the meeting with the big animals.
Today Dominica is a peaceful and quiet place among the other more touristy and bigger islands nearby. Even the Bout Boys were behaving in Dominica. In Prince Rupert Bay the Boat Boys have organized themselves. One of the “Boys” get in touch with you when visitors are approaching the island and later the visitor use that ”Boy” as the contact person. Every morning ”our boy” came alongside to find out if there was anything we wanted. The rest of the day we were left to ourselves, and if we had any wishes we could call him via the VHF radio. A win-win situation for all parts. If we wanted to managed on our own that was absolutely accepted and if we wanted their service we got that without any more hassle.
Out for a walk
Also the Danish yacht Exabyte anchored in Prince Rupert Bay. Together we rented a minibus to explore the beautiful and green island. The rainforest and the high mountains were tempting for a hike. The little island claimed to have the highest mountain in the eastern Caribbean, Morne Diablotin at 1450 meters. The following days we swam in small waterholes and bathed in small waterfalls, walked steep trials, almost grown over trials and more touristy trials.
One of the days we stopped at a banana plantation. With us we got a big stock of bananas and several pieces of ginger. The guys at the plantation claimed that one cup of ginger tea a day was the secret recipe to become 100.
From Dominica we sailed north on the leeward side of Guadelope toward St. Maarten. St. Maarten is one of the smallest land areas in the world that are divided between two countries. The southern part belongs to Netherland. On the northern shores they fly the French flag.
St. Maarten is ”taxfree” and playground for the rich. Empire with her 42 feet was a small boat compared to the mega yachts in the lagoon inside Simpson Bay on the Dutch side. We anchored outside the lagoon in Simpson Bay, together with a few other yachts on a long voyage similar in size to Empire.
After mounting solar panels when in Malaysia in 2009, we realized that solar panels should have been mounted much earlier on the voyage. At St. Maarten we bought 2 new solar panels, to fit together with the ”old” ones on top of the bimini. After accomplishing the mission in the chandlery at St. Maarten, we departed the next morning. We expected to be able to survive more or less on solar power, when we got the new panels connected.
The wind was conspicuous with its absence, on the voyage toward British Virgin Island and Tortola. Not a single puff of wind and no fish on the line.
BVI consists of more than 40 islands. There are many beautiful anchorages and the water is clear and warm. After quickly checking in to BVI at West End, we sailed to The Bight on Norman Island – the BVI answer to the local sailors gathering place near Oslo called Middagsbukten (“Dinner Bay”).
Our visiting crew enjoyed a few days in BVI, before they had to head back to Martinique – and Norway. Three weeks with summer, sun, sailing and bathing passes quickly.
We were getting closer to our own departure as well. We just wanted to enjoy the tropics, warm water and good sailor friends a little bit longer – before we all headed in different directions. Together with Kirsten, Kresten, Jørgen and Jens we explored some of island group.
Anchored in The Bight we also met Norwegian Kjersti and Danish Thomas – in Danish s/y Frøja. With only a few days to get to know each other, we quickly became good friends. Diving, skin diving, birthday celebration and technical questions were some of the activities we managed to get through.
Plans may change...
Empire was packed and ready and we had checked out from BVI with the intention to sail directly to Bahamas. At Bahamas we had booked an interview with the American Embassy to complete the visa application for USA – we thought...
We managed to say ”See you” many times to our Danish friends in s/y Exabyte. We celebrated Kirsten’s birthday twice, since we originally planned for a departure before the “real” celebration date.
The same day as we checked out from BVI we met the crew from the Norwegian yachts Nostra Vida and Le Compromise in Road Town, Tortola. They told us – and that confirmed the rumors – about an easier way to get the visa to sail with your own boat to the USA. At least if the the stay was planned to be shorter than 3 months.
During that evening we skipped the sailing plans for Bahamas. Via Internet we applied for a 90 day visa for USA through ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Next morning we took the ferry from Road Town (BVI) to St. Thomas (USVI, the American part of the Virgin Islands), where we got our passports stamped. After that operation we were free to sail to mainland USA with our own boat. Customs in Charlotte Amalie at St. Thomas recommended that we checked in to USA at St. John (USVI) before heading to the mainland, because check in procedures probably were easier arriving from another country to USVI than arriving directly in mainland USA (from another country).
We were happy to find this easier visa solution, especially since that would save us apx. 600US$. At the same time we would get some extra days to relax at St. John before heading into colder waters.
When we late in the afternoon arrived back in Tortola after our little ferry excursion to American territory, it looked like it had been a Norwegian invasion – or at least Scandinavian invasion – in Road Town. In addition to Empire, we discovered six Norwegian and two Danish yachts in the little bay.
In addition five of the Norwegian yachts had children on board. Eirik and Marius needed only a few minutes to get to know their new friends. For once Marius (1½) was not the youngest sailor. Little Klara from s/y Honningpupp on a one year trip in the Caribbean was only 10 months old.
All six Norwegian yachts planned to be back in Norway sometime 2012, but the route varied. Three yachts had already ordered to be shipped as cargo on a ship to Europe. Three yachts planned to sail east via the Azores and Empire planned for a voyage toward Norway via USA, Canada, Greenland and maybe Svalbard.
We listened to the Custom officer’s advice and checked in to the USA in St. John a few days later. The island is the least developed among the USVI islands – it has no airport. We took a mooring in a sheltered bay just outside a resort. Moored there we planned to finish writing the next article to the Norwegian sailing magazine Seilas, before sailing north to mainland USA.
We were almost done with the article, when we on the VHF radio heard an emergency call. A skin diver had got into trouble and was lying unconscious on the bottom on 12 meters depth, was the message. Eivind got on the air and got the position confirmed to be just a bit south of where we were anchored. Grabbing his fins and mask on the way Eivind jumped into the dinghy. Together with a diver that also came to the scene, the injured man was brought to the surface – and brought on board the National Park Ranger’s RIB that finally came to the scene – where CPR was performed as the boat took off for the hospital...
We don’t know the end of the story. The man had probably been under water for more than 20 minutes – in 27˚C. The possibilities to survive that long under water – in that warm water – is sadly very small. It was probably too late already when the emergency call was broadcasted on the VHF…
Without knowing what actually happened when the skin diver got into trouble, the course of events were probably this: 2 friends discovered the wreck of a sailboat in the ocean floor 15 meters below the mooring buoy. While skin diving on the wreck, one of the divers pushed his own limits too far. On their way to the surface one of the divers fainted, something that is called Shallow Water Blackout. The buddy diving together with the casualty was not able to help his friend, that sank to the ocean floor. The buddy swam to the boat moored to the nearest buoy. Then the emergency call was transmitted on VHF canal 16...
The day after the tragically accident we hoisted anchor and set the course north – the plan was to hit the shore about mid east coast USA. Where we actually would end up, wind and weather underway would help us to decide.