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!