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 ....