Eleuthera and the Bahamas
Shhhh. Can you keep a secret? Come a little closer so I can whisper this in your ear. You know that the Bahamas are close, just a hop away for a crewed yacht charter. You also know them and love them as a winter destination, when the cold winds blow and the snow never seems to end. But did you know that they are even better in the summer? Yes, it is true. There is never a bad time to visit the Bahamas, winter is wonderful, however, summer is absolutely superb. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone but your closest friends and family. Keep it a secret, because if the word leaks out, too many people will be taking their vacations in the summer time Bahamas, and you won’t have it all to yourself anymore.
With year-round sunshine, lush tropical landscapes, unsullied waters and exquisite sand beaches, the Islands of the Bahamas are virtually perfect for a yacht charter vacation. The archipelago begins 55 miles off the Florida coast and contains more than 700 islands, scattered over 100,000 square miles of the Atlantic. If you are craving peace, tranquility, perfect waters for snorkeling and diving, life at a slower pace, then the Out Islands are the place to go. And Out Island aficionados will agree: Eleuthera and her close neighbors, Spanish Wells and Harbor Island, are the very best of the best. Eleuthera, which lies at its nearest point some 30 miles northeast of Nassau, is one of the most beautiful islands in the Bahamas.
From north to south, it is approximately 90 miles long and is rarely more than 2-3 miles wide, except at the extreme northern and southern ends. Its unusually long, thin shape guarantees plenty of shoreline and beautiful beaches. Not only is its shape unusual, so is the elevation.
With hills up to 100 feet high, its elevation is higher than that of any other island in the Bahamas, and indeed, higher than the highest point in nearby Florida. The human history follows the pattern of most islands in the Bahamas, with the first people to inhabit Eleuthera being the Arawaks. A peace-loving people that fished and farmed, they were displaced by the warlike Caribs. In the 1400’s, the Spaniard appeared in the area, led by Christopher Columbus. The Spaniards decimated the local population either by killing the residents or exporting them for slavery.
Very few survived and Eleuthera became very desolate, except for a few pockets of survivors, and remained so for almost 200 years. William Sayle is given credit for naming the island Eleuthera, a variation of the Greek word for freedom. He had been governor of Bermuda, but had fallen into disfavor with the Crown of England. Desiring to leave Bermuda, but loving the islands, he decided to settle in Eleuthera since the Bahamas were the closest islands to Bermuda. He returned to London in 1654 and petitioned Parliament to settle Eleuthera. The prospective settlers were promised 300 acres of land for coming to Eleuthera.
They were to become known as the Eleutheran Adventurers. Preacher’s Cave, on Eleuthera, is a subterranean cave in which the Eleutheran Adventurers took refuge and held religious services upon their arrival. Preacher’s Cave is like a chapel in the wilderness, and the magnificent Cave at Hatchet Bay is like a vaulted cathedral. It is more than a mile long, with stalagmites and stalactites, a cool, dark sanctuary. There are several small villages on Eleuthera, many of which are fun to visit. The town of Rock Sound is one of Eleuthera’s largest settlement and even boasts a small airstrip. The small bakery in town sells great, not-to-be-missed coconut tarts.
Approximately one mile east of Rock Sound is the famous “ocean hole”. Although a considerable distance from either coast, this completely landlocked tidal lake is rumored to be bottomless. It is salt water and the fish find their way into it via subterranean tunnels from the sea. North of Rock Sound lies Tarpum Bay, one of Eleuthera’s loveliest settlements, with hilly roads flanked by weather-beaten homes with colored shutters and goats roaming the streets. The town is the site of a small artists’ colony. Snorkelers and divers will want to spend some time at Gaulding’s Cay beach, just north of Tarpum Bay.
A short swim by the tiny offshore island will reveal a concentration of sun anemones so spectacular that it appears that someone has laid out a carpet of bright colors. Gaulding’s Cay also has a nice long shelling stretch for beachcombers.
Further north is Governor’s Harbour, which is worth a look, but since there is a Club Med in the area, probably not somewhere you will want to stay very long if you are looking for peace and quiet. Instead, Alice Town, by Hatchet Bay, is tranquil alternative. The Cave at Hatchet Bay, which we talked about earlier, is nearby, waiting to be explored. There is also a beach on the Atlantic side about 3 miles north of Hatchet Bay that is famous for its surf, just waiting for the surfers in the group! Just off the northeast coast of Eleuthera lies tiny Harbour Island. It is often called the Nantucket of the Caribbean and is perhaps the prettiest of the Out Islands.
It boasts 3 miles of powdery sand beach tinted pink by finely crushed shells, as well as its pastel-colored houses set among white picket fences, narrow lanes bordered by stone walls, quaint shops and tropical flowers. Dunmore Town, the village on Harbour Island, was name for Governor Lord Dunmore, whose summer home in the 18th century commanded a view from the highest point of town. The Loyalist Cottage on Bay Street dates back to the 1790’s, and many of the town’s houses and inns were built in the 1800’s when Dunmore Town was a prosperous harbor and shipbuilding center.
Spanish Wells is off the northern tip of Eleuthera, just slightly to the west. The Spaniards used this as a safe harbor during the 17th Century while they transferred their riches from the New World to the Old. During the 1800’s, the local population became known for their practice of wrecking ships by luring them with lights that appeared to be beacons from lighthouses…but were actually lanterns tied to donkeys. Today, Spanish Wells is home to about 35 commercial fishing vessels, with the Spiny Lobster being their main catch.
These vessels leave Spanish Wells and stay on the fishing grounds for 4-6 weeks at a time during lobster season, which runs from August 1 through March 30th. The small village is certainly worth a look around, especially the Spanish Wells Museum.
So, now you know the secret. Eleuthera, Spanish Wells and Harbor Island. The jewels in the necklace of islands we know as the Bahamas. The perfect place for a yacht charter vacation in the Bahamas. Shhh, don’t tell anyone: winter is wonderful, summer is superb, and right now is even better…so just do it: escape to heaven on earth.
A Quick Get Away
Sometimes you just need to get away. Have to get away. Can’t stand thinking of spending another weekend doing errands, watching videos, staying at home. Sometimes you just gotta go. But you don’t have time to take a whole week. You can’t face spending a whole day traveling to a destination and another whole day to come home again. You want to get away to sun and palm trees and white, sandy beaches, crystal clear blue waters. Just for a few days. With a loved one and maybe a couple of friends, a chance to relax and rejuvenate and maybe catch some fish, get a tan, eat fabulous foods.
Time to come to the islands. The nearby islands of the Bahamas. More to the point, to Bimini and its neighboring islands. So close to Florida that you can see the glow of the lights from Miami at night. A well-kept secret, closely guarded by the local population of South Florida, who are more likely to visit during the summer. So close, but yet, a different country, a different attitude. Winter or summer, it beckons you to come and relax. Located less than fifty miles from Florida, it is a quick easy jaunt, whether your choice is to go by power or sailing yacht charter. More suited to smaller vessels, due to the shallow waters, even larger charter yachts can be found tied up to the docks at Cat Cay, just south of Bimini. Plenty to do in an area of 20 miles dotted with islands set like jewels in a sparkling sea.
Evidence of the first inhabitants indicates that the islands were occupied as early as 300 to 400 AD. The Lucayan Indians followed the earlier dwellers and numbered about 40,000 by the time Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. However, they did not respond well to enslavement and soon the population dwindled to nothing.
Though not exactly a historical fact…the Lost City of Atlantis is reputed to lie in the shallow waters off North Bimini. The symmetrical slabs known as the Bimini Stones are said to have been the road leading to Atlantis. Okay, maybe you will have to stretch your imagination on this one, but since they are located in only fifteen feet of water, the are fun to snorkel and you can make your own assessment of the legend.
North Bimini is separated from South Bimini by a narrow channel. The channel is only a little over six feet deep, so larger yachts can not enter the inner harbor. The current sweeps through pretty quickly, and sea planes use the channel as their landing strip, these factors will all contribute to turning your captain’s hair a bit more gray! Alicetown, the main (and only) town in Bimini is on North Bimini, as are most of the marinas, shops and restaurants. One of the most popular places for everyone to hang out and play the ring game is the Compleat Angler.
Famous for its collection of Hemingway memorabilia, the Compleat Angler was the first fishing club in the Bahamas when it was built in the 1930s. A cool, dark retreat, it’s walls are lined with pictures of beaming people standing beside their trophy fish, yellowing newspaper clippings from days gone by and famous people with their boats.
This was Hemingway’s favorite hangout when he visited Bimini. Two of his novels were written during the time he frequented the islands. Sitting in the dim quiet of the lounge area of the Compleat Angler, gazing at the large sketches that illustrate “The Old Man and the Sea”, you almost can feel his presence there with you.
If you can drag yourself away from this cool haven (go back in the evening when it positively jumps) you can take a leisurely walk around Alicetown, rent a scooter and explore the rest of the islands, or stroll over the top of the small hill to the beach. Sugary white sand stretches in both directions. The backdrop for many charter yacht brochures, it as beautiful as the pictures relate. Lie in the sun, go for a swim in the inviting crystal clear water, or just wander along the beach to see what the tide has brought in. After winter storms, you might just be lucky enough to stumble on sea glass, shards of glass tumbled smooth by the sea and the sand, a perfect souvenir.
Time to get in the water! One of the favorite sites for snorkelers is the wreck of the concrete ship, the Sapona. Located between South Bimini and Cat Cay, you can see the hulk for miles. Built by Henry Ford, it has acted in the capacity of private club, rumrunner’s storehouse in the 20s, and bomb-practice target for the U.S. Navy during WW II. The SCUBA divers of the group are going to be in heaven. Where they enjoy coral reefs with spectacular coral formations, drift dives or wall dives, it is all here. With the close proximity of the Gulf Stream, the marine life is always varied and exciting.
In fact, the Gulf Stream and the large fish using it like a super highway during their migration runs is what Bimini is known for…fishing tournaments! Tournaments run almost continuously from Spring until Fall, with a wide variety of fish being sought, including marlin, tuna and wahoo. The shallower waters yield grouper, snapper and mackeral. The really shallow water is home to the wily bonefish, catch him if you can!
About 10 miles south of Bimini is Cat Cay. Cat Cay is a private island and is owned by its members. Visiting yachts are allowed to tie up at their docks, and non-member yachtsmen are allowed limited access to facilities adjacent the marina, including the well-stocked Boutique! Once you visit, if you find you absolutely have to be a member, bear in mind that candidates must be sponsored by one member, seconded by another and investigated by the Board of Directors. If accepted, a non-refundable payment of $25,000 is due, along with prepaid annual dues of $10,000…all which sort of keeps out the riff-raff! But the island is beautiful, the landscaping magnificent and the beaches exquisite.
There are several nice, quiet anchorages to the south of Cat Cay with good snorkeling and swimming in their protected waters. Perfect for relaxing, watching the sun set across the ocean, smelling the fresh fish grilling and listening to the gentle lapping of the waves as they caress the boat. The perfect quick get away, short miles from “civilization”, but long slow smiles from the cares and stress that made you decide to run away to paradise. The only problem now is deciding if you really want to leave after only 3 days, or stay just a while longer!
. . . New Level of crewed yacht charters
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines paradise as “any place of great beauty and perfection.” No doubt Mr. Webster would have included the Exumas in his description of paradise had he ever sailed the crystal-clear waters surrounding this island chain. Just imagine 100 or so square miles of water ranging in color from light green to deep blue-this “many-shaded sea” is home to the 365 cays and islands that form the paradise known as Exuma.
The Exumas are one of many island chains that make up the Bahamas and are a perfect desination for your crewed yacht charter. They’re part of a group of islands that includes Bimini, Eleuthera and the Abacos-a group traditionally known as the Bahamas “Out Islands.” Though the Out Islands have long been popular with the boating crowd, they aren’t as recognized as the Bahamas’ busy tourist hub of Nassau/Paradise Island.
Nassau/Paradise Island is the cultural, social, political and economic center of the Bahamas-in other words, it’s where the action is! Nearly half of the nation’s residents live here, and it’s the most popular tourist spot in the islands. Just 185 miles southeast of Miami, it’s often referred to as the “gateway to the Bahamas,” and is a common starting point for the many brave souls seeking an Out Island adventure.
The Nassau/Paradise Island area is actually two separate islands connected by two bridges. The historic city of Nassau, on New Providence Island, is the capital of the Bahamas. Despite a growing intrusion of the modern world, the city has retained its laid-back tropical atmosphere and still serves up a good dose of British colonial charm.
Directly across the bridge from Nassau is Paradise Island-home to several world-class resorts and casinos, and some of the most popular beaches in the Bahamas. The centerpiece of Paradise Island is the Atlantis Resort and Casino. This mega-resort has pools, beaches, restaurants, marine habitats, water slides and a sheltered marina where some of the most luxurious yachts in the world are anchored.
But if your sites have been set on the less traveled waters of the Out Islands, be prepared to take a step back in time to a place that is considered by many to be the “real” Bahamas-the heart and soul of this island nation. These remote, beautiful and mysterious islands seem worlds away from the bustle of the Bahamas’ capital.
The most remote of the Out Islands is undoubtedly the Exumas. Though the 365 cays and islands of the Exuma chain begin just 35 miles southeast of Nassau-lying smack in the middle of the Bahamas chain-they’ve managed to remain mostly undisturbed. Not as developed as the Abacos and Eleuthera, these islands are widely revered for their unspoiled beauty. From the gin-clear waters to the secluded beaches, coral gardens and natural harbors, the Exuma islands take paradise to a new level!
Lacking the fanfare found on the other island chains, the nightlife, shopping and dining are typically informal and low-key. “Unspoiled” seems to be the buzzword for the Exumas-not only when describing the natural environment, but when referring to the islanders as well. The people of Exuma are warm, open and proud of their islands. Most families have lived in the cays for generations and can trace their roots back more than 200 years. In fact, many of the islands’ residents are direct descendents of plantation slaves from the late 1700s.
But it’s not the friendly islanders that draw adventurous souls here again and again. The main attraction is without a doubt the natural beauty that can be found above and below the waters surrounding these islands. The Exumas’ cruising grounds are considered to be the most beautiful in the Western Hemisphere-if not the world. The tidal ebb and flow between the shallow Great Bahama Bank and the deep cobalt blue of the Exuma Sound creates dramatic color contrasts between every island.
Beneath the water, the Exumas are teeming with undersea life. Much of the island chain is encompassed by the Exuma National Land and Sea Park. This 22-mile-long reserve is one of the major natural wonders and sightseeing destinations of the Bahamas, with an abundance of marine life, coral reefs, blue holes and shipwrecks. Inland, the park is home to several species of rare birds as well as the rare and protected Bahamian iguana.
It’s safe to say that a visit to any of the Exuma cays won’t be disappointing-they all have the requisite white sandy beaches, private anchorages and great snorkeling and diving spots. But some of these destinations have unique offerings worth mentioning. Traveling down the Exuma chain, visitors can count on a few fun encounters…
Encounter is the operative word when describing a visit to Allan’s Cay. Arriving beachside here may leave you feeling like you’ve stepped into a scene from Jurassic Park. As many as 30 rare Bahamian iguanas are usually waiting to greet visitors-and these sociable guys are expecting a treat!
The charm of nearby Norman’s Cay comes from its colorful (to put it nicely) past. Norman’s gained notoriety in the late ’70s when it was the base for a very profitable drug smuggling operation. Today, the wreckage of a DC3 lies in the harbor, serving as a reminder of those less tranquil days. Local legend has it that the plane’s pilot had been sampling his cargo when he tried to land on a moonbeam instead of the airstrip! The downed plane now provides a fun snorkeling adventure.
Heading south you’ll find Warderick Wells, headquarters of the Exuma National Land and Sea Park and a favorite gathering place for cruisers. Miles of nature trails leading to secluded beaches is the highlight here. And a personal welcome from park warden Ray Darville is always a treat for visitors.
Halfway down the Exuma chain, tiny Sampson Cay and nearby Staniel Cay are the main attractions. Sampson Cay is one of the safest anchorages in the Exumas and is considered a natural “hurricane hole.” Staniel Cay, home of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, is a popular stopover for the yachting crowd.
Just off Staniel Cay is Thunder Ball Grotto, one of the most beautiful diving and snorkeling spots in the Bahamas. Fans of 007 flicks will recognize this famous grotto from Thunderball and Never Say Never Again. Scenes from these Bond movies were filmed here.
Snorkeling the cave has been described as swimming in a giant tropical fish bowl with sunlight shining through. The southern end of the Exuma chain is anchored by Great and Little Exuma, where most of the 3,600 Exuma residents live. Great Exuma is the single largest landmass of the island chain, and is also home to the capital city. George Town is a tranquil seaport village that opens onto Elizabeth Harbor, a 15-mile-long anchorage that was once a favorite rendezvous point for pirates.
This beautiful harbor has prompted some Exumians to speculate that perhaps Columbus’ first landfall in the New World was in the Exumas-not San Salvador, as widely believed-because Columbus wrote enthusiastically in his journal about a harbor that could hold “all the ships in Christendom.” Today, the anchorage draws a yachting crowd from all over the world.
In April, Elizabeth Harbor plays host to the annual Family Island Regatta (sometimes referred to as the Out Island Regatta). In this classic race, workboats from all over the islands compete for the championship of the Bahamas. Beginning a few days before the race, visitors mob the island, liquor flows freely, and the village launches into a weeklong festival of food, music, dancing and serious fun.
The harbor is protected by nearby Stocking Island. Known for its white-sand beaches and the Mysterious Cave, which is accessible only to divers, Stocking Island faces the town less than a mile across the bay.
Connected to Great Exuma by a 200-yard-long bridge is Little Exuma and its beautiful Tropic of Cancer Beach. The imaginary line that divides the tropic and temperate zones is said to run right along this beach. The waters are so crystal clear that you can often see the colorful tropical fish more than 60 feet down.
And in nearby Pretty Molly Bay, just try to catch a glimpse of the beautiful but elusive mermaid who is said to live here. Pretty Molly was a slave who committed suicide by walking into the water one night-the natives claim that her ghost can still be seen walking the beach at night.
Most Out Island adventures end where they begin-back in the Bahamas’ capital. Imagine spending your last day in the islands lounging by the pool, reflecting on the incredible discoveries you made in the beautiful and remote Exuma Cays, warming your thoughts with yet another fruity rum drink hand-delivered to you poolside-mmm…sounds like paradise to me!
Exploring the Grenadines
Stretching like a carelessly dropped necklace of precious jewels, the Grenadines are part of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean’s eastern archipelago. St. Vincent to the North and Grenada to the South, this lovely chain of islands are isolated enough to remain relatively unspoiled, yet lively enough to be both stimulating and entertaining. A perfect place for your Caribbean yacht charter vacation.
Bequia is the most northern, a has long been a favorite of yachtsmen. Admiralty Bay is a large, well-protected harbor with Bequia’s largest town, Port Elizabeth at its head. Boats anchoring in the harbor are often greeted by the young men rowing out to meet them. One of the items they offer for sale are sailboats crafted from coconut husks, with a bit of iron for a keel and sails of brightly colored cloth. You, of course, will want to purchase the fastest one in their fleet, so have them toss them into the water for a colorful mini-regatta.
You will discover that the building of model boats is a Bequia specialty, and the coconut husk boats are only the start. Truly beautiful examples of this are to be found in either Mauvin’s or Sargeant’s. They will build any design to order, or you can buy one of their many display models.
An island of sailors and boats, Bequia used to be an active whaling station, though the tradition of hunting whales in small open boats using hand thrown harpoons is dying out. While exploring the island, you can visit the small whaling museum located in the home of the late Athneal Olliviere, formerly the head whale harpooner. Now that you have visited the whaling museum, you should probably visit the Hindson’s Whaleboner. True to its name, the bar, stools and entrance have all been built of whalebone from the old whaling days
Bequia, with its hilly terrain and many inlets, can be explored by land and sea. You can see all the best and most scenic spots in a 3-hour taxi tour, or do-it-yourself with a 4-wheel drive rental vehicle.
More leisurely still, is the prospect of taking a nice stroll and stopping often to visit with the friendly people that populate the island, trying out the local cuisine and beverages or shopping at the many shops that feature locally made craft items. The third method for exploring is by visiting the many coves and beaches onboard the tender. Your captain and crew are sure to have their own favorite places to introduce you to.
Approximately 10 miles to the Southeast of Bequia lies Mustique. Unique among the Grenadines, Mustique is a privately owned island that has been developed as an area of holiday homes for the rich and famous. Well worth the time to stop and take a tour, there are miles of unspoiled beaches and countryside whether you choose to explore by foot or some other means. Rental mules are really heavy duty golf carts, not the floppy-eared four-legged variety. Horse riding available in the cool of the morning and evening, for those who want to enjoy the scenery from a higher seat!
Delightful, but so very different, are the atmospheres to be found at the Cotton House and at Basil’s Bar. Superb cuisine in lavish elegance are the hallmark of the Cotton House, run by the Mustique Company. A short walk, or they will come to pick you up from the dock. The other end of the spectrum is Basil’s Bar. Built of thatch and bamboo, it is perch on stilts with the water lapping below. This is a great place to meet relax and meet people while watching a sunset!
Heading Southwest 11 miles will take you to Canouan.
An island of bumpy hills and only a few hundred inhabitants, there are two major hotels and the vast new Canouan Resort Development. The resort includes a golf course, tennis courts and a casino. The shallow water surrounding Canouan is responsible for the exquisite water colors, and there is plenty of excellent snorkeling areas to explore. The deeper waters close by hide There are several excellent dive sites in the deeper waters close by that have been discovered by the local diving center.
Between Canouan and Carriacou, the islands are all tiny, quiet and almost only a stone’s throw from each other. Though sparsely inhabited, each island that boasts residents is sure to have a rum shop. Often diminutive in size, the rum shops in this area will introduce you to the local rum…Jack Iron. Powerful, rough, white rum, probably aged about 1 minute before bottling. Reputation has it that ice cubes won’t float in it. Ice being a rare commodity on many of the small islands, a small shot is poured into a glass and drunk in one gulp, hopefully without tasting it! Best to keep a large glass of water nearby to quench the heat.
Mayreau is a rimmed with pristine beaches affords beautiful views for those who venture up the hill. With only one road, you certainly won’t get lost! The two main bays are Salt Whistle Bay and Saline Bay. Salt Whistle Bay with its sweeping half moon beach, is home to the Salt Whistle Bay Club. Its dining area is set in the open among the trees and each table is built of stone with its own thatched roof.
East of Mayreau lie the Tobago Cays, a group of small deserted islands protected by Horseshoe Reef.
Spectacular barely comes close to describing this bit of heaven on earth. The water and reef colors are a shifting pattern of turquoise, blue, green and gold. White sand beaches ring the islands. The water is so beautiful here that you will surely want to simply jump over the side of your yacht and snorkel to the closest reef. The Tobago Cays are a national park. Fishing is not allowed, nor are jet or water skis.
The large island of Union Island, with its smaller sibling Palm Island nearby, are next in the chain. Union is visible from afar, thanks to its Mount Taboi, reaching the height of 1000 feet. Union is generally considered the jump-up center of the Grenadines and you are sure to find plenty of entertainment and live music.
Technically part of Grenada, Carriacou is like the final gem in the necklace. Carriacou is a Carib word meaning “island surrounded by reefs”. Local legend has it that there are over a hundred rum shops on the island, but only one gasoline station, which could explain the high population of donkeys. One things to put on your “to do at Carriacou” list should be sampling the mangrove oysters. Delicate and sweet, a squeeze of lime and a dash of local hot sauce will have you rolling your eyes and asking for more.
The Grenadines, more accessible now than before, but far enough off the beaten track to offer secluded coves, empty beaches and pristine waters. The sparkle of the water by day is rivaled only by the breathtaking sight of the black velvet of the evening sky thickly studded with stars. You have discovered paradise. The only remaining question is: how soon can you return?
British Virgin Islands
A Secret Worth Keeping
“Nature’s Little Secrets” is the name given to the British Virgin Islands by the host of loyal visitors who stake claim to these 50 or so islands, islets and cays. But just how long this secret can be safeguarded against mainstream tourism is uncertain. Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett certainly has done his part to raise awareness of these sleepy islands. His late-seventies tune “Manana” is virtually an ode to one of the BVI’s most popular anchorages. At packed concert venues across the U.S., Buffett’s “Parrothead” fans have for years been belting out the words, “I hear it gets better, that’s what they say, as soon as we sail on to Cane Garden Bay…”
Boaters have long been sailing the turquoise waters surrounding the BVIs, drawn to the sheltered anchorages, white-sand beaches and easygoing lifestyle of these islands. (In fact, history’s ultimate sailor gave this island group its name-when Christopher Columbus landed on Tortola in 1493, he named the lush, mountainous islands surrounding him after the legendary St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.)
Tourist development in the BVIs has been limited by enlightened environmental policy, giving them a totally different flavor than their American neighbors. While the US Virgin Islands have pursued the tourist dollars, the British Virgin Islands have been happy to stay barefoot and limey (BVI-speak for chillin’ out).
Once a hideaway for pirates and brigands, the BVIs have only 17,000 residents-in contrast to the 100,000 people living on the American islands. You won’t find high-rises or fast-food on any of these islands, and you’ll find only a few posh resorts mingling with the more casual villas, family-owned inns, and the funky beachfront bars and restaurants that are sometimes little more than three-sided shacks housing a cast of characters that seem pleasantly out of step with the 21st century.
Most of the British Virgin islands line up on either side of the 18-mile-long Sir Frances Drake Channel, a watery thoroughfare named for the Caribbean’s most famous privateer. Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke are the most developed and most visited islands. Cooper Island, Peter Island, Norman Island, Marina Cay and Sandy Cay are less developed but are popular with day-trippers. Except for Anegada, which is 15 miles to the north, the islands are all close to each other and close to the US Virgin Islands, making island-hopping the mode for the BVIs. (Anegada has a loyal following, but this flat island’s hazardous coral reefs and its remoteness from the other islands take it out of the island-hopping loop.)
Tortola (Spanish for turtle dove) is the capital of the BVIs. This 21-square-mile island is the largest, most populated and liveliest of the islands. Road Town, on the southern coast, is Tortola’s capital. The entire island centers around Road Town and its beautiful harbor-businesses, restaurants, shops, pubs and hotels wrap around the harbor and stretch up into the hills surrounding the town.
Visitors are drawn to the activities near the ferry dock, where they can eat, drink and shop among the historic red-tin-roof buildings of Main Street and Waterfront Drive. Some fairly celebrated establishments grace these streets-Pusser’s Road Town Pub, a favorite watering hole for thirsty boaters, pours English Ale on draft and mixes up some tasty concoctions with its famous Pusser’s Rum. And the restaurant at nearby Village Cay Marina is the undisputed home to Jimmy Buffett’s “cheeseburger in paradise.” Mr. Buffett himself cleared up the long-running dispute over claims to this honor when he wrote of “limping up the Sir Frances Drake Channel into Road Town after some serious boat trouble…and finding a brand-new marina and bar that served American cheeseburgers…that tasted like manna from heaven.”
Just a few miles from Road Town on Tortola’s north shore is the busy but laid-back Cane Garden Bay. This popular anchorage with its crescent-shaped beach has seen increasing crowds but has managed to hold on to its tradition of family-run inns, bars and restaurants. Music is an integral part of Cane Garden Bay, and the friendly, open-air bars that line the water’s edge host local musicians whose island tunes can be heard floating across the bay. The most well-known of these musicians is Tortola native Quito Rymer, who plays his mix of reggae and calypso at Quito’s Gazebo, on the east end of the beach across the road from his family’s inn.
On the opposite end of the bay is further testiment to the rich tradition of Cane Garden Bay. At Calwood’s Rum Distillery, the Caldwood family has been producing rum for nearly two centuries and they’re still making it the old-fashioned way-from sugar cane grown on the island (thus the name Cane Garden). Today, visitors of both genders can visit the distillery and watch the rum-making process. In the old days, only men were allowed into the boiling room because it was believed that women, fish and limes would turn the rum sour.
Near Tortola’s West End is Soper’s Hole, a colorful marina that serves as a port of entry for ferries and private boats from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The wharf at Soper’s Hole is lined with pink and green shops and restaurants designed to look like a traditional West Indian village. Pusser’s Landing is the centerpiece of this pastel community, with its two-story restaurant and pub, and a company store that sells its rum (same folks as Pusser’s Road Town Pub). Across the water near the West End ferry dock is the Jolly Roger Inn with its outdoor restaurant and pavilion. A popular sailor hangout, this rowdy establishment hosts weekend barbecues and live music and dancing.
Five miles off the northwest tip of Tortola is an island named after a Dutch pirate, Jost Van Dyke. Known as the “party island” of the BVIs, Jost, as the locals call it, has only 150 residents, but it has six bars (you do the math!). Life on Jost Van Dyke has been described as “one long island-style happy hour,” with pig roasts, beach bars and dancing in the sand. Jost native and local celebrity Foxy Caldwood can take much of the credit for the island’s reputation. Foxy’s Tamarind Bar, an open-air ramshackle restaurant and bar on the shores of Great Harbor, has become a landmark and is undisputedly the most happenin’ gathering spot for boaters in the BVIs. Foxy plays guitar and sings calypso ballads that are sometimes made-up-on-the-spot melodies about his guests. Foxy is famous for his parties, none more so than his annual New Year’s Eve party, which made Time magazine’s list of “Top 5 Places to Spend New Year’s.”
In nearby White Bay, the Soggy Dollar Bar has its own claim to fame as the birthplace of the Painkiller. Pusser’s eventually licensed the name of this notorious BVI cocktail from Soggy Dollar, but Soggy’s original recipe is still served at this rusty beach bar. There’s no dock out front, so the usual way in is to swim-hence the “soggy dollars.”
Norman Island is the largest uninhabited island in the British Virgin Islands and is steeped in pirate legend. Locals call it Treasure Island because of age-old stories of buried pirates’ loot. Blackbeard, one of the most famous and feared pirates of all time supposedly hung out here between raids.
A large sheltered harbor at Norman has been called The Bight since pirate days. At the western tip of the harbor is The Caves, a popular spot with snorkelers and swimmers. The far northern cave is the most incredible, extending 70 feet into the mountainside. A pirate ship replica, the Willy T, is anchored in The Bight. This floating restaurant and pub is known for its late-night activities.
Virgin Gorda (Spanish for fat virgin) is home to one of the Caribbean’s most amazing sights-exotic pools and grottos formed by gigantic granite boulders strewn across white-sand beaches. Known as The Baths, this surreal natural wonder (and snorkeler’s dream) is one of the most visited spots in the BVIs.
Also on Virgin Gorda’s western coast is one of the island’s best known man-made attractions. In the sixties, wealthy American Laurance Rockefeller built the first luxury resort in the BVIs. Today, the charming resort at Little Dix Bay does a good job of balancing luxury with the easygoing personality of the BVIs.
The island’s other resort is located at the “bitter end” of the BVIs on the North Sound, and can be reached only by boat. The Bitter End Yacht Club began in the seventies as a small marina for sailboats and has slowly grown to a huge, self-contained complex that holds the largest fleet of recreational boats in the Caribbean. Visiting boaters can dock or pick up a mooring, go ashore and shop till you drop, or join in the festivities at the resort’s bars and restaurants.
Jimmy Buffett isn’t the only artist who sings the praises of these beautiful islands. The BVI “secrets” have been celebrated in song as far back as the Blackbeard days. Legend has it that the old mariner’s tune, “Fifteen men on a deadman’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” was inspired by Blackbeard’s marooning of 15 pirates with a bottle of rum on Dead Chest Island.
And in more recent history, native son Quito Rymer’s ballads about his homeland are becoming increasing popular outside of the islands. You no longer have to visit Cane Garden Bay to hear Quito sing about his precious Tortola. Mainlanders around the world are hearing more and more from these beautiful, laid-back islands, and it looks like just maybe the secret is out!
Spanish Virgins, Puerto Rico
The Enchantment of the Spanish Virgin Islands
La Isla del Encanto, the Enchanted Island. When you fly into San Juan, make sure you are sitting by the window, all the better to catch a glimpse of the rich variety of the island as you approach. You will see the ancient Spanish fortress of El Morro, jutting out into the Atlantic, still guarding Old San Juan, and serving as a symbol of the island’s rich history.
You will also see the magnificent coastline, with its white sand beaches and the smaller islands, glittering in the turquoise sea, the modern hotels that rise along the coast, the gleaming glass towers of the Hato Rey banking district and the cool green of the mountains further inland. All of this, and you haven’t even landed yet!
Old San Juan, with its narrow streets paved with bricks that were once used as ballast on sailing ships from Spain, is on the “must do” list. Dozens of shops line its criss-crossing avenues, also home to several art galleries, and small museums for the history buffs to poke around in.
Christopher Columbus landed in 1493 on the Western side of Puerto Rico. With its strategic location, Spain installed a colony on the island, and for the next 400 years it was under the control of the Spanish Colonial Government. The system of fortifications that were built in the late 16th century, designed to protect the Bay of San Juan still stand as a proud display of military architecture. Included are two large forts and a system of fortified city wall.
La Fortaleza was constructed between 1533 and 1540 to control access from the harbor. It now serves as the Puerto Rico Governor’s mansion. The second fort was El Moro, built to control San Juan Bay. A marvel to explore with its thick stone walls and many steps, you will find yourself trying to imagine it in the late 18th century when it bristled with more than 400 cannons. It is now maintained by the U.S. National Parks Services.
Leaving the city behind, it is time to head for the hills. Following the coastal road that leads from San Juan to Fajardo, you soon arrive at the Caribbean Nation Forest. El Yunque, as it is more commonly known, is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Parks system. Waterfalls fed by more than 100 billion gallons of annual rainfall lace the forest and giant ferns shade the winding road into the preserve. Hiking trails from casual to steep are waiting to challenge you, or simply climb the observation tower for a stunning view of the forest and the nearby beaches. Continuing on to Fajardo, make sure you stop at the kioskos.
Looking rather ramshackle from the road, once into the crowded parking area, you will be caught up in the fun and excitement. Tiny establishments, each boasting that they serve the best food, vie for your attention and appetite. If you don’t speak Spanish, no problem, the point and eat method works very well here! Not to be missed…the piononos, tostones, empanadas. Wash them all down with a cold drink. Ahhh. You are now ready to proceed onto Fajarado and your charter yacht!
The east coast of Puerto Rico, with its proximity to the islands of Culebra, Vieques and the many tiny islets scattered close by, all combine to create a perfect area for charter yachts to cruise in sheltered waters, but allowing the guests to experience a wide variety of experiences. The most common jumping off point is Fajardo, home to several beautiful marinas, or Puerto del Rey, located further south.
Culebra is an unpretentious little paradise. Featuring gently rolling hills and many harbors and surroundings islands and cays, you might just be tempted to spend your entire holiday in its protected anchorages. There is plenty to do and see, whether you choose to explore by foot or by tender. It is said that every road on Culebra ends in a beach, with plenty of opportunity for amateur field biologists to observe rare species of wildlife under the domain of the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge.
Just as interesting, is to pull up a seat in one of the local watering holes and observe the local population. The island attitude of low-key, live-and-let-live is conducive to the lifestyle of the harmless eccentrics who gravitate there, some of them disciples of the sixties and some of them delightfully unidentifiable in their heritage.
A quick tender ride in most any direction from most any anchorage will take you to a new and secluded beach, perfect with its sugar white sand fringed with palm trees. The shallow waters and close by reefs are perfect for the snorkeler. Local knowledge for dive sites is the best way to view the many underwater splendors at deeper depths, and the concession, Coral Head Divers, can help you take the plunge.
Located to the South of Culebra is Vieques. The name “Vieques” is derived from the original Indian name for the island: Beiques, or “small land”. The fact that Vieques has been under the control of the Navy for many years has permitted the island to remain largely undeveloped and pristine. In fact, the Eastern end is still used as a Navy range. The town of Esperanza, located on the southern side of the island, is a pretty little town with lots of restaurants.
There is even a museum to explore with several archaeological and natural history exhibits. With plenty of beautiful beaches, secluded coves and private anchorages to explore, Vieques seems much larger than it is. One of your favorites anchorages is sure to be Mosquito Bay. At night, the star-studded sky is sure to hold your attention, but look down into the dark of the water. See it sparkle? The phosphorescence in the water is so intense here, that at times that you can actually see the trail of the fish as they swim by.
All too soon, it is time to return to Puerto Rico and then on to home. Relaxed and rejuvenated, you will be repeating the words the Spanish words that you have learned that fit the occasion: “regresare, regresare, regresare”…”I will return, I will return, I will return”. Come experience Puerto Rico aboard a crewed yacht charter.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Head back against the headrest, eyes closed, you see slate gray clouds scudding low on the horizon, the dirty snow on the sidewalk where the snowplow threw it, you can feel the furnace-dry air as it sucks the moisture from your very soul, leaving you with a dry throat and itchy skin. Winter. Will it ever be over?
You open your eyes and glance quickly at your watch. Yes, as a matter of fact, winter will be over…in about fifteen minutes or so, when your plane is due to land on St. Thomas. You peer out the window and can see your destination, deep green treasures surrounded by azure blue water.
It seems like years since you have seen green leaves and grass. The plane lands and as you step into the warmth, you raise your face to the sun and draw in great breaths of the moist Caribbean air. Ahhh, thank goodness for the charter that you planned months ago. You just didn’t know then how good it was going to feel now.
A quick ten minute ride from the airport, you arrive at Crown Bay Marina and your charter yacht. Distinguished by an architectural style that compliments its tropical setting, Crown Bay Marina’s traditional West Indian-style red roofs are fast becoming a local landmark.
Dropping your luggage off at the yacht, you decide to stretch your legs a bit and wander around the marina for a while. You start to feel more relaxed by now, especially dressed in shorts and short-sleeves, rather than being bundled up against the elements.
The idea of stopping for a short time at Tickles Dockside Pub, with its nautical artifacts and al fresco ambiance is starting to sound better and better. Winding your way back to your yacht, you pass by the Gourmet Gallery and can’t resist the temptation to pop in and see if maybe there is a special wine that you will want to purchase for the voyage, even though you know your yacht has been specially provisioned with all your favorite foods and beverages!
Back on board, the dock lines are thrown off, and you are on your way. There is plenty to see and do in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and you are going to make the most of your time while here!
Made up of over 50 islands and cays, the U.S. Virgin Islands are known primarily for the 3 largest islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. The largest of the three, St. Croix, is about 84 sq. miles and is home to approximately 50,000 people. Less than half of St. Croix’s size, St. Thomas is about 32 sq. miles in size with 48,000 inhabitants. The smallest of the three, St. John, is about 19 sq. miles in size, with a population of only about 3,500 people, but then again, two thirds of this fabulous island are under the auspices of the National Park Service, which accounts for its pristine appearance.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, he named what is now known as St. Croix, Santa Cruz. Seeing the numerous islands that make up the area, he named them “the Virgins” in honor of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who, threatened by the marauding Huns in 4th-century Cologne, sacrificed their lives rather than submit to a fate worse than death.
Denmark purchased the islands in 1733, bringing St. John and St. Thomas under Danish rule. In the meantime, the French had settled in St. Croix, but later sold it to the Danish West India Company. Finally bought by the United States in 1917 for $25,000,000 in gold, St. John, St. Croix, St. Thomas, and the rest of the smaller islands came under the administration of the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Department of the Interior eventually took over the administration of the islands, and still does today.
Since most people on charter want to leave civilization behind immediately we will leave St. Thomas behind and visit some of the small islands that surround it. We will then move on to explore St. John and St. Croix, finally returning to St. Thomas again. You won’t want to miss St. Thomas entirely, since there are some wonderful anchorages and of course the superb shopping in Charlotte Amalie, but we will save that for last.
Buck Island, just off St. Thomas is a tiny island with a lovely bay, perfect for that first off-the-boat-and-into-the-water leap! Great for snorkeling or watching other people snorkel while you linger on your shaded aft deck with a cold drink. Or, maybe you will go on to Christmas Cove at St. James Island, on the way to St. John. There is good snorkeling here too, and if the weather is calm, you can take a quick ride on the ender to explore the waters and reefs around the south end of the island.
Close by is Cruz Bay on St. John, which is mainly a national park. The Park Service has taken their job very seriously and maintains not just the land, but also provides mooring in most of the anchorages in order to help preserve the underwater reefs and seabeds from damage from anchors. St. John was once a thriving agricultural society established in the early 1700s by Danish settlers attracted to the island’s natural resources and fertile soil.
More than 100 cotton and sugar plantation flourished throughout the three U.S. Virgin Islands during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the emancipation of slaves in 1848 led to the decline and eventual ruin of the plantations. What now remain are the remnants of St. John’s Annaberg Sugar Mill and some of the other smaller plantations.
Once known for its sugar cane and farming industries, St. John is recognized today for its pristine beaches and lush foliage. Thanks to philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller, who deeded two-thirds of the island, plus 5,000 offshore acres, to the federal government more than 40 years ago, it has retained a tranquil, unspoiled beauty that can only be described as “serene.” For the charter guest who loves to be in the water, there is an underwater trail in Trunk Bay where submerged markers indicate the path to a fascinating journey among the island’s colorful sea life. For the person who merely wants to sit by the sea, there are over 40 beaches on which to spread their towels.
However, if it is time to go hiking, there are 22 self-guided nature trails to choose from. In sharp contrast to its white sand beaches, St. John’s woodland trails wind through subtropical vegetation. The three-mile Reef Bay Hike leads nature enthusiasts past ancient Arawak Indian carvings called petroglyphs.
Natural beauty not withstanding, there is also great shopping in Cruz Bay and nearby Mongoose Junction. An eclectic mix of interesting boutiques, art galleries and stores offering everything from local crafts and fashions to elegant jewels and exotic imports. The shoppers of the charter party are sure to come away happy!
Rolling green hills dotted with centuries-old sugar mill ruins and the lingering evidence of its Danish settlers in its two towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted, clearly indicate that the word “historic” might be an excellent way to describe St. Croix.
Once the capital of the U.S.V.S., Christiansted is the perfect place to begin a journey into St. Croix’s past. Fort Christiansvaern is an imposing, yellow-bricked fortress built by the Danes to ward off pirates and imprison those who were caught plundering. The National Park Service has produced a very well written pamphlet to use for a self-guided tour of the rooms. Built in 1734, it was never engaged in battle, but the view from the battlement is terrific. Don’t miss the dungeons!
After wandering around Christiansted, and perhaps also visiting the Steeple Building, a museum harboring artifacts from St. Croix’s Carib and Arawak Indian settlements and colonial sugar plantations awaits you. Renting a car may be wise, as there are several places inland that are well worth the time to drive. First is the St. George Village Botanical Gardens, a restoration of an old sugar plantation. The gardens are beautiful with their many plants and flowers indigenous to St. Croix. Next, you might want to visit the Whim Greathouse, which is closer to Fredriksted.
The Whim is a restored greathouse from the late 1700’s and also houses a museum, plus numerous outbuildings. Last but not least (you might want to appoint a sensible member of your party as the “designated driver” for this stop) visit the Cruzan Rum Distillery! You can take a tour and watch the workers making the rum. The savory part is the tasting bar, which is the reason you need the designated driver!
Back in Christinsted and back on your charter yacht, you will want to visit Buck Island, a short distance from the harbor. This National Park is surrounded by a coral reef with a snorkeling trail that is well marked with underwater signs. Your captain might also want to show you Salt River, the site where Columbus anchored off and sent a party ashore in search of water. Unfortunately, they received a very unfriendly reception by the local Indians and sailed off!
Time now to head back to Crown Bay Marina and the many delights of St. Thomas. Charlotte Amalie harbor is the perfect place to start, whether your passion is history or shopping! Stretched along the waterfront, the restored 17th and 18th century warehouses, once used to hold molasses, rum, spices and other trade goods, are now home to unique shops offering everything from fine perfumes to elegant watches to cameras and liquor. And don’t forget that U.S. citizens are allowed a $1,200 duty free exemption on imports purchased in the U.S.V.I., the highest duty free allowance there is!
Charlotte Amalie has many historical buildings reflecting numerous cultures. Starting with Fort Christian, built in 1672, it is the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands. A National Landmark, the brick fortress was built to protect the town’s harbor from raiding European armadas.
It has served as St. Thomas’ first Government House, a church and a community center, and is now home to the Virgin Islands Museum, where early island memorabilia and old maps trace the island’s history. Adjacent to Fort Christian is Emancipation Park, named for the freed slaves. Umbrellas in a rainbow of colors shade the vendors in the marketplace on the seaside of the park. Noisy, colorful and fun, this is a great place to find local handicrafts and other momentos.
Market Square, just west of the busy shopping district of Main Street was originally used as a slave market. Today it is a market for local farmers. The wrought iron rod was part of a European style railway station at the turn of the century.
Government Hill overlooks Charlotte Amalie and is home to several interesting sites. Seven Arches Museum is a fully restored and furnished 18th century Danish West Indian style private home, complete with Danish kitchen and slave quarters. Nearby is the medieval-style Skytsborg, also known as Blackbeard’s Castle. It is the only 17th century fortified tower in the Caribbean. Blackbeard’s Castle is on the National Register of Historic Places, but is perhaps better known as an extremely popular restaurant and hotel.
After shopping and sightseeing it is good to return to your charter yacht and luxuriate in the comfort of solitude for just a little while longer before you need to head back to the airport. As your plane lifts off, heading for home, you put your head back against the headrest, close your eyes and think about the past week: golden sunshine, sparkling blue waters, lush green gardens, exquisite meals under star-studded skies, stretching out in a lounge chair as warm breezes gently wash over you. Unhurried, spontaneous mornings sipping a cup of coffee, looking at the horizon.
You smile. For this charter holiday was even better than you had expected and precisely what your soul desired!
Rocky beaches, historic homes, narrow streets and magnificent harbors. A picturesque, and traditional place for a crewed yacht charter.
What is it that called to the first settlers to stay and eke out a living from the land, battling harsh winters and Native Americans who didn’t want to give up their land or their way of life? What is it that makes the people living in this region so fiercely independent? Is it the weather during the summer, with the bright sunny days that seem to last forever, or when the fog rolls in and wraps itself around you with its dark cottony silence, or even the days of cold, slashing rain, when you can finally curl up with a good book and not feel guilty about it? Is it the coastline that varies from beaches to craggy cliffs, from cozy harbors to off-shore islands, with lighthouses scattered to guide you along the way? What ever it is, once experienced, it will call to you to return again and again.
We will explore from Boston to the mid-coast of Maine aboard a crewed yacht charter. Since the voyage begins in Boston, you might want to take the opportunity to visit nearby Marblehead and Salem. Marblehead, with its rocky beach and magnificent harbor, historic homes and narrow streets, is New England as you imagined it when you dreamed of taking a New England yacht charter holiday.
Salem is also a quick hop away, and since you are in the area, you will want to include it on your “must see” list. Just realize that Boston has grown around it, and it is not the colony of the 1690s that you read about in your history books. The Salem Witch Museum is great fun for young and old alike, and the actors do a magnificent job in bringing the Witch Trials of 1692 to life with lessons relevant to contemporary issues of human rights and tolerance. Time permitting, the House of the Seven Gables that was featured in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel of the same name is nearby and the tour there is excellent also. If you didn’t read the book in your freshman high school English class, never fear, there is an audiovisual program to fill you in on the plot.
Back to your charter yacht, and it is now time to head north and explore New England as it was seen by the first European settlers – from the deck of a vessel! Leaving Boston behind, you will go through Boston Harbor Islands State Park. This is an archipelago consisting of 30 islands, most of which are undeveloped. Georges Island is the visitor and transportation hub of the park; if you are not on your own yacht the only way to experience the islands is via the ferry from Boston.
Cape Ann is home to artists, who come for the unique quality of the light, and to generations of fisherman who have used it as their home port as they fished the Banks. Most recently the movie “Perfect Storm” portrayed Gloucester and its fishing community. Gloucester and Rockport are the most well-known towns in the area, clinging to their rocky shores and filled with restaurants and shops. Gloucester was not only the first settlement on Cape Ann, it is also the oldest seaport in the nation, having been established in 1623. The statue of the Gloucester fisherman is a New England landmark, and the inscription at the bottom reads: “They that go down to the sea in ships”, a fitting tribute to the more than 10,000 Gloucester fishermen that have been lost in three centuries of fishing. Each June during the Saint Peter’s Fiesta there is a Blessing of the Fleet Ceremony.
Rockport, another fishing village and major artists’ colony, is also home to a weathered red lobster shack that has held such a fascination for so many artists that is has actually been name Motif No. 1! Shhh – don’t tell anyone, but it is actually a replica of the original shack which was destroyed in a storm several years ago – maybe the Perfect Storm? Rockport is great fun to poke about in, with a terrific selection of galleries, craft shops and restaurants to choose from.
Next stop: New Hampshire with its total of 18 miles of coastal shoreline. Wait! You didn’t even know that New Hampshire had a shoreline? Don’t worry, it probably only means that by the time you were old enough to play with the State Map Puzzle, which graces most every home, someone had already lost the tiny states of Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire, and those states had long ago been sucked up in the vacuum cleaner, never to be seen again.
So, for heaven’s sakes, get out the atlas and see that New Hampshire does indeed boast a shoreline! Robert Frost wrote: “Just specimens is all New Hampshire has, One each of everything as in a show case, Which naturally she doesn’t care to sell….” The sentiment pretty much personifies and typifies New Hampshire. Tiny though it is, it does have a splendid variety of scenery: seacoast, the highest mountain peaks in all of New England, fertile farmlands, dense woodlands, and even a host of small islands, the Isle of Shoals. These offshore jewels are actually split between New Hampshire (Star, Lunging, and White) and Maine (Appledore, Duck, Cedar, Malaga, and Smuttynose). Yes, you read that right, there is actually an island named Smuttynose. Where else but in New England would you find such a name?
Capt. John Smith was the first European to map the Isle of Shoals in 1614. Only, at that time, he named them “Smith Isles”, but the name didn’t stick. Eventually the name of the Isle of Shoals was adopted, speculation being that they were not named for shallow water shoals, but for the abundance of fish, as “shoals” and “schools” of fish mean the same thing. Of the Isles, Capt. Smith wrote: “of all the foure parts of the world that I have yet seene not inhabited, could I but means to transport a colonie, I would rather live here”. However, when Smith was granted only these same tiny islands in payment for all his years of service, he was less than thrilled and never returned. Today they remain largely uninhabited, the main attractions being the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore and the Oceanic conference facility on Star Island.
Ever since a small group of English fishermen landed on Odiornes’ Point (now the town of Rye, just south of Portsmouth) in 1623, independence and self-reliance have been traits exhibited by the people living here. In fact, on January 5, 1776, New Hampshire drew up its own constitution and declared its independence from England six months before the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. New Hampshire’s only seaport, Portsmouth was once the capital of the state and homeport to a dynasty of merchant seamen.
The shipbuilding industry increased the importance of Portsmouth Harbor, and with the establishment of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1800, additional fortification of the area, beyond the early forts built for the protection of the colonists were needed. This period saw an additional four forts being constructed, with the final coastal fortification during WW II, when batteries were added to Fort Foster and Fort Dearborn was constructed. What this means to you is that there are plenty of forts that are historic sites or parks and all are fun places to spend time exploring.
Henry David Thoreau termed Maine the last remaining wilderness east of the Mississippi in his journal of 1846-1857. Indeed, today, 90% of Maine remains virtually uninhabited. Even though the first known European explorer, John Cabot, first set foot in Maine in 1497, it did not become a state in its own right until 1820.
The sea chills quickly as you move northeast, so if you are planning to swim in Maine, York Beach is the place to do it! York Beach has a long stretch of white sand, surrounded by dunes and marshes. If you don’t want to swim, York Village has many historic buildings, a colonial-period cemetery, and the oldest jail in America, the Old Gaol. Nearby Ogunquit means “beautiful place by the sea”, which indeed it is with its three-mile beach of inviting white sand. From the center of town, the legendary Marginal Way, a mile long path winds along the ledges high above the Atlantic, providing superb views of the ocean and shoreline tidal pools.
Past the Kennebunks lies Portland, Maine’s largest city (population 65,000) and the states’ commercial and cultural center. First settled in 1631, Portland was burned to the ground three times: by raiding Indians in 1676, by invading British troops in 1775, and by accident in 1866. From its beginnings, the city was an important maritime center, with its natural deepwater harbor, and because it was 100 miles closer to Europe than any other port in the United States. Overfishing of the Atlantic fisheries and lobster beds has cut into Portland’s trade, so many of the docks have been converted to other uses, including artist’s studios and retail shops.
One of the “must sees” in Portland is the Maine Historical Society, with its many exquisite old houses, including the 1785 boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The new Portland Public Market with its colorful displays of local seafood, baked goods, cheeses, produce and specialty foods sold by the people who make, catch or grow them is a fun diversion.
Camden, with its sparkling harbor, is a Maine classic; it is every traveler’s fantasy with postcard perfect scenery in every direction. The harbor bustles with activity, filled with fishing boats and cruising boats alike. So beautiful and popular in fact, that you might find it too busy and opt for the less hectic nearby Rockport, perched helter-skelter on a patch of hills overlooking the harbor with a lighthouse at its northern tip. The mile-long breakwater protects the harbor, and though not as beautiful as Camden, it might appeal to the person in search for a quieter pace.
We have now come to the most northerly stop of our journey, Mt. Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. Viewed in 1604 by a Frenchman, Samuel Champlain, he wrote “The mountain summits are all bare and rocky…I name it Isles des Monts Desert.” Not real poetic, but unlike Capt. Smiths’ naming of his isles, the name stuck…even the French pronunciation, de zert, as in “I’ll skip the salad, just give me the dessert”. Acadia National Park was established in 1916 and occupies most of Mount Desert Island, as well as part of Isle au Haut to the south and the Schoodic Peninsula to the north. Much of the land was donated by George Door and by John D. Rockefeller Jr, who also paid for construction of many of the park’s roads.
Bar Harbor is where you go to relax after hiking the trails of Acadia. Once rivaling Newport, RI, for its wealth and extravagance, a great fire in 1947 that burned out of control for nearly a month destroyed much of the island, including most of the mansions. The few mansions that survived have been transformed into inns. Plenty to do in Bar Harbor, whether you want to stroll the shore path, explore the Abbe Museum, which has one of the largest collections of Native American craftwork in the Northeast, poke around its many shops, or sample some of the culinary delights in the restaurants. Or you just might want to get an ice cream cone and sit on a park bench overlooking the surrounding islands and contemplate that nagging question: What is it about New England that feels so much like home, calling you to return back again and again?
Ah, New England. The very thought of it evokes a kaleidoscope of images, memories and smells. An area so steeped in history that it comes alive and banishes the remembered labor of childhood history classes. But is was probably in those same childhood classes that you first heard of, and studied New England. The textbook images of white church spires piercing a clear blue sky, forests ablaze with autumn colors, bright red lobsters, waiting to be feasted on. Have you experienced New England aboard a crewed yacht charter yet?
Have you smelled the salty sea air, the green of woods, the wild roses growing along the cliff? If you haven’t, it is time you did, and if you have, now is the time to go back again and create more wonderful memories.
Middle New England, so close, but so exotic. Newport north to Boston, with stops at the close islands and a chance to whale watch, this is our setting, ripe for exploring. We begin the adventure in Newport, which is exciting and beautiful in any season. Sleepy and snow shrouded in winter, she blooms with bustling life during the summer. You will want to schedule a full day in Newport, and then probably wish you had been able to linger longer.
There are several “must do” things in Newport, and highest ranking on the list is visiting the famed Cottages. Mansions to most of us, these were merely summer cottages for the rich and famous following the Civil War. The Preservation Society of Newport maintains eight of the perhaps dozen that remain.
Walking across perfectly manicured lawns, standing on the wide verandas looking out at the ocean or marveling at the grandeur of the interior one of these mansions, stop and close your eyes. Listen very carefully. Can you hear the clink of champagne glasses, the soft tones of the chamber orchestra? Can you imagine living in this manner? Living the life you read about in
The Great Gatsby? Days gone by, but lucky us, we can still enjoy the beauty and pretend we were there, if only for a moment.
One of the best way to appreciate the sheer beauty of the mansions and their view of the ocean is by walking the Cliff Walk, a three-and-one-half-mile coastal path that hugs the coastline. Though it begins near Newport Beach (just off Memorial Boulevard) and ends on a side street off Bellevue Avenue, you can pick it up at several places along the walk, including Forty Steps, located at the end of Narragansett Ave. Beautiful at any time, early mornings are particularly magical, especially when the wild roses are in bloom.
If you have time and energy, other places to visit include the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Museum of Yachting, the many galleries and “Antique Alley”, which is a cluster of antique shops grouped on Spring and Thames Street. Depending on when you are there, the Chowder Festival and Jazz Fest are great fun.
Leaving Newport behind, it is Island Fever Time, New England style. Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, conveniently nearby, but miles away from the frantic pace of everyday living. Block Island is only about 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, with Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket adjacent to Cape Cod. Rarely crowded, even in the middle of summer, Block Island is a colorful palette of multicolored clay cliffs, shifting sand dunes, crashing waves, and fields of honeysuckle. One quarter of the island is designated as preservation land where rare birds and habitats can be observed.
The Greenway is a network of trails that wind through park, conservancy and private land; it starts mid-island and ends on the south shore. However, most people coming to Block Island are eager to visit the beaches. The most popular is Crescent Beach, which is actually three separate beaches. The first is Benson Beach, complete with chair and umbrella rentals, showers and a snack bar. Following the dune paths, you will arrive at Scotch Beach.
Further on is Mansion Beach, located beneath the cliffs and the ruins of a former ocean-side mansion. Mohegan Bluffs are located on the island’s south shore and are multi-colored clay cliffs that tower 200 feet above the ocean. They stretch for several miles along the shore, offering spectacular ocean views and steep paths leading to the beaches that rim the coastline below.
Bartholomew Gosnold brought a group of colonists in 1602 to Martha’s Vineyard. These were to be the first residents of the triangular-shaped island, named for the wild grapes Gosnold found growing everywhere. The colonists were gone after 3 weeks,but soon replaced by many more. The Vineyard is 20 miles long, and 10 miles wide, large enough to have a myriad of fascinating places to visit, small enough to be able to do so on a bike. The island is one of rolling moors, salt marshes, secluded coves and colored cliffs, perfect for those who enjoy the outdoors.
For the history and architecture lovers, Edgartown is a treasure trove, waiting to be explored. Start at the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society and Vineyard Museum, which includes the Thomas Cooke House and Captain Pease House. Though not part of this complex, the Vincent House Museum gives you a glimpse of life as it was, 300 years ago.
The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust maintains this structure, built in 1672, which is the oldest house on the Island. Time for some fresh air? Hop back on your bike and take experience Martha’s Vineyard State Forest, in the center of the island, with its dense stands of pines, or the Manuae F. Correllus State Park, which has 4,400 acres of hiking paths and bike trails. Still not tired? The Oak Bluffs to Edgartown trail is a 12-mile round-trip that runs along the waterfront. If you have any energy left after your day of history and riding, pick up a copy of the Vineyard Gazette, the newspaper that has served Martha’s Vineyard for over 150 years!
Of the great American Novels, one of the best loved and most often quoted is Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Melville said of the Nantucketers: “these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overran and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders, parceling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans”. For almost 100 years, Nantucket was among the world’s greatest whaling ports.
Today the whaling is gone, but the island remains one of the most charming and picturesque places in New England. To visit the Nantucket of days gone by, make sure you visit the Whaling Museum, which is housed in what once was a factory for refining whale oil. There are exhibits of all of the tools of the whaling trade, plus a whaleboat, an excellent collection of scrimshaw and a full-sized whale skeleton.
The local Historical Society has pamphlets giving a self-guided walking tour of Nantucket Town, the main port. During its heyday, Nantucket Town was home to over 10,000 residents. The cobblestone streets, lined with large stately trees surrounding elegant houses, give testimony to the success of the sea captains, merchants and ship owners.
One of the most well-preserved is the Hadwen House, which contains many of the original furnishing. The oldest remaining house was built in 1686 and is a fine example of the saltbox style dwelling so popular in the Colonial 17th century. One of the best ways to see the natural side of Nantucket is by bike. There are several well marked bike paths on the island, offering you views of cranberry bogs, wetlands, moors and ponds. Be warned, several of these paths are 12 to 16 miles long, so you will want to be prepared.
One of the best places to relax and rejuvenate in Nantucket Town is The Brotherhood of Thieves. With its low, oak-beamed ceilings, wood paneling and lots of candles, you feel like you have been transported back in time and quite possibly over to England! What a lovely way to end a very pleasant day.
Hyannis bills itself as Cape Cod’s “hub”, and is indeed packed with restaurants, shops, clubs, hotels…and people! A popular base for visits up and down the Cape, Hyannis is the Cape’s commercial center. Summer season is brimming with things to do, including the Hyannis Harbor Festival in June, the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Pops with Pops-by-the-Sea in August. Intense national attention was focused on Hyannis in the early 1960’s, when John F. Kennedy was president. The Kennedy family still owns a large estate, the Kennedy Compound. The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum documents JFK’s life and his time in Hyannis.
November 21, 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims landed at what is now Provincetown after 67 days at sea. They stayed but a month, as the soil was thin and fresh water was scarce before sailing on to Plymouth, across Cape Cod Bay. During that month, they wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact, a charter establishing a government based on the will of the majority. This document, as we all learned in history class, would set the stage for the writing of the Constitution and the American Revolution. Known to those who love her as “P-town”, Provincetown brims with life and merriment.
There is always something to do, rain or shine, but perhaps the best part of P-town is watching everyone else. Gay life is a given, but there are plenty of other colorful individuals that call it home, and then, of course, you can always watch the antics of the tourists. A Mecca for artists, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum has four galleries of changing exhibits by Outer Cape Artists. There are several other museums to poke about in, but for the sheer fun of it, visit the Marine Specialists. Crammed with everything from cheap souvenirs to military surplus items from the USSR, the shop will put you into sensory overload!
Just outside Provincetown is the Cape Cod National Seashore, established in 1961. Encompassing 43,500 acres, the park runs from Provincetowon down to Orleans, including within its borders: ocean beaches, wind-swept dunes, salt pond marshes and spectacular cliffs, as well as pitch pine and scrub-oak forests.
A succession of glacial deposits and wind and wave erosion formed Cape Cod’s present hook shape. Studies indicate that the sea and wind action are eroding the Cape at an alarming rate, and that the land itself might be sinking into the sea. Take some time to sit on the beach and simply watch the waves roll in, reflecting on the what has happened to this locality to create it, and what continues to shape it, and consider how precious the area is.
The entire province is special, but one of the most spectacular treats of the region is to go whale watching. Assuming you will end your charter adventure in Boston, your captain has saved the best part of the trip until last by giving you the chance to experience the thrill of seeing whales on your final day at sea. The Stellwagen Bank is located about twenty-five miles of the Massachusetts coast and is one of the richest marine environments in the United States.
The 640-square-mile area is the perfect physical, oceanographic and meteorological blend of circumstances that combine to produce an enormous quantity of plankton that lures pelagic fish, sea birds, turtles and marine mammals. Stellwagen Bank is both the principal feeding ground and nursery for both large and small whale species, including fin, minke, northern right, pilot and orca. Perhaps the most exciting whale species to populate the Bank is the humpback whale, with their impressive displays of flukes and flippers.
The entrance to Boston Harbor is guarded by an archipelago consisting of 30 islands. As your captain eases your charter yacht past them and into her berth in Boston, you just might find yourself thinking that maybe next time you should start your charter in Boston, explore some of those islands, then head on up the coast to Maine. Yes, you haven’t even finished this adventure, and already you are planning your next charter; which really is the what a holiday is about, isn’t it?
Chartering a yacht in Greece is a chance to step into ancient history, alive today. A time to feast your eyes on gleaming white buildings, so bright they almost hurt your eyes, framed against a backdrop of a brilliant blue sky, or bright cobalt-colored seas. An opportunity to dine on the exquisite foods and wines of the region.
A discussion of Greece, or of any of the specific areas of Greece should logically begin with the ancient history of the region, truly ancient history, but that which is still very much in active development today. Plate tectonics, the shifting and moving of the giant plates on which the continents sit, have shaped the way the world looks to us now. While it seems that it all happened tens of thousands of years ago, in truth, the repositioning continues yet today, and is more active in some areas of the world then other.
Greece and her many islands, happen to sit on one of the more active plates, which goes a long way in explaining the numerous earthquakes of the region. Imagine that you have two dinner plates situated one above the other, with a dessert plate at their junction, but slightly to the right side. The top plate (the Eurasian plate) is sliding south, sliding under the bottom dinner plate (the African plate), which is moving north and slightly to the East.
Caught between the two is the dessert plate (the Aegean Plate), which is moving to the southwest. Greece, of course, is situated on the Aegean Plate. So Greece is both sinking and being stretched as the Eurasian Plate slides under the African Plate. As a result of this, the Athens region has moved about 6 feet in the past fifty years, and the southern Pelopannese has moved about 12 feet in the same time.
Thanks to the movements of these plates, Greece is one of the world’s “hot spots” for earthquakes. There are almost daily tremors, very minor occurrences that most tourists don’t even notice. Really devastating earthquakes hit the region about every fifty years. The plate movements, with the resulting buckling and upheavals of the crust beneath the sea, contribute to volcanoes. The Cyclades, which are the island chain we will be discussing, is home to two of these volcanoes, an extinct one on Milos and a dormant one on Santorini. It is worthwhile to keep the vigorous activity of plate tectonics in mind, with its many tremors, when you view the architecture and comprehend the reason for the lack of tall buildings. The Greeks have learned to live in harmony with their environment by adapting their housing styles to it, as indicated by the numerous many barrel-vaulted buildings.
The first evidence of human activity in Greece appears around 8500 BC. The islands, due to their relatively small sizes, the fact that they are within sight of each other, and were often heavily forested, made them perfect for small fishing villages and agrarian communities. The activity surrounding the Cyclades was bourgeoning during the period of 4500-2000 BC, hence the period in Greek history has been named the Cycladic Period. 776 BC marks the recording of the first Olympic Games, with the upcoming games to beheld there again in 2002 AD, 2780 years later! To read the history of Greece, it would appear to be a continuing series of uprisings, battles and conquests, starting with the Minoan Period, continuing on through the Mycenaen Period, Archaic, Classical & Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian & Ottoman and on through to modern times.
Modern times being in fact, very recent, with independence coming to most of Greece, finally, in 1832. Apart from the Cyclades, most of the islands remained in foreign hands even then, returning (or being returned) slowly to Greek rule. An interesting side note for the history buffs: up until the 19th Century, the Greek houses were an inconspicuous mud brick brown. In a demonstration of defiance against Turkish rule, the Greeks started painting their houses in the Greek national colors of white and blue, which continues to this day, especially in the Cyclades.
The Cyclades are by far the most famous of the Greek island groups and lies to the East, South/East of Athens. In fact, you will most likely fly into the new Athens airport and board your charter yacht in Piraeus, though Mykonos and Santorini both boast small airports. We will explore five of the more popular Cyclades Islands, the first and best perhaps known, being Mykonos.
Mykonos has been near the top of the Greek island tourist map since the mid-1960’s, courtesy of one of the most beautiful harbors in the Mediterranean, plenty of good sand beaches, several which tolerate nudism, and truly raucous nightlife. Playing host to over 750,000 visitors every year, to say that Hora, the capital, gets a bit crowded during the height of season, is probably an understatement. For the person who wants to be where the action is though, this is the place to be.
However, there is also plenty quiet beauty for the guest in search of tranquility. Most of the island villages are built on natural amphitheatrically sites, Hora is spread out over a flat area, centered on its famous crescent-shaped bay with windmills topping the headland. The streets appear to be an elaborate maze, flanked by brilliant whitewashed cubic houses, churches, pretty little tavernas and shops. The maze of streets is made even more confusing, thanks to being riddled with alleyways deliberately contrived to distract pirates (not to mention tourists) in earlier times, and the meltemi winds that blow vigorously each summer.
The west side of Hora boasts a plethora of medieval houses, standing like a wall above the sea. Other than these houses, Mykonos lacks the archeological or historical sites you would expect to find on an island such as this. Perhaps this was due to the close proximity of neighboring Delos, where we will explore next, which did little to encourage building during the classical period. There are some excellent museums to poke about it, including a working Windmill Museum, which is on the hillside east of the harbor. This is the only working example of a windmill that you can visit on the islands, and since there is no admission fee, this might be a fun place to spend a bit of time exploring. Also worth a look is the Archaeological Museum of Hora, which contains finds from tombs on the nearby island of Rhenia, sculptures, vases and figurines.
The Maritime Museum of the Aegean is hidden away in an old townhouse. Consisting of 3 rooms, plus the backyard lawn, the exhibits consist of nautical odds and ends including maps, models, assorted gravestones and the top 20 feet of a late 19th Century lighthouse. Finally, the Craft and Folklore Museum is housed in a restored 17th Century sea captain’s house, and brings together a number of collections of furniture, icons, sculpture and folk musical instruments.
One of the biggest draws to the Mykonos is the golden beaches, particularly those on the south coast. These offer an appealing mix of bays decorated with long strands of sand, interspersed with windy headlands. Varying from Plati Yialos, backed by several hotels, to trendy Paradise Beach with its music, water sports and extremely expensive beach bar, to Super Beach, best known as a gay nudist beach, there is sure to be a strip of sand to appeal to everyone!
Delos is a mere 6 miles across a narrow strait from Mykonos, but where Mykonos is trendy and raucous, Delos whispers its ancient tales to those who listen for them as they explore the ageless ruins.
The legend of Delos has it that in an effort to escape the amorous attentions of Zeus, a girl named Asteria turned herself into an island and drifted where tide and current would take her, sometimes above the surface, sometimes below. One day Poseidon decided that enough was enough, and anchored the island of “Asteria” to the seafloor. It was known from then on as “Delos” or “visible”. Time passed and eventually another one of Zeus’s escaping lovers (Leto) landed on Delos, disguised as a swan, and gave birth to the twin deities, Apollo and his sister Artemis. With a background like this, it was only a matter of time before Delos also emerged as the most important trade center of the Aegean.
A major Mycenaen site, Delos rose to prominence as a sanctuary with the construction of the Temple of Apollo in the early 7th Century BC. As the sanctuary grew in importance, it underwent various stages of ritual purification, which ultimately caused the demise of its domination as a trading center. The purification started in 540 BC with the removal of all graves to the neighboring island of Rhenia. This was followed in 426 BC with an edict making it illegal to give birth or to die on Delos. Please note that this policy is maintained yet today via a ban on overnight stays. One shudders to think of what horrible fate or fine would be levied on you if you were to flaunt the law and have a baby while visiting the Sacred Lake area, or expire while climbing Mt. Kynthos!
Those fears aside, Delos is maintained as a vast archaeological site, covering almost the entire island, starting on the west side where the sacred harbor was. It will take you the better part of three hours to explore Delos. Everyone must enter via the same ticket kiosk, and then decide which route to explore first, as shown on the small map you will receive when you buy your ticket. The suggestion would be made to go counter-clock-wise and start with Mt. Kynthos first, while you are still fresh. By the time you are finished, you will enjoy a much more complete appreciation of one of the great classical archaeological site of the Mediterranean.
Paros, to the south of Delos, is the third-largest of the Cyclades after Mykonos and Andros. To the utter confusion of the visitor unsure of their geography, Paros and Poros are separated by merely one letter, but Poros is found to the North, close to Kefalonia (where Capt. Correlli’s Mandolin was filmed). The fun-loving Greeks take the joke one step better, and have named one of the beaches on Paros, Parosporos. Indeed, Paros is ringed with sandy beaches, it’s gently rolling hills surround the predominantly agricultural interior, which is crisscrossed with vineyards and the source of the beautiful Parian marble. Paros’s main port and tourist center is the capital of Parikia.
At the heart of Parikia lies a typical Cycladic chora, complete with the odd wall of a Venetian dastro built on the site of the ancient acropolis in 1207 AD. One of the best things about Parikia is that it is ideally situated for sitting back at a small taverna and enjoying a drink as the sun sets over the harbor!
Milos is the most southerly of the Wester Cyclades. Noted for its volcanic soil and for the rich deposits of minerals, its civilization is considered to be as ancient as that of Crete, and spans a period of at least 5000 years. Quite possibly it’s greatest moment in history was the grim result of an act of defiance. In 416 BC, Milos refused to join Athens in her war with Sparta, and Athenians responded by voting for the execution of all adult males on the island, with the women and children being sold into slavery.
The Venus de Milo, discovered in 1820 by a farmer, now resides in the Louvre in Paris, and is represented in the town museum of Plaka with a plaster replica. The Ancient City is down the road at nearby Tripiti. The most impressive remains there are the Catacombs, the earliest known Christian site in Greece. The Catacombs are also part of one of the more original day excursions in the Greek islands, that of the Mining and Geology Tour that ends at the working Angeria mine.
The final island in our exploration is quite possibly the most fascinating. Differing vastly from the other islands in the Cyclades, Santorini (also known as Thira) is the largest fragment of a volcanic archipelago made up of the broken remnants of the largest caldera on earth. The summit of the pre-eruption island of Kalliste (“most beautiful”) was estimated at 1700 meters, and the highest point of Santorini is 566 meters.
It is theorized that this is the origin of the Atlantis legend, with the inpouring of the sea into the caldera during a massive eruption (about 1500 BC) giving early sailors the impression that the greater part of the island had sunk, taking the settlements with it. The archeological site at Akrotiri, near the southern end of the island, has yielded 43 structures of a Minoan city destroyed in the same eruption, but buried beneath volcanic ash, some of the structures are a two and three storied houses, shops, workshops, and so on.
Fira Town, also known as “Thira” and “Phira” is the capital of Santorini and is perched on the edge of the caldera rim, with a switchback staircase (587 steps) leading up to it from the water. You take a donkey ride to the top, walk (watch out for donkey droppings!) or hop on the cable-car, for any way you arrive at the top, it will certainly be well worth the effort if only for the view over the caldera and the volcano. There are too many museums and excavation sites to even start mentioning here, so the history fanatics will be very happy. Further to the north, following the caldera rim, is the town of Oia.
Oia, also called Ia, is known for its little houses made from the soft rock, of which some are whitewashed, others painted blue or ochre, and its neo-classical mansions. Hundreds of steps, similar to those found at Fira Town, will lead you down from Oia and its sweeping views, to the tiny port below the town. Inland from the caldera rim, the rest of the island slopes steeply away and is given over to the production of tomatoes and the ground-crawling vines from which the wine that Santorini is famous for. Not necessarily vying for international honors for taste, it would seem the wine is more famous for its labels, with imaginative names such as “Lava” and “Volcano”.
The striking landscape, the peculiarities of the natural environment, the unusual architecture and the outstanding monuments of Santorini all combine to be the perfect ending to a perfect charter. The temptation to simply reverse the trip and experience the islands all over again, is tempered by curiosity to what you are likely to find at perhaps the next island over. The region is so filled with so many islands of varying history and geography, it would seem that the only solution is to visit again and again!
Elba, Corsica and Sardinia
Italy dangles like a Christmas stocking from the center of Western Europe, stuffed with overflowing treasures for all your senses. The topography of Italy varies from the heights of the Alps, to the breadth of great plains, to wonderful islands.
The topography of Italy varies from the heights of the Alps, to the breadth of great plains, to wonderful islands. Excluding the islands, Italy is approximately 260,000 square km, which is roughly the size of Britain. But it is the islands that fascinate, and which we will explore; starting with Elba in the Tuscan Archipelago, then on to the French island of Corsica, and finally Sardinia, situated directly below Corsica.
Located to the west of Italy, but close enough to have been inhabited since ancient times, Elba is the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago, which consists of several islands scattered like jewels across the sea. Heavily forested, but sprinkled with granite outcroppings, Elba is a study of deep green and pink. Dominated by a chain of mountains, the tallest ones are to the West, with the highest peak being Monte Capanne.
Colonized since around 3000 BC, people were originally drawn to Elba for its wealth of metals. Started by the discovery of copper during the Copper Age, and continuing on through the Bronze Age, as the residents alloyed it into bronze. The copper was depleted just as the world entered the Iron Age. Good luck for Elba, the island also contained vast deposits of iron ore. When the steel mills on Elba were closed after World War II, tourism was developed as the new source of wealth. The picture of success, the 30,000 residents of Elba host upwards of 2,000,000 visitors on a yearly basis.
Portoferrio is the capital of Elba. Reigning Duke Cosimo I built the massive walls surrounding the city in the 16th Century. The other prominent structure in Portoferrio is the Grattacielo (“skyscraper”) which is one of the truly ugliest buildings, complete with peeling paint, that was built in the 1950’s. However, since it contains the tourist office and most modes of island transportation revolve around it, many people can not ignore it, even though they might like to!
No discussion of Elba would be complete without mentioning the fact that on May 4, 1814, Napoleon arrived at Portoferrio with 500 of his most loyal officers and soldiers, plus a British Commissioner to keep an eye on him. He proved to be a very adept governor, reorganizing the iron mines and starting the network of roads found on Elba today. Things seemed to be going along pretty well, that is, right up until he disappeared on February 20, 1815, much to the horror of his British watchdog. The “Hundred Days” had begun. Captured again after Waterloo, Napoleon would be banished to a much smaller, much gloomier, more distant island to keep him out of trouble. Most people visit his thoroughly depressing palace, the villa dei Mulini in Portoferrio, where he lived a rather Spartan life, as though he fully expected to be there only a short period of time!
There is plenty to see and do on Elba, including a thermal spa at San Gowannii and the ruins of a Roman villa at Le Grotte. In western Elba lies Marciana, the oldest continually inhabited town on Elba. The Marciana Marina lies below the town, which is situated high on the slopes of Monte Capanne. Marciana is quite beautiful with its narrow streets, stone stairways and many archways. In the summer, a cable lift goes to the very summit of Monte Capanne.
This vantage point offers stunning views of the Tuscan Archipelago, the mountains of Tuscany and south to Corsica. Corsica, best known to most people as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, has been conquered, fought over, revolted and re-taken so often that it is amazing that the national mental state is nothing less than schizophrenic. While it is likely that the island was inhabited as early as Paleolithic times, the skeletal remains of the Bonifacio Woman, dating from 6570 BC, is positive proof that it was inhabited by the Neolithic era.
By the 6th Century BC, the Phocaean Greeks founded Alalia, at what is now called Aleria, on Corsica’s flat eastern plain. Two thousand years later, around 4000 BC, it would appear that the inhabitants succumbed to the romance of big stones. Various sites around the southwestern corner of the island still bear evidence of this period, with large upright slabs standing in the earth, and structures consisting of two large slabs supporting a large stone “roof”. Torri, or towers, constructed by the Torreens in approximately 1100 BC are also standing, seemingly indestructible, especially taking into account the later history of the island.
A seemingly endless parade of invaders ruled the island throughout the years. Napoleon, Corsican by birth, took over the jurisdiction of Corsica on behalf of the French government in 1796, after the English departed. His lone ambition was one of making Corsica truly French once and for all. To this end, he prohibited Corsicans from island administrative posts, on the grounds that they were untrustworthy. While it is French, it is Corsica first, and steps are being undertaken to grant it legislative authority unto itself. No need to worry though, the Euro now rules and credit cards are accepted, no matter who happens to be in power!
Extremely mountainous, Corsica seems to rise from the sea straight up into the clouds. For visitors, its main attraction is the environment, which is vigorously protected. In fact, over one third of the island is designated as national parkland. The Parc Naturel Regional de Corse (PNRC) has created, among other things, over 2000km of sign posted footpaths. It has encouraged the preservation of Hermann’s tortoise, the mouflon (a type of short fleeced sheep whose males are characterized by large horns), and is also responsible for the reintroduction of the Corsican red deer. Perhaps the best part of all of this is that while walking on Corsica, you can leave your snakebite kit at home, as there are no snakes here. That fact alone makes a trip to Corsica extremely inviting!
Cap Corse peninsula sticks out of the north end of Corsica like a sore thumb, and is a mere 12km south of Elba. Apart from Bonifacio, located on the extreme southern tip of the island, it is the only area within Corsica where the inhabitants have made a living by fishing. The most prominent feature on Cap Corse is the numerous watchtowers that the Banco di San Giorgio built in the 16th Century. Originally numbering 85, there are approximately 60 left, and the majority are on Cap Corse. Originally intended to protect the island from Saracen raiders, they also helped protect the island’s strategic and commercial interests from other European challengers. Ringing the island, with each one visible to the next, a system of signals enabled messages to circle the island within an hour.
Further south, following the western coastline, is the Reserve Naturelle de Scandola, accessible only by water, best known for its large number of osprey pairs, which account for about 1/3 of the entire osprey population in the entire Mediterranean, and the many volcanic caves and faults. Another of its curiosities is a type of calcareous seaweed that is so hard that it forms pavements on the water’s surface.
Continuing your journey along the coastline, you will reach Ajaccio, which is the largest town on Corsica and also the capital. Famous as the birthplace of Napoleon, it was Napoleon who decided in 1811 that Ajaccio would become the capital of Corsica, rather than Bastia, which had been the island’s capital and principal town up until that point. There is plenty to see and do in Ajaccio, with enough museums to keep the history buffs occupied for several hours.
Bonifacio is on the extreme southern tip of Corsica, resembling a cliff-top fairy tale city straight out of the pages of a child’s picture book. Bonifacio is built on two levels, with the citadel, filled with ancient buildings and twisting streets, up at cloud level. Appearing to spring from the sheer, chalky cliffs behind them, the walls barely seem to be able to hold the city in, away from the edge of the precipice on which they are perched.
Below, the inlet retreats through the cliffs to form a large natural harbor, home to a bustling port. Protected from the wind and pounding sea by the cliffs that ring it, and protected from invaders due to the narrow opening into it, Bonifacio has one of the most beautiful harbors in the Western Med.
Leaving the Corsica and Napoleon behind, it is time to head south across the narrow Straits of Bonifacio to Sardinia, the final island which we shall explore. While unmistakably and unabashedly Italian, Sardinia is a universe unto itself. Lying about 120 miles to the west of Italy, it is almost that same distance from Tunisia. D.H. Lawrence described it as “lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere.” Possessing its own language and diverse customs, the Sardinians have remained fiercely independent throughout its turbulent history.
Sardinia’s early history is closely linked with the history of nearby Corsica and Elba. It appears that there were communities in the Paleolithic era, as the first traces of human settlement go back to before 6000 BC. Replaced around 4000 BC by an agricultural culture called the Bonu Ighinu, this society was named after the grotto near Mara where their most significant remains have been found. Around 1500 BC, a new group of settlers, the Nuragic people, arrived on the scene. They were obsessed with protecting themselves from invasion, and proceeded to build roughly 30,000 circular fortified dwellings, strategically located so each could see its neighbor. It would appear that this may be where the Banco di San Giorgo got the idea to build the watchtowers that ring Corsica!
Today, about 7000 of these megalithic structures survive. The most important complex is Nuraghe Su Nuraxi, in Barumini, centered around a three-story tower. Among the best preserved are S. Antine, which also has a central three-story tower connecting to three, two-story watchtowers via walkways, and Nora, which is an extensive village complete with an amphitheater, forum, baths, temple and kasbah.
Almost continuously occupied and ruled by outsiders, there was once-upon-a-time, a Kingdom of Sardinia! This was a result of the War of Spanish Succession, when Cagliari was bombarded by an English fleet and briefly occupied. In the ensuing negotiations, the island was ceded first to Austria, then according to the Treaty of London of 1718, the Kingdom of Sardinia was established. Of course, that was just too good to last, and the Kingdom came to an end with the unification of Italy in 1861.
Treated for years like the proverbial red-headed stepchild of Italy, an attempt to offset this attitude was made in 1948, when Sardinia was granted autonomy, allowing the regional government direct control over many aspects of daily life. The Maddalena archipelago is a cluster of seven larger islands and a sprinkling of smaller ones. Crystal clear waters and steady breezes are the signature highlights of the area, making it popular to the yachting crowd. Home to numerous regattas every year, there are many secluded bays and coves to explore for those who prefer to be far from the crowd.
The water is always relatively calm, even with the breezes, thanks to the many islands, making it a favorite place for personal water sports. Porto Cervo is certainly on the “must do” list for any charter visiting Sardinia. It is the yachting hub of the Costa Smeralda, popularly known as the “millionaires playground”.
Located on a narrow strip of land separating the gulfs of Cugnana and Arzachena, it is said to have been the brainchild of the Aga Khan Prince Karim IV. It is built to resemble a fishing village, only on a massive scale. Some call it sterile, others call it clean and discreet, but the one thing is that probably no one has ever said, “I wish I had not taken the time to visit Costa Smeralda!” Filled with the jet set types in the summer, it is an excellent place to people watch.
On down the eastern coast lie two small islands, Tavolara and Molara. Upon approach, they seem nothing less than forbidding, as they appear to be simply tall eruptions of rock, thrust up from the sea, which is, indeed what they are. But, close in, the crystal-clear water and tiny sand beaches welcome you to visit.
Cagliari is at the southern end of Sardinia, situated in the broad curve of the Gulf of Cagliari, and is backed by lagoon and surrounded by an imposing ring of medieval walls. The island’s capital since Roman times, littered with 2000 years of history, is also Sardinia’s busiest port. Wandering around Cagliari is best done on foot, and the four quarters that you will want to visit are all close by. The areas of Stampace and Villanova are known for their important religious monuments and old churches.
The old citadel, Castello, is famous for its flamboyant cathedral and the best museums. The Marina quarter is home to most of the shops and restaurants. The arcades of Via Roma are often regarded as the best to sit with an ice cream and a cup of coffee; viewing the port and watching the people go by. This would seem to be the perfect way to end your charter before catching your flight home. Or maybe you should just skip the flight and continue on up the west coast of Sardinia, or head southeast to Sicily or anyplace else… but maybe that will all have to wait until next time!
The Enchantment of the Mediterranean
The French Riviera, the Cote d’Azur. Which ever name you call this region, the images conjured up are sure to include beautiful women, handsome men, glitzy casinos, ancient villages, fast cars and beautiful yachts lining the quays.
Monaco was originally founded as a Greek trading post in about 500BC. One can only imagine the looks on their faces if they were transported into the future, standing quayside as the Grand Prix cars zip past! The Principality of Monaco is based on a treaty signed with France on Feb. 2,1861. The whole economy of Monaco as we know it today was based on a small casino originally started in 1856 by the Prince, who was short of funds. In 1862, it moved to its current location, and rose to glory under the direction of Francois Blanc, with the current casino built in 1878.
As the casino gained popularity, the surrounding hills became covered with luxurious houses, and as they say, the rest is history. Even if you do not want to gamble, a visit to the casino is well worth it. The magnificent gaming halls’ walls and ceilings are decorated with carvings and paintings. The atmosphere is hushed, but seems charged with suspense as the croupiers announce “Faites vos jeux”…”lay your bets”.
High on the hill on the opposite side of the harbor from the casino is the royal palace. Every day at 11:55AM sharp, the royal guards parade onto the palace’s front square, some with swords drawn, other shouldering rifles with bayonets. As the drums beat and the trumpets blare, they change guards and march off just at the palace clock strikes noon. The sight is well worth the short walk up the hill. Remember, the whole Principality is only about 486 acres, which is smaller than New York’s Central Park, so it is easy to get around on foot.
A short jaunt down the coast, brings you Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, a small peninsula between Monaco and Nice. Once there, one of the best ways to see and appreciate its beauty is on foot by wandering along the coastal path, which is divided into three parts. The entire length is only about 6 miles long, a nice walk, and even nicer if you get a ride back! The three parts include a tour of Cap Ferrat, a stroll through a lovely pine forest and the Maurice Rouvier walk which links Saint Jean Cap Ferrat to Beaulieu.
One of the highlights of Beaulieu is the Greek villa “Kerylos”. This extravagant reproduction of a luxurious Greek villa is filled with mosaics, frescos and other treasures from the 6th to 10th Century BC. Topping it off are the superb gardens and incredible view of the sea – definitely a “must do”!
Closer to Nice is Villefranche, with its port, old town and gentle curve of coastline. The old village has narrow streets and stairways with covered passages leading down to carefully restored houses with colorful facades. The old village seems to be guarded by the Saint Elme citadel, dating back to the 16th Century.
Nice is ancient. The Greeks established it in the 5th Century as part of a string of trading posts, and named it Nikaia. However, it was probably the Romans who started it as the tourist destination that it is today with their extensive baths on Cimiez. Cimiez sits on a hill a couple of kilometers from the center of town. The grounds include a large park filled with olive groves (olive trees were introduced by the Greeks), the Archeological Museum, Matisse Museum, Franciscan Museum and the Monastery. In August the Nice Jazz Festival takes place here upon three stages, set amidst the olive groves and the Roman Amphitheater.
The “Vieille Ville” (Old Town) section of Nice is filled with narrow streets curving in irregular fashion between buildings topped with red-tiled roofs. The Cours Saleya has a daily flower market and food market in the mornings. The length of the Cours Saleya is lined with low buildings separating the “Cours” from the seaside. These were once used by fishermen to hold their catch, but now are mostly seafood restaurants, serving the very freshest of fish. This area might just be the most perfect spot in all of the French Riviera to linger at an outdoor café with a lovely glass of wine, golden sun warm on your face, letting the scent of the nearby ocean and the smell of the myriad of flowers wash over you. Quintessential Cote d’Azur!
Antibes was originally named “Antipolis” by the Greeks, when they founded it in the 5th Century, BC. Annexed by Rome in 43 BC, the town is full or Roman artifacts (walls, aquaducts, amphora, etc.) from the ancient town and nearby sea bottom. In 476, when the Roman Empire fell, the barbarians invaded the region. Vandals, Visigoths, Burgundians, Ostrogoths and Franks all had their turn, with the central theme being destruction. The end of the 14th Century began the start of French occupation, as the kings of France realized the key military role that Antibes could play with its location on the Franco-Savoyard frontier.
There are several museums to poke about in, including the Musee Picasso (originally the Chateau Grimaldi), Musee Archeologique, and just for fun, the Musee de la Tour des Arts et Traditions Populaires (Museum of Folk Arts and Tradition). Now, all this museum hopping is sure to make you thirsty, so you might want to go visit the Hop Store Irish Pub, located near one of the marinas. Once used for storing salt, the impressive vaulted cellars have been converted in an Irish pub that is a popular meeting place for the English-speaking community.
Cannes is the “star” of the French Riviera, famous for the International Film Festival and its glitzy hotels, cars and sandy beaches. The city of Cannes is centered around the old port and is very compact. Le Suquet is the old section of town, overlooking the west end of the port. The ramparts date back to the 12thCentury and give a medieval flavor to the city, as do the narrow, winding streets. The city was probably the site of a small Ligurian port and later a Roman outpost situated on Le Suquet hill, as Gallo-Roman and Roman tombs have been discovered there.
The large harbor is a comfortable anchorage, and the yachts anchoring here find both protection from the wind and waves, not to mention admiring looks from the people strolling along the Blvd. De la Croisette. In the morning the Allees de la Liberte houses a flower market, plus a popular flea market on Saturdays.
Most of the ancient activity in the area, especially for protection of the settlements, was on the Iles de Lerins, a small archipelago, just off the coast. The two main islands are Sainte-Marguerite and Sainte Honorat and the two smaller islands are Tradeliere and Sainte Fereol.
Ile Sainte-Marguerite is the larger, closer island. Covered by forests of Allepo pine and eucalyptus, it has wide paths that criss-cross it. All of the islands are pedestrian-only, with no motor vehicles allowed. Like all of the area, the islands came under various rules as different tribes and nations invaded them and drove off the former inhabitants. Though built by an earlier group, the Fort Royal was fortified by the Spanish in 1635, and they were subsequently chased out in 1637. Fort Royal is of note as it was used as a prison in the 17th Century and the Man in the Iron Mask was incarcerated there. The Fort still stands and you can visit the small cell where he was kept.
Ile Sainte-Honorat is smaller, however the walks are still quite nice and there is a Cisterian abbey there to visit. The passage between the two islands is narrow and protected. Called the “Plateau du Mileu”, it is a very popular anchorage.
Legend has it that the name of Saint-Tropez came from Torpes, a martyr who refused to abjure his faith. He was beheaded and his body placed in a boat and sent adrift. The boat was last seen drifting in the Bay, heading towards shore. Regardless of the dubious beginnings of its name, Saint Tropez was the hot spot of the Cote d’Azur during the 1950s and into the 60s, with its glittering jet-set crowds. Still very popular with tourists, it is quieter now that the crowds have moved on.
Situated on the lovely blue waters of the Bay of St. Tropez, the quay is lined with terrace cafes, perfect places to linger as the clientele admire the yachts docked there. Behind the cafes, the small streets and old buildings are picturesque, but more popular for the shopping than for the historical value!
For a change of pace, a visit to a local vineyard might be in order, as there are several close by, including Domaine du Bourrian, Les Celliers des Vignerons and Domaine de Pin Pinon.
A bit south of St. Tropez, located just east of Toulon, are the three Hyeres Islands of Porquerolles Island, Port-Cross Island and Levant Island. They are also referred to as the Iles d’Or, or the “Golden Islands”, the name given to them during the Renaissance for the way the light reflected off the golden-brown mica shale.
Porquerolles is a mostly uninhabited island of Mediterranean forests, rocky coastlines, nature preserves, beaches and one small village. The major part of the island was acquired by the state in 1979 to protect the natural heritage and is known as the Conservatoire Botanique National Mediterraneen. Because of this, it is also an island of “nos”…no camping, no smoking (outside the village limits) and no drinking water (it is only available in the village).
On the very positive side, Porquerolles Island is a great place for walking and cycling. In addition to the natural pines and pin parasol, myrtle, heather and fields of white cistes, there is even a vineyard.
Port-Cros was called “Mese”, or Middle Island by the Greeks. Higher and wider than Porquerolles, Port-Cros gets its name from the deep, hollowed-out shape (creux) of its small harbor. The entire area is thickly forested and is designated a Parc National, together with Ile de Bagaud and the neighboring islets, Rascas and La Gabiniere and and area extend around the coastline.
Levant Island consists of a long, narrow rocky ridge, rimmed by prodigious vertical cliffs inaccessible except for the two ports, Avis Inlet to the North and Aiguade on the western end. When the Lerins monks inhabited the islands, the Ile du Levant was the abbey’s garden and granary. Unlike the other two larger islands, it is not a National Park, nor a Botanical Conservatory, however, 80% of the island is occupied by the Marine Nationale, and access is forbidden!
The French Riviera. The Cote d’Azur. Known for its beautiful women, handsome men, glitzy casinos, ancient villages, fast cars and beautiful yachts lining the quays. But now you know there is all that, but so much more. Plenty of glitter and nightlife if that is what you desire, but plenty of beautiful gardens and quiet, private places to enjoy. Centuries of history and the very latest in fashions.
The sparkle of the water as it laps against the side of your yacht, the smell of fresh baguettes, the whisper of the breeze as it brushes through the pines. Whatever it is that you seek, you will find it here. Again and again.
Island Hopping in the Greek Isles
We arrived at the yacht in fits and starts, this odd assortment of friends and friends-of-friends that had decided to share this charter adventure together. White Knight was the name of our charter yacht, and we quickly decided that we all wanted a White Knight of our own, to pamper us, make us feel like royalty. There were ten of us: two couples plus two men and four women traveling single.
White Knight featured eight spacious staterooms on three levels, so we all had a room to ourselves. As the yacht filled up with suitcases and laughing guests, we sat on the aft deck, waiting for the last straggler to show up so we could leave to begin our journey. As the dock lines were brought in and White Knight slowly eased away from the quay, conversations turned to the history of the area we would visit. We had chosen the Argosaronic Islands, for their proximity to Athens.
The perfect destination for a three or four day charter prior to, or after the upcoming Olympics, but with more than enough to see and do and places to linger for a much longer holiday. The Olympic Games come to Athens in 2004, over 2,700 years after they were first started in 776 BC. The first Modern Olympic Games were held there in 1896, and are now held around the world. But in 2004, they return to their birthplace, to Athens. Exciting as the Olympics are, they were started thousands of years after the first evidence of human activity, approximately 8,500 BC. Reading a timeline of Greek history is much like reading a timeline for all Western civilization. Indeed, most of Western civilization as we know it today is based on what began in Greece.
But the timeline is also a reminder that what and who was mighty in the past, does not necessarily stay mighty for all time. It shows the tragedy of hate, from the Athenians executing all the male population and enslaving all of the women and children on Milos in 416 BC for their refusal to join in the war against Sparta, to the execution of Socrates in 339 BC, to the massacre of 25,000 people on the tiny island of Chios by the Turks, for their part in the Greek struggle for independence. History reveals how wave after wave of rulers conquered Greece, or at least some of her islands, only to replaced by the next shift in political powers, but in the end, she is ruled by the people who live there, not by a foreign government.
We leave the Port of Piraeus, and head for our first island of adventure, Poros. As we slip away, we gather on the sky deck, drinking in the view of Athens, with the Acropolis as her crowning jewel. Heading out to open water, we pass the island of Salamina on our right. Two narrow straits divide it from the mainland of Attica, one that is less than a mile wide, the other is less than half of that distance. The largest of the Argosaronic islands, it is almost 37 square miles and has a population of 30,000. What is considered to be the greatest naval battle of antiquity took place in the strait between Athens and Salamina in 480 BC. The Persians had invaded Greece and were making their way to Athens to bring the war to a final close and make themselves rulers of Greece.
The Persians sailed toward Athens with a fleet of 1,200 ships, bearing 300,000 men. The Athenians sailed out to meet them with their entire fleet, consisting of only 400 ships with 85,000 men. The Greek general leading the Athenians, enticed the Persian fleet into engaging in battle not on the open sea, but in the narrow straits of Salamis, where what mattered most was agility, speed and knowledge of the straits, not size and number of vessels. The battle started at dawn and by the afternoon of the same day, the Persians had been vanquished. We arrive in Poros by early evening and are quickly secured to the dock.
Poros consists of two islands, separated by a narrow canal: the small volcanic islet of Sfairia, where the main center of population is located, and the much larger island of Kalavria, covered in thick pine forest and sparsely populated. Just to make it confusing, the town is also named Poros, so we were at Poros on Poros. Our group decided to eat ashore and sample the hospitality of the many charming tavernas lining the quayside. Predictably, each one looked better than the last one, so much so that finally part of the group split off and decided to hop a water taxi and cross the strait over to the town of Galatas on Peloponnese. The water taxi ride was a quick 3 minute ride, and afforded a wonderful view of Poros, with its shining white clock tower standing guard over the village.
Returning after dinner on another water taxi, we met up with our friends at a waterfront pub. A word of warning here: there is something that happens to normally sedate, refined people once they get to Greece. I am not sure if it is the weather, the air, the water, the food, perhaps the ouzo…whatever it is, people who haven’t stayed up past midnight for the past 20 years all of a sudden don’t want to go to bed, saying “let’s stay for one more song”, at 3am in the morning.
Those of us who trekked back to the yacht watched in amazement as the most mature members of our party drifted into yet another taverna. The next morning found me up enjoying coffee on the sky deck, observing the first stirrings of the townspeople as they slowly opened their shops and started their days. The early morning quiet was soon shattered by the sound of loud voices.
The Greek Navy Academy is just steps from the center of the village, and boasts a very active training program for both rowing and kayaking. The person on the megaphone was the coach, swooping around the rowing shells in his skiff, urging the rowers to greater speed and power. When the rest of the group got up, we again went our separate ways, exploring the areas we were most interested in.
Some rented scooters and rode away to visit the Temple of Poseidon, where the orator Demosthenes poisoned himself in 323 BC to avoid surrender to Macedonians. Others visited the Russian Naval station, built in 1834, manned until 1900 and preserved as a historic monument since 1989; or the Monastery of Zoodochou Pigis, built in the 18th century around the island’s only spring. Those of us who didn’t zoom off, explored the pretty village, where each corner brings another decision as to which way to go, since each path looks more inviting than the next.
Another word of warning: if you are planning on visiting any of the museums, you might want to have the yacht call ahead to make sure the desired destination is actually open. That way when you get to the Archeological Museum to feast your eyes on exhibits from the Mycenaean and Roman Period, you won’t be looking at a “Closed” sign instead.
We all manage to return to White Knight within an hour or so of when we had decided we wanted to leave and Captain John suggests a stop at the Island of Dokos for a swim and leisurely lunch. Anchor down, the first person to hurl themselves off the boat was the hardy pal from England. He assured us that the water was wonderful, quite refreshing. To those of us hailing from South Florida, it felt more than refreshing, it felt down right cold.
But we were soon all cajoled into flinging ourselves into its heavenly blue depths, chilling and exhilarating us. White Knight’s swim platform was perfect for easy access to the water and water toys. A shower located there was just the thing to wash the saltwater off before donning one of the big terrycloth robes that were offered as you came up the steps to the aft deck. Lunch was a triumph. A beautiful display of food that looked too good to eat, a sumptuous display that quickly turned into sounds of “ohhh” and “ahhh”. Lunch over, anchor up, we moved stately away from our lovely anchorage.
Now was the time when we all went into serious sprawl mode and sought our cabins, the comfort of the oversized chairs on the sky deck or simply fell asleep in the sun, rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of White Knight as she carried us to our next destination: Spetses. It was late afternoon as we approached the historic Port of Dapias. As our crew tied us to the quayside, the conversation turns to what will become an on-going debate, never to be answered: what color is the water? Blue-green? Cobalt blue with a touch of green?
Here at the dock, we watch fish flash to and from in its crystal clear depths. A stroll before dining seems to be well in order, and off we go. The first thing we encounter is a large square, dominated by a tall statue of a woman, one hand on a pistol at her waist, the other hand shading her eyes as she gazes out to sea.
This is Bouboulina, heroine of the Struggle of 1821 when Spetses became the first island of the Argosaronic to join the Revolution against the Turks. Bouboulina not only supplied ships for the effort, but indeed commanded her largest ship, the Agamemnon, leading the Spetsiot fleet. Nor did she just stick to the war at sea, for she also lead her men into battle at the siege of Tripolitsa.
Leaving our heroine to stand watch over our yacht, we wandered up a small hill into the center section of town. The road is paved in pebbles. Pebbles which have been laid into delightful patterns: pictures of dolphins and crabs and fish, patterns of all types.
Seemingly taken for granted, the delicacy of artistry was often faded by dirt and the number of cigarette ends thrown carelessly about. A couple of us soon decided to relax at a taverna overlooking the harbor and had just settled in with a frappe, when a clatter of hoofs and cheery “hellos” in well-known voices made us look up. There went some of our group, in a horse-drawn carriage, to explore the island. They assured us later on that Stella the Horse had told them that she was very happy to give them a ride, especially if they would give her a carrot. Warning: this is another phenomenon that happens in Greece: you soon will start having meaningful conversations with carriage horses!
I was up early the next morning, and by now, the second morning, the crew had determined I was an early riser and a cup of freshly brewed coffee was placed in my hand as soon as I ascended the stairs from my stateroom. This is one of the niceties that a first rate charter yacht is all about: service so seamless it is as if you don’t even think about your needs before they are answered.
Coffee in hand, I wander out to the aft deck to sip my coffee and drink in the beauty of the morning. The sun is just coming up and reflects on the water, turning it to molten silver. A slight haze softens the edges of the islands in the distance. Perfect time for a walk through hushed streets, sharing them with other early risers, shopkeepers starting their days, schoolchildren darting along quiet alleyways on their way to class.
In July and August, Spetses will be thronged with people on holiday, but for now, it is still serene and I am one of the few people wandering about. The fishmongers are all friendly and soon laughter fills the air as they try to teach me the names of their fishes in Greek, and the sounds that obviously are coming out of my mouth have absolutely no resemblance to the words they are trying to teach me at all!
Spetses is left behind as we continue on to the beautiful bay for swimming and kayaking. This time we all know the water is going to be chilly, but jump in anyway. Part of this is peer pressure for those standing on the swim platform are soundly ridiculed until they too, take the plunge into the clear waters. The debate continues about the color: definitely not turquoise, too inky blue for that, but still, that tantalizing hint of green. While we play in the crystal depths, the chef has created yet another masterful display of too-beautiful-to-eat cuisine, this time with a seafood theme.
But, like before, the display soon becomes one of sounds of delight, followed by groans from overeating. Then it is time to relax as our captain takes us on to Hydra. Hydra is simply enchanting. The bay around which the port is built is small and a breakwater protects the inner harbor. White Knight has dropped her anchor and backs up to the dock in the traditional “Mediterranean” manner, so we can use the passerele (walkway) to leave the yacht and step off onto the quay. As we start our stroll, we notice not just the beauty of the area, the many tavernas and shops, but the sound of…quiet. For there are no motor vehicles on Hydra.
Well, actually, there are, but only the small garbage trucks which go out in the early hours of the morning, then disappear back to their area. Everything else is moved by donkey or horse. Everywhere you look you see them, carrying tourists, luggage, building materials, the wares to the marketplace. But what you don’t see is, er, evidence that the mode of transportation here is 4-hoofed, not 4-wheel drive. That is because the owners are very scrupulous about immediately stopping and sweeping up after their donkey. The quiet sound of hoofbeats, versus the noise of cars or the ever present scooters on the other islands is enough to make you want to spend your entire holiday here.
The winding, narrow streets intrigued us and we explored the village until almost sunset when we walked along the ocean to the next little fishing village, where we had agreed to meet to watch the sun settle into the ocean. Magical, simply magical. Though there were a couple of lovely restaurants along the ocean, we decided to return to Hydra to eat at a very secluded taverna that one of our party had discovered. The food was excellent, well-seasoned with laughter. Ambling back to White Knight, we had almost reached the safety of our floating home when Greece reached out and grabbed us.
The music of a bouzouki, the traditional stringed instrument so loved by the Greeks, drifted out from one of the pubs and like a siren song, lured us through the doors. By the time we finally stumbled back to our yacht, we had all, with varying degrees of success, tried several Greek traditional dances.
The crew served breakfast the next morning to a very sparse seating, as several of our group lingered in bed until late. Hydra does have a Historical Archive and Museum (again, call ahead to make sure it is open) and a few monasteries scattered throughout the hills, plus several old windmills, but does not boast the great wealth of antiquities for the history buff that some of the other islands do. Its charm comes from the lack of motor vehicles, and the chance to walk for miles along winding paths overlooking the ocean, without fear of being run over by someone on a motor scooter!
We leave Hyrda to make our way to Aegina, our final port before returning to Athens. On the way we stop and anchor by Poros, not the town this time, but further along the coastline, off the beach at Askeli. Touted as being one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Argosaronic, the general consensus was that if this was the most beautiful beach, who ever had written the guidebook would go into sensory overload if they ever stepped foot on any of the beaches in South Florida. But the water beckons us to abandon our places in the sun and frolic in its chilly depths of…what color is it, anyway? It changes as the light plays across it…as soon as you think you have identified the color, it turns a different shade.
After lunch, our captain heads White Knight toward Aegina, while we turn our heads toward our pillows for a nap. Aegina has had an up and down history, as it emerged during the 5th century BC as a serious rival to Athens before losing the power struggle that followed. Forcibly re-populated by the Athenians, the new inhabitants seemed to have decided that it was safer to grow pistachio nuts than dream of power. Indeed, Aegina is still the top producer of pistachios in all of Greece. In 1829 Aegina briefly again came to the fore when it became the first capital of the Greek state…before losing out to Athens a second time.
The island’s major draw is the Temple of Aaphaia, built in the 5th century. Named after a minor daughter goddess of Zeus, it is perched on a hill about six miles outside of Aegina Town, and is one of the best preserved in Greece, with a unique 2-story inner colonnade. The other major temple of interest is the Temple of Zeus, but only the foundations survive. Arriving at Aegina, we anchor off the quaint fishing village of Perdika. As the sun slowly disappeared, we gather on the aft deck, savoring our last sunset in Greece.
Our adventure is drawing to a close and we are a much more restrained than previous evenings. The road in Perdika is raised above the quayside, overlooking the port. Tavernas line up in a row on one side, with little tables set up along the seafront on the other, perfect for lingering over our final dinner while admiring White Knight, lights ablaze, across the water.
The next day we return to Athens, and find ourselves once again on the aft deck, surrounded by our luggage, which had grown heavier in the past days with the treasures we had purchased for our friends who weren’t able to join us. Indeed, we were all a bit heavier, thanks to the incredible food we ate while onboard.
We concluded that we had been correct, the Argosaronic Islands were perfect. Perfect for a quick charter holiday, before or after the Olympics of 2004, or for a longer time, so you could linger in the villages or spend a bit more time playing in the water at a secluded anchorage. Homeward bound, I know we all looked down from our planes at the places we had visited and wished that our time was just starting again, rather than being a recent memory. But then again, there is always next time…..
Paradise FOUND -Yacht charters in Panama
If your idea of paradise is a scattering of islands, many of them uninhabited, covered with coconut palm and ringed with white sand beaches, then perhaps you have found it. Paradise. Running from the Golfo de San Blas to Cape Tiburon on the border of Columbia, the San Blas Islands lie nestled safely in azure waters, protected on one side by a reef holding back the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and guarded on the other side by the towering, tree covered mountains of Panama.
The San Blas archipelago lies outside the direct influence of the Caribbean trade winds, and is south of hurricane threats. Dry season normally runs from December through April, when bright sunshine prevails and the winds can blow 25-20 knots. Safe within the protective reef, the islands are sheltered from the waves and only when a yacht leaves the protected embrace of the area will it feel the force of the wind-driven water. Rainy season has drastically reduced breezes and gray skies punctuated alternately by short squalls and brilliant sunshine.
The islands and coastal forest are inhabited by people of the Comarca de San Blas or Kuna Yala, as they refer to it. They appear to be little changed from the times before the Spanish Conquista, a direct result of the legendary tenacity of the Kuna people. According to their oral tradition, the Kuna’s forefathers lived in the Darien mountains of Panama. It is believed that they numbered between 500,000 and 750,000 at the time of the Spanish arrival. Whether it was pressure from other tribes or from the Spanish invaders, the majority of Kunas moved to the coast and later to the offshore islands.
After suffering from inroads from outsiders, the Kunas rebelled in 1925, killing many Panamanian policemen and children of mixed blood living in the islands. Finally, in 1938, the government of Panama granted the Kuna leaders almost autonomous control. Even today, the Kuna Indians pay no taxes to Panama even though they are allowed to vote in all Panamanian elections. The Carta Organica, the Kuna constitution, sets the governing principals for the three districts of Kuna Yala, each district is headed by an elected cacique, or high chief. The Kuna nation consists of 49 communities which are home to about 50,000 Kuna Indians today.
Each community elects their own chief, or sahila (pronounced sigh-la) that presides over the local daily congresso., The daily congresso is held in the afternoon in the large council house located on the island. The chief swings in his hammock while everyone else is seated on wooden benches. A complex system of laws exists, with an equally complex system of punishment existing for ignoring or breaking the laws: from fines to being made to sit on a very tiny chair during the daily congresso, to ostracism or even expulsion.
Permits are necessary for seemingly everything, including visiting another village. Of the 49 communities, approximately half are headed by women sahilas. The Kuna society is matrilineal, with new husbands moving into the wife’s compound. The law dictates that the land belongs to all Kunas. This has the benefit that all of the people perceive themselves as co-owners of the islands and the mainland which is Kuna territory.
However, the coconut palms on the islands are all individually owned and the coconuts harvested from the trees provide cash. The Kuna women have their own source of cash…the making and selling of molas. Each mola is an intricately worked reverse appliqué design, measuring from 4” X 4” for small molas to 2’ X 2” for larger ones. Prices depend on the size of the mola, the number of layers and the size of the stitches, anywhere from $1 to several hundred dollars per mola.
Traditionally, the women wear them stitched to the front and back of their blouses. They also create strings of tiny beads, which when wrapped on wrist or leg, create intricate patterns and designs. Another source of cash comes from the “one dollah” to take their picture…so when you go to these wonderful islands and want to take pictures of these beautiful people and their children, bring plenty of single dollar bills! Any time a boat anchors near one of the islands, it is sure to be greeted by at least one (usually more) dugout canoe with Kuna women ready to sell you molas, the men with coconuts, fish, lobsters and sometimes vegetables.
Often the whole family is in the dugout, including the grandma, children and dog! The canoes are sometimes powered by an outboard engine, but even more often it is paddled with hand-made wooden paddles. The constant use of the canoe produces expert boat handlers and extreme stamina, as the dugouts are neither light nor graceful. Perhaps because of this relentless strength, the Kuna people have maintained their reputation as fierce warriors and even today, squatters fear to intrude on Kuna territory.
As a result of their fierce reputation, in a world of shrinking rain forests, the land of Kuna Yala is a notable exception. Kuna huts consist of reeds or canes to form their sides and palm fronds thatching the roof, so no hardwoods are needed for their construction. A small number of trees are used for the making of the dugouts, but the hills remain densely wooded. Farming is subsistence level and cattle are not raised, so the forests will stand for years to come, safe in the care of the Kunas.
The Kuna Indians are a friendly people inhabiting beautiful, fascinating islands and coastal lands that beckon you to explore them.
How many islands make up the San Blas archipelago? Depends on who is telling you, but the numbers run anywhere from 243 to the oh-so-very convenient number of 365, one for each day of the year. Obviously, you won’t have time to visit them all, plus some interesting places on the mainland territory of Kuna Yala, so we will introduce you to a few delectable choices here. The north part of the San Blas Islands are defined by Punto San Blas, an arm of land reaching out from the mainland, as if striving to touch the islands so close to it, wrapping the Golfo de San Blas in its protective embrace.
The island of Porvenier lies a short distance from the end of the Punta San Blas and features a small airstrip, which is an excellent place for guest and charter yacht to rendezvous. While Porvenier has no village, immediately to the south lie Wichubhuala and Nalunega. The huts are so close together and so near the waters edge, that viewed from the sea, they appear to be holding onto each other to keep from spilling into the ocean. Plenty of molas and other crafts for sale, with bright-eyed children everywhere, some shy and curious, others wanting you to take their picture for the inevitable “one dollah”.
The Chichime Cays lie about 4 miles to the northeast of Porvenier and have become so popular with visiting yachts that the Kunas sometimes call them Puerto Yate. They have no village, merely a few huts scattered in the thick groves of coconut palms. There is a deep pool between the islands, protected by a shallow reef that extends toward the ocean. Excellent snorkeling is to be found on the lee side of this reef.
A bit further to the north and east of the Chichime Cays lie the Holandes Cays, Kaimon in Kuna. There are sixteen palm clad islands, wrapped by sugary white sand beaches, drifting in the clear protected water of a seven mile long area of fringing reef. Divers and snorkelers might never be enticed back out of the water, once they have experienced this enchanting area. However, divers should note: fishing is strictly prohibited while on scuba. Beyond the Holandes Cays lies the Coco Bandero Cays.
They continue the “perfect island” phenomenon of small islands, azure waters providing the perfect setting for these jewels, each more stunning than the last. The biggest problem is deciding which one to visit next. Tearing yourself away from the outlying islands, you will surely want to return to the Punta San Blas and explore the inner islands, plus some of the delights to be found on the mainland territory of Kuna Yala. Sheltered under the arm of Punta San Blas is Tadarguanet Island, Kuna for “where the sun sets”.
Tupsuit Dumat (also called Alitupu) is a good base for exploring the nearby rivers on the mainland, there are two that are worth exploring. The first is Rio Torti, with a cemetery on the right, almost as soon as you enter. Kuna cemeteriea are usually close to the rivers. Thatched roofs on poles shade the deep clay graves where the deceased are buried in hammocks, accompanied by everyday utensils for the afterlife. The other river is Rio Mandinga, noteworthy because of its vast number and variety of birdlife.
Nurdupu lies to the east of the Tadarguanet islands and almost directly south of Porvenier. Nurdupu has all the aspects of the perfect tropical island. Huts are in shady spots under breadfruit trees and coconut palms. Many of the coconut palms have been pierced to take the levers of sugar can presses to make the juice for chichi. Chicha is a mild alcoholic drink from fermented sugar cane juice. Collecting the cane, pressing the juice and then several days of tasting the fermenting concoction terminates in two or three days of celebration, such as the Kuna Independence Revolution Day.
Rio Sidra, though sounding like a river, is actually an island consisting of two villages, Mamartupu and Urgandu. Both villages have their own chiefs. Also of interest is that Rio Sidra is heavily populated and has an airstrip which receives several flights a day, making it an excellent place to start or end your charter. Rio Diablo lies further east and is home to not one, but two airstrips. The name of Rio Diablo is found on the charts, however, the two villages comprising the bridged community. One is known as Naragana in Panamanian and Yandup in Kuna, the other is Corazon de Jesus in Panamanian and Akuanusatupu in Kuna. Just a bit confusing!
Extensive outer reefs smooth the inshore waters from Punta Brava to Achutupu. Within these protected waters is Airligandi, a heavily populated island with several restaurants, a hotel and a clinic. The nearby river of Rio Nasadi is a nice excursion, with its large stands of bamboo and mango trees to wander through. Continuing down the coast, one comes upon Ustupu, the largest village in San Blas.
Home to about 8,000 people, not counting children, with a bridge connecting it to Ogopsukum, home to an additional 2,000 inhabitants. Several flight a day land on the two airstrips, one located on the island and the other on the mainland. Sugandi Tiwar is a nearby river that should bwe explored. Its estuary is marked by the hulks of giant trees washed down during the flood of 1925 which forced the village to move from the mainland to Ustupu.
There are large cemeteries on both sides of the river and in the afternoon hours, the bird activity is positively raucous. The Kunas call Isla Pinos: Tupbak, or “whale”, for its resemblance to a giant beached whale. For centuries the 400’ high island has served as a landmark and landfall for mariners. This protected yet easily entered and exited anchorage made a perfect base for buccaneers working the Spanish Main, especially the gold transport shipments. Later, new England schooners would come to purchase coconuts. Today, yachts continue to enjoy it and visit the two villages located there.
Sukunya is the Kuna word for the small penisula that the Spanish called Punta Escoses. Escoses is the Spanish word for “Scottish”. In 1698 the Scotts attempted to establish a colony there, starting with an expedition of 1200 people. Defeated by starvation and disease, they returned home, passing two ships carrying reinforcements from Scotland. They too, gave up and returned to Scotland in 1702. Of the 2,800 people involved, over 2,000 perished. Only a boat channel hacked out of the coral limestone and a length of moat remains of what was once Fort Andrews.
Today, the San Blas Islands wait to be discovered and explored. Perfect tropical islands, winding, shaded rivers, protected azure waters, history, dense rainforests, friendly people…the San Blas Islands and the territory of Kuna Yala. Paradise Found.
Paradise found…. Heaven on Earth
Do you remember the first time you experienced your first taste of Tahiti? Was it reading “Bali Hai”? Watching “Mutiny on the Bounty”? I remember my first sight like it was yesterday. Standing in the Chicago Art Institute, holding fast to my mother’s hand after a long, cold snowy walk from the train station. Gazing in absolute fascination at beautiful brown skinned ladies with long dark hair and liquid eyes with their arms filled with flowers. I still can feel the warmth that the picture embraced me with. Paul Gauguin, introduced me to Tahiti through his eyes and his colors. Beautiful, warm and serene; yes. But even Gauguin couldn’t paint the complete picture of this mystical place.
The 118 islands of French Polynesia were born from volcanoes about 20 million years ago. The land area of these 118 islands and atolls only adds up to about 1,365 square miles. However, they are sprinkled, like gems, over almost 2 MILLION square miles of ocean in the eastern South Pacific! The islands in the Society, Marquesas, Austral and Gambier Island groups remained high islands, while the islands of the Tuamotu Islands group became atolls. Atolls are formed as volcanoes die and become extinct.
As a volcano becomes extinct, the magma is no longer expelled through the vent. The lava on top collapses, forming a hug caldera basin, which eventually erodes and forms valleys. It is now an island which slowly sinks into the ocean. As is sinks, coral begins to grow on the underwater sides of the island. Over thousands of years, the corals polps build on top of each other, eventually forming barriers hundreds of feet deep that surround the island shore, forming a fringing reef. The old volcanic core still remains underneath the atoll, but all you see is the coral ring, which encircles the lagoon.
The coral rim of the atoll indicates how big the island once was. A series of small coral islets, interspersed with submerged coral reefs, are rarely more than a quarter mile wide and only a few feet above the ocean’s surface. The lagoons inside these coral strips vary from the size of a pond to almost as large as an inland sea.
Polynesian origins are believed to be in the area of eastern Indonesia or the Phillipines about 4,000 years ago. The early Polynesians were master navigators and their migrations took them through Melanesia to the eastern edge of Polynesia, settling there between 1000 BC and 1000 AD.
The very remoteness of the islands of Polynesia kept the people insulated from the rest of the world until Magellan first sighted the Pukapuka Atoll in the Tuamotus in 1521. The Spanish explorer Mendana discovered the Marquesas Islands in 1595. However, true contact between the Polynesians and European explorers did not begin until the discovery of Tahiti by the Englishman Wallis in 1767.
Captain William Bligh and the mutinous crew aboard the H.M.S. Bounty provided a colorful chapter in Tahiti’s history, following their arrival at Point Venus in 1788. The Mutiny on the Bounty saga is well known, as told by co-authors Hall and Nordhoff, two Americans who moved to Tahiti after fighting in World War I. Several Bounty movies have been made, with famous actors such as Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins all taking turns at being the evil Captain Bligh.
The whole episode, of course, centered around the humble breadfruit tree. Bligh decided that the breadfruit, which was the staple diet of the strong, healthy Tahitians, would be a cheap and nourishing means of feeding the slaves used on plantations in the West Indies…and his wife’s uncle just happened to own several large plantation in Jamaica.
The mutiny was the result of the harsh punishments meted out for his men and his insults to his officers. As you might remember, in the final analysis, Captain Bligh was cleared of any guilt for the mutiny and proceeded to sail back to Tahiti. He eventually collected over 2,000 breadfruit trees and took them back to the West Indies. The breadfruit seedlings were planted in St. Vincent and in Port Royal, Jamaica. When the trees grew and began to bear fruit, the Negro slaves refused to eat the starchy breadfruit because they didn’t like the taste.
Paul Gauguin immortalized the beauty of the islands and the women with his paintings. Born in Paris on June 7, 1848, he grew up in a liberal middle-class family. After a stint in the French merchant marine, he became a successful Parisian stockbroker, with a wife and five children. In 1874 he met the artist Camille Pissarro and viewed the first impressionist exhibit, after which he became a collector and amateur painter.
By 1883 he had given up his secure existence to devote himself to painting, forcing his wife and children to return to her family in Denmark, as he sank deep into debt. In 1891, Gauguin sailed for the South Seas to escape European civilization and “everything that is artificial and conventional”. He lived in Tahiti until 1901 when he moved to the Marquesas Islands in search of a primitive culture and savage beauty, and died there in 1903. Buried in Calvary Cemetery on a hill behind Atuona village, a gnarled old frangipani tree stands guard over his grave, and a statue of Oviri, “the savage” stands at the head of the tombstone.
The history you can read, but the beauty must be seen and smelled and felt to fully understand and appreciate the siren call that the islands sing. With 118 islands to embrace, you will find that you must either return many times or move there! Since time is always too short when you are on a charter holiday, and space is also limited for writing an article, rather than a book, we will focus on only a few of the myriad of places that you will eventually want to experience.
The first place you will see will surely be Tahiti, as Papeete is not only the capital of French Polynesia, it also happens to be where the airport is located. Papeete (Pah-pay-eh-tey) is located on Tahiti’s north coast, facing the island of Moorea across the Sea of Moons.
Time permitting, and if the inclination is there, a quick land excursion via a four-wheel drive vehicle will soon have you off the beaten path and up into the mountains and valleys of Tahiti. In a short time you will be going through tropical forests of giant ferns, centuries old Tahitian mape chestnut trees, wild mango and guava trees, and more waterfalls than you can count. One of the most magnificent of these is the Three Cascades of Fa’arumai in Tiarei.
The Vaimahuta waterfall is easily reached in about five minutes by walking across the bridge over the Vaipuu river and following the well defined path under a dense canopy formed by mape and hutu trees. Countless waterfalls cascade in misty plumes and broken curtains down the mountainside, finally tumbling into a crisp, refreshing pool. This is a perfect place for a quick swim to cool off, but make sure you are well armed with mosquito repellent!
The Tuamotu Islands is your destination of choice for your adventure this time. Comprised of 77 atolls and one upraised island, the Tuamotu Archipelago are mere specks of land out in the heart of the trade winds, lost in the vastness of the deep blue of the Pacific. It is as if a careless giant has strewn gemstones across the sea.
Covering 10 latitudes with a total length of 930 miles and a width of 310 miles, these are some of the most remote islands in the world. And are yours to explore and enjoy from the deck of your charter yacht.
This vast collection of coral islets conjures up castaway dreams on a tropical island, tiny green oases floating in the desert of the sea, with names as exotic as the trade winds and coconut trees. Windswept beaches with the sounds of the surf and sea birds for company. Fragrant miki miki shrubs blend perfumes with the aromas of the salt spray. The lagoons shimmer with a brilliance of light and color unsurpassed, and a submerged landscape of untouched magic and awesome beauty awaits beneath the sun-gilded waters tinged with turquoise.
The largest atoll of the Tuamotu Archipelago is Rangiroa, also called Rairoa, means “long sky” in the Paumotu dialect, the language of the Polynesian inhabitants. The coral ring encircling the pear-shaped atoll contains more than 240 motu islets, separated by at least 100 very shallow hoa channels and three passes, two of which are deep and wide enough for ships to enter the lagoon. A vast inland sea measuring approximately 47 miles long and 16 miles wide is surround by Rangiroa.
Cultivation pits and marae temples of coral stone are all that remains today of settlements that existed on Rangiroa during the 14th and 15th centuries. To protect themselves from the aggressive “Parata” warriors from the atoll of Anaa, the Rangiroa inhabitants took refuge on the soughwest side of the atoll, close to the Motu Taeo’o, known as the Blue Lagoon. This village was destroyed by a natural disaster, probably a tsunami, in 1560 and the entire population disappeared.
Today the Blue Lagoon remains as one of the most beautiful places in the world. This lagoon within a lagoon is formed by a natural pool of aquamarine water on the edge of the reef. Your captain will bring you in as close as possible with the launch, but because of the many coral heads, you will need to jump off into the water and wade the rest of the way up to the beach…through a posse of reef sharks.
Not to worry, you will soon get desensitized to their presence and will believing your captain when he tells you that they are just like puppy dogs…lots of puppy dogs! Heaven above water, there is something about the beauty of the water that makes you just have to jump in. More than 400 varieties of rainbow-hued fish glint like ornaments in the iridescent waters, flashing among the jewel-like colors of the hard and soft corals, and the softly waving sea fans.
For those who desire the rush of a more active dive, “shooting the pass” of Tiputa is a favorite excursion, where hundreds of fish, moray eels and shark swim beside and below you, swept along by the strong currents. If you are really lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the rare black and white dolphins that live around the coast of Rangiora. But then again, you are floating in the limpid waters of the most beautiful place in the world, and isn’t that lucky enough?
Time now to say parahi ia (good-bye) and relive the dream until the next time you are able to visit this heaven on earth.