A British Summer
18 September 2017
New Bern, North Carolina, USA, has been a pleasure, at least so far. Sharing facilities has speeded up the resident sailmaker's production of our new genoa, now crispy white with 'toast' UV strip. (One day all the canvas will be the same colour, maybe.) Neighbours share stories, offer lifts and advice. It's all rather nice. Juffa is stripped back - sails, bimini and stack pack stowed below with anything that might blow away from dan buoy to electronic equipment while the wind generator is de-bladed. All essential preparations for making a trip back to the UK while the Atlantic hurricane season is underway.
Back in sunny Sussex we acclimatise to the slightly less tropical temperatures spending time with baby Neave (who's now a very determined toddler) while developing additional strategies to distract her when she's abandoned to our company by her parents and prefers to hug the door they departed from, rather than us... She does however, like the range of nibbles at the West Dean Chilli Festival rather more than last year. Cornwall is visited once again although this time we manage to miss the blackberry picking, benefiting only from the post production blackberry jelly which is rather nice. The scenic coast at St Ives looks totally British. No where else have we seen families bravely huddled behind wind breaks eating sandy sandwiches in fleeces before they strip off to experience the waves, revealing newly developed pinkness.
British beaches do seem to have their own unique feel. Beach huts, crazy golf courses and for Sussex, the pebbles. The birthday sister's day out embraces them all with a little healthy competition for first place in crazy golf, although rules may be disputed at times. The conker games however continued through the twilight.
Hurricane awareness has been raised throughout our visit but more so as Irma makes an appearance. The regular visits to NOAA and the National Hurricane Centre websites become more systematic, even involving night time updates. Irma develops into a major hurricane and devastates so much of the Caribbean we've recently visited. TV coverage shows the horrific impact on people's lives. Fortunately for us Irma tracks west and avoids Juffa but sadly brings so much destruction to others.
Our final weekend provides more British pastimes with the local Sheep Fair. Tombolas, lucky dips, fair ground rides, dancing sheep, prancing dancers and of course, lots of pristine sheep plus lengthy discussions with grand children about the best use of their pocket money and whether there might possibly be a candy floss (sugar candy) in it for them...but only after the chickens, ducks, donkeys, tortoises and of course sheep have been admired and inspected. Nevertheless, the Sheep Fair judging carries on regardless -with little interference, or notice, from our gang.
Florida to North Carolina, USA
07 July 2017
NOAA gives positions of the western edge of the Gulf Stream as it heads north up the coast of America. It makes such a difference to speed that we endeavour to stay in the current as much as possible. Up to 4 knots at times making our overall distance in 24 hours over 200 nm and the decrease in water temperature as you move out of the warm tropical current gives a clue on current direction. The weather isn't that great though. Frequent rain squalls with gusting winds and wind over current waves make things less idyllic but progress is quickly made by opting to stay in the current rather than the shorter more direct route. Eventually approaching Beaufort/Morehead, North Carolina, the channel markers nod between the rather large waves as the wind continues to build. Heading towards the low-lying land a pleasure trawler judders into the steep waves as we surf down wind. The wind drops and flags flutter while small power boats with large speakers anchor along the beaches making the most of the forthcoming Independence Day holiday. Beaufort looks to be a pretty seaside town (renowned for its association with Blackbeard), we’ll visit again, but for now sleep beckons with pine trees scenting the air.
Dolphins cavort through the early morning anchorage slapping their tails, herding their fishy breakfast before heading out to sea and we have our first real experience of the Intracoastal Waterway. The river and canal waterway cuts the corner with a day/night off our journey. The inland scenery is beautiful, eagles soar over riverside houses while ‘Marry Me’ signs and sculptural dockside bird homes provide talking points as the occasional rather fast motor boat disturbs the tranquility. The shrimp trawler ahead trails its nets as it wends its way out of Adams Creek into the tannin brown Neuse River and we head towards New Bern. Juffa’s new home from home for a while.
The ‘new to us’ sail is inspected on grass overlooking the geese and ducks of New Bern. Additional luff and leech boxes are acquired while a dinghy trip up river with local boaters give us the first taste of North Carolina USA. Breakfast of everything is tried at the up river store - bacon, eggs, biscuit with cheese, hashbrown, sausage, grits…and it is an experience….maybe the grits will grow on us.
Bahamas to Florida
28 June 2017
Provisions are a little low. Not much food available in the small store at Mayaguana and all the fresh stuff has been run out for some time, so the main town of Georgetown is a welcome sight. The tiny access for dinghies and local boats under the main road leads to a dock by the grocery store, Exuma Market. Fortunately the supply ship arrived yesterday, unfortunately the containers are not yet unpacked. Nevertheless bread that we don't have to bake, even if a little dry, and the remnants of the cold store tomatoes look appealing. The anchorages here swell in size during the winter season with hundreds of boats spending time with access to grocery stores, internet and bars. Now at the end of the season a dozen or so boats linger in the anchorage taking their chances in the hurricane routes while unloading of fresh-ish food takes place.
A couple of cays further north, the famed swimming pigs are available for impromptu photo shoots. Apparently their numbers depleted by inappropriate drinking of beer, unkindly left by touristing visitors. They do swim. Hearing the dulcet sound of approaching engines they trundle to the waters edge with varying degrees of enthusiasm to see what titbits the visitors might provide for them to eat. Being a little cautious and wary of causing further depletion to the island stock we elect for a few veggies to offer as tempting treats. Piglets of all sizes approach with their huge parents muscling in, enthusiastically nibbling the dinghy cover and outboard propeller while ignoring the healthy snacks offered.
The clear shallow waters become more common place although sailing with less than a metre under the keels still feels a little uncomfortable, and 10cm under the hulls at times if you want to find the best anchoring spots. The sightings of huge nurse sharks, sting rays swimming a little close for comfort, turtles surfacing continue, as does the kite surfing.…Friends on African Affair share the anchorages, kites and note worthy discussions regarding jumping technique and board short styles.
Leaving the AAs to do their stuff the relatively short distance to Florida involves stops at Nassau (not really our cup of tea) where we anchor in an uncomfortably rolly anchorage just off the unfortunately named Paradise Island and Atlantis (not how we’d imagined it) and the Berry Islands (very pretty and pretty shallow). From here, a slog against the Gulf Stream current curling around the Northwest Providence Channel past the Eldorado Shoal. Finally approaching Florida’s coast, the loom visible in the distance through the night while skyscrapers floated into view as day broke and suddenly the pace, scale and focus of life changed.
Florida - Power boats proliferated, speeding through the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) but considerately slowing through the No Wake Zones before accelerating with enormous rooster tails of water, huge homes with accompanying private docks, NO ACCESS signs, loud music and weekend gatherings of the people who want to be seen, with friends. However, a ‘new to us’ sail is picked up, arriving from Australia so quickly and taking so long to be delivered the final 20 miles. So a little time is spent waiting and a little of Florida is experienced. The last race of the Americas Cup is watched with Americans.
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.