Barbados and the Windward Islands
04 February 2011 | St Lucia
The Windward Islands
After the first full night's sleep in over five weeks we all felt refreshed as we woke up to a bright sunlit Barbados day. Mary and Kate went to the yacht club for long, long showers and came back smelling sweet with clean non salty hairs.
We topped up with fresh water as our main tank was getting pretty low. However, I was very pleased that we had managed not to use all of the water taken on in Tenerife in the tank and had not touched our extra in the plastic containers dotted around the boat. While at sea I switched off the electric water pump so that all water had to be foot pumped at the galley sink. This ensured that we were conscious that we only drew enough water for our needs and there was no wastage. Washing up was done in salt water which was fished from the sea with a bucket. Similarly we cooked in half sea, half fresh water remembering not to add salt. We tried using all sea water but the food was definitely too salty for our tastes. Bathing consisted of throwing jugs of seawater over our heads and soaping down while sitting on the loo. Although obviously not ideal we soon got used to it and I found that I didn't suffer from the itchiness that usually happens when drying off from a swim.
In the early afternoon we caught a bus to Speightstown, a couple of miles down the road to do some shopping. We got good directions to a large, well stocked supermarket and of course bought meat which didn't come from a tin. We also bought some vegetables and fruit from little stalls set up on the pavements by ladies. The prices seemed pretty high but we all craved for fresh food.
When we got back to the boat we got her ready for the ten mile sail down to Carlisle Bay where we would spend the rest of our time on the island. We had a very pleasant couple of hours cruising down under genoa and only used the engine to leave the marina and for the final approach to the anchorage. We arrived just after sunset so there was enough light to pick a spot clear of the other boats and anchor in about 9 metres.
The following day, a Sunday, we piled into the dinghy in the early afternoon and motored across to the jetty sticking out from the Boatyard. I had told Mary lots of times about the Boatyard and how it was the place where all the yachties would meet and yarn the night away while lubricating their tonsils with numerous bottles of Banks beer. The Boatyard is like the Café de Sport in Faial, the Azores, one of those places that are a must to visit and always have a warm welcome for sailors.
So, I was pretty disgusted when this lout in his Manchester United shirt demanded twenty Barbados dollars (about £7) each just to tie up to the very rusty and not safe looking jetty. He said that we could claim this back on food. We pointed out that we didn't want to eat but just to have a couple of beers. This cut no ice with him and he made it very clear that yachties, especially those on a budget were not welcome. All of his trade came from the cruise liners which pull into Bridgetown every day (at least three each day) who come ashore and pay their $20 happily. I was very sad that this once welcome place has now fallen victim to greed and had lost its character.
We therefore had to dinghy all the way into the Careenage, in the centre of town. However, this wasn't too bad as it was a safe place to leave the dinghy and there was no risking the surf in getting ashore.
Walking back to the beach we found a ramshackle but very friendly local bar just along from the Boatyard and had a pleasant time there with no rip off prices. When we decided to return to the boat we walked along the beach and cut through the Boatyard to get to the road. Mary and Kate were just ahead of me as I stopped to put on my Crocs. As I was doing this a staff member demanded $20 dollars from me. I explained that I was just walking through to the road but he got very shirty and told me that I couldn't unless I paid the money. I told him that he was taking the Michael (well almost that) and so I walked back to the beach to the public path back to the road. Mary and Kate were wondering where I had got to as they had managed to go through without being spotted. So the Boatyard is no more for us yachties.
We found that Barbados was very expensive and I hoped that everywhere else we planned to visit wouldn't follow suit. One cheap thing though was Mount Gay rum, at least buying it by the bottle for the boat. On afternoon we walked to the factory where it is bottled and had a tour. Naturally we sampled the goods both on the tour and afterwards in their bar. I tried the very expensive Mount Gay 1703 and what a delight that was, so smooth and delicious. It's served in brandy balloons and just sniffing it brings a smile to the face. We had a 5 micro-second discussion and decided to fork out the £60 to buy a bottle. Needless to say we won't be taking that to a bottle party or using it for cooking - definitely for special occasions.
One thing that made the anchorage unpleasant was the idiots on jet skis who think it great fun to get as close as possible at maximum speed to anchored yachts. They were hired to these morons from the cruise liners who happened to be in the Boatyard for them to tear around the anchorage and cause mayhem. Quite a few of us yelled at them to go away and to slow down until they were clear of the boats but no one listened. One skipper called the coastguard and a cutter turned up and stopped a couple of the jet skis. They also had a word with the operators on the beach, who should have given their customers instructions not to be stupid but didn't. Relative peace lasted just until the coastguard disappeared and then it was back to causing mayhem again.
We went to a party on a very large catamaran called No Rehearsal one evening. We met quite a few really nice people and had a very pleasant couple of hours. Kate met the owners' children, 19 and 22, and so had someone of her age to talk to. Several evenings later she went ashore with them and came back in the early hours having had a good time.
At the other end of the beach from the Boatyard is the Barbados Yacht Club which we made our local. The place is very colonial and most of the members are white Bajans clinging on to the old lifestyle. I really enjoyed it there but Mary wasn't that impressed. The prices were the lowest we had found for drinks and the food wasn't expensive either. They also had wifi so we went there every day to catch up on phone calls using Skype and of course emails. There are plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas and the setting is perfect. The sand has to be seen to be believed, pure white and so fine that inevitably it gets carried aboard the boat even if you take off your shoes and wash your feet before getting back onboard.
The only downside was getting to and from the beach without either capsizing or swamping the dinghy - a very difficult operation indeed. One evening there was an impromptu gathering of several yachties, most of whom we knew from the party and we were there for happy hour, two for one, and then lingered on until well after sunset. When we eventually left it was pitch black and I misjudged the waves coming in. We got swamped but fortunately the laptops and cameras were in a waterproof knapsack so they weren't damaged at all. I couldn't find the kill cord for the dinghy engine so after a mammoth task of emptying half of the Atlantic Ocean out of the dinghy I had a long row back to the boat. Fortunately the wind had gone to sleep or it would have been very difficult to get out to the boat. The next morning I found the kill cord and the engine fired up with no problem at all, much to my great relief.
We had met a very friendly Irishman, Mike at the yacht club who was sailing his 36ft boat with two young crew members. One of his crew was a fully qualified chef and they ate like kings on the Atlantic crossing. Bet he couldn't make a decent corned beef hash though! Mike came onboard one afternoon for a cup of tea and we had a very pleasant couple of hours yarning away. We hope to bump into him later in the year perhaps in Grenada.
Finally it was time to get moving again and head for St Lucia where Andy, Kate's boyfriend was flying in for a couple of weeks' holiday. We left Carlisle Bay at 0900 on Sunday morning, 16th January. It took us a while to get the anchor up as the chain was caught around a mooring block and fisherman anchor. I had to manouevre the boat so that it unhooked from the obstacle and we could retrieve the anchor and chain. It was a little too deep for me to free dive to and there would have been too much weight for me to unhook.
Once the anchor was home we set course for Rodney Bay, St Lucia. The Trade winds were now fully operational again so it promised to be a fast and quite lively sail. Once we had passed the northern tip of the island we had the full force of the wind and sea on our beam. We were cracking along at over 5 knots (well, that's cracking along for us) using a reefed genoa. Occasionally we had squalls come through and had to reduce sail even further but this didn't slow our progress at all. We had some quite spectacular downpours in the squalls, especially after dark but we could see them coming and so had time to put on a foulie jacket and reef the sail.
Mary wasn't too happy with the state of the sea and the way the boat was crashing about but both Kate and I were very happy that the boat was eating up the miles so well. In the small hours we could see the lights on St Lucia and knew that by breakfast time we would be in Rodney Bay. Just after sunrise we were between the north end of St Lucia and the south of Martinique. Coming up behind us was the blackest of black skies which stretched from one island to the other and we were going to cop it. Sure enough the visibility dropped so that we couldn't see either island and the rain began to hammer down. This lasted about half an hour and by the end of it I was very wet and cold. However, within minutes of it finally passing the sun came out and everything was hunky dory again. We entered the cut into Rodney Bay marina at 0900 having had a good boisterous sail all the way. Mary doesn't quite agree with my assessment of it being only boisterous although Kate agreed with me.
Rodney Bay itself was packed with anchored yachts and I was a little worried that there would be no room for us in the marina itself. We had decided to go into the marina for a couple of days so that we could shop, water and clean the boat more easily. Mary also wanted to have our mountain of laundry done too as it was very rapidly taking over the boat. I had no idea what the cost of the very smart marina would be but thought that it would be very expensive. Therefore I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it was only about £16 a night and so booked in for three nights. Eventually we talked it over and checked in for another four nights.
Within the marina complex there was everything we needed and it was very pleasant to sit at the Boardwalk Bar during happy hour and watch all the activity go on while slurping a Piton beer at £1 a bottle. We were very pleased to see that the prices were about half those of Barbados for virtually everything, including in the supermarket. The first night we had a meal out and I had an excellent rib eye steak for only about £14. In Barbados we would have had to have a mortgage to have a meal like that.
Naturally we made full use of the facilities, including the wifi and of course the showers. The laundry was duly dispatched and I found someone who could repair the gooseneck fitting.
Andy duly arrived the following day and Mary and Kate were there to meet him. The airport for long haul is at the southern end of the island whereas Rodney Bay is right at the northern tip. Mary and Kate tried to get there by bus but were unable to do it. They managed to negotiate with a taxi driver for him to take them there, wait and then drive back to Rodney Bay and haggled to knock down the price he quoted by quite a lot.
In the excellent chandlery I bought another pump for the head and that was fitted successfully - no more bucketing sea water. I hope that that will be the last time I have to play around with it for quite some time. The guy who was doing the gooseneck fitting took quite a long time to remove the broken piece and I was a little concerned about his abilities. However, it was eventually removed and taken into a workshop and repaired. I was not impressed by what he charged me and I feel that he ripped me off quite a lot. Everyone else here seems to be pretty straight with us and we have been happy with the cost of almost everything we have bought. The laundry cost us a fortune as there was so much of it but there were six machine loads of it and he only charged us for five so we were more than happy with that.
In the marina complex there is a sort of bandstand where two or three guys sell fresh fruit and some veggies each day. We prefer to buy from them rather than in one of the two large supermarkets nearby as it is supporting local labour. They are always very pleasant and we always have a chat to them when we go to buy our produce.
Eventually the maintenance jobs were done and we could move on again. We decided to go to Martinique for a few days so that Andy would see another island. Its only 26 miles from Rodney Bay to Grande Anse d'Arlet and you can see the island from the entrance to Rodney Bay. The sun was shining and the sea sparkling as we left the marina at 1100 on Monday 24th after a week's veritable luxury. I had hoped to fuel up but the fuel berth was full and we had enough for our immediate needs. Twenty minutes later I raised the mainsail with a reef in it, the first time since the gooseneck fitting was broken, and the full genoa. The engine was shut down and we were off on a northerly course for another country. The sailing was magnificent and the three of us were really enjoying it. Not so Andy who very quickly went very pale and got to know the inside of a bucket at close quarters. We were very surprised at how soon he began to shout for Rolf and Hughie. We should have given him Stugeron before we sailed but it didn't enter our heads that he would feel so ill on such a beautiful day. He was non compis mentis for the five hours it took us to reach our anchorage and missed out on a fine sail.
At the head of the jetty in Grande Anse d'Arlet is a small bar/restaurant called P'ti Bateaux which has a computer terminal linked to the French Customs in Fort de France, the capital. Instead of having to go through the checking in procedure with some uniformed jobsworth you put your details into the computer, print off the form and the waitress stamps it for you. All this is done of course while you are having a cold beer so it is extremely civilized.
The bay we were anchored in is absolutely perfect and we really came to like it there. Along the waterfront is a long row of shacks some of which are bars, shops, dive shops and holiday lets. Everyone was very friendly and the place is definitely French in every way. The big downside is that the prices, in euros, are French too so it was a big shock to the wallet after reasonable St Lucia. The water is very clear and it was pleasant to dive over the side for a swim to cool down. There were lots of boats anchored there, mostly French and a surprising number of French Canadians, so there was always activity to watch.
We had a couple of meals ashore in a delightful restaurant and Mary had the biggest prawns I have ever seen. I had half a lobster the first time but copied Mary the second time. The first occasion we ate inside the restaurant although it's completely open-fronted but the second time we sat at a bench right on the beach and could see all the boats at anchor.
Mary and I got very friendly with an English girl, Natalie who worked at P'ti Bateaux. We stopped there several times as they had wifi and had plat de jour one day. We also went to a dowdy looking hotel at the other end of the beach one morning when P'ti Bateaux's wifi was down. They had three white waiters who were as gay as gay could be and minced about in a very camp fashion.
After three nights we went round into Fort de France bay. We intended to go to Trois Islets but the wind was up a bit and I decided to go to Anse Mitan instead as there was a peninsular to provide a lee from the wind and sea. It took us only two hours to get there but Andy took his Stugeron and lay down in the saloon for the whole time. We anchored just outside the channel for the ferry from F de F which came past regularly causing quite a wake to make us roll.
Ashore the place seemed very run down and a large number of businesses were closed and boarded up. The marina there was only for local boats and it seemed quite shabby. We found the supermarket recommended in the guide but it was like a shop in Soviet Russia during the 70's. Most of the freezers were empty and the stuff they did have looked very dubious. The shelves were similarly quite bare so we didn't buy very much at all. We found a little local shop which had all that we needed so used that.
Andy and Kate had gone off to buy an ice cream, their favourite activity, and when we met up with them later that said that they were in a very smart area, which is how the guide describes the town. The following day we discovered a little complex with some very smart designer shops and nice restaurants all within a few yards of where we had been the day before. It was quite a contrast in just a few yards.
After a couple of nights we decided to back to Grande Anse d'Arlet before returning to St Lucia. We had a very pleasant sail back in completely flat sea, which only took an hour but again Andy missed it as he retired to a bunk. We had another couple of nights there and I checked out using the computer (and beer). We had quite a lively sail back to Rodney Bay, especially the first half, and in a big beam sea the dinghy, which we were towing inverted. Fortunately we now always take the engine, oars and seat onto the boat so no damage was done.
We are now at anchor in Rodney Bay but are going into the marina for a few days tomorrow as Andy is flying home, Friday 4th February and our friends John and Denny are flying in from Spain via Grenada on Saturday. They will be with us for about three weeks when we will slowly go down island to get them to Grenada in time for their flight home.