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.
Trinidad ... continued
24 October 2016
Back to Trinidad. Arriving and remembering that Juffa was left clean but not terribly tidy. The apparently vital redistribution of contents of above and below berths, cupboards and lockers that happened before our UK visit was a dim and distant memory but brutally brought back in focus with almost 6 weeks on the hard, in the boat yard. Hired AC gave a welcome reprieve from the hot humidity. Temperatures never below 24 at night and mostly mid 30's in the day. Afternoon thunderstorms and torrential rain are common, although not daily, and bring a welcome respite from the heat, albeit temporarily. Warmth is great when you're not working flat out but it's a little wearing when your newly applied gelcoat is dripped on by your own perspiration. Living on the hard is definitely over rated, particularly when night times are punctuated by a trip to the bucket.
Lots of jobs accomplished however - autopilot serviced (almost impossibly difficult to remove/install), water maker finally installed but still need commissioning (once we escape from the oily clutches of Chaguaramas), dinghy patched and working oarlocks (so far), kitchen worktop updated and looks so smart, slightly bent davits replaced with straight 'new to us davits' acquired in Fiji (equally impossible to fit unless able to dislocate shoulder and rotate ratchet spanner/wrench in invisible space behind liferaft), toilets serviced (nice job - not), holding tank pipe replaced (even nicer job...), Coppercoat anti-fouling rubbed back, anodes replaced, saildrive oil replaced, winches serviced, spinnaker and main halyard replaced (3 hours up the mast is not a good feeling), renew log transducer which hopefully works, and on and on....
Cycling here has been really handy. The little wheeled fold-up bikes once again come into their own as we trundle around Chaguaramas in search of the particular bolt, nut, screw or pipe joiners (in metric of course, or not). Vultures clamber over each other on the pot holed roads pushing their way to the front row of the road kill while local vendors start serving doubles and roti at day break. The food is an amalgam of the cultures in Trinidad with Creole, Indian and Chinese street food almost everywhere. Home cooked pies, pastries and beans are sold out of cool boxes alongside roads, to queues of locals. Doubles are a Trini delicacy, fried dough with chickpea curry and very moreish. Much of the street food is dough based - fried, baked, filled, rolled with veggies, boney meat, shark or salt fish. But the Saturday market is amazing. Hundreds of stalls selling some fish, prawns or meat but mainly vegetables with a smattering of fruit. Avocado is plentiful, huge and fortunately for us, not sweet. Enticing aromas hang in the air of the herb stalls. Long leafed local chandon beni replaces coriander while thyme and rosemary compete with ginger and garlic in the heady olfactory medley. Callaloo, the leaves of dasheen need more cooking than you expect to break down the acid (bad experience last time in the Caribbean but have learnt now....).
Maxi taxis (yellow stripes on our route) take you into the capital of Port of Spain for TT$5 - about £0.65. They vary in their apparent road worthiness but all so far have arrived in one piece which is remarkable considering the extensive network of potholes and missing road plus the antics of other road users.
Finally back in the water and feeling much more comfortable with a breeze and gently bobbing waves while ignoring the occasional wash from rather too fast water traffic booming its favourite Trini music. Still jobs to do, but we're not on the hard.....
Trinidad to UK
12 August 2016
No blog for ages but lots going on.
Juffa is in Trinidad safely tucked up in the boat yard, hopefully out of reach of the Caribbean hurricanes. Decisions were finally made to upgrade the water maker with an increase in water production from 12l per hour to over 113l per hour. We’ve always had enough water….but have had to be carefully prudent about what to use it for and how much to use particularly as the water maker largely ran off the solar panels. Rainy days for catching water were preferable to cloudy low power days. So now we will still be careful but maybe a little fresher smelling as the day goes on.
Carrying the water maker back to the UK for an eBay sale proved a little eventful. The baggage checked in just inside the weight limit. The call ‘Cole, William come to the desk’ wasn’t entirely unexpected as the parcel of pipes, motors and membranes was inspected by security. Satisfied with its provenance we headed back to the UK from Trinidad to Tobago to St Lucia and finally London Gatwick. A very long and much over rated night flight.
Balmy West Sussex was typically English. Occasional halcyon days of hot blue skies interspersed cloudy overcast grey but on the whole a very respectful summer. Celebrating new baby, birthdays and time with family was the best. Schools are back, leaves are turning and its time to head back to boat jobs, hopefully followed by a little Caribbean time.
St Laurent de Maroni, French Guiana
18 July 2016
Saint Laurent de Maroni is a border town between French Guiana and Surinam (opposite Albina in Surinam). It was formerly the arrival point for prisoners who arrived at the Camp de la Transportation, many destined for Isle du Salut. The convicts provided a free workforce and built the official buildings starting, of course, with the jail. Dotted through the melange of architecture the old buildings are a mix of fading colonial grandeur and functional penitentiary style. Fortunately drainage systems were part of the overall plans and mosquitos are few in number.
The importance is highlighted as there’s no shortage of rain. Temperatures increase from sunrise until the blackness of mid-afternoon thunder clouds encroach. Water catching isn’t difficult with tanks filled in a few hours. The wetness and humidity doesn’t do much for inhibiting mouldiness unfortunately so tried and tested methods of de-moulding are back. Nevertheless, the decks are shiny and salt-free. All winches, furlers, ropes and blocks are thoroughly flushed with copious quantities of fresh water so all is good on board.
With the return to French Overseas Territories comes the joys of baguettes, rather nice cheese and of course, Bonne Maman jam, reasonably priced red wine plus internet coverage that is largely uninterrupted…or at least that’s the theory. The daily thunderstorms and vast quantities of rain water do occasionally impact on the availability of connectivity. However nothing electronic has been destroyed in its safe place - the oven - yet.
Local ferries or pirogues transport people the short distance across the river, to and from Surinam, usually without the cumbersome administrative processes that are incurred in cross border movement (which we in the UK may well soon come to know and love once again….). The French/English dictionary has become an important accompaniment to forays ashore. Portuguese has been forgotten (although never terribly well established it has to be said) yet Spanish is still flowing with our neighbours, Rusalka of the Seas (actually their English is amazing and our gesture language has improved marginally). It does seem that although our confidence in French is greater than our competence we are able to accomplish the basics - i.e. purchase the previously mentioned lovely French comestibles.
The anchorage is well protected by an interesting array of semi-sunken wrecks, slowly evolving into complete ecosystems with the range of tall tree canopy and shade inhabiting plants. The ‘whoop-de-do’ bird makes itself known with its distinctive call but sadly it has remained elusive so its true identity is still something of a mystery.
Arriving the day before Bastille Day, celebration preparations were underway. Gazebos housing the South American traditions of loud music and party time cluttered the shores while the booming base reverberated through the boat. The next day more sombre reflections took place with flags hung at half mast while the French Forces paraded, remembering the terrible carnage at Nice.
Ominous clouds are gathering so it is time to post this blog before we get wind battered, washed away or zapped.
Isle du Salut, French Guiana
17 July 2016
Apparently so called (Islands of Salvation) because the missionaries went there to escape from the plague on the mainland. They are tiny volcanic islands off the coast of French Guiana.
Ile du Diable, or Devil’s Island, is famous for its imprisonment of Captain Dreyfus when the islands were a penal colony of France. Isle Royale had the general prisoners who were free to roam around the island, Isle St Joseph provided accommodation for those criminals in solitary confinement and Isle du Diable for political prisoners, including Dreyfus after his conviction for treason. But perhaps the islands are best known through the novel Papillon, by Henri Charriere who was imprisoned there for 9 years.
The islands now are a tourist destination and hoards arrive by day charter catamarans to wander and wonder at the islands. Agoutis, guinea pig like coconut eating rodents, scamper under the forest canopy creating a litter of cored coconuts while monkeys shake palms, loading the air with coconut bombs that explode on impact a little too close for comfort.
The occasional sign indicates, in a general sort of way, what may be on the island. There are however many signs to highlight safety concerns - falling rocks, slippery slopes….nothing mentions the dangerous coconuts.