28 Dec 2010

[Cruise News] Prickly Bay, Grenada

Christmas Day was definitely a day of two halves and didn't finish on a high point at all (more on the Captain's Blog for anyone who hasn't already read it).  So our plans to spend 3 nights in Mustique followed by dinner and fireworks on NY Eve back in Bequia rather back-fired like a damp squib and we had to sail back to Grenada to meet the insurance assessor.  The one high point of all this is that it did feel like coming home!

Telling Nicola and Mike that we'd had a collision in their lovely boat was not something we relished as I'm sure you can imagine but they were brilliant about it and offered to help in anyway they could.  Fotuntely the damage is largely superficial but it's still very disappointing to see Pandora with a bent safety rail and some scratches on her hull.  Hopefully the metalwork will all be sorted by the end of the month and the paintwork shortly thereafter and we can put it all behind us.  

Well we welcome our first guests on board a week tomorrow and it will be lovely to have face to face contact with friends from home once more.  We've got an exciting fortnight planned visiting all the best places we've discovered in the last eight weeks .... it should be fun.  Paul's one beef about it is that he'll now have to start wearing clothes again!  I'm sure all the advantages will out-weigh that minor inconvenience.

Off out to dinner tonight to a new restaurant that's supposedly in a spectacular setting at the end of an idyllic deserted beach.  Quite expensive but I feel we deserve a little something to raise our spirits after the last 48 hours!

[Captains Blog] Grenada

I had thought of telling you about the flying fish that we see on our sailing trips, but that will have to wait until another time.

A more striking event to talk about, (and I use this term literally) on Christmas Day in the evening, we had anchored in 6 metres of water at the Tobago Cays, had just eaten our Christmas fare and were clearing up when a squall swept through the anchorage at Beaufort Force 8 (that's in excess of 35 knots which is a lot more wind than you get from your average can of beans).

By the time I had gone below to put the navigation instruments on to check the wind speed and to turn off the aerogenerator which sounded as though it was an aeroplane about to take off, we had yanked out our anchor and were heading rapidly towards the boat anchored behind us. As I re-emerged into the cockpit, we were just about on the point of impact, a sickening crunch, a scrape, and we were still moving backwards at a rate of knots.

We started the engine and tried to get the anchor up to regain control, but unfortunately, we had locked anchors and chain with the boat we hit and we were dragging them with us, pirouetting around each other, trying to avoid hitting any other craft in the pitch darkness with the wind still pushing 40 knots in a very crowded anchorage. We nearly succeeded in this, but scrape an MOD training vessel on one of our rotations when our anchor rode up their chain catching their paintwork as it came free. Once we had got our anchor back and on board, we decided that the safest thing to do was vacate the anchorage and move to a harbour in the lee of the land. The obvious choice for this was Saline Bay in the nearby island of Mayreau. We navigated our way out of the Cays past the reefs and around the island into Saline Bay where there was one other boat at anchor. Once safely hooked to the seabed, we radioed back to the Cays to contact the boats we had hit. Typically, none of them had their radios switched on, but we managed to raise someone on a boat called Badgers Sett who said they would relay the message for us that we would be back in the morning to sort out insurance details.

In the morning, we checked our damage properly - fortunately it was superficial and the boat was seaworthy, and we returned to the Cays to exchange insurance details. However, the boat we had collided with wasn't there - they had left at first light. We can only assume that either they hadn't suffered any damage or that they hadn't checked in through the customs and immigration channels, and was there illegally. Typical of the French! 

We are now back in Grenada having had the assessor out this morning to look at Pandora and write his damage report so that we can organise repairs. I have had a real maintenance day today, scrubbed the topsides, checked the engine, topped up the oil, cleaned the filters, and made some temporary fixes to the safety rails that will allow us to continue sailing safely until the proper repairs can be done, otherwise we would be tied to Grenadan soil again! At the moment, finding boat repair people who work between Christmas and New Year is our next challenge. Let's hope that the new year will bring us good news of a timely repair.

22 Dec 2010

[Cruise News] Back in Bequia ..... again ..... but it's worth it!

Once Paul recovered from whatever fever had ailed him for four days (Dengue?) we treated ourselves to an island tour .... which took all of two hours!  Gives you a bit of an idea about the size of the island .... and we were driving slowly at that!  Anyway, the views from Mount Pleasant down through the Grenadines were spectacular and we can fully understand why so many people choose to live here.

We also visited the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary on the windward side of the island.  Founded by Brother King over 30 years ago, this place rears turtle "chicks" until the age of about 7 years when they are released into the wild.  One man's vision to save a persecuted species sees him feeding canned tuna fish to the hundreds of baby Hawksbill turtles he collects as hatchlings every year, whilst the older ones eat sprats.  The oldest resident is Old Hegg himself, a deformed Hawksbill who is 14 years old.   

In the wild only one in three thousand of the hatchlings would survive to adulthood!   These creatures don't reach maturity until age 40 and live up to 200 years .... but they're aggressive little devils, forever nipping at each other and so Brother King treats their wounds with gentian violet on a daily basis .... the man is suprememly dedicated to his task and a world authority on turtles, Hawkbills in particular.

As we have decided to spend Christmas in Bequia, along with up to 400 other yachts in a normal year, we decided to enjoy a couple of days down in the Tobago Cays before then for a change a scenery - a lovely down and half of the way back.  The water was just as turquoise as last time and the stars incredible.

We're having our first "dinner party" tonight .... not quite the gastronomic feast we could attempt at home but the best we can achieve with two gas rings and an oven!  So a Greek salad to start and then bacon-wrapped stuffed chicken breasts for main.  I'm even toying with making a good old bread and butter pudding laced with rum - if we don't eat it, it will be nice cold for a mid-morning or afternoon snack when we're sailing along and need an energy boost.

So our first Christmas in the Caribbean approaches, but it's too hot and sunny to feel truly festive - obviously too many years in a cold climate.  That said, a number of the boats have trimmed up with fairy lights which adds a splash of colour at night-time and the local restaurants are offering special Christmas Day menus ... but not a brussel sprout in sight!

21 Dec 2010

[Captains Blog] Tobago Cays

I'm feeling much better since kicking the fever into touch, so yesterday we sailed back down to the Tobago Cays for a night's R&R. On arrival at the Cays, we rounded Petit Bateau to discover several other yachts already in residence, but found our own spot to anchor in 5 metres of water in between an American Catamaran and a Canadian Sloop. Talk about multi-national neighbours!

After the sun went down in spectacular form with blue streaks breaking up the bright yellow, then amber, then red skies, the full moon rose over the reef ahead of us and was casting a silver glow on the water that lit up the whole area. No anchor lights were needed as it was light enough to see everything around us. After we had eaten our dinner and cleared up, we wnt up on deck to star gaze. I have this piece of navigation software that I would like Debra to get to know which, among other things has a star finder. This plots the sky for the Lat and Long coordinates where you are and displays the stars in the sky right above you, listing the constellations and the names of the individual stars. Neat! We took the netbook with us and compared the display to the heavens and it is remarkably accurate. Whoever designed these programs has certainly made my life easier to navigate by the celestial bodies.

Today's sail was a trip of two halves: The first was a beautiful sail where we had a race with an American cutter and beat them soundly; the second was an absolute pig. The wind changed direction so that we were sailing right into it, then we got hit by a squall where the winds reached 30 knots for which we put in 3 reefs. Given that we were still trying to make headway into the storm, the tide was set dead against us too, we weren't making much progress. Engine on, and motor was the only answer and 3 hours later we were safely tucked up in the comfort of the sheltered side of the bay and we are off out to down several Margaritas with our dinner!

I had a breakthrough with the GPS a couple of days ago, having made up the loopback connector cable as per the instructions I received from Simrad support, inserted it, rebooted the system, removed it and reinserted the proper network cable, tightened everything up and Hey Presto! A fully functional system. I can now set waypoints, create routes and follow them using charts that move around the boat's position instead of me hand-cranking the charts all over the world to find our location. I have now stored the loopback cable in a safe place for if this ever recurs. Not all good news on the technology front however: The camera has definitely decided it is dead which is a real shame as some of the views last night were definitely photo competition winners!

On another topic, one of the benefits of us living aboard Pandora has been that we have been able to refine our understanding of what we would want from a boat -  what equipment to have aboard, the configuration of the boat, internally and externally, and even the type of boat we would want to have for ourselves going forwards. But that can wait for the moment, we are just focused on enjoying Pandora.

19 Dec 2010

[Cruise News] Back in Bequia

We both enjoyed the Tobago Cays very much - as Paul said, snorkelling on the reef was like swimming in an aquarium.  We also wandered around the islands themselves to meet the wildlife .... quite large iguanas, various birds and even a snake ... although I was assured it was harmless!

A common feature of the Grenadines is the boat boys who stop by on a daily basis to see what they can sell us - fresh fish, enormous lobsters, bread, ice, vegetables .... you get the idea.  Maybe this was where the likes of Tesco home delivery got their idea?!!  They even collect the laundry from your boat and have a floating fuel dock that comes alongside so all very convenient.

Whislt we do buy a limited amount from the boat boys (it is pretty expensive) we mainly shop on shore and visit the local markets.  Bequia has a very organised fruit and vegetable market where locals and vendors from neighbouring St Vincent come across to set up their stalls.  Avocados and mangoes are just coming into season to add to the callaloo, cristophenes, citrus fruits, bananas and pineapples.  I'm still pondering how a pineapple grown out here can cost three times what is does in the UK ......

Many of these vendors are Rastafarians and we've learned from them that they follow an organic diet .... including their ganja!  Whilst we've tried a lot of their products, we've drawn the line at that!  But they are very friendly and greet us with their equivalent of a "high five" - knuckles to knuckles and then to the heart, accompanied by saying "respect".

We spent one night at Petit St Vincent (of dinghy theft fame) this week before returning to Bequia and met some friends of Mike & Nicola's there .... they stopped by Pandora to say hello.  They also turned up in Bequia and we enjoyed drinks on board their boat before heading out for dinner .... all very pleasant indeed ... and they invited us to join them and a group of friends to see in the New Year.  

So life afloat is on the up at last .... and a very good thing too!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

18 Dec 2010

[Captains Blog] Admiralty Bay, Bequia

The week didn't get off to a good start when the sea decided that on the first day that I took some underwater shots with my waterproof camera, it wasn't waterproof. I was about to take some of the best underwater pictures I could ever dream of and the damn thing let water seep into the workings and it broke down. Tried turning it off, and on again, Nope. It wouldn't respond. I Thought the battery had run down so I charged it up again, back in the camera, Nada. Even after drying it out for several days, it still flatly refuses to function, so no more photos in the blog until I can arrange a replacement from Olympus.

The sail back up through the islands to Bequia was a good beat up to windward, with Pandora sailing only 30 degrees off the wind and still making nearly 8 knots in a 15 knot wind. We took the windward route off to the east of Mayreau, Canouan, and Petit Canouan; passing just to the west of Savan Island and Petit Mustique, a quick dip in towards Mustique itself to have a look, then on to pass between Pigeon Island and Isle a Quatre before  arriving in Admiralty Bay, Bequia.

The bay has been very rolly this week with swells coming straight in and catching us broadside while at anchor with our nose to the wind; it was swaying us and all the boats around us so much it was difficult sleeping, so we upped anchor after one night and moved closer inshore where it might be calmer. No, it was still just as rolly there. So, on the advice of some regulars, we upped anchor again the next day and moved across to the other side of the bay, not as picturesque, but in terms of the roll factor, much better.

It hasn't helped this week that I have been laid up with a fever for nearly four days - I don't know where it came from, but I was very glad when it went, and I hope it decides never to return. A couple more days taking it easy to regain my strength and we'll be away again for another sailing run, probably back to the Tobago Cays for Christmas. I might even treat myself to a lobster on the barbie ...

13 Dec 2010

[Cruise News] Tobago Cays

I love The Grenadines: a little bit more cosmopolitan than Grenada and her islands and the most amazing coloured seas around all the coral reefs.  Wonderful.  My retail expenditure has increased pro-rata the number of boutiques, much to Paul's chagrin, and not really very practical as we have too many clothes with us anyway!  

I think the fact that we've "abandoned" the generator in Grenada for repairs has given us a freedom we were previously missing and we're making the most of it - this is what we came for, not to be hanging around waiting for parts and repairs.  November was to some extent a wasted month for us but December is looking a lot more promising!  Just the GPS to sort out now and then hopefully we'll be home free!

I gave Paul his first hair-cut today, sitting on the bathing platform at the stern, and I have to say the end result isn't too bad at all.  Not sure I'll be rethinking my career on our return, nor am I letting him loose on my locks - I've discovered an English lady on Bequia who is an hairdresser so think I'll get myself booked in for a Christmas trim.

As we sail around we keep seeing the same boats in different anchorages and we're getting familiar with a lot of the names.  I'm running a bit of a competition for the "best" (?!) name and current contenders include "Lost My Marbles", "Beauty and the Beast" and "YABA JABA".  I think it was the vivid turquoise sail covers, fenders and window shades that qualified "Beauty and the Beast" - not a good look!!

We've met some lovely and interesting people along the way and have enjoyed drinks and dinner with a few of them .... hello to Ringo and Caroline, and Steve and Debbie in particular.  We're also keeping an eye out for a couple from North Bovey on Dartmoor who are heading down to Grenada from Antigua for Christmas - hopefully our paths will cross in some exotic location and we can enjoy a rum punch or two.

Thank you to everyone for your emails - we love to receive them so keep them coming!

[Captains Blog] Tobago Cays

As I sit here typing this blog in the Tobago Cays, I now realise why we are doing this sailing trip. This place is simply out of this world and I would recommend it wholeheartedly to any seasoned yachtie. In fact, one of the islands in the Cays is called 'Worlds End'; maybe that's where it all changes. It is so peaceful here, with really only the sea and wind to disturb us (plus the odd boat boy passing by selling his wares, everything from T-shirts to fresh fish to ice). With a cloudless sky overhead, and cool breezes floating across the newly scrubbed decks (yes- maintenance does go on at all times), the sea is as turquoise as I have ever seen. I have been swimming so close to turtles this morning that I could touch them if I so desired. We have photographed basking iguanas in their natural habitat, wandered around the islands that make up the Cays and swum in waters almost warm enough to bathe in. Does it get better than this? We will just have to see.

11 Dec 2010

[Cruise News] Princess Margaret Bay

We finally left Grenada on Tuesday this week sailing over to Union Island and clearing customs into the Grenadines.  And then on Thursday we sailed up to Bequia where we've anchored off Princess Margaret Bay - so named because she used to swim here when staying on neighbouring Mustique.

I have to say The Grenadines feel far more cosmopolitan than Grenada .... but have the prices to match!  

We enjoyed our first "jump-in and BBQ" on Thursday night at a restaurant on the waterfront with a steel band playing along.  We were invited to join a "lime" by two Trinidadians .... really just an informal get together and chat ....or chill session I guess.  All very sociable.

Planning on spending the next couple of weeks in The Grenadines but will zig-zag our way around as most of the islands are only a couple of hours apart and it's hardly worth getting the sails up for that distance!

6 Dec 2010

[Captains Blog] Carriacou

We had the generator removed from the boat on Saturday and transported to the boatyard workshop where it can be worked on with reasonable space around it (unlike in the lazarette) and so that it can be fully tested and working before it gets put back in place on board. Quite frankly, I'm glad to see the back of it for a while. It means that we are free to go further afield for a few weeks, and only need to return to Grenada after Christmas.

We set off from Prickly Bay this morning and sailed all the way up to Carriacou, setting a course from just off the north Grenada coast, past Kick 'em Jenny the underwater volcano, which thankfully was quiet today, and straight into Tyrrel Bay on Carriacou. A fine piece of navigation and sailing if I say so myself!

Sitting on deck with a sundowner, we were entertained by 20+ pelicans diving for their supper right alonside Pandora. It was quite an amazing spectacle.

Tomorrow we clear out of Grenada, and will sail across to Union Island, and check into St Vincent waters. We will then feel that our journey has truly begun and we will be free to explore the Grenadines proper. Watch this space!

3 Dec 2010

[Captains Blog] Grenada

The ongoing technology saga has us back YET AGAIN in Grenada, this time at least at a new anchorage. It does seem that this has been sent to try our patience. However, we hope to get the generator fixed today (but I won't be holding my breath) which will mean that we can set off northwards once again and hopefully be able to stay there. Friday night is music night over here, and we might, if the repair is successful, be able to go round to where one of the steel bands are playing. Otherwise it's a quiet night in with dinner and a movie on board. We did have a nice surprise yesterday though, we were expecting to have to clear out of Grenada by Monday as we were told that we were allowed a month (time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana) but when we looked in our passports, they had given us 3 months instead. Pressure off. We might even make the Grenadines proper in that timeframe!  

2 Dec 2010

[Cruise News] St David's Harbour, Grenada

We finally escaped Grenada in the last week to the southern-most island in The Grenadines: Petit Saint Vincent, a privately owned island and luxury resort in the most incredible coloured water we've seen to date.  We didn't go ashore as we were technically "in transit" but enjoyed a BBQ on deck and rum cocktail or two.  Life seemed perfect then ..... the dinghy was stolen!  More of which on Cap'n Peewit's blog.

So after our taste of paradise (?!) we sailed back down to Grenada and are at anchor in a pretty little bay awaiting yet more repairs to the generator and watermaker - a good time to catch up on communication.

Well we've now been out here for 4 weeks and it seems like a good time to review our first month.  I think it's fair to say it's not lived up to our expectations - whether they were too high in the first place is hard to say but the reality is we've sailed a lot less than we'd imagined for a number of reasons.  My "broken" toe put paid to anything too adventurous in the first week but since then the impact of having to return to Grenada twice for spares/repairs and the odd day of bad weather has curtailed our activities rather more than we'd hoped.  

On the plus side we are getting to grips with the lifestyle and understanding more about how Pandora handles (very well indeed - fast, responsive, sails very close to the wind and is supremely stylish to boot!), and the warmth and sunshine, plus regular swimming, have vastly improved the discomfort of my knee and elbow.  We've also met a few nice people and enjoyed drinks and chats with them.  So it's not all a tale of woe but we're both hoping December will be a better month!

Roll on The Grenadines!

1 Dec 2010

[Captains Blog] Grenadines

Last night we actually made it up to the Grenadines, dropped anchor in a most idyllic spot, had a celebratory barbecue, sundowner cocktail, and then someone stole the dinghy at 7:30 pm. We called for help from our nearby sailing neighbours, Swedes who also nearly lost their dinghy, but for the fact that their outboard was temperamental. We gave chase and scoured the area by torchlight trying to find the thieves (yes plural since the guy who stole our boat couldn't get our engine started, and was towed away by his accomplice) and take the boat back. We got it back after nearly an hour of searching - someone had 'found' it, probably expecting to get a reward, which they clearly didn't. Paradise lost.