Avid Blog readers (I flatter myself) may recall that a few weeks ago, wandering down the beach in Grenada, I talked my way into the St Georges University match racing event.....and nearly won.
My first time in a dinghy in perhaps thirty years yet the old skills just kicked into place like a well oiled machine.
Compare that to skiing, because that's what we were doing last week. (The ultimate double whammy. SKI'ing aka "Spending Kids Inheritance" while actually skiing!)
Anyway, while I can drop into a dinghy thirty years on and give a half decent performance it seems with skiing I'm doomed to learning again every year. It's also a whole performance. First, you have to undo a million years of evolution. To achieve the levels of balance we humans take for granted the human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments.
So what do we do? Force them into rigid plastic boots specially equipped with little levers to squeeze the blood out and render your recently fully functioning balance mechanism fully rigid. Then they expect you to walk. It's like being in an episode of The Wrong Trousers.
An hour later, after a couple of runs, at the other end of your leg, the thigh muscles are screaming in agony. This is no sport for people who live their lives in an environment where the longest possible walk is 45 feet and four feet is the maximum elevation ever gained at one time.
Switzerland and in particular, Wengen has been a winter sports resort for Europe's rich and famous for over a 100 years. And just our luck, we chose the 100 year old hotel. Badly lit with creaking floors and tiny single beds we rattled around like peas in a pod as only 3 of the 68 rooms were occupied. Going to the loo in the middle of the night sounded like a 3 year old playing his christmas xylophone.
Anne dropped her earring one night. As I crawled around on my hands and knees I said "put the light on". "It is on" she said.
In the evenings we would walk the deserted streets past the 5* hotels where Pandora, Lulu and Yorkie (probably spelt Jorki) whom we met on the train, enjoyed their cocktails and fondue in front of log fires while we peered in through the windows like Louis Winthorpe lll from Trading Places.
Nonetheless, we had a BRILLIANT time and by the end of the week when it snowed 12" of powder, the old magic was back.
You can only take so much sun.
So, with the excuse of heading home to welcome our first grandchild, while brother Eric babysits the boat in Antigua we have squeezed in a weeks skiing in Switzerland.
72 hours ago and again today we are in a mini van being transported to our destination. 72 hours ago in a Chinese built minivan with seating for 18, with the interior in tatters and in 30c of blazing sunshine. Driven along the rough island roads of Antigua past the chattel houses and tumbledown shacks with scrap cars and mangy, rough living dogs.
Compare that to now. Just seven of us filling the same size van; but this ones a Merc. Driving past immaculately tended farms and vineyards in a light drizzle that fortunately means fresh powder on the slopes above Wengen.
The transition from our yottie life of running around like kids in bare feet and dookers (swimming attire for the non Scots readers) to proper grown ups, fully dressed, wearing comfortable shoes and a watch.
From puttering around Falmouth Harbour in the dark, in a panic, certain we'd anchored Time Bandit "just about here" before going ashore to wandering round the house wondering where you'd left your specs.
Jerk chicken off a street BBQ to raclette and strudel. From Happy Hour to The Six O'clock News.
We've transitioned from stunningly azure blue seas where guys free dive 10 metres on in seas measured at 79.9c to catch lobsters to black, icy lochs and lakes. From the lush tropical abundant forrest to bare trees and snow on the hills, both at home and here in Toblerone land.
Ten days ago we anchored off Montserrat, under its active volcano still billowing out clouds of steam and its (ex) capital buried under lava and ash. Today we're driving past chocolate box Swiss chalets under towering , snow covered alps with the north face of the Eiger on the horizon.
Fortunately for us, as the grass is said to be "greener on the other side" we're dead lucky to be able to flip from one green side to the other and enjoy what each has to offer.
So, while Eric looks after Time Bandit in the sun we will be on this side of the fence enjoying Switzerland, Scotland and family life......and a bit of work, decorating and DIY.
More when we return early May for the start of our trip north to catch 4th July in New England. Its only 1500 miles!
A few years ago when we were in Shetland a brand new gigantic super-yacht arrived. At 150 ft long it not only dominated the pier but also the skyline, its enormous mast reaching high above Lerwick's hill top town hall.
Fast forward a few years (or slow forward as we only average 6 or 7 knots) and Lady B turns up in St Maarten.
Through an Ocean Cruising Club connection we were offered the chance to "babysit" Lady B in the evenings at the St Barts regatta while the crew partied ashore. And get paid for it!
However, I've a suspicion this isn't really the kind of babysitting we should be practicing for so we declined and got back on plan.
We definitely screwed ourselves in our passage planning by missing the point that BA don't fly out of the BVI.
Consequently we've been beating for neatly 24 hours now in an effort to get back upwind to Antigua.
Overnight stops in St Kitts and Montserrat with 06:00 starts have all but got us there with just another 6 miles to go.
Montserrat's volcano blew up in the mid '90's and is still smoking today. We anchored just outside the exclusion zone. The only boat for miles in a pitch black night.
The town of Plymouth, destroyed in the eruption and now abandoned lay just over the hill from our anchorage and we could smell the sulphur in the air.
The devastation was apparent when we sailed past with buildings just empty shells or buried in ash to their roofs. modern day Pompeii.
Theres not much tourism but judging by the number of fancy villas with their rolling lawns it seems the smart money moved in pretty quickly after the volcano quietened down.
We will be in Falmouth Harbour for a few days to do some varnishing and hill cleaning. After that we will move round to Jolly Harbour for some "marina therapy".
You can only take so many nights at anchor!
Antigua to St Barts is about 70 miles. So, up at 6 into a torrential rain squall and a great sail averaging nearly 8 knots all the way.
We arrived about 4 pm to find Julian and Lyn and Dave and Linda already into sundowners in Columbier Bay. We quickly dropped the anchor and joined them for a long sundowner before collapsing into bed about 9. Up early again and off to St Maarten foth Heineken regatta.
Somewhere along the route we talked ourselves into doing the 35th Annual Heineken Regatta. Julian volunteered his boat and to date (2 races down and 1 to go) we've had a ball.
Julian's Jeaneau 439, complete with Elvstrom performance blade Spectra reinforced Mylar genoa has, along with stunning crew work helped us get to near the top of the class. Gusting 30 knots yesterday and 3 metre seas we romped through the course in blazing sunshine and blue seas. Really blue around the rocks where we had to tack in a touch too close to lay the windward mark.
Around us were 200 other boats and amongst them everything from Melges 24's to Gunboat 60 foot cats doing 15+ knots upwind in clouds of spray.
Some Muppet denied us water at the last minute forcing us out but he then screwed his own mark rounding and we dived inside and nailed him. Grest fun this racing! I remember why we did it.
Anyway, his big overlapping genoa v's our 100% blade helped him sneak ahead but in the last mile we outfoxed and out sailed him passing just before the finish to take third place.
Saturdays race was in slightly less wind in we stormed along to a great 2nd place.
Similar conditions on Sunday had us fighting off a 100 foot Herreshoff schooner. Could he point!
We beat him to the windward mark rounding close behind the lead boat. It was then a downwind surf to the finish line.......BUT WAIT! Theres two finish lines. Two committee boats. Two orange marks.
Fleet A was using their line so we headed for the B committee boat with all its official flags and what looked like our fleet's finish line.
35 years experience running the Heineken Regatta and still they couldn't get it right.
Smugly the committee shrugged and said "we're just spectators"
After a brief exchange of views we gybed and tacked our way back to the other finish line and crossed losing about 8-10 minutes.
Its a long time since I've raised a Protest flag but having worked hard to get our position we were incensed.
We told the committee we wanted redress, photographed their incriminating flags and headed in.
Long story short, Julian played a blinder and we won our protest, got our 8 minutes back, moved up from 6th to 2nd and...... FIRST OVERALL!!!!!
Heineken take over parts of this island and the whole place is jumping 'till long after we're in bed.
From our last real stop in Guadeloupe, St Maarten is like landing on another planet. From quiet islands with their almost shanty towns to massed cars, rush hours and aeroplanes (we're anchored under the flight path), restaurants and malls its a change we're taking some time adjusting to.
The 900HP Coastguard RIB is motoring around with gun toting "special forces" look alike personnel engaged in the serious task of pulling up guys doing more 5 knots in their dinghies.
Anyway, the excitement is over and we're chilling in the bar playing iPhone Internet like a pair of teenagers before heading back to the boat to start preparing to head back upwind to Antigua for flights home.
Antigua Week Regatta anyone????
After a one might atop in St Barts whete a packet of Jacobs like crackers cost €14 we made it to St Maarten yesterday
More to follow....
What's the "Lesser of two Weevils"? (Name that movie).
Hard to tell really. We've hundreds or maybe thousands. It seems the beasties have taken a liking to my porridge. Consequently four packets have been donated to the goats on Dominica. Watch my cholesterol rise now!
We deceided to stay in St Lucia a while longer to join Dave and Linda on their catamaran (Lagoon 38) to race Round the island. Typical Trade Wind conditions had us beating into 3 metre seas up the north end of the island then a swift 25 mile reach down the windward side. Bit of banging and crashing upwind but nice and smooth downhill.
We overnighted in the small fishing village of Laborie coinciding with the St Lucia Independence celebrations. Much song and dance from the local school kids and a decent meal in the Bamboo Shack.
Laborie, being way down the south end of the island via small twisty roads is quite untouched by tourism. Most of the houses look like originals and, pretty poor.
Since last report we have moved reasonably quickly north. Great winds fired us across to Martinique where we stayed off St Pierre. This used to be the capital of martinique but then the volcano blew up killing all but 2 of the 30,000 inhabitants way back in 1902.
Unfortunately it's still in need of refurbishment as other than two decent coffee shops its pretty run down, much like a lot of the Caribbean which suffers from what looks like extreme poverty. There's just not enough tourists to go round however, why there isn't a thriving agricultural economy is beyond me as everything seems to grow like wildfire. It seems it's cheaper to import from the USA and South America.
Anyway, another 30 mile thrash got us here, The Saints, a group of french islands south of Guadeloupe. This place seems to be a French "department". They call these offshore departements something like " far, far away". We've wandered into town, bought some postcards and now in the beach bar having a Coke.
Might go for a swim next.
The Old Magic is Still there
Well and truly Velcro'd into Grenada we're now entering our third week, the boats growing a beard and we are ploughing through books. We do plan to leave by Wednesday but then it's Grenada national day at the weekend so we might just hang on for that.
To stretch our legs, yesterday we joined Julian and Lyn for a walk along Grand Anse beach and take a look at the workboat regatta.
Workboats, traditional, heavy wooden fishing boats sailor Re towed down from neighbouring islands to compete in a two day festival or beer, rum, lobster and sailing.
Most of he boats are held together with cast off cruisers halyards, sheets and cable ties. Sails are recut from whatever is available. Nonetheless, these guys know how to sail. Four or five up with a mass of canvas, moving bags of sand for ballast and bailing furiously. Quite a spectacle.
Further on down the beach we stumbled into the St George's University Match Racing event. Competitors were to race Sunfish in fours through the eliminations, quarters and semis to the grand final.
"I used to be able to do that" I thought. So, twenty minutes later I'd talked my way onto the entrants list. Five hours later, fingers bleeding, sunburnt to a crisp, legs and back aching, not to mention sand rash in some quite uncomfortable places, I'd made it to the final.
Unfortunately owing to a misunderstanding, or maybe they didn't want to be shown up by an old cruiser (in the sailing sense of the word) someone lifted the race marks before the final could get going. Most fun I've had in a sailboat in many a year.
As the blood is up next stop might be Antigua Week or the Heineken regatta.
29 degrees everyday and at last the torrential downpours have eased off or gone away. Consequently, the varnish is out and our crusty handrails are looking a bit better.
Once we get moving its Carriacou, Tobago Cays, Bequia and North.
Half a mile away from us in the Carenage lagoon there is an "ecological" cruise ship. There's also two huge oil burners in the cruise ship dock. That's maybe eight thousand tourists on the island of they all got off. Some are here in the yacht club, brought here by their private our guides.
The "ecological" cruise alternative is basically a cruise ship with some masts, a few furling sails and, well sound proofed, no doubt some thundering great Diesel engines below deck.
How they can position themselves as ecological when the masts are black with diesel exhaust is beyond me.
We can be righteous. The solar panel and our wind generator keep us supplied and, if we ever go anywhere, we will sail.
Come back soon and see if we've left!
We are sat in the cockpit in the late evening dark and calm, crickets chirping in the background, 200 metres from, allegedly, the world's 3rd largest super yacht, "Solandge" and 210 metres from the bar in Port Louis Marina in Grenada.
One of the guys we were sailing with today on an Outremer (more shortly) dived yesterday with three of the Solandge crew. Some stats he gleaned....
1. Solandge consumes 1.6 TONS of fuel per week just to run the electrics while at dock.
2. Running costs of $40,000 PER DAY
3. 29 crew
4. $100 million cost.
5. It has big a swimming pool and a jacuzzi.
The only thing missing from the lit flight of steps leading up from the aft deck to the first of three lounge decks is Fred Astaire, complete with top hat and cane.
It's like another planet. And there's another ever so slightly SMALLER one in the dock next to him. I guess that owners pissed off.
Anyway, after our family Christmas in Scotland we headed back for St Lucia on 11th Jan. It took a couple of days to acclimatise, making the change from scraping ice and snow off the car windows en route to the airport to sweltering in Rodney Bay scraping off a months worth of barnacles.
Sweltering and a touch wet as the "Christmas Winds" had only just arrived bringing torrential rain and grey days reminiscent of a bad day on the west coast of Scotland. But we were still in shorts and T-Shirts.
Slightly acclimated we headed of on a mission (when aren't we on a mission?) to get down to Grenada to say hello to my cousin Keith, missus Susie and remaining child Lyndsey. At the same time we could be in place to wave old Almerimar friends off on the next leg of their round the world voyage as they part company with the islands and head for Panama, a thirty mile locking up and down and into the wide Pacific.
We'll be thinking of them as they make the transition to a new, wider ocean.
Meanwhile, back here, we had a severe dose of clapotis.
Our mission was to get here a) before Keith and Susie's next house guest arrived (mum, Kirsty) and before Chris and Frances headed west. We therefore firstly did a short afternoon passage to Marigot so we were positioned to make a quick, up anchor and go early the next day rather than faffing about the marina and pontoon in the dark.
So, at 06:00 as dawn broke we quickly upped and offed, sadly with no wind and so motored down to the south of St Lucia, past Soufriere with its smoking volcano, past the Pitons each trying to pierce the cloud cover and on into a fresh 18-20 knot breeze blowing between St Lucia and St Vincent.
To avoid the massive wind shadow to the lee of St Vincent and the hours of motoring that would ensue we beat up to the windward side for a close reach down the eastern, lee shore. A bit too close to the lee shore as the surf, having rolled all the way from Africa felt some right to pound the reefs and bounce back out to sea causing a terribly confused sea state in which we rocked and rolled for a while. Clapotis it's called and much despised by yachties. (And kayakers. Try going round Seil Island in an onshore breeze)
We travelled the length of the island under the towering rain forrest clad hills (other than where the trees had been cleared for the marijuana fields. allegedly) and made Bequia, 70 something miles south, just before dark; anchoring as far down the beach as we could to avoid having to go ashore for to clear in to customs and immigration.
Up again at 06:00 (relaxing this cruising life isn't it) we headed off for a great days passage in sun and wind reaching Grenada's Port Louis Marina, again, just before dark. Another 70 miles on the clock.
Since then we've been lounging around Keith's yacht club, the pool and the marina.
Digging my two hulled hole idea deeper today we talked our way onto an Outremer 45 for a sail around the bay and spent a very pleasant evening in the company of two new Canadian NBF's swopping stories and plus and minuses of one versus two hulls. It's a big decision and one we're not in a rush to make. One extreme to the other. Check out Youtube; Outremer Three Peaks Race.
Tomorrow, feeling the Velcro factor coming on, that feeling of becoming stuck to one place for too long, we're going to go out to the anchorage just outside the marina from where we will be well positioned to get fired out of bed at.....06:00 by the wash of the 30 or so sports fishing boats that have arrived for the Bill Fishing Tournament as they power out of the bay at 30 knots in what Keith tells us is known as a Bimini Start. I believe the objective is to hook and weigh then release a Bill Fish, one of those guys with the big pointy noses. A Swordfish or Marlin I suspect. Must check!
Just like Christmas itself, the rains seem to have passed and so, the wind has died down a bit, the humidity is dropping and the torrential drumming of stair rod rain has stopped allowing some sleep.....which is what I'm going to do right now.
Thanks for reading.