Near Gales, Fishy Tales and Collisions with Whales…..
25 October 2010 | Back Across the Atlantic, West to East
On Monday, 14th June 2010, We set sail for the Azores with our good friends Sue and Bill, newly arrived from England. We expected the trip to be fairly slow, with probable calms and possible, but unlikely, bad weather.
We adjusted into the daily routine very quickly and were all very relaxed, doing 2-hour night watches and then covering the daytime pretty evenly amongst us. We took turns cooking the evening meal which, for Bill, was Fray Bentos pie, potatoes, onions, carrots and gravy each and every time - but no-one minded!
The first days were spent reading, relaxing on deck, trying to find a bit of shade to keep cool, taking turns at the helm and having seawater "showers" either in the cockpit or on the foredeck.
Bill followed Fi on night watches and no matter what method she employed - quietly whispering his name, almost shouting, tapping his leg, shaking his foot - he always woke up with a gasp of fright and shocked expression, usually resulting in Fi going back to the cockpit to await his arrival with tears of laughter streaming down her face.
One clear, starry, calm night followed another and we couldn't believe our luck as, although progress wasn't too quick, we were managing to sail and were hopeful that the fair winds and weather would continue.
Sue was blighted with a blocked ear since her snorkelling expeditions and we tried all sorts of "old wives" remedies to assist from pouring olive oil into it to jet-washing with a fairy liquid bottle (do not try this at home!). Eventually it did clear itself (or did Sue just say it had so we'd leave her alone?).
We had another yacht in our sights for a few days and Fi talked to them a couple of times. Their friendly skipper Francois and his two crew were French and spoke a little English although we could never quite grasp the name of the boat - something like Melange or Mes Anges. They were also bound for Horta and had managed to get a French forecast which predicted good weather. They would endeavour to contact us again the following day, but unfortunately after that night we lost touch.
Fi also spoke to a Cargo Ship which sounded like Lady "Rajirki"and again the forecast was for fine weather. We also listened in on the SSB to good ol' Herb each evening to hear him talking to other yachts in transit. There were a couple on passage to the Azores but none within less than 200nm of us; still, it gave us an idea of what was happening around us.
Bill amused us with magic tricks and we had a quiz every evening, taking it in turns to be quizmaster. The prize was a lucky-dip choc or sweet but surprisingly the prizes weren't claimed on quite a few evenings, resulting in a lot of chocolate sitting in the fridge doing nothing which is most unusual!
A highlight of the day was the "guess the mileage" competition which was won pretty consistently by the Skipper but all had their day.
Fi and Sue were sitting on the bow one afternoon and two amazingly beautiful dorado swam around the boat - blue and green with yellow tails. They stayed with us for quite a time and Fi willed them not to take the lures trailing astern. Unfortunately, a shearwater did "take the bait" and got his beak hooked on one of the lines. Luckily, he was completely unhurt - Dave reeled him in and unhooked him and, after a couple of pecks to Dave's cheek and arms he was set free again, none the worse for wear - unlike Dave.
By Day 6 we were motoring a little and by Day 7 we started to see Portuguese Man O'War's floating past with their pretty pink "sails" and 3 Tropic birds were circling our mast. We still saw the odd shearwater and the petrels started to become more prolific as we headed further out.
Day 9 saw us trying to sail but slowly. Dave shaved Bill's head and he now looked just like Ghandi and reappeared from his cabin for a photographic session with a white sheet wrapped around his nether regions like a yogi.
Another ship, Skia Trinity, gave SE 10kts and "good weather for your trip" and we saw two further ships within half an hour and then no more until a large motor yacht appeared called Teliost. Fi called it up and the very helpful and friendly skipper, whose name turned out to be Nigel, gave us a very detailed forecast and even called us back on VHF 16 to ask if there was anyone he could contact for us. We said no initially but then at Sue's suggestion asked him to send an email for her husband Gwyn to pick up to say we were fine but making slow progress. He said that wouldn't be a problem and asked if there was anything we needed - water or the like? Jokingly, Fi asked "I don't suppose you've got any ice cream?" to which he replied that he'd have a word with the chef! We were all laughing by this time as we didn't expect him to take us seriously but soon he was back on the radio saying they'd "sorted some things out" for us and would bring them over. Well! They were a good few miles ahead of us by then so had to turn around and come back (which probably cost about 100 quid in fuel!). They launched their rib with two crew on board who brought over 4 huge shopping bags full to the brim with goodies - lots of bottled water, huge cheeses, biscuits, crackers, bread, oranges, apples, and most importantly, Chocolate Ice Cream!!! We thanked them profusely, and the crew let slip it was the skipper's birthday so Dave called him back, changed to CH6, and we all sang happy birthday to him which we hope he appreciated. It was such a lovely gesture by Nigel and his crew and it really made our day - in fact our week! - and we all said how much we looked forward to emailing him when we could to thank him for his help and generosity. Isn't it great when you cross paths with lovely people. With the rib back onboard and a couple of blasts of their horn they were back on their way, leaving us to enjoy all the goodies and to eat the ice cream before it melted!
At last, the following day, a small dorado was caught on Fi's watch (thankfully she had just finished her cockpit shower or it could have all got a bit nasty!). A few tropic birds were sighted, a log of bamboo and a yellow plastic box.... Sue did her laundry and the Skipper read most of the day, well engrossed in his book. That night we saw a very bright light in the sky with the motion of a satellite. It was so huge and bright we guessed it must be the space station (or had Bill added hallucinogenic to the evening meal?)
Day 13 was half way and we held a half-way celebration with some "party food", all washed down with a glass of wine or beer. Sue and Fi dressed for the occasion in borrowed wigs from Sue's sister and pirates clothing. Sue produced one of her amazing poems, donned a daft hat and read it out to us - An Ode to True Colours - followed by a further, apologetic poem, by her friend Gloz which also made us laugh. The afternoon was rounded off nicely by a visit of about 20 dolphins. Needless to say Dave-Dog and Billy-Boy retired below to sleep off the effects of a glass of wine/beer whilst us women took the helm, made the ship in order, and kept a good lookout..
The next few days followed peacefully enough with a few visits by dolphins but not even any ships in sight. A fishing line got wrapped around the propeller so Dave went in to free it which luckily didn't take too long and afterwards we were rewarded by a beautiful Dorado which was enjoyed for lunch and also made into one of Dave's speciality fish dips (actually he got the basis of the recipe from our lovely Dutch friends Henk and Angela but adopted it as his own!).
30 June and Bill's 60th birthday. He didn't know we knew so it was quite a surprise to him when we woke him with coffee in bed and sang happy birthday. He came on deck to find balloons and banners, cards and presents and then Sue cooked a special birthday breakfast . A party lunch, champagne to toast this auspicious occasion and a cake at tea time, plus a visit by some dolphins rounded off the celeberations nicely.
The weather changed to grey skies and damp nights much to our disappointment. The skipper busied himself by changing gaskets in the heads' toilet, checking batteries etc but apart from that it was a case of motoring through the drizzle and the air had by now definitely got a European chilly feel to it.
It was at about this time that the reality of going back to the UK and leaving the beautiful Caribbean behind started to hit home so it was great having Sue and Bill onboard to lift our spirits. A couple of beautiful dorado swam with the boat for a long time and I'm pleased to say didn't take the lures as they were the most beautiful fish you could imagine and look so much better in the sea than on a plate......
Sue was the first to spot whales whilst on watch early one morning when about 5 killer whales (Orcas) swam slowly across our bows. They were a magnificent sight and we were happy to have at last spotted whales of any kind. A few more were seen in the distance and the rest of the day was busy with sightings of shearwaters, dolphins, a tree trunk (Fi thought was a whale...!) and then there was a pod of sperm whales all around us - amazing! They are very slow moving so we had great views of them but didn't want to bother them in any way so didn't sail towards them.
Approaching the Azores, we were concerned when a Portuguese Navy warship that had been patrolling up and down on the horizon announced they were going to start firing practice. Fi called them up to ensure they were aware of our position and to confirm we were not in a restricted area and the incredibly friendly watch replied that they were aware and we were fine on our current heading. He then wished us a "good trip with fair winds and following seas"....what a nice man.... A few minutes later we were given a great firework display by the ship's guns firing what looked like
On Day 24 we arrived weary but happy in Horta on the island of Faial, where we spent a week relaxing and replenishing stock for the next leg to Falmouth.
We went out each evening to dine and drank lots of local wine. We hired a car for two days and toured the island, stopping for lunch at what initially looked like a closed bar/restaurant on the cliffs above a (very rough!) natural pool in the rocks and lots of big surges over the very rocky coast - spectacular to watch but we didn't chance it for a swim. The food and wine produced for us there was wonderful, tasty, cheap and plentiful. We camped out that night, after luckily finding the place we had camped with Bill and Liz on our last visit. The lads rigged a bimini but as it happened it was a clear and dry night. The sunset was stunning and the sky was changing colours for at least an hour afterwards. The shearwaters came in at dark and kept making their weird and wonderful noises most of the night. The next day we drove to the top (culdero) of the volcano and had an amazing clear view of the crater. We also went to the lighthouse which now stands about 5km inland due to a volcanic eruption in 1957 which resulted in new land formation. We had a disappointing meal at Peter Café Sport this time and his shop didn't have much of interest on offer but we enjoyed most of the meals out and Sue and Fi hit the shops, resulting in both buying a fair amount of clothing. Dave bought Fi a scrimshaw whale necklace which was lovely.
We bumped into Graham and Mark on Quasar IV who we had met initially in Porto Santo and then again in Grenada. They had a third crew with them, Clare, and were leaving for Falmouth also, so we arranged that they would contact us daily on their SSB radio (ours is just a receiver, not a transmitter) to let us know their position and any weather info they may have.
HORTA TO FALMOUTH
We set off from Horta with the engine running and motored until clear of the islands. Very soon, Sue spotted what looked like whiteish, large dolphins or small whales, which turned out to be Grampus (dolphins) and none of us had ever seen them before (or after come to that!) so spirits were high.
With daily updates from Graham and the Navtex picking up a signal for a good part of the passage we were not short of weather information but nevertheless Fi called up almost all vessels sighted, not only for any current forecasts but also just for the interest factor.
The sky turned grey and overcast for days on end and we struggled to ensure our mood didn't match the weather. It was like sailing inside a big grey ball - grey sea, grey sky, and almost no sighting of sun, moon or stars to be seen through the cloud.
We kept ourselves amused by playing the "what do you call a girl/boy with" game (e.g. what do you call a man with a seagull on his head - answer "Cliff") and it got really silly with more and more obscure clues and even more obscure answers but it's surprising what you'll do to keep sane out there!
We had daily visits by dolphins, usually at around 1700, and one day they stayed for most of Fi's watch and well into Bill's watch too, giving us an amazing acrobatic display. On a couple of occasions when they swam by the boat in the dark we were treated to a fantastic bio-luminescent display (aka phosphorescence) and most nights our wake would produce a star-spangled display of fairy lights too.
One day, with a little blue sky and a steady breeze keeping the boat steered by the wind vane, Fi was sitting at the helm talking to Sue and the boys were down below. All of a sudden there was a tremendous bang into the boat and whilst we were still reeling from the shock a whale surface behind the boat, thrashing around as if angered or shocked. A large pool of brownish coloured water accompanied it and Fi was at first concerned that the whale was injured (never mind the boat then Fi!) but apparently it's not unusual for whales to "poo their pants" when shocked so we hope that's all it was. It was certainly unhappy but hopefully uninjured. Dave pumped the bilges and did a quick inspection but all appeared to be sound with True Colours so we breathed a sigh of relief and continued on our way. For days after we were still saying "can't believe we collided with a whale!" and in fact are still saying it now....
We were soon in the Western Approaches and the shipping became more busy around the TSZ (traffic separation zone) as we approached Falmouth. We arrived in Falmouth late morning after 12 days at sea and the weather was fairly sunny although cold. We picked up a buoy and then went onto the town quay for a few days.
We ate lots of pasties and drank a fair amount of ale and generally relaxed, before Bill decided he'd like to jump ship and head on home by road so, with lots of hugs and fond farewells we were down to three.
We met up with Quasar IV who arrived shortly after us and had fun reuniting and sharing sailing yarns and fishy tales (they caught a huge tuna which did about 5 meals for 3 people!). We left them in Falmouth with the promise of a further reunion when they arrived at Hardway SC 3 weeks later.
So, Dave, Fi and Su set out for a great sail down to the coast, with an overnight sail bringing us to the Solent just at the right time to catch the tide through the needles channel. We were going through so fast - at 11.8 knots - that Fi jokingly remarked that we'd have to make sure we made a good grab at a visitors buoy at Yarmouth or we'd shoot past the moorings there! As it turned out we arrived there just in time to get the water taxi ashore for a well-earned drink and a bite to eat and we all agreed the sail from Falmouth had been one of the best and most enjoyable parts of the trip so far - what a bonus for some slightly down-in-the-mouth sailors!
The next day saw our final leg of the homeward passage and with mixed feelings we left Yarmouth to catch the tide into Portsmouth Harbour. Sue's sister and brother-in-law waved us on as we passed Stokes Bay and a call to our pilot-boat friend Nick brought him whizzing out of the harbour on the pilot launch to give us one of his big, beaming smiles and a quick shout of "Welcome home!" before he whizzed off again to do some work. Once inside the harbour a patrol boat came to inform us we couldn't go any further than Gosport Marina for half an hour as the harbour was closed off for a Navy Days practice. Dave lost his cool but we had to see the funny side - so near home and yet so far! By this time Sue's sister and brother-in-law, as well as husband Gwyn, were waiting for us on Hardway pontoon. Eventually, after a fun display by SBS patrol boats and helicopters flying down the harbour, we were allowed to continue on. As we approached Hardway a tug was letting off its hydrant creating a great waterfall in front of us and I said "I bet that's Jeffers saying hello" to which Dave replied something like "don't be daft". With that, I received a call on my mobile from Jeff himself saying to look at the big ship approaching us - which he was skippering - and that he had indeed arranged the other tug to give us a greeting with its hydrant. What a fantastic welcome home from our friends and we hadn't even arrived yet!
At Hardway, Sue's relatives kindly took our lines as Dave brought True Colours alongside after two years away. What a weird moment - mixed feelings for all the crew I think.....
Mum and Dad came and joined us shortly afterwards and we all went along to the Jolly Roger for a drink, before we finally had to cut the ties with our brilliant shipmate Sue and let her go on her way home.
So, here we are, landlubbers again, back in our home town of Gosport. As I write this, we're house-sitting Dave's sister Lisa's beautiful Dorset cottage and enjoying a month's break in the breathtaking surounding countryside.
However, I can't get rid of this lump in my throat as I think of the past two years and how privileged we have been to experience so many wonderful moments together on True Colours, making lots of new friends along the way, and we're thinking how strange it is that the decision we made not to cross the Atlantic again is slowly starting to change......
01 August 2010 | Last Stop before the crossing home
The sail to St Martin was one of the worst we've ever had for frustration and tiredness.
The wind direction made it impossible to sail there without incredibly wide tacks and neither of us wanted to be out there any longer than necessary so again it was a case of motor sailing. Both of us found it hard to sleep off watch at night and were feeling it by the next morning as we made slow progress towards St Martin, Fi being especially ratty and miserable (it's her age bless her!)
St Martin is divided with one side owned by the French and the other by the Dutch. Friends had advised us to check in at the French side as it is free so we waited for the 1430 opening of the French bridge entrance and made our way into the lagoon, a large landlocked body of water with a separate entrance for the Dutch. We dropped the anchor for the night in a French anchoring area and then grumpily set off in the dinghy to find where the check in was. It seemed that everything was a very long way from the French anchorage and we became quite despondent, didn't want to be there, stamped our feet and threw a couple of tantrums and decided to check in the following morning on the Dutch side as we would have quite a bit of too-ing and fro-ing to do and the Dutch anchorage was closer to the majority of places we needed to visit. As it happened we paid about $50 for the two weeks we would be there so it was worth it for the convenience.
We were soon reunited with Jan and Richard on Scorpio who were back at St Martin to get a few boat chores done before heading down south to Grenada (lucky people!) and they generously entertained us to dinner and drinks onboard. We also bumped into Renee and Cheryl who we had got to know at Clarks Court Bay in Grenada when they were, very successfully, building up the business of the marina there, especially the social side. Renee is a great cook and we were again privileged to be invited onboard for dinner with them. All these friends were so very generous to us during our stay at St Martin and simply saying thank you didn't seem enough so we hope we can somehow repay them one day. Renee and Cheryl even donated a fantastic seat for the cockpit which we have been extremely grateful for (Fi had told Dave that we couldn't possibly justify buying one!). All four crew are in agreement that it has made the trip so much more comfortable for whoever is on the helm so, once again, many thanks Gypsy Blues!
In between shopping for boat supplies too numerous to mention we managed a good few happy hours at Lagoonies bar where a beautiful and friendly young lady called Michelle became our most favourite Caribbean barmaid, and a trip to the beach where the planes fly in so low that they knock people off their feet with their jet stream. We went to this beach to await the arrival of Sue and Bill the day they were due but, unbeknown to us their plane was early. I was actually standing under it and filming at the time it came in to land and Dave was there waving our ensign, just in case it was them. However, they didn't see us out of the windows anyway so a bit of a waste of time! I decided for no reason just to check my mobile phone and there was a message on it from Sue asking which marina we were in (they had got stuck at immigration as they didn't know the answer to the question!). It all worked out in the end though and we rushed to the airport to meet them in the lobby.
Over beer, wine and pizza at a local bar on a boat that evening we all agreed on Monday as the day for departure which left Saturday and Sunday to enjoy and get last minute supplies.
On Saturday we went back to the "aeroplane" beach and enjoyed watching the planes coming in on their approach, incredibly low over the beach, and also the take offs when the game is to hang on to the fence or get blown away by the jets' blasts when they rev the engines. Dave persuaded Fi to do so wearing shorts and a vest top which she found was a great exfoliation therapy! We also went snorkelling and Sue especially enjoyed it, being her first time snorkelling in clear water. That night we went to a steakhouse just along from where the boat was tied in Palapa Marina and it was great to hear Bill say it was the best steak he thought he'd ever had.
The following day we took a taxi to another beach we had been told was fair for snorkelling. On arrival we found a bar where a brilliant trumpet player and singer was entertaining the few people there. It was Sue and Gwyn's anniversary so she was feeling a little emotional as we listened to him do some really good renditions of well known songs. Dave and Fi were also feeling emotional, it being the last day in the Caribbean for them, and Bill was also feeling emotional so all of us were pretty much near to tears as this man entertained us! We all went snorkelling and although we didn't see a great deal had a good time snorkelling around the rocks and through an archway into another bay and back again. Considering Sue is a relatively new swimmer (as opposed to non-swimmer) she did really well and was duck diving like a pro by the end of it!
After seeing some local fishermen bringing a catch of lobster up the beach to the restaurant Sue, Dave and Bill decided "it had to be done" and enjoyed some between them. The bar owner, Roland, called the taxi driver who had dropped us off there (they are cousins) and we all were amused when he produced a brush from his incredibly smart car to brush the sand from our feet before we were allowed inside. On that last evening we were sitting in the cockpit when Cheryl and Renee came over in their dinghy so they clambered aboard, amid the mess of being half ready to leave, and had a farewell glass of wine with us which was an unexpected pleasure.
The next morning we were up early: Sue and Fi went to the supermarket for final, fresh provisions, then Dave and Fi went to check out. After a quick breakfast at a local café and takeaway burgers for tonight's dinner (perhaps the best meal for some time?), a quick shower and marina fees paid, we cast off our lines with farewell waves from the local roofers working by our berth and set out through the Dutch bridge entrance on our epic voyage back home to Blighty, via the Azores.
BEEEEEEEEEE VEEEEEEEEEEE EYES
09 June 2010 | BVI's
After leaving cdc to cross the mona passage we had a successful night-sail across it picking up the Puerto Rican coast with no problem, only to find that the wind was 20 knots on the nose and tide against us - what's new! Short tacking for a good few hours didn't give us very good headway so Captain Dog suggested we try some long tacks, which we did, going 20 miles out and 20 miles back, only to discover only to discover we'd managed to progress the sum total of 12 miles! After sailing all day and through the night we'd made 50 miles in a 24 hour period so decided to pull in under yellow flag into caje de muertos for a bit of respite from the bashing. Also, Dave wanted to get into a bit of lee so he could drop over the side and inspect the prop as we were uncertain as to whether we may have picked up yet something else around it because our progress had been so slow. As it happened it was clear.
As we approached the anchorage a police launch left the small dock and headed out straight towards us. We thought "here we go, they're not going to let us stop" but were relieved when they just gave us a friendly wave and carried on towards the mainland. We were the only boat at this beautiful anchorage and had a very peaceful night after a refreshing dip in the water. There are a few guys on the island who are rangers or researchers, looking after the wildlife, along with some buildings housing, we presume, visitor centre etc. At least we could tick off Puerto Rico as another visited Country.
After a good scoff and a few beers we had a kip and made an early start in the morning. We motor-sailed for a few hours and then decided to put up the full rig and go for the BVI's through the night. It was a great sail up the eastern side of Puerto Rico making a perfect landfall at the BVI's just after daybreak. We sailed through the island passages past St John's (USVI) and dropped anchor in Road Town Tortola which is a clearing in point.
Clearing in was fairly straightforward but the immigration officer lady was the most miserable, rude, unfriendly and unhelpful person we have ever come across in the Caribbean. She moaned at Fi's mistake on the form (easily remedied by crossing it out!) and asked for a dollar. When Dave asked what this was for she replied that it was for the forms we had just completed. Dave asked for a receipt at which point she threw the dollar back and said she couldn't be bothered to write a receipt for a dollar. She must make a few bucks this way. It's sometimes hard to keep your mouth shut when such officious officials are rude but we have to remember that they can easily refuse us admittance so it's great training in discipline!
The outboard engine was found to have finally given up the ghost so after a lot of deliberating we decided we would have to splash out for another. In the meantime, we pulled into a marina for the night to enable laundry, water, fuel and supermarket shopping where we bumped into cruising friends Jan and Richard on Scorpio. We knew they were in the BVI's but didn't expect to see them quite so soon! We made arrangements to meet up again in a few days at one of the other islands where they are anchored.
Hole in pocket later, with outboard engine bought, we headed off for Norman Island just a few miles away and had a very enjoyable sail there under headsail alone. After dropping anchor we made a dinghy trip around the point to go snorkelling where we saw baraccuda, parrot fish, tangs, damsels, rainbow runners and FI's FIRST SHARK! (she didn't realise it was one for a while and then, after Dave had been pointing it out to her for ages, was needless to say quite taken aback when she did finally spot it and the penny dropped!).
We celebrated this first snorkel we'd had for ages with a great night on the "Willy T", a floating bar-restaurant where it appears it is the tradition to bare as much as you dare with a rolling screen of photos to prove it! The next day Fi spent recovering so it was fortunate the day was unusually overcast and cool.
We headed around the corner to Soldier Bay for a night and had no option but to pick up a mooring as there was no room to anchor. We had the whole bay to ourselves until the evening and spent the day sunning, snorkelling and walking on the beach to find a pebble or small rock to take home for Dad from Norman Island as a momento. We thought we'd got away without paying but lo and behold a very nice lady came out on a boat at sundown to collect the $20 for the mooring (after which we made the decision never to pick up another mooring!).
The next day we moved on to Benures Bay where we eventually managed to anchor in fairly deep water. We were joined, unexpectedly, by Scorpio which was a great surprise and we went aboard, armed with our veggie curry, to share and have sundowners with them. Again a lovely anchorage.
The following day we all headed to Road Town for supplies before meeting up at Peter Island in Great Harbour where again it's deep anchoring but we found a great spot - lovely and quiet and peaceful with great views of the other islands. Richard and Jan suggested a dive on RMS Rhone the next day and came to collect Dave whilst Fi stayed onboard at anchor and caught up with some chores. They came to us for sundowners that evening before parting company the next day as they had to get ready for a boat show the following weekend.
We headed on to Deadman Bay, the next anchorage around, where the Peter Island Resort has a bar/restaurant on the beach as well as watersports, hammocks, sun shades etc. We went for a few drinks at their bar and watched a small steel band playing. It was enjoyable seeing the pans again but unfortunately the atmosphere was lacking, which was just as well as we couldn't afford to stay very long! We also went snorkelling but, apart from a really good sighting of a turtle we didn't see too much. A couple were brought onto the secluded beach where we had landed our dinghy, apparently celebrating their 30th anniversary, and warned Dave as we went off snorkelling that "you don't want to be here in an hour". When we got back to retrieve the dinghy we didn't know where to look as they both sat their lounging around starkers - not a pretty sight I can assure you!
From their we headed to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, via "The Baths" where a pathway through giant boulder formations lead you to another beach, with pools of water amongst them. It's quite a tourist attraction so "it had to be done".
Spanish Town was a handy stop for provisioning, getting the laundry done, and watching the FA Cup and the England v Australia cricket final. We also met "Doc" Dick and Lizzie, on Indian Summer, who happen to know our good friends Roger and Vicki (there again, who doesn't know them!?) so again, a small world. We had evenings on each other's boats and a few drinks at the bar watching sport before we parted company as they prepared to sail down to Curacao via Puerto Rico.
After almost a week we set off for North Sound, an easy sail of a few hours up island. We anchored just off the Bitter End yacht club and resort in very deep water and went ashore for a couple of hours to get a few supplies. It was sooooooooo expensive we didn't stay long and the next morning sailed over to Gun Creek where we were the only boat at anchor.
A visit ashore took us to the local, well stocked supermarket where we bought a few provisions then asked the storekeepers to hold them whilst we went for a walk. A discussion with them and a lady shopper resulted in her giving us a lift to the top of the very steep hill (we'd never had made it walking in the midday sun!) and a little walk further on brought us to a local bar (how unusual) where we had a great chat with the very friendly owner and his friend whilst we recovered our strength for the downhill walk back to the bay. We stayed at this anchorage, relaxing, for two nights before moving on to Marina Cay, just at the north end of Tortola.
Marina Cay is a small island with a bar, restaurant, Pussers store and about 4 holiday cottages as well as a fuel and water dock, laundry etc. It has a reef behind it which promised good snorkelling but we were very disappointed as it lacked the key ingredient - fish! After a quick trip back to the boat and a shower and change we went ashore for happy hour, to find about five charter boat crews, with a husband and wife team of "holiday organisers" who promptly started competitions between the crews, the first of which was to sing a pirate song. We were invited to enter so, even more to my surprise than theirs, we stood up and sang the Hardway song. We got a lot of applause and cheering at the end and, guess what - we won! The prize was a couple of shots of rum (oops!) so we downed them in one then refrained from entering any further competitions for fear of winning again!
The next morning we headed off towards Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke but decided to pull in to an anchorage on Monkey Point, Guana Island. Guana Head is a point of the island where a large rock protrudes from the cliffs and looks just like, yes you've guessed, an iguana (so why isn't it called Iguana Island?) There were several moorings but we managed to find a large patch of sand in about 5m of water and dropped the hook for what turned out to be 3 really enjoyable, relaxing nights.
We had some of the best snorkelling here that we've had perhaps ever in the Caribbean for variety of fish. Amongst them were: several types of parrot fish, a morray eel, at least 3 turtles that I can recall, two spotted eagle rays swimming along together right in front of us, a few fair sized baraccudas (one of which loitered menacingly under the keel as we swam back to the boat!), a nurse shark, French angel fish, butterfly fish, damsels, butterfly fish, tangs, bar jacks, trunkfish, first ever spotted drum, a long fish with a black 1in vertical stripe in the middle of it's belly, a couple of large fish we couldn't identify, a beautiful electric blue and yellow angel fish (must look it up on the net!), something like a boxfish, trumpet fish, grunts, and others we're not sure of so won't guess....
So, we then went to Foxy's, for the "Wooden Boat Regatta". It was a great place and we were pleased to see our old friends from Grenada Classics, Buxom II with (Mad!) Lindsey and Colin aboard, sail into the harbour. Only four boats took part this year but a good time was had by all and dancing every night was the norm. When we finally said goodbye to the BVI's and headed out for St Maarten we had heavy hearts as we had fallen in love, once again, with islands of the Caribbean................
17 May 2010 | Dominican Republic
Guess what - the weather forecast was not what we got on the way to the Dominican Republic. Winds blew up to 30 knots, we got a few soakings, it dropped off for a while and then low and behold just 20nm from our preferred destination it blew with a vengeance at 30 knots again.
We put in to a safe but not particularly picturesque harbour off Cabo Rojo, sailing over uncharted shallows (O metres!) and catching sight of what we think must have been a large ray diving quickly underwater as we approached (I thought at first it was someone snorkelling as it was brown and large!). We were immediately visited by a fishing boat which rammed into our topsides, scraping along the paintwork - the last thing we needed really after a trying passage. One of the five men in the boat shouted at Dave for "Despacho Despacho!" (official papers) and Dave shouted back that we had no "Despacho" and they weren't coming alongside our boat and shooed them away. The man gesticulated at Dave and shouted "mucho problemo!" and they sped off ashore. Minutes later the boat came back out, this time with four aboard including a couple of armed officials with uniforms and badges who boarded the boat in a friendly manner (although the fisherman did bump into us again before we could get fenders out!) and scribbled some notes on a bit of scrap paper. They asked for beers which Dave supplied out of his dwindling stocks and then left us alone to enjoy a rest.
The next morning another couple of officials visited, scribbled more notes on more scrap paper and left us in peace without asking for beer which was a relief. We spent a relaxing day at anchor before leaving the next morning for Isla Beata, about 25nm away.
The sail to Beata wasn't too bad and we made it by lunchtime. Again, within minutes, we were boarded this time by three men - two officials and a fisherman. What a surprise, they scribbled some notes on some scrap paper, took our "despacho" from Jamaica and promised to supply another the day before we leave.
We spent five nights anchored of this pretty beach and went for a couple of walks ashore. The island was fairly busy with fishermen working from their huts on the beach when we first arrived but by the time we left there were almost none left as all had gone on "shore leave". The only other inhabitants of the island, apart from the Guarda Costa, were the abundant large iguanas. I am not sure if their numbers are kept down by the fishermen but one of the locals did agree that they taste good.....
On the second night we were surprised to find another UK boat at anchor a short distance from us The young couple and their lively little boy were headed in the opposite direction towards Cuba. We joined them for a (noisy!) sundowner on their second evening and then they were off on their way the next day after swapping information on what each boat could expect from thereon in.
On our last day we went for quite a hike along the coast, making our way over the rocky terrain made up, we think, of volcanic rock.
Before we left, Fi by chance went in for a quick dip and spotted a blag plastic bag wrapped around the prop. After several attempts at removing it there was still some stuck in there so Dave dived down and freed the last few shreds. Dave had thought there was something not quite right so that was obviously the reason.
We motored out of the anchorage early the next morning and motored up between the mainland and the island for about 10 miles then managed to start sailing at about 4 knots but on a bad course.
After several hours we decided that we would motorsail the course better so the engine was started. About an hour later the engine revs went down rapidly so Dave threw the gears into neutral and, in the quickly descending dark and with a line around his waist went over the side to inspect the prop. The underwater torch came in handy although it kept going off but in-between times Dave could see the large plastic bag that he managed to free with three or four dives. He commented afterwards that the phosphorescence was amazing and worth going overboard for but, although the swell was fairly light, I have to say I wasn't too happy until he was safely back onboard.
The next morning we had a cockpit wash and by noon were being guided in to the marina by their launch where we went alongside and checked in. We went and picked up a mooring buoy which was the cheaper option (the fees for clearing in were really excessive) and settled in for a week or so at Boca Chica.
As it was Easter weekend many people were at the beach and we took a stroll along there the next day but found it was just row upon row of hotel frontages and not much of interest apart from some volley ball tournament going on which was enough for Dave to stop and "admire the scenery" for a while.
We took a trip into Santa Domingo, going by bus which involved a few changes and trust in people directing us here and there without having a clue as to what was going on. We checked into a hotel for a night which sits on the same square as the cathedral in which Christopher Columbus was supposedly buried. The cathedral was closed all afternoon which was an ominous sign and, as there's no "tourist information" as such the locals just shrugged and said it should be open. We had a walk around the vicinity and saw quite a few old buildings and fortifications, most of which now house museums. Santa Domingo is the oldest city in the Caribbean and, although if you look hard you can see some of the history, we both thought it was a little spoilt by all the touristy-type shops around it's centre. We did end up buying two things we couldn't afford - a hand-crocheted long dress for Fi and a beautiful wooden bowl (for a house we don't have?!)
That night we went out and found a restaurant in the back streets where we had a delicious meal before retiring back to the hotel to watch tv in bed - a real novelty! Ordering coffee via the room phone the next morning was a major task but eventually it was delivered - coffee for two really means you'll just get two cups of coffee, a pot is unheard of. Dave also had to pay for it there and then as they wouldn't put it on the bill which involved a lot of jostling around with a towel wrapped around his waist whilst he retrieved money from his shorts. It could have got quite scary but he managed in the end!
We were pleased to find the cathedral open the next morning, only to discovered that Chris C is no longer there and is now buried, under full ceremonial guard, in a casket which is the centrepiece of a lighthouse that has been built about 7 miles away at the other side of the river. A taxi ride later and we finally found him, or whatever remains of him, in this very impressive and befitting position for such a great explorer.
Back at Boca Chica we got all the laundry done, fuelled up and watered up and finally set off for our next and final stop in the DR, Casa de Campo, at the eastern end of the island. Leaving the harbour we had surfers on each side of us riding the waves into the bay and we continued motoring out a good while to get a better angle on the wind. We ended up motor-sailing the whole way, with the wind doing little to assist us, and encountered a squall which dropped the visibility down to next to nothing just as we were making our way between two islands and with a tug coming up fast behind us. Typical, don't see anything for weeks near us and just when it gets busy - no visibility! Anyway, we survived with the help of radar and crossed fingers and finally picked up the entrance to Casa de Campo. A boat came out to help us into our berth where half a dozen happy helpers assisted us in.
Casa de Campo is the height of luxury, with prices to match! It is a golfing resort (3 courses) with polo, horse riding, shooting, swimming, tennis, private beach, and an amphitheatre where acts such as Sting and Pavarotti have performed. The amphitheatre is part of a village built to look very old, set atop a hill overlooking the river and complete with church where, apparently, Michael Jackson married whatshername Presley.
We met a guy called Gary who is skipper of a humungous sports fishing boat, and his girlfriend Dana. They were berthed along the same pontoon and invited us onboard for cocktails one evening as we were passing by. They're a great couple and there's nothing worth knowing that Gary doesn't know about fishing. The boat is amazing - the engine room is about as big as our boat with two huge engines. It burns something like 130 gallons an hour (so it's range isn't more than a few hundred miles) and has 7 televisions on board. How the other half live! Needless to say quite a few evenings were spent sharing a drink with them onboard and eventually, Fi plucked up the courage one morning to go up to the top deck from where the view was amazing. Gary explained it was where he sits when they're out catching the big fish as he can see everything that's going on from up there.
We also met Jean Marc who was there working for Rolex who were in turn main sponsors of the Rolex Farr 40 World Championships. They're a one-design and about 25 of them were due to race; however, only about 10 showed. We asked him onboard for a beer, got talking, and offered to help him unload and set up all the displays and stuff he had to do in the next few days. He kindly paid us for this, as well as taking us and one of the marina guys, Jose, for a meal and giving us Rolex bb caps and polo shirts. We really enjoyed helping so any payment was a bonus!
Eventually, the weather looked about right for us to carry on our journey, across the Mona Passage and past Puerto Rico, to the British Virgin Islands.
09 April 2010 | Haiti
One reason for stopping at Haiti was to have a rest during the passage eastwards and another reason was to tick it off the list of countries visited. However, a third, and perhaps most important reason, was to drop of some supplies. As a result of the recent earthquake, aid was still much needed. On the small island of Ile a Vache (Island of Cows - and yes, there were cows there) at the southwest corner of Haiti, there had been a knock-on effect with a shortage of some supplies.
An orphanage, run by "Sister Flora" (who unfortunately we never met), was found to be a good drop-off point and Didier who runs the hotel on the island kindly acted as go-between. Rice, flour, baby food, baby milk powder, dried beans, soap, reading glasses, exercise books, pencils, and some medical supplies were handed over and would be stored along with supplies brought in by other boats until such time that Sister Flora and her team could come around to the bay in her boat and collect them. It felt good to be able to act positively and directly to bring aid to this Country and to know that many other boats were also doing the same. In fact, just before we left the island another UK yacht "Da Capo" owned by Tony and Sue, came in carrying copious amounts of food, shoes, clothing etc to offload. They had a temporary member of crew with them who was going to stay in Haiti to help with the relief effort.
Ile a Vache is a lovely island - no roads and only rough tracks or footpaths between the small villages. We were visited frequently by boys or men in dug-out canoes built from mango tree wood, offering bananas, coconuts, fish and mangos. People kept asking if we were going to "Madame Bernard" and we wondered who she was and why she was so important that we must visit her. It turned out that "Madame Bernard" was the area of the island where a market is held every Monday and Thursday. It was a good one and a half hours' walk away, over hilly, rough footpaths and tracks, through coconut groves of small settlements, along two beaches and through the countryside. We were accompanied during our walk there by three teenage lads on their way to school. They walk there and back each day for afternoon school (the younger children go in the morning) and were keen to speak a little English as well as try and get money or some form of treat from us. Fi did promise to send one of them an English/French dictionary (their language is Creole based on French) but with just an email address we're not sure how this will be achieved - perhaps via Didier again! At the market all we wanted was a cold drink and these appeared to range in price from about 50p to about £3 depending on how much the stallholders thought they could get away with! We did not begrudge these fluctuations in price, in the knowledge that, although we're not rich by any standards, £3 may mean much more to them than perhaps it does to us.
The school children looked very smart in their uniforms - the boys in brown trousers and yellow shirts and the girls wearing the same colours or pink gingham check dresses if they were younger, with matching bows in their hair.
We passed a few groups of fisherman building their traditional wooden boats on the beach using local timber and only hand tools as they have been doing for hundreds of years. This was a real treat and an eye-opener for Dave as they had no power tools or even plans but the end result was excellent. Others were re-caulking the seams in their wooden fishing boats, whilst schoolboys sat on the ground scooping the young juicy flesh from immature coconuts; women walked serenely back from the market with produce in bags carried in their arms or atop their heads, and giggling schoolgirls lined up for a photo on their way home. Water was being hand pumped from a well by a man and his topless wife (well, it was hot and they were probably having their daily wash) and we were warned by a local not to drink it - it could just be used for washing etc.
We were also greeted on the homeward walk by a lovely lady who takes in washing and she also offered to cook for us one evening. We did not take up either offer but when she visited our boat with her husband we gave them some rice and beans as a small gift. Later, her husband brought out some mangos and Fi gave him a ring to take back to his wife as well as a small solar panel which would help charge his mobile phone. Then, they both came out and she handed over their email address (they all travel to the mainland to use internet and email as there is nothing, not even electricity on the island) and an embroidered cloth. We felt very touched by this gesture as they have virtually nothing.
Another man who came out to see us, Jean Jean, said he and his wife run a small restaurant on the beach and as they could grill lobster Fi suggested to Dave that they go over the next evening. As a gift to us, he also handed over a bunch of about 40 small bananas which he promised would be ready in about five days. They were the best bananas we have ever tasted and sure enough were ready in five days! We were accompanied on our walk that day by ten small boys who giggled and talked and vied for position to hold Fi's hand and said "give me one dollar" constantly (we think that's the first English phrase they learn in school!) but were great fun. They accompanied us to Jean Jean's "restaurant" along the beach and sat watching as we were seated at a table covered in a clean white cloth and decorated with a vase of paper flowers under a coconut palm roof looking out over the bay. We supped a warm beer (ugh!) and then were served with 2 lobsters for Dave (total £6!), rice and beans, and sliced tomatoes and onions. What a memorable meal and a memorable setting.........
We spent quite a few afternoons sitting by the pool at the hotel, deserted apart from a young American lad who stayed a couple of nights after having been in Port au Prince assisting with the relief effort and a couple (French and Swiss) who live and run two restaurants in Port au Prince who were there on one of their many minibreaks to the island. We treated ourselves to a meal at the hotel one night which was lovely and the views over the bay from the hilltop setting made it even more enjoyable.
The hotel was our only access to internet and therefore a weather forecast but unfortunately their wifi aerial was down so we had to ask to use one of their office computers. As we could not access our favourite weather site we relied on passageweather.com and decided to sail for the Dominican Republic on the Monday with the forecast it was giving.
Aruba (okay, Cuba), Jamaica, Boy I Wanna Take Ya
03 April 2010 | Jamaica, Cuba, Jamaica
The five night sail to Jamaica proved a mixed bag of weather, with a couple of windy and wet days followed by a couple of dry and hot ones.
We arrived at Port Antonio late morning, sailing into a beautiful harbour lined with palm trees and lush with vegetation all around. After establishing contact with Errol Flynn Marina we were greeted on the dock by the friendliest welcome we have ever had when entering a new harbour. George, the dock master, welcomed us to paradise and the rest of the shore team introduced themselves, each describing the additional services ("I can get you a flag" / "I can clean your bottom(!)" / "I can get you fish") they could offer.
Errol Flynn Marina is pure luxury to cruising folk, offering showers (first hot water we've had in the Caribbean!), use of the swimming pool and wifi included in the price. It is cheaper to anchor off but we had 3 days alongside to top our water tank and get some much-needed laundry done, as well as get a couple of decent nights' sleep. All the officials were very friendly and welcoming and the copious amounts of paperwork was completed with a smile (and the usual discussion about Portsmouth football team) at each stage.
In the next three weeks we discovered Port Antonio, its surroundings and its people.
The local market was full of characters - Rock Bottom, the wood carver, Marylyn the Rasta bar lady, and Shirley the fruit and veg stallholder to name a few. There is a pungent smell of "ganja" pretty much everywhere you walk but a friendly, calm and happy environment with no threat of any kind felt by us at all throughout our stay - that is, apart from a dodgy bus driver who was overtaking another bus in a "fun" game of chase on blind bends, until Dave had a word in his ear. We have experienced some hairy bus rides since arriving in the Caribbean but none quite beat this one for pure insanity!
We spent a day as the only visitors at Somerset Falls, a natural waterfall which has been turned into a tourist attraction. We lazed by the pool and were rowed up the river and under the falls. The only downside to this place was the poor conditions of small animals kept in cages there. A note to the Jamaican tourism bureau was called for.....
We met Michelle who had just started working behind the bar at the marina and quickly discovered she is from the Portsmouth area too. She invited us up to her house in the hills where her husband, Briggy, cooked us a traditional Jamaican meal of chicken, plantain, rice and beans, yam and other goodies. The meal was probably the largest we had eaten since arriving in the Caribbean but we tried to do it justice!
We went on a drive to Kingston with 4 Dutch folk. Unfortunately, we had picked Ash Wednesday for this trip and therefore spent quite a lot of money for a 12 hour day driving! The waterfalls we visited were very commercialised so Dave and I decided not to pay the entrance fee and when we got to Kingston we discovered the Bob Marley museum was shut so all in all a bit of a wash out but never mind, not every day can be perfect!
Simon and Joanne, who run a local restaurant and bar, became new friends, as well as their son Rio. They are from South London, although Simon is half Jamaican hence the connection, and we had some great times with them. As I write this, we are awaiting news on the arrival of their new baby.
Eventually, a weather window opened for us to leave for the overnight sail to Cuba. It was a good run and better than we'd hoped and we arrived at Santiago de Cuba marina to find our Dutch friends there. We were boarded by a doctor, a vet, a health officer, customs, immigration, and two sniffer dogs. Usually, as we're making our way into harbour after a passage, I tidy the boat below and put it back to normal. On this occasion I don't know why I bothered as everything was inspected, pulled out, and turned upside down. Never mind, it doesn't take long to re-make the bed and after all, I have got the time!
We were not sure what to make of Cuba and wish we could have spent time in more than this one area. The City of Santiago had not much to offer in the way of history, architecture etc and even the cathedral in the centre appears to be dilapidated inside. The Cubans are reasonably friendly but forever asking for anything and everything. This is completely understandable as they appear to have nothing, or little choice. The fruit and vegetable market stocked tomatoes, onions and papaya when we visited - nothing else. Vouchers are used so that everyone gets their entitlement to food - fish, meat etc but there is little or no choice in the supermarkets (which aren't "super" anyway) and what there is is expensive.
We stayed in the city one evening with another Dutch couple we met and were entertained by live Cuban music and fantastic dancing by the locals. A nubile young wench pulled Dave to his feet and he looked almost as amazing as she did as she swirled and twirled around him - I think he went to heaven briefly!
There is an island off the marina which we visited by free ferry boat ride from the marina (Fi had a go at driving which was fun). As there are no vehicles on the island it is very peaceful and some of the locals open their homes into mini eateries, although we didn't take advantage of this on our visit as we were a bit early in the day. We caught another boat from there back to the mainland and walked up to Castillo el Morro on the starboard side of the harbour entrance. The castle is intact and would have been even more interesting if we could read the Spanish explanations to all the exhibits, drawings, etc.
It is difficult to access the internet (and therefore weather forecasts) as it appears that Cubans are not allowed free access. We had show a passport at a hotel reception desk to prove we are tourists, to enable us to buy a voucher to access the internet so it was quite a procedure just to try and get a weather forecast. The main forecasting site we use is American so I'm not sure if that was the reason this particular site was blocked. After a week we decided to head out for Haiti with the forecast looking reasonably promising. It was not to be! The wind was light but coming straight at us so we made the decision after a few hours to head back to Port Antonio and await better weather there.
We sailed into Port Antonio and radioed George, the Dock master at Errol Flynn. He took our lines again and he and the other shore crew all welcomed us "home" which was lovely. In fact before we left he asked us to join him at the bar so he could buy us a drink and we hope we maybe bump into him one day - perhaps when he visits his mum back in the UK....
During this unexpected re-visit to Jamaica we caught up again with Simon and Jo and went to Frenchman's Cove with them for the day. It's a beautiful little cove with a cool, clear, fresh water river running into it through a botanical gardens and a great place to chill for the day. Jo enjoyed herself lying belly-down on a lilo and floating herself and "bump" down the river into the cove whilst Fi tried to help Rio make a fishing line - needless to say no fish were caught. Dave and Simon then tried to pounce on the fish with a net Dave found and Simon finally resorted to diving under and trying to grab one! Surprise surprise, we didn't have a fish supper that evening.
Another highlight was a raft trip down the Rio Grande just outside Port Antonio. Our guide and "punter" was Reebo who is a real character and raft runner of 18 years experience. We had a great day cruising downriver on one of the two-passenger rafts, navigating a few "rattles" (or rapids as we know them). The rafters serve a three year apprenticeship during which time they must retrieve the rafts at the bottom of the river and walk/swim them back up to the starting point, 8 miles upstream, in order to learn the river's idiosyncracies and character at all times of the year, before they can become professional rafters. We stopped off for a swim and a tasty lunch cooked by local women who, incidentally, walk for an hour and a half to the river just to set up their cooking gear in the hope of some passing trade. Today they managed to sell six meals - I don't think I would do that for a living given the choice.....
We were really pleased that we had been persuaded by the weather to return for another visit to Port Antonio which has become one of our favourite places now. However, we had to move on and on 16 March we said our goodbyes, with promises to keep in touch, and headed out for Ile a Vache, Haiti.