34 Bantry Bay, Ireland
03 July 2018
So we’re loaded to the gunwales once more and ready for the off. The Azores high pressure system seemed to be right where it should be for once, so we severed our ties with Terceira and ventured out onto the high seas once again. Our planned route would see us skirting the top end of an anti-cyclone providing us with south westerly winds to see us heading on a course just east of north. It’s necessary to make some progress northwards before plotting a direct course for Falmouth to avoid the currents setting you towards the Bay of Biscay which has a well-deserved reputation for providing nasty on shore winds and waves.
The weather was set fair and 5 hump back whales were sunbathing just a few metres from the starboard bow just north of Terceira, we left them to it and went on our merry way with around 1200 miles to go to make landfall in Falmouth on the south coast of England.
Initially the winds were light, but at least they were blowing us in the right direction and enabled us to make steady progress in relatively easy conditions as we settled back into our offshore routine and 3 hourly night watches. That first night was amazingly clear, and as it coincided with the new moon the stars and planets appeared to shine down on us brighter than ever. Mars appeared, red in the eastern sky and gradually mellowed to orange then yellow as it rose into the night. Never have we seen so many bright planets at one sitting.
By dawn the wind had picked up sufficiently for us to need a 1st reef, but our progress continued steadily and we enjoyed some beautiful and fairly relaxed sailing for the next few days. Unfortunately we had no more opportunities to gaze at the night sky though, as it became generally overcast with patches of thick misty drizzle enveloping us. There was even had some proper heavy rain at one stage and one night of thick fog! All that warm moist Azorian air was suddenly encountering a cold sea - which had dropped from 18°C to 10°C since we had left.
We were back to sailing in foul weather gear and thermals, rather than the shorts and tee shirts to which we have become rather accustomed. The nights were cold both inside and out, and it took all my efforts not to go to bed with a woolly hat on.
Seven days out and the sky suddenly cleared and everything turned bright blue once again. We passed 15°west and altered the clocks to “British time” as we entered Fitzroy - one of the sea areas covered by the UK shipping forecast. Unfortunately, both of our radios which are capable of picking up these broadcasts had by now decided not to work (they really don’t seem to like being doused with salt water) and we were therefore unable to receive any updated weather information. The VHF radio was still in service but that only operates over relatively short distances.
Progress remained good for one more day before our previously reliable south-westerly wind suddenly veered to the west, and then to the north, before settling just east of north and increasing in strength. We thus found ourselves beating into an unexpected headwind for the rest of the day. We soon took in a 2nd reef as the winds increased but still spent a very uncomfortable night sailing very quickly in completely the wrong direction (directly towards Biscay) through mounting seas. We passed close to a cargo ship and so called him up via the VHF to see if he had any up to date weather information. The reply was that the wind was not forecast to ease or change direction during the next 48 hours. We thanked him for his gloomy news – the weather picture had obviously changed compared to the long-range outlook we had obtained back in Terceira.
At first light we re-assessed our position, gybed through 180° and sailed pretty much back to where we’d begun the previous day. A lot of hard sailing for very little gain. We tacked a few times to see what course we could comfortably lay and, after consulting the charts came up with Plan B; suddenly Ireland was looking very tempting.
A quick meeting of the committee and a decision made we pointed Morven towards the north, set the sails to gain whatever ground we could to the east, and began scouring the almanac for safe landfalls on the south west coast of Ireland as we didn’t have any detailed charts on board for this area.
With hindsight this proved to be a very good decision, as the large high pressure system responsible for our headwinds continued to build over the UK and remained in position, and is still there as I write this blog, giving the UK and Ireland some fabulous summer weather, but bringing with it strong easterly winds along the south coast of England. If we’d continued on our original route to Falmouth we’d probably still be struggling to get around Land’s End.
On our new course we enjoyed some fine sailing as the seas flattened down once again, but as we continued northwards into the higher pressure the winds gradually became lighter until they ceased altogether and we ended up having to resort to the engine for the final day and night.
Closing in on the coast we could eventually make out the regular flashes of Bull Island, Mizen Head and Sheep’s Head lighthouses to confirm our position. We were duly rewarded by a magnificent sunrise over the Irish hills and our first view of the approaches to Bantry Bay, on the south western coast of Ireland.
After almost 13 days at sea what a pleasure it was to pick up a mooring buoy just outside Lawrence Cove, switch off the engine and sleep soundly for over 12 hours, although with the absolutely calm water it took a while for us to get our land legs again, we were still bracing around the boat when we didn’t need to, and falling over. Who needs alcohol to stagger, just take yourself off to the ocean for a week or two.
There’s been no change in the wind direction, and so we have taken the opportunity to stay and explore the tiny Bere Island, just a few kilometres south of the mainland in Bantry Bay. After catching up on our sleep it was time to go ashore and meet the natives, find a shower and a pub. We travelled the short distance into Lawrence Cove and found the marina, small and very secluded and run by Rachel. She gave us a warm welcome, speaking in the Irish tongue at about 500 words a minute; there’s one pub, one shop and post office and a ferry from the village of Rerrin, about 10 minutes’ walk from the marina. We were duly given a map of the island which has an incredible number of walking trails for such a tiny area.
This little island is 11 x 5 kilometres, has a constant population of just over 200 and is served by not one but two small car ferries 7 times a day to the mainland; not a bad service and it’s regularly used by locals and tourists. Well the islanders need it to get major supplies as the village shop really just sells the basics, though Mary runs a very efficient shop, post office and café and enlists the help of all the local kids when a delivery arrives off the ferry. There’s a constant stream of children each picking up a box from the van and ‘dropping’ it where Mary tells them to.
And finally to the local pub for that long awaited pint of Guinness. We took the short walk to the village at 6pm with the idea of having a swift one before dinner only to find the pub doesn’t open until 8pm; never before has a pint been so hard earned. Only one thing for it, back to the boat for dinner and try again later. At last we were rewarded with the Guinness, only to find out that as we are now in County Cork we should be drinking the ‘local brew’ which is Murphys! Well the bar tender didn’t seem to mind, but apparently in some pubs nearer to Cork you could quite well be shown the door if you even mention the ‘G’ word. It’s always good to learn the local customs.
With the weather still glorious, we took time to wander the pathways of Bere Island, taking in some magnificent views, with the hedgrerows in full bloom for the summer and where foxgloves, fuschias and ferns all coexist giving a fabulous look to the roadsides, enough to overwhelm even the most competent florist. We also took the ferry to Castletownbere, the small fishing town on the mainland in search of provisions and an Irish courtesty flag, (not part of our flag collection as we didn’t intend to be here). Rachel had warned us that the ferry landing is some 3 miles from the town, but we were due for some exercise and so weren’t deterred. We’d taken about 10 steps from the ferry when a car stopped and offered us a lift to town. We accepted readily as the temperature was beginning to soar. Anne and Alan were visiting her parents on Bere and were coming to town for shopping too, and they even offered to meet up with us later to bring us back home to the island again. Well, how nice was that? We filled our shopping bags to capacity knowing we didn’t have to carry them all that way back.
It’s very weird being stuck somewhere in such good weather, with only the wind in the wrong direction; generally we find ourselves storm bound with rain hammering down and waves rolling in over breakwaters, so this stopover began to feel a little like a holiday. Even more so as Ireland is often considered to be a bit of a wilderness for mariners, particularly this west coast, and although there are many tiny bays and harbours in which to seek shelter, many are open to the prevailing weather which generally comes in from the west on a low pressure system across the Atlantic. This tends to keep many but the hardiest sailor away, but this year may be different. With high pressure dominating over the UK more and more boats are coming to see this amazing coastline. It looks like the weather is set to stay like this for at least another week, and so we’re planning to sail around Mizen Head to explore some of the southern Irish coast. The Emerald Isle is certainly friendly and the people charming; the beer’s not bad either.
33 The Azores
02 June 2018
After a week or so in the wonderful of seclusion of the tiny island of Flores, we had to leave. Our gantry which supports the wind generator and solar panel had suffered some damage during the crossing from Antigua, and there was no stainless steel welding facility on this tiny outpost, though they do make excellent cheese, and so a rather large lump was stowed on board before leaving. We sailed the 138 miles to the Faial. The capital, Horta, is considered something of a sailing Mecca in the world of Atlantic sailors, as it is the first major port at which to make landfall after a lengthy sail across the ocean. Because of this the harbour, which has been extended recently, is still overcrowded, particularly from mid-June when all the transatlantic migrants show up, and boats can expect to be rafted 3 or 4 deep on the main quays, which means constantly having to clamber over other people’s boats to get to shore, or ‘home’ again.
It is rare to be given a proper marina berth here as most of these are for the local boating community. However, there is some benefit of having a small yacht. We arrived in Horta after an overnight passage and were offered a choice of 3 berths, right inside the harbour – a major coup as no-one we know has previously achieved this. We sat snug in our alongside berth, watching others clambering around on the main quays, and feeling rather smug. Our only hardship was it was almost a mile walk to the shower block. We still made it our first stop after checking in.
The hygiene services in Flores were limited to say the least, and somewhat disappointing after a long month at sea. There is a town wash room, which serves the local people who still don’t have their own bathroom at home. Even so, we were eager to make use of it after not showering for a month, so off we trotted up the hill in great anticipation. Imagine the shock when you turn on the shower and the only water supply is cold; well, not just cold, but absolutely freezing cold. I could feel the icicles forming as the water ran. Not quite the long hot shower dreamed of on the crossing, but a 10 second blast to get the soap off before hypothermia set in. Oh the deep joy of unlimited hot running water in Horta, and they even provided soap and lovely soft towels. It’s impossible to convey just how good this felt unless you’ve travelled those 3000 plus miles of ocean. Needless to say we were in seventh heaven, on cloud nine and anywhere else that gives the feeling that life can’t get much better.
Where Flores was calm and subdued, Horta was positively buzzing with activity in the harbour. Boats coming and going every day and all sorts of marine research vessels heading out to sea with divers and submarines to see what they could see. We toured the island all the way round on the local bus for just €6, and the bus driver insisted we got off the bus at various points along the way to admire the important landmarks. He was most informative but not sure the locals enjoyed their journey as much as we did; I’m sure they just wanted to get home, but the driver seemed to be in his element.
One ‘must do’ in Horta was to paint our moniker on the harbour wall, as we had in Porto Santo on our outward bound Atlantic crossing. The Horta wall paintings are some of the most famous among sailors the world over, and so it had long been my ambition to add Morven to this rogues gallery. What a long way to go just to paint a small picture, but it had to be done, and hopefully our artwork will remain there for many years before it is worn away by the Atlantic weather, and replaced by that of other travellers. It made us wonder how the picture in Porto Santo has fared, but as we don’t know anyone heading that way right now, we’ll probably never know.
We loved buzz of Horta, and the view of Pico island with its towering mountain (well more of a gigantic volcanic lump) of the same name was a joy to see. We’d have liked to make the climb to the summit, but we were no nearer finding our stainless welder, as the only guy in Horta was so busy we would have ended up having to wait until the end of the season to get it fixed. Nor did we have walking boots and sticks which are apparently essential for this climb to the highest peak in the Azores.
We did find time to visit the famous ‘Peter’s’ bar which has catered for sailors arriving at these shores for many a century. The beer and food was excellent, and a young couple we’d met in Flores, who’d also had an eventful journey, joined us for an evening of merriment involving rather a lot of beer. Well we thought we’d all earned it, but left the next day feeling a little delicate.
Our plan was still to sail to the UK and lay Morven up there, and the Azorean sailing season is a relatively short one, so we needed to move on and find that welder. Next stop Sao Jorge. This was to be a short stopover, just to see the island as it is on route through the chain without a detour, but there are no major yacht facilities there, other than the very small marina. Well how did we just manage to turn up for their 30th annual cultural festival? A few late nights, with lots of dancing and parades which seem to be the character of these islands. It’s impossible to get away from it so we just had to join in. The great thing about these ‘Festas’ is they are all for the local people; their enthusiasm is infectious, and the whole island seems to turn out for the occasion. There’s an awful lot of dressing up too.
And then there was the Tourada a Corda – bullfighting on a rope! The last day of the festival was given over to this most Azorean spectacle. The main commercial quay was cordoned off with shipping containers and then 4 very large bulls were let loose (one at a time) within this arena, retained only by a very long rope (the corda) and 4 men trying to hold on to it. The general idea is that the local budding toreadors taunt said bull which inevitably gives chase, and they then run like stink and climb up the container walls to safety. Most of the time the rope men manage to exert some modicum of control, but bull number 4 was very angry indeed and rounded up a few of his tormentors away from safety. Their only option was to dive into the sea from the quay. The local population had once again turned out in force and were absolutely loving it.
Bull fighting is big business in these islands, but none more so than the island of Terceira, our next destination where we’d been assured that we’d find the elusive welder. It’s a short hop of around 50 miles so we hoped to make it in daylight, with an early start. By mid-day we’d rounded the foot of the island, which is very long and very narrow, and even sighted a fin whale spouting in the distance, and after a fabulous quick sail with near perfect wind just aft of the beam we dropped anchor in Angra do Heroismo, the capital of Terceira, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Again we were very fortunate and were offered a berth in the marina the following morning. A necessity if there was any hope of getting this welding done.
After walking a lot of miles, making phone calls, and sending emails to various recommended metal workers, and waiting a lot of days, we finally got hold of someone who could do the welding without us having to take the gantry off the boat and carry it to a workshop, which was never really a viable option. A young man arrived one morning with all the kit and was very fluent in our national tongue which made things very simple. We pointed out the problem areas, and he welded the cracks and even manufactured some patches for the holes from a stainless hammer handle he had in his truck – very resourceful, and eager to please. I don’t think he’ll be using that hammer in a hurry again though. Perfect, and all for a very reasonable price.
Job done, now we were just waiting for our friends, Barry and Maggie, returning from the UK to bring us a part for the Hydrovane which had broken on the crossing. We really didn’t want to steer the next 1300 miles by hand! How wonderful that they keep their boat here and were timely in coming back. They duly arrived with correct part, and it was good to catch up with them, there’s been a lot of water under the keel since we last saw them, and so we all had many tales to tell.
Terceira kept us well entertained as the party season was now well underway. There seemed to be a Tourada a Corda every night somewhere around the island, but they also have a proper bull ring here too which is a very different sort of spectacle. I happened to notice on my way back from the supermarket that the Bullring was open, with flags flying and music blasting from the speakers. The notice outside said there was to be a bullfight that evening, and the cost was only 10 euros. As this is part of the national Azorean culture we thought we ought to go along. We didn’t expect much for the cost and had a spare evening.
We got much more than we bargained for. There was a live orchestra, and a ‘box’ of local dignitaries. We were enthralled. Men on horseback (the Cavaleiro) who had incredible control over their horses and could make them turn on a sixpence, were chased by bulls. The object of the exercise is for the Cavaleiro to stick 4 bandeirilhas (spears with ribbons on) into the neck of the bull as the bull chases him around the arena. Yes this draws quite a lot of blood, and obviously gets the bull just a tad angry with each spear. There is a mark on the bull which denotes where the spears have to be set, and one rider missed the designated spot which drew jeers from the huge crowd. When the spears are in, the horseman is applauded wildly by the crowd – just to boost his already large ego, and he then exits the ring. But that’s not the end. The bull is then joined by a team of 8 men (the forcados) to perform the ‘face catch’. The 8 stand in a long line and the one at the front puts on a hat rather like that which Noddy wears. He then stares the bull down, and shouts at him. The bull eventually plays the game and charges at Noddy who then attempts to jump between the bull’s horns and ‘blind’ him, or catch his face. His compatriates then follow suit and all pile on top and this effectively calms the bull. The rookie member of the cast at the back of the line then grabs the tail of the bull and the rest let it go. The bull then chases it’s tail to try and kill the little blighter who’s hanging onto it and has made him angry again. This process did go wrong once or twice and the bull got a couple of good charges on Noddy who would no doubt have bruises to show tomorrow. Well, what can one say. It’s tradition - but we were with the bulls.
The summer evenings also brought Pop-up music in the streets everywhere from jazz, rock, blues, and much more. Dancing festivals with parades and more fancy costumes and an international folk dancing festival so we certainly didn’t have time to be bored. Many of our days were taken up with hiking the local trails to keep from getting harbour rot while we sorted out the maintenance.
At last we were nearly ready for the next leg of our long voyage so stocked up and made our final checks for departure. More misery, the engine main filter had all but disintegrated and the steering had completely seized up and we couldn’t turn it one way or the other. Out came the tool box once more and we set about resolving the situation. Pedro the local yacht specialist ordered us a new filter and even flew to Lisbon to collect it so we could get it the next day; now that’s what I call service, especially as he didn’t charge delivery on it. Well he said he was going anyway which was very timely for us. The steering was taken apart, cleaned and greased and put back together so now we were really ready to leave, but the weather had other ideas. A series of low pressure systems deepening and heading right in our track meant we were to stay put a while longer. Time was now moving on and we were into the last week in August which is late in the season for such a passage, and not looking good. Decision time once again, so erring on the side of caution we decided to lay Morven up in Terceira for the winter and try again next year. At least it’s cheap here, and with hindsight it was a good decision.
The Azores have been a wonderful experience, friendly and still relatively unspoilt by mass tourism. What little tourism exists is geared towards the protection of the natural world, be it flora, fauna or the wonderful world of sea life, particularly whales and dolphins. There are walking trails on every island which take you to the interior and up into many of the volcanic craters, or down into the caves where the geological rock formations are just amazing. The landscape looks rather like the Lake District with its dry stone walls, and green fields with some very healthy looking cows grazing everywhere, along with low level vines which grow on the slopes of many a volcano. No wonder the local butter, milk and cheeses are all so tasty. The wine is pretty good too.
So we’re now back on Terceira following the winter break and Morven is back in the water once again after completing our routine maintenance schedule. I’ve been up the mast to check the lights and rigging and fit the various instruments which we remove to safeguard against the winter weather. Everything seems to be working fine, after the few small niggles which always seem to come once the boat is launched were dealt with. The dinghy then sprung another leak but it’s hopefully now well-patched, so all we have to do now is stock up for the voyage to the UK and, as always, wait for a decent weather slot - which will hopefully be soon.
32 Antigua to The Azores
04 July 2017
The direct route from Antigua to the Azores is 2200 miles, but that takes you straight through the centre of the North Atlantic high pressure system (the famous Azores High) where total calms can extend for hundreds of miles. This straight line route means vessels must carry huge volumes of fuel and be prepared to motor most of the way. This is not a serious option for most sailing boats, and definitely not for Morven with her fuel carrying capacity of a mere 120 litres and so we would have to rely on nature's forces to deliver us to the Azores.
The recommended sailing route adds about 300 miles to the above journey and involves heading almost due north for the first 1000 miles upon leaving the Caribbean, passing within a couple of hundred miles to the east of Bermuda, before shaping a course to the north east. It is then a question of what latitude to aim for before heading east towards the Azores; turn at 35° north and skirt around the top of the high pressure system with relatively light winds but the risk of getting becalmed, or keep going until 38° or even 40° north to ensure stronger winds but increase the chance of encountering gales, as this is the usual track of depressions when they leave the east coast of the USA. As always, nothing is guaranteed though, and it varies considerably from year to year. Before leaving we could get a relatively detailed and accurate weather forecast for up to 10 days, which would hopefully see us somewhere approaching Bermuda. After that we would be reliant upon picking up occasional weather transmissions via our small SSB receiver.
The food lockers and water tanks were overflowing once again after the tins, dry and fresh produce had been stowed; a mammoth task as we had even more food on board than for the crossing to Barbados. The estimated journey was probably to be a month at sea, so provisions for 45 days were shoved into every empty nook and cranny. It's difficult to assess how long any fresh fruit and veg might last at sea given the variety of conditions and temperatures it is subjected to. I was confident that Miss Bailey from Falmouth Harbour had given us the best of what she could get, although her fresh produce arrives on Thursday, and we weren't planning on leaving until Monday so it was already a little riper than I would have chosen. However, with the extra help from my 'green' bags it was to be hoped that we'd enjoy the delights of bananas, carrots, apples, pears, avocados and tomatoes well into the trip, although the temperature inside the boat at this point was somewhere in the region of 39 degrees centigrade. Meals were cooked in preparation for our first few days at sea and we took what was probably to be our last warm shower for a month or more. We were all set to go.
Thoughts then turned to open seas and the long journey ahead. Armed with up to date and favourable weather information we left Falmouth bay with a good south-westerly wind to get us on our way. A gentle sail took us around the southwest coast of Antigua and then up the leeward side of the island, with fabulous views over the reefs and lots of that glorious Caribbean sunshine. All we had to do then was avoid Barbuda, lying directly to the north, and land would become something of a distant memory until the Azores, some 2500 miles away.
Two reefs in the main sail had seemed a little excessive when we left Falmouth, but once clear of Antigua the wind became more constant, blowing up to 20 knots, so a good move which saved having to reef as darkness fell and the seas got lumpy. Our first night at sea was a little testing; it's been almost 3 years since our last night sail proper, and we were once more lurching around inside and hanging on to everything. So glad that vegetables didn't need chopping for a few days at least as we found our sea legs. The nights were still very hot and humid and so sleep didn't come easily for a while, especially having to get used to all the creaks and groans of the ship once more, and it was almost impossible to snooze during the daytime in the soaring temperatures inside the boat. It was a struggle to even make sandwiches for lunch with the heat, and I really thought I might succumb to a first ever bout of seasickness after a couple of days with the lack of air. A short stint in the cockpit restored the equilibrium and the moment was passed.
Aside from all this, progress was good and day 2 saw us cover 132 miles in 24 hours, Morven's personal best, but experience told us there's absolutely no point in trying to predict arrival dates at this early stage. Morven was sailing well, and the Hydrovane proved its worth again, helming the boat on a perfect course, leaving us free to relax and enjoy the ocean. The seas calmed and wind dropped to around 15 knots so everything was just lovely, although a bird tried to land on the solar panel during Ian's night watch. That would have been fine and we're happy to give a guy a lift, but the danger was the bird didn't seem to understand that if he sat on the solar panel he was liable to get some part of his anatomy guillotined by the wind generator blades. The other main concern was that the blades are fragile after so many years being exposed to the elements, and we don't have spares; not wishing to have macerated bird and no wind power meant Ian spent most of his watch shooing said bird towards a more suitable resting place. All in vain; the disgruntled bird just flew off eventually, but at least the wind generator was saved.
The weather seemed to be behaving as planned and so sailing was a joy, although we were subjected to some head winds which meant we couldn't make the direct course required; always a nuisance, but it's a big part of ocean sailing and it really is a question of going where the wind allows you, and rectifying the course as and when the wind changes.
Life on board settled into a routine of eating, cooking, checking, fixing and sleeping. The fresh produce wasn't bearing up well and after only 3 days a putrid mess of bananas and carrots had to be committed to the sea. Daily fruit and veg 'hugging' thereafter helped me make the most of the rest and avoid more wastage, but made for some inventive meal concoctions to avoid wastage. There were one or two galley incidents where food once again leapt from pan to floor. Eggs began to be a forbidden word as whisked eggs waiting in a bowl to become a nice fluffy omelette sloshed over the side of the bowl and covered the worktop. Despite mopping up with many precious sheets of kitchen roll the eggs slimed their way around the galley refusing to be absorbed. I wonder if those paper manufacturers have ever tried to mop up beaten egg; my guess is not, as these ended up being swept into the sink and 'drowned'. My 'piece de resistance' was trying to cut a boiled egg in half whilst it sat on a spoon over the pan; what a mess, egg and curry bounced across the cabin. We were still finding blobs of curried lentils two days later; why did I even try to do it with the wind roaring outside and Morven rolling from one side to the other? All to try and save washing up an extra plate or board! The sea does funny things to the brain methinks.
For the first 10 days we had a mixture of north-easterly winds and calm patches, interspersed with squalls and so made reasonable progress northwards. More of those 'Black Pig' clouds sent us reeling way off course one night forcing us almost due west, so much so that we began to think we may fetch up in Florida, rather than pass to the east of Bermuda, but you just have to go with it. Eventually the wind played ball again, but was accompanied by some strong squalls; at least they cooled the cabin down a bit. The evening weather report indicated that we were approaching some sort of trough which should eventually bring wind, but prior to that we had to endure being becalmed. We just sat and drifted for almost all the next day, which is a horrible state of affairs, as the ever-present ocean swell rolls the boat from side to side continually without actually making any forward progress, while the sails and boom flap and crash about without the wind to give them any life. We ended up dropping the sails completely and waiting for any sign of breeze. Our first true Atlantic calm, and suddenly the realisation of the task ahead set in as we sat helpless. The first indication of breeze coming was a huge dark black cloud obscuring the horizon directly ahead of us and suddenly the wind arrived with a wallop and an awful lot of heavy rain. Up went the main sail and we were soon moving along at a good pace but to the south west, completely the wrong direction; a case of one step forwards and 5 back! Depressing to say the least, but eventually we were back on track, making good progress again but beating hard into strong headwinds all through the night. A final howling squall signalled the end of the trough and the beginning of another ridge of high pressure which killed the wind dead instantly and left us completely becalmed once again, drifting at 1 knot on the current which fortunately was going north, but obviously meant very slow progress.
We opted to use some of our precious fuel and motor overnight, hoping to find some wind by morning. Fuel management was going to be essential as we were still a long way from our destination, and if we got stuck in the main 'Azores High' we'd need every last drop of it. We agreed it would be prudent to motor for a maximum 24 hours, fairly confident that we'd find some wind to the north of the ridge. At least the flat seas meant we had some good periods of sound sleep, even with the sound of the engine, and favourable wind returned within 24 hours and allowed us to set the sails again.
After drawing level with Bermuda we began heading north east, planning to work our way around the north of the Azores High towards 36° north. We picked up weather information from a few other yachts via the evening SSB net, although without equipment to make transmissions we could only listen and plot their positions on the chart and build up a picture of the overall weather patterns, without the specifics of a proper forecast. The nights began to get cooler, and shorts and tee shirts were reserved for daywear, while we had to find socks to warm our feet for night watch, and even a set of thermals was not frowned upon.
By 30th May (day 15) we'd made it to 35° north and changed course further to the east only to be confronted by an unexpected and un-forecast low pressure cell the next day, with big seas and headwinds up to 25 knots. Water was cascading over the whole of Morven and us. The night was black and the wind strengthened every hour as we headed further north hoping to pass through the system. Not much pleasure and certainly no sleep. A loud twang got me out of bed and fully regaled in foul weather gear, lifejacket and tether in approximately 15 seconds. Convinced something major had broken I jumped out into the cockpit. We couldn't find what had made the noise; it had sounded like a rope or piece of rigging had snapped, but on checking these nothing seemed amiss. We gave up on sleep and decided to turn the boat around and head south; she was taking too much of a battering and we needed to escape the horrendous seas which were by now regularly washing over the entire boat. One wave even managed to find its way through the companion-way and douse the chart table and instruments. By morning the winds had calmed, but were still coming out of the east with some big seas running. Everything was salt ridden and damp.
Daylight gave us time to assess the damage. The 'twang' had been the stainless steel gantry on the stern of the boat which houses the solar panel and wind generator. One of the welded joints had cracked and a whole section had parted on the higher rail of the pushpit. Perhaps that bird had been heavier than we thought? As we don't carry mobile welding equipment a temporary repair of some sort had to be found. Lots of lashings to every other piece of stainless and it seemed to withstand pressure, but would be put to the test in the next bout of strong winds. At least it looked like it would stay put for now, though we were still very far from 'home'. By this time we had arrived right back where we had been two days earlier, the charted progress was looking decidedly uninspiring. We began to believe in the Bermuda Triangle.
To change the mood we cast out the fishing line; the only catches we'd had to date were 'the one that got away', Sargasso weed, and a stolen lure, so imagine the delight when the line began to strain. First thoughts were more Sargasso weed, but this time it was a tuna of fair fatness which was carefully reeled in and landed. A fine specimen which proved almost too much for the very small knife we reserve for dealing with fish. It took a while, but, fish and cockpit cleaned and the debris thrown back to feed something else in the ocean, we had some fine looking fish for dinner, baked in the oven and served with fresh vegetables (yes we still had some), a veritable feast. Straight from sea to the table. So good for the soul, and a second helping for tomorrow. That same night though Ian complained of violent stomach pains and had to forego part of his watch as he was put to bed (with buckets at both ends just in case). No serious consequences next day, but after this I wasn't sure we should risk the fish again so that went back from whence it came; bit of a shame as it was extremely good but too much at stake 1500 miles from land; no effect on me so I did wonder if he just wanted a longer sleep? Fishing was just for sport after that; good job, we didn't have another catch.
After a few more days of strong winds during which we made good progress, and a new record 24 hour run of 155 miles, we struck yet another calm, which saw us wallowing around in bright sunshine but going nowhere, though the seas were still quite lively. In a split second the Hydrovane (known to us as Harold) swung violently from one side to the other and then lost control completely. Further investigation showed a broken ratio knob which is used to put it in and out of gear. This meant that the self-steering gear would not remain in the selected gear and so was rendered useless. The thought of potentially having to hand steer the boat for the next 2 weeks, night and day, saw us delving into all of our spares boxes in search of something that could be used to at least fix 'Harold' in gear. By the end of the day Ian had managed to achieve this with various nuts, bolts and washers, much to our relief though Harold would now have to be treated with the utmost care until landfall.
We naturally hoped for fair winds all the way, but on day 21 picked up weather info indicating that a large and deepening low was tracking directly towards the Azores and that winds of force 9 or 10 could be expected towards its centre, with an active front stretching some 600 miles to the south bringing gale force winds, apparently considered by the meteorologists to be quite unusual for this late in the season. The advice to all yachts was to keep well south of 35° until the associated cold front passed over, so we had no alternative but to dive back south again as quickly as the conditions allowed before the seas built up. We then continued running eastwards at 34° north to wait for the depression to sweep through. The waiting for this 'thing' to arrive was hard, as we'd had nearly 3 days' notice of it, and the anticipation of what would probably be the strongest winds we'd ever encountered in open water meant we were constantly on alert, and so relaxing was not an option. Meanwhile we were heading further and further east, and well out of our way. At this rate we'd be in Madeira.
The wind and seas continued to build slowly over the next couple of days and our sail plan continued to be reduced at regular intervals. The front finally arrived at dawn, and by then we were down to 3 reefs in the main and the storm jib. Still we were flying along in some pretty large waves and surfing too, hitting a top speed of 14 knots (our hull speed is around 6.5 so this was getting a little dangerous). We reduced sail further to just the storm jib and eventually had to resort to trailing long knotted warps astern to slow the boat down. A very swift run for the next 24 hours with winds in excess of 35 knots still saw us heading east, but Morven sailed through beautifully and we just assisted; the gantry and Hydrovane repairs both held up too. Phew! The wind finally veered quite dramatically to the north east, indicating that the cold front had passed us (confirmed by a rapidly rising barometer,) and so we immediately gybed and began heading north again. At last we could set a course for the Azores, although we were now way off track to the south, some 250 miles further south than our rhum line course, every mile of which we had to claw back. This was going to be a long journey, but the sun was out once again and the bow was pointing to the Azores at least.
We had seen quite a few cargo ships by now, most of which passed us by at a safe distance, but one in particular was heading straight for us at night without showing any sign of altering course. It is often very difficult to judge the distance and speed of other ships, especially at night, but when you can see red and green lights together you know it's definitely heading your way. There was no response to Ian's radio calls and our AIS display now showed it just 3 miles away and travelling towards us at 16 knots. We adjusted the sails and altered our course further to starboard and tried calling again on the radio. This time we got an answer and a man asking "where are you, you are not on my screen, nothing is on my screen". When Ian told him our relative positions there was a delay an then "ah yes, I can see you now, I will alter my course". And so he did. But it's a bit worrying nowadays that if you don't show up on a screen then you don't exist! A computer is now the ships lookout. Thankfully that was our only close encounter.
Our next battle was with yet another ridge of high pressure. We'd heard tell of it on the SSB and rumour had it that there was now wind to be found at 36° north, but a distinct lack of it further south. We were now approaching 35° so agreed it would be best to motor for the next 60 miles, and then wait for the wind to fill in - at least we'd then be in the right vicinity if the wind did materialise. Whilst motoring over the flat ocean with its rolling swells we were treated to the fabulous sight of a very large sperm whale on the horizon. Alerted by the blow which rose high into the air we were once again mesmerised. At this time of year the males of the species are often to be found cruising solo in this area, waiting for their wives and young to join them in July and August. The youngsters are born further south and have to be fattened up in order to make the journey to the cooler latitudes. At least we had the foresight to get the camera, but with the boat rolling around on the swells, and the distance between us and him the video footage was a little shaky to say the least; well you really had to be there. As if by magic, as we reached 36° latitude the whale disappeared and the wind filled in from the south. Off we sailed in a light breeze and sunshine.
At last we now felt we were getting closer to the Azores, the mood on board was positive and although the wind came and went from right and wrong directions, we soldiered on. With another calm day on the horizon we could do nothing but conserve what fuel we had left and so drifted with the current and used what wind there was. Our original destination in the Azores was to be Horta on the island of Faial, mainly because it is the centre of yachting in these islands and thus the facilities for repair and maintenance are much more comprehensive than elsewhere. With the latest forecast predicting more light winds, which could last for several days, we took the decision to head instead to the tiny island of Flores, some 135 miles to the west of Faial and thus within range under engine if necessary, whereas if the wind dropped suddenly our remaining fuel supplies wouldn't be sufficient to take us to Horta. And so it was that we sighted the tiny island at dawn on day 31 of our travels.
So we'd sailed over 3000 miles and our world for one month was just as far as the horizon of the ocean. Reliant on each other and the boat. We'd suffered frustrations of being becalmed and sailed in the strongest winds and biggest seas we'd seen and had a fair share of container ships passing too close for comfort. This journey was always going to be more difficult than crossing via the tradewind route as the weather is far less predictable and the currents and winds can and do come from every direction. It was a bit like entering a labyrinth, not knowing which way to turn in order to avoid the worst of the weather, while constantly keeping the boat moving to reach your destination. Decisions were made according to the little weather information we were able to glean from our limited sources; not always perfect, but we managed to dodge the worst of the many low pressure systems flying across the Atlantic with us. Every single mile was hard won.
This journey felt like proper sailing; a voyage of extremes and a real test of stamina, with constant sail changes day and night to make the best of the conditions, and keep the boat and ourselves safe. A constant battle between calms and storms. Breakages had to be repaired, whether permanently or temporarily, and watches kept; sleep was at a premium, particularly in bad weather. Inevitably this all takes its toll, both physically and mentally, and the longer the journey, the more wearing it becomes, but on balance we had many more good sailing days than bad, and felt we had done ourselves and Morven proud on reaching Flores. Although quite desperate for some solid sleep, it was difficult to unwind having reached land. We were on a high (and it wasn't the pressure) having completed the passage and arrived safely, and of course the brains were still in gear. It took a couple of days for us to actually get the sort of sleep we needed to recharge our batteries, after which we had a fair list of repair jobs to undertake, some of which would have to wait until Horta, but first there was a bottle of chilled Prosecco to be uncorked and dealt with in an appropriate manner.
31 Flores, Azores
22 June 2017
After 3073 Miles of open ocean and 30 days and nights at sea two weary sailors sighted land, and the Morven fetched up safely on the tiny island of Flores, most westerly of the Azorean archipelago and thus the most western point of Europe.
We’d left Antigua on 15th May and had quite an eventful passage, sailing a much longer and more convoluted route than anticipated in order to avoid the worst of the weather as we monitored a series of depressions crossing the Atlantic to the north of us.
We dropped the sails on 15th June and anchored in a bay outside the town of Lajes. As soon as we were sure that the anchor was holding we enjoyed a bowl of porridge to warm ourselves up (yes it’s just 15° here; oh how we are missing the Caribbean) and then bed was beckoning; we were both asleep within a nano-second. What luxury to be able to sleep as long as we want to though, rather than grabbing a few hours between night watches.
Next morning we moved to a berth in the tiny marina located behind the main harbour wall and, went in search of customs officials and, more excitingly, some Portuguese wine & cheese!
We plan to stay here for the next week or so to relax and also deal with the inevitable list of small, but essential repairs and maintenance jobs before we can sit down and write the complete Atlantic saga, and then we sail on towards the next island of Faial.
Meanwhile, on first impressions Flores looks to be a charming and friendly island, very laid back and welcoming to sailors in small boats – just what we need.
12 May 2017
The 45 mile sail from Guadeloupe to Antigua turned out to be our best yet this season. A curious dolphin accompanied us for a while as we left Deshaies bay, which always makes for a great start to the day. We set 2 reefs in our mainsail as a precaution, and this proved to be a wise decision by the time we reached the north tip of the island as we were met by some strong gusts and confused seas. Within an hour though the wind had moderated sufficiently for us to shake out the second reef, and also swung helpfully onto the beam and we were soon flying along in a boisterous sea over the long ocean swells. We engaged the Hydrovane to take over the steering and were both free to sit back and enjoy the ride. If only every passage was like this! Midway between the islands we felt an encouraging tug on the trailing fishing line and proceeded to haul in a very impressive looking barracuda. Unfortunately, these fish are reef feeders and can carry a disease called ciguatera (which leads to severe food poisoning) and you are advised not to eat them if they are over about 2lbs in weight. This one was definitely on the portly side and probably well in excess of that and so it was thrown back into the sea. Nothing further was tempted by our sparkly pink and blue lure, so beans on toast for supper again, and by mid-afternoon we were safely anchored in Falmouth harbour on the south coast of Antigua; what joy to have space all around us, and a depth of 4 metres and enough room to lay as much chain as we liked. This is a large harbour, and home to 3 marinas, mostly catering for the superyacht fraternity, but it's also very welcoming to any size of boat.
We planned on making Antigua our base for a while, as it is the last island we shall visit before leaving on our transatlantic voyage. Much of our time here was spent on making ready for that forthcoming passage, but how fortuitous that we were here for the best of the season's yacht racing too.
First up was the Antigua Classics regatta celebrating its 30th year; a beautiful display of those graceful yachts of yesteryear, both large and small, traditional wooden classic boats and locally built workboats (including the boat we'd seen being hand built in Carriacou), together with what are termed the 'Spirit of Tradition' yachts which are modern boats built in the style of a Classic. The smallest boat in the fleet was just over 30 feet, and the largest 228 feet. The racing rules are slightly relaxed in this competition, mostly due to the nature of the vessels and their lack of manoeuvrability in a tight space; thus the rule concerning 'overtaking vessel must keep clear' is largely disregarded. If you see something big coming up behind you it's recommended you get out of its path as it's probably running at around 18 knots and has difficulty in making any sort of rapid course change, even with the 50 crew on board. What makes this event special is that it is inclusive of so many different types of craft, and with it their crews, from the paid professionals down to local kids from the sailing academy, and older cruisers like us. The location in Nelson's Dockyard, once the base for Admiral Nelson's fleet in the 18th century, created the perfect ambience. This Unesco world heritage site provided a spectacular backdrop for the event and allowed everyone access to view the boats at close range, and to meet the owners and crews.
Nigel and Caroline from Nessa V arrived just in time for the start of the regatta; we'd already identified a good viewing spot from which to watch the races, and so each day picnics were packed and off we climbed for our daily exercise to the top of Middle Ground. Others were envious of our shaded rock and viewpoint as they stood melting in the tropical heat. The event was a true spectacle with over 50 boats out on the water, and we were privileged to observe some very competitive racing.
Each evening the crews gathered in Nelson's Dockyard with plenty of food, rum and beer available, and an eclectic variety of musical entertainment. We even partook of a Royal Navy Tot presided over by Mr Alec Rose, and met my ex employer there too (small world). A standard Navy Tot ration was an eighth of a pint which is no meagre measure, and was the daily allowance for all on board a naval ship in the 'good old days'. According to the museum here, most accidents on board were attributed to drunkenness. Not surprising! This public invitation Tot from the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda only offered a standard double measure as there were more than 300 people participating, rather than the handful of Official Tot Club members who meet here regularly (and knock back the full eighth), but this was still a stiff drink to down in one after first cleansing the palate with water, then raising a toast to "a bloody war and a sickly season, to a bloody war and a quick promotion and The Queen, God Bless Her", it being a Thursday - there is a different toast for each day of the week. At least it was quality Mount Gay rum, our favourite.
The last day of racing was particularly exciting with a very close finish for the big boys. We celebrated with a quick beer and headed back to our respective dinghies and arranged to re-convene for the end of regatta party later that evening. On arrival at the dinghy dock we noticed one of the tubes of our dinghy was looking extremely deflated - not a good thing when you've a half mile ride back to the boat. We limped back slowly, then hoisted the dinghy on deck to check it out. As soon as we re-inflated the tube it became apparent that there was a large leak in one of the taped joints on the stern. Not sure whether it's the tropical heat that had dried out the joint or someone had hit it going into the somewhat crowded dinghy dock. Either way it didn't look good.
We decided to deal with the repair in the light of day so Nigel and Caroline provided a water taxi service to the party and the dinghy waited for morning. We took the cool bag with beer in it and watched the goings on, beginning with a display of marching and music by the local police band. It appeared as though the police might arrest Caroline when she almost got embroiled in their marching performance on her way to the ladies; they were in the mid-display when suddenly they upped the tempo and the whole police band broke into a trot, following her round the block. She returned eventually, suitably composed, to see the prize giving ceremony. A local band played out the party until late, and a local boat 'Mariella' came away with the overall winners' trophy and most of the other silverware which seemed very fitting, even though the largest boat in the competition, Adix (pictured) took line honours for each race.
Before 8am next morning we'd cleaned the dinghy 'wound' and filled it with flexible epoxy, courtesy of Nigel, and clamped it as best we could, given the area was curved every which way. It was then a waiting game for 24 hours before re-inflating to check the repair. The pump was primed, and steadily the tube became more rigid - so far so good, it seemed to work; sea trials by Ian proved positive and so the dinghy was declared seaworthy once more, phew! So special thanks to Nigel for the epoxy. We're still trying to find some of the same here, but so far it's evading us.
As Nessa V left the following morning (heading back to Grenada) we waved our farewells from the cockpit and returned to our jobs list. Sad to see our friends leave but we'd enjoyed their good company and had some fun, and no doubt our paths will cross again sometime in the future as seems to be the way in this cruising life.
Back to 'work' and we continued ticking things off the many lists, though a welcome distraction, so as not to make 'Jack dull', came in the form of Antigua Sailing Week, starting just 4 days after 'Classics, and now celebrating its 50th year. This regatta is generally more serious, with many boats having professional crew on some very sleek looking boats, and teams arriving from all over the world to compete. Again it is a very inclusive event, with additional categories for cruisers and those with non-professional crew, and even the local charter fleets have their own class, with many entries from the Caribbean islands. Sailing is actually part of the national curriculum in Antigua through the National Sailing Academy, and so every child learns to sail here, a benefit of such an abundance of large yachts, and these prestigious events, which bring with them the infrastructure to provide employment, and ambition for the local youngsters.
Antigua Sailing Week is a much bigger field than Classics with over 150 boats taking part. We interspersed work with play and we enjoyed some of the fabulous entertainment laid on, including the opening party night where Sir Peter Harrison was presented with the winner's trophy for the Round the Island race. His boat 'Sojana', a 115 ft Farr yacht, had set the record for this race in 2014, and this year he was back aiming to set a new record. This years' time was just 1 second slower than the record, so nearly but not quite. When you consider Sir Peter had his 80th birthday on this day it wasn't a bad effort, although he does have a very large crew to call upon. We all sang happy birthday to him, and there was even a huge cake.
A big party followed with music by a local reggae group - 'Spirited Band' - featuring Sir Curtly Ambrose on bass guitar and Sir Ritchie Richardson on lead. Both are legendary West Indies cricketers; they seemed to be enjoying their retirement and the music was excellent; the crowd were dancing all night, me included, and their rhythms even got Ian jigging a little. This all for free too. It's a product of all of these events that most, if not all of the after race parties are free and open to everyone, and with food stalls (the Wadadli Grill) set up in the street outside the Dockyard grilling everything from burgers to lobster at affordable prices; it made for a wonderful party atmosphere. And yes there are rather a large proportion of Knights of the Realm in this part of the world it would seem.
Again this regatta offers lots of silverware (and bottles of rum) for the winners, and although many of the professionals won their class it was wonderful to see a small boat from Puerto Rico, "Lazy Dog" (just 32 ft), lift the coveted Lord Nelson Trophy, the overall winners' prize and the reason why all of these esteemed sailors are here. Much jubilation followed with another party lasting into the wee small hours.
Antigua has been a real pleasure, we've met old friends, made new friends and the whole experience of regattas has been absolutely delightful. But now it really is time for us to make our final preparations for leaving the Caribbean.
The sail from Antigua to The Azores is likely to be much tougher than our previous east-west crossing from the Cape Verdes to Barbados. Apart from being a longer journey (roughly 2500 miles) we will not have the luxury of the steady trade winds blowing from behind us, nor the ocean current propelling us in the right direction. Despite this we are both looking forward to the challenge and to being out in the open ocean once more, with Morven pointing her bow back towards Europe again.
29 Les Saintes & Guadeloupe
19 April 2017
After a 22 mile sail we fetched up in Les Saintes, a tiny group of islands south of Guadeloupe belonging to the French. The seas were flat, the wind light and we arrived in time to pick up the last available mooring buoy in the harbour off the main town of Bourg les Saintes on the island of Terre d'en Haut; the bed was still dry, perfect although wash over the bow had been non-existent on this passage.
After the wilds of Dominica these islands seemed very genteel and restful. Suddenly time seemed to be moving slowly as we enjoyed sitting and watching the goings on. The town seems to be a miniature version of a typical French village; small buildings with brightly coloured shutters, more of those lovely French bakeries and a surprising number of supermarkets, bars and restaurants for the size of the place, in addition to some top end clothing boutiques and souvenir shops, probably to serve the large number of trippers arriving by ferry from the mainland (Guadeloupe as well as France). Our first thought was the place would be over-run but it seems these visitors only come to enjoy the beaches. The order of their day seems to be to hire a scooter or golf buggy (all hire 'cars' are electric here) and disappear of to the beach for the day, find food at mid-day - the typical long French lunch break extends to the shops here which all close for 3 hours at noon - then join the queue for a ferry home again.
The beach at Bay de Pompierre with its perfect sand is protected by 2 small islands and a reef, and so the water is calm and clear, and the beach shaded by huge palm trees. Boats are not allowed into this bay so it makes an odd sight; it's so unusual to see any Caribbean bay without boats of any sort, particularly when it's this beautiful and protected from the elements. It's easy to see why the bay is popular; there are lots of shady picnic benches and all the commercial eateries are on the road, within easy reach of the beach, but leaving the beach clear of cooking pots and plastic chairs.
The island of Terre de Haute has some low lying hills which have a few marked walking trails for those of us who are a little more energetic. After the dizzy heights of Dominica we though climbing Le Chameau at a mere 1000 feet would be a doddle. It was save for the fact that the heat is far more intense when there is no rainforest shade, and at a much lower altitude, so drinking stops on this short walk were many - just water of course.
After a few days of relative relaxation and stocking up on a few more French goodies it was time for us to move on to Guadeloupe, the west coast of which with its high peaks is notorious for down draughts coming off the mountains, and so we left Les Saintes with two reefs in the mainsail. The wind was light and we felt rather silly for a while, but caution prevailed and the sail plan was left unchanged. We didn't get any of these strong gusts, but instead the last 5 miles presented us with a head wind blowing over 25 knots. Glad of our reefs, we had to do some serious tacking to make it into the small bay of Deshaies on the northwest corner of Guadeloupe where we planned to spend a few days. Hurrah the bed was still dry.
This small bay has the reputation of always being windy and today was no exception. There's probably room for around 50 boats to anchor comfortably; by the time we arrived there was little space available (even for a small one) in the more sheltered inshore area and we were forced to anchor in a depth of 13 metres further out to seaward. We don't generally like to be in more than 10 metres as we only carry 60 metres of chain and wherever possible in deep water we try and lay out a minimum 6:1 ratio of chain to depth, particularly if it's windy. After dinner we sat for a while surveying the scene. The wind was still blowing though it had calmed a little, the anchor seemed to be holding strong and so Ian retired for the night. I was just about to head off to bed too when a mast sneaked past the cabin window; I looked out to see a French boat drop his anchor just in front of us, and by the time he drifted back I could almost touch the stern of his boat from our bow! After telling him he was a little too close, he agreed he would up anchor and try again; he proceeded to heave up his chain by hand; it seemed his electric windlass had failed, and his crew members had mysteriously disappeared below. This went on for about an hour with no success. Each time he pulled up some chain it seemed to drop back into the sea and the boat stayed within our reach. Either he'd snagged something on the seabed or he didn't have the strength to haul the anchor manually.
Suddenly we were moving backwards. The inevitable had happened, the French boat had caught our anchor and pulled it out of the seabed, so now we were both dragging on a windy night in a tight anchorage towards a large immaculate, shiny, classic yacht. Ian was quickly up out of bed and on the bow, the deck and navigation lights were switched on, and we tried to raise our anchor whilst motoring forward to avoid collision. Unfortunately, our two boats were now effectively locked together as the anchor chains were twisted around one another! Thankfully the owners of the boat behind us were still awake and had noticed what was happening and they kindly took to their dinghy to assist. We hung our largest fenders from our port bow and with a combination of French, English and sign language eventually persuaded the French skipper to let out some more of his chain whilst motoring in an anticlockwise direction away from us, while we let out all or our remaining chain and motored astern. Luckily this worked and we eventually became separated, whereupon the lady owner of the classic yacht suggested in no uncertain terms that he (Frenchman) "bugger off and anchor way out to sea" where he'd cause no further problems. Surprisingly this seemed to do the trick - off he went to the very outer reaches of the bay! We returned to our original position and re-anchored, and the wind continued to blow hard. We now weren't sure just how well our anchor had set this time round as it's always much harder to judge at night, thus it was a restless night as we spent most of it checking our position, or listening to the howling wind.
Early next morning a few boats vacated the bay and so we spotted a nice space inshore; we moved immediately and found ourselves next to another small boat in a more manageable depth of 8 metres. Happier, we could at last relax, though the wind was still howling through the valley. Our main reason for visiting Deshaies was to check out of the French territories as this is the last customs post when heading north. It felt rather an odd sort of place, again there are the high end shops, but a seemingly poor local population begging, and although there are reputed to be some good walks into the surrounding hills we didn't feel comfortable enough leaving the boat unattended, given the many comings and goings of other yachts in and out of the bay. Even in our new place in the anchorage we had a couple more large boats trying to fit into gaps that just weren't there so we decided to stay on board and defend our position; Ian had to dive to check that a large American catamaran hadn't disturbed our anchor when he tried the same trick as the Frenchman the night before - but at least it was still daylight!
Deshaies wasn't the restful place we thought it might be, so as soon as the wind turned to the east we checked out, weighed the anchor and set a course for Antigua.
10 April 2017
The soggy bed eventually dried out although now we were in rainforest territory the constant downpours meant leaving the cushions outside was a no-no, and we were for ever having to open and shut hatches and windows. The modification to the anchor locker would however have to wait; we had to explore this island of mangroves and mountains.
Dominica comes highly recommended by almost everyone we’ve met, particularly if hiking is high on the agenda. It is probably the least spoiled island in this part of the world and boasts 8 volcanoes (including one underwater), 365 rivers and is home to the famous Waitukubuli Trail. This walking trail spans the length and breadth of the island and comprises 14 segments of differing terrain and difficulty, it covers 115 miles and takes in the many different aspects of the islands nature. The pinnacles rise to over 4700 feet into the clouds and host a vast area of rainforest, and lush farming valleys along with a varied range of wildlife. This we had to see.
In order to get the most out of our short stay we booked a full day tour with a local guide by the name of ‘Sea Cat’, a larger than life character who lives and breathes the island of Dominica and wants everyone to enjoy it as much as he does. We gave him our brief: ‘we want to do some hiking and see some rainforests and waterfalls, and didn’t mind if we went on our own or with a small group.’ Not sure what to expect, we turned up at the allotted hour next morning as instructed with strong shoes, spare clothes and swimming gear, none the wiser about what the day would have in store. We were a group of 10 including 2 children of 8 and 13, and adults ranging between the ages of 40 and 70 so quite a mixed bag.
Driving up into the hills took a while as on every bend of the road our host leapt out of his bus and into a bush. Each time he returned to give us something to taste, sometimes even climbing onto the bus roof to pick things that would otherwise have been out of his reach. Green water nuts from which we drank delicious coconut water, then scooped out the gelatinous ‘cream’ from inside; we did wonder why he had a machete slung from his belt, then there were coffee beans, fresh ground cocoa powder – with and without sugar, fresh cinnamon bark and natural food colorants which the kids ended up wearing as war paint, and raw sugar cane sprinkled with lime juice. A feast for our senses and the day had hardly begun.
Our guide certainly took our brief to heart; we hiked part of the Waitukubuli trail to Middleham falls, one of the most scenic and beautiful of the islands many falls, right in the heart of the Dominica, and far enough away from civilisation that it’s relatively untouched. An amazing waterfall cascading down into a deep pool, all set amidst the lush green rainforest, and in parts completely shaded by a canopy of trees, and some incredible wild flowers, all of which seem to grow to immense proportions. Many of the plants are commonly seen as house plants in the UK, but they are a mere shadow of what grows here in the wild. It’s like you suddenly shrink Alice in Wonderland style and the world towers over you. We swam the length of the Titou Gorge, a narrow slit between two sheer rock faces with a pool at the end, as well as numerous small waterfalls up which we climbed, leaping back into the full force of the flow into the pool below.
Sea Cat’s tour of the Trafalgar falls revealed far more than a mere meander to the viewing stage. He took us climbing over the huge boulder field, down which the water flows from an incredible height, to gain the higher ground and the fantastic pools beyond. Barefoot, we stretched every last sinew to reach foot and hand holds (especially if you’re short), ploughing through cascades of water to reach the three pools above. The first is warmish where hot and cold water mix, the next is a hot spring which runs constantly over the rocks, (think bath water temperature) and the top is a very cold one where the main fall drops into. Guess which one we all favoured. After the strains of the day we wallowed in the hot water to ease the aches and pains we all shared and almost forgot we had to climb all the way back down again.
What a day! Exhausted, wet and muddy (yes we did need that change of clothes) but completely absorbing. Sea Cat really did give his island to us, and we all experienced a little of what he sees every day. It just made us want to see more this wonderful island.
A couple of days later, the materials for our leak still proving elusive, we left Roseau and sailed towards the only other safe anchorage in the north of Dominica. Light winds were forecast, so we quite expected to be motoring for most of the 20 miles up the coast. Imagine our surprise when we were suddenly hit with 32 knots of wind blasting down from these very high peaks. This continued to be the case for the entire journey. One or two items not stowed properly leapt across the cabin as we heeled to a very acute angle. At least we only had a scrap of sail out at the time. It certainly made for a fast passage as the seas were comparatively flat and soon we were anchored in Prince Rupert Bay looking over the small town of Portsmouth, being greeted by ‘Providence’ welcoming us to the island.
Providence (Martin is his real name) belongs to an organisation called PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Services). Until fairly recently Dominica was anything but yacht friendly and so sailors tended to bypass it on journeys north or south; there was a fair amount of crime and general hostility towards what are perceived to be very wealthy people. The local boat boys decided to take the matter in hand and formed PAYS to welcome and look after the likes of us who really want to see their island. They provide excellent security so you can happily go ashore and leave your boat unattended, and all have a good knowledge of their island and take a real pride in it. Most will take you on guided tours if you wish, or organise transport to get you to where you want to be. Their Sunday night BBQ is a must if you want to meet other likeminded people, but beware the rum punch. Eat as much as you like (until the food eventually runs out) and drink as much rum punch as you like (which never seems to run out). Fatal. We know of two friends who over imbibed and both managed to capsize their dinghies when trying to go ‘home’. Well 12 cups of punch is probably about 10 too many!
A day after we arrived Portsmouth we bumped into Tim and Gayle from Wild Bird, we’d last seen them in Madeira in 2014. They are both extremely fit and do a lot of running up and down hills so when they asked if we’d be interesting in doing some hiking we said yes with some trepidation. We managed to coerce another two couples to come along which means the cost of a taxi or bus to a good start point is manageable for everyone, and of course it’s more fun. The Waitukubuli trail beckoned and we enjoyed two long hikes through the lush rainforest including some incredibly steep sections where we had to use ropes to help us get up and down. We were amazed to discover that some of these slopes had actually been fashioned into terraces and were being farmed by local workers who must have had exceptional stamina and great balance too. It made us feel quite guilty having haggled over the price of dasheens in the market when we now appreciated the effort that goes into growing them!
Both soles of my walking shoes came adrift on a particularly wet and muddy decline (they’d already been glued back on once before, obviously the glue wasn’t up to the job,) and so I was treading on slick soles down some very precarious terrain. Tim went into the bush and came back brandishing a freshly trimmed stick for me – what a hero, and all with a Leatherman not a machete – which made the going a bit easier. He’d also managed to fashion a couple of rainforest umbrellas from nearby foliage too. By the end of the day I was sporting some rather fine muddy patches which weren’t going to wash out easily. Good job I’d worn old clothes.
In between these serious hikes we wandered around the local environs, which are equally enchanting with woodland and low lying hills, just to keep the muscles moving. We also found a tiny hardware store in Portsmouth (room for the cashier and only one other body at a time and about 3 shelves stocked with ‘hardware’). We didn’t hold out much hope but incredibly they had just what we needed to attempt a repair to the anchor locker. Job done and now we’ll have to wait until we next sail to see if it’s worked; water leaks are notorious for being confounding.
Providence also took us in his boat up the Indian River. This is yet another location used in the Pirates of the Caribbean films (we’ve now been to several of these locations but still haven’t watched any of the films). It is a shallow mangrove swampy sort of place and full of wildlife. It’s truly fascinating and also quite eerie, shaded by a tree canopy with some amazing buttress roots growing out of the shallow water. If we had seen a pterodactyl flying around no-one would have batted an eyelid, and the numerous pelicans around the bay come quite close to portraying this particular image. As the river is part of the National Park no engines are allowed so poor old Providence was rowing all the way there and back. At least the current helped him one way, and he still found time to point out the identity of the plants and wildlife all around us. We were even serenaded with several verses of the Dominican national anthem on the return trip.
We’ve seen giant plants and some incredible wildlife including snakes and iguanas, lizards and hermit crabs, humming birds and parrots and heard a lot more within the woodlands. What we haven’t seen are hordes of people using the Waitukubuli Trail, and we were the only boat on the Indian River. This is great for enjoying the peace and quiet and being able to be completely absorbed in these fabulous surroundings but the locals would like to see a few more visitors.
Dominica has more than lived up to our expectations and we were definitely sad to be leaving; there’s so much more to see, but we’re on a time scale and must be moving on with the seasons. This meant leaving the trails and our friends behind to head north once more; we didn’t get to see the Boiling Lake – maybe next time.
Time to put to sea and hope the bed stays dry!
27 March 2017
We were nicely anchored in Fort de France and just settling down to our first evening in Martinique, dining al fresco with a nice bottle of red, when there was the sound of a boat engine directly behind us. This boat continued right alongside us and I had to fend him off as he dropped his anchor right on Morven's quarter. The lady of the ship was sitting on the foredeck but did nothing to alert the skipper of their proximity to our boat. The French do seem to have this knack of anchoring in very close quarters, and don't appear to consider the implications of swinging room with a wind change; but then, in our experience, the same can also be said of the Italians. He seemed happy with his placement though and promptly switched off his engine and navigation lights and went ashore with his good lady. At least he was behind us so wouldn't drag over our anchor.
Day dawned and off we went to check in with the authorities once more. We found the little office with rather a lively lady, dressed in national colours, and looking like she was ready to party. We weren't sure we had got the right place as it was also the fuel and water dock within a small boat- and service yard. This lady showed us to the computer and said all that was necessary was to fill in the form and print it, sign it and then we were 'free to go'. How different from our previous experiences in France. We've often been boarded by customs officials before even entering many French harbours, and have even had the boat searched on one occasion, so what a refreshing surprise this informal and friendly reception was, especially when she then informed us that it was carnival week; so that was why she was in 'fancy dress'. Interestingly Carnival (Mardi Gras) was not due to start for another week so she really was getting in the mood early.
The new bilge pump was next on the list; the shop had it in stock just as they had promised. Things were going very well. Back to the boat where the new pump was installed directly, tested, working, job done. All we needed now was to find a good bakery, which didn't prove too difficult as there are many, all selling tasty French products, although I wasn't sure I should be chewing on very crusty baguettes with my new front teeth so didn't attack it with such gusto as I might have done; Ian had no worries, and tucked into everything he could.
Once the formalities were over we turned our thoughts to exploring a bit of the island. On checking the weather forecasts, as is prudent if the boat is going to be left at anchor for any length of time, there were a few anomalies, and the meteo models certainly weren't in agreement so we decided to sit tight for a day or two and content ourselves with sightseeing within the city of Fort de France. The wind was forecast to become relatively light but erratic and could blow from any direction, quite a change from the regular easterly trade winds that should prevail at this time of year. No problem we thought, as we were anchored in good shelter, and if the wind should blow into the bay it was not forecast to blow at much more than 5 knots.
Next morning the wind completely died, before swinging round to the West (this is practically unheard of in this part of the world which is why all the 'safe' harbours are on the west coast of the islands) and increasing quite rapidly. In an instant all the yachts in the anchorage had swung round and were now facing directly out into the open sea from where a considerable swell began rolling in. Thus we found ourselves on a lee shore with the very solid stone walls of the fort right behind us. Not liking the look of it we decided to bail out before conditions got any worse and to head across the Rade-de-Fort-de-France to a small bay that we'd identified as looking much more sheltered. By the time we were ready to go the seas were bouncing us around like a trampoline. The anchor was coming up just fine, the only problem was that our French 'neighbour (well his boat) was now in front of us and lying over our anchor, and he was nowhere to be seen, as he hadn't been back to his boat for 3 days. This necessitated some rather nifty shifts between forward and reverse gear to avoid running into his stern while trying to drag our anchor out of the seabed beneath him. Thankfully this was achieved without collision and we were soon bouncing our way out into the deep water channel, and with a scrap of headsail set flew across the 4 miles to Les Trois Ilets, a beautifully sheltered area located behind a large promontory where the seas were flat calm, and not a sign of the westerly wind which had just blown us across the bay. Peace reigned; we were well dug in, and over the space of the afternoon we saw every other boat from Fort de France come into our shelter; we were even all anchored in the same formation with the exception of our neighbour - we guessed his boat was the only one left to weather what turned into quite a storm.
The wind eventually returned to its usual easterly quarter, but meanwhile we spent 3 days anchored close to the mangroves with a view over the golf course, enjoying the delights of this very small village, complete with fruit and veg market and a great boulangerie which also serves good coffee at very reasonable prices. Everyone in the village was in good humour as they were making ready for their own celebrations for carnival; apparently each village or town does its own thing, but the main event is definitely in the capital; so we therefore sailed back across the channel to see what Mardi Gras had in store.
'Carnaval' was programmed for 5 days and nights, and was an incredibly vibrant spectacle. Definitely the biggest show we've seen in any of the Caribbean islands, and it's all really for the local population. Everyone seems to come alive, don a costume and just enjoy partying in the streets. The local 'orchestras' are bands which primarily consist of drums in every shape and size imaginable, with the odd conch shell thrown in. The carnival plays out a satirical story over the period beginning with the inauguration of 'King' Vaval, moving through his marriage, and unfortunately ending with his sacrifice which involves actually setting fire to the huge statue, almost the height of a two storey building, that is paraded around on a cart for 5 days. All quite exciting stuff. Everyone dresses up, and follows the procession around the city, dancing and singing to the music, and grabbing food and drink from the many street vendors when needed. Each day has a different theme so it's essential to have a different outfit for each day. The local dress shops all seem to be displaying nothing but carnival attire, and this years' must have was a tutu of any colour, or every colour, with brightly coloured fishnet stockings, and that was just for the men. So for 5 days and nights the city was closed and everyone was out to party into the early hours. A magnificent show, but by the time Vaval was sacrificed I think even the most energetic revellers were relieved. I know my eardrums needed some relaxation.
We finally got to see some of the north of Martinique, in particular the small town of St Pierre which was originally the capital. This town lies at the foot of Mont Pelee, the great volcano of Martinique which erupted on the 8th of May 1902, and completely obliterated the town and every one of its inhabitants (almost 30,000 of them) bar one - a prisoner by the name of Cyparis, who was locked in a tiny stone cell. Fortunately for him his window faced away from the lava flow and so somehow he survived. Not sure how he ever got out of his cell if everyone else was extinguished, but he obviously managed it as he apparently joined a travelling circus as an exhibit! The town was eventually rebuilt, and today it is a fairly typical little French town complete with market, library and a few nice restaurants. It is also the home to the Depaz Rhum distillery. Obviously we had to go and see this, and sample some of the delights which were freely available, but at 10 in the morning it was a little early to imbibe too many varieties of rhum - especially as they offer it neat. Still it gave us a taste, and we bought the obligatory bottle to add to our collection from the other islands. There is a good museum here which tells the story with original footage. We tried twice to go in but it was closed, with no indication of when it might open again.
Well, we couldn't wait around for ever. After enjoying all the good French food and wine we needed some exercise so next stop Dominica and the hiking trails. Another early start along with a few other boats. Once again a reef in the main and genoa. The wind was a little stronger than anticipated and we were fighting the steering and the sea for a while; with a northerly swell and easterly wind driven waves the seas were somewhat confused . Eventually we reefed the headsail heavily and balanced the boat perfectly. We engaged the help of the Hydrovane to steer, and we sat and enjoyed the view. Once again we were taking waves over the bow, and the sails were salt-sodden by the time we arrived in Roseau, capital of Dominca.
We were none too dry ourselves, but the final straw was that with all the water over the bow, and the angle of heel being considerable, the anchor locker hadn't drained as it should, so we had a quantity of water now in the forecabin, in particular under my half of the bed. No real harm done, but we need to find a solution to this if we're to avoid mouldy cushions. We have an idea or two, but it will depend if we can find any of the materials needed to seal the inspection hatch on this very undeveloped island. If only we'd have known the problem existed before leaving Martinique, where parts and materials are more widely available.
26 Bequia to Martinique
02 March 2017
We’d been having a bit of trouble with our automatic bilge pump since leaving Grenada. It kept running when the bilge was empty, and upon testing, didn’t respond automatically when the bilge was full. Not a good thing to have an intermittent fault on such a vital bit of equipment, but with a little internet research we found that many of the chandleries of Martinique all seemed to have a replacement pump in stock. As spares are generally scarce we were quite overwhelmed by this news, and so with this and the lure of some French bakeries, we left Bequia as daylight dawned, heading north once more, bound for Martinique, under full sail with the expectation of winds between 10-15 knots. A passage of approximately 100 nautical miles.
The seas were calm, and the wind a little north of east. Morven was now charting new territory. This passage was once more to windward, and one of the more difficult ones as our route would take us past both St Vincent and St Lucia; the northern tips of these two islands often sport some much accelerated winds, together with big seas which squeeze through the compression zones between the islands. This is a big consideration when sailing a course to the north or south in the Caribbean as the ocean current runs continually from east to west. On a 12 hour cross-tide passage back in the waters around the UK you would expect to be set in one direction for the first six hours of the voyage and then set back the opposite way during the next six, thus negating the effect to some extent, assuming the passage is 12 hours of course. In the Caribbean it’s necessary to make constant compensation for this ‘one way’ drift in the course steered; if you are not vigilant, it is easy to be swept several miles downwind of your intended destination from where it is extremely difficult to make back ground again against the wind and the ocean swells.
The early morning saw us screaming along at over 7 knots; the tide was in our favour for once, and the wind on the beam; a good start to the day. Once in the lee of St Vincent the wind became flukey and light, so we were reduced to motor sailing to maintain a reasonable speed, and direction. The views over the west coast of the island were magnificent, with every imaginable shade of green covering the many peaks which lead up to the great Soufriere volcano. Inching out beyond the top of St Vincent, we’d taken the precaution of furling in most of the headsail, just in case the wind battered us, and motored with the full main out into open water. The recommendation is to take in one more reef than you imagine is required for this piece of water, but we were being brave (or foolish) as the forecast has said we’d be lucky if there was any wind at all, and we believed it.
The sea was a little lumpy, but it always is, though today was one of its more amenable days as the Atlantic swell was about as slight as it ever gets. We couldn’t quite make our course as the speed slowed without the assistance from the headsail, and the tide was pushing us westwards, but we weren’t far off, so plodded on. The forecast had been pretty spot on and the headsail was soon unfurled, and we were blasting along once more with a view of the famous Pitons (pictured) of St Lucia in clear view from nearly 30 miles away. The aim was to try and get past the Pitons before dark, then it was a short hop up the coast of St Lucia before turning off the wind and sailing 20 or so miles across the gap to Martinique.
As we’d left at sun-up, morning ablutions had been delayed until we were underway, so once Morven was set up I took a few minutes to make myself look presentable. Teeth cleaning brought a new challenge to my day. I’ve two fillings on the middle of my front teeth; they’ve been there for more years than I can remember and for some reason the toothbrush took umbrage on this day, and saw fit to remove them, leaving a gaping hole in my lovely smile. Not that I was smiling much at this point, although it seemed to amuse the Captain. (Yes, of course it was the toothbrush, and not my heavy hand. Either that or the ‘Advanced Cavity Protection toothpaste wasn’t doing its job.) The gaping cavities made eating a little tricky, with everything having to be reduced to mush. Fortunately dinner (chilli) already prepared was manageable, but lunchtime sandwiches were a bit of a challenge.
After consulting the bible of Caribbean yachting (Doyle’s pilot book), we found that the best dental practice, complete with hygienists, which are apparently a rarity in the Caribbean, is in Rodney Bay on the island of St Lucia. (According to Mr Doyle that is.) How fortunate that we were passing by that way today. So rather than accept Ian’s offer of a gelcoat fix, or fumble with the French language in Fort de France, it was agreed we would stop in St Lucia and get my smile fixed up, before heading to Martinique.
The bilge pump and boulangerie would just have to wait.
Sailing to the Pitons proved quite exhilarating, and we were on schedule to get there before dark. Again we were motor sailing in the lee of St Lucia, and as we arrived at the foot of the Pitons our speed seemed to slow considerably. The engine was running at around its normal revs and we still had the full main up. We just put this lack of speed down to the fact that we were making our way through the over-falls, where tides meet and slop about, and our engine isn’t powerful enough to push us forward quickly under such conditions. We made the waypoint just before dark, and from there it was a straight motor (wind now failing completely) for about 13 miles to find the Barrel of Beef rock which marks the entrance to Rodney Bay. The seas were flat and our speed didn’t noticeably increase, so Ian began to contemplate the possibility of engine problems, though nothing looked untoward on inspection. We finally spotted the ‘rock’ and entered the Bay around 10 pm. Fortunately this is a large bay, which is relatively shallow all over and so we anchored in lots of space. It was hard to tell how many boats were there as anchor lights were concealed within the lights blazing from the shore lie. St Lucia appears to consume a lot more electricity at night than anywhere else in the Windward Islands.
In the light of the day there were many more boats than we’d initially thought, but still plenty of room. We launched the dinghy early and whilst doing so Ian dived in to take a look at the propeller. A good job too, as it was fouled with part of a palm tree (fronds and stems) complete with a piece of rope and some plastic netting! Impossible to spot in the dark, but at least it explained our lack of engine power the previous night. A touch of underwater gardening with a sharp knife and all the offending articles were removed. Thankfully no lasting damage seemed to have been caused to the propeller or the engine.
Before we could go in search of the dentist the first stop, as always, was Customs and Immigration, situated within the huge Rodney Bay Marine complex. The book states that only the Captain must go ashore and then, once the documentation is complete, we mere mortals are allowed to set foot on this hallowed ground. So my teeth would have to wait a while longer. The dinghy ride from bay to marina is almost a mile, so not a quick trip, and by the time we’d cleared the prop it was after mid-day. Ian duly completed the formalities and then we went in search of the dentist that afternoon. Just like the book said, clean and friendly practice and they managed to fit me in the next day, and the smile was restored; in fact it took a while for me to stop smiling as the dentist administered 2 injections and I felt and looked like I’d had a bad Botox job. Thankfully the mirror confirmed my teeth looked normal, and by mid-day I felt like me again. Ready to roll.
We thought we ought to see a little bit of this northern part of St Lucia as we were now here, but it really wasn’t to our taste. It has certainly embraced the big time yachting fraternity - complete with superyacht berths, high end marina and the Rodney Bay Village which is full of American style shopping malls. We both much preferred Marigot Bay where we spent a few days last year.
We found a very good supermarket however, bought a few provisions and went back to the tranquillity of Morven, ready to move on. The weather was on our side and after a couple of days we headed off once more.
The sail from Rodney Bay to Martinique is often said to be one of the finest in the Caribbean as it’s off the wind, and the passage is usually swift. We weren’t disappointed; well only in that the sailing was over all too soon. In some ways, the unexpected stopover in St. Lucia made it even better; it would have been a night passage otherwise and we wouldn’t have enjoyed the landfall quite so much in the dark. We dropped anchor in the lee of Fort St Louis in Fort de France, capital of Martinique.
25 Admiralty Bay, Bequia
17 February 2017
Admiralty Bay in Bequia is a large, safe and extremely popular anchorage. We were nicely set on the north side of the bay which is generally the most protected, and also quieter as many of the holiday boats like to be close to the beach opposite.
Upon arrival Ian promptly headed ashore for the obligatory visit to clear in with customs and immigration. The officials there recognised him from his many visits there last year, but it still took an age to complete all the necessary paperwork (St. Vincent & The Grenadines haven't yet got linked up to the online system that most of the Caribbean islands have now joined). However, if you ever wish to see a very fine display of gold epaulets, or have a desire to enjoy some authentic slow-motion Caribbean bureaucracy complete with endless rubber stamping, then the Bequia Customs House is definitely the place to hang out!
From the town, there is a quaint little walkway around the south side of the bay, which has now been extended to link to the famous Princess Margaret beach, a beautiful sandy beach with a fine bar (Jack's) which claims to offer the 'best rum punch on the island'; don't they all, but Jack's is pretty good, if a little pricey, but the price includes a superb view.
Bequia, although beautiful, has little to offer in the way of tourist attractions, other than a turtle sanctuary, the standard island tour by taxi, and several little stalls selling hand-made craftwork ranging from a crocheted Rasta hat to a sailing boat made from coconut shells. It is this lack of organised tourist entertainment which makes the island very popular with those capable of entertaining themselves. Often there are 2 or 3 small cruise ships anchored in the outer reaches of the bay, with their tenders shipping people to and from shore non-stop for the day. With the constant wash from these boats the sea becomes a bit lively, and if you're shore-bound in a small inflatable dinghy it's inevitable that you'll be a little damp around the edges from the chop before you reach land. It's a welcome sight to see the tenders being hoisted around sunset, so they can go on their merry way and splash someone else.
There are many good restaurants on the waterside, offering gourmet food at gourmet prices; we have sampled a couple, but our budget does not cover regular forays to such establishments. However, having spent a while here in Bequia, we have also discovered the more affordable dining out options. Our all-time favourite venue for fried chicken (a Caribbean classic) is Tasha's. A tiny restaurant which caters mainly for lunchtime trade for school children and working people, but they generally open in the evening for a few hours. Fried chicken, chips and salad for 10 EC dollars (even with the poor exchange rate right now it's still only around £3). Not bad, and if you're really hungry you can go the whole hog and up your order to 20 dollars! Not what you'd call gourmet, but it certainly kept us fed and watered many a night last year, and we revisited them again this time around. They do a mean rum punch too. A favourite lunch is 'peas and potato' which can be bought from a little shed behind the fruit and veg shop, for only 3 dollars. This is a large pasty made from a very light, thin dough, filled with spicy lentil and potatoes, or home-made patties (salt-fish, spinach or pumpkin) at 1 dollar each, and it all tastes divine washed down with your favourite choice of the many freshly made juices on offer.
I finally managed to fit in a 'discover scuba' diving course here, a long time ambition of mine, which was pretty exciting; we dived to around 10 metres and the world of Jacques Cousteau was finally brought to life. Up to now we have only snorkelled around the reefs, which is still amazing, but diving was the ultimate. I really didn't want to come back up.
The weather got up to its old tricks once more and the wind seemed to be stuck in the northeast, and strong too, so we had to content ourselves with watching the comings and goings of Port Elizabeth, and carrying out routine maintenance jobs. The comings and goings were generally charter yachts, or boats sailing short hops between the Grenadine islands. Somehow, every time a boat came in it appeared to want to anchor right beside Morven. It seems to happen every time there is a small gap between us and a neighbour - a large boat then decides he can fit into this gap and not cause chaos. One particularly blustery night we watched a 50 ft boat drag past us while the crew were being entertained on board a different boat close by. We thought we may have to go to the rescue, but just as we were about to climb into our dinghy the crew leapt into action, and sped off to catch their boat which was by then well on its way to the outer bay and the Devil's Table reef, via a few more anchored boats. There is an art to anchoring, but it is still surprising how few skippers actually take the time to dig in the anchor, and even dive to check it, given the water here is so clear.
Ian did have to effect a rescue a few days later; we were sitting having coffee, watching the world go by when the world sent an inflatable dinghy drifting by, noticeable due to its lack of crew on board. Ian jumped into our dinghy and headed off in pursuit of said dinghy. The owner was bravely swimming after it, but his dinghy was definitely winning the race. Oddly enough there appeared to be 2 other swimmers heading in the same direction, but a fair way behind. The dinghy safely caught, Ian then picked up the skipper (who was exhausted and said he regretted having just eaten a huge bacon sandwich), and then made his way back to their ship ('Little Else') picking up the other two crew members who had each jumped into the water with an oar, to follow the skipper. They'd been launching the dinghy, so hadn't yet fitted the engine onto it, and the skipper wholeheartedly acknowledged that his knot wasn't a good one, thus the dinghy had drifted off, and 25 knots of wind took it quickly out of reach. Three men and a boat; all in a days' work, and the crew of 'Little Else' were extremely grateful; they might have ended up with a little less.
We spent quite a lot of time in Bequia last year and so got to know many of the local population, so we were on familiar territory. It was impossible to go far without bumping into someone we knew, which makes for a somewhat hectic round of social events with the inevitable glut of sundowners. As the weather was once again blowing hard from the north east we were quite happy to have this sort of distraction before our next sail.
Our patience was eventually rewarded with a 2-3 day weather window, so we said goodbye to all of our friends and weighed anchor, northward bound, along with several other boats. Destination Martinique in search of some fine French cheese and wine, and a good boulangerie. Better find the French phrasebook, or dig deep into the sub-conscious vocabulary.