Barracuda's Blog

The adventures of Kate and Graham and our OVNI 395.

14 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
13 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
12 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
11 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica
09 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
07 January 2018 | St Pierre, Martinique
06 January 2018 | Saint Pierre, Martinique
05 January 2018 | Anse Mitan, Martinique
03 January 2018
02 January 2018 | Grand Anse D’Arlet, Martinique
01 January 2018 | Petit Anse D’Arlet, Martinique
31 December 2017
31 December 2017 | Petit Anse D’Arlet, Martinique
30 December 2017 | Rodney Bay Marina, St Lucia
28 December 2017 | Rodney Bay Marina, St Lucia
27 December 2017 | Rodney Bay Marina, St Lucia
26 December 2017 | Approaching St Lucia
25 December 2017 | Bequia, SVG
24 December 2017 | Bequia, SVG
23 December 2017 | Chatham Bay, Union Island, SVG

The Social Swirl of Dominica

14 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
Another squally couple of days, but the forecast is now for a more normal local weather pattern – moderate winds from the east, one downpour a day and sunshine for the remainder. Our southbound friends left before dawn this morning, making for Martinique, and five boats have just upped anchor for the north and Guadeloupe, at the more civilized hour of 10.30. We plan to stay till tomorrow – or whenever our laundry comes back from Avin’s niece’s friend’s house – and then we too will head north for either the Isles des Saintes or Marie Galante, depending on tomorrow's wind angle. In the meantime, there is a rumour that there may be one of the famous PAYS BBQs on the beach tonight.

Another sociable couple of days have passed. Cockpit conversations always seem to get round to water-maker performance, fuel consumption and fishing. Our water-maker has never performed quite as we would like, in that it has either made very nice tasty water slowly or salty tasting water much more quickly. Frank on Infinity B is a bit of an expert on the subject so came round to diagnose the problem – we think we now have a solution, so thank you Frank! We look forward to our next meeting.

In between the visits to other people’s boats we managed to get to the Saturday market here to stock up a bit. There’s plenty of lettuce, tomatoes, tough-skinned cucumbers and yams, but that’s about it – if it grew on or below the ground it survived Maria, but if it grew on vines or trees it was destroyed. And anything we buy has been a fight to grow, so our veg stock-up was pricey… The only fruit available is apples imported from France (non!) or teeny pineapples, which are scarce enough to command a gold-plated price.

Lunch with Intrepid B at the roti shop, then a walk up to the fort on the hillside (Fort Shirley) with Minnie B, which is also an OVNI 395. We first met Phil and Norma of Minnie B at the Southampton Boat Show in 2009 when we were looking at Barracuda; since then we have just kept in touch by blog and email, comparing notes and absorbing their wisdom (they have been slowly round the world in Minnie B), so it has been lovely to actually see them here in the flesh and to get a tour of Minnie B. Finally, a thank you-and-farewell to Brisa before their pre-dawn start - great Dark 'n' Stormies!

Q&A Time (1)

13 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
We have had a few questions from our friends about on life aboard so we thought we would do some Q&A from time to time. If you have a questions about life on Barracuda feel free to ask by submitting a comment, and we will see if we can come up with a coherent answer.

Q - So, Jill, you wanted tales from the sink? Kate responds:

Re clothing: This is a game of two halves; the first half was thermal underwear, long sleeves, long trousers, buffs and fleeces, boots and oilies. Almost all of these are now stashed away in waterproof bags under our bunks. We splashed out on new oilies last year but they have been sitting in the wet-locker since A Coruna; if it rains, I put on my pac-a-mac. The only items I haven't used are a couple of fleece hats and my sailing gloves. Maybe we don't spend enough time at the wheel (but then who stills steers their boat for very long these days when you have autopilots and wind pilots!).

The second half has of course been shorts (5), t-shirts (14), and lots of swimwear, plus a couple of go-ashore dresses for marinas. In a bit of a panic before leaving Las Palmas I did buy a pair of special Musto sailing shorts with a reinforced bum. I have already worn through two pairs of normal shorts this trip through sitting on our teak cockpit seats for hours on end. Heavily patched, they still have years of life in them, but G seems to think they bring him into disrepute.

Both G and I have donated some jeans, long trousers, and less-loved shirts and t-shirts to the shelter here, together with a surprising number of pairs of surplus crocs and flip-flops. Oh, and we do tend to live in crocs when afloat. Stylish or what?

Re cash: Before setting out we got a Halifax Clarity credit card, which can be used overseas without currency charges. It has been great; it's worked everywhere so far, for cash and purchases - and we haven't yet found ourselves without an ATM. St Lucia and the Grenadines use East Caribbean dollars (lovely colourful notes with a very young QEII pictured on them). Then Martinique has the Euro, it's back to EC for Dominica, back to Euro for Guadeloupe and after that I think it's EC until we get to the Virgin Islands where we are into US$. So we have four purses on the go, each with our different currencies. We also have a VPN set up on our various devices so when we do need to do internet banking, we can do it relatively safely.

Q - Jackie asked - What is it like actually being so far away, in such a different place, but with your own boat there? I cannot imagine, but then if you have bobbed about on every wave and felt every gust of wind between here and there maybe it's not so surreal.
A - (by G) It does all happen slowly and over a long time, so in a way that is a lot of the answer. It is great having your own boat and all your stuff, however minimal. It feels like home. I think that is the big difference between doing this and chartering. That said, we would charter in places that we did not want to sail all the way to. The contrast moving from being an offshore sailing machine to becoming an island-hopping caravan is interesting, though: offshore we have so many lines rigged and many other bits of kit on deck, small and large. For island-hopping we have a much simpler set up; no Windy P, no coloured sails, no night passages. Most of our time is now spent at anchor rather than sailing, so comfort and domestic matters come to the fore. Just now we are charging the batteries, making water, defrosting the fridge and cooking up the stuff we found in the bottom of the fridge into a curry (not so glamorous now!).

The social side is interesting - you get to meet and know so many people on the road that you are never lonely and have a constantly evolving social life. It's never boring. When passage-making, the internet (via our sat phone) is part of our life-support system: it's how we get up-to-date weather forecasts and get/send any vital messages. Once in harbour, though, we move to wifi/mifi & it is a great way to keep in contact with home - we do miss our home and our friends and it is lovely to see what people are doing and to stay connected.

Here is a picture of Agony Aunt Kate ready to answer more questions.

Still here

12 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
We are enjoying taking time out here in Dominica. It does not feel like there is too much rush to do anything. Our plans for moving north are also fairly relaxed, as we don’t want to be at the top of the Bahamas until late April. So, for now, we have all the time in the world to relax and enjoy it.

Let’s talk about the weather for a minute: it’s not quite what we expected! The temperature day and night is really comfortable, so that is the good part. You rarely feel either too hot or too cool unless a squall has just gone through and soaked you, which they seem to do rather frequently, or you are down below with all hatches closed due to said squalls. We seem to have these big squalls coming through every few hours at the moment, which bring wind and massive amounts of rain. It is also fairly continuously windy which gets a little wearing. But we hear it should all settle down by the weekend to a more normal pattern.

We had a fairly domestic day on the boat yesterday and then in the evening hosted our first OCC (Ocean Cruising Club (our new club)) sun-downers on Barracuda. There are 5 OCC boats in the bay, so a very convivial evening was had on board. You know it’s a good night when your parking area on the back of the boat is getting full – see photo.

Out and about in Dominica

11 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica
We have now enjoyed a couple of days of getting out and about in Dominica. On Tuesday afternoon we took a boat trip up the Indian River with one of the PAYS guides, Avin (son of PAYS guide Albert).

Avin rowed us up-river, among the herons, the egrets, the pelicans and the iguanas (engines are not allowed). This gave us some up close insights to the effects of a category 5+ hurricane. At a distance from the shore you see quite a lot of broken and downed trees but there appears to be a fair covering of greenery. What we now learn is that in many places the entire upper canopy of the rain forest has been snapped off; this time last year we would have been travelling through a tunnel of treetops, but now there's clear sky. After the hurricanes came through, the forest was just broken brown tree stumps, all stripped completely bare of branches and leaves. What is left is showing amazing resilience, and is re-growing at pace - especially the creepers, the palms and the mangroves. It is so fertile here. Many of the seedlings on the ground now have enough light that they can really get going, and positive-thinking Avin says that with the thinning of the forest everything should grow back stronger than before.

Everywhere along the banks you see the signs of chainsaws at work; it was a few weeks' work to clear the river of tree trunks and debris, and what a challenge that was in this environment. Even now we were having to scrape our way round fallen branches in the stream. There is a well-known hang-out called the Bush Bar part-way up river, where it is traditional to stop and enjoy life, but for now it is closed (re-opening shortly!) - there is nothing at the bar but three empty stools, a Bob Marley LP cover and a skull.

It will be some years before the Indian River is how it was, but for now you get to enjoy it with more sunlight than before. The Indian River was used, along with various other locations here, for filming of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we did a full day trip of the island with guide Paul. It was good to see - still very beautiful but so much natural destruction. Many houses without roofs, most villages without power, trees down everywhere, metal roofing sheet scattered to the winds - and all this after a lot of clean-up has been done already. Yet the lovely Dominican people are getting on with rebuilding their island and getting their tourist industry back on track. They are growing what they can and planting things that can grow quickly, such as tomatoes and salads. It will take a while but they will get there. They seem to be very happy to have yachties coming in and we are very happy to support them. We have been trying to see if there is something specific we can support but it seems that coming here, taking trips, using their bars and restaurants and generally supporting their vendors is a major part of helping them get back on track to re-building their future.

North to Dominica

09 January 2018 | Portsmouth, Dominica
Yesterday we left St Pierre early, to head northwards for Dominica - the first of the Leeward Islands. With the wind somewhat to the east, at last we didn't have a hard beat to windward, but once in the open sea there were several big squalls with 35 knot gusts so ended up galloping along with double reefed main and jib, wearing our pac-a-macs under our life jackets. The wind died almost completely once in the lee of Dominica, with just ferocious gusts coming down the valleys we passed. We'd planned to go to Roseau, the capital, and did manage to find out that there were operational mooring buoys and good security there, but it had a complete dearth of yachts there so we pressed on the extra 20 miles up to Portsmouth, in Prince Rupert Bay.

Dominica looked just beautiful: wonderful green hills and cave-drilled cliffs, and constant rainbows breaking through the clouds that cover the rainforest. But looking closer you can see whole hillsides with trunks of trees stripped bare of leaves and branches by last year's hurricane, and the pretty pastel coloured villages by the sea have no roofs to the houses.

Just before Prince Rupert Bay, we were met by Lawrence of Arabia in his red and yellow boat - he's one of the local guide/fishermen/boat boys who is part of the PAYS network. PAYS stands for Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, and was set up by locals who want to ensure good security, sound moorings and pester-free services for yachties - to keep them coming to the island. Then on entering the harbour we were greeted by Avin, another of the PAYS guys, who found us a mooring, and also by the crews of two UK yachts, who had been relaying messages between Avin and ourselves, and who immediately invited us to join them for sundowners ashore at the Purple Turtle.

Well, it is lovely here - but there's so much hurricane damage still to be put right, and so much work already under way putting it right. This is a busy place. A priority was to get income coming back into the economy - so the anchorage has been largely cleared of debris, some of the mooring buoys reinstated, and although some of the dinghy docks are now just lines of spikes, a couple of good solid new ones have been built to help people ashore.

We were trying to find out what we could bring that would be of use, but the PAYS office is not functioning due to damage, and the land-lines are out, and they can't update their website.... Avin tells us though that right now they would really like seeds and seedlings - people, especially in the villages, need to grow their own food, not rely on gifts, to get life together again. Tomatoes, squashes - anything that grows in the region, really. They also need roofing supplies - roofing nails and screws, etc, as the zinc roofing sheets are still on the island, just several kilometres away where they were blown. Hand-tools, especially rechargeable ones; and school supplies such as exercise books, paper, pencils, crayons, story-books etc. So, for anyone reading this who is coming this way, I hope this is useful.

Today's photo was taken in St Pierre during sundowners.

Loving Saint Pierre

07 January 2018 | St Pierre, Martinique
In 24 hours, and with improved weather, this place has really grown on us.

We had set our sights on having dinner ashore last night so go ashore we did - despite the monsoon conditions. Surprisingly we were the only people in the little restaurant. The meal was really good - felt like we were back in Normandy.

Today, as we went ashore (in the sunshine), we realised that there was a massive swimming event under way. There was a 6k swim just starting with great fanfare and a lot of really fit people getting ready to swim down the coast, escorted by kayaks and fishing boats. Most of the town seemed to have turned out to watch and the band was playing - it was great. And we managed to stock up with local produce at the Sunday market.

It is a very friendly place and the locals are very helpful. Lots of people out ahead of Sunday lunch all dressed up. In the supermarket they were determined that we should take away some 'Galette des Rois' for Epiphany (it was delicious).

This has to be the best customs/immigration check out around - you do it on-line in a Alsatian bistro-café where the food and beer are great. The barman stamps your form, and you put a donation in the pink plastic piggy-bank. That beats some of the other islands, where they view people movement as a major form of local cash-flow.

Shopping now done, gas bottles replenished, dinghy petrol topped up and customs cleared, so we're all ready to head north tomorrow for Dominica, about 35 miles away.

Today's picture of part of the waterfront here right opposite our anchorage - think we will row ashore there for sundowners tonight. Mmmmmartinique rum, here we come!

Grey Skies

06 January 2018 | Saint Pierre, Martinique
We are aiming to make Saint Pierre our jumping off point for Dominica. We have come here to provision and make sure that we have everything we need for a while. It looks like the services are reasonably in place on Dominica but we would rather arrive with supplies than drain theirs. That said, the PAYS guys at Portsmouth in the north of the island are saying “come, come…”. Look them up if interested – they sound like good guys – they run the anchorage, moorings, the tours, the yacht security, co-ordinating relief work, etc....

The 15-mile trip over from Anse Mitan was a bit wet and mostly windy. There seem to be a lot of squalls hitting the islands at the moment so we just rolled along under a reefed jib.

Saint Pierre is charmingly quaint, rather dilapidated, needs a coat of paint, and only partly rebuilt after a volcanic eruption (about 100 years ago). It’s visited by some French tourists and a few yachties, has a supermarket and a few other shops as well as a few restaurants, but is way less touristic that the rest of Martinique that we have seen. The anchorage is a bit swelly so we think we will be rolling through the night, but that can be quite comforting when you are used to it. We managed to hit the supermarket and do shopping part 1 today. More to follow tomorrow morning – which will be busy, as we have to change our empty gas bottles for full ones, complete our customs clear-out, and stock up on wine, rum, fruit and veg, as well as anything we can find that might be useful for folks in Dominica. After 12.00 noon, everything is firmly Ferme.

Today’s photo shows Barracuda anchored on the right under a grey and moisture-laden sky off Saint Pierre. The bottom shelves away quickly, so the boats pretty well form a line along the shore holding on tight to the shelf.

Never judge a book by its cover

05 January 2018 | Anse Mitan, Martinique
Anse Mitan has turned out to be a fine stopover from a yachtsman’s perspective. We have now had a couple of days here.

We had an afternoon ashore, walked through the village, and found the Marina, found the supermarket and more importantly found some wifi. In some places it is quite smart and in other places a bit shabby. A bit like much of France really. But it suits our purpose. The real find was a little café / restaurant just at the top of the dinghy dock. They had Poulet Colombo on the menu, which we have been wanting to try (must make this at home). It was low key, on the beach, sand in your feet kind of place, popular with the locals, really friendly and the food was good – just what we needed. It has become our local.

Yesterday we took the dinghy round the corner to a wee beach for a swim and a read. Think we landed on the locals’ beach rather than the tourist beach – definitely more interesting watching the intimate goings on of the young lads and lassies and trying not to inhale the air too deeply. There seems to have been a really upmarket hotel development here that has not quite worked. It is shown on our chart as ruined but there is clearly some kind of hotel running on the site but it is not the 5-star place that was originally built.

It’s a bit beguiling here. We meant to stay one night, then it was two nights. Now it looks like three. Must move on or the boat will grow roots. It’s just nice to stay put for a bit with facilities.

Today’s picture shows a guy wearing jet boots attached to a jet ski (pumping water to his boots), which gives him the ability to rise out of the water and do tricks.

We probably have a few more days to spend in Martinique as we nibble our way up the west coast. We have not been inland yet as we have not really found the right spot to leave the boat unattended for a day to hire a car or take a tour. But the trade off is a very relaxed meander up the coast with little agenda.

Our next island will be Dominica – an island that was hit really hard by the hurricanes this year. There is a major effort underway to get the island back on its feet. The local yacht association has been emphatic that yachts should come and that they are ready for us. We met one of the guys in St Lucia. It does look like a spectacular place (or it was) but we shall see when we get there how much of it is still up and running. We are currently enquiring if there is anything useful we can bring up from Martinique.

Anse Mitan, Martinique

03 January 2018
Yesterday was a relatively slow day on Barracuda involving reading (K), swimming, snorkelling (G) and then the cycle repeated itself. G snorkelled on the north side of the bay - good reef and loads of corals, fish, eels and a sea snake (don’t like those). Finally got the bottom of the boat cleaned off using a snorkel and a scrubbing brush – quite a build up since Las Palmas. Not sure if you will notice the speed enhancement but at least we will feel there should be nothing holding us back.

Went ashore in the dinghy for supper in the village. It is a sleepy place at night (which we were not expecting given the number of people around during the day) but we found somewhere serving local marlin, which was OK (damned with faint praise). We had dinner with a delightful retired couple from Maine who were spending 6 weeks in Martinique as part of their ‘snow bird’ travels. They had travelled all over the Caribbean – often on tall ships.

Woke up to a big rain shower and a bigger rainbow.

Then today we moved to Anse Mitan. We tried to anchor round at the pretty village of Les Trois Ilets but despite repeated attempts and getting covered in very sticky mud (K), we could not get the anchor to set. The book does describe the location as ‘holding variable’ - we would politely suggest ‘extremely poor’. In fact, we saw three wrecked yachts in the mangroves surrounding the anchorage. So Anse Mitan may grow on us.

We have come ashore for supplies, found the small marina and think we will have dinner here. It's a bit like a northern France holiday town, a bit cheap and cheerful, but a fun wee place all the same and probably OK (more faint praise). And although supplies are very limited indeed, it has a waterside cafe with fast-ish wifi.

Nice to be legal

02 January 2018 | Grand Anse D’Arlet, Martinique
We managed to check in today, so are feeling better that we are now legal. The process here is very simple. You fill in an online form in the internet café and the lady at the desk prints it and stamps it – job done. I guess the French are not too worried about the comings and goings out here.

Today we moved the arduous mile north to the next bay – just for a change of scenery really. This bay is much more popular with the boatie peeps than the last for some reason – probably due to the lack of swell – and the anchorage is very crowded, and lots of swimmers in the water. It looks like there are some nice low-key restaurants ashore, so we may go in for supper tonight. It also looks quite busy with all the onshore French holiday peeps. So we will see…

One notable difference between Martinique and everywhere else we have been is there are no ‘boat boys’. For those not familiar with this I’ll explain a bit. ‘Boat boys’ are the vendors who will generally try to get to you fairly quickly in a brightly coloured boat to sell you something – it could be a mooring, fruit, fish, etc… They have a bit of a reputation for being aggressive and so we were a bit nervous about our initial encounters. I’m sure that we have many more to meet and our views may evolve, but for now we will sing the praises of the ‘boat boys’. They are basically local lads and lassies making a living by bringing services to the yachties – often in very out of the way places. The best advice we were given was just listen to their pitch, be polite and if you want to do business great, else part on good terms. In our various encounters we met some lovely hard working people providing a good service, usually with interesting names like ’Daddy Boy’ or ‘Daffodil’ or ‘Didi’; they were polite to us, always fended their boats well whilst coming alongside us, and brought us things we generally needed and were not pushy (with one exception). Services available from them have included fresh bread to your boat, fresh fish, live lobster, ice, water taxi, fruit, moorings, diesel, water, laundry, BBQ ashore, taking away your garbage…. and the list goes on. But basically it’s all stuff you need on boats, that would take some effort to get otherwise. Their prices might be a little above what you might pay onshore but then again they are bringing the items to you in their boat. Our experience to date has been great – they have been fun to meet and have brought us things we wanted. They have been a real plus in the locations we have visited – perhaps with one exception where we ended up with a surplus of fruit as we were keeping both vendors happy – but then again the fruit was delicious and we did eat it, contributing to our ‘5 a day’. This is how they make their living and we can also see the ‘boat boy’ community working together to improve security – if the yachties don’t come because of a security incident, then it’s their livelihoods at stake. So let’s hear it for the ‘boat boys’. Thanks for supporting us in our travels.
Vessel Name: Barracuda
Vessel Make/Model: OVNI 395
Hailing Port: Argyll
Crew: Graham and Kate
About: Learning as we go....
Extra: Look to this day for it is life...
Barracuda's Photos - The Scottish Trip - 2011
Photos 1 to 12 of 12 | Main
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Barracuda waiting for us in Troon.
Sailing up to Loch Fyne.
In the first lock at the Crinan Canal
The garden gate! The end of the Crinan Canal. Beyond here lies the Western Isles.
Fishing boat in Small Isles Bay - Jura.
Leaving Small Isles Bay - Jura.
CalMac ferry approaching Islay.
Loch Tarbert on Jura.
Loch Tarbert on Jura.
Anchored on the south side of Mull.
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The Happy Crew

Who: Graham and Kate
Port: Argyll