22 Jan 2015

[Cruise News] Le Marin, Martinique

Finally the wind has dropped down to normal levels and our sail over from St Lucia on Saturday was delightful ... 20 knots, 1m seas, sun shining, all well with the sailing world.  After overnighting at anchor in St Anne, we returned to the marina on Sunday afternoon in anticipation of the stainless arch and solar panels being fitted this week.  True to his word the fabricator turned up on Monday morning to take final measurements saying he would be back to fit the unit on Wednesday.  Things looked promising on Tuesday afternoon when he came along and dismantled the wind generator in readiness for the new installation.  And that's when it all ground to a halt: the wind generator was re-fitted on Wednesday and we've now left the marina for a few days with a plan to return on Monday for a second attempt at getting the solar panels fitted. At least it means this will dovetail with the arrival of the pole ends - the first parcel got lost in transit and new ones are on their way to us.  We remain optimistic ... sad fools or not?

Being our third and final season in this part of the Caribbean it does feel a little bit like our "farewell tour" a la rock groups, aged singers etc etc.  Whilst I'll never say never about us sailing this area again, we both feel ready for new cruising grounds and so are looking forward to exploring the rest of the Bahamas (we only had time for the Exumas in 2013) and heading up the coast of the USA.  That's not to say that we're not enjoying our time in the Windward Islands .... quite the opposite.

21 Jan 2015

[Captains Blog] Le Marin, Martinique

Back in Le Marin (having shoe-horned Tumi in reverse into a tiny space in between mooring buoys, yet again), we have been focusing on getting the new solar panels fitted and sorting out some of the running rigging. Since we got Tumi, we have had a single continuous line system for the main sheet. This means that we can alter the main sheet from either side of the cockpit as long as one of the cam cleats are locked off. In reality, we only ever used the line from the starboard side, and so what use was the port side line? Nothing! I decided to cut it down to a single side use, and so I got a spare line from the sail locker (bought at a boat jumble in Newton Abbot several years ago and never used to date) and put a tow end on it so I could pull it through the pulleys behind the line I was taking out. Plenty of spare, and bingo, we had a long line to use elsewhere. But where? We have been planning to have a "Wingaker" sail for a while, and that would need a halyard to haul it up to the top of the mast. Well, we measured the old mainsheet and it would just work, so I recycled the blocks (pulleys) that were now obsolete from the port side mainsheet and used one for the Wingaker halyard. That meant me going up to the top of the mast this afternoon, but hey ho, we have electric winches. Sadly, I think my bulk was too much for the winch to deal with and the circuit tripped which left Debra winching by hand. Eventually I got to the top of the mast and pulled the new halyard up from below, fed inside the mast and back down again. We now have everything in place to launch the Wingaker once we get around to ordering one.

Where was I? Oh yes, the solar panels should have been fitted today. However, this is the Caribbean, and no, they weren't. Kashmir, the guy who was supposed to fit them had some difficulty garnering the right diameter steel for the job and had to travel quite a way to find some, which (despite having been given a month's notice) meant that the job wasn't done. We have to leave the marina tomorrow, and so we have booked to come back to the marina on Monday for 3 days to get the job done (at Kashmir's expense, I hasten to add). We had removed the wind generator in preparation for it being welded onto the new arch, so that has had to be reattached to Tumi to give us some extra amps when we are at anchor over the next few days. It does give us a chance to explore the island now, so we will be hiring a car to see the sights, and also do some biking to a beach that appeals to us as well. Every cloud has its silver lining....

17 Jan 2015

[Captains Blog] Granda Anse D'Arlet, Martinique

The freedom to roam the seas must be the single unencumbered global pleasure we have left, and it is definitely to be enjoyed. This week, we signed out of Bequia on Thursday afternoon, departed for St Lucia on Friday, arriving in Rodney Bay at a little after 4pm (too late to check in through customs and immigration), so we dropped anchor just off the beach where there was an annoying monstrosity called Sandals Resort which looked to us like a Caribbean Butlins. We hoisted the yellow quarantine flag to show we were in transit, and settled down for the night. Thankfully, the winds were slight, and we got a decent night's sleep.

Dawn broke yesterday morning and as we were getting our breakfasts, we started thinking what we would do that day. Check into Customs and Immigration first. Then what? Stay on St Lucia and do some exploring? What were our alternatives? We would be collecting our next visiting friends Fiona and Andrew who fly into St Lucia on Tuesday, so potentially we had 3 full days to fill. We both have a very low boredom threshold, and sitting around for days doing nothing, or killing time without a real purpose doesn't cut it with either of us. So we mooted that we could go sailing perhaps .... "OK" we both said. "Let's go to Martinique."

So 30 minutes later, having prepared the boat, washed the dishes, and put the bananas in the sink to stop them falling on the floor, we were under full sail heading across the St Lucia Passage towards Martinique where we arrived several hours later (too late to check into customs again) and are now at anchor in a beautiful, sheltered bay. As we were dropping anchor we were hailed by someone in a dinghy who had recognised us as we turned into the bay. It turned out to be the owners of the boat who were next to us in the Tobago Cays on Christmas Day who we got to know after the accident, and who invited us aboard their boat 'Badgers Sett' for sundowners. We also noticed that another boat whose owners we had been chatting to was close by, and we have a date with them this evening. Such a nice community, these sailors.

We still have the yellow flag hoisted until after clearing in at a cafe this morning (the French immigration process is so civilised and easy - all done online) when we can officially hoist Le Tricouleur as our courtesy flag and legally go ashore. Then what will we do? Explore the island perhaps? Dominica isn't that far away ... Or we might just check out again and sail back to St Lucia ....

16 Jan 2015

[Cruise News] Rodney Bay Marina, St Lucia

We had a super day out yesterday touring the island before dropping Jon & Hannah off at the airport at 5.30pm.  The day kicked off with a tour of St Lucia rum distillery (including a tasting of some very strong rums), lunch overlooking the pitons and then wallowing like hippos in the hot, sulphur springs at the volcano near Soufriere.  The mud bath started with us smearing white volcanic mud / clay all over our bodies (a local tour guide was very happy to help me in the process!) and then decorating ourselves with black mud over the top ... not a pretty sight but supposedly very therapeutic.  We then relaxed in the hot thermal pools prior to showering off the residue.  Interestingly we've noticed a slightly "sour" smell to our skin today and having spoken to other people who've done something similar it can take up to a week to wear off!

On Monday we enjoyed lunch out at Pigeon Island and then walked around the old fort in the afternoon ... an enjoyable day out.  We also were treated to dinner by Jon & Hannah as a belated Christmas present and thank you for having them.  It's a shame the weather has been so windy whilst they've been here but they said they enjoyed their holiday.

So tomorrow we're off to Martinique where we'll spend a few days having the new stainless steel frame and solar panels fitted and then we'll head north towards Les Saintes for the end of the month.

14 Jan 2015

[Captains Blog] St. Lucia

OK. I apologise, it has been 2 weeks since my last entry, but we have been a little busy relaxing. We were woken up by the fireworks in Admiralty Bay, Bequia at midnight as 2015 started and we watched the spectacle from the comfort of our front cabin, with our heads out of the hatches. Display over, we went back to sleep. It's an exhausting life, which requires much sleep. On NYD we sailed across to St Vincent to collect Jon & Hannah who were due to arrive in the evening, so we took a mooring in Young Island Cut and waited for their arrival. LIAT airlines (commonly known as Luggage In Another Terminal) decided when they touched down in Barbados en-route to St Vincent, that the flight was full and they were bumped off the plane and into a Bajan hotel for the night. They arrived the next morning feeling somewhat jaded, and so we didn't leave straight away but gave them a chance to rest a while. The trip back to Bequia was its usual lively self, and with the winds being double the forecast (as they have been ever since) we decided to take a mooring in the bay. Right decision. We had gusts of over 40 knots and we know that some boats were dragging.

Speaking of boats dragging, there was one incident where I had to get involved. A blue hulled british yacht flying the blue ensign (usually a bad sign as they appear to be a bit superior in mind, and inferior in capability) dragged almost the length of the bay, fortunately missing boats along the way. The owner and crew were absent ashore, oblivious to their boat's peril. Inevitably, it was heading towards another yacht, also without crew aboard, and so three of us conscientious sailors intervened. We pushed the boat sideways using our dinghies so that it missed the innocent yacht in its path, and then took the pressure off the anchor chain so that we could play out much more by hand in the hope that eventually the anchor would bite and hold. We had 2 attempts at this before we finally managed to halt the drag. The owners, on returning to their boat adopted the bottoms up attitude (i.e. burying their heads in the sand) and were unwilling to discuss the matter,  hardly even bothering to say thanks. Why did we bother??? Actually, it was to save the innocent boat from damage, and their owner was ecstatic. "It's the best Christmas present I could ever have expected" was his comment while thanking us effusively and inviting us around for drinks that evening.

We have since visited Mustique (very chic, but very rolly in the bay); Tobago Cays where we saw a huge stingray gliding serenely by, ate lobsters in the pouring rain and saw a couple of 4 ft iguanas; Petit st Vincent where we enjoyed cocktails in the rain, and back to Bequia in a tropical storm where we couldn't see the island ahead of us until we got to it. Generally the weather has been challenging to say the least with very high winds, and boisterous seas. A challenge to non-sailors, but Jon & Hannah have weathered it well. Good for them. We are used to it now and we are undaunted, helped by the fact that Tumi handles it so well.

Last thing, coming into the marina in Rodney Bay, we touched bottom in shallow water. Fortunately it was just mud, and with some serious revs, we managed to inch our way back to the deeper water without having to be towed. Hey Ho ...

12 Jan 2015

[Cruise News] Rodney Bay marina, St Lucia

We had a tough sail up to St Lucia yesterday ... big seas, high winds from the wrong direction and rain ... perfect sailing conditions (not) and unsurprisingly not that many yachts out and about.  But given the forecast for Monday and Tuesday were worse, and with Jon & Hannah flying home from St Lucia on Thursday, we didn't want to risk leaving it until Wednesday to make the journey in case anything untoward cropped up.  So off we went yesterday - over 12 hours of hard slog, having to motor-sail much of the way just to try to maintain the heading we needed.  Jon bore it very stoically, Hannah chose the very sensible option of sleeping through much of it, and Paul & I just got on with the business at hand.  It's incredible how our attitude to bad conditions has changed over the years: Whilst we obviously would prefer to sail in good condition, the "rough stuff" doesn't faze us.

And after almost sleeping the clock around last night, safely tucked up in Rodney Bay marina, all is well with the world once more, even though it's still blowing a gale out at sea.  Sadly for Jon Hannah, the ongoing forecast from the day they leave is a good one so it just goes to show that it's not just the UK that has iffy weather!

Anyway, we plan to make the most of their last three days and will visit Pigeon Island, have a day at a luxury spa hotel, and hire a car to do some sight-seeing ... a plantation, rum distillery and drive-through volcano.  Should be good!

9 Jan 2015

[Cruise News] Bequia, The Grenadines

We've completed our whistle-stop tour of the Grenadines a day or two earlier than planned, basically to try to make the most of the weather windows for sailing back north to Bequia and then on to St Lucia a couple of days later.  So sadly Union Island had to be dropped but we were able to visit the Tobago Cays, Petit St Vincent and Canouan (really only a lunch stop but pleasant nonetheless).

We did eat at 'The View' on our last night in Mustique, walking up to the locals village to get there and the name was very apt: The view down over the bay was spectacular.  There was no menu just fish (mahi mahi or barracuda with a creole sauce) or chicken with "whatever the chef decides to cook it with".  This turned out to be egg-plant stuffed with something cheesy, coleslaw, "rice and peas" that Caribbean staple, and plantain fritters.  All very yummy but served at room temperature!  Good job is was nearly thirty degrees ....

The sail down to the Tobago Cays was pretty windy with bouncy seas so "the crew" were glad to arrive.  That evening we went to a beach BBQ on the largest of the uninhabited islands .... lobster or tuna and you, guessed it, rice and peas, plantain fritters but potatoes skins stuffed with something cheesy this time.  Actually all tasted lovely but half-way through the meal the heavens opened and a tropical downpour ensued.  Hannah and I retreated under the picnic table with a lantern and our plates whilst Paul & Jon manfully (?) sat it out getting soaked but finishing every last mouthful.

The sail down to Petit St Vincent was (finally) a more gentle one and we anchored off the beach bar in crystal-clear turquoise waters.  Truly idyllic.  We made use of the beach bar that night enjoying a couple of cocktails each before returning to the boat for dinner, cooked by Hannah.  No rice and peas last night!

The sail back to Bequia today was a journey of two halves: a pleasant (if windy) pre-lunch sail to Canouan where we enjoyed a lunch in a sheltered bay in the sunshine.  And then the sail on up to Bequia.  As four years we were overtaken by storm clouds and torrential rain which flattened the surface of the ocean.  Talk about history repeating itself!

And now we're back safely in Bequia.  Hannah is baking foccacia to go with the mushroom and bacon pasta Jon is cooking.  Guests like these two are welcome any time!

6 Jan 2015

[Cruise News] Mustique, The Grenadines

We've finally made it to Mustique, home of the rich and famous although I have to confess we haven't seen anyone that looks remotely either! The crossing from Bequia yesterday was rough for our crew: large, messy seas and winds gusting up to 45 knots.  We were well reefed down so the sailing was no problem for Paul and me but Hannah and Jon did feel a bit green.

Paul & I have never visited Mustique before, largely because the one bay in which you can pick up a mooring buoy rolls continually.  They charge US$75 for a 1-night stay with the two consecutive nights free of charge and having now experienced just how rolly the bay actually is, we can see why they do it this way rather than saying it is US$25 per night ... no-one can face staying three nights and they'd lose out on revenue!  As it is we're going to stick it two nights as we wanted to see something of the island and it is like paradise ... white sands fringed by palm trees, turquoise seas etc etc.

We walked around to Blue Lagoon bay yesterday after lunch for a quick dip in the sea.  And today we took a taxi to the south eastern corner of the island and walked up the coast to Macaroni Bay, passing Obsidian Bay (black sand) and Pasture Bay en-route.  That side of the island is surprisingly barren with few houses because of the relentless winds but has a wild beauty.

The main bay where we are based is called Brittania Bay and is home to Basil's Bar, a Mustique institution since 1976.  We went in at lunchtime today and left pretty sharpish: It's definitely trading on its name and position as the actual place is rather shabby.  We have had a local restaurant called The View recommended so may give it a try tonight.

Overall, glad we've visited as it is truly lovely but the rolly anchorage is enough to stop me coming again!  Next stop, Tobago Cays.

4 Jan 2015

[Cruise News] Bequia, The Grenadines

We returned to Bequia in time for New Year and found several of the Atlantic Odyssey boats here also which made for a good atmosphere, walking along the main street of Port Elizabeth to seeing people we knew every few steps.  We were also lucky enough to return to Fernando's Hideaway, our favourite restaurant on the island, with friends we made 4 years ago.  It was as good as we remembered!

On NY Eve afternoon we went walking with Mike & Nicola and called at mutual friends who have a house on the island with a lovely view.  By the time we got back to Tumi it was approaching 7pm and we were pretty tired so after a quick bite to eat we decided to cancel our plans to join friends for a drink and instead watched a movie and went to bed!  What party animals!!  We did wake up at midnight to watch the fireworks over the bay and see in the New Year.

On New Year's Day we sailed over to St Vincent in readiness for the arrival of Paul's son Jon and his girlfriend Hannah that evening.  St Vincent isn't over-popular with yachties as there has been a lot of trouble over the years but the two anchorages on the south coast are pretty safe.  So we based ourselves at Young Island Cut, polished Tumi to a shine (got to make a good first impression!), arranged for a taxi to pick them up at the airport and waited for them to arrive.  They flew into St Lucia from the UK and took a local puddle-hopper down to St Vincent via Barbados.  Our first phonecall from them was to tell us the plane to Barbados was delayed by an hour; the second to say the onward flight to St Vincent was overbooked and they'd been bumped off it and booked on to the next flight 8 hours later; the third to tell us that this flight was delayed and they finally turned up 10 hours late, shattered after over 30 hours travelling!  Anyway we greeted them with champagne and scrambled eggs and things so seemed a lot better.

Later that day we sailed back down to Bequia and picked up a mooring buoy so we could be closer to town and ride out the high winds forecast for the weekend.

On the 3rd January we took an island tour in an open-backed taxi, visiting the old fort, Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, Whaling Museum and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery and lovely views.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it.
Today we went for the local curry brunch at the Firefly Plantation hotel - delicious food - before taking a guided tour around the plantation itself, sampling local fruits, herbs and sugar cane.  All very interesting.
Tomorrow we're heading off to Mustique, a first for us, and we're all looking forward to it.