December 19, 2011,, St Lucia
Our first day in St Lucia was marked as a day of recuperating: both from accumulated fatigue, and self-inflicted migraine (should have remembered that the local rhum punch is more potent than you think!). Add to this mix, sweltering temperature and 90% humidity, and it will take another 2-3 days to sum up the energy to start tidying up the boat and explore the area. It is lucky that we are the first family boat to have arrived, and the other children (and their parents) are not due for another 3 days, leaving us enough time to recover (The kids of course beg to differ, and are growing impatient every day: "this is boring! No one is here yet, why did we rush to arrive when there is nothing organised?" I threaten them to go back out to sea for another few days so they can wait for their friends there, they eventually settle when they find the swimming pool)
In the meantime, we have been loaded with tourism information about the island, and are having great discussions with Marc and Anne on what to do while in St Lucia: ziplining, skegway, horse riding, hiking, snorkelling, jump up...I can see our activities budget running out in the first week, so make a deal with them: there will be one "fun" activity (read expensive) for every island we visit, promise! And secretly, I pray for the other families to arrive FAST.
By the end of the week, all the families are in, conveniently assigned by the ARC to one common pontoon, so all the kids can get together from dawn to dusk. Not surprisingly, our boat ends up being the meeting point and we regularly have 10 of them on board catching up with Xbox and Wii games they started playing back in Las Palmas. Terry and I do our own catch up with some of the parents as well as other crew we befriended in Las Palmas, so you could say life is back to normal!
The atmosphere here in St Lucia is somewhat different to Las Palmas. Starting with the ARC organisation, which is more focused on the welcoming of every boat, rather than organising daily parties. Over 10 days, there are 4 major parties scheduled, and an entertainment program set up on the marina boardwalk by local businesses open to ARC participants and locals as well. It's all very informal, which is a good thing since we all feel a bit wary after the crossing and prefer to socialise more "privately" with crew we know rather than join hundreds of people and queue for drinks and nibbles (even if they're free). So unlike Las Palmas, where most people were getting to know each other, Rodney Bay Marina feels more like a reunion venue where small groups organise their own mini -events. We're no different and spend our time either entertaining on board ( perfect boat for hosting a cocktail party for 7 families!), or on other people's (thank you to Ensemble for a great dinner party, and a special mention for Phaedo whose owner and crew have become the kids absolute favourites!).
We did venture outside the marina with other ARC families from Delphini, Guma, and Iod'l , travelling to Dennery, on St Lucia's east side, to attend a Seafood Fiesta. Otherwise known as Jump Up, these festivities are organised every week end by villages all over the islands, and consist of several stalls selling street food and drinks to locals and tourists alike, to the sound of very loud caribean music. In most cases, the main street will be closed to traffic, allowing the place to become a giant street party. Some villages are more touristy than others, organising pick up and drop off from some of the resorts, Dennery is a small fishing village just getting onto the Jump Up scene. They offered free transport (just as well, since it took 45 minutes each way driving across the island in the dark!), the grand tour of the catholic church prior to taking us to the stalls on the beachfront.The food on offer was essentially seafood: grilled snapper, lobsters, BBQ fish guts ( a local delicacy), conch soup, turtle stew ( we passed) and wilks (like giant cockles, very sandy tasting). All was washed down by beer or potent rhum punches, and entertainment was provided by the local snake charmer ( a hit with the kids), and many other villagers high on rhum or other spirits. Indeed spirits are what fuels these evenings, and the advice is to go there early and leave early before the party degenerates in a drunken brawl. On cue, we were whisked away by our driver who delivered us back home around 9.30pm. While I would not rank it as a gourmet experience to be repeated, it certainly was a lot of fun, rustic atmosphere, very different from the resort style evenings in Rodney Bay.
Other activities scheduled by the VOAHANGY kids club included snorkelling around Pigeon Island headland, beach party and Pig in a Bun lunch on Reduit beach, boat party (Marc invited all the kids " on his boat" when the adults were ashore at the marina manager's party!) and ziplining at Rainforest Sky Rides. The latter involved gliding 30 meters high between rainforest trees, hooked to double cables and going from platforms to platforms some 60 meters apart. We all had a lot of fun, screaming and laughing, pretending to be monkeys, some of us facing our fears of height. Marc is now asking what's next, bungee jumping?
The highlight of the ARC program was to be the prize giving ceremony on December 17th. This is the reason why we spent so much time in Rodney Bay, and after 10 days of comparing each other's performance the excitement was building up among the crew. We thought we had a chance as the first family boat, maybe in the top 3 of the multihulls after corrected time, Marc even reckoned he caught the biggest fish. We all dressed in our VOAHANGY crew shirt for the occasion (you never know, we may be on stage), and crossed our fingers. When the results were announced, we found that we were beaten by a whisker in many categories: biggest fish, first family boat, 4th ranking in the multihull category. Even though we knew the definite outcome would not be known until the last night, I'd lie if I said we were not disappointed, and explaining to the kids the difference between corrected time (with handicap) and elapsed time (actually time to cross the finishing line) was no easy task. As well as line honours and division prizes the ARC has a multitude of "fun" prizes such as the youngest skipper, oldest skipper, youngest crew member, most beautiful boat, best blog, most visited blog, etc...so it was a fun night still and we cheered on our friends who did get acknowledged (PHAEDO and their most beautiful boat, GUMA for matching their serial number with their ranking number, FRI FLYT for line honours in their division, BLUE OCEAN finishing first in Multihulls, well done guys!)
And so as the ARC ends, we look back and realise we got out of it everything we wanted: we made new friends, the kids had great company all along, clearing in and out was easy as all the logistics issues where taken care of. However the sheer number of participants was sometimes daunting: while the seminars and inspections were well organised, the parties turned into a free for all "let me get to the bar first" affairs where over 500 people rush for canapés and free drinks, we lost Anne many times as she was following trays of chicken wings trying to get a share of the action! I have the feeling that most participants were on their best behaviour in Las Palmas (after all, you never knew whose help you may need during the crossing) then let their hair down in St Lucia believing they didn't need to impress anyone anymore. Don't get me wrong, most participants were delightful, but a few were down right rude. Realistically though, with that many people attending, I am not sure you could blame the organisers for the bad behaviour of some of the participants, so let's say that the ARC has fallen victim of its own success.
NEWSFLASH! We received communication from the ARC on December 18th, that after recalculating the results , we were placed 4th in the Multihull division. So we were right after all. Mixed feelings now: we're delighted to find we performed as well as we thought, disappointed we didn't get to step on stage and share the excitement with our friends. As Marc and Anne say, we could have been famous if only for 5 minutes!! Maybe next time.
December 14, 2011,, St Lucia
15 days on a yacht seems like a jail sentence to some, heaven to others. Even for our very tight group of 4, it means different things. Terry sees it as another fun challenge, so do I with the added bonus of detoxing after weeks of partying. Marc and Anne find it boring in spite of no school, breathing clean fresh air, and the multitude of activities we organise on board. Go figure...
I won't describe our days in details, our daily logs on the ARC website did just that. Instead I will answer (or try anyway) some of the FAQs about life on passage.
Do you stop at night?
No joke, we've been asked this question a lot! We can't stop really: we're mid-ocean, the water is 6000 mts deep (obviously too much for our anchor chain), there are other boats out there to watch for, and I hate to think how long the voyage would take if we did stop.
So, how do you organise your nights?
We have a system, whereby I will take the after dinner watch (9pm to 3am), and Terry will take the early morning watch (3am to 9am). This is much longer than the more conventional system of 3 hours on/3 hours off, but I personally cannot function with so little sleep, and 6 hours is just the right amount for a restful night. Yes, they are long watches, but I keep busy washing dishes, listening to music, writing emails, checking instruments and keeping an eye on the occasional boat that shows up on radar, staring at the sky and figuring out which star is which (some of them are planes, it turns out!) Terry's routine is pretty much the same, except he spends more time trimming the sails than I do ( in fact I don't do sail changes, I just adjust the heading with the autopilot following the wind), and makes breakfast for all! The kids? They sleep thru it all, no matter what the weather is like!
What do you eat?
Everything! It's just like at home really. Breakfasts can be pancakes, granola, toasts, weet bix, porridge, bacon and eggs. Lunches are easy: sandwiches, wraps, paninis, salads, hamburgers, left overs from dinner...Dinners are the highlight of the day: roast dinners, sausages, fillet steaks, curries, pork spare ribs, and numerous fish dishes thanks to the many fresh catches! For these of us with a sweet tooth, there is plenty of chocolate, ice cream, freshly baked brownies and apple pie
What do you do all day?
Beside eating, we all have a morning routine. Terry checks all the systems on the boat (rigging, engine, generator, batteries...), weather forecast, other ARC boats positions, emails, joins the daily SSB radio net...I clean ( a lot!), go over the provisions, making sure nothing is spoiling. Marc sets the fishing rods out for the day, Anne plans the movies of the day. Then it's reading, Scrabble, movies, cooking, writing, fishing, craft activities, science experiments, ocean gazing, dolphin spotting...With so much time on our hand, one thing we find is that we think a lot: we plan our next destination, holiday, new ways to do school next year...As someone told us once "we're getting acquainted with our brain again" (must admit there are days when I think I lost it!)
How can you put up with each other all this time?
We're lucky to have a big boat, where each of us have our own cabin. With the flybridge on top, a settee up front as well as a large back deck, there are plenty of spots where to find solitude if one wishes. Also, we're family so we can tell each other off (and we do) without worrying about being politically correct. Arguments never last long on board, you can't drive off to the nearest pub (or shop) to let off steam, you can't call your BFF, or even stay in your room forever!!! We all need each other, be it for a sail change, land a big fish, or help cook the brownies.
What does it look like out there?
Absolutely gorgeous, even when it rains! Just look at our photo gallery.
December 6, 2011,, Somewhere in the Atlantic
It's been a frustrating last day: after 7 days of steady winds, our down
hill run came to a halt when the breeze literally stopped. It actually
started yesterday, and all the talk on the net revolved around who was
going to be the first to turn the engine on approaching St Lucia.
We finally admitted defeat today, when boat speed fell under 5 knots. It's
not for lack of trying, we must have made 5 sail changes today, trying to
catch whatever little breeze there was: gennaker up, main sail up, jibe
this way, that way, we were heading towards Porto Rico at some point...then
had enough, and decided to motor sail so we could at least get to St
Lucia today. Under ARC rules, there is a penalty for motoring, though we
won't know the extent of it until prize giving day (I think). Since we
won't get a prize for being first or last, where our ranking ends up
doesn't matter much, and no one on board is keen to spend another night at
sea so close to the end!
So here we are, 20 miles from Pigeon Island at the top end of St Lucia, we
will have clocked up 2850nm, including 2600mn under sail, in a little over
15 days (final finishing time to be declared at the finishing line).
We end this crossing with a surprise catch from last night: a 40kg
yellowfin tuna, which occured right at the beginning of a squall. We've had
our fair share of sashimi and tartare now. It took nearly 2 hours to cut
and package it and we must have 12 kilos of fish in the fridge, waiting for
takers at the marina!!! Anyone want some fish ????
December 6, 2011,, Rodney Bay
Oh what a feeling!
We finally crossed the finishing line at 23h31 Monday night, greeted at the dock by the staff from the ARC and the St Lucia Tourism board, armed with rhum punches, cold Heineken beers, soft drinks for the kids, fruit baskets and BIG smiles. We could not think of a more exciting arrival.
Even if it not our first crossing, the feeling of achievement is still just as great: 15 days 11 hours 1 minute, 2850nm (2600nm under sail) 27 hours engine time, average boat speed 7.9 knots with top speed of 20 knots (not for very long!). We crossed the line 33rd out of 217 boats, the first family boat and the first australian crew (it is a competition after all, right/) This is for the vital statistics.
On the food front, we still have a lot left, due to overcatering from my part, excellent fishing from the boys. There is no more beers though, Terry doing his bit to lighten the boat (how much do 90 beer cans weigh?)
The boat has made it in one piece (beside the damaged handrail), so has the crew. Our sails are intact, which we're very happy about, when we hear from the boats who came first, at the cost of blown spinnakers.
So yes, we're glad to be here. In fact, we were so thrilled on arrival that long after everyone had left, no one on board wanted to go to bed (it was 1am local time by then) so Terry and I opened a bottle of wine to wind down and celebrate. It felt good at the time, awful the next day! But that's another story...
Photo courtesy of Tim Wright, www.photoaction.com
December 5, 2011,, Somewhere in the Atlantic
La journee a commence par la disparition soudaine des alizes: une minute
nous avions 18-20 noeuds de vent, puis une chute brutale a 10-12 noeuds qui
a continue dans l'apres midi. Bien sur nous ne sommes pas les seuls dans ce
cas la, et le sujet de conversation sur le net radio aujourd'hui etait de
savoir quel bateau serait le premier a demarrer les moteurs a l'approche de
St Lucie. Nous sommes une vingtaine actuellement a environ 190nm de
l'arrivee, et il n'y a rien de plus frustrant, apres des jours entiers a
bonne allure, que d'etre stoppe si pres du but! L'usage du moteur est
permis, dans les regles de l'ARC, mais une penalite est infligee. Nous
avons bien essaye faire la traversee le plus possible a la voile, mais
nous avons enfin admis notre defaite en fin d'apres midi et fait recours au
diesel quand notre vitesse est tombee a 4 noeuds!
Et puis surprise, au coucher du soleil, alors qu'un gros nuage gris se
profilait a l'horizon, la ligne de peche s'est mise a hurler: on a juste eu
le temps de se ruer dessus, et remonter un enorme thon jaune de 35-40 kilos
avant de se faire arroser par un grain qui a eu le merite non seulement de
rafraichir tout le monde mais aussi de nous faire avancer sans moteur
pendant 2 heures.
Et le thon dans tout ca? Les hommes ont mis 3/4 d'heures pour le
rincer et le depecer, une petite partie s'est retrouvee en sashimi et
tartare pour le dinner, et il me reste une quinzaine de kilos dans le
frigo. On va en congeler quelques tranches, et j'espere faire des heureux a
Rodney Bay marina demain soir avec le reste. Avis aux amateurs!
December 4, 2011,, Somewhere in the Atlantic
Another 2 days to go, 369nm between us and St Lucia.
From today's position report, Terry has worked out that we have about 20
boats within 50nnm of us, so in theory we should all arrive on the same day
even though we haven't seen each other since the start of the race!
For some reason we all feel tired and fed up with the crossing today. It's
not that it has been a bad one, on the contrary: we've suffered only minor
damage, had very nice weather, no storms (so far!), no one has been sick,
the meals on board have been terrific, so has the fishing, and we didn't
even have school to worry about! No, I put it down to accumulated fatigue
due to odd sleeping hours, stress from the past few night watches dealing
with squalls ( we were hit with 37kts winds last night!), and increased
temperature making the cabin quite warm and uncomfortable. I suggested
tonight, that dinners be BBQ or (and) salad from now on, this is no weather
for oven cooking!
Already, the kids have moved on to other things, asking where we'll spend
Xmas ( 3 weeks to go, time to panic?). Marc can't wait to go lobster
fishing, and Anne wants to go pushbike riding. For the rest of us, a big
walk is in order,as would be a nice drink (preferably after the walk!). If
anyone should be impatient, it would be Terry who ran out of beer today. He
is threatening to raid the wine cellar, which has been untouched since I
decided to go on a detox during the crossing.
In any case, we certainly are looking forward to spend some time in the
islands, with passages no more than a day sail!