Barracuda's Blog

The adventures of Kate and Graham and our OVNI 395.

14 March 2018 | Anegada, BVI
12 March 2018 | Spanish Town, BVI
11 March 2018 | Prickly Pear Island, BVI
10 March 2018 | Island Water World Marina, Simpsons Bay, St Maarten
06 March 2018 | Simpson's Bay, St Maarten, Dutch Caribbean
04 March 2018 | Simpson's Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten, Dutch Caribbean
02 March 2018 | Oranjestad Bay, St Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean
01 March 2018 | Sandy Point Bay – North End of St Kitts
27 February 2018 | Charlestown, Nevis Island
25 February 2018 | Mosquito Cove, Antigua
22 February 2018 | Nelson's Dock Yard, English Harbour, Antigua
20 February 2018 | Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua
19 February 2018 | Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua
18 February 2018 | English Harbour, Antigua
17 February 2018 | Carlisle Bay, Antigua
16 February 2018 | Deep Bay, Antigua
15 February 2018 | Five Island Harbour, Antigua
09 February 2018 | Barbados
01 February 2018 | Jolly Harbour, Antigua

Testing our shallow draft freedom

14 March 2018 | Anegada, BVI

Yesterday we enjoyed a fast and steady reach over to Anegada, which lies about 10 miles to the north of Virgin Gorda. It is an interesting approach; the island is very flat, to the point that you can barely see it even from very close to, and surrounded by reefs and sandy shallows with just a single viable anchorage with a narrow entrance. You do see the trees, or rather now stumps, before seeing land, but a better marker is the collection of white fatameran hulls and masts lying in the anchorage. Once at the reef entrance you pick your way slowly down the channel between the coral heads until the chart says it’s OK. It is really hard to distinguish depths from the water colour. K kept lookout for rocks and reefs on the bow – at one point she thought there was a rock just feet away and dead ahead, but then it turned round, lifted a flipper and dived. We also had a big manta ray jumping on the way in.

So much for the stories of the local charter fleet having been wiped out by hurricane Irma; there seem to be plenty of them here now – K just counted 60 charter boats in this bay alone. We have been told that due to damaged facilities in Tortola the charter boats are coming here instead, which may be why it seems busier than normal. All the moorings are taken and there are many boats at anchor. The bay is surrounded by reefs and is very shallow so we have raised our keel and rudder to find a suitable place to anchor in 1.1metres of turquoise blue water. Hope nobody tries to follow us. ’Tis a strange feeling when you are a few feet away from the boat and can stand on the bottom, with your head well clear of the water.

Today we had a walk ashore on the eternal quest for wifi, and hacked our way over to the lagoon behind the beach where there are said to be flamingos. Maybe it’s not the season, as the lagoon was lacking both birds and water. We took the new dinghy out for a long drive to try and find coral heads and good snorkelling, but ended up just running in the engine for a while. Not a very successful day really but K finally saw a very big jumpy fish or ray – not sure which. The day ended with an excellent lobster dinner on the beach – something that Anegada is famous for.

Barracuda in the BVIs

12 March 2018 | Spanish Town, BVI
Contrasting emotions today. We sailed round to Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda* today. To be sailing your own boat in the BVI is quite a special feeling; it is a rather iconic cruising ground, and so to be there under our own steam felt good. Then on arrival here, to see the scale of damage in the town, the marina and the boatyard felt yuk. We had a walk round the boatyard and took a load of pictures, but I will resist posting more pics of boat destruction here. Instead, here is a happy hour picture from a nice beach bar we found, with excellent wifi and a few Caribs to lift the spirits.

We had the most surreal experience last night. We were lying at anchor in Gorda Sound, sitting in the dark playing cribbage, and hearing all these noises around us in the water. Curious, we put the searchlight onto the water - and it was full of massive tarpon. These are really big fish – 3+ feet long - and there were loads of them. Occasionally they would jump, making a big splash. And then this morning we saw big turtles in the bay.

There is no shortage of boats in the BVI despite what we have heard - lots of charter monohulls and fatamarans, though very few private yachts so far. No doubt the charter fleets are much reduced compared to before Irma, but there are charter boats all over the place, as well as some super yachts, so business must be returning.

We have now been exposed to the concept of power catamarans. These are nearly identical to the sailing version, but with no mast. I guess someone figured that a fair number of people who take out boats don’t sail that much or don’t know how to sail by wind, so why bother putting the mast on for that part of the market? It makes sense I suppose.

Today’s game is ‘find the water maker pump’, level four. It was sent last week from the UK to Memphis, then on to the USVI, then to Puerto Rico (why?), and now we hope it is coming here! They say Wednesday. Humpfff… so tomorrow we will probably go to the Baths (watch this space) and on to Anegada (thanks for the recommendation, Dave M) and then come back.

*Virgin Gorda means ‘fat virgin’. Columbus thought that from seaward the island looked like a fat woman lying on her back.

On the road again

11 March 2018 | Prickly Pear Island, BVI
Firstly a note on communications - internet and phone are proving to be really difficult at the moment so our apologies that we are not able to get to emails and make calls. In case you are wondering we will squeeze this blog out on the satellite phone which we try & only use when offshore for weather and emergency contacts.

At last we are back on the road again and it feels v. good. We had a good finish in Sint Maarten with all our jobs done, and Barracuda loaded up with food and water and brimmed with cheap diesel (tax is quite low). This may be our last chance for a while to replenish supplies, as we head into areas where water, fuel and good food may be in short supply, post-hurricane. We don'€™t really know what to expect, as up to date information on many of the islands in this section is at best anecdotal.

We spent a swelly night at anchor outside the lagoon and headed off into the west at 04:30. This was the first time we have sailed in the dark since arriving in St Lucia, and also the first time we've rigged the boat for a longish downwind passage for a while. We wanted to make landfall in the Virgin Islands in daylight and it has been a bit of a squeeze, so we had to motor-sail some of the way despite a fair following wind, just to keep our arrival time on track. On reflection, we should just have sailed the 80 miles through the night (as G suggested) - it would probably have been more restful than rocking and rolling at anchor. Some excitement when we had a whale spout very close to the boat - as always, G saw it and K missed it.

On arrival in the Virgin Islands we sailed past Necker Island - owned by Sir Richard Branson. The damage on the island is quite incredible but there also seems to be a lot of rebuilding work underway. We anchored up in the lee of Prickly Pear Island (great names here).

Now we need to make some progress. We have some places that are probably interesting to visit along the way, but we need to push on as well. It is just too easy to put down roots… Everything ahead of us is new to us: the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas. We need to be in the outer Bahamas in just under a month. Navigation starts to get very interesting now, as there are very shallow seas around the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas and we will be very glad of our shallow draught freedom. We a€™re also glad of our new charts - we chose NV after much discussion with others heading north, because they are up to date, easy to read, come with a code for download to a tablet, include a pilotage section and, best of all - are almost the only charts available in the shops here.

Photo - sunset from the anchorage

Reflections on St Maarten as we head for the Virgins

10 March 2018 | Island Water World Marina, Simpsons Bay, St Maarten
And so we come to the end of our week here in St Maarten. It has been a mostly practical week, with minimal sightseeing. In fact, we're not sure what the great sights are to see here beyond the yacht harbours and chandleries. That may sound terrible, but you do get a bit 'islanded out'. We promise to make more effort in our next stops.

Sint Maarten/St Martin is an island split between the Dutch and the French - literally split down the middle. The Dutch side, where we are, is not in the EU (sadly) - not sure about the French side. You can travel freely across the island by land, but if you take a boat over you need to do the customs and immigration check out/check in, so you tend to stay put.

Whilst we have not managed to do the only two things we came here for (dinghy engine and water maker repairs) we have done a load of other bits of maintenance and improvement - too numerous to mention and of little interest to those not on Barracuda. However, the most exciting thing is that we now have 'Guppy' - tender to 'Barracuda' - our new mini aluminium-bottomed RIB, with a much bigger outboard.

The island was clearly hard hit by the hurricane last year. The damage to the boats in the harbour and to the facilities around the harbour is just staggering but they are working very hard (on the Dutch side anyway) to get everything back to normal. We walked up to Carrefour yesterday but could not find it where the map said. We asked a guy on a building site where it was, and he said they were rebuilding it as it was blown away. The music of the island is the sound of hammers and drills.

Maintenance week in Sint Maarten

06 March 2018 | Simpson's Bay, St Maarten, Dutch Caribbean
Not a massive amount to report here so we will keep this one fairly short.

Maintenance week is off to a reasonable start with new guard rails being made, some minor rigging modifications, spray hood in for re-stitching, the wee outboard in for repair (remember the rock), waiting on water maker parts, new charts purchased for the next leg through the Bahamas and a general lightening of the bank account into the chandlery.

Oh... and we bought a new tender and bigger outboard. We knew this would happen one day. So tomorrow we should become the proud owners of a zippy little aluminium hulled RIB tender. More to follow on that.

The weather here is very pleasant. We have been catching the bottom of a large depression off the US and it has brought some cooler air.

We promised a picture of hurricane boat damage in the harbour. On the face of it things seem to be well recovered but when you start to look around there is evidence everywhere of serious damage here. Today's picture shows a couple of boats that have been picked off the bottom of the harbour - holes patched up with plywood, covered with barnacles - there are many, many like this.

We have again enjoyed the company of Jacky X for an evening at our new local, Lagoonies - always fun.

Stopping in Sint Maarten for weather and a maintenance week

04 March 2018 | Simpson's Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten, Dutch Caribbean
Meant to add in the last blog that Statia was known as the Golden Rock for obvious reasons. One thing we must research is why there is so much oil stored and passing through Statia. There were about 6 big tankers sitting off the island, an oil loading terminal and a massive tank farm up on one side of the island. The population is really very small so it's not for them. Wondering if it is a strategic store of some sort.

The trip over to Sint Maarten was fairly windless, so we motored over, arriving in Simpson Bay in the middle of a race finish line, as it's Heineken Regatta week (today's photo). After a bit of ducking and diving, we managed to squeeze into the inner lagoon through the swing bridge with a load of the big race boats, happily sharing the cheers from their supporters. Many of these were boats we saw in Antigua. They work round the Caribbean doing the race circuit before heading back to UK or the Med for the summer season there.

We completed yet another customs and immigration process, and found our way into the Island Water World Marina with the help of Gerard (S/Y Jacky X), who spotted us arriving. Great to see them again. We met them in the evening for happy hour (and beyond) at the famous waterfront Lagoonies bar, and heard tales of Barbuda – we must go there in our next trip – the 11-mile beach sounds beautiful, although hard hit by the hurricanes.

Sint Maarten looks like boat-shopping heaven with the best-stocked chandleries we have ever seen – yeah! We will now work our way through a week of maintenance, in readiness for the push north. K is getting very excited at the thought of Wednesday's shuttle bus expedition to Carrefour across the border in French St Martin.

The other aspect of Sint Maarten is the number of totally wrecked boats lying around after hurricane Irma. They have worked to clear the majority of the harbour but there are many sorry looking boats on moorings or on the shore, and still some marked sunken wrecks in the lagoon. We will get a photo for the next blog.

You don’t know what you don’t know

02 March 2018 | Oranjestad Bay, St Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean
We have now has our second day ashore in Sint Eustatius (or Statia for short). This place is really a find, and a huge contrast to Basse Terre in St Kitt’s. Lots of reasons: it is really tiny, with just one town, high on the hill, full of charm; the people are very friendly; one takes a big step back in time, to the Dutch Colonial era, and the town has loads of buildings from that time; it has a classic volcano, the Quill, with excellent hikes (we are told); the sunsets are first class; there are just a few tourists around, probably here for the fabulous diving; it has some lovely wee hotels (must remember the Old Gin House for the future). It is just a really fun, relaxed and simple place to stop. We are one of only two yachts here in Oranje Baie – hurricane Irma put paid to the visits of charter fleets out of St Thomas and Sint Maarten.

The history is fascinating, and they have a small but well organised museum. In the 18th-19th centuries, Statia was the centre of trading in the Caribbean for a long while, on the basis that they would trade with anyone (much to the annoyance of the British at the time). It was also a centre for slave trading, between Africa and the rest of the region, and in the 18th century was home to sugar plantations. They say in its zenith around 200 boats a day would dock in the bay to trade, often illegally. It changed hands (between the French, English and Dutch) many times. You can still see the ruins of the hundreds of warehouses along the seafront, built on reclaimed land that the sea has in turn reclaimed again.

It is Dutch here, but Statia is not in the EU. We think we kind of worked out its status but would struggle to explain it. They speak about four different languages on the island – Dutch, English, Creole and sometimes Spanish.

All in all it’s been a very interesting stopover, and Statia is somewhere that we had never heard of until we saw it was on our route so decided to stop.

Tomorrow we head for Sint Maarten, where we will stop for about a week and let some weather go through as well as catching up on maintenance.

Big boats and little boats

01 March 2018 | Sandy Point Bay – North End of St Kitts
An early start today as we pushed north from Charlestown in Nevis to Basse Terre in St Kitt's. As we left, we were pleasantly surprised to see the port police divers out checking the state of the moorings. We always try to snorkel a mooring to check it but this is the first time we have seen the authorities doing their checks and maintenance. Three cheers for Nevis Port Police.

We were not quite sure what to expect at St Kitt's, but knew it would be a busy port as we could see two cruise ships in harbour from a long way off. We wanted to see some of St Kitt's and we also needed to go there to clear customs. We read that they have a scenic railway around the island, using an old sugar cane plantation railway system and thought this would be a great way to see the island in a relatively short time - but discovered (by phone) that it is booked way in advance by the cruise ship clients, so no chance.

As our dinghy outboard engine is still broken, we were rowing ashore from our anchorage into Basse Terre when a very nice south-bound Canadian yacht next door gave us a tow in with their dinghy, and we traded notes on where to go - north and south. Always useful.

Observations on St Kitt's: The cruise ships seem to dwarf the town (see photo), and it looks like the town ends up primarily serving the cruise ship, perhaps detracting from what people come to see in the first place. The cruise dock is dominated by a massive tourist mall, with duty free shops, t-shirt shops, gift shops and bars - which might be as far as many people go. Ashore was packed with tourists, and in the end we just completed our check out (very efficient), had a wander round town, found a couple of food stalls that only the locals were using so perfect for us (very tasty). Humph..... G's image of St Kitt's as a quiet honeymoon type destination totally shattered. If we had the time to get out of town island life would undoubtedly be there but we are on a bit of a schedule due to a weather system 'up north' that means we have to hole up in Sint Maarten soon.

We decided to sail on with beautiful views of the coast line to anchor in a quiet bay at the north of the island, where we were the only boat, for a cooling swim and an amazing green flash sunset, and views of the volcano islands of Saba and St Eustacia. Just after sunset we have (for the second evening) had an invasion of small black ant like flies (thunder flies?). Any suggestions? They seem to die on the deck in their thousands by morning.

Head in the clouds.

27 February 2018 | Charlestown, Nevis Island
We left the Jolly Harbour anchorage early yesterday morning and enjoyed a cracking sail over from Antigua to Nevis. We were in Antigua for nearly a month, including our time down in Barbados. That was longer than we planned, but we had no control over the weather for the last couple of weeks. It felt soooo good to get back on the open water and let Barracuda do what she does best – a nice long downwind passage. Winds started light but soon built to 15-20 kts so perfect for us, and we bowled along the 45 miles due west with just the genoa.

Nevis is yet another volcano with its head in the clouds (today’s photo). It looks very fertile. We picked up a mooring at Charlestown (no anchoring, to protect the sea-grass) and enjoyed a really settled evening. Today we went through the process of clearing through customs and immigration; Until you have cleared you need to fly the yellow (quarantine) flag. Talking briefly about customs etc… given that most of these islands are separate countries you need to check in and out pretty much for each one. The routine is largely the same for each, but it is a bit of faff and expense on every one. Technically, the crew cannot set foot ashore until the skipper has gone in and cleared customs and immigration and paid the appropriate fees to port authority. Think about the “current” position in Europe, where we can travel hundreds of kilometres from country to country and not have to do this, while here we can barely go 50 miles without more paperwork. I know which system I prefer.

Mobile data for e-mail etc… is the same. Each island has its own system so on arrival you find the phone shop and buy a card and top up. Once again it feels like a good case for an integrated approach. But anyway….

Today we took the local bus round to the Golden Rock Estate for lunch. The hotel is set in the buildings of the old sugar plantation and the gardens are lush and colourful. Well worth the trip. Then back for a wander round Charlestown. It seems many islands we visit have a Charlestown.

Adios Antigua!

25 February 2018 | Mosquito Cove, Antigua
Ten months to Christmas, folks!

The wind in the Caribbean has finally dropped and we are back to a more normal climate, for about a week anyway before a weird weather system comes in off the US coast.

We finally left Nelson's Dockyard yesterday. It was definitely a great place to have spent some time in amongst the historic buildings, super yachts and race fleet. It was also a great place to end Dunx and KK's visit. It was probably one of the more expensive places we have spent time on throughout the Caribbean, with some of the most minimalistic facilities we've encountered, but in reality when you compare it to south of England marina prices it is not that bad.

The mooring arrangements in the harbour are really not ideal. Boats go stern to the quay, with bow anchors in the middle of the harbour; at right angles to the quay is the super-yacht dockage, with their long anchor chains laid way out across the harbour. So, there seems to be a constant knot of anchors in the middle of the harbour that get laid over each other. This in turn provides great profit for the dockyard divers who are constantly being summonsed to go down to untangle them at vast expense. We thought our anchor was clear, but as we exited in gap between gusts, we found it was in fact hooked onto a super yacht anchor so we had to quickly call the divers to sort it out.

The marina could use mooring buoys for bow lines, or Med-style lazy lines to completely solve this, for the smaller boats at least (and it seems they have done this in the past) but they now choose to have this ridiculous situation of chain roulette. I guess that employs plenty of divers and avoids any bother with maintenance! But still it was a fun and interesting stop and we had such a good social time with our friends on Jacky X and My Lady that it was well worth it.

We realised we were not ready to part from Jacky X and My Lady, so once we had all paid our divers and freed our anchors, we all sailed round to Jolly Harbour together for a last night of socialising and putting the world to rights over a BBQ on Barracuda. Today we took the decision to check out of Antigua and are now sitting at anchor in Mosquito Cove, ready to head off to Nevis and St Kitts first thing tomorrow morning.

Our forward plan: Nevis, St Kitt's, (possibly St Barts), then Sint Maarten (Dutch side). We completely failed to get either our dinghy outboard or water maker fixed in Antigua, so we will now focus on Sint Maarten for our nect technical stop. We know that St Martin/Sint Maarten suffered terribly in last year's hurricane so

Today's Photo: is from our last snorkelling trip - We think it was a barracuda but happy to take other suggestions
Vessel Name: Barracuda
Vessel Make/Model: OVNI 395
Crew: Graham and Kate
About: Learning as we go....
Extra: Look to this day for it is life...
Barracuda's Photos - The Scottish Trip - 2011
Photos 1 to 12 of 12 | Main
Barracuda waiting for us in Troon.
Sailing up to Loch Fyne.
In the first lock at the Crinan Canal
The garden gate! The end of the Crinan Canal. Beyond here lies the Western Isles.
Fishing boat in Small Isles Bay - Jura.
Leaving Small Isles Bay - Jura.
CalMac ferry approaching Islay.
Loch Tarbert on Jura.
Loch Tarbert on Jura.
Anchored on the south side of Mull.