Back in the begining of August I shared an article I wrote and submitted to several sailing magazines. Well turns out Multihull Sailor chose to publish it in thier fall issue. I think they did a great job with the layout and can not wait to get my hands on a copy.
If you would like to read the article you can also buy a copy of Multihull Sailor or check it out below.
By: Shane McClellan
For the last six years I have run a very successful charter business in the Virgin Islands on my vessel, Guiding Light, and have gotten to know the islands very well. Well this year I chose to shake it up a little bit and celebrate Guiding Light’s 20-year birthday by taking it on a six-week cruise of the Leeward Islands with my girlfriend.
Guiding Light is a four cabin Lagoon 410 built in 1997. Two things I love hearing the most about my vessel is that it does not look 20 years old and that it seems way bigger than 41 feet. I feel the Lagoon 410 is a perfect combination of size, speed, and accommodations. The layout allows me to single hand it for hundreds of miles, but other time have up to six guests aboard for a week-long charter.
Since I am based out of the Virgin Islands, I chose to start my cruise from Virgin Gorda in the BVI. It was a loop down to Barbuda over to Montserrat and back up to the BVI and I could fill up this entire magazine with descriptions of each island we visited, but have chosen to give you a highlight of each one instead.
Sombrero Islands – We started off with perfect weather to visit the deserted island of Sombrero, which has the remains of three different lighthouses and was a huge phosphate mining operation in the 1800’s. It sits 35 miles north of Anguilla, who owns it, and 55 miles southeast of Virgin Gorda. We had very little swell and the wind was below five knots, which is what I recommend if you visit. The mile long by half a mile-wide island is a 40-foot-high plateau sticking out of the sea and looks like an aircraft carrier as you approach.
We anchored in 70 feet of water on the western side to the south end of the ruins. There is a metal ladder sitting 6-7 feet off the water and is the only way onto the island. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to tie the dinghy and the ladder is to high up to swim in, so you will need to have someone wait in the dinghy as you explore what is now a huge bird colony with pretty cool ruins as the setting.
The current lighthouse is automated and built in 2001, but the bases of the previous two are still here after they were destroyed by hurricanes. The first one was built in 1868 and the second one in 1962.
St Barts – We continued to take advantage of the calm weather and skipped St Martin to get a bit further south and St Barts did not disappoint us. While the town of Gustavia is about as cute as you can find, the anchorage is very crowded because this is the vacation spot of the rich and famous. You will find more super yachts tied to the wharf than you would think this tiny harbor can handle and once you walk around this meticulously clean and well laid out town, you understand why they want to come here.
As much fun as we had in town, we loved Anse De Colombier cove at the northern tip of the island even more. This deserted cove cannot be reached by car and has a great beach, nice snorkeling, good protection, and free moorings to help you completely relax.
Another fun anchorage is a small island four miles away called Ile Fourchue. Both of these provide great protection, and at the latter one I ended up finding a treasure trove of goods, but that is another story. ????
Barbuda – Given the islands we wanted to see, I decided to motor directly into the wind for the sixty miles to Barbuda, so we could have nice sails to each of the islands that follow. Barbuda is paired with Antigua forming an independent country and most people don’t know you can check in at Barbuda if you provide 48-hour notice.
Once checked in find George Jeffery who can take you on a tour to see the largest frigate bird colony in the world. He can also be your water taxi across the lagoon if you anchor in Low Bay to enjoy 11 Mile Beach. We rode our bikes to Two Foot Bay to see, among other caves, one that was an incline and got you to the top of the “Highlands” 114 feet up. On the way back, you can visit the Codrington estate ruins, who owned the island in years past, and take the trail to the very cool Darby Sink Hole (I wrote a blog on my website giving directions to get there).
At the southern end, Gravenor Bay is very secluded and has wonderful coral heads to snorkel. Barbuda was our second favorite island, but beware that there are not a lot of protected coves should the north swell be running or the winds get to high.
Antigua – Of all the islands we visited, Antigua is the one I need to revisit just to see everything I missed. There are coves and anchorages to explore all around the island and thanks to a long reef the north and east coast are available also. Antigua is a great hub for cruising, because of all the services available.
We stayed at Falmouth Harbor next to English Harbor and visited the Nelson Dockyard, which is one of only four World Heritage Sites in the Lesser Antilles. This historic shipyard took care of the English fleet for over a hundred years and now it is an active working museum that you can dock your boat at.
One tip I can give you is to make sure you check in/out at Jolly Harbor instead of English Harbor to save a lot of money. I am so excited by the cruising and chartering possibilities of Antigua and cannot wait until I return
Montserrat – Back in 1995 Mt Soufriere started erupting and buried Plymouth, the capital of Montserrat, under mud. The southern two thirds of the island is uninhabitable and 10,000 of the 15,000 residents had to abandon their island. Today you can get a wonderful tour of the volcano and destruction. In my opinion Joe Phillips is the only one you want to give you this tour, because he has an iPad loaded with all kinds of photos from before the eruption and really does a great job of telling the story. Make sure you ask him to take you into down into Plymouth, which will cost a little more but is well worth it.
The only anchorage is at Little Bay and you should only go in settled weather. Just north of Little Bay is a wonderful beach to play on called Rendezvous Beach. You can dinghy around the cliff to get there, but I had a great 30-minute hike up and over the hill. One thing that amazed me was how wonderful and happy the people are given the hardship they have suffered and I know you will love this island as we did.
Nevis – Our favorite island’s name is a corruption of the Spanish word for snow, because Christopher Columbus saw the permanent cloud sitting above the peak on Nevis and called the island Our Lady of the Snows.
What sold us on this island, besides the beauty and coolness of the mountain and cloud, was a hike we did from Golden Rock estate to Hermitage House estate, I ended up wanting to live in the meadows castle rock co. It turns out the Hermitage House is the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean and is a wonderful spot to have lunch after the hike. We also liked soaking our feet in the hot spring near the Bath Hotel of 1778, which is the first resort in the Caribbean, and the Botanical Gardens was gorgeous.
Nevis is known for being the birthplace of both Alexander Hamilton and the wife of Admiral Nelson. The other famous residents are the green back monkeys.
St Kitts – The other part of this country is St Kitts, which at first did not impress us. That was due to the lack of anchorages. Basically, you have a good anchorage at White House Bay and a couple other fun bays on the southern end. After that you have the anchorage off Basseterre, the capital, but you will not be comfortable if the winds are south of east. Luckily you can get a slip in the marina. Towards the northwest end of the island is St Kitts Marine Works, which also has a few slips. That is pretty much your choices.
Once you make it ashore though, the secrets of this island start to reveal themselves. The main attraction is Brimstone Hill Fort, which is another World Heritage Site, where we spent half a day exploring. You also have Caribelle Batik at Romney Manor where you can see the making of beautiful fabrics and explore a sugar factory ruins that was run on water power. The last thing we did was ride the St Kitts Scenic Railroad, the last railroad in the Caribbean. A little secret, if you go tell them you ARE NOT on a cruise ship and save a ton of money. There are other ruins of sugar estates and points of interest that the island does a descent job of presenting.
St Eustatuis – Would you believe tiny, little Statia (as it is called) was once the trade capital of the Caribbean and would have up to 300 ships anchored in the roadstead of an anchorage? Well today is a different story and you might be one of only a couple boats as you look upon the shore and see a narrow strip of land between the water and the cliff behind it. On this strip of land, called Lower Town, is where you will find ruins of warehouses and wharfs. Many of them are underwater, making some great snorkeling.
Ashore the fort, Dutch Church, and museum can all be explored in a couple hours, but my favorite activity was hiking to the rim of The Quill. This dormant volcano is a great hike and has a true rim and amazing views as you sit in the wispy clouds. From this height you will be able to see how during the last eruption, 1600 years ago, the two hills were joined to form the island.
Saba – You will not hear me say this very often about an island, but I recommend you fly to Saba! The reason is because the two anchorages are open and either very rough or a wet mile and a half dinghy ride away from the one place you can gain access to this almost impenetrable island.
Once you are a shore it is a totally different matter as you take in the Dutch Caribbean culture in the perfect little towns of The Bottom, Windwardside, St Johns, and Hell’s Gate. You should check out the hike to the top of Mt Scenery that is a very steep staircase, but well worth the exertion.
We liked the Dutch Museum and the Saba Museum in Windwardside, but for me The Ladder was the must see on the island, because it was how all goods and people got ashore until 1970. Another fun story is the “Road That Couldn’t Be Built”, which according to Dutch engineers was impossible. Leave it to the Sabeans to take a correspondence course on road building in the 1930’s and built it themselves.
Anguilla – A unplanned and unexpectantly delightful stop was on Anguilla. The one bad thing is you have to stay in Road Bay unless you get an expensive ($54 a day for my boat) cruising permit, but we simply rented a car and drove all over this island. There are 33 beaches and each one has a unique charm. My favorite is Little Bay, which is surrounded by cliffs. You either have to visit by boat or climb down the 50-foot cliff.
Even though it is expensive I highly recommend getting the permit for at least a day. We took the boat to Sandy Island a mile for Road Bay to find a sandy paradise surrounded by perfect water. Next, we ventured 4-5 miles to the northwest for Prickly Pear Cays, which has a nice beach, two bars, and reef. The last stop was another 4-5 miles away at Dog Island, which had another fun beach but zero bars meaning you could be in this paradise by yourself. Dog Island also put us 10 miles closer to the BVI, which I needed to sail back to for my summer charters.
This cruise was amazing and everything I had hoped. In fact, I am already thinking about next year’s cruise further south once I end my season in mid-April. Who wants to join? ????