26 December 2007
Well we finally arrived in Tortola on Xmas day. After what was supposed to be a brief stop in St. Martin to load up some gear we set off for our final leg leaving just before dark. It was important that we got out of St. Martin before dark as the harbour entrance/exit is a very hairy channel to negotiate. We had been lucky to have had computer based charts when we arrived the night before as I am sure that we would have got stuck in the shallows or the rocky parts. We loaded up a lot of gear in St. Martin, I have never seen so many towels in my life. In fact the value of the towels and a few of the other goods we loaded up there was nearly US$17k! We also met up with Owen who is also a yachtie and a radio ham from Norway. Owen who is still a young man had been cruising for many years and more fascinating to me, he had been doing so on a shoe string. This means that he lives very simply and finds odd jobs where ever he may find himself. He is currently working to save up for some sails as his boat is out of the water and requires sails and rigging before he can go on. He expects to have enough cash to carry out the required repairs within the next 6 months. After all of this we said good-bye to all and set off just before sunset.
We made it safely out of the harbour and set off for Tortola expecting to take about 12 hours to Tortola. We decided to motor for the entire distance and furled up all the sails and turned on both motors, full steam ahead. During the night as usual Shaheda saw a ship that was bearing down straight at us. This silly person at the helm decided at the last minute to cut straight across the bow of our boat nearly causing a collision with us, this was rather hair raising as he passed within less than 50 meters from us and only because I throttled back the motors to avoid him. The rest of the journey was uneventful and we finally arrived at Tortola harbour entrance at about 5am.
Early the next morning we went and checked in with all the authorities and we were now legally in the country and could set about with our business. Our first priority was to get the boat off loaded and to make some phone calls home. John treated us to a Xmas lunch at the marina and we were joined by another yachtie and fellow radio ham, Jim. Jim and his friend Art amused us with the sailing stories and we had a few of our own to exchange. We were asked to move our boat to another marina about half an hours sail across the bay where we were to get the boat prepared for the handover the following day. When we arrived at Hodge's Creek we had space on the marina without running water or electricity. These were essential items for us to get the boat ready so we decided to head back to the original marina and make ourselves at home and hopefully nobody will notice that we sneaked in again. Once tied up we proceeded to get the boat cleaned, I was keen to spend as much time cleaning the boat that night so that we will have some free time to explore Tortola the next day. We got hold of one of the people working at the marina and gave him most of the left over provisions. There was a couple of kilograms of frozen meat and fish in the freezer as well as loads of canned, bottled and boxed food. He thanked us for this and offered to take us on a trip around the Island the next day. Arrangements were made to meet him at 3pm the next day, this allowed us sufficient time to get the boat ready.
Tortola like all the other Caribbean Islands is postcard pretty. Every one of the ports around the Caribbean has at least one cruise ship visiting and Tortola is no exception. These are enormous vessels and just as you thought you'd seen the biggest one ever there is another one even larger. These cruise ships dock in the early morning, they spend the day and set off the evening travelling at a snails pace to the next Island where the tourist will wake up to a new sight the following day and the cycle is repeated.
We got a lot done on Xmas night and got up early the next morning getting most of the work done before Marlon our "tour guide" arrived to collect us. Marlon who is originally from Jamaica arrived in his very flash car with a fellow countryman. They told us about life in Tortola whilst speeding through the narrow steep roads of Tortola. (Waleed you will love this place). What made the drive more hair raising is that it is a country under British control, which means that everyone drives on the left. BUT, the cars are all imported from the USA which means they are all left hand drive! Overtaking at high speed on narrow roads is something you have to witness as the driver wishing to overtake has to drive into the oncoming lane to see if it is clear to overtake. What is the point to see if it is clear if you are already in the oncoming lane, well then you don't bother checking and just overtake. I am not sure what the stats for head on collisions are here but I am sure it must be very high. We headed down to the North beach which is a beautiful sandy beach filled with Cruise ship tourist. Here I had the opportunity to sample a fresh coconut. A rastafarian set up a stall with coconuts harvested on the beach. He has a machete at hand which he uses with surgical precision to hack off the top of the coconut. You then sip off some of the juice with a straw and he refills the gap with Caribbean rum. This is the best cocktail I have ever tasted. Savour the cocktail and once finished you hand the coconut back to him which is then split and you get to eat the meat, which they call the heart of the palm. Wow what an experience. Well worth the US$5. Which brings me to the price of things around here. Tortola like the rest of the Caribbean is very expensive. Most of the things we bought were two to three times the price that we are accustomed to paying in Cape Town and no we did not only buy from the tourist spots, things are expensive here. We were also taken to Bomba Shack, this is well a shack on the beach where a party is held every full moon. Here you can partake in Caribbean rum and mushrooms. We missed the party by a few days, damn I so much love grilled garlic mushrooms. Apparently they don't serve it that way, wonder why.
All good things come to an end and so our trip came to an end. We headed back to the boat to add the finishing touches. We said goodbye to our host, I lie here you don't say "good-bye" here you say "aye", make a fist, touch fist, hold your fist to your chest close to your heart and say "Respect" This is the way everyone greets not only the rastafarians.
Well we hand over the boat and fly out in the morning until then..