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!

14 Feb 2011

[Cruise News] Valentine's Day in Admiralty Bay, Bequia

Our stay in Port Louis marina extended to 3 nights in the end because of the very high winds: The Grenada weather forecasters even advised sailors to remain in port so it must have been bad.  Anyway, we managed to get back to sea for the sail to Carriacou on Wednesday and made it up there safely, in winds gusting to 40mph at times once we were on the open water between the two islands but at least the seas were only "moderate" and not "rough" like our sail down to Grenada on the 27th January.

As I've mentioned before our sailing skills have improved during all this windy weather and for the first time in my life I actually seem to have developed some muscles / muscle definition .... quite a novel concept.  So I now have biceps in my upper arms and quads in my upper thighs .... and very brown ones at that!  Helming in the big seas does require quite a lot of upper body strength (hence the biceps) and because Pandora doesn't have a seat from which to helm, our legs have to be continually braced against the heeling of the boat (and hence the quads).  I don't think I've ever been as toned!

So we're back in Bequia to enjoy a couple of days R&R and catch up with some friends before we start the sail up to St Lucia.  And finally it looks as though the winds might be dropping to the levels that we've been waiting for ever since we got here, if the 7-day forecast is to be believed .... just in time for our next set of visitors to arrive a week tomorrow.

[Captains Blog] Admiralty Bay Bequia

The more we undertake longer sails in the rough weather, the more I relaise that the job of getting the boat to our destination is just a part of the whole. Once we arrive, we have decisions to make on whether to anchor or take a mooring buoy, where to park the boat, how close we would be to others in the vicinity, whether there will be the influence of wind and/or tide on the way that Pandora swings (and  she certainly does swing more than the average boat Boo Boo said Yogi) and what to do when other boats invade the space around us and impinge upon our swinging room.

Recently, we seem to be rubbing shoulders in very close proximity with much larger and considerably more expensive boats than Pandora. She has become something of an Oyster and megayacht magnet. For those of you who are not familiar with Oyster yachts, they generally start at about £1million for a relatively small one, and we have been cosying up to some rather big ones lately, including one called 'Cookielicious' - would be great if we could join this elite club one day so we'd better start buying a lottery ticket! Anyway, these and other monster yachts have shaved by our stern within a gnat's whisker on a number of occasions to drop their anchor as they glide by, pulling up on their chains to stop close enough that if they were to swing on their anchor, we would be squashed. Also, not content with their invasion of our space, they invade our dark too by switching on every deck and mast light they have, flooding the bay with the equivalent of the Blackpool Illuminations and then they 'power walk' around the deck for their post prandial exercise. These boat owners are quite selfish to say the least, but I guess that's how they earned enough money to be able to buy the boat in the first place. 

We seem to be making a career out of yelling across the void to ask them to drop back futher to give us more space, but being the smaller party we tend to be dismissed as insignificant.  However, on one occasion after I had been over in the dinghy to ask the crew of such a boat if they had changed their mooring because their boat had rotated through 90 degrees towards us, I received the curt reply "No you have swung on your mooring." We ended up on anchor watch for the evening and twice their boat came to within 15 metres of ours. In the morning when their boat and ours came within 5 metres of each other and I pointed this out to them, the crew member suddenly woke up to the fact that we were not dramatising the situation, and the panic in his face showed.  Needless to say, the position was instantly remedied. 

It just goes to show that even professional skippers and crew are not infallible, and looking out from their gold and ivory tower bridgedecks can cloud their judgement. We mere mortals down at sea level have a far better appreciation of space and distance, and are far more careful about positioning our boats.

7 Feb 2011

[Cruise News] Port Louis Marina, St Georges, Grenada

After a glorious (not!) 9 days sitting in St David's Harbour awaiting and having repairs, with only one day off for good behaviour yet providing food for the mosquitoes in the neighbouring mangrove swamp for the full 9 days, we finally escaped it's clutches on Saturday lunch time and sailed along to Prickly Bay ready for the sail north to Carriacou yesterday. 

We duly left Prickly Bay around 9am and sailed up the leeward side of Grenada right up to the north-western tip when, faced with wind, tide and swell against us and with a very obvious bad weather front ahead, we decided to take the easy option and sailed back down to Port Louis marina.  A wise decision as it turned out as last night it rained incessantly and the winds, even in the sheltered marina, were screaming through the rigging.  If we'd been anchored in Carriacou it would have been another sleepless night for me.

As it happens, today is Independence Day in Grenada and so we've decided to stay put for another day to join in the celebrations and enjoy another good night's sleep before we head off again in the morning.  As you will no doubt imagine, Paul & I are both wondering if the weather will ever settle down ... we have kept thinking "next week it will be fine" but next week in this context never comes.

By this time next week, weather permitting, we'll finally leave Grenada /St Vincent and the Grenadines to head north to St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe and then Antigua.  Sadly the split of our time out here has been weighed far too heavily towards the southern islands for all the reasons you will be no doubt be aware of and it only leaves us the same amount of time to cover the rest of the Windward Islands and all of the Leeward Islands.  Not a lot we can do about that so we'll just have to make the most of March/April/May.
  Let's hope the weather works with us!

[Captains Blog] Port Louis Marina

The number of boats that we have seen lately with broken masts and trailing rigging are testament to the extreme weather that the Caribbean has been experiencing this season. The boatyards will no doubt be rubbing their hands together in glee with the prospect of all that repair work that needs to be done. 

Pandora is now sporting a new pushpit, bimini stanchions, and safety rails post our repair marathon, and we even have a generator back on board that kicks out a steady 220v power output. This was finally achieved on Saturday minutes before we left St Davids for Prickly Bay. It was right down to the wire, and as it turned out, the last thing that was required to get the damn thing working was to feed a loop of wire around a shunt (don't ask me what that means, I am only the onlooker who asks questions to find out what is being done).

All along, we had to tread a very thin line between being pushy to get our work done in preference to others waiting for their repairs done, and hacking them off to the extent that they downed tools and walked off the job. We gather from the boat owners that this is true of all boatyards in the Caribbean.

Our time at St Davids was spent on the water, but many others we have met were living aboard their boats on the hard standing in the boatyard, chocked up ten feet of more to accommodate their keels. So when an earthquake struck on Thursday morning, we weren't aware of it, but the people ashore said they felt as though their boats were being toppled and the chocks falling away. A scary thought!  Thankfully it passed without anyone getting hurt, but it does add to our catalogue of experiences out here. I should write a book ....

On the subject of which, I am.  Over 20,000 words completed to date and plenty more of material waiting in the brain for a time to sit down and type it.  I'm hoping that I can rely on everyone to buy 10 copies each for family and friends!

1 Feb 2011

[Cruise News] St David's Harbour, Grenada

Well we've been here for 5 days now and, as anyone who knows me will know, I'm not very good at sitting around and doing nothing.  Boredom is the order of the day as we wait for the boat yard to wander along to fix various things.  They really pulled out all the stops on Saturday and got the new push-pit fitted but things have somewhat ground to a halt since then and we're waiting around for them to put in an appearance, not daring to leave Pandora for more than a few minutes in case that's when they turn up.  Sadly the boat-yard is rather isolated and so it's not as though there is anything to do ashore.  Roll on Thursday when we can get out of here (fingers crossed) with the generator back on board and all the metalwork repairs complete.  But I'm not holding my breath ....

Actually it's quite incredible the number of "yachties" that are living on board their boats at the boat yard awaiting repairs - I don't know how they can stand it for the weeks on end they seem to be here.  Fortunately an enterprising local turned up this morning with lots of freshly picked fruit and veg and so at least we've been able to stock up on the good stuff.  Other than that I'm passing my time reading and pottering around and Skyping anyone that comes online - a real lifeline!!  The rum cocktail Paul has just made for me also helps!!! 

[Captains Blog] Tied to the jetty in St David's Harbour

Talk about going from one end of the spectrum to the other - having had our exciting and scary trip down to St Davids, we are now well and truly in the doldrums, waiting around for the repairs to be done. After the initial flurry of activity on Saturday, here we are on Tuesday still waiting for the work on everything else to start. We have fallen foul of the Grenada Sailing weekend which carries on beyond Sunday and all the Grenada Marine staff who can make decisions have decided, yes you guessed it, to go sailing.

Whether we will be able to cajole, bribe or generally persuade people to work on our issues in preference to others in (pardon the pun) the same boat as us will be the test. In the meantime, I have unpacked and repacked everything from the lazarette ready for the workers to do their thing every day for the past four days. What I don't know about its contents isn't worth knowing. I have repaired crates that collapse as soon as you look at them so that they can now be lifted in and out with relative impunity; I have re-attached all the stanchions, safety rails, brackets and fittings that I can, and I am still bored out of my tree.

The main problem we face is that we cannot realistically leave the boat, even for a short while to go for a walk to relieve the tedium as sod's law dictates that the one person we need to speak to turns up at the boat, finds we are not there, and then they disappear off the face of the earth for another half day, not answering their phones and with full message mailboxes so that we can't even ask them to try again. So here we sit, reading, updating our blog, writing more of the book and trying to pass the time as best we can. We set a deadline for the work to be done by end of play today, but I won't hold my breath.