We’ve loved South Africa but it’s time to move on. In this last third of the year we’re heading for Namibia, St Helena, Brazil, Suriname (wherever that is) and the Caribbean. Come along for the ride. YouTube: SV Time Bandit
Some of the better things in life are better with ageing; wine, scotch whisky, cheese - certainly not memory as we can’t think of anything else.
Hopefully this latest and considerably past due date video will have benefited from ageing and bring untold amounts of enjoyment to our viewers.
Tell all your friends about it as, if we’re ever to achieve “YouTube Sensation” status we need to get the viewing numbers up. Right now we’re somewhere between my dad’s holiday snaps and re-runs of Bill and Ben.
Seventy five thousand miles later and I still find sleeping on passage difficult. It's as if my brain is hard wired to the instruments, at least, the bits of my brain that still work. While lying in my bunk or outside in the patio, trying to get some kip, I can sense every change in wind speed, boat speed, direction or if there's a cup of tea coming up for grabs.
Reefing for the night and certainly not carrying big sails in the dark is de-rigeur for many cruisers and to an extent we are often as prudent. It's a balance between getting there and getting some sleep or just peace from the âshouldn't we reef for the night?â (which is more often than not followed a few hours later by, âI told you we should have reefedâ). However, if you're trying to beat a change in the weather like we are now, pushing on all day and through the night makes sense.
If you ever watched my highly informative yet amusingly amateurish Blue Peter style demonstration of wind against current in the Mozambique Channel video, you may recall that wind against current doesnât make for a good night's sleep or indeed, ongoing flotation. Well, the Gulf Stream off the east coast of the USA has a similar reputation. Short, steep, breaking waves in these wind against current situations have caused untold amounts of discomfiture not to mention sinkings and free trips on a US Coastguard helicopter and, on the whole, are best avoided.
We therefore timed our run from the northern Bahamas to Norfolk, Virginia, to leave Thursday morning when, according to the weather files, weâd enjoy a leisurely passage north.
So, on Wednesday I'd been once again fiddling with the SSB radio (refer Tony Hancock, The Radio / Ham Operator sketch) to see if I could pick up the words of wisdom from Chris Parker, the weather guru around these parts. We've used Chris in the past and found his forecasts to be right on the button, keeping us out of all kinds of bother.
If I may digress, but it does help make the point, some years ago, we were making our way from Bermuda to the Azores with the ARC Europe fleet. As part of the rally package, in addition to many nights of revelry, (Alice! Who the Â£&@/ is Alice?) participants had access to weather and routing advice. As the fleet of about twenty five boats left the Town Cut in Bermuda, twenty two turned left and three of us went straight on. âHmmmmâ we thought, but bashed on regardless. Tuning into the rally Net each of the following nights we were further befuddled when the twenty two kept soldiering northwards while we kept heading due east away from the flock. A bit confused by this and suffering from the herd mentality I wrote to Chris and said, âLook, twenty five boats left Bermuda. Twenty two turned north and just us and one another boat are out here on our ownsomes, (the third boat having sunk when they hit a whale, but that's another story for the â Forthcoming Bookâ.) âAre you sure we should be going east?â
âAbsolutely. Go to lat / long (whatever it was) and about noon on (whatever date it was) the wind will shift from this to thatâ whatever that was. And so, a few hundred miles further on, we were sat in the cockpit on the appointed day, and, at the appointed hour, the boom gybed itself, lazily flopping over to the other tack, a tack that took us direct to the Azores getting in about six hours before it blew like absolute stink which the boats on the northern route got to enjoy.
All of this is to say that I'm not too proud to spend a a few quid on getting some expert input when I can. If the SSB would work.
As it turned out, despite having tried a few times before, somehow, on Wednesday evening, we managed to pick up Chris and his weather prognosticationsâ¦â¦.which basically said, âwhile you were having your afternoon snooze, you really should have been making tracks as, come Saturday night, what you haven't seen in your GRIBs is that there's a trough and associated northerlies heading into the Gulf Stream and unless you get there, it might get a bit âsaltyâ. Thirty to thirty fives knots against the Stream, salty.
So, we dropped our sundowners, packed up the garden chairs and blew that town (Marsh Harbour) heading out for a quick five hundred mile dash to the land of the Big Mac.
Which, somewhat long windedly takes me back to my yachting insomnia. Tuned in to every beat of the boat especially on short two to four day passages like this one, I get a bit cream crackered. Over the years I've tried all kinds of things, the latest wheeze being âSleep Meditationâ podcasts.
Armed with my noise cancelling headphones, a light fleece blanket and a comfy pillow I headed down below, set myself up and started up âThe Sleep Story About Maizie, The Little Brown Mouse.â What a load of drivel. I don't know who this works for but for me, instead of nodding off peacefully while little Maizie sits by the river in the warm afternoon sunshine watching sunlit ripples on the water, listening to the sounds of the leaves rustling, my over active imagination is screaming, âLook out. Look out. Look out. It's a mongoose coming to eat you thatâs making the leaves rustle.â
So, all prospect of sleep abandoned, I thought I'd write this.
Now I'm tired. I'll bet you are!
Stuart & Anne
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We were chatting to one of our long term cruising buddies recently. We first met them in the Canaries and if we hadn’t been calendar challenged we might have headed off into the wide Pacific together.
“So what are you going to do now?” asked Julian from his respite home in London; the boat patiently awaiting their return in Brisbane. (Hell, isn’t it?).
“Big problem” I said. “We really don’t know”. And that’s been haunting us for six months now since we “tied the knot” in Grenada. The conclusion of our meanderings around the world last November has led to an utterly excessive amount of dithering, procrastinating, pointless passage planning to places we’ll never go accompanied by much equally useless Internet research.
One place we’ll never go is Patagonia which is unfortunate as it’s been a dream and an itch for many years. However, as you may have read, the evenings here are long and dark and I must confess I’ve spent a bit too long scratching that itch.
One evening during a particularly intensive period of research on YouTube, watching a video entitled, “Sail Through Patagonia” I spotted a photo of the couple’s boat, anchored safely in a Caleta somewhere in the Beagle Channel, another sailboat rafted alongside. Now, as most sailors will know, to get down to these latitudes, (or is it up?) you need a long keel, heavy displacement, strong and sturdy, sea kindly yacht - like an Island Packet perhaps. Now, since that boat has sailed and we’re on almost the exact opposite type of boat, I’d largely shelved ideas of Patagonia.
However, it’s a plan we always talked about and in fact, once courted seriously, well, for a few hours anyway, about eight or nine years ago. Back then we even got as far as an outline planning meeting with cruising buddies on Toodle-oo. After this meeting, or, as it turned out later, just an excuse for a nice meal out, we went back to the boat where, enthused by the idea, I looked out an old documentary about life in the Beagle Channel. The opening shot was of three crusty old fishermen huddled in their cabin while outside the windows hail and snow was going past, horizontally at seventy miles an hour……… and it was the height of summer. Just about then, the grand plan was quickly shelved and we got back on our Trade Wind track.
However, that itch has never gone away and now we’re a tad older, searching for the answer to “what next?” and as it’s also getting to the point of, “if we don’t do it now….” I do occasionally find my self frittering away an evening looking at those who have frozen before, all of which led to me looking again at the Sail Through Patagonia video and the picture of their boat in the caleta.
What caught my eye was not just that they were on a sturdy, high latitudes boat but that tied to them was…….of all things in Patagonian waters, a cruising catamaran.
Donning my sleuth hat, over the next couple of weeks I got in contact with the YouTube couple and they in turn put me in touch with the owners of the cat tied alongside them in that Caleta.
The boat is Rum Doxy and was saved from the scrap heap in a Thai boatyard where the owners spent five years rebuilding her. From Thailand they headed north and east to Alaska then back south into the fjords and freezing wastes of Patagonia.
“Well”, I’m thinking, “if they can do it, so can we.”………right up until I saw a picture of their cabin thermometer reading 04c. Our fridge is warmer than that.
An hour ago, sitting at anchor off White Bay in the BVI, waiting on a decent breeze to get us to the Bahamas, we had to abandon our lounging on the foredeck as it was getting a bit chilly!
Whatever it is, that’s how long we waited on DHL not to deliver our battens. In the end, they were tracked down to the “final mile” shipper, ironically called Safe Cargo who hadn’t bothered themselves to complete the job, safely or otherwise, sitting on them for nearly two weeks. To add insult to injury, when we arrived at their depot, we were told to join the queue sitting outside in the sweltering heat while they “laboured” away at their desks in their comfy, air conditioned office suite. Now, in my day, and once I get my revolution going, the customers would have and post revolution, will have the A/C. €30 later, thirty euros for giving them the trouble of NOT delivering, we shouldered the heavy, four metre “spear” and trudged the mile back to the dinghy for another crossing of the St Martin lagoon.
The delay cost us not only a weather window to get to the Bahamas but a sore head after a bit of a night out at Lagoonies in Sint Maarten - a twenty minute dinghy ride across the lagoon in the dark. That helped clear my head.
Next morning we up’d and off’d for the BVI.
No we didn’t, I just lay in bed softly weeping, saying “never, never again”. I think it was something I ate. Anne says it was more likely the four pints of “Tropical”. And only four pints, and they weren’t even real pints but euro glasses. Now, when I were a lad…..)
One thing about St Martin compared to the rest of the Caribbean island chain is that, if you’re going north, it’s somewhat inconveniently placed. Unlike the rest of the islands it’s just outside day sailing range necessitating an overnight passage or a very early start. We opted for the latter. Stumbling about in the unaccustomed dark, we lifted the anchor at Oh Two Hundred (nautical speak for
an honourable time to leave a good party) and had a quite relaxing sail dead downwind all the way to the BVI. How you get south going upwind against big Atlantic seas from here is beyond me. I’d suggest a cruise ship is the best option and there’s no shortage of these.
In common with St Martin the BVI got hammered by category five hurricane Irma trashing the island, it’s homes and businesses. Again, adding insult to injury, while the local population was still in the early stages of recovery and rebuilding, Covid came along shutting down what had managed to open.
They must be resilient people here as it’s all coming back together. The government buildings, of course, are re-roofed or rebuilt, the local businesses are getting there and we can thoroughly recommend a long lunch at the Island Pot. Diet Coke only for me.
A few weeks ago, whiling away another long, balmy, dark tropical evening, not to mention our lives, we stumbled on a documentary about life on a Caribbean cruise ship. The world’s largest I think. As an example of managing the staggering logistics of accommodating, feeding, watering and entertaining something like four thousand new guests every week it was mightily impressive.
Less impressive were the endless queues of perspiring cruisers lining up for food, drinks and runs ashore. At feeding time, while I’m sure, and I certainly hope there was seated restaurant dining on another, more posh deck, (as I don’t think “posher” is a word) these same poor folk were bouncing off each other while carrying their rapidly cooling meals back to the dining hall which took its styling cues from a 1970’s UK motorway service station. We could only think, “Poor folk. Holiday of a lifetime and there they are shuffling around a glorified refectory hall.”
Next morning, after our thoroughly rewarding evening’s entertainment, having torn an eyelet on the mainsail on the way to Barbuda, we had to haul the whole thing off, remove the battens which are cracking, roll it up and send it off to the sailmakers for a sew job. The Solent also needed some TLC so it too came off.
Rendered immobile with the sails off the boat we made a snap decision to do a quick grandparenting job and headed for Toronto to see the family……where we kissed them lightly, yet lovingly on the forehead then went skiing for a week………where we joined endless queues of perspiring skiers lining up for food and drinks, and carrying rapidly cooling meals back to the dining hall which took its styling cues from a 1970’s UK motorway service station. The difference between us and the cruisers was that we did this
between runs on the stunning, groomed endless, deserted pistes under a blazing sun putting a sizeable dent in the college funds of aforementioned nippers.
We’re back in Antigua now and ready to head north. All we need are the new mainsail battens which are languishing in a DHL facility somewhere, said organisation having obviously completely forgotten their “when it absolutely, positively, has to be there” slogan.
This video is dangerously like the time my dad’s pal asked us all round to see their latest family holiday pics. On 8mm. Oh how we laughed……. and all but slit our wrists.
There’s not been a busting lot happening out here but if you’re sat at home in the midst of winter and you feel like going for a wee sail in the sun - well, mostly in the sun, perhaps this might help.
However, we’ve been so busy lounging around doing nothing, production ended up as a bit of a rush largely because we’d had another great idea at the time to swop lobster lunches on the beach for something which involves flights, small children and snow. It’s not my greatest effort but here you go…… hope you like it. Click right here for a quick run up through the Caribbean.
After recovering from the festivities at the end of the ARC transatlantic back in 2011 we found ourselves frolicking in the water at the end of the long beach outside Rodney Bay marina. In between swimming ashore for more beers we happened across a red haired, fair skinned and somewhat lobster pink bodied tourist also enjoying the cooling waters of the Caribbean. In fact, if he stepped into the sunshine for much longer he’d be risking third degree burns. Or at least a basting with some lemon infused, garlic butter.
After determining that our new best friend was from a nearby but out of sight cruise ship we got to chatting. Interesting but not too personal points of interest were exchanged. The weather was quite nice. The locals were friendly. We were from Scotland. He was from Manchester. That kind of thing.
At one point yer man asks, “Where am I by the way?”
“What? We’re swimming here off the beach in Rodney Bay ”.
“Rodney what? Where exactly is that? You see, we sail around in this big cruise ship, have our dinner, maybe take in a show, sleep, wake up, get breakfast, climb down off the ship, get in another taxi, drive for a while then get dumped on a beach - somewhere. After a few days of lying around various beaches I’ve no idea where I am.” Not that slugging cocktails like they’re going out of fashion had anything to do with it.
And so, we informed our new pal he was on St Lucia.
“ Oh. That’s nice” he said.
Today we’re in a bit of a similar situation, wandering around the green, verdant island hills of…….. “where are we?”
All I know for sure is that’s it’s to windward. Twenty to thirty hard, flogging miles to windward of the last green, verdant island we were on. Since Grenada, we’ve been beating our brains out plugging to windward in twenty five to thirty knots in three to four metre seas. When we’re not doing that, we’re in the lee of the islands swirling around in the gusts and eddies that come off those same green, verdant mountains.
However, hopefully that’s the end of our ungentlemanly upwind thrashing, all three hundred miles of it and, oddly, we’ve ended up in the Leeward Islands. Just not sure which one.
I think it’s finally proven. The Caribbean is full. At least as far as cruisers go. We’ve never seen so many boats. In the anchorages you count boats by the hundred. In Martinique, we’ve heard of two thousand in the main Marin and St Anne’s bays. It’s like Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow on a Saturday afternoon.
Yesterday we arrived in Dominica. We were last here back in 2015 and, while our memories are a bit shot these days we think there was us, Purrrfect and maybe one or two other boats. Today, there’s somewhere over a hundred boats; 50/50 independent cruisers and charters.
It’s easy to tell the charter boats - they’re the ones with pink crews.
The unfortunate thing for us fixed pension cruisers is that these folk pile ashore from their one week, £10,000 - £14,000 charter with bulging wallets and are happy to pay ludicrous amounts of money for chicken and chips, curried goat, beers and anything that reduces the size of their bulging wallets and adds to their bulging waistlines. As for tours and taxis. Name your price. Just ensure it’s in the region of a black or yellow cab into town from the likes of Heathrow or JFK.
I’m off ashore shortly to give a lecture on the price elasticity of demand.