28 Jan 2011

[Cruise News] St David's Harbour, Grenada

We're back in Grenada and on our own again after a busy few weeks - January has passed in a flash.  It was great fun having friends on board, very much a holiday-like atmosphere, but it's back to maintenance and repairs now for us ..... there's always a price to pay!  Paul has the floor of Pandora up as we speak trying to fathom why the fresh water pump has suddenly started misbehaving - it was fine before we set sail yesterday morning but had given up the ghost by the time we arrived in Grenada.  Probably to keep the shower pump (which packed up during the last week) company .... 

We were speaking to friends in Bequia about the extreme weather before we sailed south and they said they had never experienced anything like it in January before .... and they have been out here over 12 years.  They also had the doubtful pleasure of sailing in the same gale we did on Tuesday - not for the faint hearted it has to be said - and really couldn't believe it was happening.  Looks like we picked the wrong year to embark on this adventure!

We've been out here just over 12 weeks now which I have to say has passed very quickly.  It's been a very different experience from what I'd expected: not the relaxing adventure I'd imagined it would be, but that was probably naive expectations on my behalf.  

On the plus side of things, we're both tanned, fit and well, are a great team and have had the opportunity to experience a different culture and way of life first-hand.  We have also improved as sailors (as so often is the case in the face of adversity) and have a pretty tight definition of what we would want on our next boat .... yes, I'm still keen to buy another and it would be from a far more informed point of view than three months ago.  

On the down side we've suffered two collisions in the middle of the night, various and on-going technology problems which have curtailed our sailing plans, one attempted dinghy theft, a bout of dengue fever and various other cuts/bruises etc etc.  It would have been easy to throw in the towel on a number of occasions but we didn't and are still here!

I'll leave you to decide whether it's been worth it!!!

[Captains Blog] Grenada again waiting for repairs

The challenges we face once underway never cease to amaze me. Sailing back from Union Island to Grenada via Carriacou (to check into Grenadian waters) we decided that the windward side of the island would be our route. We plotted our course in 15-20 knot winds to take us to the East of the islands called Les Tantes past Bird Island, and on down the East coast of Grenada, rounding the southern tip to do the final short hop into St David's Bay where we are now.

We knew the seas would kick up around Kick 'em Jenny the underwater volcano, but we didn't fully account for Kick 'em Jack adding to Jenny's maelstrom. Consequently, we found ourselves dodging and weaving through very rough waters which felt a bit like we were inside a washing machine until we had fully cleared the passage between Les Tantes and Grenada. 

Should we have turned away from the seas and made for the relative calm of the leeward side of the island? No. To do that we would have exposed our stern to the savagery of the waves and we would surely have been swamped. The only option was to keep the pounding waves about 60 degrees off the bow and continue as quickly and as safely as we could, riding each wave as they attempted to twist and turn us every which way. 

Once past the hairy bit, the seas calmed down by comparison and even though we still had 15 foot waves to contend with they seemed like chickenfeed. We still averaged close to 7 knots with the Jib out and 2 reefs in the mainsail. Not bad considering. The upside of handling all this bad weather is that we have both honed our sailing skills immensely. It would however be nice to have some calmer weather to look forward to!

24 Jan 2011

[Captains Blog] Tobago Cays

In search of a good night's sleep - travelling backwards and forwards between the Grenadine Islands, we have started to filter out the places that will not give us a good night's sleep. Anchor watch, halyards banging against the mast, uncomfortable swells, high winds, anchor bridle creaking in the bow roller, waves slapping against the stern, you name it, they all consire to keep us awake at night.

The other night when we anchored off Princess Margarets beach in Bequia, we had set our anchor successfully after two aborted attempts which found dead coral on the seabed instead of the sand we were hoping for and settled in for the night. As usual, (or so it has been since we came out here) the wind picked up its tempo in the night and was screaming its way down into Admiralty Bay gusting at 30 knots. Thankfully, because I had dived over the anchor on each setting to make sure that the head was truly dug in, our position didn't change. However, at 2:30am we were woken by a Swedish yacht that had dragged its anchor and had drifted onto us. I was up out of the hatch and on deck in seconds, fending off and trying to hold their boat from drifting while we disentangled their steering vane from our anchor chain. We were all trying desperately to stop them slipping further downwind into the boat behind us while their skipper tried in vain to get their engine started.

Debra (wearing only a flimsy cotton top) sprang into action putting fenders all along the starboard side to keep the boats apart, cutting a finger in the process but manfully sticking to the task of preserving the boat and minimising the damage while the struggle with the engine and the drifting boat continued. We started our engine so that we had more control, tied them onto our cleats and I stood by with my trusty knife to cut the Swedes free if it looked as though they were going to pull us along with them. Thankfully, our anchor held and they were able to get their engine started.

We took their details and agreed to review the situation in the daylight and they left. We realised that in the melee we had drifted backwards a few yards, so we re-set our anchor further forward and went back to bed. Needless to say, it was yet another sleepless night as we were too pumped up to relax. And so it goes on, more reasons not to relax in the knowledge that the elements are not going to throw something else at us every night.

22 Jan 2011

[Cruise News] Chatham Bay, Union Island

From what we read and hear, it seems like the world's weather is truly screwed up at the moment.  The strong winds in the Caribbean continue making for unrestful nights for Paul & me, checking transits every hour or so to make sure we're anchored securely and haven't moved.  It's a bit like some form of torture .... sleep depravation isn't for me ... but it's better to be safe than sorry.  So tonight we've anchored in one of the most sheltered anchorages we know and are keeping everything crossed for a peaceful night.

One of our favourite places, Bequia, is having a lot of problems at the moment with boats dragging their anchors.  Severe storms between Christmas and New Year have washed away all the sand on the sea-bed, leaving only dead coral which doesn't make for good holding at all.  We've had to resort to anchoring on the less scenic side of the bay where the problem isn't too bad.

We've been joined this week by one of my oldest friends from university days and her sister and are sitting sipping our cocktails whilst Paul tends to the bbq.  Today was a pretty long sail for completely novice sailors but they both rose to the challenge and enjoyed the trip.  We're heading off to the Tobago Cays tomorrow to do a bit of snorkelling with the turtles before wending our way back north early next week.  And then Paul & I are sailing back to Grenada (for what must be at least the fifth time!) to have the generator re-fitted and the repairs to the metalwork done.  And then we will be free of Grenada - we hope - until the end of the season but aren't holding our breath!

19 Jan 2011

[Captains Blog] St Vincent

Mooring has always been an interesting activity, and since our accident on Christmas Day we have been ultra-cautious with setting the anchor, putting loads and loads of chain out, and where there are regulated mooring buoys, have been tying up to them. Last night we arrived in Young Island Cut on St Vincent after a testing crossing from Bequia in 35 knot winds and massive seas so that we could drop off our guests this morning in time for their flight home. 

On arrival at the cut, we took a mooring (recommended by Chris Doyle in his sailing guide) and settled down for what we were hoping to be a restful night. However, the boat next to us was a 100 footer which was tied up fore and aft, although unbeknown to us, the aft line allowed the boat to swing through 90 degrees in the changing tide. We only tied up on the bow which meant that we would swing through 360 degrees as appropriate with wind and tide changes. At one point we noticed that the other boat had swung around and was much closer to us so I went across in the dinghy to see if they had changed their mooring at all. "No" came the reply, so I went back to our boat. As the tide turned and we swung, we were getting perilously close, so we spent a good chunk of the night on anchor watch to make sure that there was no repeat of our earlier collision. 

At the first opportunity this morning, having seen another very close shave during which the crew of the other boat finally grasped my point that we were too close and started to panic a bit, we flagged the mooring people down and got them to give us a stern line from another buoy so that now we are fixed properly. We should sleep soundly in our beds tonight....

17 Jan 2011

[Cruise News] Tobago Cays

Pleased to report we survived a windy night without incident.  The island alongside where we had anchored successfully deflected the wind over the top of Pandora and so whilst we could hear the wind it didn't have any affect on her.  Let's hope that's now put the ghost to rest!

Visiting Crew

Judi and I have been aboard this fine vessel for almost two weeks and it has been a great experience. Not being aware of how the weather would usually be, we are not surprised at the 15-20 foot seas because as far as we know this is normal! The weather has been sunny and breezy, not hot, but with a strong sun. I ( Phil ) have enjoyed the routines and the actaul sailing, although I marvel at how proficient Captain Peewit and Dominique ( Debra) are. Judi has been a great helmsman and I have discovered the delights of the weather rail. Paul and Debra kindly arranged for us to see many flying fish and turtles and even a sperm whale. Highlights have been many and it is hard to find a favourite, but I guess that Tobago Cays has to be the top of the list or close. For those who are visiting the lovely Pandora look forward to an amazing visit.

[Captains Blog] High Winds and Waves

What has been happening to the world's weather? We have been experiencing many more high winds than normal for the time of year, with the trade winds still not in evidence - two months later than normal. Instead of consistent 15-20 knot winds which emanate from the east, we have recently sailed through monster seas, double reefed in 30 plus knot winds, having to read every wave that would take us broadside in the coming few seconds. Exciting stuff you may ask? Occasionally yes. Exhilarating perhaps? Definitely. Something I want to face every time we undertake a long journey? No, and I don't mind admitting it. 

It is hard work helming for hours pivoting on one good leg while the other braces against the constant battering of the waves on the hull. It is different when the helming position has a seat, but Pandora does not. We have to stand all the time when steering even though we have an autopilot. We prefer not to use the autopilot because it merely responds to circumstances which I am uncomfortable with, as I can see the waves approaching and take the necessary steering moves to counteract them before they affect the boat, and believe me, it is very tiring. 

Debra and I both have a dodgy knee (hers is her left knee, mine is my right) and ideally we should share the helming according to the tack that we are on. Fine when the journey takes us from port to starboard tacks on a regular basis, but invariably they do not, which means that one of us is going to suffer more than the other on any journey.

Having said this, we are still enjoying the experience and hope that eventually the weather patterns will settle down to enable a more leisurely sail. I am certain that any guests we have aboard would prefer this too!

16 Jan 2011

[Cruise News] Tobago Cays, the Grenadines

Our first night back at the Tobago Cays, scene of our Christmas Day collision, and I'm feeling pretty apprehensive about it to be honest.  We've anchored in the lee of one of the small islands this time so if a squall does pass over we should be afforded some protection.  After years of sailing without a thought given to a dragging anchor I'm now somewhat paranoid of it happening again in high winds, despite us taking all sensible precautions.  And we're getting plenty of high winds at the moment.  Not sure when they will die down but I hope it can settle into nice 10-15 knot winds rather than double that range as it has been all month.

We've both enjoyed having friends on board - it's been a lot of fun - and has worked remarkably well in such confined space.  Paul has been brilliant about teaching the rudiments of sailing and I think they will return to the UK quite taken with the sailing life and the area.  Everyone is off snorkelling as I type, trying to get photos of elusive turtles and all the various reef fish. 

11 Jan 2011

[Cruise News] Union Island, Bequia

We're back in the Grenadines after our soujourn in Grenada.  The sail up yesterday was not too bad until the last couple of hours when the combination of tide and wind necessitated motoring through pretty big seas - not a great introduction to our guests but a challenge they both rose to and seemed to quite enjoy.

We've had a lazy day today after a rather diffcult night at anchor in Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou.  Winds increased to 35 knots and whislt the anchor held perfectly well I was on edge most of the night "just in case".  Our morning involved a little bit of retial therapy at the Fidel Productions container shop - basically a shop within an old sea container - before a stroll along Paradise Beach and a beer on the sand.  And then in the afternoon we motored around to Sandy Island, a perfect spit of white sand in the middle of the Caribbean sea.

Four on board is working very well with everyone sharing jobs, including the cooking - pesto-crusted loin of pork tonight courtesy of a sarong-wrapped Phil Fowler.  It took a little bit of persuasion to get him into one (worn aka David Beckham) but he says he finds it very liberating.  Not quite the naked chef but moving that way!

So the next 10 days will be spent island-hopping in the Grenadines - let's hope the winds die down a bit to make for a fun time.

10 Jan 2011

[Captains Blog] Union Island

Whales and storms. You might not think that this is a marriage made in heaven, but let me tell you, it definitely is. We were heading up to Carriacou on Sunday from Grenada when we were blown well offshore by the easterly winds that we initially thought would herald the onset of the trade winds - already two months late and conspicuously absent. How wrong we were. The combination of the tide and the winds pushed us further and further away from our destination, but the silver lining in the cloud was our first sighting of a whale a mere 20 yards ahead across our bow. We stopped in our tracks to get the best view of the whale, probably 20 feet in length, a browny colour with a snub nose. Not being whale officianados, we hazarded a guess that this was a right whale (it certainly wasn't a wrong whale!) which having crossed our bow, turned and swam parallel to our boat for a period of time, blowing water through its blowhole close by. As things have turned out, we googled it and found it was actually a Sperm Whale. Eventually we lost sight of it and continued on our not so merry way for the last hour and a half of our journey crashing through a storm to drop the anchor in 5 metres of water in Tyrrel Bay just before the sun sank beyond the horizon.

During the night, the wind increased to 35 knots (according to our resident weather expert, David on "Fandango") but with 40 metres of chain we didn't move an inch. It didn't stop Debra and me from getting up every hour or so to check we weren't dragging, but that's the pleasure of being in charge of the boat. On Monday, we tied up to a mooring buoy at Sandy Island off Carriacou to do some swimming and to have our feet 'refreshed' by the fish nibbling at our toes in the lagoon on the Caribbean side of the island. Returning to the boat in time for cocktails,  we sat and watched a terrific storm brewing over the island before it hit us with a vengeance. Weathering the storm on standby in case we dragged our mooring, we realised that the moorings were much stronger than we imagined, and we went to bed secure in the knowledge that we were safe for as long as we wanted to be.

8 Jan 2011

[Cruise News] Le Phare Bleu Marina, Grenada

Well we've welcomed our first guests on board this week.  We decided to surprise them and meet them at the airport before all travelling back to the boat in a rackety red minibus, suitcases and all.  We're all now happily ensconsed on Pandora sharing the daily jobs and enjoying the delights of Grenada.  Have to say it's lovely to have friends from home join us.

We've not done that much sailing since we returned to Grenada just before New Year - just two or three days sails. All of which makes me think that we're adapting to the cruising lifestyle of staying in places for a few days and not feeling the compulsion to sail somewhere new everyday - it makes for a far more relaxing time.  That said I still can't get my ahead around the long-term cruisers who stay anchored in the same bay for weeks on end.  The number of boats we see still in the same spot when we return to various places is incredible, but I guess it must suit them so each to their own.

In the spirit of our new more relaxed approach we decided to extend our stay in the marina last weekend so that we could go along to a dinghy concert with some new friends we've made.  The marina had anchored an old tug boat in the middle of a neighbouring bay and installed a folk band on board (Madison Violet) to entertain anyone who could get there by dinghy.  Thirty or so dinghies of yachties (plus various ship's dogs) turned up to enjoy the music in the setting sun, all aided by rum punch and ice-cold beer.

It was a great way to spend the late afternoon but it's a good job we'd gone along in our friends' dinghy: The rum punches, made with the local "Jack-Iron" brew, were somewhat lethal and poor Paul was knocked for six.  It's a good job he wasn't needed to navigate our way back through the narrow channel across the reef to the marina!  We all ended up laughing out loud when he fell into the water getting out of the dinghy .... a very wet and bedraggled man wandered down the dock back to Pandora.  And all on only 3 rum punches .... as I say, lethal stuff indeed and a lesson learned.

We became steel band groupies last night when we jumped in the car to follow a fabulous steel band from one venue to another .... they were that good and we were all loving the calypso rhythm and atmosphere.  The second venue was the posh hotel Paul & I stayed at back in 2003 so it was nice to visit it again, albeit it has changed almost beyond recognition following the devestation of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  The two venues couldn't have been more different: The first very casual and lively whereas the second was far more formal and reserved.  But we thoroughly enjoyed the music in both places and were even treated to an impromptu lesson on the basics of steel drum playing and construction.  All very interesting.

Well we're off to the north of the island today to visit a cocoa plantation and re-visit the old rum distillery.  And we've now got our other camera out here and so photos will be following very soon.  Keep checking in to see what we're up to!

[Captains Blog] Phare Bleu Bay

This last week has been an interesting one in terms of handling the boat in rough weather. The wind has regularly been gusting at over 25 knots which is bad enough on its own, but worse when I have to negotiate narrow passages between reefs that would rip the heart out of the boat if we touched, and shoehorn Pandora into tight, seemingly impossible to access spots in very small marinas and boatyards.

Having said that, the invention of the bowthruster has been something of a saviour to hard pressed helmsmen who are required to perform 'handbrake turns' to avoid running aground in shallowing waters that have less than 20 centimeters below the keel whilst turning around a 5 feet wide jetty to park alongside it on the other side. We've had to manage it on a few occasions in the past 3 days as we've had aborted journeys around the coast to go to the boatyard where they are trying to repair the genny ready to install back onto Pandora. The upside of some skilled handling of these manoeuvres is that we have earned the respect of Kevin, the dockmaster at the marina we are staying at who clearly doesn't suffer fools and he is now only too pleased to offer help and information wherever he can. Very useful indeed!

We are still without said genny - the parts have finally arrived from Italy (only 4 weeks in transit) only to find that there was an oil leak as well and in the process of trying to repair this, the engineer broke a cylinder gasket. Guess what? We don't have a spare here, and a new part has to be sent from the UK. Another 3-4 weeks before we get another chance to fix the problem perhaps? In the meantime, we take the stoical view and continue on managing as best we can with the limited facilities available to us.

2 Jan 2011

[Cruise News] Le Phare Bleu Marina

Happy New Year to everyone!  We spent our last day of 2010 in Prickly Bay and had a great night drinking rum cocktails, eating pizza and listening to a really good steel band.  The players have such amazing rhythm and really throw themselves into their music - they were fantastic.  Fireworks over the bay rounded off a great night.

Earlier in the day we'd had a half-day tour of Grenada visiting places we hadn't seen before, including a spectacular drive from Gouyave (the main west-coast town) up into the mountains.  We drove right across the middle of Grenada, through verdant agricultural lands - former plantation lands with so many different trees growing: Nutmeg, Bread Fruit, Cashew, Avocado, Mango .... a real hotch-potch.  The plantation is long gone now and the older generation have small parcels of this fertile land.  According to our guide, the younger generation are not prepared to put in the hard work to maintain the land.

Yesterday we motored around to our favourite little marina - it was too windy to sail and the direction we needed to head was straight into the wind anyway.  As last time, Paul brought us in beautifully and familiar faces were there to welcome us back - it really is very friendly here, and beautiful to boot.  I can quite see why some of the people who moor their boats here never leave.  We've been invited aboard a catamaran for cocktails tonight - a young couple who live not farm from Paul's parents by coincidence.

The weather this last two weeks has been very blustery because of low pressures in the north and this has led to some "big seas", probably measuring up to 15 feet peak to trough.  But with the right amount of canvas out, some great sailing is to be had.  That said we're still hoping it will calm down a bit before our first visitors arrive - wouldn't want them to be scared off on their first day out!  

So on that note I'll sign off and go and start thinking about what preparations we need to make to welcome them aboard .... or maybe I'll just laze on deck with a good book and rum cocktail!

[Captains Blog] A new year, a new adventure.

We have started the ball rolling with the insurance people to get Pandora looking back at her best, and will be seeing another boatyard tomorrow to get them to assess the cost of repair. That said, the biggest delay is likely to be getting the paint from wherever we can source it, to the Caribbean. We are trying to be realistic by estimating that we won't be starting anything for several months.

Now. Back to the flying fish I promised to talk about before my last blog. As we ply the waterways between the islands, we never cease to be amazed at how far these fish actually fly. Some of them are sizeable fish, but they leap out of the waves and soar across the surface of the sea escaping from predators. Occasionally they will give a 'flap' of their wing-like fins to gain themselves an additional 50 or so metres extra distance between them and their pursuers. It's a wonder any of them ever get caught. We have seen the odd shoal deciding to take flight and that really is impressive.

Sadly, no sightings of dolphins or whales yet. I keep scanning the horizon to be able to shout 'There she blows' but I won't be holding my breath...