Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Antarctic Video Update

 The following link will bring up the custom video from the Antarctic section of our voyage.  It is pretty good, and Patrick is visible three times, from the back, if you can identify him.  One in the kayaks and twice in a blue Helly Hansen parka.  Only we know where he is!


Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Caribbean and Home

 The Caribbean and Home


After our stop at Devils Island, Seabourn Quest headed north to Barbados, the first stop on the Caribbean segment of our Grand Americas voyage.


March 18 – At Sea enroute Barbados


Sunday, March 19, 2023 - Barbados


After a day at sea, the ship docked in Barbados, joined by three other cruise ships, including one new cruise ship looking like a large blue yacht, the Ritz Carlton Evrima.  Just as in many of the ports where we dock, the ports also handle commercial cargo, so we are often bussed to a terminal at the port entrance where we meet up with our shore excursions or shuttles to the town center.  Patrick and one other couple hired a taxi and drove to the northern end of the island, about 25 KM away, to St. Nicholas Abbey, a sugar mill and rum distillery that has been in existence for 350 years.  The Jacobean era mansion dating to the 1600’s is well preserved and the main floor is restored as a museum period piece with traditional furniture.

Original windmill for sugar

St. Nicholas Abbey Manor House

Period furniture in manor house

Original pots for boiling sugar cane juice for sugar

Rum Casks for aging, using american charred bourbon casks for color and flavor


The windmill (and later steam) powered sugar mill utilized slave labor until the British abolished slavery in 1833, but evidence suggests the freed African slaves were still treated like slaves until the mid 1880’s, a dark side of Barbados history.


We tasted the rum produced by the distillery but decided that even the least expensive bottle of 5 year old rum was not worth it at $70 per bottle.


Following our tour, the driver took the beach route back to Bridgetown, past massive villas, most gated.  We passed the one belong to Rihanna, the singer, who is a native of Barbados and revered by the in habitants.  There is even a Rihanna street, located where she grew up in a poor community in Bridgetown.


Today is Sunday, so most shops in Bridgetown were closed, so after the beach drive we headed to Carlisle Bay and the beach.  The admission fee was $10, which gave you a shared umbrella and a beach chair.  After the drive and tour of St. Nicholas Abbey we were a little hungry, so ordered fried flying fish and coconuts spiked with rum and then had a brief swim in the warm waters before returning to the ship, which departed at 1700, for our next stop, Martinique.


Carlisle Bay Beach

Our beach waiter

Monday, March 20, 2023 – Martinique


Seabourn Quest docked at the French island of Martinique shortly after 0800, with rain and brisk winds threatening the snorkeling expedition planned for that day.  While we were waiting to go ashore, and massive P&O ship, the ARVIA, new in 2022, docked alongside us.  The ship held 6,000 passengers and 1,800 crew and provided shade all day, towering over Seabourn Quest.


Twenty five of us headed down the dock and boarded the snorkeling boat.  We headed across the harbor to the “Bat Cave”, our first stop.  The weather cooperated and the sun provided good visibility to see a number of colorful fish.  After one hour we moved to another location and anchored in front of a beach where we swam above massive sea turtles feeding on the vegetation on the bottom, about 12 feet below us.  The weather remained sunny, but the brisk winds gave us a wet ride back to the ship, but the rum punch and other rum drinks took off the edge, since we were wet anyway.

Seabourn Quest had a ABBA themed Sail Away party on the pool deck and the passengers on the ARVIA participated, waving and dancing on their balconies along with us.  There were more of them just on that side than the entire number of passengers on our ship.  When we departed they were still singing and dancing along with us.

Colorful decorated doors

Colorful Streets

Seabourn Quest looks small next to P&O Arvia

Arvia Guests celebrating our Sailaway Party with us


March 21, 2023 – St. Johns, Antigua


Our arrival into St. Johns was delayed by one hour, since we were the last and smallest of five cruise ships docked in the harbor.  Nonetheless, most shore excursions were only slightly delayed, including our kayak and snorkeling excursion to the windy west side of the island.  The kayaks were all sit upon doubles and the paddle was in the mangrove swamps.  We paddled upwind first, but only saw a few thinks, like conchs in the shallow water near the mangroves.  After a one hour paddle we stopped at a stingray feeding station and saw the large stingrays swimming below us, before heading to Bird Island, a nature preserve, where we snorkeled in very warm water around coral formations in surprisingly good shape.  Returning to the pier we had time for a brief shoreside walk before the ship sailed at 1700.


March 22, 2023 – Carambola Beach, St. Kitts


Seabourn Quest arrived off Carambola Beach at 0900 and anchored a few thousand feet from the jetty and tender dock.  Seabourn had reserved the Carambola Beach Club for the entire day and spent much of the morning shuttling supplies ashore for the BBQ and beach celebration, including their signature “Caviar in the Surf” event.  The caviar was served from a paddle board in chest deep water and the caviar was delivered from the ship by the Captain driving a Zodiac right to the beach.  Many of us walked into the water for our caviar, and the waiters were also in the water pouring champagne into chilled  glasses.  A large tent housed tables for the meal, which featured BBQ (broiled) spiny lobsters and all the side dishes, including burgers, sausages, salads, etc.  The setting was informal, lats of bare feet and swimsuits as we enjoyed the food and company.  By 1630, we had returned to the ship, the beach was restored and we headed for San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Some of the aftermath from the Caviar in the surf

Preparing for the Caviar


Thursday, March 23, 2020 – San Juan, Puerto Rico


As sunrise approached, Seabourn Quest approached the harbor entrance, passing beneath the imposing mass of Castillo San Felipe del Morro “El Morro”, the citadel protecting the harbor entrance to the natural harbor.  The ship docked at the foot of old San Juan, so it was walking distance to both fortress San Cristobal and El Morro, as well as the colorful streets of the old town, with many restaurants and shops.  The ship docked shortly after 0800.

Cannon at Castillo San Cristobal

Imposing ramparts of Castillo San Cristobal

Display of cannon balls

Castillo San Felipe del Morro “El Morro” as we departed San Juan

Flags at El Morro

Governors Mansion

Cannon at El Morro

Sentry Post, El Morro

Colorful building and streets with outdoor dining

Typical street in old San Juan

Iguana guarding El Morro

The old town was crowded with visitors, especially since a large cruise ship with 6,000 passengers docked a few minutes after we arrived.


Disembarking was delayed for a 100% immigration check of all passengers and all crew.  We not allowed back on the ship until 100% of the passengers had been cleared.  That process took until 1000, when we allowed back on board after waiting in a large drafty terminal until the process finished.  Following that, the ship had a US Public Health inspection and a USCG safety inspection, with crew drills which took until 1330 to complete.  Meanwhile, guest services, like restaurants were either closed or had limited services.


At 1700, Seabourn Quest sailed out of the harbor and set a course for Miami, 2 sea days away, passing north of Cuba and east of the Bahamas.


The evening culminated with a special “Route 66” celebration for the 163 passengers on board for the entire voyage.  The dinner was typical diner food, with burgers, lobster rolls, pulled pork sandwiches, potato and macaroni salads and desserts.  The crew was lined up on both sides as we entered, all dressed in 50’s and 60’s costumes.






Saturday, March 18, 2023

Devils Island, French Guiana

 March 16, 2023 – Cruising the North Atlantic towards Devils Island


By 0500 we had crossed the Barre Norte and altered course to the north towards the Salvation or Safety Islands (Iles du Salut), the location in French Guiana of the infamous Devils Island penal colony.  The Salvation Islands lie offshore from Kourous, close to the European Space Agency’s spaceport.  We would be close enough to see a launch if one were scheduled, but sadly, none are.

March 17, 2023 – Devils Island, French Guiana


Iles du Salut or Salvation Islands

Devils Island was a French penal colony which remained in use from 1852-1952.  It is located some 10 NM offshore from Kourous.  More than 56,000 prisoners, mostly male were imprisoned over the course of it’s existence, with more than 90% dying.  The prison actually was on three islands, Ile Royale which was the administrative center and where most prisoners were located, Ile Sainte Joseph, where the solitary confinement cells were located, and Devils Island (Ile du Diable), where the most known inmate, Frenchman Albert Dreyfus, wrongly accused of treason, spent 4 years in solitary confinement.  Very few people escaped, since the island group, known as “The Salvation Islands” or Iles du Salut, has treacherous currents and the waters are shark infested.  In addition, all trees were cut down to prevent prisoners from making rafts.  Prisoners who died were thrown into the sea to ensure the sharks remained close to the islands.  The cemetery contains only guards and their families.  The 1973 and 2017 films “Papillon” dramatized the story of one successful escapee, whose story is now being questioned, since French Archives, recently opened, do not show he was ever on Devils Island.


Today the trees have regrown and Ile Royale boasts a hotel located in the former administrative center and campground on the main square.  There is ferry service to the mainland.  No visitors are allowed on Devils Island, but we will take zodiacs to Ile Sainte Joseph and tenders to Ile Royale.  Ile Royale is better preserved and restored, with extensive signage explaining what is still present.  The island has a large church and a post office, only for residents.  There are two swimming areas constructed by the prisoners, one for guards and one for prisoners.  People were swimming in both and camping in some of the buildings, with hammocks covered with netting slung from the ceilings.  Viewing the partially restored cells, including those on death row was sobering.  The guillotine that was used for executions has been removed.


Butchery on the shores of Ile Royale

One of the solitary confinement cells on Ile Royale

Grim solitary confinement

Prisoners swimming area - Ile Royale

Soiltary Confinement house for Albert Dreyfus on Ile du Diable

Guards cemetery on Ile Royale

Interior of Church - decorated by prisoners

Some of the prisoner paintings in church

Church on Ile Royale

Ile Saint Joseph is in a natural state of decay, with trees growing up through the buildings and the 150 solitary confinement cells.  Many of the cells only had bars for a roof, so the prisoners were exposed to the elements all the time.  In another few decades, it will be difficult to even see the crumbling ruins underneath the tropical vegetation.  There is a small group of buildings still used by the French military and off limits to the public.

Debris from crumbling ruins on Ile Saint Joseph

Trees growing through walls

Interior of Solitary confinement cells

One of the many corridors for the 150 solitary confinement cells

The prison looks better from the outside, Ile Saint Joseph

Many of the cells only had bars for a roof, open to elements

This stairwell to the cells was the last open air many prisoners had as they experienced “hell on earth”


Ile du Diable, where the solitary confinement building housing Alfred Dreyfus from 1895-99, is off limits to all visitors, although the building has been preserved and can be photographed from Ile Royale.



Brazil, the Amazon Part 4

 March 13, 2023 – Boca dos Botos and Parantins


Seabourn Quest steamed overnight and anchored at 0730 in front of a elementary school and a small tributary leading miles inland to a lake.  The current was running at 4-5 knots, so the loading platform had a wake where the vertical supports entered the water.  This stop was for zodiac tours only, and six zodiacs proceeded up the narrow tributary, where the current was from the Amazon River into the lake.  There was a fair amount of development, with cattle, horses, and some cultivation such as Acai palms, passion fruit, bananas, and Brazil nuts.  The Brazil nut trees are protected and cannot be legally cut down.


There was abundant bird life and we could hear, but not see Howler Monkeys.  Sharp eyes from our expedition leader spotted a Sloth, and then another zodiac spotted a second Sloth.  After several hours we returned to the ship for the second wave of zodiac tours.


Amazonian Kingfisher

Sloth in top of tree

Local elementary schoolchildren greeting us at Boca dos Botos

Turkey Vulture

Local Fisherman

Boca dos Botos tributary

By 1200 the tours were finished and the ship weighed anchor and headed 10 NM further downstream to the small city of Paratins.  The city provided two vessels used as tenders and guests went ashore for a variety of activities.  The city was small, with several churches, and a convention center.  Paratins sits on an island and is only accessible by air or water.  Paratins is home the the annual Boi Bumba Festival, the second largest celebration in Brazil behind Rio’s Carnival.  Guests were greeted dockside by local Boy Scouts.  A special production of the Boi Bumba festival was held in the afternoon at the convention center.  By 1730 the last tender trip arrived back at the ship and we had a caviar sail away party on the pool deck as the ship headed for the next destination.


Sculpture honoring Black African presence in the Amazon 

Typical Cafe in Paratins

Our tenders in Paratins

March 14, 2023 – Alter de Chao, Brazil


The ship approached the anchorage in pre-dawn darkness and anchored about one mile from the beach at the resort community of Alter de Chao, some 35 KM from Santarem, up the Tapajos River.  After a brief delay clearing the ship, Patrick proceeded ashore with 25 other guests in 3 zodiacs for a wet landing on a white sand beach, followed by a hike through the savannah into a nature preserve, culminating in a scramble up a very steep switchback trail to the top of Serra Piroco.  At the summit is a iron cross placed by local Jesuits, where mass is often celebrated.  We looked for wildlife, but the hot sun kept them out of sight.

Flooded Restaurants at Alter de Chao

 View of Alter De Chao from Serra Piroco

Returning to the beach area, we were able to swim in the warm waters of the Rio Tapajos before returning to the ship.  The ships tenders went to the main town, also with beaches.  During the dry season, people can walk from Alter de Chao to the spit where the zodiacs landed, but during the wet season, much of the spit is flooded, with the bars and restaurants partially under water.  Later in the afternoon one of the ship’s tenders had a severe engine failure with a minor fire due to a piston failure.  That tender will be out of service for tendering until the engine is repaired or replaced, but remains safe as a lifeboat.  There are three other tenders and a total of 12 zodiacs for shore excursions as we proceed out of the Amazon River.  Alter do Chao is our last port in Brazil and the Amazon River.  Most of the 163 passengers booked for full Grand Voyage gathered on the bow with the crew for a photo shoot and cocktail party as the ship weighed anchor and headed past Santarem towards the mouth of the river.  Later that evening the rain started, heavy at times and continued overnight.


March 15, 2023 – Cruising the Amazon


Rain and fog continued overnight, with the foghorn periodically sounding.  This is a sea day, with lectures about upcoming stops filling the day.  Of particular interest was the lecture on Devils Island, our next stop.  


As we proceeded further downstream, with occasional heavy rain showers we took our last looks at the flooded rainforests lining the banks of the river.  About 1730 the Amazon River pilots departed near the city of Macapa and after midnight Seabourn Quest approached the shallow Barre Norte, or north bar of the Amazon River.