03/13/2012, San Blas
Well we did arrive safely into San Blas but gosh what a passage! Started off quite nicely, for the first two days Mike and I kept commenting on how consistent the winds were and comfortable the seas, both days we sailed over 200NM (favorable currents helped a lot), quite a feat and a first for Whippersnapper. The sleigh ride didn't last though and by the third day the seas were an uncomfortable mess. Twice I left windows open (it was hot and humid) only to get a breaking wave over the deck soaking cushions and bed sheets (not fun). By the fourth day we were experiencing a number of squalls, we had a couple in the low 30s which were great fun, pretty sure I saw 16.3kts on one surf but with the bravado came complacency when the next squall came instead of reefing down we excitedly left all canvas up, well this squall hit 40kts, we had a little broach and bent our whisker pole cleanly in half :( We did repair it (two hacksaws, a spare aluminum table leg and lots of rivets) but we really only used it briefly after that as the wind veered then increased to 40kts and unwilling to test our bush mechanics under those conditions we reached into San Blas under a partly furled genoa only. Bummer about the pole but otherwise we enjoyed our biggest two handed passage and we were pleased not to have to motor at all for nearly a 1000 miles!
San Blas is a very cool and remote archipelago on Panama's Caribbean coast, The Islands are officially part of Panama but inhabited only by the indigenous Kuna Indians who have been granted autonomy to govern themselves. It is said the Kuna Indian have best preserved their culture and traditions out of all the tribes in the Americas. It is not permitted, for example, to marry foreigners. The islands themselves are all very low lying patches of sand covered in palm trees, most not more than a few feet above sea level! They're surrounded by coral reefs and white sand so the snorkeling is excellent. Unfortunately for us though the weather was pretty drab, very grey, very windy and sometimes rain. We weren't really getting to see San Blas at its best but the pictures in our guide book are inspiring.
Navigating around the San Blas is truly terrifying, numerous wreaks on the reefs a sombre reminder to be careful, it's very unforgiving! Many a lagoon entrance is narrow and bordered by breaking waves and sharp coral reefs, combine that with a strong cross breeze and the pulse quickens somewhat. We discovered only after arriving that San Blas in not included in our main plotters electronic charts, we do have the Navionics charts on our iPad but we discovered they're far from accurate, islands are incorrectly positioned many reefs uncharted and far to few depth soundings. Fortunately our pilot guide book for the area is excellent (Panama Cruising Guide) so in a first for Whippersnapper we're navigating using paper! Each time we visit a new island we make a passage plan of waypoints and transfer these into our plotter to follow, some of the entrances require around 6 waypoints to navigate safely between the reefs. We always have one of us on the foredeck in Polaroid sunglasses which helps.
On the plus side though we've been eating lobster and calamari (squid) caught with our spear gun (you don't catch lobster so much as just spear them but using the gun is 100 times easier than trying to catch them by hand as we'd been trying previously). It's not quite lobster season here yet but we managed to find a few.
We've also made some new friends, Båten Anna a swedish yacht we first met in Bequia is here in San Blas too and we've been spending time on each others yachts, onboard are Eilliv, Emillie, Gustaf and Liselotte. Båten Anna is heading to Australia also (Eiliv and Emillie) so we look forward to seeing them along the way - especially because we've taught them Turbo Hearts (our favourite card game) and they're worthy opponents.
Right now we're sitting in Shelter Bay Marina awaiting our Panama Canal transit, it's currently estimated we'll go through this Saturday. We're especially excited about the canal and are even helping another yacht transit tomorrow so we can get some firsthand experience before transiting ourselves. We'll write again when our transit is confirmed, apparently you can watch us go through by webcam... riveting viewing I'm sure! It's amazing though really, we'll be in the Pacific... just one ocean to go until home.
Mike is getting very excited about his home club, Coolderry, being in the All-Ireland Hurling Final on Saturday (St Patrick's Day) and wishes his nephews and all the players best of luck!!!
We left St Martin at dusk for our first overnight sail since crossing the Atlantic, direction the British Virgin Islands (BVI's) and our last stop in the Caribbean. We heard stories about the BVI's being a lovely cruising ground but nothing quite prepared us for just how good it actually is. The BVI's is made up of over 40 islands set within an area of only 59 sq miles, some uninhabited, some with just a beach bar and restaurant, some with shipwrecks to dive on, others privately owned by rich billionaires like Richard Branson who bought Necker Island thirty years ago for $68,000 and who recently turned down a $220 million offer for it! What's most enjoyable is how it all works in harmony with each other to become this mecca for charter boats, cruisers and super yachts all enjoying each other's company in the famous sites and establishments. What's more, the sun shines more here than in the rest of the Caribbean though maybe this was just luck on our behalf. The snorkeling is great and most islands have free internet (great for keeping abreast of the current Gillard/Rudd battle). We particularly like that every bar has a happy hour from 4-6pm daily so we're generally in bed by 8pm.
We started on Virgin Gorda Island with a visit to 'The Baths', a collection of volcanic lava boulders dated from 70 million years ago. The boulders are not only fascinating to see from above the water but also lurk under it making it great for snorkeling. There is a very cool trail from the Baths beach to Devil's Bay that goes through the caves, over the boulders, through tidal pools and finishes at the white sand beach. From here we headed to North Sound, an idyllic bay surrounded by mountains with the famous Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock Resort based in the bay. After a couple of days in North Sound we met up with Bridget and Ben from Ganga whom we hadn't seen since Rodney Bay. Bridget's Grandfather, Don and brother, Jason were with them to help crew to Panama. We had a lovely couple of days with them in North Sound and a particularly drunken night at Willy T's on Norman Island before they left for the San Blas islands (our next stop).
Having booked to do two dives on the famous 'Rhone' (a 310ft shipwreck broken up into a few pieces in 20-80ft of water) we headed to Cooper Island for pick up the next morning. We planned to only have one drink during happy hour so we could be in top form for the dives the next day. That plan went out the window when we met eight Americans chartering on a huge catamaran who invited us back for dinner and drinks. The dives were great and well worth it. From there we spent one night in Sopers Hole on Tortola. Unfortunately, we ripped our main sail when furling it as we entered the bay so the form wasn't great that night. It's been an ongoing issue with the batten pockets so the next day we made a quick stop in Nanny Cay Marina to get a sail maker to make new pockets that Hugh designed and patch the UV on the Genoa.
While waiting for the sail to be fixed we went to White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. There is a very popular bar there called the 'Soggy Dollar Bar' because most visitors jump off their boats and swim into the bar for a drink. Hugh was snorkeling to our anchor when he came back with his own soggy dollar, a $20 note that he found floating in the water J. We also spent a night at Great Harbour Bay before heading back to Nanny Cay and Road Town on Tortola.
If you're thinking of a sailing holiday for this time of year we would definitely recommend chartering a boat in the BVI's. We've certainly enjoyed our time here. We're about to leave the Caribbean now on a 1054nm (c1800km) passage to the San Blas Islands in Panama. This will be the longest passage Hugh and I have ever done or will ever do alone. The weather is in our favour so we're not expecting much drama and should arrive in about 7 to 8 days.
02/16/2012, Bitter End, - Virgin Gorda (BVI's)
Just a quick note, the best map of our current/past positions is via the link in the right column under the title "Favorites". Previously I'd called it "Our Logbook", I just renamed it "A better map of our current position".
02/15/2012, St Martin/Sint Maartin
OK you won't need to hear us complaining about our electricity any more, we've just replaced the chargers and life is bliss! After 3 different (and very expensive) technicians all variously told us the batteries are the problem, no the chargers are the problem, no the wiring is the problem, further time consuming tests are required... We took it upon ourselves to buy a new charger (we could return) and see if it worked, well it did and now our charging output is textbook perfect and takes less than 2 hours per day! Woohoo!!! The new chargers also came with a very cool remote display and control panel so we can monitor them easily.
This last week we've been in St Martin/Sint Maartin, they say it's the yachting capital of the Caribbean and they're probably right, we think principally because the island is duty free :) There are two very large chandleries (Island Water World and Budget Marine) who without doubt have the largest range we've come across so far. The pile of receipts we've collected a doubtless reminder of the money we're spending (time to leave for more remote waters!). It's money well spent though as this is definitely the last well stocked and relatively inexpensive location before Sydney so we're piling up on various spare parts to see us across the Pacific.
We're anchored in Simpson Lagoon, it's huge, no less than 10 marinas and three large anchorages. It's great fun, superyachts fill the marinas and cruisers occupy the anchorages, everyone zooms around is dinghies at great speed with little care for any road rules. You can get just about everywhere by dinghy and in the morning you see many people going to work that way. Then as if the place is not busy enough, a runway ends in the lagoon so every half hour or so a jet flys by just a few hundred feet above with a deafening roar.
While waiting for the bridge to open at the entrance to the lagoon a boisterous "G'day! Aussie" came from a 100ft yacht next to us called Symmetry. The captain, Ross (originally from Melbourne) had spotted our flag and invited us to a BBQ the next day. It was fun, we mingled with the super yacht staff and compared stories, we kept getting asked what yacht we were working on... Daytimes you can spot the staff easily on the island, they're the ones decked out in white shorts and polos shirts (embroidered with their yachts name) and earpieces to VHF radios clipped on their belts. They look like an FBI tennis party. That night we learnt that super yacht staff refer to us yachties as "Crusty cruisers, always wanting something for free". Captain Ross though turned out to be a wealth of information about cruising San Blas and transiting Panama canal. He invited us aboard later in the week and handed across a number of typed notes and printed chartlets he'd prepared for us.
While in Simpson Lagoon a few mornings we listened to the local cruisers radio net, a very serious discussion on the differing merits of one chandleries staff attentiveness vs another's and the financial irresponsibility of those yachts anchored in the Dutch side of the lagoon (us included), don't they know the French side is free? The net does serve a purpose though as many yachts radio in on gear etc for sale.
St Martin is split in two sides, one French one Dutch, in shops you can see prices in Euros, USDs and Gilders... very confusing. We laughed one morning when the cruisers radio net describes the French side as "no problem" and the Dutch side as "no".
02/06/2012, St. Martin
Gosh it's been a while since our last update! We're both still well and everything is grand. We've been cruising an area called the Lesser Antilles stopping at Martinique, Dominica, Guadaloupe, Antigua, Barbuda and Saint Barthelemy (St. Bart's), today we're just arrived to Sint Maartin/Saint Martin (that's actually the proper name!?). I don't have much to say about Martinique, Dominica & Guadeloupe because they were all a bit dull and dirty. In Dominica though, we did have a wonderful tour of the rain forests, Titou Gorge an amazing swim through a very narrow gorge into a cavern with a cascading waterfall was especially beautiful. Some islands just south of Guadeloupe called Les Saints were also very nice. Guadeloupe we fitted some sunshades to our Bimini to keep out the afternoon glare, we did most of the work ourselves with the aid of a sailmaker, they work brilliantly and much neater than others we've seen.
Antigua was a wonderful place, setting the tone for our stay we arrived into English Harbour amidst the racing fleet of the "Superyacht Cup", what a sight!!! What looked like a collection of normal yachts from 15 miles always turned out to be a fleet of a superyachts with towering masts, huge sails and a couple helicopters buzzing around them like flies. It was a mixed fleet but there was certainly a majority of what they called "Spirit of Tradition" yachts. These are my favorites, basically they're new yachts with modern construction and rigs but styled to look like the mighty J-Class yachts of the 20's and 30's. Man I would love to sail on one of those, they are full of brightwork, brass and look, so majestic but it takes more than a couple football teams to sail them! On arriving into English Harbour we anchored in the outer bay and was the treated to a parade as these magnificent craft passing right behind us into the Marina. Each fired a canon in some sort of salute and the crews lined the decks as they passed by the old fort.
Nelson Marina in English Harbour is also quite a special place, named after the British naval commander it was competed in 1745 and stands today much as it did then, it has been beautifully restored and is welcome respite from the tourist blight that plagues so much of the Caribbean. While in English Harbour we took in the obligatory sunset atop Shirley Heights. Each Sunday afternoon there is a big BBQ party to watch the sunset, listen to steel drums and drink. The sunset was second to Santorini but still pretty spectacular. We really liked the steel band though, I counted 17 drummers and they played a fusion of new and old. After sunset though they ruined it all but attempting to play some Abba (Dancing Queen) , we left in protest.
On leaving English Harbour we headed to Green Island and Nonsuch Bay, another magic spot surprisingly secluded but the main interest for us was a Kiteboarding school where we finally found a decent board and harness to use with our kite. Unfortunately the wind was too strong for us at the time but the guy who sold us the gear suggested we head out to Barbuda as its one of the worlds top ten kiteboard locations and never crowded (perfect for us novices!).
Barbuda was a bit of a bash to windward but after anchoring in Long Bay it was obviously worth it, as our pilot book said "no glossy brochures proclaim it to be the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean, but it probably is." For kiteboarding the wind was probably a bit too light for a few days but we had the kite up in the air practicing, we had one afternoon of decent winds and both managed some short lived moments up on the board. Mostly though we spent our time in the water feeling very frustrated and dealing with tangled lines. A couple times we got inadvertently launched and went flying through the air (its a very powerful kite!) but this was the reason a big shallow bay with offshore winds was ideal (nothing for us to hit). Our new dinghy filled its purpose as a rescue craft quite well. The only downside of Barbuda was the Lighthouse Bay Hotel near us on the beach (the sort where guests arrive only by helicopter and generally have the place to themselves), we'd hoped for a drink and some internet but after being charged $21.60 USD for two local beers and the staff refusing to share their password or let us wander any of the grounds we left with a rather sour opinion of the place. I would say though that the Barbudan locals are the friendliest people so far.
On the sailing front we're really starting to enjoy the inter island passages, there's almost a constant 15-20 knots and it's mostly reaching so we charge along at 8-9 knots. It can be quite rough though as you're pretty much in the Atlantic between islands, we've given up on the cockpit cushions as we frequently get spray over the sides. Mike has an iron stomach but I've been seasick on a couple passages, cleaning a big fish is normally the end for me so I've started taking seasick tablets as a precaution.
We're going to spend a few days here in St. Martin then head up to the BVI's, our final and most anticipated destination of our time in the Caribbean, from there we'll start making our way across to Panama around mid Feb.
Check out this amazing clip of rough weather on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=T4FIS1FnOQg
01/19/2012, Martinique & St Lucia
After dropping off the water maker for warranty repair in Rodney Bay (Yay its fully fixed now so we can stop talking about it) we decided to go to Martinique as we read that they have great technical facilities with the hope of sorting out our battery issues (after lots more investigation we're no closer to solving it so you may hear more about this into the future). Martinique is only 20nm or less than 4 hours away from St Lucia, yet upon arrival it seemed like we had left the Caribbean. It is a part of France and it feels like it. It has a thriving economy. Our first port of call, Le Marin, was a pleasant small town with one of the Caribbean's largest yacht centres. It is a cul-de-sac with a vast, deeply indented bay, surrounded by hills and lined with mangroves. There must have been over 1000 yachts in the marina and anchored off it. We arrived on the Friday and left on the Tuesday, enjoyed fresh baguettes, pastries and the feeling that we were back in the Med for a few days.
Marin lived up to its reputation for good technical help and chandleries - we would recommend it. It also has a well-stocked Carrefour supermarket that you can wheel the shopping cart all the way to the dingy dock - gold. On the Sunday we took our bicycles out to make a 28km round trip to Vauclin on the east coast to watch the kite surfers. The mountains proved we've lost some of our fitness but to counteract this and for a bit of sport we've bought a kite (kindly brought from NY by Ash and Niall) and we were hoping that we would be able to buy a board and harness in Vauclin. Unfortunately no joy was to be had but it was useful to watch all the kite surfers. On the Monday we went to St Anne's bay, which is next to Marin. It's a nice bay but the water wasn't that clear for snorkelling. We had planned that we'd spend time here with Ash and Niall when they arrive on Thursday but after the few days spent there and the water being murky, we decided to spend their time with us in St Lucia instead.
It was a really nice sight seeing the two guys rock up our boat in Rodney Bay. Ash moved to New York prior to us leaving Australia on our adventure so it was ten months since we met last. We cracked open a few beers, put steaks on the BBQ and caught up on all the news. Friday morning we checked out and headed into the bay for our first snorkel of many over the next few five days. Niall was clearly at home enjoying the water again. After lunch we sailed to Marigot Bay, which is one of our favourite bays, and played pool while enjoying the 2 for 1 drinks and local cuisine in Doctor Doolittle's.
The next morning we sailed to the Pitons to spend two nights moored between the iconic mountains. The water was incredibly clear so we organised for Chester from Action Adventure Diving to collect us the next morning for a dive. It turned out to be our best dive yet with the most to see. Ash and Niall clearly did their homework of reading our blog before meeting us and were able to recite many parts of it. Niall was particularly keen to help with our monthly task of cleaning the algae off of Whippersnappers bottom. With the four of us on the job it took no time at all, thanks guys. We didn't get to play our favourite turbo hearts card game but we did enjoy a few games of Blokus on the iPad. It's a good strategic board game that Phillip introduced us too.
From the Pitons we sailed towards Vieux Fort, which is close to the airport and to our favourite café, The Reef, on the Atlantic side where the kite surfers hang out. We were determined to catch fish on the way so Niall had the hand reel out as well as the fishing rod. Something bit our lure but alas the fish escaped us once again. At The Reef we flew Niall's 2.5m kite which was great fun. As we still didn't have a harness or board for our new kite we weren't able to test it out. We did pump it up and are happy with our purchase - a 11m Cabrinah Crossbow. Ash and Niall left us at The Reef to go to the airport. It was great spending time with them and we miss having them around. Hugh and I decided to head towards Rodney Bay to check out of St Lucia and then on to Dominica.
On the fishing front it's been a bit dry, to be honest nothing since Phillip left but we now have a new "lucky lure" and three fish in the last two days! A small Cero (a bit like a bonito) we let go, a huge Dorado, which Hugh filleted - well done (it made a great dinner last night, will again tonight and probably tomorrow too) and lastly on route to Dominica past Martinque we caught a 5ft blue Marlin!!! It was great fun to reel in as it fought so hard, many times I thought the rod/line would break on me. With the fridge stocked with Dorado and a bit dumbstruck as to how we would kill the thing, we let it go.
Updated 19/1: Our luck continues, today we caught a big sail fish. Photos will be added later. That reminds me, we realised from chatting with a few people that the photo gallery link on the right hand side of our blog is not clear. Every time we write a blog we tend to upload photos as well. Please feel free to browse our pictures :)
01/06/2012, Rodney Bay
Fred has put together some wonderful video of our time in the ARC.
ARC Adventure A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c7C_s0o2p0
ARC Adventure B: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCz4Po8nzKQ
ARC Adventure 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KhgX9V5uug
ARC Adventure 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxGGLbMzq5o
01/05/2012, Rodney Bay
We ended up having a lovely Christmas in Port Elizabeth, Bequia. We had a wonderful dinner ashore but what was really nice was Christmas lunch at Long Beach, grilled lobster under the shade of palm trees, white sand, turquoise water, Carib in hand (local beer), new dinghy on the beach and our yacht bobbing in the distance...
Our new dinghy is fun for speeding around, very fast with one person, pretty fast with two but because we bought the smallest one possible it is a slight challenge with three aboard! It does fit very neatly on the foredeck though, even upright with the outboard still on so we can lift it on and off very quickly now.
Boxing day we went to the local turtle sanctuary. The owner (a retired dive master) nurses turtle hatchlings he collects until they can fend for themselves at about fives years old. We learnt that turtle can live to 200 years old!
Al, a friend of Mikes, joined us in Bequia for a week over new year. We did some nice snorkelling at the "Devils Table" reef where Al spotted a lobster. We tried unsuccessful to elicit it from it's hole but came back the following day armed with gloves, a net and something called a "tickle stick". We ended up finding about four lobsters in total but not one of them could be persuaded into our grasp. Lobsters can actually move pretty quickly if they have enough motivation!
We left Bequia that afternoon and started making our way down South to the Tobago Cays. We had lunch at the private island called Mustique. There is a famous bar there called Basil's Bar, which in 1987 was named in the worlds top ten bars however is was fairly evident it wouldn't be making this years list. The food and drinks were OK but the service very slow. Decor is getting a bit ratty but the location, hanging out over Britannia Bay, was just stunning. Musitque is a beautiful little island, I'm sorry we didn't take our camera ashore.
We anchored that night in Grand Bay, Canouan (nothing Grand about it) but the next day we made it to Tobago Cays and despite the strong winds it lived up to it's name of the most beautiful place in the whole Caribbean.
Anchoring just off a turtle reserve we spent many hours swimming with surrounded by turtles. Some are very relaxed and let us swim very close which was a wonderful experience. On the other side of the beach there were a group of Kitesurfers having a great time in the trade winds.
While in the Cays Al bought two eight pound (3.6kg) lobsters which we cleaned and BBQ'd ourselves. Between three of us we almost had more than we could finish. We cooked them with garlic butter and served with fresh baguettes and salad, yum.
The plan was then to head over to nearby Union island for New Years Eve and a nice dinner ashore. In Union we encounter the worst boat boys so far, when we're trying to anchor they keep buzzing around saying it's poor holding and we should take one of their moorings (for a fee of course), then they tell us we're in the wrong spot so we'd better take a mooring, if I say no they go and ask michael. When we did finally anchor we found the bottom soft sand/clay and some of the best holding so far!
In the afternoon we had drinks at Happy Bay (which sits on it's own little island in the Bay). New Years Eve was nice, a little understated but we had dinner and drinks ashore, Al was teasing us because we're normally in bed by 8pm and he wasn't sure if we'd make it to midnight!
A little hung over the next day (sometimes known as day 2), we sailed to Salt Whistle Bay on the Island of Mayreau. This has to be one of our favourite places so far. It's small, shallow and well sheltered behind a thin spit of sand beyond which the surf pounds on a reef and kite surfers fly back and fourth. In the nearby distance you can see the Tobago Cays. The boat boys though were worse than Union Island, we think they'd been smoking a little too much "Bob Marley" (as it's known over here). If you say a polite "No thank you" they get all indignant, one got particularly offended when we asked him not to bang our boat, he left but not without leaving some of his paint on our topsides :(
For most of the time Al was with us we were having less than ideal weather, winds were 20-25kts and there were frequent squalls bringing rain showers. There was so much wind we're even started to consider the benefits of a wind generator, those dreadfully noisy things we hate! Just about anytime we put stuff out to dry it would rain again... arrrrgh! We ended up playing a LOT of chess, it was especially nice for Mike and I to have someone else to challenge us.
We said a fond farewell to Al in Canouan then started sailing back up north to Saint Lucia along the leeward side of St Vincent. In Las Palmas as part of the ARC Mike went to a Caribbean cruising seminar which had advised all yachts not to stop at St Vincent, "just sail on by" as there is reputedly much crime and some violent robberies of cruisers in the area. Tired from battling 30kt headwinds though we went in to get some overnight rest. We choose Wallilabou Bay because it had been one of the filming location of "Pirates of the Caribbean" in 2003 and the pilot guide made it sound quite nice. Well just about anything you could recognise with the film is in ruins and the place looks little more than a slum, smells and is plagued with pushy boat boys banging on the hull to offer us bruised fruit till well after dark (one just begging for rice). Fearing the real life "Pirates of the Caribbean" experience we locked up EVERYTHING before sleep!
Now we're back in Rodney Bay dropping the Water maker off for a service (it didn't stay fixed for very long). Ash and Niall will be with us in a little over a week, we're looking forward to seeing them and hope to go cruising around Martinique.
After leaving Phillip at the taxi stand in Marigot Bay we beat our way upwind for the first time in a few months back to Rodney Bay, which proved to be a very successful stay. Our water maker stopped working a few days prior so we thought we would have to get a technician to come onboard to fix it. However I contacted Jim MacDonald of Mactra Marine in the UK who was extremely helpful and kind enabling us to fix the problem over Skype and email. Next was to collect our battery charger that we blew up during the crossing. After installing it and resetting our battery monitor everything seems to be working perfectly now which is a big relief.
Before starting out on this trip Hugh always spoke about wanting a powerful 2-stroke outboard and Caribe dinghy when we got to the Caribbean. When we bought Whippersnapper it came with a Zodiac and 4hp 4-stroke, which were pretty good though slow and we did get wet a lot when going anywhere. So in Rodney Bay we decided to sell our old one and buy a new one as our Xmas present to each other. As luck would have it, we told our neighbour our decision and as we did an employee of the marina overheard and told us that he has a potential buyer for ours. Within the hour our dinghy and outboard were sold to a guy that lost his own the previous night sailing from Barbados to St Lucia in strong winds. Our luck didn't stop there though, we then went to the chandlery to buy a new one but the guy told us that he offered his last one to a different gentleman an hour earlier and that he had first preference. As he told me this the other gentleman came back to ask another question about the dinghy and when he heard that we had sold ours and had none he told us to have it. Yay we now own a brilliant Caribe and 15hp Mercury 2-stroke outboard that was worth every penny of the smile on Hugh's face - Merry Christmas.
Also that morning our friends Penny, Bryan and Abbe on Haereroa let us know that they would have to stay in Marigot Bay for Christmas as they are waiting on a part for their boat and wouldn't be able to join us in Bequia as hoped. We decided we would quickly head back to Marigot Bay to say goodbye and spend the evening with them. In the meantime, Penny prepared a beautiful Christmas dinner so after speeding down in over 8 knots to get there before darkness we enjoyed a great evening onboard Haereroa.
The next morning we got up early to go the 58nm to Bequia. Wow the wind was strong and the conditions worse than at any time during crossing the Atlantic. We had many squalls with lots of rain and at times over 34knots of wind. There are two options to get to Bequia; one is east of St Vincent (the Atlantic side) or west of St Vincent so you have shelter of the island. We could see about eight boats going the west side including Twizzle a 180 foot super yacht who can sail and or motor at least 12 knots so we decided to be the only boat to go east to try to beat them all. It was with a lot of pleasure that we entered Bequia Bay just in front of Twizzle. We like to think that they didn't stop along the way for lunch or sightseeing and that our two knots of current helped us beat them! Unfortunately Bridget and Ben from Ganga can't make it to Bequia for Christmas now so we're about to head into town to see what options there are for dinner tonight, Christmas Eve. I'm sure Hugh will take the long route in to test the dinghy.
Ps Hugh told me to mention he has put up lovely Christmas decorations in the boat and interestingly, Bequia, which has approx 300 boats in the bay of which over 200 of them are Scandinavians - seemingly it's the done thing in Scandinavia to go to the Caribbean for Christmas so when walking around there are as many blonds as locals.
Merry Christmas everyone and have a Happy New Year.
12/22/2011, Rodney Bay
What a wonderful time we've been having in Saint Lucia. Ali and Dad stayed with us until the 14th and Phillip extended his trip to be with us till the 20th.
Heading south from Rodney Bay we've visited Marigot Bay, the town of Soufriere, the Pitons, Laborie, Vieux Fort and numerous bays in between all to the sound of reggae christmas carols (the radio stations don't play anything else)!
Marigot Bay (where a Brittish Admiral once concealed his fleet in the lagoon by hanging palm fronds in the rigging) was the first time we encountered "boat boys". These are basically local guys who come by in canoes or dinghies selling fruit and offering to help you tie up or watch your dinghy. We'd heard they can be very annoying but the ones in Marigot Bay all had a great sense of humour and they're actually very helpful if you want fresh fruit. The ones that watch your dinghy as you go ashore though, feel more like you're paying them to not steal it rather than watch it.
In Soufriere we did some touring ashore to visit the "drive in" volcano, hot mud baths and a hot waterfall. We also arranged two dives with our local dive master Chester. Chester was great and the diving wonderful, we had one dive around the point of Anse Chastanet where we just drifted along in a really strong current amazed by the fish and corals.
The Pitons are the most famous landmark of Saint Lucia and they're remarkable to see. Two volcanic plugs rising 800M out of the water, they simply tower above you. We had some wonderful nights on the moorings directly below. After Ali and Dad had left Phillip, Mike and I arranged a local guy to climb with us Petit Piton (the smaller but steeper more challenging climb), it took us about 2 hours climbing up, so steep we were almost crawling on hands and feet but the view from the top worthwhile.
Mike and I are very keen to learn Kiteboarding and Phillip who is rather good was
also keen to have a go in the local trade winds. Unfortunately the winds didn't really blow for us but Mike and I had introductory lessons one day and then flew a kite with Phillip for a bit the day after. While we had our lessons at a neighbouring kite school we spent a lot of time at "The Reef" which is a cafe/bar and hire all sorts of gear. It was such a relaxed place with tables in the sand shaded by trees and views over the beautiful lagoon. When the wind was light we hired paddle boards. Mike and I are now trawling the internet for our first set-up so we can kite board together, on top of some dive gear this is going to be our christmas present for one another.
As nice as The Reef was though is required a taxi ride from Vieux Port, a horrid local fishing/commercial port where one boat boy offered to protect us from the local amphetamine addicts despite clearly being one himself. The water is thick with fish entrails and the smell overpowering. It's a dirty, filthy place and probably one the tourist board didn't intend us to see.
On another low note we headed ashore one night in the town of Laborie to sample the local "off the tourist trail" culture. The people can look very intimidating and trend to loiter but all we speak to are very friendly. The low point was the dinner though, after some nice Piton's (local beer) in the corner bar we ordered grilled whole fresh snapper. Sounded nice enough, even looked OK but the whole snapper was no more than a handspan long and smelt much like the fisher men at Vieux Fort, even the side order of bread smelt like it had been used to clean the surface of a fish tray and the salad washed in a fish markets gutter. We managed about a 1/3 of it but I'm sure had we been more sober we'd have eaten less. Phillip takes us very readily into places Mike and I probably wouldn't venture by ourselves so despite the food it was still an adventure.
Some of the anchorages here are a bit tricky and with all the fancy charts we have on board so inaccurate our best friend has quickly become Google Maps satellite view where we can easily see the exact location of that shallow reef.
Ben on Ganga who was very disappointed with our fishing to date has lent us a book "The Cruisers Handbook of Fishing" to help bring our average up. We've already deployed some of the tips learnt with some success. One interesting fish we caught was a big fierce Barracuda with very fierce looking teeth. We've heard they occasionally bite humans and make a nasty wound, swimming around the boat hasn't been the same since learning these monsters are patrolling the waters. More evidence of the Barracudas was a fish we landed bit clean in half before we could even get him aboard.
Phillip is leaving shortly (barely in one piece after so much activity), we'll head back to Rodney Bay again for some more fix-its before heading south to the Grenadines for Christmas. We've just heard that our friends on Ganga are now definitely coming to join us there which is nice.
We made it! Crossed the finish the at 5:49m local time here in Saint Lucia :)
It was quite a special moment, we were in regular radio contact with the finish line from about 5 miles out but despite our best efforts to arrive in light it was still pitch black (hard to estimate time of sunrise when it changes each day!). A photographer was sent out in a RIB to capture the moment and we have some great photos. Upon berthing in Rodney Bay there was a welcome party of ARC staff, a local from the Saint Lucia Tourist board bearing gifts of beer, rum punch and fruit baskets. Other boats were cheering and we felt pretty chuffed all round. We did see later in the day that if you manage to arrive in daylight you also get a steel drum player on the dock drumming you local tunes.
What a great feeling to have crossed an ocean and now be half a world away. And Saint Lucia does truly feel a world away from Europe, the heat and humidity here are intense (aircon is getting a workout). The architecture, people, accents, landscapes, smells are all so different and we regularly hear reggae music. There's a real carnival atmosphere here as more boats arrive and there is a little village of sponsor tents and other various businesses. We met up with Ali and Phillip stayed with her at their hotel last night though their moving back aboard today. It's fun the hotel is on the water in the bay so they've just borrowed our dingy and can take themselves back and forth.
We have a few jobs to do here now, get our battery charging sorted, clean the boat and a other small things. Dad, Phillip and Ali are off on the 14th and we hope to cruise down to the area of the Pitons before they leave.
Mike: I had the last full watch from 4-7am (minus the two hour time change although we thought it should of only being one) so really it was the 2-5am watch. It was exciting during those hours in anticipation. I dressed the boat with 4 flags: St Lucia, a second large Australian one, ARC flag and of course my new bigger Irish flag and manned the radio for our 5-mile, 2-mile and sight the finish line approaches. The arrival like Hugh says above was extremely well organised. They have volunteers stationed at the finish line in a boat 24/7 to welcome you across the line and record your official time, our being 5:49:44 seconds. We travelled 2721nm which meant that we took a very straight route across.
As mentioned during our journey we were recording every watch in a log which will be a really nice document to look back on later. We recorded the miles, speed, GPS position, heading, barometer reading and wrote a little update at the end of the watch. We also had a little competition to see who had the fastest watch (just to keep everyone on their toes :)) To prove the great team that we were the four of us were all within 0.02 knots of each other.
Yesterday was a busy day of re organising the boat so that it felt like a home again mixed with sporadic drinking of rum, beer and whiskey while chatting with other crew who had already arrived. Everyone is certainly in a jovial mood and the party atmosphere is great. To our surprise during the crossing a lot of boats experienced a night of winds of up to 50 knots which damaged a number of sails and poles. Fortunately (or unfortunately) we only experienced 31 knots. I guess we should be thankful that we didn't rip sails.
After speaking with the marina manager and reading a little about Rodney Bay marina we decided to go to the well recommended 'Big Chef steakhouse' for dinner last night. While seated a lovely lady came up and asked if we knew Lane Cipriani. Knowing that my best friend in Sydney is of the same name I replied yes. He had pre-organised to pick up the tab for the five of us - wow wow wow. Thank you from all on Whippersnapper, you are a great mate.
Still motoring and now there truly is no wind, barely a ripple, it is another beautiful day though, the water is now 28.7 degrees (feels like a bath) and the sun is very warm. Phillip took this photo of sunrise this morning.
Motoring for extended periods can be very frustrating. When at sea we all sleep in the aft cabins and my pillow must be no more than a meter above our big diesel engine. The engine bay is sound proofed but when trying to sleep it feels like lying on the bonnet of a tractor!
Last night we caught another Mahi Mahi similar size but didn't realise it was on the line, Phillip noticed it this morning and brought it in to discover it half eaten, basically a head and a spine trailing behind it, quite gruesome he said.
Currently our ETA is 10:30 tomorrow morning but there's ocean currents that come and go so our speed and ETA vary quite a bit, we'll just say around mid-morning. Looking very much to seeing land and Ale who will be waiting for us in Saint Lucia.
Mike: Now that we have only 1 day left I think I will miss the Atlantic. I've always associated the Atlantic with home in Ireland. It has been great to have had the opportunity to spend over 8 months in Europe and to be on the same timezone as the family and friends. Incidentally there is only 1 Irish boat in the rally called Emilija and the family are from Dublin. They are just off our port side at about 6nm now but they are motoring much faster than us (burning lots of diesel). Our next post all going well will be after we arrive, we hope you enjoyed our updates along the way.
OK now the wind has totally gone :(
We were motorsailing for a bit but now we're just motoring along as the wind is less than 7kts and dead on the nose. It's very depressing and not the flying finish to our crossing we were hoping for.
Also a bit disappointed ARC didn't send position report today, but now we're motoring anything could happen to our ranking. They say there is a motoring penalty and we have to record the number of hours per day under power but I don't know if it is a penalty as such or more just an equaliser with those boats who choose not to motor???
We are starting to see more yachts as we all converge on Saint Lucia now, we saw 4 today and spoke with them all on the radio. Good Fortune told us about their encounters some whales that stayed with them for two days! Possibly it was the same whales but soon after our conversation we saw two whales swimming at a distance and then shortly after that we nearly ran over one as they swam so close to us. Just like Good Fortune said, it too swam around our stern to get a better look. Such graceful creatures, lovely to see them.
We also spoke with Kantara, a british yacht who was asking for cooking gas, unfortunately we didn't have spare but in talking with them we also discovered they had no engine which also meant no electricity, woah! And now there is no wind they're going to have a very slow finish indeed. Another yacht asked if there was anything else they needed but they said no and were in good enough spirits.
Mike: Even though we're now motoring, we waited a lot longer than most boats in light winds before engaging the engine. So much so we had a boat motor up from behind us for a chat on the radio and then continue on. Most likely we've lost many places now. However, the silver lining with motoring is that its charging our batteries all be it at a very slow pace. Fred, Phillip and Ale (Phillip's girlfriend) are with us until the 15th of Dec and we were hoping to do some sightseeing before dropping them off at the airport on the south of the island. Therefore we need to work very fast once we arrive to get our batteries and chargers quickly sorted. Ale is actually waiting in St Lucia since Monday for our arrival, I notice the closer we get the bigger Phillip's smile becomes!
The wind is back, almost currently we're reaching (sailing across the wind) in 15kts and doing about 7.5kts which may just get us in on Wed 7th before sunset. We certainly lost time overnight with some averages around 5kts so we're all looking forward to downloading a new weather forecast today to see whether we'll make it or not. The idea of arriving in the dark doesn't impress us but there's not much we can do about that!
Hopefully too as we approach Saint Lucia we'll start seeing more yachts we as all converge on one place again. We can see one yacht this morning but nothing else since Fry Flyt yesterday. Just as I type this the nearby yacht called us on the radio, it was La Chunga II. Nice how everyone calls to say hi :)
Well Phillip's Mahi Mahi BBQ last night tasted beautiful and we also enjoyed a beer to celebrate the 2000 NM mark :) We even had enough fish for lunch today as well.
This morning was a beautiful clear sky and we were all starting to feeling good about being in Saint Lucia soon, the water is now 18.2 degrees and the air 30 degrees. Funnily we again spotted Fry Flyt as they passed within a mile of our stern. This afternoon though was very humid and sticky and the windy slowly dying shame the forecast is now for light winds tomorrow, there goes our Wednesday arrival. We needed to average over 7kts and as I write this (it's 7am Monday - end of my watch) we're down to 5.5kts :(
One of our lifetags has died (electronic bracelet we wear that alarms if we go over a certain distance from the boat i.e. fall overboard), took quite some time to workout what the cause was but cleverly Mike was able to isolate one - the man overboard alarm went off at least 7 or 8 times and it's VERY loud.
After dinner the sky went very grey and it looked quite foreboding as if we were going to have a big storm, we did get some rain but the wind didn't really do much other than to back to a southerly so that on our heading we were actually sailing to windward for a few hours, after 13 days of dead downwind it felt very strange indeed, like we were sailing the wrong way.
We got a bad jam in the mainsail last night after furling it in a squall, it went in OK but after the squall had passed we couldn't get it out again. This morning I had to go up the mast to help it out, something I've done a few times before but never in strong winds or seas. Few heart stopping moments when I lost grip on the mast and flew around the stays but managed OK and the sail is good again.
In a hope to improve the autopilot I 'got under the bonnet' and manually adjusted some of the software settings so it's works better in the heavy seas, realised all of my previous settings had been for relatively calm waters.
We've just passed through another timezone so Mike put all clocks onboard back an hour, inexplicably though he forgot to put back his own and came to relieve me on night watch an hour early, I didn't mind too much :) We've also just passed the 2000 Nautical Mile mark.
Just now Phillip caught a Marlin at least five foot! Phillip, Dad and I all saw it jump out of the water so can confirm this but unfortunately it took the lure on our weaker setup and Phillip was not able to slow it down any, it just keep taking line till it destroyed the reel and the line snapped. The clutch on the reel is now completely burnt out, the mechanism was too hot to touch and Phillip burnt his fingers.
Another update; We just landed a 5kg, 70cm Dolphin fish (aka Mahi Mahi or Dorado)!!! Finally we have a fish dinner. Funniest thing was while filleting it Phillip fell off the boarding platform into the water (he was tethered on) and his lifejacket inflated with quite a bang making us all jump (our lifejackets inflate automatically in water - see photo)! It was also two for the price of one as we found a flying fish in his tummy.
Finally we're starting to make realistic predictions about our finish now, we loosely looking at the morning of the 8th.
Mike: Spirits are great on Whippersnapper. We have 3 beers and 1 scotch ready to celebrate our 2000nm milestone. The route is approximatley 2800nm so only 800nm left or 5 days at our current speed but anything could happen between now and then. To my pleasant surprise, time has been going much faster than I expected and the journey is much easier. The sun is out every day at around 28 degrees and the water is currently 28.2 degrees which makes for excellent swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving when we arrive. Our new favourite TV series is 'The Killing' (thanks Lane) for those of you who are download pirates.
Dad has given us a new max speed, 15.2kts!!! (He actually saw 16.0kts briefly but you need a few seconds before the instruments will record it). He was hand steering on his morning watch and did a great surf down the face of a following wave.
We also saw Fry Flyt again last night. A Norwegian yacht we've been playing leap frog with since the 3rd day, they're in front, then we're in front, and so on. It's fun that we keep happening across them when most boats we only see once. I'm not impressed though because it's a much smaller 37 footer, (Hanse 370e) so we should be faster than it but I suspect they've a racing rig and sails to give them great speed. Dad is thrilled because back in Sydney he owns a Hanse 370e :)
Every second day we're sending and receiving emails, our internet connection is via our satellite phone and it's frustratingly slow but if we're patient it does work. Because its quite expensive we're only checking emails every other day. ARC send us weather reports (we also get our own to cross check) and daily position reports. It is fun seeing our position improve so much over the past few days, we were 75th a couple days ago and so eagerly awaiting the next daily position reports. We make bets each time on our new ranking.
Todays rig inspection found a bent shackle on the end of the preventer (line used to stop us accidentally gybing). We'd never really used a preventer much before the ARC but in these conditions with confused seas and heading dead downwind it's critical. When the wind gets much above 25kts and Whippersnapper takes a large wave on the quarter it's very hard for the autopilot to keep us on track and sometimes we do back the main. When this happens there's enormous pressure on the preventer. One job in Saint Lucia is to fit a much stronger permanently rigged preventer to make things easier for us.
Mike: We had our fastest day today covering 181.26nm. We hand steered most of our day time shifts in winds over 20 knots. It was great fun trying to surf the waves. Our daily range has now gone from our slowest at 134.6nm so it's good to know we're getting faster each day. It is also helped by the fact we're sitting in the Northern Equatorial Current (found above 15 degrees latitude) which can add 0.5 -1.0kn to our speed. The sky has got noticeably meaner looker now with huge black clouds passing over bringing strong winds and some rain with them. We have to be very alert at night for squalls. Like Phillip the other night I had a flying fish land at my feet during my night watch. They are a lovely blue colour and quite difficult to pick up to throw back overboard.
Except for Fry Flyt above we haven't seen any other boats for a few days now. It's strange to think 230 boats left Las Palmas together, heading in the same direction, at roughly the same speed give or take and now we don't see any of them around us.
The boat is going really well except that we blew up one of our two battery chargers the other day meaning we need to run the generator twice as long to generate enough power. We also try to cut back on power where possible so with less than a week to go and food supplies dwindling we were able to close down one of our two fridges this morning to save on power. We make water every day which is a real luxury as more than half the boats competing wouldn't have water makers onboard so probably wouldn't be able to shower frequently or wash dishes in fresh water etc.
Photo is Mike showing his navigational expertise on our Atlantic passage chart (a purist would never mark chart in pen Mike!).
Otherwise I don't feel like writing much about the day, firstly because I baked some bread which wasn't great (first time and I don't think I'll repeat the messy exercise), secondly because Mike and I spent the better part of the day unblocking the forward head lovely.
Last night though we did get our first taste of Atlantic squalls, only 30kts but with full white sails it was enough to make it scary on solo night watches. We bent a second stanchion when the auto pilot took us into a crash gybe and the preventer leant heavily on it (starting to accumulate a little list of repairs/replacements for St Lucia).
Right now we're rocketing along in 25-30kts winds partly reefed, averaging around 9kts and occasionally surfing up to 11, 12 & 13kts which is exhilarating. In these conditions we hand steer, partly because its fun but partly because the autopilots reaction are not quick enough when we're really pushing it like this.
Thrilled to see our ranking has improved so much, we're now 81st which is even better placed than we were after the first day. This is a corrected ranking that takes into account our handicap, so essentially it just means we're sailing better than average for our boat, still we're happy though. Alternatively on uncorrected time we're 112th overall or 7th within our class.
We caught a small Marlin today (see photo), he was a beautiful fish and while he may have fed us we couldn't bring ourselves to cut him up so after a quick photo shoot we sent him back for a hopeful exchange with his bigger brother. We also had another big bite in the morning that snapped a hook, we either seem to catch things too small or way too big!
Banana week is still going but it's starting to drag on a bit
Banana week is going well but it's also now yogurt week and cake week, we've so much food that needs eating! Phillip cooked us fillet steak for dinner last night with hand made chips, yum! Mike: When it came to provisioning for this trip we made sure we got a few treats. So naturally I got 10kgs of potatoes and the Murray-Walkers got 100kgs of sweet things like chocolate and cakes.
We're certainly starting to catch more fish, we think because the water is getting warmer (now 27 degrees). Yesterday we caught 5 before breakfast but all being smallish dorado we set them free again (see photo of one the the lucky ones). We did get a bite from a very big one this morning but he snapped the hook before we could get him aboard, bummer.
Heading further south has done us well, Winds have been 15-25 knots for the last 24 hours and it looks set to continue today. We had some watches yesterday average in the 7's and 8's yesterday which is great, our daily runs are improving. While we have the boat going great unfortunately the seas are awful, it's still a sharp and confused swell in which the boat really pitches around making sleep very difficult. Meal times are especially funny as we sit around the cockpit table and it's quite civilised except we have to eat one handed because you need the other to hold your plate. Mike and I have decided some bigger bowls and splades are a necessity going forward.
On a more problematic note, one of our battery chargers has blown. We'd actually ended up replacing our entire service battery bank in Las Palmas and while that is great now we can't charge them efficiently which means we're running the generator or the engine in neutral upto 8 hours a day, it's driving us all a little mad :( At first it was just a blown fuse in the charger but not having the correct replacement I hot wired it and on reconnection there was a big bang and some smoke, I think it's very dead now.
We are now though officially on course for Saint Lucia (following a great circle route), we also expect to pass halfway around lunchtime today.
PS: Last night Phillip got the fright of his life when on watch by himself in pitch black night a flying fish flew into the cockpit and hit him on the leg!
Mike: My friend, Lane, put me onto a great set of books (4 in all) called the 'Game of Thrones'. They made a TV series out of the first book last year and the second book is in production now. I'm really enjoying them and would recommend them if you have the time. We finished the Walking Dead and Entourage episodes that we had so we must choose a new one (hopefully not Glee!). When we reach half way today we will be the furthest possible distance away from land on this trip at 1350nm's or 2500km's.