01 June 2017
Checking in to the Bahamas is simple and straight forward, and we have internet back for the first time in what seems like ages. Amazing how much you come to rely on and expect it. Suddenly we can look up the answers to the questions we’ve been asking, if only we could remember the questions. The reef on the south coast of Mayaguana provides a reasonable anchorage even in SE winds and most importantly flat water for the kite surfers. The wrecks along the reef show how quickly things can change around here. Alongside the incredibly shallow government dock local fishermen show us how to clean conch (the huge and beautiful shelled sea snails) and give instructions on cooking. The recipe might need a little adaptation if we’re to repeat the experience. Not a total success unfortunately.
Wrecks seem to be a bit of a theme at the moment. Swimming through shallow coral reefs scattered with wreck flotsum and jetsam is a salutary reminder of how easily circumstances change. Ikea bowls, cheese graters and navigation pilots stir in the sand as the gentle surf piles over the reef. A 40m fishing boat is wedged on the rocky reef of Plana Cay, a huge bird nest showing signs of the only recent occupation. Anything of use to anybody has been taken.
The environment however, is stunning. The colours never fail to surprise and astonish. Beaches of fabled soft white sand, rocky outcrops and feathery palm fronds. The snorkelling has been marvelled at and something we were looking forward to seeing. Coral heads still remain but sadly the recent hurricanes have decimated them. Occasional outcrops have survived with soft corals slowly colonising barren areas and the odd reef fish making the most of what’s available.
Sheltered harbours in the SE winds on Acklin, Crooked and Conception Islands dazzle us. There’s few boats around and most of the time we’re the only ones anchored. It is late in the season but with our newly available internet we keep a close eye on the weather. The locals greet us and give advice when ever we see them from how to clean the conch to offering a lift back from the store/gas (petrol) station. Always happy to meet us and give a hand. I hope we would do the same.
Conception island is reputedly one of the jewels in the Bahamas. East of the Exuma chain of islands it is an uninhabited National Park (with no internet ….). All the above descriptions of the area apply. The inland waterway, approached through a rocky channel, gives way to wide open mangroves lining shallow waterways teeming with green turtles. The GoPro camera attempted to capture the exceptionally fast moving reptiles but the skill with which they moved was not matched by the photographic ability of the operator. A couple of photos are ok, but nothing to write home about unfortunately. Having learnt from the previous photo disaster a dinghy excursion to check out the coral heads was in order.Eventually, by wearing the snorkel while dinghying along and looking below being careful not to inhale too much water or get swept out of the dinghy, a patch of outlying coral heads appeared to be less damaged, with some corals and life around. First attempt at anchoring the dinghy showed we needed quite a bit more line on the anchor - touching the sea bed is always good….finally all set … and ready for an invigorating snorkel. Admiring the underwater vista we looked around, double checked … and yes those are two rather large and hungry looking sharks heading our way. Quickly, but much slower than we’d like, we lurch into the dinghy and decide that snorkelling might not be what we’d like to do today. They were probably fine, no worries, they don't eat people - but the previous night with our available internet we’d checked out shark attacks in the Bahamas. Maybe it just made us a little nervy.
Culebra to Turks and Caicos
15 May 2017
Everything is going well in Culebra. Then it’s not. The outboard won’t start. Can’t even pull the cord to make it start. A bit of a pain when it’s your only mode of transport to land and the oarlocks are seriously emergency only after they broke with use last time. A long and uneventful couple of days finally results in fault finding and rectification. Thank goodness as the AAs have arrived. African Affair, with Karl and Birgit are now in residence in Culebra just in time for Karl’s birthday. Birthdays are taken seriously in Germany it seems and a full day of cocktails and excitement is planned using the local transport, the golf cart. No chance of speeding - but not a lot of island to navigate so perfect for us for the day. Majestic beaches and beach bars are toured and sampled. Comparisons made between the quality of Bushwackers and Pina Coladas, with the odd Mojito thrown in for good measure, plus the beach picturesqueness - of course. But enough here and northwards we must go.
400 miles later the low lying Turks and Caicos Islands slowly appear. Anchoring behind the cays the colours are unreal. Not a bad place to do a bit of laundry, maximise boat speed across incredibly shallow water (something we need to get used to for a while) or play the piano (see photos). From here its a day sail to Mayaguana in the Bahamas.
20 March 2017
Two weeks later and Joe, eldest son, arrives in the BVIs. So a quick and rather wet sail to Barbuda’s white sand beaches and on to St Martin/St Marteen for the Essential French Food with an overnight yellow flag stop at St Barts. Super U fulfils all the necessary with bread, cheese, pate, wine - and lamb. Unfortunately the last leg of lamb (planned for dinner with friends on Ari B) was bought by a man with a large trolley, full of lamb. Not to be out done on lamb (how often have we had access to lamb??) - shanks are purchased, cooked and consumed. Not the same, but not bad. Waiting for winds in a rather rolly anchorage with lots of fast power boats is rather over rated but the pate makes up for it apparently, plus friends of course.
A last minute decision to make the most of the wind and arrive with the sun behind us (all the better for reef spotting) sees us in the British Virgin Islands. Very pretty, very busy, very very many charter yachts, but you can understand why. The attractively shaped, sandy bayed, snorkeling reefed, close proximity islands are perfect, on the whole. There’s something for everyone from crewed yachts providing as much or as little hands on sailing as you want to cruise liners and luxury motor yachts as well as the vast numbers of charter boats and owner cruisers. All of this makes it rather busy but there’s still anchorages with no boats in, if you look and avoid the easy access to restaurants, bars and mooring buoys.
The islands are rather lovely. Anegada gives us a reasonable sail with the promise of flamingoes and lobster. Despite lots of looking, neither are found but that’s ok as kite and wind surfing is fine for a day or two. A soggy sail lacking in Caribbean sunshine to Jost Van Dyke, laid back and comfortable, at least the bits we saw but a couple of close calls for yachts in the VIs, heard on the VHF radio, with US coast guard helping yachts on the rocks and others abandoning ship. The USVIs weren’t so much our scene but arrival in Puerto Rico’s version of Virgin Island - Culebra - made up for it. The island’s protected bay and surrounding islets were a popular Easter weekend hide away. Snorkelling, swimming and chilling were rather nice, plus a hard won lobster dinner.
18 March 2017
Antigua. Settled by the English in the 1600s, hence English Harbour, Falmouth Harbour, Parham and a long history of sugar and rum production. The last remnants of the industry linger, round sugar mills, occasionally renovated as a desirable residence and a fair bit of reasonably priced rum on sale, apparently.
Jolly Harbour is the hang out of many cruisers with its Happy Hour bars, immigration and customs check in, white sandy beaches, plethora of restaurants and importantly a supermarket, all attracting yachts into the well protected bay. At least it’s usually well protected. Unfortunately visitors arrive as the weather decides to do its worst with strong winds, frequent showers and some impressive swell shimmying into the anchorage making land based excursions the preferable mode of travel, for a day or two albeit a rather wet approach to land. The restored naval dockyard at English Harbour, lined with super yachts and, at times, coach loads of tourists from the cruise ships is easily reached by bumpy buses from the main town of St John. Buses queue in the bus station until full - really full, but the hour long drive across the island gives you a flavour of the island life as you lurch from settlement to settlement.
Finally sunshine returns to Antigua with an easing of the wind allowing unaccustomed sailors a chance to visit the Atlantic coast of the island. Protective reefs, turquoise water, cooling trade winds - it almost sounds like a kite surfers paradise…add in some pelicans, turtles and snorkeling opportunities and it could almost be a holiday. Scarily territorial needle fish terrorise our snorkelers (maybe not quite terrorise, but close) circling in a decidedly threatening manner.
A huge excitement was a helicopter trip (thank you dad) over Monserrat, puffing in the distance 25 miles away. The flight is amazing. The island’s devastation clear from the air. The tops of three story buildings just visible while new culverts are cut in the deposits by rivers from its summit and the vegetation slowly reclaims the land.
Finally guests depart leaving empty rum bottles and memories of Pina Coladas, games of cards won and lost and tales of water consumption - always a topic of conversation on a cruising yacht.
15 February 2017
Dominica, tall and spiky with nine active volcanoes and hot springs emitting sulphurous clouds. The promised whales were elusive as we rounded the south west corner, but as attention was focused a little more on the inclement conditions....they may well have been there. Portsmouth in Prince Rupert Bay is the second largest town but not really set up for tourists, although the boat boys have set up a co-operative which caters for cruisers with security sweeps at night, island and river tours, even salty surf board delivered mangos curtesy of local paddling entrepreneurs. Very tasty. River tours visit the Indian River (occasional location for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 - river scene). River crabs, flowering hibiscus trees, marsh ferns, ropy tree roots and blue herons accompany the peaceful punting up the river to the river bar (closed) surrounded by ginger and heliconia flowers.
The market has to be one of the most entertaining. A few stalls line the fish dock most days but come Saturday morning the place is heaving with produce stalls, flat bed trucks bursting with coconuts and plantain, street food stalls and the singing, swaying locals accompanying the music blasting from speakers.
Twenty-five miles across the channel to Guadeloupe and we arrive in the french-lands once more. Isle Staintes lie south of the main island of Guadeloupe and are mostly visited by tourists. Regular ferries arrive disgorging visitors to wander the small islands and peruse purchases in the boutiques lining the quaint streets. Anchorages are filled with moorings, we’re grateful of our 100m of anchor chain in the deep area outside the moorings but move location with some regularity as the rolyness of the anchorages shifts and the unpleasant squeaking becomes less bearable. It will get fixed one day.
Stopping overnight at Pigeon Island, or at least the bay opposite turns into three days. Night one is not the most pleasant. Gusty 30+ knot winds blast across the anchorage and more than a couple of boats drag past us. Snorkeling off Pigeon Island though is rather lovely. Tourists congregate around the dive ribs and glass bottomed boats, snorkelers and kayakers are plentiful but quiet areas with no-one else can be found away from the madding crowds. Water is crystal clear and fish plentiful around deep drop-offs.
Anchoring-watching always provides some entertainment. We provide it for others (occasionally) and we have the return enjoyment of watching it ourselves. The jockeying for position as boats enter the anchorage, the clunk clunking of chain as anchors are rapidly dropped (or positions are endlessly assessed until someone else anchors in the ‘best’ spot), the (occasionally heated) discussion as the anchor is retrieved as it’s a little close to another boat/rock/dock or someone has made it quite clear by gesturing that they are not welcome in that particular position….Sometimes this goes on for quite a while.
Different anchoring techniques can be described: the rock hoppers - anchor close enough to the rocks that nobody else can squeeze between them and the shore; the toss and go - throw the anchor and chain (if you have chain) down then zoom away in the dinghy trusting that the other yachties will fend off their boats should the need arise; the I want to be alone - anchor in deep water/out of the anchoring area/in isloated places, on their own; the like minded - see a boat similar to theirs and anchor nearby, if it’s good enough for them….; the (already anchored - I was here first) angry pointers - stand and gesticulate indicating displeasure at the other boat’s chosen position; the naturists - (obviously naked) usually in close proximity to the maximum number of yachts; the chargers - see a small window of opportunity, put the engine at maximum revs and plough in before becoming either a) toss and go or b) angry pointer, swimmers beware. The naturists sometimes gain the upper hand and have a large exclusion zone around them, for some reason. An alternative technique is to plug in the honda generator in a prominent position on deck and serenade all newcomers with its throaty ‘purr’. This works to ensure a good placement with no terribly close boats.
Whistle stop tour of the Windwards
02 February 2017
Having spent a few months in the Windward Islands, last time, the familiarity is rather comforting. Largely knowing what to expect (essentials: market location, availability of tasty food (or not), laundry facilities, garbage disposal) the changes are noticeable. More yachts…lots more yachts, everywhere.
Carriacou, north of Grenada, is still laid back. Street food shacks and vegetable stores intermittently line the beach road while bleating goats amble in the rough pasture. Pelicans dive for fish in the shallows, avoiding the charter boats that are maybe a little too near the reef at times. Minibuses still offer rides to Hillsborough, the main town. The tired Tyrell Bay boat yard is now operating, complete with travel lift and dock with duty free fuel - once you’ve checked out. The mangrove ridden site of a previous marina development is once again being worked with huge floating pontoons craned from supply ships and towed to their new location by a rather smart motor fishing yacht.
Union Island and Tobago Cays look busy, too busy to stop unfortunately, plus its a good day for sailing. An overnight stay in Bequia reminds us how pretty the anchorage is with its fretwork gingerbread houses along the shores. Then gorgeous St Vincent, the beautiful emerald green island with an unfortunately notorious reputation for ‘security incidents’ (including rather too many nasty robberies) and unsurprisingly it’s one of the least crowded. Such as shame as it looks so inviting and unspoilt but we resist. From here its a quick passage past St Lucia’s towering pitons, complete with sulphurous odour, to the northern anchorage of Rodney Bay for another overnight stop.
Checking in to Martinique, the French islands come into their own. The coffee shop at Ste-Anne has a clearance computer - fill in your own details, print and get it stamped, wifi and coffee optional (for a price of course) - that’s it. Baguettes, soft cheese, pate, wine. It’s all there, and surprisingly cheaper than many of the other non-french islands. Leader Price, the supermarket, has its own dinghy dock. Cruisers trundle around pushing wayward trollies laden with wine, beer and local rum, toilet rolls and tins of mushrooms, creme fraiche and camembert and carefully load the precious produce into their dinghies, then pray it doesn’t rain. We came prepared with (un-needed) tarpaulin this time. Clear water, friends, delightful sunsets and we’re ready to head north again. Last stop in the Windward islands - St Pierre. The northern town and former capital of Martinique, at least before the 1902 volcanic eruption of Mont Pelee. The lone survivor made it out alive from the town prison because the cell was sufficiently thick to withstand the heat. Blackened ruined walls are incorporated into later buildings as the town as gradually re-established itself. The french islands look very, well - French. Not sure what it is but the towns have that French look. Old stone and wooden homes with shutters, those attractive blue signs on buildings giving road name, the central church tower, citroens and renault cars, even with the Caribbean colour scheme the melee of faded colours looks undeniably French.
The sailing is interesting in the lee of the islands, the wind is erratic at best. From 2 knots to 20 knots in seconds as williwaws of accelerating winds sweep down the steep sided land blasting everything in its path, with little or no wind between. Sails are tweaked in and let out, reefed and un-reefed, the course is driven by the wind with a vague and general direction of travel at times to make the most of the fical wind. Between the islands the trade winds gather pace through the gaps with more than enough breeze and a fair bit of swell. The rain squalls however are best avoided. Sometimes you get rain squalls with no wind but not often here it seems. These have their own ferocity with horizontal rain accompanying the horizontal wave-top spray, white outs with lots of wind. Not really what we want from Caribbean sailing!
So onwards north to the Leewards.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
04 January 2017
Juffa is cleaned, tidied and decorated (albeit minimally) in preparation for Christmas and visitors. Pamphlets and tastefully folded towels strategically placed to leave a good and lasting impression of Juffa, or at least that’s the hope. However, leaving the anchorage at St Georges after stocking up on essentials, the port propeller isn't feeling too good, maybe a plastic bag or rope around the prop? Diving to check…there’s no propellor…not the best news just before the holiday period. Snorkelling along along the track out of the anchorage we look in vain for the propeller, at least the visibility is good. Three hours later, a final look before heading back to the boat and the propeller is spotted glinting 5m below the dinghy in broken coral.
We usually have two propellers and two engines. Lots of boats only have one, so just the starboard propeller should be enough you’d think. However, manoeuvring is not always so easy. You have to have enough speed to turn to starboard (right) without the port engine, or make a big loop to port (left). Not so bad when there’s plenty of space but in a crowded anchorage it’s a bit more tricky. Plus the port engine has the luxurious role of heating up our water.
The dry season hasn't quite started. There’s sunny days, wet days, windy days and days with a mixture of everything, but the rain is warm, the wind keeps the biters away and the clouds give respite from the heat of the sun. Dad and Toby join us for ten days of festivities. The marina provides the welcome venue and a chance to acclimatise to life on water over night, then off for a short sail around the corner, anchoring near Calivigny Island. Fun filled days of wind surfing, snorkelling, dinghy rides, eating too much, perfecting pina coladas and opening the odd present or two with only a few rolly anchorages and ‘exhilarating’ sails.
We’ve never travelled inland here before and a trip around the island is great. Things to see: cocoa growing and the chocolate factory (ginger chocolate is rather lovely), nutmeg plantations with labour intensive sorting and processing (ripe when the red mace is visible through the split outer shell - and intrestingly…depicted on the Granada flag…so now we know which way is up), rain forest jungles complete with waterfalls, and of course, rum distilling (although the molasses now arrives in containers, imported as sugar cane is no longer grown). The tasting proves to be a hit though with the male members of the family who make the most of the minuscule tasting beakers by topping up more frequently than expected.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
11 December 2016
Leaving Tobago, the night passage to Grenada looked wet. Rain squalls crossed in front and behind before finally enclosing around us. Radar images show no escape so biting the bullet and hopefully avoiding the increasingly close lightning strikes we slowly made our way northwest. With two reefs in the main and minimal visibility, lightning strobed across the immediate vicinity with scary regularity briefly illuminating the moonless darkness while we gave thanks that we hadn't been stuck, yet.
Grenada was the point where we 'crossed our track' or the 'take off point' for our circumnavigation some years earlier. Approaching Prickly Bay the 'round the world' was completed and we settled in to familiar environments once again. D' Big Fish had gone, replaced by a newer, trendier and now abandoned bar. Not a cruiser in sight. The anchorage however seemed more crowded than ever and still a little roly but a good place to check in and reacquaint ourselves with the island. Carib beer seemed scarce but the cruisers support network was up and running, informing all and sundry where you could get the last few slabs on the island. I'm sure this was a marketing ploy - no Caribbean island could run dry.
Rolling lost its charm and an alternative anchorage was sought just off St George's, the picturesque historical town, complete with regular cruise ships, street food, vendor stalls, mad minibus drivers, internet top-ups, fish market, steep steep roads, local clothing shops by the hundreds and rum shacks. Downtown Grenada hadn't changed too much. Built on a ridge with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Carenage/Marina/Yacht Club on the other with old brick former spice warehouses of St George's lining the Carenage. Sandy beaches intersperse the western headlands with resorts, parasols and street vendors where building seems to be on a vast scale while up market developments and palatial houses dot the reef protected southern shores. Cruisers hang out here. In their hundreds. Yachts that have seen better days nestle into the mud while 'snow birds' (northern latitude winter visitors) catch some sun and while away days catching up with friends. Mangrove bounded shores line reef-protected hurricane holes. Endless building plots spring up, mostly underway but some carcasses languish, abandoned before their prime along the steeply sloping shores.
The private island of Calivigny is home to the luxury retreat frequented by the rich and famous. You can stay there from upwards of $20,000 per night (minimum of 4 nights), or anchor off for free! Nevertheless, the anchorage is beautiful with cooling breezes and minimum intrusion of biting insects, so far. The gusty trade winds provide a little entertainment for the water sports enthusiasts while Atlantic Ocean Races (Royal Ocean Racing Club) finish at St George's in good time Canaries to Grenada - multihull - in just over 6 days this year.
24 November 2016
'Squiding' proves to be quite a skill, although a skill not yet proficiently acquired. Clear water reveals gangs of the succulent morsels drifting around the warmer rocky bays. Flashing wings, the secret language is a mystery, yet they manage to avoid our attempts at luring them with a tasty pink shrimp lure - apparently their favourite treat. Quite by chance two are caught from the dinghy but no idea what worked that time. Nevertheless it is a free dinner, albeit rather small portions.
Returning for round two, the heavy thunderstorm has reduced visibility so chances of success are unfortunately smaller (as we can no longer find them). Round three and the water is crystal clear. Squid are spotted where they like to hang out. Snorkelling to herd them doesn’t seem to work but knowing where they are at the moment is helpful, probably.
Bait fish balls swarm frantically, urged on by some devastation behind them. Tuna are approaching. The silver pack destroying anything in its way. Leaping bait fish perform aerial gymnastics to lurch away from the voracious eaters. Then they are gone, scales and guts left in their wake.
The Star Pride arrives awakening the anchorage. The cruise ship touring the Caribbean anchors on the far side of the bay with early risers disgorging to waiting minibuses. The stream of passengers disembarks for island visits, diving, fishing trips or a sedate kayak around the picturesque bay, returning in time for sunset dining. Anchored yachts watch them disappear into the distance as the sky once again turns pink.
11 November 2016
Ten days in Tobago and a little time to chill out. The anchorage in Man of War Bay with the northern town of Charlotteville is a deep and largely protected anchorage. High-sided tree covered hills surround the bay on three sides. Homes nestle on the tiny patch of flatter ground while others perch perilously on the steeply sloping hillsides. Any short walk is fairly strenuous but the views are worth it (see alfresco toilet in photo gallery. The weather is apparently 'change over' weather - misty rain clouds reminiscent of the English Lake District hang over hilltops before drifting out to sea. Explosive thunderstorms come out of the blue shockingly loud and a little too close for comfort.
Sunny weather reveals coral reefs edging the shore but swimming has been out of the question. Jellyfish by the million have taken up residence and the thought of stings (apparently not too bad - but stings none the less) have dampened any enthusiasm for water exploration. Yesterday at first glance, and for no apparent reason, they were gone. Lulled into hopefulness a dinghy outing ensued with snorkels at the ready. A quick peek from the dinghy with masks in place and not a jelly in sight. Tentatively slipping into the water (just in case) there wasn't a jellyfish to be seen. Snorkelling over the coral reef where the turtles hang out, it was great to be in the water again after so long.
A more relaxed pace to jobs but the so called 'silent blades' are installed on the wind generator. Bilges are cleaned. The water maker is running beautifully, although we're still on the cautious side double and triple checking operation instructions every time.
The fruit and veg market arrives on a Friday morning, for one day only, set up under a canvas cover on the main/only road. Not much in the way of greens but plenty of other things on offer. The basil and salad seeds however are coming on a treat. So far we haven't spied any of the promised squid to catch, but there's time yet and lots of bays to investigate.