The Green Flash
11 January 2019 | 14:28 61:04
After 6 weeks in the Caribbean we have eventually seen the elusive green flash as the sunset just after setting the anchor in the bay at Petite Anse d'Arlet on the west coast of Martinique. With the boat safely anchored we both turned around the look out at the best sunset we had seen in our 6 months of traveling we watched in silence as the great orange orb kissed the horizon, is this going to be the one, will we see it this time, not daring to tempt fate and say 'watch for it' as we looked in ore as the upper limb of the sun dropped below the horizon there it was a momentary green 'flash' quite a magical experience of us...for others perhaps something they have seen many times before.
Having got down down to Tobago Cays in the St Vincent Grenadines, our most southerly destination, on this adventure we are now on our way home, we still have 5 months making our way up the Caribbean Islands and the Bahamas to Florida before setting off back across the Atlantic via Bermuda and the Azores and aiming to touch Englands green and pleasant pastures in July later this year...well that is the plan at the moment.
We have been slow to leave the grasp of Rodney Bay and St.Lucia, it seemed to have become our home port for a while. With getting sails and other bits of equipment repaired, as well as our Atlantic crossing crew, Jeremy and Phil leaving us and Alison's girls Ellie and Tilly coming over for the Christmas and New Year period, Rodney Bay had become our home port or base for the past 6 weeks.
We have not just been moored in Rodney Bay marina for the past 6 weeks, we have ventured across to Martinique and back to do our Christmas shopping and down to take in the delights of Marigot Bay, did you know that if you take one of the Marigot Bay Marina mooring bouys you get to use the Marigot Bay Hotel Resort facilities including the rather wonderful swimming pools, why do I want a swimming pool when I have the beautiful bays with crystal clear water to swim in, well, just sometimes its nice to swim in sweet water and get out without sand in every orifice.
Once we had picked Ellie and Tilly up we headed back down to Marigot Bay (19th Dec 18) then down to 20th Dec 18) Soufriere where we had a short bus trip to the Volcano and to bath in the thermal spring pools and smear our bodies in hot mud...well why not.
(22nd Dec 19)The girls wanted to experience sailing at night, so we dropped our mooring at Soufriere at 05:00, one hour before sunrise and set of in the pitch black towards St Vincent with a sky full of stars. At 06:35 we had spotted our first whale, not a pilot whales this time but a big whale head out of the water 'skyhopping' off in the distance a few minutes another this time close by blowing, very much aware of the damage they can do to a small boat i steered to pass behind, it headed towards me for a moment or two then went on past into the distance. 0800 two whales, mother and calf we suspect, again close by, again I steered the boat to take us behind them, they kept turning towards us, eventually they lay alongside us for a while, may be two or three boat lengths away, perhaps mildly curious of us. We think they were humbacked whales, it is difficult to judge the length of them as you don't see their entire length on the surface at one time, just a large arch of the back and stubby dorsal fin, I would guess the length being about the size of the boat which is 13m. After a few blows the mother dived showing us her tail fluke and leaving us too look after the calf, a few moment later she was back and they eventually drifted off behind us. What and experience, what a privilege to be the company of such wonderful creatures, yes we are lucky to be experiencing this. Ellie managed to video the whole episode on her phone (check our facebook page and instagram). If you know more about these creatures than us, please look at the video and see if you can identify them for us.
As I mentioned earlier we are very much aware of the damage whale can do to a small yacht, friends of ours who were on the ARC+ with us, hit a whale 2 days out of the Cape Verde Islands,they where hit a night, the rudder shaft, rudder housing all bent, the hull plates bent, the auto pilot broken, they had to hand steer the remaining 2000nm double handed, and that was a steel yacht, fortunately the hull was not breached and they did not take on water, it took 6 weeks for the repairs to be completed in St Lucia and the boat had to be stripped out and rebuilt. There were other fiberglass yachts that where more badly damaged and taking on water and were lucky to complete the crossing without the yacht sinking. So meeting these majestic creatures in the ocean is a mixed blessing, yes, we want to see them, but we don't want be too close to them, and the problem is at night you have hit it before you have seen it.
Anyway, back to the story. As we approached the north end of St Vincent the wind increased, with gusts up to 40 kts and confused seas, and the wind constantly shifting direction around the mountainous peaks at the north of the islands, this makes for exciting and challenging sailing, more so than the sailing across the Atlantic ocean, this has been the pattern for most of our inter island passages, but not all, sometimes we get the wind just nice and might make the same passage again with a fayre wynd and a kynd sea and make an easy 7-8kts, sometimes even in the right direction which is always a bonus, other times you are heading into a tumultuous maelstrom of wind and heavy seas on the nose, interspersed with the odd rainsquall which will drench one in a matter of seconds Heading north through the Windward islands is always a challenge with the prevailing north easterly winds and currents conspiring against you all the time, but just sometimes the wind will veer to the east or even just slightly south of east and give you a helping hand. You need to keep an eye on the weather forecasts and 'carpe diem' and go for it.
The pilot books rather frighten sailors off of going to St Vincent with warnings of thefts from yachts, 'boat boys' who hassle you and fight with the over boat boys for your business to get you a mooring and wanting to charge exorbitant fee for helping you moor, even though you don't want or solicit their help in the first place...yes there are still pirates here...Despite such protestations we took our life into our hands and ventured into what seemed to be the most 'troubled' bay, Wallilabou Bay, the bay which featured as Port Royal in all the 'Pirates of the Caribbean films. Yes we were hassled by boat boys, we fought off the young whipper-snappers in their inflatable dinghies with outboards (one assumes appropriated) and let Mr Smiley in his old wooden rowing boat take our lines, he assured us that we would be safe here. Being the only yacht there when we arrived we did feel a little bit vulnerable when we left the boat to take the 20 minute walk to the botanical gardens and waterfall up the valley behind us. What a a wonderful walk, away from tourism, away from locals trying to relieve us of our cash and other chattels. We walked though a small hamlet, along the road in beautiful and stunning countryside, goats grazing freely at the roadside, the only danger being the cars, buses and overloaded pickup trucks which whizz along at dangerously excessive speeds around blind corners. However the botanical gardens and waterfall where a delight (all funded by the EU) 5 XCD (East Caribbean Dollar 3.3XCD to the £)a cold beer, a small snack and swim in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, what more could one ask for. I was relieved to see the boat was still where we left it when we returned and all was good...faith in humanity restored. We then had a look around 'Port Royal' now a restaurant and a small exhibition playing homage to the Pirates of the Caribbean films...all in all a delightfully pleasant and pretty little bay to stop over at.
We were able to 'check in' at customs and immigration at Wallilabou Bay, at a small office which opens, on demand between 5pm and 6pm, and this covered us for St Vincent and the St Vincent Grenadines. One thing that you have to get used to about sailing around the Caribbean islands is that nearly each island is its own independent state or part of another country, as such you have cleat customs and immigration at each new islands you come to which is time consuming bureaucratic and sometimes costly process with fees and other charges which seem to be completely random as to time of day or day of the week.
23rd December 2018; The short hop across from Wallilabou to Admiralty Bay, Bequia was in the main a pleasant sail, starting off quite benign in the lea of St Vincent, soon turning 40kts of wind on the nose in heavy short chop as we approached Bequia, such that the mainsail tore at the second reef point at the clew, but as we entered the shelter of the harbour the chop disappeared and a short rainsquall happened upon us as we anchored next to our friends on 'Right Turn'
24th Dec 2018; A bit of provisioning at ashore at Admiralty Bay, started sowing up the torn mainsail, swimming and snorkeling off of Princess Margarets Beach. The crew of Right Turn came across on Christmas Eve for drinks, card games and some supper which they brought over...and splendid evening had by all.
25th Dec 2018; I saw three ships come sailing by. Leg of lamb roasting slowly in the oven, and over to the beach for a swim...not something we are used to back at home in the UK...back to the boat for a leisurely Christmas dinner of roast lamb with roasted vegetables and couscous.
26th Dec 2018; After we finished sowing up the mainsail, and the harbour rot setting in we upped anchor and headed the 16nm round to Friendship Bay on the South side of the island and sailed past the Moon Hole caves which in the 1960's which were made into cave dwelling houses. Freindship Bay was pleasant enough but it did roll a bit.
27-30th Dec 2018; with the the weather, in particular the wind looking a bit unsettled in the forthcoming week, we started heading back to Rodney Bay too make sure we where back in time to drop the girls off for their flight back home. We came back via Wallilabou Bay and Marigot Bay. All passages quite hard work to windward in a steep short chop. We were invited for drinks aboard Nikka Too whilst at Marigot Bay, and a good eveni8ng had by all. Nikka Too set off yesterday on the World Arc and we wish them and the other yachts all the best...with a little bit of envy.
New Years eve was spent having too much rum punch and watching the fireworks at Rodney Bay. On New Years Day, we went and anchored off of Pigeon Island for the night and sampled the delights of rather quaint and delightful Jambe de Bois restaurant on Pigeon Island after having a swim and sun bathing off the causeway.
Tilly and Ellie left us to fly home on the 3rd Jan, a emotional farewell, that made both me and Alison homesick for a day or two, it was wonderful having the girls with us for those brief two weeks. We have been away from home now for over 5 months and miss our friends and family very much and a lot has happened to us all here and at home...but we must stick to our game plan which is to do the North Atlantic circuit without coming home in between. Thus no sooner had we waved the girls goodbye, we checked out and went and anchored in Rodney Bay, and set sail early the next morning to Bequia again, this time en-route to the legendary Tobago Cays our ultimate 'must see' southerly destination on this adventure. We sailed the 76nm to Admiralty Bay in 12hrs and managed to anchor in time for a sundowner as we watched the sun set over the headland. Next day was was spent resting and recovering not just from the previous days sail but from the emotions and excitement of having the girls with us, Christmas and the New Year. We managed a short walk across the island to Friendship Bay, this was delight, as we were drawn to the music blasting out from speakers in the beach, a deserted beach save for the local boat club, who had just finished racing for the day, and where bringing the boats on the beach and having a BBQ...a great atmosphere.
We set off again early the next morning heading down towards Tobago Cays. The entrance to the Cays is tricky with lots of reefs just below or awash ready like sharks teeth to trap the unwary yachtsmen. Once in the Cays you are sheltered from the swell, but the wind still blows. We managed to anchor just inside the Horseshoe Reef just south of Baradel Island outside of the protected Turtle area. The scenery is stunning here, it also where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. We went for a short walk on the tiny island of Baradel where we were greeted by no less than 6 iguanas some very large with huge crests and other quite small and green, and also a large tortoise. Snorkeling was not as good as we had expected as the sea was quite cloudy with sand and sediment, it was better in the windward side, with a lot more to see, but difficult in the swell.
We left Tobago Cays the next morning and headed to the NE corner of Rameau Bay, Canouan a)for the best shelter and b) to get us to windward to make our passage back up to Bequia more off the wind and thus less challenging. This anchorage, although difficult to anchor, because there is only a relatively small shelf of water of a suitable depth to anchor in and it is difficult to get a good holding, the bed is a mixture of sand a rock, and you need to find the sand in the right depth to drop the hook and allow yourself enough swinging room, the wind and the current play with you here and your swing in all directions adn different direction to the boats next to you, but its worth it if you persevere. The water is crystal clear we could see the bottom clearly in 8m of water, but the real delight was taking the dinghy to the small beach just a few hundred yards to the north of us at Pt Guyac and the reef just a few steps to the other side the peninsula. The snorkeling on this reef was by far the best yet, the range of fish and coral out of this world, but the beach where we landed the dinghy was astonishing, it was littered with Conch shells of all different sizes some eroded to by the wave action other not so much, there must have been a thousand of them, where they dumped here by fishermen after taking the meat, lambi...may be, but I think not, I think this is where they naturally wash up when the shell fish dies??? i don't know, but they are embedded in the rock and in the soil, this to me is natural and is what the beach is made up off, conch shell sand, but it is just beautiful. the anchorage was quiet just a few yachts, we had no swell or problem with the wind, we may have just been lucky.
Our anchorage had put us in a good position for the passage back up to Bequia the follwing day, far enough to windward to make a passage north on a beam reach, may be just f'rwd of the beam with our apparent wind angle. The next morning saw another early start with a good weather window with a fayre wynd and a 70nm crossing from Bequia back to St Lucia in 10hrs. We left Bequia at 0700 and anchored in Marigot Bay at 17:20 just in time to relax with a G&T and watch the sunset.
Engine Problems; A short hop back up to Rodney Bay the next day to sort to refuel and do some engine maintenance. I had noticed that sediment bowl on the Racor 500 fuel filter was looking a bit 'thick' and overdue for a little bit of attention, that coupled with a cloud of black smoke on starting up the previous day made me think i need to have a closer look. I knew the primary fuel filter needed to be changed before we left Cape Verde Islands, but I was concerned by the amount of black sediment in the bowl and decided to do some' fuel polishing' I had made my own fuel polishing kit before leaving England and polished the fuel and cleaned the tank out back in July last year, I set up the kit and left it running for 3 hours, filtering 450ltrs of fuel at 10ltrs / min (filtered 1800ltrs altogether passing the fuel in the tank through the filter nominally 4 times) and got no more than a half a teaspoon of sediment, and the 10 micron filter was only partly soiled, then I got round to cleaning the primary fuel filer, that was fully soiled and needed replacing, and the sediment bowl needed a good clean, but again only a fraction of a teaspoon sediment all together, thus in conclusion, yes the filters needed changing, but the remaining fuel was not particularly dirty, the primary fuel filter had done its job and the fuel polishing I had done previously had been effective. The black sediment is the residue of previous fuel bug contamination, fuel bug treatment additives, kill off the bug but leave this gritty black sediment that needs to be removed, failure to do so can lead to the main engine fuel filter becoming blocked and starving the engine of fuel, leading to white smoke before the engine eventually stops. I had been expecting that further sediment would be disturbed during our Atlantic crossing, and am pleasantly surprised that it was in total less than a teaspoon full.
Fuel problem now sorted, what was my cloud of black smoke all about, fouled prop??? blocked air filter/dirty air???. Having changed the fuel filters I was running up the engine without the covers in place and noticed a different sound and a lot of soot in the engine compartment, suspecting the exhaust was blowing I put my hand next to the wet exhaust elbow, and felt the exhaust on my hand, the black smoke I had noticed a couple of days earlier, although momentarily could well have been caused by this, the engine had been idling in still air whilst we were pulling the sails in in a flat calm, exhaust had built up in the engine compartment, when i put it into gear and put the engine under load it was sucking in exhaust not clean air, the gasket was blowing, on tightening up the stud I noticed it has stripped, the second one, I had replaced another one last year, not wanting to over tighten this one and strip the thread again I have managed to plug the gap with an exhaust sealant, allowing it to set overnight a test the following morning has proven it to be effective. I shall have to keep an eye on that, i have got some aluminium epoxy that should do the trick if the other sealant fails, other than that i will have to have the manifold off an the stud holes re-threaded.
World ARC start: Engine now sorted, we checked out of Rodney Bay and St Lucia for the last time yesterday morning, topped up with diesel, watched the start of the World Arc and saw yachts we had sailed the ARC+ with set off on a new adventure, then we set sail for Martinique, to anchor in Anse Chaudiere in Les ANse D'Arlet on the west coast of Martinique, 30nm in 4hrs average 7.5kts, perfect sailing conditions, true wind 10-15kts on the beam seas calm to moderate...we anchored just in time to see the sunset and the Green Flash....
Richard and Alison yacht Cerulean of Penryn
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