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Oct 31, 2014

Where To Sail Next : Q&A on Sailing the Windward/Leewards?




   We are only weeks away from returning to our sailboat and still have absolutely no idea what direction we want to sail in. Many of the options are appealing, for different reasons, and we just can't make up our minds. We think we have narrowed it down to two possible directions, but they are polar opposite of each other! This is why I asked three of our sailing friends for their opinions on some of the directions they have ventured to, in this simple Q&A. This third (read the Central America and Bahamas instalments), and last instalment was sent to us from our friends Mike and Rebecca, who are currently floating around the islands down south from us. 

In a nutshell can you introduce yourself and tell us about your sailing/cruising history?
My name is Mike Sweeney. My wife Rebecca and I set sail from Canada in 2010 after purchasing a catamaran and divesting ourselves of virtually all of our land-based possessions. We documented our transition from complete sailing newbies to liveaboard sailors on our website Zero To Cruising (http://www.zerotocruising.com). We are presently acting as Captain and First Mate/Chef on a large catamaran, One Love, offering crewed yacht vacations in the Virgin Islands (http://www.onelovecat.com).



In regards to the Windward/Leeward islands, what was it that brought you there?
For those on the East Coast, the Bahamas and the Windwards/Leewards are the natural place to head cruising. Given that remaining in the Bahamas during hurricane season is a relatively risky proposition, most people either head back north when that time of year approaches or continue moving south. The latter is what we opted to do with Grenada being our ultimate destination. 



What are some of the pros/cons of the islands?
The islands in the Eastern Caribbean have much to offer. Most have protected harbors, clean water, beautiful beaches, tropical climate and friendly people. While many of the larger islands do have good shopping (Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Martinique, Grenada), North Americans may find the absence of some of the conveniences they are used to back home frustrating. "Island Time" is not just an expression, it actually exists. 



Are there any secret gems, "must sees", of the area that you are willing to let us in on?
Rebecca and I love to hike so if you're of the same mind, there is a wonderful trek to follow up the Deshais River in Guadeloupe. In fact, there are quite a number of hiking trails that we love, 10 of which are detailed in our book Ready To Get Wet (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009Y6P5ZG/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B009Y6P5ZG&linkCode=as2&tag=zertocru-20).



Is there anything you would warn us, and other sailors about, before heading this way?
Petty crime is everywhere. "Lock it or lose it," especially when it comes to tenders, is the rule to live by. 

What drink is this area known for? Is it any good?
Rum. Yes. :)



To gauge cost of living, what are the costs of the following 6 things:
beer: In a bar, approx. $1.50 US. 
chocolate bar: Sorry, we never buy chocolate bars. 
toilet paper: 75 cents per roll? When we need it, we just buy it!
chicken breast: Approx. $3.00 US per breast (in a large North American type Grocery store)
bread: Sorry, no idea here either. We never buy bread.
gas: Just under $5.00 US



Could you picture us there, enjoying ourselves?

Of course, especially anchored right beside us!

Rebecca, Mike, and Arias (3years ago!)


Thanks for taking the time to answer these. But now I am starting to question, how well can you trust someone's advice if they never buy chocolate bars!? That is complete madness!




Oct 27, 2014

Aliens in Sosua




   I am a strong believer in "to each their own" as long as they are not harming anyone else, and I am also always open to listening to what some's "own" may be. Our experience at the Castillo Mundo King in Sosua was interesting for this very reason, hearing Rolf's, the owner's, view of the world.

   Sosua is a little limited on touristy things to do, outside of some serious people watching, going to the beach, or hitting up one of the many restaurants down the main strip. So when we were told about the "museum" we absolutely wanted to see it for ourselves. But we were advised not to bring our girls. And I am absolutely 100% happy we didn't because there are "things of nightmares" in there.

   When we first arrived at the museum the doors were wide open but there was no one anywhere. We meandered around the first floor randomly yelling out "Hello?" to see if anyone was hiding on one of the upper levels, but no response. We nervously walked around, wondering if someone would jump out of the shadows at us and ask us what we are doing there or tell us we were trespassing. We didn't dare go up or down a level, given that the lower levels were called things like "The Crypt" and many of the statues look like sacrificial voodoo weirdness. Finally we found a phone number on a wall, called it, and half an hour later we were greeted by a local who offered to give us the tour if we paid the entrance fee. We hesitated a bit, because this could be any guy, "willing" to take our money! But after a few minutes of starring at each other we decided "what the heck", gave him the $7 each and let him show us around the place. Ends up he works for the owner, as the caretaker of the museum.

   It was nice having him with us, to guiding us through the many twists and turns of this building. Around every corner and in each dark nook there were statues of creatures of the dark. Scary looking things. We asked and found out they have nothing to do with voodoo or sacrifice, but rather, all these creatures, paintings, space ships and statues of things that Rolf had dreamt of and paid someone to recreate. After seeing these things I knew I would never want to be inside this guys head. It is scary in there. At the end of the tour we were greeted by Rolf himself.

   Rolf is an older fellow, an engineer, who moved to Sosua from Germany, because, in his words, "there are no rules here, you can build whatever you want!" Talking with him it was easy to see that he has his head on straight, he is able to hold a normal conversation and makes good points, but some of his beliefs are a bit out there. Rolf believes that aliens come to Sosua regularly and visit him. He explains their presence by the "light angels" he sees in the sky or in pictures. These light angels are what the rest of us would call sun flares, those spots or lines you see bursting out of the sun in pictures or when you look directly at the sun. What we describe as flares or sun energy, he calls light angels. Ok. That's acceptable. This is where my 'to each his own' belief came in. He went on to explain that the aliens had left him a gift, a bouncing bead that has energy trapped inside of it, and they had also cut 3 spots on his arm and had injected him with a serum that is making him go crazy.

   The museum was definitely something worth seeing, and talking with Rolf completed the experience, helping us associate the space ships and horrific statues with their creator. If ever you find yourself in Sosua, Dominican Republic, this place is worth the $7 stop, if not for the museum experience then for the view from his 7th storey balcony.


The front entrance to the museum









Ok, so maybe we were goofing off a little before we got the guided tour







I wasn't about to go wandering down there, it would be like the beginning of any horror movie!



Inside the Crypt, thank goodness for having a flash because it was actually pitch black down there





The space ships, there are four of them and they are huge!




















Can't say I'd want to sleep in this bed






The levels to this building just keep going and going, we were a sweaty mess by the time we reached the top of the 7th


But then you get a view of the whole coast, with this guy



Oct 23, 2014

Exotic Sailing Locations : Staniel Cay, Bahamas




   Do you ever sit in front of your computer drooling over the "top 10 must see travel spots" that overwhelm your facebook feed? Do you ever look at the pictures and wonder if anyone actually ever travels there, or is it just one lucky photographer working for National Geographic that is allowing us all to dream. These "must see" articles seem to be domineering social media these days. I recently came across LOOK's latest media campaign, focusing on exotic sailing locations. Well, I can say that we know of a few destinations, that we have visited personally. And so, although they are not at the far reaches of the world, I have decided to do yet another mini-series highlighting some of the exotic sailing locations that we have visited, that are right in your backyard. So to speak. They are actually a little ways from your backyard, but in the sailing community, the Caribbean could be considered North America's backyard.

   The first sailing location that I would like to write about is Staniel Cay, Bahamas. For many cruisers leaving the States this upcoming season to sail into the caribbean, you will most likely be making a stop in Staniel Cay. And I believe it is well worth it. Even if you are only stopping for a few days, like we did, you have ample time to take in, what we believed to be, the highlights of the island. In, and around, this island we quite enjoyed:

The Swimming Pigs (Big Major Cay, next to Staniel Cay, within a dinghy ride)

   I mean, you are not going to come across this many times in your life. Actual swimming pigs. And not ones that just swish around in mud puddles. These hogs (yes big hairy hogs, not cute "Babe"-like pigs) will leave the beach to come and meet your dinghy that is floating out in the bay. They have gotten quite used to all of the cruisers coming to gawk at them, so be prepared and have some food on hand to share with them once those ginormous beasts have paddled all the way out to you. I feel like after such a workout they deserve a snack. We fed them cabbage, which we threw towards them. I had no desire for any of them to come "that close" to our dinghy that one of their piggy hoofs might catch the side of our inflatable and sink us. We also had a cute and pudgy Arias that may look like a yummy snack to a carnivorous pig. So we hucked cabbage instead. I have also heard of some of the braver cruisers bringing their dinghy to shore, on the beach of Big Major Cay, where the pigs live. But during our visit there were piglets running around on the beach, so I didn't think it wise for us to go for a beach stroll and piss off big momma pig. 








Thunderball Grotto

   Whether you are a James Bond fan or not, this place is totally worth checking out. And once again, bring food! Before entering the grotto it is good to check the tides and make sure you go on SLACK TIDE, to make your entry easier. It was a bit scary going under the first lip (underwater) because you don't know what to expect or how long you will have to swim underwater before you reach air again, but it's actually only that one lip. We even had our 2 year old, in a life jacket, do it. Once you are inside there is a huge amount of space, so even if you are there at the same time as other boats you wont feel like you are at a paid tourist attraction looking for elbow room. The current inside is surprisingly strong, nothing insane, but I just didn't expect it to have such a pull. 

   The food that you bring is to feed the array of colourful fish that inhabit the Grotto. If you don't feed them something yummy they may opt to nibble on your toes, which is a totallly creepy feeling. We just sprinkled the crumbs left at the bottoms of our cereal bags into the water and the fish were our best friends. I spent most of my time sitting on one of the ledges with Arias, looking at all the fish, while Eben and Kurtis adventured around and pondered jumping through the hole at the top of the grotto. I convinced them not to, since we didn't know if it was doable, but we later saw a youtube video of someone doing it, so I have a feeling that a return visit is soon approaching.

   For a good laugh, picture this. When we visited the grotto I was 7.5 months pregnant. Big. We dinghied over to it, everyone jumped in the water, swam into the grotto, and marvelled at the beauty of it. After about an hour there, we started getting chilly and decided to head back to the dinghy. This is when it clicked for me...I had never gone from the water back into our dinghy with a belly this size. I usually just hoist myself up the side of the dinghy and pull myself in (imagine that usually looking pretty athletic), but now with this baby inside of me turning me into a manatee, hoisting myself was not a possibility. Instead, Eben and Kurtis had to get into the dinghy and then grab me under my arms and hoist me up and in, I went from "athletic mermaid look" to "beached whale look". We all had a good laugh about how not a single one of us thought about this scenario occurring until it actually did.









I wouldn't let them jump through the grotto hole so they found another mini rock formation to jump off of!


Secluded Beaches

   We went to Staniel Cay about mid-way through the sailing season (around February) and although there were plenty of boats around the island, there were still a ton of beaches that no one seemed to occupy other than us. We had a blast on our white-sand, turquoise water, secluded beaches. We would bring food along with us, have picnics, and spend our time beach combing, sand castle building, critter chasing, and sunbathing. ALL BY OURSELVES! It is picturesque, lets you feel like the Swiss Family Robinsons, and it's free! What more could you ask for? Oh, but do watch out for sharks, not big scary whites, but there was a nurse shark that was quite intrigued by Eben and Kurtis snorkling near the beach.










   And if you have any landbased needs, such as the local drinking hole, getting rid of your accumulated trash, seeing other humans, or getting a non-boat cooked meal, you can always head over to the Staniel Cay Yatch club. There you can find a nice cold beer and oogle over all the pictures of a young Sean Connery and crew from their time spent there filming the James Bond movie.


   So if you are island hopping down the chain, Staniel Cay is definitely worth a stop and has left some beautiful memories engrained in my mind, minus the "beached whale look", that one is stuck there from sheer embarrassment.