15 Oct 2011

[Captains Blog] Back in the UK

During the passage to Gibraltar, I failed to report the fact that I had damaged my thumb when a rope wrapped itself around it and pulled it out of its socket. I strapped it up as best I could and persevered on to the Mediterranean using my had as best as I could. It now turns out that I have done more damage to my hand than I thought - I have ruptured the tendon in my thumb which has meant that I now have a cast on my hand to immobilise the thumb for at least 2 months. If at the end of this time there is no significant improvement in my ability to grip with the thumb (as in a pinching action) I may end up having to have some surgery. Hopefully I will repair!

1 Oct 2011

[Captains Blog] Gibraltar

Had a tiring day today crawling all over the Rock. Started off by taking the cable car up to the top to visit the rellies; there were several Barbary Apes around playing about in and out of pipes, posing for the cameras, trying to steal any food they caught sight of or smelled. Then it was off to St Michael's Cave. Three quarters of a mile away at the farthest south end of the rock. Impressive columns of stalagmites and stalactites (know the difference? Tights come down!) and even an auditorium to capitalise on the accoustics. Undaunted by the distance, I then plodded the next 2 miles or more to the other end of the rock to the siege tunnels, hacked out of the rock by hand by the british soldiers enabling the artillery to be brought to bear unchallenged on the Spanish beseiging army. Enterprising or what? After that, it was a quick sortie to the WWII excavations (big enough to house a garrison of over 16000 men including hospitals, canteens, sleeping and recreation areas as well as mission control) and down the hill to the Moorish castle. Continuing down to sea level took another hour or so and then back to the hotel for a long soak and a siesta.

30 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] Gibraltar

Well, all attempts to get to Gib by sea were thwarted, and I arrived here by taxi. We set sail from Sines in clear skies and headed out towards the south, not even bothering about being 50 miles offshore as there was no qualifying possibility for this leg of the passage now. As we rounded Cape St Vincent with its magnificant lighthouse perched on the edge of the spectacular cliffs that bordered the sea, all was going well. I had called up a passing freighter on the radio to find out the weather forecast for the area to be told that they were expecting northerly winds, force 3-4. What utter rubbish! Every forecast but one was completely misleading, and I will come to that one shortly. Watch on, watch off, sleep when you can, pump the bilges, enjoy the sun's rays, pump the bilges, take some sun sightings, pump the bilges, prepare and eat food, pump the bilges - you begin to get the picture. 

Yesterday dawned after a red sky on Wednesday night full of promise. The wind was veering towards the east and the forecast was east to south east force 4-5 - potentially a good sailing day. Another freighter came close by so we called them on the VHF radio to get their weather forecast. Not so good news: a Levanter wind was kicking up and was blowing a hooley from the East, force 6-7 maybe storm force 8 throught the straits of Gibraltar. Nonetheless, we plugged on beating our way towards our destination, zigging and zagging along our track. Come dusk, we shortened the mainsail down to 3 reefs (still with no foresail, and the forestay supported by two halyards now just in case it decided to part company), I also created a new soon-to-be-patented backstay reinforcer - the "Witting Wrapper" which basically was a set of rolling hitches lashed onto the steel backstay to prevent it parting company with the gas strut that pumped up the pressure on the backstay, raked (put a bend in) the mast and tensioned the forestay. Then we watched as the winds and wave heights rapidly increased. When the winds were a steady 40 knots and the seas were tossing us around like we were in a tumble drier we were still 50 miles or so away from our waypoint at the entrance to the straits. 

During the next three hours of tacking and bashing into the ever steepening seas, we had made the grand total of 4 miles to the east and our destination - only another 46 to go, which at our present rate of progress would have taken more than another 36 hours. The boat was suffering from the constant pounding of the waves and several fittings were broken in the maelstrom: Cupboard doors parted company with their gas strut supports and were hanging limp and lifeless on their hinges; Renny (one of the crew) threw up, fortunately, he waited until I furnished him with the ship's bucket, the door to a storage locker was stoved in when a particularly strong thump on the bow took me by surprise and threw me across the cabin; oh, and did I mention that we pumped the bilges? The waves crashing over the bow sent what seemed like 3000 gallons of seawater across the deck which flooded backwards into the cockpit area and we ended up sitting in pools of it; it was at about this time that I realised my waterproof suit wasn't waterproof any more - not nice. Cold, wet, and under pressure to get to a safe haven at a place called Barbate and out of the storm I tried a different tactic and pointed the boat straight into the storm to try and make some headway. We managed some reasonable progress and with an extra 500 revs on the engine we got the speed over ground up to the 4 knot mark. All we had to do now was avoid the notorious shallows of the Cape Trafalgar, keep away from a magnetic anomaly area in the middle of the sea, and by-pass the tunny fishing nets that stretched for miles and some of which were marked on the navigation charts. By six in the morning, having been up all night wrestling with the elements, I finally came off watch. Soaked to the skin, I stripped everything off and crawled into my sleeping bag, put my head on the pillow and remember nothing for the next two hours when I was woken up to drop the sails and prepare to enter the harbour. Half an hour later, we were tied up at the fuel dock replenishing the diesel in the tanks and shortly thereafter we were berthed in the marina.

First things first, all the oilskins were hung out to dry, the boat hatches opened to dry out the sodden interior and it was off to the marina heads to do what no-one can do for you. We went to the cafe for breakfast and I got chatting to some locals about the weather. Sticky was hell bent on resuming our journey to Gib, but after talking to the locals who said 'no chance of making Gibraltar before Sunday', we persuaded him to change his plans and stay in port. Three of the crew (me included) had flights booked for departure or rendezvous with friends, and so we decided we would jump ship and make our way by taxi to Gib. In the meantime, Sticky had unilaterally taken himself off to Gib in his own taxi to collect a replacement electric control panel for fitting on the boat. This really hacked us off - one thoughtless action and three crew members backs were up. It would have been a simple move to get a taxi and share it, instead of which we had to pay for a separate one and share the cost. Sadly, this left a bitter taste in the mouth and could very easily been avoided with a little consideration for the crew members. As it is, I now have a spare day tomorrow to go and explore Gibraltar. I think I'll go up the rock and see my ancestors (the apes if you hadn't guessed!), explore the tunnels etcetera. Early night tonight - absolutely knackered.

27 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] Somewhere out in the Atlantic

After an uneventful night sharing a bunk with a snoring shipmate separated only by a leecloth to stop us rolling into each other as we tacked the boat (thankfully he was on watch for 3 hours so I was relatively undisturbed except for the Man Overboard alarm which kept triggering in error) I woke to dappled sunshine and the prospect of another thrilling day afloat miles from anywhere and with the same faces around me. The bilges were still filling up with water at a rate which was requiring frequent pumping out, but we hadn't got to the bottom of where the water was coming from. An hour later, the sun shone through, and I got stuck into my sun sights with a borrowed sextant and sight reduction tables. This was what I really wanted to get to grips with, and my first set of reductions put me within 1 mile of our GPS position - not bad for a starter! However, on the second set of sights I took in the afternoon, I was not so good - 1 degree (60 miles) out - we put it down to the fact that I wasn't wearing my  specs, and misread the scale on the sextant. I'll try again in the morning - the more practice I get, the easier it becomes. Might try some star sights tonight to see how I get on with them too.

This afternoon, we finally found the source of our water ingress - one of the pipes coming off the enging exhaust cooling system was not tight, and despite our attempts to fix it by adjusting the jubilee clips around the pipe - it was all to no avail. So we will have an engineer on standby for when we get to Gibraltar. In the meantime, we simply keep on pumping the bilges out.

We altered our planned course today as we have had no wind and being under engine all the time, we (I) calculated how much fuel we have used, and what remains in the tank. We decided that we wouldn't have enough fuel to get us all the way to Gibraltar with sufficient safety margin, so we are now diverting into Sines on the Portuguese coast to refuel before heading back out into the Atlantic and round to Gib. All good fun. Ho hum. At least I got to have a shower on board tonight as we can refill the water tanks too in Sines. I might even be able to upload this blog!

26 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] Bayona, NorthWest Coast of Spain

We arrived in Bayona a few hours ahead of schedule early this morning with the mist hanging over the sea. We were expecting to be later as we had been beating into the wind and swell all the way across the top of Spain from La Coruna, but as we rounded the corner to turn south, the wind eased a bit and eventually swung round to the SSE which enabled us to come in for the last part of the journey on the route I had planned. Whilst on watch I had the most surreal experience: At night time there are sea creatures that give of phosphorescent glows when disturbed in the water, and usually it is most noticeable in the propeller wake. Off to starboard as I was on the helm I saw a stream of phosphorescence which tracked along side the boat. After a few seconds three dolphins popped out of the water, still streaming and with their bodies aglow. Sadly it was only a fleeting glimpse, but very special nonetheless. I had only been talking about such sights earlier in the evening, and amazingly had the opportunity to see it for myself. I also saw a couple of meteorites burning up and disintegrating in the skies overhead - free fireworks but without the bangs.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings - back to the journey. We had a rapid turn around in Bayona, took on two new crew, renewed the gas cylinder which was empty (not easy to do on a Spanish bank holiday) had a shower to freshen up, and off we headed. We are now steadily moving offshore so that we are more than 50 miles out, where we will stay for the next several hundred miles until we reach the mouth of the Med. A new watch system has been drawn up, and I am on at 6:30 till 9:00, then from 2am till 5am. A case of snatching some sleep now to gird my loins for duty. Signing off for a nap....

25 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] Off the north coast of Spain

Heading out towards the Atlantic at the moment with the swell right on the nose. A little bumpy as a result, but we expected that. Winds picked up more than forecast, but without the foresail we can't expect to make many knots into the wind with just the main out. In about 30 miles more, we can bear away and get some advantage for the final two legs of our journey to Bayona. Crew of three today, watch periods are 4 hours on, 8 hours off. I got my 4 hours in first and now have time to do my blog!

Went provisioning for the week yesterday afternoon to the only supermarket in town where we spent €110 of the victualling budget. Loaded up the trolley bag, picked up the 12 1.68litre bottles of water and headed out in the vain hope of finding a taxi to take us back to the marina. Sods Law stirkes again - Taxi? Nix. Nada. Niente. None. So we slogged it the mile or so back to the boat trailing a hundredweight of groceries (breaking the tow handle of Sticky's bag in the process). My arms were a good few inches longer by the time we got back.  However, I had a great shower in the marina last night before heading out into the town for some beers and Tapas in a little street just off the main square.

Talking to a couple in the marina who are keeping their boat there for the winter, I found out that the marina charges in la Coruna are far cheaper thath the UK. Not a bad starting and stopping off point for the season. Worth exploring some more, particularly if Spain drops out of the Eurozone and the pound strengthens against the Peseta. There is an airport 10 minutes away with direct flights to London, or Santander is not that far away with regular ferry links to Plymouth. 

I heard an alarm go off on board at 6:00 local time this morning (5am UK time) and there was no getting back to sleep, so I got up and did the passage plan and pilotage plans for the day's sailing. we are aiming to do 130 miles today and should arrive in Bayona in the morning in Daylight to collect two new crew and then straight out towards The Atlantic (keeping 50 miles offshore at all times) and round cape St Vincent, turning east towards cape Trafalgar and the pillars of Hercules before entering the Mediterranean.

A Spanish naval vessel appeared on our starboard quarter and passed us by in the last few minutes - I looked for it on the chartplotter  to see which one it was, but they don't transmit any AIS signal. Sneaky!

A new issue has cropped up today, we are monitoring the level of water in the bilges, checking every two hours and counting the seconds required to pump out dry. Currently about 10 seconds per pump session. We have had the floor panels up trying to find out where the water ingress comes from, but so far have found nothing obvious. The forestay is wobbling around all over the place and we have put a secondary stay in place in the form of the spinnaker halyard as a precaution. That should get us there in one piece.

24 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] La Coruna

Last night on watch I saw something I had never encountered before: Two fishing boats working in tandem with a purse-seine net strung out behind and between them. I had to steer the boat away to leave them a good several hundred metres searoom in case their nets had billowed out to the side. Otherwise, nothing significant to report from the watch. Several stars out, some shooting stars visible from the deck, and the temperature is definitely getting warmer. I was distinctly overdressed in my oilskins, but we had had a weather forecast that predicted rain and I didn't want to be caught out.

Hopefully we can get the foresail sorted today, if not we will be sailing off tomorrow under main only en route to Gibraltar. I am learning all about the benefits of Navtex and AIS on this trip. Both essential for long passages and full of useful information necessary to manage a safe trip. My attempts at creating a spreadsheet to calculate the Lat & Long position need to be revisited, but I have been looking at the calculations and have a way of improving it (I think!). I have been working through some sun sights and have a much better understanding of it now. Still much to learn, and practice will make perfect.

23 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] Mid Biscay

Yesterday, part way across the Bay of Biscay, we were trying to roll in the reefing headsail but it jammed. This was the mechanism that had failed in the Channel and caused us to divert into Falmouth for repairs, which clearly weren't successful. We removed the headsail to look at the mechanism to the great interest of a pod of dolphins, who stayed with us throughout the exercise. Presumably they had never seen a sail taken down before. No success with the mechanism, we think it is the cable inside the forestay that is caught and is winding itself tighter with every turn. So we have rolled the sail in by hand, tied it in place and are now diverting to La Coruna instead of Bayona. Also, the shower pump packed in yesterday afternoon and I had to bale out the shower with a bucket and sponge. Apparently the pump was blocked solid with grey pubic hair - not mine, I hasten to add - I haven't got any! Well no grey ones anyway, I wouldn't want you to think I had had a Hollywood!.

Who said sailing is a science? You can plan with the best of them, but you always need a plan B as well. So, having stood three watches last night I got my head down this morning to catch up on some sorely missed zzzz's and feel much better for it. Getting out of my bunk at 5am was not easy!

The whole trip is making me think long and hard about our own boat - whether we would want to do the hard physically demanding, mentally draining long passages is up for debate. Would I want to do deliveries on a regular basis? No. Would Debra want to do a trip like this at all? Probably not. Therefore, should we be looking at a cheaper boat to pootle around on day sails or short trips? Maybe, possibly definitely. We have some discussions to have when I get to shore in La Coruna. What I have found out though, is that the longer you are on passage, the more you attune to the rigours of life aboard and it becomes second nature to cook eat, drink, and ablute in the various forms whilst hanging onto a grabrail somewhere nearby and leaning into the heel of the boat. Definitely need non-slip surfaces wherever possible.

22 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] Bay of Biscay

Aboard 'Heartbeat IV' a Dufour 45, part way across the Bay of Biscay. The weather is sunny, the winds have dropped significantly, and we are motor sailing our merry way southwards towards the north coast of Spain.

It's been a funny old few days. Having had to join the boat at Weymouth instead of Dartmouth because the bad weather had precipitated (excuse the pun, but fully intended) a diversion into a comfortable berth alongside the town quay. I joined on Sunday, met the rest of the crew, had my briefing on the boat, reworked the passage plan to avoid going into Dartmouth altogether, dined aboard and we went off to the pub. Monday we set sail around noon and headed out past Portland Harbour and the Bill setting south for a good distance to avoid the Portland races. Having achieved that, we headed west straight into the wind and tide. Knowing we would be beating (tacking) up into the wind we didn't expect it to be easy, but after a couple of hours, the Portland Bill was still on our starboard side, even though we were making 6+ knots through the water.

Come Monday evening, we were still making heavy weather of the journey, coupled with some knotting of the foresail sheets which decided to recreate the Philosophers knot. Going forwards to clear this tangle, one of the crew that remained back in the cockpit took a heavy fall and injured his hip. Shortly afterwards,  another crew member got 'side-swiped' by the mainsheet and also feel in the cockpit. Who says going forwards on the boat is dangerous??? However, having exerted a lot of energy and focus in getting the bloody sheets untangled, I returned to the cockpit feeling rather queasy, and for only the second time in my life, I was seasick, and threw up at sea into the ship's bucket. A Ralph, Ruth and Huey later, I had cleared my system and promptly headed off to my bunk to get some sleep.

After a somewhat fragmented sleep on Monday night,Tuesday dawned much the same, except this time there was a liberal dosage of rain to add to our discomfort. Nevertheless, we continued on our way with one crew member unable to do much, slowly making our way westwards with the aim to reach The Lizard before bearing away south. In an attempt to roll out some additional headsail, the roller mechanism jammed. As we were trying desperately to free this off and drop the headsail down to the deck, a pod of dolphins swam alongside, obviously curious to see what was going on on the foredeck. They cavorted around the bow for the best part of 30 minutes or more while we struggled, then I suggested we diverted into Falmouth which was only 6 miles away to sort it out. Wrapping the headsail by hand, we eventually got it furled, tied it off, and headed for port. By the way, the water pump had also packed up, so we had no means of getting water out of the tanks to use. By the time we had sorted the boat out and had something to eat, no-one was in the frame of mind to go ashore, so we retired early absolutely knackered.

Next morning the sun shone. We hung our our oilies to dry, had a shower ashore, the riggers came out to sort the foresail reefing mechanism, the water pump issue appeared to be resolved and the crew were about to mutiny. We were not happy with the faults that we were constantly having to fix on a year-old boat that has obviously been thrashed by racing her regularly. Three of us went off for breakfast to think about the circumstances we found ourselves in, and Peter, the injured crew member went off to hospital to get his injury checked out. An hour or two later, the problems resolved, we reconvened aboard to decide whether to continue or not. Peter was to leave the boat on medical advice, and we were now a crew of four, which meant watch on, watch off. More tiring, and a case of sleep whenever you can, but we decided to continue.

At 2pm, we set sail and headed southwards towards Ushant. For once, the wind was brisk (around 20 -23 knots) and the swell was not hammering the boat so we made better progress. Creaming along through the water at a steady 8 knots, this boat showed her paces and we arrived of Ushant 2 hours earlier than expected. Crossing the traffic separation scheme in the middle of the Channel (effectively like a motorway for large boats and tankers), we had to dodge several commercial ships who kept to their course even though we were the stand-on vessel and had  'right of way'. I came off watch at 6am and hit my bunk like a lead weight. The wind dropped to below 10 knots during the night and we are now motoring at a steady 1600 rpm to maintain speed without consuming too much fuel. The boat is steady enough for me to type this, and I am going on deck to enjoy the sunshine.

28 Aug 2011

[Captains Blog] Captain Peewit signing back online

Captain Peewit signing back online.

Having spent three months landlocked it is time to break free and get back to sea (albeit for a short while).

I am going to be helping to 
deliver a boat in September in the company of my sailing mentor "Sticky" Stapylton who has taught me a great deal about sailing. It will no doubt turn into an arduous crossing with the relentless Sticky drilling me at all times, day and night when I am on watch. It will be an ideal opportunity to practice and hone my astro-navigation skills and experience the delights of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay (notoriously rough).

I will be posting my blog at every opportunity.

5 May 2011

[Cruise News] Admiral's Inn, English Harbour, Antigua

Well Pandora is now out of the water and we're back on dry land after 26 weeks afloat.  It was rather sad watching her being hauled out on the back of a giant trailer that had been submerged into the sea and into which Paul manouevred seemlessly, feeling very much like the end of our sailing adventure for now.  So now she's chocked up in the air and access is via a ladder that must be at least 12 feet long .... it feels very high and rather daunting.  Fall off now, and no soft landing in the sea so we'd better be sure-footed.  The next 6 months will see her fully serviced and repaired ready for the next sailing season.

We've had an incredible time out here and have learned an awful lot about ourselves, sailing and the perfect boat.  There have been tough times and challenges to face but we've made it through better sailors and fit and healthy.  We've enjoyed the company of an international mix of people and have loved being part of the sailing community.  But we've also been touched by and appreciated the regular contact from friends at home and the positive response to the blog.  

And we can't close off without a big thank you to my parents, our friends and employees who enabled us to embark on this adventure in the first place, shouldering the burden of Easton Court in our absence and sending us on our way with a clear concscience to let us live our dream.

So thanks to everyone for their interest, support and good wishes and we look forward to catching up with you all in the weeks to come.

And finally, from First Mate Debra (Dominique to a certain crew member) it's "Pandora Out" for the last time this season.

[Captains Blog] The Admiral's Inn, English Harbour, Antigua

It's been an interesting week, the buzz that we experienced here during race week has competely disapperaed, along with many of the boats. It has rapidly turned into a ghost town. The season is over, and sailors are departing in their droves. We experienced something similar a few years ago when sailing our own boat, Four Jays into Salcombe at the end of September. We had sailed there the week before, and the whole place was heaving with tourists and sailors, then suddenly one week later, everywhere was closed up, the water taxis were no longer running and that was it until the following spring.

Here it is similar. All repairs are being carried out to make boats seaworthy prior to setting sail for the UK or Europe. We have been doing our own maintenance in preparation for haul out and lay-up. Not much difference, except we will get back to the UK a lot quicker by air! 

This will be the final entry in the Captain's Blog for this season - nothing of any interest to report on now! Thanks to all who have followed our adventure and helped make it the pleasure it has been. We have, in the words of Mr Spock "boldly gone where we have never been before" and hope you have enjoyed reading about it over the last six months.

Captain Peewit signing off, for now at least. 

29 Apr 2011

[Cruise News] English Harbour, Antigua

We spent yesterday touring around the island with the local chap we got to know at the beach a couple of weeks ago.  It was an interesting day seeing us visit Fort James just north of the capital, Devil's Bridge on the east coast (the sea was incredibly rough making this natural bridge all the more dramatic), Halfmoon Bay in the south and also having a typically Antiguan lunch at a roadside restaurant owned by a former Antiguan fast-bowler, now also a reggae star soon to be touring the UK with his group.  All in all an enjoyable day.

I have to say everyone we have met in Antigua, and the wider Caribbean, has been very friendly and welcoming and all seem to share a very relaxed philosophy to life, something we could all possibly do to adopt ourselves.  Typically they have far less materially than do we in the western world but yet they appear contented with their lot.

We're approaching the wind-down phase for our trip now with the haul-out of Pandora planned for the end of next week in time for all the servicing and repairs to be arranged, and some completed, prior to our return to the UK.  We'll be staying at an hotel in English Harbour when the boat is in the storage yard, neither of us fancying the heat and mosquitoes associated with boats on land!  It will certainly be novel to sleep in a proper bed again, on a floor that is stable, and will be interesting to see whether or not we have lost our "land legs"after 6 months afloat.  I suspect we'll have no problem as any time we've spent ashore has felt perfectly normal but we'll have to wait and see.  

26 Apr 2011

[Captains Blog] English Harbour, Antigua

It's Antigua race week this week, and yesterday as we were sailing around the island, we found ourselves in the middle of a race. Not being overly competitive, and not having entered for anything, we continued on our merry way, trying not to disrupt the hardened racers, giving them a wide berth so that they could pile on all canvas and surf their way downwind with their spinnakers up and the entire crew adding their weight to the stern of the boat so that they could increase their speed.

As they turned around the race marker to beat back into the wind (which is what we had already been doing) the difference between racing and cruising became very apparent. The racing boats soon ate into the gap between us, and even though Pandora can point close to the wind, they were gaining on us quite quickly. We wanted to be in nestled down in harbour before the hordes of racing boats arrived, so we made all haste and managed to get there with a few minutes to spare. Then sure enough, they all trailed back into their dock spaces to debrief and then settle down to enjoying the beer tent and the night's social activities. 

There is a real buzz about the place, helped greatly by the fact that having been becalmed for a week, the wind is back with a vengeance. We were out in 20+ knots again heeling over close hauled with reefed sails making on average 7 knots of speed, and it was very refreshing! We don't like the calm weather when we can't sail, and for us motoring is not an option. There are many sailing boats (mostly bareboat charter catamarans I have to say) that never seem to put sails up - they simply motor everywhere. What is the point? To us, the sheer bliss of silent running under wind power is everything, and the motor is there for the convenience of manoeuvring in tight harbours or in case of emergencies. We like to sail, no, we LOVE to sail!

23 Apr 2011

[Cruise News] Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

Well the wind hasn't returned as yet and so we're still stuck in Falmouth Harbour waiting for conditions to change .... I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be hoping for more wind after all we've sailed through in the last few months!  But wind is what we need if we're to be able to hoist the sails again.  Meantime we're filling our time with walks ashore and trips to the capital, cocktails and lunches, all very enjoyable but enough is enough!

We met a former Antiguan and West Indies cricketer earlier in the week who has kindly offered to take us on a tour of the island on Wednesday next week to see "the real Antigua".  Should be good.  And lo and behold on the same day we met him, we also met the wife of another retired cricketer (Andy Roberts, a West Indies fast bowler) who also used to be the girlfriend of David Gower in years gone by ... definitely a day for cricketing contacts!

One thing we have noticed in the last few days is that the volcano on Montserrat looks to be more active that we've seen before and we're wondering if it is building up for another magma dome collapse - there definitely looks to be more ash/smoke in the air which has resulted in some glorious sunsets.  We've heard stories about one yacht visiting the island when the prevailing ash-laden wind was blowing over the anchorage and the following morning when they hoisted their sails they noticed that they were peppered with myriad small holes where the settling hot ash had melted them!  Thank heavens when we visisted the island we had a north-easterly wind which blew any ash away from us!

And to close on a wind-related theme, a little sailing ditty from years gone by that Paul has told me about :-
    When the wind don't blow and the ship don't go, 
    You get carter the f**ter to start her! 

Well we've no carter on board so we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that nature helps us out ......

21 Apr 2011

[Captains Blog] Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

Mother Nature can be a real harridan - one moment we are battling against raging winds, high seas and otherwise uncomfortable sailing conditions, the next, we are totally becalmed. Unable to sail in the slightest of zephyrs we wallow at anchor in the bay at Falmouth Harbour among the racing yachts hoping to see a change in the weather before race week starts on Friday. Some hope. We downloaded the Grib weather files yesterday evening and the forecast is only for 5 knots of wind for the coming few days. Still (a good word to use here) it gives us the chance to remind ourselves what our legs are for and do some walking ashore.

Speaking of this, Ian (a sailing friend) and I went looking for a watermaker services company to get some cleaning solution for the watermaker yesterday. I had noticed one previously on the side of the road as we passed on the bus, and knew it was somewhere on the left side of the road. Off we went, two mad Englishmen (sadly no dogs to be found) walking out in the mid-day sun on the campaign to acquire said cleaning solution. Three miles later, which seemed to us that we were half way nearly to St John's, having looked at every sign appearing in the distance on the left had side of the road, we chanced upon a police station. We went in and asked the very laid back police if they knew where the watermaker services people were. 'No, there's a water company a few miles up the road, perhaps they will know' came the non-commital reply. We decided that we were not going to find it that way and duly left to head back towards Falmouth Harbour and wait at the next bus stop for a ride.

Flagging the bus down we boarded and headed back in a very convoluted way to Falmouth. The buses here are not like in the UK. The drivers will turn off their normal route to drop passengers at their gates if they have shopping to carry. Perhaps a lesson for the independent UK bus companies to improve their service and customer satisfaction ratings? Sure enough, on the bus I saw the offending sign flat against the front of the building, and not sticking out into the road as I expected. 'Bus Stop!' I shouted. Another good feature of the service, they will stop where you want. Off we got, and within minutes had done the deal and were walking the relatively short distance back to the dinghy dock via a bar where we had to slake our thirst and the mini market to get some provisions. So what should have taken 30 minutes to achieve, we managed in two and a half hours. But that's the Caribbean for you ....

20 Apr 2011

[Cruise News] Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

It's been the "Antigua Classics" race week this week and so we have spent a few days in Falmouth Harbour to enjoy the racing and sights - some lovely old boats.  Sadly for them and us there's been very little wind and so sailing any distance is a time-consuming business unless you're prepared to motor to your destination, something we don't favour.  We had planned on a return trip to Barbuda this week, actually staying this time so we could visit the Frigate Bird colony up there (supposedly rivals the Galapagos!) but the absence of wind has put paid to that for the moment.  So instead we spent a couple of lazy days back in Nonsuch Bay, which has to be one of our top ten anchorages out here, before returning to Falmouth Harbour to stock up on provisions and check the weather forecast.

It's surprising how much hotter it feels without the steady breezes we've experienced all the time we've been out here and Pandora's teak decks have become somewhat painful to walk on without that cooling influence.  We'd thought our feet (and bodies) had become acclimatised to the heat!  Regular dips in the sea are the perfect antedote other than we seem to have a large barracuda who has taken up residence under the hull and I'm somewhat cautious about swimming with him.  Swimming with turtles, dolphins or even rays is one thing, and is on offer to the tourists, but I haven't seen anyone advertising swimming with barracuda opportunities.  Anyway, Paul's named him "Barry the Cuda" and joined him in the sea on a number of occasions but he's a lot braver than me!

15 Apr 2011

[Cruise News] Jolly Harbour Marina, Antigua

Incredibly we've just had four cloudy days in a row but fortunately very little in the way of rain.  Fortunately the sun has put in an appearance again today and not before time too!

We stayed at anchor for a couple of the cloudy days in Falmouth Harbour on the south coast of Antigua, being sensible as the flat light makes it very difficult to spot reefs and Antigua has a lot of reefs!  We used the time to undertake some boat maintenance and also to use the local bus service to take a trip into the capital.  This coming fortnight Falmouth Harbour plays host to Antigua Classics Week and then Antigua Race Week and so we plan to watch a number of the races and join in the very active apres-sail activities.  It is also lovely to see the old-style classic yachts under sail - they're simply stunning.

Back in Jolly Harbour for a couple of nights first though having circumnavigated the island yesterday .... chased most of the way be very black rain clouds but not caught until we were motoring into the marina at the very last minute.  Not the best end to the sail but it could have been oh so much worse!

11 Apr 2011

[Cruise News] Nonsuch Bay, Antigua

We finally "escaped" the marina on Friday to sail around to Falmouth Harbour, home of lots of super-yachts, just for an overnight stay before heading further east to Nonsuch Bay, Antigua's most south-easterly anchorage.  As an island, Antigua is quite rare in having east-coast bays where it is possible to anchor despite being face into storms and squalls crossing the Atlantic from Africa.  Nonsuch Bay is one such place: A wide shallow bay surrounded by reefs with lots of little creeks that boats can find shelter in.  You have to navigate very carefully between the reefs to get into the bay, and avoid them within it, but the same reefs provide protection from the swell (if not the winds) making it a calm place to stay.

After one night at Nonsuch we set sail north for Barbuda, 30 miles north of Antigua.  It's not possible to see the island until you are within 4 to 5 miles of it as it's very low.  Along the way Paul clocked up his 3000th mile as a skipper (see photo on Views and Vistas page) and almost simultaneously two hump-back whales crested out of the water about 100 metres off our port side, almost in celebration!  They stayed nearby for several minutes, regularly surfacing and spouting water up into the air, and constituted our eighth sighting of these fabulous mammals in 22 weeks.  I've still to get a decent photo or video footage though.

When we got within sight of Barbuda we got out the binoculars to check on the recommended anchorages.  Now after this length of time out here, you might think that I would have put any security fears firmly behind me and be happy to anchor anywhere, irrespective of whether there are any other boats there or not.  Well sadly that's not the case and as Barbuda only revealed one boat in our chosen anchorage, which may well have left before the day was out, we performed a perfect U-turn and sailed back to Nonsuch Bay.  As ever Paul was very relaxed about my idiosyncrasies and enjoyed the longer sail the day unexpectedly became.  So it's probably fair to say that we've very nearly been to Barbuda but not quite ......

10 Apr 2011

[Captains Blog] Nonsuch Bay, Antigua

After a lengthy sail to Barbuda and back yesterday (most people go there and stay, but not us!) we picked our way carefully over the shoals and between the reefs and glided into Nonsuch Bay avoiding the horseshoe reef just inside the bay to pick up one of the newly placed mooring buoys and settle down for the night.

I had downloaded the grib (weather forecast) files for the area which had shown that there was a weather front coming in during the night, which would invariably bring with it some freshening winds, so mooring was a good idea for us. We sleep much better than when we are at anchor and have to keep checking our transits during the night to make sure we aren't dragging. Sure enough, the front came through and we had some heavy rain for about an hour. You know the saying "rain before seven, fine by eleven"? It is very true. by daybreak the rain had stopped and as I write this at 9:30 the sky is brightening and the clouds are dissipating. We were planning to leave this morning and head back round to Falmouth Harbour.

At about 9:00 we were hailed by the skipper of a super-yacht that has been anchored in the bay for a few days to ask us whether we would be leaving today. As it happens, he uses the bay regularly on his charter trips and was planning to depart today. However, his boat draws 16 feet which means that he can only use the deep channel to enter and leave the bay. Whoever planted the mooring buoy that we are on had not considered this, and with the proximity of the horseshoe reef to our position there is not enough room for the deep draught yacht to pass us by and leave the bay. Somewhat short sighted planning, methinks. The powers that be who set the moorings have not been to collect any money from us, so we don't know who is responsible, but we are not complaining. Effectively, the super-yacht would be trapped in the bay if we were of a mindset to be awkward. Such power we minions wield from time to time! It's a good job we are reasonable people ....

6 Apr 2011

[Cruise News] Jolly Harbour, Antigua

Well we've not got around to leaving Jolly Harbour as yet - high winds blew in causing us to delay our departure to Barbuda where the anchorage is not recommended in certain conditions.  And so another 3 days later we're well into the social life of the marina, enjoying relaxing by the pool, walks to the beach and then drinks and dinner at night with friends off neighbouring boats - all very friendly and rather like staying in a resort hotel, a la holidays of old.  Hopefully we'll be setting sail tomorrow or Friday when conditions settle a little and then we'll see where the fancy takes us.

3 Apr 2011

[Cruise News] Jolly Harbour, Antigua

Sailing is a funny old business - there are so many things that affect it and that need to be factored into any journey.  Weather conditions can make the difference between reaching a given destination on a desired date or not and can therefore be very frustrating.  For the information of our non-sailing blog readers, yachts can not sail directly into the wind, usually only at an angle of 30 degrees off it, and so any sailing passage has to be planned around the forecast wind direction and speed, not to mention tides and direction and size of the swell.  Hence most sailors look for weather forecasts as often as possible and then make the big mistake of believing them!

That's exactly what happened to us on 1st April.  We wanted to sail back to Antigua from Nevis, a 45 mile south-easterly sail that should take about 7 hours.  We checked the forecast that morning on the website of the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami, our usual source of information, and were pleased to see it was for NE to E winds, perfect for our planned passage.  So we set sail at 7am but soon concluded that the NHC had issued that particular forecast as an April Fool for all unsuspecting sailors.  So we found ourselves beating our way into a SE wind with a SE swell to boot .... all making for a long and uncomfortable sail.  But we made it to Jolly Harbour some 11 hours later with me vowing never to sail again!

Two days on we're already planning our next trip - to Barbuda, the neighbouring island some 30 miles north of Antigua.  That's just how sailing "gets" you - you hate it one day yet are raring to go the next.  As I say, it's a funny old business.

[Captains Blog] Jolly Harbour Marina, Antigua

Sitting here nestled in a nice berth in the marina with a wonderful supermarket on the doorstep where we can re-provision with a modicome of choice is nice, but it makes me lazy. I suppose we could say that we deserve a couple of days R&R after the slog we had getting here from Nevis. Incidentally, we passed within 5 metres of another whale on our journey here - the closest encounter to date, and quite frankly, I don't want anything closer! We only saw it as it was passing along our starboard quarter as a patch of very light turquoise water, almost white water as the light was reflecting back from the whale (which was white as it happens - moby dick perhaps???) The next thing we heard was its blowspout spraying water into the air.

What would have been the effect of an impact? Most probably we would have been holed. Fortunately we didn't have to find that out. But we do have provision for such eventualities with a grab bag of emergency kit that would be leaving the sinking ship with us into the liferaft and enable us to be rescued. Phew!

Actually, I seem to be having a few close encounters lately: I was just about to go snorkelling in a bay at the north end of St Barts the other day when I looked under Pandora doing one of my underwater checks only to come face to face with a 4' Barracuda that was hovering under the hull. I have read that they are attracted to shiny objects, and as I was wearing a silver Tumi, I decided it was best to cover it up immediately with my hand, before beating a hasty retreat back to the bathing platform and out of the water. Later on that day we were sharing the remnants of our dinner with the fish when I noticed a large fish-like shape come out from under the boat. I got the torch and shone it down into the water to see 2 sharks out hunting. The real predators always come out at night!

29 Mar 2011

[Cruise News] St Barts again, via St Martin

We ended up spending the weekend in St Barts, moving around to a more sheltered bay on Saturday as all the comings and goings of crews out to the super-yachts in Gustavia churned up the water to a permanent choppy state and we were rocking and rolling all over the place .... or was that the effect of the rum?!  Either way, sleeping was not easy.

And then it was time for the "biggie" ... the overnight passage from St Martin to the BVI .... around 90 miles for which we needed to allow 18 hours or so.  We'd been debating whether or not to go for a few days - you need to pick your weather window to have winds from the right direction to make it tenable, particularly for coming back.  And I was also feeling a bit apprehensive about the trip - it would have been my first passage where we would be out of radio contact for an extended time and unlike a lot of long-term cruisers we don't have a satellite phone or radio.  

As things had worked out, our Danish friends were also planning on making the trip and had suggested we all set out together and so that was the plan: Rendevous in Marigot Bay, St Martin on Monday for a midnight departure so we could arrive at the other end in the daylight.  We'd planned to maintain hourly contact throughout the night and then would probably have pulled away from them as Pandora, being 10 feet longer than their boat, would make better speed.  But we'd promised to have dinner waiting for them when they arrived!

So that was the plan .... until we arrived in St Martin and I got cold feet.  Not about the trip to the BVI but about the return passage.  So it's official ... I'm part-chicken and it already feels like a missed opportunity to some extent, but it's too late now and regrets aren't allowed!

On a more positive note it is nice to have built up some good friendships on the trip and we hope a number of them will extend beyond the Caribbean.  Adventures ashore and dinners and drinks with like minded people have really added to our time out here and it's been incredible how many times we've crossed paths with people we know as we sail around.  We've already said goodbyes to most of them by now, friends based in Grenada and Bequia, too far south for us to be returning that way, and to some now heading back south to Curacao for the hurricane season.  And because of the aborted BVI trip we've also said goodbye to our Danish friends who will cross to the BVI and continue north to Florida and beyond.  So it's all been very transitory, but great fun while it lasted!

[Captains Blog] Back in Gustavia, St Barts

Here's a question for you - how far would you travel to a fuel station to fill up with cheap fuel???? Two Miles? Five? I bet the answer is probably not more than five and definitely not more than ten. 

Well yesterday I think we created some sort of record. We travelled 45 nautical miles (over 51 statutory miles) to do just that! We left St Barts early in the morning and sailed around to St Martin (as opposed to Sint Maarten) into Marigot Bay where there is a circular marina (tres chic n'est-ce pas?) where we put loads of fuel into the hungry tanks for a very reasonable price. I just love these duty free islands, they make me and my wallet very happy. Having filled up the tanks we quickly caught up with our Danish friends to bid them bon voyage and headed out around the island in a big circle to return down the (very) windward coast to St Barts. 

Circumnavigation complete, we happily wouldn't bother going to Sint Maarten ever, but might consider calling into St Martin to refuel if we were passing. As for Anguilla, it looked like an overdeveloped low-lying piece of uninteresting land not worth the visit we were debating as we neared its coastline. All right, it might be famous for its beaches, but we have seen enough of those in the past 5 months.

So, with Anguilla being the most northerly island in the Leeward Islands, we have gone as far north as we intend to, and have effectively done the length of the Windward and Leeward Island chain. Mission Accomplished with over 1500 nautical miles behind us. Now we will clock up some more miles by starting to meander our way back to revisit some of the more interesting spots, starting with Les Saintes.

24 Mar 2011

[Cruise News] Gustavia, Saint-Barthelemy (St Barts)

Wow, what a place.  We could very easily be in an exclusive port in the south of France - so different from anywhere else we've been out here, including the other French-owned islands.  

From reading the sailing guides on-board Pandora, I knew we were in for something different and I was looking forward to a bit of high-end retail therapy, a change from the usual "souvenirs" sold on all the other islands we've visited.  But having arrived, that thought has totally flown out of the window when I saw the calibre of the boutiques lining the waterfront .... Hermes, Bvlgari, Chopard, Cavalli, Gucci etc etc .... you get my drift. .... and I soon realised that they weren't aiming at the likes of me, more the Roman Abromavich, Philip Green's of the world who regulalry holiday here on their own mega-yachts.  I do wonder where the local people shop - maybe on the other side of the island - so we'll have to take a taxi over (nothing as common as buses here!) and see.

Before we sailed up to St Barts we spent a pleasant few days in Nevis, a quiet but beautiful island sitting just across the straits from the larger St Kitts, together which form one country.  We decided to visit St Kitts using the local ferry service rather than sail Pandora over there and so duly presented ourselves at the ferry terminal on Tuesday morning with the intention of spending a full day on Nevis' neighbour .... a wander around the capital (Basse-Terre), a spot of lunch and maybe a trip out to see one or two of the sights.  It's funny however when you arrive at a new island how quickly you get a "feel" about the place and I'm sad to say our "feel" of St Kitts was not a good one.  So after a cursory hour or so in the capital we headed back to the ferry port and returned to Nevis and an afternoon lazing aboard Pandora.  Not what we'd planned but I guess not everywhere is going to be a hit.

There aren't that more islands left for us to visit in the Leeward chain and so we've decided to sail across to the Virgin Islands after all.  Whilst we've sailed in the British VI before, we did enjoy it and a return trip is quite attractive to us, and we've not been to the USVI in the past so may as well give them a whirl and get to use our US visas to gain entry.  So after a couple of days watching the activities of the regatta here in St Barts we'll be heading to Anguilla for an overnight stay and then heading NW across the Sombrero and Anegada Passages to Virgin Gorda and on to Tortola.

[Captains Blog] Gustavia, St Barts

More by luck than judgement, we have arrived in Gustavia, St Barts on the day before the Bucket Regatta starts. This regatta involves many of the megayachts I referred to in an earlier blog, which will be racing around the island trying to beat the competition. Last night we were strolling along the quayside on our way to enjoying an expensive but delicious meal admiring the sheer size, elegance and beauty of some of these boats. It is simply a different world from ours. The attention to detail in maintaining these beauties is second to none and everything about them simply oozes class. It will be wonderful to see them under full sail jostling for position at the start line in very close proximity as they vie for the prime spot and steal a march on their opponents, or even steal their opponents' wind. I wonder how many will actually come through unscathed from it all at the end of the day.

The good thing about the regatta is that there are open bars and dock parties every night for us to go along and enjoy and meet some of the players. Always an interesting thing to do. We took some of our newly made Danish friends Hanne and Jens to the last one on Antigua, and by sheer coincidence they are due to arrive here in Gustavia today, so we may end up doing the same thing again (and again!). It's a tough life, but someone's got to do it.

The next three days will see the likes of the Maltese Falcon, Genevieve and other boats we have been rubbing shoulders with in anchorages or marinas really strutting their stuff. We are anchored next to several of the contestants out in the bay here, and at dinner last night we were on adjacent tables with many of the crew members, all of which seemed to know each other very well. I suppose it is a very closed circle of players comprising sailors who have been born to crew for the mega-rich.

Life in Chagford may never be the same again .... Ho hum.

21 Mar 2011

[Cruise News] Charlestown, Nevis

We've covered some miles in the last few days sailing from Antigua to Montserrat and then on to Nevis.  The sail to Montserrat was pleasant but hampered by the "very light airs" (the  technical term for next to no wind!) and so we ended up motor-sailing the last couple of hours. It seems rather ironic that after all the high winds we have had to contend with so far that we were then in a position of not enough.  Fear not, just over 24 hours later we're back into 25mph winds as we sit moored up to a buoy in Nevis.

Before we left Antigua we went along to a dockside party hosted by the crew of one of the super-yachts in honour of St Patrick's Day (the captain is of Irish descent).  The beer and rum punch were flowing, the chefs had cooked up a storm and music was blaring out as we chatted the night away with friends, old and new.  It's a very international and cosmopolitan community, the yachting one, where we find ourselves just as likely to be talking to Scandanvians, North Americans or fellow Western Europeans.  The beauty of it all is that everyone has something in common and so are not at a loss for conversation.

We arrived in Montserrat and anchored in the only real bay that is outside the exclusion zone: Since the massive volcanic eruption in 1997, over two-thirds of the island is a no-go area and the population has more than halved.  The following morning we hired a taxi driver to take us to see something of the island, including views of the devastation of the former capital, Plymouth, now with only roof-tops of the taller bulidings still visible.  The tour included a private entry into the volcano observation centre where they monitor the seismic distrubance caused by Soufriere as it continuously grows by spewing 8 tons of ash per second out of the top of the vent. That equates to 691,200 tons per day every day (or so Paul tells me!), building up a magma dome which will collapse when it outgrows itself, and has done several times since 1997.  It was a fascinating yet very sobering experience and made me wonder how the remaining inhabitants cope with knowing that any time the volcano could blow again and wipe out yet more of this beautiful and dramatic island.

PS: gave Paul a haircut using the longest cut setting on his beard trimmers yesterday .... as for the outcome, he says he's going to wear a hat for the next 4 days, the difference between a good haircut and a bad one apparently!

20 Mar 2011

[Captains Blog] Nevis

We look at the weather forecasts for the Caribbean region courtesy of the Miami Hurricane Weather Station, FreeMeteo, Weatherland, et al. at every opportunity to gauge whether the weather (or is that weather the whether?) will be conducive to propelling us through the water at the optimal rate of knots in the direction we wish to go. The weather stations lie. We were told that two days ago through to the day after tomorrow that the winds would be Northeasterly to Easterly, 10 to 15 knots. 

What actually happened is this: Friday 0-5 knots Easterly (which meant that our intended destination of Nevis was not practical so we drifted across to Montserrat instead) with a Northerly swell (which meant that we had a very uncomfortable night in Little Harbour which is totally exposed to the swell). Yesterday the wind was coming from the North North East starting off at 10 knots, but increased through the day to 25 knots as we had a brilliant sail to Nevis and passed another humpback whale in the process. Today the wind hasn't dropped at all and has been gusting all day at between 20 and 25 knots, again from the North North East. Tomorrow - who knows?

Fortunately, we are tied up to one of the Marine Parks mooring buoys which has a shiny new mooring rope attached to it and quite frankly the wind can blow itself out. We are securely fastened with double shot lines and even though we are bobbing around a bit like a cork on the water, we aren't dragging or going anywhere we don't want to, and we will sleep soundly at night.

Unlike Friday where we had the double whammy of the very uncomfortable and rolly anchorage, and the St Patricks Day celebrations going on one day late in the local disco which was right on the waterfront and which had music blaring out so loud until 3:30am that the people on Nevis 30 miles away could probably have been dancing to it. Needless to say it wasn't a restful night, and I think we managed about three hours sleep between us.

We will always anchor where possible and even though we are fastidious about digging the anchor well into the seabed, we never really relax during the night for fear of dragging. As you will have read in former blogs, we often end up on anchor watch if we have doubts about the holding. More recently in Falmouth Harbour on Antigua, we have had some very peaceful nights where the wind has dropped away completely, and we have woken to flat calm waters. In fact, on Thursday last week, the dolphins were cavorting around in the calm waters of the harbour, swimming very close by us; so close that I even got in the dinghy and was splashing the water to try to encourage them closer, sadly to no avail. 

Another hazard to be wary of when anchoring is snagging the anchor and not being able to retrieve it. We once had a problem with this when chartering a catamaran in Turkey when the anchor caught on a chain on the seabed and steadfastly refused to let go no matter which way I pulled it. On that occasion we had to get a local diver to go down and free us and I vowed I would never be in the same position again. Since then I have devised and created a failsafe (soon to be patented as the "Witting Weighwonder", retail price £29.99 in all top quality chandlers) means of tripping the anchor free from the dinghy if it gets snagged. It is something I will never be without when sailing. It doesn't take up much room, and the extra weight in the bag means fewer clothes, but hey, we all have to make sacrifices!

Still when the weather isn't quite so settled and it is blowing a hooley as now, sometimes the ubiquitous mooring has its advantages. They may cost a bit, but for peace of mind, they are invaluable. It has also prompted me to devise another product, also soon to be patented as the "Witting Wonderbuoy", retail price £24.99 in all top quality chandlers, which enables fast but secure mooring and unmooring to buoys. Anything for an easy life that will make enough money to buy me my Oyster!

16 Mar 2011

[Cruise News] Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

We've been here nearly a week now, partly trying to arrange paintwork repairs (still in progress) and hurricane season storage (done), but also because it's such a sheltered and spacious anchorage that we are getting really good nights sleep and it's hard to give that up!  It's not been all work though: we've completed a couple of hikes along the rugged coastline, enjoyed a few meals out and taken the local bus service into the capital (St John's) where we had the best meal we've had in the four and a half months we've been out here.  Really, really good.

St John's was a typical Caribbean capital with the added "delight" of having three cruise ships in town - a lot of pale bodies were wandering around buying the Caribbean equivalent of "kiss me quick" hats.  And the vendors, knowing they have a captive market, hike up the prices quite unashamedly.  Needless to say we didn't buy anything!

One thing we've noticed in the days we've been here is the Government's sensible approach to vehicle registrations.  All rental car registrations are pre-fixed with "R", taxis with "TX", buses with "BUS", commerical vehicles with "C" and Government cars with "G".  Makes it very easy for we tourists to flag down the right vehicle and know we're climbing aboard a registered bus/taxi.

We had a farewell meal with our good friends from Canada last night.  By the time we return to Antigua after our jaunt around the remaining Leeward Islands, they will have long sailed for Curacao and will be home in Vancouver.  They have been sailing for 21 years now, having retired in their late thirties to enjoy a life on the open seas, and have covered most regions with the exception of Western Europe and the Mediterranean.  True "cruisers" with a wealth of experience and tales to tell, making us feel very much novice sailors .... but ask us again in twenty years times and we might have achieved their level of adventure!

14 Mar 2011

[Captains Blog] Antigua

Being here in Falmouth Harbour in Antigua for a few days has allowed us to look around at some of the other boats at anchor, and one thing has really hit home - all the really BIG yachts (both sailing and motor) are British registered!! I thought that we were in a recession! Not a shred of evidence of that being the case out here. One hundred feet, two hundred feet long palaces (Gin and otherwise) gleaming like new pins grace the quays with their uniformed crews bustling about making the boats even shinier for their owners' arrival. No speck of grime to be seen anywhere. Very much like Pandora. We had a cleaning  and maintenance day today, and now the stainless steel shines, the decks are spotless and the topsides are washed down so that the salt crystals have been banished.

We are planning to stay here for a couple more days, and then if the swell shifts from a Northerly to an Easterly we will check out and head off to either Montserrat or Nevis, we haven't quite decided which. Yesterday we had about three hours of walking around the area, culminating with a climb up to Shirley Heights, recommended in all the tourist guides as 'the place to be on a Sunday evening' where we drank some beers listening to the steel band play as the sun went down below the brilliant red horizon. We decided to take a taxi back down which was just as well. The water taxi had stopped running and the distance by road was much longer than we had anticipated. We would have been very late back otherwise.

11 Mar 2011

[Cruise News] Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

Well we finally made it to Antigua yesterday afternoon after a hard sail up from the north-west corner of Guadeloupe.  The wind wasn't really coming from the right direction for the course we needed to steer but we had to get here to start trying to find paintwork repairers and, given there was no forecast change in wind direction for the immediate future, we decided to push on.  Needless to say we got blown miles off course but we made it and spent the best night's sleep at anchor we've had for weeks and weeks.  Amazingly there was no wind at all and so Pandora sat perfectly still and calm .... lovely!

We've wandered around Nelson's Dockyard at English Harbour this afternoon - a very pleasantly restored Georgian dockyard and nice to see.  Fortunately we timed our visit when there was no visiting cruise boat influx ... we experienced that once in St Lucia and it's never to be repeated! 

In the next few weeks we plan to tick off Montserrat, Nevis, St Kitts, St Barts, Anguilla and Barbuda before returning to Antigua where we will haul out for the hurricane season, just across the way from where Nelson kept his boats away from prying eyes and in a hurricane hole.  If it was good enough for Nelson, I'm sure it'll be good enough for Pandora!

It's hard to believe that we're so far into our Caribbean adventure now .... it's passed very quickly when we look back at it even though at times it's not been easy.  We'll have covered most of the islands we wanted to see by the end of the trip with the possible exception of Tobago. And having had to spend so much time in the early months in and around Grenada, we won't make it as far north as the British and US Virgin Islands (the boat owners always said we wouldn't!) but we've sailed there before so at least we don't think we're missing out too much. 

A lazy weekend ahead finalising arrangements for boat storage and (hopefully) the paintwork repairs, and then we can enjoy the remaining weeks without that particular cloud hanging over us.  And if the conditions stay as settled as they have been in the last week, we might finally make it to the Caribbean paradise we always dreamt of!

[Captains Blog] Antigua

Having been so enthusiastic about the whales breeching a few days ago, we were sailing up the west coast of Guadeloupe when I spotted another whale, this time VERY close by. I noticed the spout from its blowhole, but even though I should have yelled "Thar she blows!" all I could do was shout "Whale!" Anyway, it was a large humpback this time, about 50 feet long, swimming in its normal arching way, cresting out of the water and then arching its way over to bring its majestic tail flukes vertical to show us the white colouring on the underside. It passed within 30 metres of the boat in a parallel track but in the opposite direction. Sheer magic.

On our way up to Antigua, we passed by the island of Montserrat (actually closer than we would have preferred, but the wind and current took us further across the channel to the west than we wanted) where the enormous volcano sat smoking and smouldering ominously. In fact, the only cloud formation over the whole island was compliments of the steam venting from more than one point on the crater. The sheer size of the lava flow that spewed out of the top and ran down the sides to the sea is immense, and the area of land it smothered before running out of solid ground was huge. So many superlatives, but seeing is understanding. Another image for the geographical memory.

Even though we have visited (and passed through as an air transportation hub) Antigua before, I have to say that as we approached the southern coastline of the island yesterday, neither of us ever dreamt that we would ever sail there under our own steam. The last time we were on the island, we had never met Nicola and Mike, and certainly never expected to have the opportunity that we have had to explore and experience the true Caribbean. Funny old life isn't it?

Here in Antigua, we are in the middle of Falmouth Harbour where we are nestled quietly at anchor. For the first time in ages, we have attached the outboard to the dinghy as we have some serious distances to travel to clear customs, buy food, visit boatyards et cetera. We have chosen instead where possible and practical to row ourselves around, saving energy and the planet as it were, and adding to our fitness levels as we ply the oars to drive us from point to point. Oh, and by the way, we aren't perfect - we also scrounge lifts from friends with serious dinghies and outboards too!

7 Mar 2011

[Cruise News] Bourg des Saintes, Les Saintes

Well it's carnival time throughout the Caribbean in the run up to Mardi Gras which is tomorrow.  Apparently the big day can fall on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9 depending on the date of Easter.  Carnival celebration starts on January 6, the Twelfth Night and picks up speed until Midnight on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday so everyone has built up to a nice crescendo by now.

Yesterday in Bourg des Saintes saw vibrantly coloured and very loud street processions starting mid-afternoon and carrying on until late.  Everyone was dressed up and banging drums / playing guitars with a distinctly Caribbean rhythm for all they were worth and made for a great spectacle .... very atmospheric and a lot of fun.  We're not sure what the programme is for today but are sure it will be lively and we'll go along and join in with the carnival atmosphere and get photos to show everyone.  Should be a good day ....

[Captains Blog] Les Saintes

Just got to tell you about yesterday's event - as we were sailing from Guadeloupe to Les Saintes, I was on the helm talking to Debra when I saw a massive plume of water off to the port side. "Wow, what on earth was that?" I exclaimed. Debra was off her seat in an instant. "Where?" she said. "There! Look, it's a whale and it's breeching!" Sure enough this gigantic whale leapt out of the water, hovered in the air for a few seconds, then crashed back down onto the water creating another tremendous splash of foaming white spray. Then another one rose up beside it and did the same thing. The two whales were having a great time and performed twice more for us, I was transfixed, unable to tear my eyes away. It was simply magical for me, and I think we had seen a once-in-a-lifetime event.

4 Mar 2011

[Cruise News] Port a Pietre, Guadeloupe

Having dropped off Fiona and Andrew yesterday in Dominica (more of which later) we sailed north to Les Saintes, a collection of small islands belonging to and just south of Guadeloupe, with the plan of spending the weekend there.  We were pleased to see our Canadian friends whom we last crossed paths with in Martinique were already at anchor and looked forward to catching up with them over a rum cocktail or too.  And then disaster: the windlass that is used to drop the anchor wasn't working, and so we were unable to anchor.  Whilst I motored around, Paul and Michael (the Canadian) tried to identify the problem but to no avail and so we had to plead with Les Saintes Yacht Club to allow us to tie up to their water buoy ... not something they usually permit but it was an emergency and so they relented given it was so late in the day.

As Paul has mentioned on his blog, we're both feeling very despondent with all the technology problems we've had to survive on the trip, and of course the two impacts and continuing bad conditions.  We know that boats go wrong and anchors drag ... in fact sailors should have that expectation ... but even long-term cruisers we've got to know out here think we've had far more than our share of bad luck.  Sadly our indomitable spirit is starting to flag a bit but "c'est la vie" I guess .... a bit of French seeing as we're effectively in France at the moment.

On the positive side of things, we enjoyed a great 9 days with Fiona and Andrew and were sad to see them leave.  Probably the highlight for us all was the trek to Victoria Falls in
 Dominica, a challenging adventure that involved crossing a fast-flowing river 5 times each way,  leaping from boulder to boulder.  Not always enjoyable at the time but a real sense of achievement at the end of it.  And then we had lunch in a Rasta's shack ... eating a delicious vegetable stew (Rastas are vegetarians) out of calabash bowls with a coconut shell spoon, accompanied by pan-fried balou (a local fish) ... all very authentic and tasty.

So now we're continuing north to Antigua once the electrics are fixed where we've got a few weeks to try to sort out the paintwork repairs caused in the two anchor-dragging impacts.  The boat's insurers are not playing ball, offering only 25% of the lowest estimate we've received to date, and with no apparent intention to negotiate.  So it looks like we've got another battle on our hands .... more stress .... maybe we should have stayed at home!

Crew Contribution from Andrew and Fiona

Thanks so much to Debra and Paul for an amazing holiday on board such a wonderful boat Pandora and letting us share in a little bit of their Caribbean experience. We have experienced so much. Firstly gusting force 8 near gale force winds and high waves including a couple of 20 feet waves in short succession which led to an exhilirating sail riding the waves from Martinique to Dominica - second attempt. Bit nerve racking but complete faith in Paul and Debra although I was thinking at some points we had not had the emergency briefing!! We also experienced a Harrison Ford type adventure clambering boulders along a river in a beautiful rainforest to get to a 170 feet waterfall in Dominica. Paul and Andrew braved the fury of the downforce of the waterfall, the spray and the noise to go behind the waterfall (which involved diving into the water and then up behind it).  All we could hear was lots of screaming and did not know if this was cries for help or pleasure(!) and were quite relieved to see them reappear only to see them then scrambling up the rocks at the side of the waterfall to jump 25 feet into the fall. They were guided in these exploits by our guide Octavius (French for Octapus otherwise known as Sea Cat locally). As well as this brilliant hike up to the waterfall he drove us round the south part of the island and seemed to know everyone. He kept stopping and diving into the bushes to come back with some berry, fruit or nut to taste. The boys liked trying "moonshine" - a local distillation made in Meunshen. The only other person drinking at the bar giving us funny looks was, we were informed later, the local policeman off duty! On the topic of alcohol we have loved the rum cocktails especially having them on the deck watching for the 'green' flash as the sun disappears behind the water (the last vestiage of the sun) but all we got was the Paul Witting flash with Debra's "little brother" muscling in!  These are just a few of the highlights. Debra and Paul have been fantastic hosts, great company and are very proficient sailors. We were delighted to be with Paul when he achieved his 2500 miles as a skipper target, making him eligible to take his yachtmaster practical qualification. We are very sorry to be leaving and wish Debra and Paul all the best and a calmer time for the rest of their adventure.

[Captains Blog] Point a Pitre, Guadeloupe

Dolphins are like number 11 buses - you don't see one for several weeks, and then several come by in quick succession. We have seen three pods now, each one larger than the last, coming within the space of 8 days. Yesterday we had the largest pod yet pass us by on our way through to Les Saintes where we went to anchor only to find the anchor circuit had failed and we couldn't drop the hook. After failing to get the circuit working again, we managed to get onto a water buoy (where you tie up to refill your tanks) where we stayed the night.  

Anyway, back to the pod, there were close to 100 or more dolphins together and we managed to capture some of them on video film which was a real bonus.  On one of our recent journeys up the leeward side of the island where the waters were calmer, we were blessed with a pod that swam by us leaping out of the water right alongside the cockpit. It was almost as though they wanted to get a good look at us as they passed, and having achieved that, they were on their way in search of food. For the few seconds that they graced us with their company, it was a magical sight.  Debra was also lucky enough to see another whale off the coast of Martinique - well the tail flukes at least - but I missed that being on helming duty at the time.

The same can be said for the elusive 'green flash' that comes as the sun disappears over the horizon. Most people don't know it is there, but we have seen it several times and we never tire of looking for it. It is one of those 'blink and you miss it' events but it really does exist, and the sun turns from orange/red to bright green just for an instant, then it is gone behind the horizon and you are back to the orange hue it leaves behind. The speed of the descent towards the water is also remarkable at this latitude - it takes about one minute from the time that the bottom of the sun touches the horizon, to disappearing behind it completely. 

For those out there that like geography, the topography of these volcanic islands is utterly stunning. Valleys that are so steeply sided that they look as though the island has been split by the forces welling up under the earth's crust are numerous; the lava flows that have been reclaimed by the lush green vegetation but that I can imagine making their molten way down the sides of the volcanoes can still be seen in striking detail. In addition to this amazing landscape, the superb waterfalls, hot springs, boiling lakes, and sulphur pools that smell of rotten eggs all add to the wonderful field trip we are on. Isn't nature amazing? I feel very privileged to have seen it like this.

Shame about the technology, the boat seems to be jinxed and we have had more than our fill of problems. This one involves the circuit that only operates when the engine is running (i.e. the anchor windlass and the bow thruster) which narrows it down a bit, but it is beyond my electrical capabilities. Incidentally, the more I think about it, the one thing you absolutely need to function if the engine fails for any reason is the anchor winch so that you can get yourself stable and out of trouble. It needs to be altered. Whoever thought of tying the anchor control into the alternator output circuit obviously wasn't a sailor. We've had to go to a marina in Point a Pitre to get the circuit repaired as we cannot anchor manually which is a real bind, and moorings appear to be non-existent on Guadeloupe so that's where we headed this morning. Afternoon relaxing, waiting for the man who might never arrive to fix the electrics ....

26 Feb 2011

[Cruise News] Battening down the hatches at Grande Anse D'Arlets, Martinique

After a quick trip back to St Lucia to meet friends for dinner and pick up good friends who are joining us for 9 days sailing, we have headed back to Martinique to the same pretty little bay where we spent last weekend.  Unlike last weekend however the wind is back with a vengeance and we're holed up on Pandora in 30 knot winds making sure the anchor doesn't drag nor anyone else drags into us.  The wind was so strong last night that we operated a shift-based anchor watch all through the night and so are all feeling pretty tired today.   I have to say I'm now totally hacked off with the wind conditions .... if it doesn't settle soon I'm out of here .... or so I like to pretend!

Before we headed back to Martinique we spent a night anchored between the famous St Lucia "pitons" - very dramatic and a world heirtage site.  We'll post some photos very soon. The only downside of the location was the pervading smell of suplhur eminating from the volcano a few miles inland and, in the still night air (yes the wind does occasionally stop blowing) it built up to quite an intensity.  We visitied the volcano the next morning to see the bubbling mud pools and sulphurous steam rising from the earth - definitely the closest I've been to a volcano.

Anyone who has taken a sailing holiday will know that there are a number of options to choose from.  Flotillas, crewed charters or even bareboat charters, our preferred choice in recent years where we have simply rented and sailed a boat ourselves.  Paul has now joined the ranks of the final type of option .... the "barebutt" charter!  I have seen more naked male backsides in the last 16 weeks than probably in my entire life, as they sail by or shower on the stern of the boat.  The all-over tan is obviously a serious goal for many sailors.  Binoculars are available for visiting female crew members for a small fee!

 Assuming the wind does die down we'll be heading north tomorrow bound for Dominica, one of the most beautiful islands we've been told.  More on that next week!

[Captains Blog] Granda Anse D'Arlet, Martinique

Having been up all night once again on anchor watch as the winds gusted up to force 8 and boats dragged all around us, it is a good time to reflect on the events of the past 16 hours. We arrived into Martinique after a reasonable crossing in 25 knot winds with 2 reefs in the mainsail to drop anchor in Grande Anse D'Arlet at around 5pm. As usual, I swam over the anchor to make sure that we were dug well in, and it appeared that we were. However, the winds started to increase and just before dinner, we realised that our anchor wasn't set solidly and was slipping. We upped anchor immediately and had 2 attempts at re-setting it before we were satisified that the holding was good.

Then the winds increased to beyond 30 knots and we decided that we wouldn't get much sleep, I headed off to bed to get a couple of hours rest and perhaps some sleep as the boat was being tossed around like a cork, swinging wildly on her anchor, and Debra stood the first watch. During the night, a large three-master dragged both its anchors and was heading out towards the sea before they had noticed. They had three further attempts to re-set before they managed to find a secure spot, as did a few other smaller boats.

We continued to sway from side to side in the gusting winds which by 3:00am had increased to nearer 40 knots, but our anchor with 50 metres of chain out held firmly. The daylight showed a yacht has been washed up on the shore out towards the edge of the bay, which definitely wasn't there last night. All scary stuff, but my view is that the weather patterns we are currently experiencing and which have been prevailing since we got here have washed away the sandy deposits in the anchorages which give good holding, and what looks like sand is either very shallow deposits, or is in fact dead coral. Neither of these will hold an anchor for long. Now that we have a decent spot, we are staying put until the winds abate, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day. Who knows?  But to be on the safe side we have let out another 10 metres of chain and so we shouldn't be going anywhere and might even get a night's sleep tonight .... I certainly hope so.

20 Feb 2011

[Cruise News] Grande Anse D'Arlets, Martinique

There's a certain amount of comfort staying with the familiar and that's what Grenada and the Grenadines have become for me.  So sailing north to St Lucia and onwards to Martinique brings with it a twinge of apprehension .... sailing into the unknown, so to speak.  I know Paul doesn't share these feelings - it's all part of the big adventure to him - but it takes me a day or two to settle down into a new island and become comfortable with my new environment .... it's fair to say that I'm not the most intrepid of travellers! That said, Martinique feels like a good place to me and I'm looking forward to exploring. 

I also understand that the range of foodstuffs on the island is second to none: there's a daily flight from France ferrying out lots of lovely produce so we plan on restocking the cupboards and freezer whilst we're here.  Provisions, for some reason, have been pretty limited in recent weeks .... with a lack of staples like bananas, limes (for rum cocktails!) and even chicken ... unless you can create a tasty meal from their feet, not something I relish!  It amazes me that a country that grows bananas can have a shortage, which I'm pretty sure won't be the case in the UK.  And also how a pineapple in a British supermarket costs less than £2 even after shipping it all that way, yet to buy one in the Caribbean from a market stall over £6.  Something has obviously gone wrong somewhere along the line ....

The high winds finally died down on Thursday last week and so I have relished the last 3 days.  Strangley I don't mind what the weather throws at us during daylight hours, whether at anchor or sailing, but as soon as it goes dark I keep everything crossed that it will be a settled night with no fear of dragging anchors, either ours or anyone elses.  The charter boat skippers are notorious for not dropping enough chain and also squeezing into spaces that really aren't sufficient to allow adequate swinging room.  So we tend to anchor at the back of the pack in the hope that we're out of harms way.

Well we're off ashore now to check in with Customs, enjoy a French breakfast and to post this blog .... so it's almost real time this time!