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Offshore Sailing

Under Swiss Flag - Offshore sailing with kids aboard S/Y Yuana

6:80 min TWO:21

As I write this article in late May 2021, it is just three years that we sighted the beam of the Flores lighthouse, late evening, after 17 days out on the Atlantic Ocean. It was pitch dark when we dropped anchor in the outer harbor of Lajes das Flores and tried to get some sleep in an uncomfortable swell. Once docked in the port the following day, Portuguese ‘Guarda Nacional Republicana’ came aboard to check our passports. We were now officially back in Europe.

Another issue, however, came up as summer vacation was over: homeschooling. We had thought that one parent could deal with two school kids, a second and a fourth grader, at the same time. But it wasn’t like that. Soon we learned that it took two of us to do math or English with two kids. Double teachers lead to the challenge of having two teachers agree on a common teaching style. It wasn’t that easy, but we managed. A yacht is actually an ideal place for homeschooling: Every time you move on, there is something new for the students to experience, whether it’s volcanos or what the inside of the fish caught for dinner looks like.

 

''When I asked locals why they wouldn’t develop towards soft tourism, they attributed it to political rules that seem to change with each new government, making the place unattractive for foreign investors.'' 

We loved the British yacht clubs in July 2017, Spanish tapas and wines in August, the Portuguese Islands of Porto Santo and Madeira in September, and still-warm Canary weather in October, well before the pandemic. In November 2017, we prepared for our first Atlantic crossing in Tenerife, with 30 other boats and the help of the great sailing master Jimmy Cornell. After a stopover in Cabo Verde and a calm passage, we arrived in Barbados in early December.

We enjoyed the first cold beer in a Barbados beach bar, tasty plates, enchanting steel drum music, air and water at a cozy 28°C, bare feet in the sand, kids from all boats playing in the waves or chilling under palm trees. With my wife and many happy friends around me, I quietly sat there and realized that this exactly was what I had been preparing for almost every evening for the past three years – mind-blowing.

After a gear farewell party, each ship went its own way to explore the West Indies. We headed for the Tobago Cays Marine Park where yachts anchor inside a reef, a truly breathtaking place. First thing in the morning often was to jump off the boat for a swim amidst fish of every color and turtles. Boat boys from nearby islands came alongside to offer fresh fish, delicious banana bread and all kinds of fruits. The radio was very helpful in these places for calling a laundry service or booking a table for dinner. Local authorities didn’t care that this kind of chatter ran over the emergency frequency, day in day out.

We loved gorgeously nutmeg-spiced drinks in Grenada and sandy islands with coconut palms in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Some places were paradise. When I asked locals why they wouldn’t develop towards soft tourism, they attributed it to political rules that seem to change with each new government, making the place unattractive for foreign investors. On the private island of Mustique, however, everything was organized and worked well. Mustique is a place that can only be reached by private plane or yacht. We sat in where very famous singers and actors dine together privately.

Then came Saint Lucia, where cruising friends tempted us to continue through Panama and into the Pacific instead of sailing back to Europe. It took us several days to weigh all criteria, and decision was difficult. Finally, we stayed true to our original plan (the friends circumnavigated and are still sailing today). The French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe are politically part of the European Union. In our impressions, the locals in former colonies that were not returned enjoy a better standard of living today than those who became independent again. Whether they are happier is a different question. What we particularly liked about the French islands was the combination of Caribbean beaches and French food, such as soft cheese.

 

''Today, three years after the completion of our trip, it is still a frequent topic at the dinner table. Two Atlantic crossings have helped sharpen the children’s minds and the parents’ characters.''

We were also glad to reach Guadeloupe because of its solid health system. Days before, we had been horseback riding in Dominica. Unfortunately, our horses were frightened by a bull being chased by our own horse group leader’s dog. Two of us fell, and my wife broke her coccyx. This painful incident restricted our activities for the next few weeks, and we were suddenly unsure whether or not we could sail back to Europe. Staying in the Caribbean beyond May can be dangerous because of the upcoming hurricane season. Fortunately, everything went well in the end.

Antigua definitely is a great place to be. It was the skipper’s highlight to dock his boat at the history-loaded Nelson’s Dockyard. Antigua is blessed with 365 turquoise beaches, one for every day of the year. There, too, yachts can anchor in front of most exclusive hotels and enjoy their private beaches because the elegant ships create beautiful scenery for the hotel guests. So it’s a give and take, as long as privacy is respected.

St Kitts and Nevis was the smallest country visited, with 55.000 inhabitants only. This small country has built pontoons for large cruise ships and polished its main streets. Nowadays, they are successful with generating income from such kind of tourism. Another great thing about sailing is that you will meet boating folks of all stripes, each with their individual and economic background, all dedicated to sailing. Some marina neighbors who invited us for a drink were among those who bought vacation homes as a memento of a particular place, while others had to consider whether they could afford a postcard to remember the beautiful area. Conversation typically starts with things like boat maintenance or sail handling. Here we all share the same topics. This is how very different folks find each other, and you quickly realize that the others are more interesting or much more similar to yourself than initially thought - fantastic.

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