From Hurricane ravaged Virgins to the wild shores of Hispaniola
An Oosterschelde Voyage Blog from Debbie Purser
Mini Ocean Cure - Knowing when you need disconnect from the shore
We all have our tipping points at work and in life when you just need get way from every possible obligation and decision. Unfortunately, what you are usually running from, tends to follow you. The ‘google octopus’ reaches out its tentacles and grabs you at every internet café, even the remotest places on the planet turn out to have a wifi signal, your smart phone is not smart enough to know that even your friends or closest relatives have got too needy, and in anywhere remotely civilised, who can resist a little peek at social media.
For me, the ‘driver’ that pushes me to run away to sea is ironically also the solution. After months of struggling with trying to get Classic Sailing new website launched, a naughty little ocean voyage from Schooner Oosterschelde popped up with perfect timing.
A 12 day ocean and island hopping voyage from St Martin in the Caribbean to Havana in Cuba was our choice. I knew it involved some serious open ocean mileage (1200 miles) but there was a lot less island beach landings than we had expected as we stormed through several island groups without stopping.
Did it matter that we weren’t sipping cool beers with other tourists on the beaches? Strangely NO. We had cool beers on board, a route though the Spanish Main that Captain Jack Sparrow would kill for, and a priceless disconnection from the shore until we reached Havana.
Oosterschelde Voyage - Who Comes?
The professional Crew were Skipper Arian (Dutch), Mate Boudewin (Dutch), Deckhands Valentine (German) Sara (Swedish) and Edward (Dutch) and Richard, who had been a ship’s cook for 38 years on oil rigs, dredgers, sailing ships and still loves to cook for us with different creations every day.
The newbie crew joining in St Martin were Adam and I, Nigel and Michael from the UK, Alan from USA, Ingrid from Holland and Fredric joining his son Zach, who was already on the ship, having crossed the Atlantic.
The very well bonded and extremely welcoming Trans Atlantic Crew that had sailed the ship from Cape Verde to St Martin were:- Zack the fisherman from Martha’s Vinyard, Armenian-German Tikeram, Dutch crew - Wicher, Trees, Frans the blues piano-man, Jeroen the piano tuner, Indonesian Dutch Ester and Weiger. Dirk from Belguim, Heike from Germany and Tim, Natalie and Peter from the UK.
First Tropical Night Sail on the Spanish Main
We knew this holiday would take us away from ordinary petty worries when we arrived in hurricane ravaged St Martin and there was no airport terminal anymore. Security was an open sided tent. The taxi followed a tortured route through once chic Caribbean resorts to a surviving hotel that was double booked. By the time we got on board Oosterschelde at anchor we were happy to leave the land behind, and very thankful for our tiny Cornish cottage at home (at least that has 3 sound walls out of 4). A cooling swim around the ship at anchor and a perfectly cooked steak with cheesy brochilli and colourful salad and we were off into the tropical night.
We sailed into the British Virgin Isles past Richard Branson’s Necker Island (minus most of its palm trees.)
Ocean pastime number 1: looking at charts and drawing pirate maps in my diary: Sombrero Passage, Last Jerusalem Reef, Virgin Gorda, sea dog reef, Tortola. Discovering the Dominician Republic and Haiti is the old ‘Hispanola.’ I had no idea that Cuba was so close to Mexico or that Havana was a vital harbour for Spanish treasure ships with their spoils from the Incas.
Learning your Barracuda from your Mahi Mahi
Ocean Pastime number 2: Fishing something big enough for the whole crew to share at supper. No small fry here. I love multi national crews but it always gets complicated when learning your big game fishy names. What I call Dorado (Portuguese name) the Americans call Mahi Mahi. The book on board says dolphin fish or Gold Markela. Its yellow, with a blunt head and we caught several for sushi and steaks.
Wahoo look prehistoric – with a long body, savage teeth and stripes like a Barracuda. White marlin are impressive and I sketched them from a book to help me remember. (sketching is pastime number 3)
Overseas Territories & Swinging from the Yard Arm
Every group of islands has its political borders and each place we sailed past had a different approach to hurricane relief funds. Ocean pastime number 4 – Careful political and cultural discussions. The French side of St Martins gave every local a set number of euros to re build their houses. The locals spent it every-thing but their houses….as they were only going to get hit again. Who needs a roof when you can have a new pick up truck. The Dutch side of the island were much more sensible…of course.
Ocean Pastime number 6: Best Middle Aged Splosh Competitions.
We also set caution to the wind and swung from the bowsprit on a rope swing to the zenith of our flight, somewhere about mid ships, and did belly flops into a turquoise sea. Young Valentine was just too much of a ‘greek god’ to compete with as he dived from the ratlines. I did jump 8 metres from the bowsprit to try and impress him. Ocean Pastime Number 7: Good Water Entries - point your toes & don’t loose your bikini top…..or dive in and hope to keep your bikini bottoms or in Adam’s case - budgie smugglers…
We anchored in the Virginless territory between British and American Virgins, but You don’t even need to anchor off an island to swim. Many ships will drift in the calms or hove to and swim off the ship mid ocean. If there is no time to slow down there is always the deck pump….but not so many posing opportunities.
Ocean Pastime No. 7 Reading a Book you would never read at home….
Actually the hardest bit is finding the perfect place too read. Not too much spray, not too much sun, bean bag or sail bag, back rest from a friend, and forgetting to bring your shades, hat or sunglasses on deck. I’m not a kindle fan which meant I too pot luck that the ships library would have something in English. I got hooked on the Shepherds Tale about A Cumbrian boy who spent a lifetime happily breeding fell sheep.
Overnight the trade winds died and stars were bright off the dark shores of Puerto Rico. Two fans on in the cabin but very hot and a noisy crew member being rather over enthusiastic with his toilet cleaning bucket in the washroom next door at midnight. I moved into the saloon mezzazine floor and slept on the sofa by the hatch with a fresh breeze. Ocean Pastime Number 8: Sleep when ever you can….where-ever you can.
A Perfect Day For Pilates
How on earth did so many of us fall for the 08.30am pilates session with Natalie. She said the deck would not be too hot that early, and it’s just like yoga. She lied. Lots of pulsing, stomach quivering and glute busting moves…on a baking hot steel deck. Loving it as only a masochist can. Typically as a flat calm would be best for balancing, we got an increasing wind, a bundle of people falling on top of each other in the scuppers, followed by a frenzy of sail setting – Square sails, mizzen, schooner, main, 2 jibs and the staysail. Ocean Pastime number 8: Work those core muscles.
Cooling Trade Winds are Back
In perfect sailing winds NE Force 4-5 we cruised down the Dominican Republic with the Turks and Caicos to the North. Sea so blue so Adam and I skived off into the rigging to take photos and videos of the ship gybing…..with groups of crew taking topsails down to set on the other side, swapping backstays, removing boom preventers and spinning that big ships wheel. We all prove we are rubbish at steering a 300 ton sailing ship downwind at 7 knots. Fresh Mahi Mahi fish steaks for tea with dill sauce, beetroot, cowslaw with gerkins and herby potatoes for supper on long elegant tables in Oosterschelde's huge saloon...with overhead fans and cool wind blowing through the many skylights. Pastime number 9: Work the calories off: Enjoy ravenously putting them back on.
35 degrees C for Natalie's Birthday
We give guest crew Natalie the day off from her Pilates session, but rather than rest in the shade she has decided to overcome her fear of heights and climb the mast on her birthday. Secretly the whole crew agree to sing her happy birthday when she reaches the first platform. So hot today we rigged a Bedouin style tent for shade.
Ocean pastimes number 10: Making a Birthday a Big Thing. Infinite care, teamwork and love goes into birthday surprises for each person....even though have only been friends for a few days. Cakes are baked, the saloon is bedecked with flags and the Trans-Atlantic Crew Choir compose and sing a song for Natalie at Supper. Some Birthdays even had songs in two different languages written. Please note elaborate birthday cakes are common around the Classic Sailing Fleet, but not every ship has a piano on board.
Every Ocean Voyage Should Have A Musician
Oosterschelde replaced its globe trotting piano with a swanky new one complete with a de-humifier built in to preserve it. This trip we had a blues - jazz piano player Franz and piano tuner Jeroem able to 'tinkle on the ivorys.' Nothing nicer than waiting for supper and sunset whilst piano music wafts up from below through all the open hatches. I Have a video and sound of Frans playing but this photo is not him sorry. (Video to come)
Navigate by the Birds
Polynesians and many ancient mariners navigated by the birds. There are ocean birds, migrating birds and those that only fly a certain distance from land to fish and then fly home to roost. All quite useful before GPS and sextants.
You need to know your birds though. Ocean pastime number 11: Learn your birds and whales - First thing I do when sailing in a new location is check out which birds and cetaceans I might see. Most Classic sailing ships have bird and whale ID books on board. This is what I was looking for in the North Part of the Caribbean:
Black capped petrels, Cory's Shearwater, Red billed tropic bird, white tailed tropic bird, brown pelican, masked booby, brown booby, gull billed tern, caspian turn, magnificent Frigate Bird, brown and black noddies. Sadly a lot of frigate birds had been killed by the last Hurricane. (NB our ships sail in the Caribbean outside the main hurricane season)