Bookmark and Share
39. Carolina, Here we Come, but Mind out for Alberto & Gordon

We left Tortola at 1100 on the 15th May. By nightfall the wind had got up to 20 knots from the ESE so we took in the first reef, and in the small hours, with rain squalls up to 27 knots, we took in the second. We held this rig all the next day but, after some stronger gusts in the evening, we took in the third. On the fourth day we encountered heavy rain squalls and shifty winds, never managing to catch up with the clear skies over the horizon ahead. At dusk however, the wind fell light and boxed the compass, causing us to set full sail, gybe then tack; but within three hours we had two reefs in again as a strong wind filled in from the north. Not only did we now have a head wind, but also a foul current.

We had originally planned to be through the Panama Canal by now, but the lost time waiting for our new rudder would have meant missing out on many of the places we wanted to see in the Caribbean. We therefore decided to postpone the transit for a year, which left us with the decision as to where to go for the six month hurricane season. Rather than being confined to a hot and humid area to the south of the "hurricane box", we were attracted by the opportunity to cruise the eastern seaboard of the United States. Our insurance company required us to be north of latitude 35 degrees by the 1st of June to be covered for "named storms". Tropical cyclones are given names when the wind speed reaches 34 knots and become hurricanes when they reach 64 knots. The statistics suggested that tropical storms were almost unheard off in May and quite rare in June.

We were therefore a bit disconcerted on day six to read in a forecast downloaded over the SSB radio, that Alberto, the first named storm of the season, was predicted to move north-east across our path. It rained for most of the day; the wind then dropped and by 2300 was non-existent, so we started the engine. We got an update on Alberto's track the next morning, altered course slightly to the west and kept the speed down to about 4 knots to allow him to pass at least 100 miles ahead. By 1800 the wind had filled in enough to stop the engine, and during the night it steadily increased so that by morning we had two reefs in the main and several rolls in the genoa. The wind never exceeded 25 knots as a result of Alberto, but the weather was very disturbed, we saw lightning in the distance and it left an awkward sea. Over the next 36 hours we shook out a slab (reef in the main) or took one in again twelve times, tacked, gybed, started and stopped the engine twice, as we encountered calms, squalls and massive wind shifts. We'd expected to have reached the north-east running Gulf Stream by now, but all we'd encountered so far were counter-currents along the edge.

A distraction came on day nine in the form of a brown booby, which circled low over the boat a couple of times then plonked itself down on the windward deck whilst we were having supper. Completely ignoring us, it preened itself for a several minutes then tucked its head under a wing and went fast to sleep. We named him Gordon Brown Booby. Whilst we were both down below he hopped into the cockpit, but, as neither of us fancied sharing a night watch in such close proximity to this rather grumpy looking bird armed with a fearsome beak, we eventually persuaded him to move, rather grudgingly, to the foredeck. There he went straight to sleep again, swaying gently: his claws dug firmly into the teak. I envied his ability to sleep so well through several sail changes, and he finally woke up and flew off at 0800 - without a word of thanks for his free ride.

The Gulf Stream at long last gave us a bit of a lift that night, but we were through it by mid-morning still with about 80 miles to go. We weren't keen on spending another night at sea, and, as the wind was now dying, we started the engine to maintain speed. A 30 knot rain squall hit us just after lunch, but soon passed. As the sun was setting we found the safe-water buoy off Beaufort - its whistle moaning wheezily in the swell. No wonder it took Europeans so long to discover America: we were less than six miles away and still couldn't see land. We picked up the lights on the buoys marking the channel one by one until we were inside the harbour, anchored off Fort Macon and turned in for a long sleep, having covered 1238 nautical miles.

38. The Not Entirely British Virgin Islands

Simpson Bay Lagoon straddles the border between French Saint Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten. It's a vast stretch of water completely protected from the ocean, but is very shallow with a buoyage system that can only be intended to provide amusement and employment for the locals, with the added delight of being directly under the international airport's flight path. However the island is one of the best places in the Caribbean for obtaining gear and getting work done on yachts, so we spent three nights there at anchor, had the mast fixed, raided the chandleries and supermarkets then caught the 1630 bridge opening for an overnight passage to the BVIs.

Soon after dawn we passed between Prickly Pear Island and Necker - Richard Branson's hideaway - and were amused to see next to it the classic cartoonist's vision of a castaway's island, a sand-bank with two palm trees: only these were plastic! We entered the magnificent expanse of Gorda Sound and anchored in Gun Creek, where we were able to clear customs. Next morning we found an anchorage to ourselves in Robin Bay where we could swim, and row to an isolated beach with a multitude of conch shells washed up in the sand. Later we went by dinghy to the Bitter End Yacht Club, a fabulous place for a shore-based sailing holiday, then to the bar on Saba Rock for a happy-hour "painkiller" cocktail or two. Amongst an eclectic collection of nautical paraphernalia were some vintage outboard motors, including an Evinrude just like the one my father owned. Next stop was Spanish Town, at the other end of Virgin Gorda, where the pilot book advises buoying your anchor in case it gets snagged under a rock. What it doesn't mention is that you then have to ward off charter yachts who think your buoy is a vacant mooring! From there it's a longish dinghy ride to the BVI's most popular tourist attraction, the Baths. This is the middle one of three small bays surrounded by massive, rounded granite batholiths piled up into fantastic formations, rather like those at Ploumenac in Brittany, but pale grey instead of pink. There is an intriguing path through a series of grottos leading to Devil's Bay, and the whole area is great for snorkelling.

The capital of the BVIs is Roadtown on Tortola where we spent a couple of nights in the rather exposed anchorage. Despite being a British Overseas Territory, the US influence is everywhere: most of the visitors seem to be American, the vehicles are left-hand drive yet are driven on the left, the shops sell mainly US produce, the currency is US dollars and every receipt is presented with "have a nice day". The marinas in Roadtown are at the heart of the massive charter yacht industry. Financial services are also booming, mainly involving offshore company registrations. We left our boat in Nanny Cay Marina and spent a very enjoyable couple of days as guests of Craig and Avril, old sailing buddies of Amanda, at their lovely hill-top home with superb views over Cane Garden Bay. They took us on a tour of some of the bumpier roads to get a feel for the hinterland, and fed us very well. Their children have spent most of their lives on the island and seem very happy on it.

Norman is the last of the islands strung out westwards from Virgin Gorda. Its tales of hidden gold and pieces-of-eight are said to have inspired R.L. Stevenson to write Treasure Island. He describes his island as being "shaped like a fat dragon standing up, with two fine land-locked harbours and a hill marked Spy Glass". Norman Island perhaps more resembles a skinny lizard, but the Bight is certainly a fine harbour, although, typical of so many these days, the anchorage has been filled with moorings, available for a fee. We and a couple of other "cruisers" managed to find the few gaps amongst the buoys to anchor, then each evening watched an armada of charter boats tie up to them, only to leave early the next morning to bag day-time-only moorings close to the snorkelling sites. We stayed at anchor for four nights, using the dinghy to get to the caves for some excellent snorkelling, and ashore for a walk up Spy Glass Hill. There was no sign of Ben Gunn: the island is deserted apart from the Pirates' Bar. Finally we re-crossed the Sir Frances Drake Channel to Soper's Hole, a pleasant and convenient harbour with a supermarket and customs office where we could take on stores and check out of the BVIs. When we noticed that a pelican had started to build a nest on top of our radar scanner we knew it was time to set off on the long passage north!

06/18/2012 | Brian Dandridge
Thanks for keeping up such a wonderful blog site. We have watched your progress for the past months with a mixture of admiration and envy, no, insane jealousy! Just heard from Helen Smith that she and Mike have met up with you. All the best to you both.

06/19/2012 | Pam
How can anyone name an island "Norman"? The the neighbouring islands called "Eric" and "Mabel"? I hope that you have a good journey north. Keep up the log entries please. It looks idyllic. My junior sailors had to contend with a steady force 5 and gusts up to 7 bordering 8 on Saturday!
06/19/2012 | Pam
How can anyone name an island "Norman"? Are the neighbouring islands called "Eric" and "Mabel"? I hope that you have a good journey north. Keep up the log entries please. It looks idyllic. My junior sailors had to contend with a steady force 5 and gusts up to 7 bordering 8 on Saturday!
06/24/2012 | nicola
Hello, I finally managed to catch up on your blog after ages. The photos look like paradise, as do the cocktails! The landlubbers at home tell me you've made it USA so don't eat too much! I'm in northern Italy, eating plenty! Much love nic x x
07/02/2012 | Dorothy
Goodness that's a very relaxed looking Amanda indeed! Your tales on this part take me back to Biras Creek holiday! Splendid times you're having by the sound of it. Take good care.xx
37. Classic Antigua

I have dreamt of sailing into English Harbour in my own yacht ever since arriving there one evening to the sound of a steel band wafting down from Shirley Heights, whilst crewing in a friend's yacht some 15 years ago. Now I've finally realised the dream, and yes, it does live up to all the expectations. Our passage from Dominica had been a bit of a slog however. We'd started with a glorious sail from Prince Rupert's Bay the previous afternoon, then at dusk we pulled in a reef as the wind was getting up to 25 knots at times, but within two hours it died to less than 5 knots as we entered the wind shadow under the lee of Guadeloupe. I'd reckoned that a 7-mile offing would be enough, but clearly it wasn't. We used the auxiliary motor on and off through the night as the wind came and went and shifted round the compass. At one point a violent electric storm passed by in the distance, lighting up the horizon. Around dawn the wind finally filled in again properly, but right on the nose, giving us a lively 30-mile beat up to Antigua.

The main anchorage was pretty full, so we carried on past Nelson's Dockyard to Ordinance Bay, where we anchored in perfect shelter surrounded by mangroves. This is supposed to be one of the best hurricane holes in the Caribbean. English Harbour was the perfect anchorage for the 18th century British Navy - sheltered from the wind and hidden from the enemy - enabling Antigua to become their strategic base in the region. They must have expected to stay there for the long term, for they brought out masons and created a dockyard just like a little corner of Old Portsmouth. Nowadays Antigua is the quintessential Caribbean yachting scene - at least for the British: where it all started soon after World War II. The buildings have been restored for leisure businesses and, instead of square riggers manned by press-ganged sailors, the quays are now lined with super-yachts, their professional crews forever fettling, varnishing and polishing.

We had managed to time our visit to coincide with the Classic Yacht Regatta, one of the major events on the international circuit for these magnificent craft. There were divisions for colourful local working boats, vintage cruiser racers from the 1930s to 1960s, magnificent Edwardian gaff cutters and schooners, and modern super-yachts built in traditional style. Legendary yacht designers such as Hereshoff, Fife, Mylne and Stephens were represented by some of their most successful, beautiful and expensively restored creations.

On the first day of racing, we walked out to the cliff-top at Snapper Point overlooking the race area where we could watch the starting manoeuvres and progress of the race mapped out beneath us. On the second, we took Egret out to sea and positioned ourselves to watch the various classes starting and then rounding one of the marks at close quarters. Watching the big, 100ft plus, schooners and cutters with every possible sail set being gybed by slick crews - I counted over 30 on one boat - was awe inspiring. We anchored in Falmouth Harbour that night, and early next morning dinghied across to the pontoons where the competitors were berthed. One couldn't but admire the design skills and craftsmanship that have gone into building and restoring these fast and elegant racing yachts. The crews were just beginning to emerge, loading up with provisions for the day, checking over the rig and, in one case, fitting a new bowsprit following an unfortunate encounter the previous day.

Also in Antigua were several yachts familiar to us, so it was an extra treat to meet up with friends such as Mac from "Morwenna", Stew and Steph from "Matador", Peter and Anita from "Friends" and, for the first time face to face, Monica and Phil from "Miss Molly", who had kept us company over the radio during the last few days of our Atlantic crossing. We ate and drank and enjoyed the regatta evening entertainments together, so it was sad to have to leave sooner than we really wanted in order to keep an appointment with a rigger on St. Maarten.

06/12/2012 | Pam
We saw all the classic boats in the Solent once. What a superb sight. Where are you now?
I crewed for Joycie in the Ladies Race at our club on Sunday. We won.
The weather here is very cold and wet for June.
06/14/2012 | Joyce Moon
Hi Amanda and Patrick
Glad you are on your way again and staying clear of the hurricane zones.
Pam and I have been enjoying racing together on Wednesday nights. Penny and I are off to Sweden on 26th June to sail among those 24,000 islands for nearly 3 weeks. Have a great time love joyce
36. On Our Way Again

Like all the best presents it was delivered in a large heavy box, beautifully made in marine ply and fastened with stainless steel screws. We'd been on tenterhooks for days. Sweden Yachts wouldn't produce an invoice until the rudder was completed and crated. Our insurers GJW paid promptly with their usual understanding and efficiency, but of course the banks wanted their pound of flesh by taking a week to make the electronic transfer between the UK and Sweden. Only then did SY book the air freight and give us a tracking number so we could follow it from airport to airport until it arrived on St. Lucia on a Saturday morning, frustratingly inaccessible until Monday when the boatyard trucked it up from the airport. We rushed across to watch the lid being removed in front of the customs officer. Initially she wouldn't clear it unless she could see it fitted to the boat, and it took some persuading that it wasn't that simple a job. The rudder was perfect, in line with SY's usual high standard of workmanship, and slotted straight into position. We had it antifouled with Coppercoat then had to wait 3 days for that to cure, but Edwin, the boatyard manager, came in on Easter Monday specially to return Egret to the water. On Tuesday 10th April - 4 months after breaking our rudder - we checked out of Customs and started out on an all too brief tour of islands to the north. It felt wonderful to be at the helm of our beautiful boat again.

The French have treated their old colonies rather differently to the way the British have theirs. Their Caribbean islands are now playgrounds for the population as Departments of France within the EC. Checking in through Customs is easy and free, wine is cheap, and of course all the French yachties head there. Martinique supposedly has excellent chandlers and repair facilities and we'd hoped to have a small job on the mast carried out there, but the rigger gave a classic Gallic shrug and muttered "jamais" when asked when he could do the work. We enjoyed a couple of nights at anchor off the pretty holiday resort of St. Anne then moved on to the capital and principal port, Fort de France. The ornate public library was built for the 1889 Paris exposition and subsequently shipped over, the fort is a ringer for one of Vauban's, and there is a headless statue of the Empress Josephine, born on Martinique to a plantation owning family and unsurprisingly not loved by the present day islanders. The streets are narrow and busy, with elegant but crumbling old buildings. We managed to exchange our "Camping Gaz" canisters, found the fish market, stocked up at the big Carrefour supermarket then called at a bar for a "ti' punch" (rum, lime and sugar cane syrup).

We sailed at dawn and enjoyed a good breeze up to the southern tip of Dominica, but the wind was very fitful under its lee so we had to motor for a few hours, reaching Prince Rupert Bay at dusk. We were greeted by "Fire", a member of the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security (PAYS), a group which has done a superb job in cleaning up the dodgier side of the boat-boy business. We had arrived in time for the barbecue they organise every Sunday - with the inevitable choice of fish or chicken, limitless rum punch and live music. The hut on the beach was packed out, and it was a great place to meet up with fellow cruisers. Next morning we walked the length of Portsmouth town to check in at the customs office. A Venezuelan contractor was cutting up for scrap several ships that had been washed ashore in the last hurricane. As part of the deal they would be leaving their heavy plant behind for the continuing use of the islanders. A trip up the Indian River is a must, and these are organised by PAYS members. Fire, whose real name is Patrickson, picked us and another yacht crew up early the following day. Motors aren't allowed, so he rowed us through the dense forest of mangroves and huge swamp bloodwood trees, at the same time giving us an excellent commentary. The intricate maze of exposed buttress roots, overhanging branches, dangling vines and frequent heavy showers combine to create an eerie atmosphere. From the head of the navigable section, we walked a little way along an old railway track, a remnant of a failed timber exporting business. Dominica is the least developed of the bigger islands, the only one still having a minority Carib population, and a place to which we'd very much like to return.

04/12/2012 | Andy
Great news , didnt seem to take long once the rudder arrived. Hope you havnt forgotten how to sail! Look forward to seeing your next blog.
04/17/2012 | Ian Poole
Loved reading your blog, Im sat on a seismic survey ship stuck in the North sea, We,ve been North of 60 degrees all winter and likely here for the UK summer.

Think Id probably jump ship if i didnt have some interesting blogs to read on here, all being well Ill be in your shoes towards the end of the year. fair winds , Ian
04/17/2012 | nic
Great news that your back on the move again. In complete juxtaposition I am heading for a pause in Lyon to give my body a rest and plan my route across the alps. Hapy sailing! X nic
04/17/2012 | Pippa & Co
Hurrah -you are sailing again at last! We are all sending our love from Furzefield Mark II!!
xxx PBD&F
04/20/2012 | Pam
Good luck on your journey. Greg and I are looking forward to following your progress.
04/23/2012 | David
glad to hear you are back on the voyage
04/27/2012 | Monica Rose
GreatNews you are sailing again. Can;t imagine your frustration. Bet you are nut-brown by now. You may find imigration difficult when you come home!!
05/13/2012 | Pam
As always, I enjoyed reading your new entries. We spent a very cold few days on the East Coast last week on Mytilly with two friends. We had the Taylor heater going and made ourselves snug inside. As far from the Caribbean as is possible, but the sound of the curlews and the wind whistling over the marshes plus the company made the trip worthwhile.
35. We’ve been to Barbados!

.....but by air, not by sea. We'd been disappointed not to have been able to make Barbados our first stop after crossing the Atlantic, so were happy to turn a necessary visit into a mini overseas break. We needed to obtain full US visas to allow us to sail Egret to the States this summer - a change to our original itinerary. This involved submitting a multi-page application form over the internet providing all sorts of information that we didn't have readily to hand on the boat. We then had to book an interview at a US embassy - the nearest being in Barbados - to which we were told to bring a sheaf of paperwork to prove we were financially sound. The process took most of the morning: shuffling from one queue to another to provide fingerprints, documents and cash to unsmiling officials behind glass screens. The interview with a friendly diplomat was short and straightforward however, and we were approved.

We'd arranged to meet Mike and Sue, who had recently completed their Atlantic crossing on Macushla and were now at anchor in Carlisle Bay. They gave us a quick tour of Bridgetown, including showing us where to get the tastiest flying fish sandwich and the most authentic rum punch. The city is quite cosmopolitan with some fine old buildings and modern shops full of designer goods. Barbados is clearly more prosperous than St. Lucia, benefiting perhaps from a more forgiving landscape, a better established British influence, a long history of tourism and now offshore banking. Many wealthy celebrities such as ageing pop-stars, footballers and ex-prime-ministers have second homes on the island. A couple of local ladies kindly led us through narrow back-streets lined with colourful timber chattel houses to the bus station. You can get anywhere on Barbados by bus, each ride costing 2 dollars (about £1.30). There are three types: municipal buses on primary routes, smaller private buses on lesser routes and minibuses spreading out to every village. They are noisy, gaily decorated and invariably crammed full, the conductors almost literally scooping you off the street.

Next day we headed for St. Nicholas Abbey, an elegant plantation house dating from 1658, now owned and sympathetically renovated by a local architect. The steam-powered sugar-cane press is working again; the resulting syrup feeding an ultra-modern distillery producing a rather fine rum. The estate is now something of a rural idyll, a far cry from its heyday when it would have made its owners rich through the efforts of hundreds of slaves. After lunch, we walked up to Cherry Tree Hill to look out across the wild Atlantic coast - a mecca for surfers. We continued through lovely country lanes to a small village where we fell in with a man carrying a bucket of crabs, who showed us where to wait for the bus to take us back to our hotel in Holetown on the west coast. This town was the oldest settlement on the island but is now a bit of suburbia, albeit with wild green monkeys playing in the trees.

We spent the next morning in the old capital of Speightstown, a few miles up the coast. This was once the hub of the slave import and sugar export trades. We were distracted by a Digicel phone advert being filmed - fascinated by the colourful, carefully staged street scene with acrobats, dancers, juggling fruit sellers, still-life models, domino players and children, filmed from a pick-up truck driven flat-out down the street, each take lasting only a few seconds. We'd love to see the end result - it's not often we take any notice of TV adverts! There are still some attractive old colonial buildings in the town, one of which has been turned into an engaging interactive museum. It's quite tricky getting access to the beach on the west coast due to the number of glamorous homes and expensive resorts. One place you can is Mount Standfast, where we snorkelled above a group of hawkesbill turtles. We reached the airport in good time next morning, but nearly missed our flight when we failed to spot an entire complement of cruise ship passengers arriving at the security check-in! We had to beg to jump the queue; perhaps we should stick to travelling by sea.

34. A Tourist Guide to St. Lucia

We took the opportunity of Andrew and Julia's visit to hire a car for three days to explore further afield. The road snakes down the west coast of the island, often with steep drops to the side and spectacular views. At the first view-point we were approached by a man with a boa constrictor draped around his shoulders. They are indigenous to the island and harmless, unlike the lethal fer de lance, which fortunately are rarely encountered. We couldn't resist the idea of visiting a chocolate plantation, so we continued south, through the old town of Soufriere to the Fond Doux Estate. Now run mainly as a quiet hotel, it still produces some chocolate for export. After a guided tour of a woodland trail and the huge wooden trays where the beans are dried, we had a pleasant lunch, though rather disappointingly there wasn't a single chocolate desert on the menu! St. Lucia's most notable landmarks are the Pitons, a dramatic pair of rock pinnacles rising steeply some 750m out of the sea. The beach between has been taken over by the swish Jalousie resort, but they are obliged to allow ordinary people like us and the locals access, so we spent the rest of the afternoon snorkelling and watching the sun go down. We stopped off at Marigot Bay on the way back. This secluded cove has long been recognised as a safe hurricane hole and now has a small marina. We took a little ferry across to one of the restaurants nestling in the mangroves for supper.

On the second day we drove across to the east side of the island. First stop was the Mamiku estate where, armed with umbrellas, we wandered around the delightful botanical gardens and the remains of a fort on top of the hill, site of an incident during the Brigand Wars, when runaway slaves fought British soldiers. Surprisingly, we seemed to be the only visitors. We carried on south down the coast road with glimpses of the wild Atlantic crashing against rocky headlands, then headed inland. We were trying to find one of the rain forest walks, driving along narrow lanes through endless banana plantations, sometimes along narrow ridges with steep drops each side. Eventually we were flagged down by a group of pickers who told us that the road ahead was closed due to landslides caused by Hurricane Tomas. We turned back to the coastal town of Dennery, arriving in heavy rain just as the 3-man pirogues were returning to harbour with their catch. We were taken in hand by a supervisor of the fish market, who told us all about the industry and showed us huge cool boxes with fish packed in ice for export to Europe. The work looked exhausting and dangerous, with the seas almost always rough on this windward coast.

On the third day we drove down the west side again, stopping first at La Sikwi Sugar Mill. This restored stone building, set in beautiful scenery, contains a massive iron water wheel, sugar-cane press and boiling vats. Again we were the only visitors, but were given a very informative tour by the charming custodian, who told us that her family had worked on the estate since the days of slavery. Next, we called at the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens, where we found ourselves surrounded by coach-loads of trippers being herded by bossy guides. The gardens and waterfall were nice enough, but, when a chap outside wanted money for pointing out a large caterpillar on a branch, we felt it was time to move on. A "must-see" attraction on St Lucia is the "drive-in volcano". At the entrance we were told that, if we really wanted to, we could go into the visitor centre. A bored curator ushered us to a room to watch a film, then said there was no point in looking at any of the exhibits. In fact, we found them quite informative. Back outside, a lethargic guide walked us up to the viewing platform to gaze over the hot sulphur springs. A few gullible tourists were being plastered in mud by an attendant before immersing in a hot pool. That was enough sightseeing, so we drove out to the coast at Anse Chastenet along a steep and bumpy track that the hire-car only just made, for some great snorkelling, a walk around the headland and relaxation on the beach.

04/03/2012 | Greg Lamb
Well, I guess as enforced stopovers go this is a lot more enjoyable than it could have been, but I bet you are itching to get sailing again. The rudder seems to be taking ages - any sign of it on the horizon? Take care, enjoy the tropical paradise and, when you get going again, fair winds.

04/07/2012 | Pam
I enjoyed reading your last three posts about the island, it's nature and history. You are getting plenty of time to learn all about it. Sadly, a lot more than you wanted to I suspect. What is happening about your rudder and your plans for continuing your journey?

Newer ]  |  [ Older ]


Powered by SailBlogs