After more than a year of traipsing up and down the US east coast with a one month foray to the Bahamas, we were growing accustomed to living aboard Nine of Cups and slowly becoming aware of our own capabilities and shortcomings as well as that of the boat. We had equipped her with what we thought was necessary for safety and comfort and it was time to get serious about cruising. Leaving the USA on a more permanent basis was a big step and we worked up to it gradually, but confidently. As we exited the calm, placid waters of Lake Worth to head across the Gulf Stream once again, we did so with excited anticipation and few qualms. We were ready.
Our trip through the Bahamas was different than the previous year’s trip to the Abacos. This time we planned to pass through the Bahamas rather than it being a destination. We intended to push further and further in our explorations of the islands. It’s hard to escape other boats in the Bahamas. It’s a busy place and easily accessible from the Florida coast. We checked into the country in the Berries, then island-hopped for a few weeks through the more popular haunts … Nassau, Eleuthera.
We did some volunteer work at the Land & Sea Park in the Exumas and stopped at Allan’s Cay to visit the ugly, but welcoming iguanas (yikes!). We placed a Nine of Cups sign on Boo Boo Hill. It was all new and exciting, but very crowded. We gave the well-known cruiser hangout, Georgetown, a deliberate miss. We enjoyed other cruisers, but we reckoned if we wanted to hang out with just cruisers, we could have stayed stateside. We yearned for a less touristy hustle and bustle and more peace and quiet.
Conception was lovely. San Salvador, purportedly the place where Columbus first landed and “discovered” the New World, was on our stop-list, then to Rum Cay and Mayaguana. Each island became progressively more remote, with less amenities and fewer boats. We explored each in turn with long walks and beachcombing and just enjoyed “being”.
We wended our way around, through and out of the Bahamas and into the Turks & Caicos, a British overseas territory and a big tourist destination. A fond memory of our arrival in Providenciales (aka Provo) after completing our official check-in, is heading to a large modern IGA grocery store after a month of only tiny Bahamian island, limited offering “shops”. We bought freshly ground hamburger, cheese, buns, chips and everything our backpacks and the fridge would hold. We gorged ourselves while singing and dancing to Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburger in Paradise at full volume.
After a quick visit to the Caicos national park, we zigzagged across the shallow Caicos Banks then across the Grand Turk Passage to Grand Turk to find a surprisingly empty anchorage. We were the only sailboat in town and there were few tourists wandering about. We took advantage of walking the length of the island to admire the old lighthouse, flamingos, the donkey corrals, salt pans and especially the National Museum.
It was nearing the end of March and we needed to get a move-on to be assured we were out of the hurricane belt by mid-June. A couple of overnights and we quietly entered the Dominican Republic (DR) port of Luperón at dawn one morning and found a place to anchor midst the crowd. This would be our first experience in a non-English-speaking community and it humbled us. We felt for all those who visit America and don’t speak English and are treated rather rudely by our impatient countrymen. The folks in the DR were warm, friendly and welcoming despite our lack of communication skills. We vowed to learn Spanish, but found that we spent most of our time with fellow-cruisers speaking English rather than interacting with the locals. We recognized that we needed to change that aspect of our cruising life as well.
From the DR, we crossed the notorious Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. Its reputation was one to respect and we did our homework in advance. Luckily, the crossing was calm … so calm, in fact, we had to motor. In Puerto Rico, we found ourselves back in the USA, for all intents and purposes ... except the local language was Spanish … more like Spanglish, to be honest. We coast-hopped the southern PR coast, but felt the pressure of the hurricane season approaching along with the constant urge to move on … further and further south.
Though the Caribbean is beautiful and dreamlike, we found ourselves rushing through. We stopped at island after island, content to move on since we’d visited several of them on previous chartering trips. Being on our own boat provided a new outlook on the ports, anchorages and the sailboat charter industry. We found many charterers were oblivious to safety and etiquette rules. We tried to avoid being near them, but it was a challenge. The locals were not always friendly. There was always a guarded balance when dealing with cruisers. They were probably overwhelmed by the sheer numbers who invaded their island, but found it a necessary evil to deal with us and support their tourist industry. We didn’t dislike our time in the eastern Caribbean islands, but we didn’t love it either.
There were a few exceptions … St. Kitts and Nevis were small, but wonderful and not particularly crowded. St. Vincent, especially Bequia and the Grenadines, were more of what we were expecting. Still, the clock ticked and the season progressed and the final push to Trinidad via a wonderful 3-week sidetrip to less-visited, laid-back Tobago was awesome.
Trinidad is not a great cruising ground, but it’s a great place to stop for boat work and to enjoy the Carnival season. We arrived in July, a little worse for the wear, and ready to hang out for a couple of months, making repairs and “nesting”. This was our first great destination goal and it was wonderful to arrive and say “we did it!”. We found, however, that it primarily served to whet our appetites for more travel to more exotic places. But where? Did we want to hang out for the world famous Carnival or travel away from the madding crowds?