So Long and Thanks

Saturday 6th July 2019

We have thought long and hard about when we should write the last sailraya blog, closing this amazing chapter of our lives. We are still feeling tired and rather disoriented but we are starting to integrate back into normal life, I actually have a working phone for the first time in nearly four years, yesterday we bought a car and the hunt for a new home has begun, our minds are slowly turning to life ashore, now, feels like the right time.

This evening I booted up my long ignored laptop and while it charges the screen saver is scrolling our photo collection, a fabulous summary of our trip. How we will manage without all the wonderful sights and experiences, the continual challenges and the satisfaction of achieving each stage of something so special, is hard to know, but one thing is for sure my Instagram page will be taking a turn for the worst.

Did the highs outshine the lows,? On that there is no doubt, every minute of those cold and tiring night watches was worth the five we spent absorbing the song of a humpback whale just 10m below us. Every uncomfortable roll of the boat was worth it to glide along side a manta ray or a whale shark. The exhaustion of a night in a rolly anchorage was easily washed away the moment we put our heads below crystal clear water above a magnificent coral reef and the pressure from the ceaseless demands of keeping Raya and ourselves safe was made manageable with the assistance of so many friends afloat and at home.

It’s difficult to know where to start thanking these people for their support, so many have helped us in so many ways, from those who accompanied us across oceans, Ian, Eric, Hartmut, Jonathan, Sheridan, Penny, Stephen, Richard and Tony, to everybody that sent newsy emails to raise our spirits during those long passages.

Andy who got us through the boat preparations, Peter and Joanna who spent hours putting together our medical kit, the numerous friends who joined us in Southampton to wish us well and Chris who has been there for us from the start to the finish.

Our fellow cruisers whose easy friendship was one of the trips highlights, their generosity and support was nothing less than life affirming. Nina, Toothless, Yolata, Pawpaw, Britican, Into the Blue, Randivag, Alexandra, Crazy Daisy, Knockando, Moonshadow, Il Sogno, Influencer, Vela and so many more, it was a pleasure to sail with you.

Thanks to the folks at Oyster especially Eddie and Regina, Harry at the rig shop for a faultless rig, Chris and Stokey for their weather help through the tricky bits, mailasail for keeping us in touch with the world and Navionics and Google maps for their help keeping us in the blue.

Thank you to all the blog readers whose continued loyalty and encouragement kept me writing, to everyone who opened their homes to us when we returned to the UK that kept us warm and fed and everyone who responded to our bizarre requests to secure boat bits that kept us afloat.

And a huge thanks to our families especially Nana who tracked and encouraged us every step of the way, Penny who, uncomplaining, worked as our unpaid PA throughout and Rachael and Matt who, despite their mad parents selling the family home and running off into the sunset, have yet to disown us.

Finally thank you Raya, our home for the past four years, her speed won us awards at the ARC and has kept the long passages as short as possible, her toughness has shrugged off high winds and large waves keeping us safe and her simplicity of handling has made things relatively easygoing for these two amateur sailors. Her spacious design has meant we have circumnavigated in style, her elegant lines still catch our eye.

Raya, our cruising community and all our family and friends who have joined us, what wonderful times we have shared.

Home!

Friday 28th July 2019

The wind is screeching through the masts that surround us in the marina so loudly that it’s difficult to think straight but the gales sweeping across South West England are not the only thing causing us to feel disorientated, we are home and have the challenge of a whole new life to organise.

We left Horta in calm seas and yet again the engine was on, more confident of our fuel range after all the motoring up from the Caribbean, we pushed quite hard, the easterly winds that are battering us now had shown up on the forecast and we were keen to arrive before they set in. Thursday, finally, we picked up some winds and quickly things became a bit livelier. After a fantastic day sailing, inevitably the waves increased in height and a nasty beam swell developed, rocking us back and forth. This was much more how we had imagined the the North Atlantic and although uncomfortable we were eating up the miles. Each day the temperatures continued to drop and this, in combination with a few showers, drove us into wet weather gear. On night watch everyone was now bundled into as many layers as was practical, boots were dug out from where they had sat for four years and rather musty woolly hats and gloves bought out for an airing.

Gradually putting on more clothes

The wild life, however, didn’t seem to be put off by these cooler temperatures and despite the rougher seas we spotted a couple of what we think were fin whales a hundred or so metres off to starboard and numerous pods of dolphins came to say hello, but the highlight was a group of Orcas. Easily identified by their black and white colourings we were delighted when a few swam closer and closer, ducking and diving right next to the boat just like the dolphins had.

Killer whales swam right next to the boat, this one seems to have a rather big chunk out of his fin.

Such sights brought into focus our feelings of sadness that our adventure was nearly over, that the wonders we have been treated to over the past four years were near an end, but as we struggled to get some sleep in the choppy conditions a still bed grew more and more desirable.

Emotions continued to be mixed, Monday morning the log clicked over to 40,000nm, the total number of miles we have sailed on Raya and we felt a certain pride in our achievement. As we sailed nearer and nearer to home, the SW of England appeared on the chart plotter for the first time since May 2015 and excitement began to build.

UK coast on the chart plotter for the first time in four years

Early Tuesday morning, our last day at sea, I came up on watch to find not just sunshine and calm seas but a very excited Rick, a hazy outline of the Lizard, the most Southerly point of the UK was visible on the horizon. We were surrounded by a mass of small fishing boats, so while I steered us through the traffic, Rick and Tony strung flags from our bows to the stern. It is a privilege of circumnavigators to arrive in port dressed in flags and Plymouth is a Navy port and flag signals are important, we were delighted when two Royal Navy boats acknowledged us by sounding their horns.

The temperatures had been increasing over the last day or so to warm us, on the dock were a dozen friendly faces to welcome us and in their bags plenty of bottles to celebrate with, a perfect home coming.

Raya arrives back in the UK

Volcanoes and Street Art

Wednesday 19th June 2019

Here we go again, weather window antics, we plan to leave Tuesday, no Wednesday, no Tuesday, no Wednesday. I think we have settled on Wednesday but maybe that will be Tuesday afternoon or perhaps next week.

In the end we left rather quickly Tuesday lunchtime and before I had managed to upload this post, there are photos but I will have to attach them when we reach the UK. Reach the UK, how strange that sounds.

Horta the main port and capital of Faial in the Azores is a pretty town full of often crumbling but decorative terraced buildings. Churches white, with black detailing stand out in the sunshine and flowers greet you on every spare piece of ground.

Church of Nossa Senhora das Angustias, in Horta

The Marina was friendly and being Europe the formalities straight forward. It was choc-a-bloc with transatlantic boats that continually arrived, stretching the facilities to the limit, for most of the stay we were rafted three deep.

The first few days were warm and sunny as we rushed about getting the normal mundane tasks completed. The laundry, run on a confusing part service, part do it yourself regime, was dictated over by a woman with Hitler pretensions and with so many boats continually arriving with weeks worth of dirty washing, it was a slow and painful process.

The supermarket however was well stocked and although everything was totally in Portuguese and it took us a bit of time to find what we needed, we, for the first time in a while, enjoyed delicious lunches of fresh fruit and tasty local cheese.

With the weather forecast looking unsettled for the weekend, Friday morning we took a taxi tour of the island. As we left the town of Horta and climbed into the hills, the smell of freshly mown grass assaulted our senses, with the lower temperatures, cows grazing in buttercup filled meadows and familiar bird song we could almost have been in Devon.

However, like most of the oceanic islands we have visited, the Azores were born from past volcanic activity. As we continued to drive higher we entered the cloud base that cloaks the highest peak here, as the mist swirled and thinned we caught glimpses of fantastic views of the island and the huge picturesque volcanic peak on the island across the channel, Pico.

We were headed to near the top of the Caldera do Faial, where a tunnel has been created through the rock side to a viewing platform to see the interior of the still perfectly circular cone. At 2km wide and 400m deep a unique ecosystem has sprung up in its base, with plants and birds not found anywhere else flourishing in their own tiny world.

Caldera do Faial

During the eruptions that created this volcano, pumice stone was flung out onto the island and this has made the soil here very fertile but acidic. Crowding every hedge row and many gardens are hydrangea plants, the acidic soil turns the normally pink flowers a bright blue and Faial has become famous for this magnificent summer display.

In stark contrast to the lush growth of most of the island is the barren headland on the NW coast, created by an eruption that took place less than 60 years ago, it resembles a moonscape. A huge slab of rock juts out to sea backed by rocks of solidified lava and slopes of sweeping black sand.

Volcanic landscape at Capelinhos

We were glad to have taken the time to explore because the weekend turned out to be quite stressful. We were tied up to the harbour wall, right in the corner, where the wash back from the swell, with the weight of two boats hanging off us, had us straining and jolting uncomfortably on our cleats, the creaking and groaning of the lines keeping us awake. Hours were spent tightening this rope, then tightening another, then loosening everything again as the tide dropped.

Finally Monday afternoon things quietened down and the showers cleared, time to get creative. As in a lot of ports and anchorages where ocean sailors gather, people like to leave their mark. Often it is in the form of national or yacht club flags, that adorn the insides of local bars and cafes or, as in the Percy Islands off the Australian East Coast where crews carve plaques that are nailed to the large A frame shelter on the beach. In the Azores the tradition is street art, every inch of the walls and paving of Horta marina are covered by paintings left by previous visitors.

We were keen to join in the fun and Rick had in his head planned a complex design to include the names of everyone who had helped us by joining us for an ocean passage. Unfortunately the combination of the busy first few days followed by the wet weather, had thwarted our attempts to put paint to concrete. Eventually, Monday, as an evening sun appeared we picked our spot and painted the background. This was nearly as far as we got, with a change in the forecast later in the week, making a quick departure looked advantageous. The original complex design had to be ditched and I and Tony were still painting Rick’s much simplified effort, as he refuelled Raya just an hour before we left.

As Rick and Tony prepare the boat for departure I’m still busy painting

It is our first night out and we are motoring again in very light winds, the full moon shines brightly, the only star visible in the light sky is Jupiter twinkling to our south. In the log Rick described the sea state as, motoring through melted chocolate, it’s glossy dark surface heaving gently beneath our keel.

Wind is promised in a few days time, Plymouth and reality beckon.

 

Ocean High

Monday 10th June 2019

We have finally arrived in Horta in the Azores, after a couple of weeks of very little wind, it has been a slow but comfortable crossing. I, particularly, get range anxiety when we have to do such a lot of motoring but this time even Rick, not confident of the fuel gauge, was measuring the inexorable draining of the fuel tank with the dip stick on a very regular basis. In the end about 50nm out from the marina we picked up some wind and sailed the whole of the last day, approaching the island reefed and doing 8kts, with at least 150 litres of fuel left in the tank.

‘Got here beer’ in Horta

Our crossing from the Caribbean might have been the slowest of our ocean passages but stuck in the middle of the Azores high pressure system, it also became the calmest. And calm seas don’t just mean more sleep and a much more comfortable life onboard, it also means our fellow ocean goers are easier to see.

On Wednesday I spotted what I first thought was rubbish, it looked a bit like the end of a child’s clear pencil case decorated with a pink rim. Then I saw another and another. We looked more closely and realised they were a type of jelly fish, a jelly fish with what appeared to be a three dimensional semi circular sail. Enquiries back home to those who have access to Google revealed them to be in the Portuguese Man-o-War family. We learnt that each creature was in fact not a single organism but a colony of much smaller ones, all working together to create a viable unit. And what was also incredible, was that five days and nearly a thousand miles on, they were still passing us by in a steady stream. The whole ocean is full of them.

A clump of a dozen sailing jelly fish

A rarer sight was a pod of whales. In a rougher sea we probably wouldn’t have spotted the telltale blow in the distance, but any thing that breaks the surface in these calm conditions is obvious. Too far away to identify conclusively, their small size suggests they were probably pilot whales. And just when we were beginning to give up on dolphins over the last few days of the passage we saw three or four large pods, They were Atlantic spotted dolphins and they gave us a spectacular show leaping from the water and dancing in our bow waves.

A pod of dolphins charging in to swim at our bows

The journey has also been big on the pure grandure of the open ocean, the only ripple to be seen was our wake as we motored over a glassy, inky blue, undulating sea, that stretched out to a huge horizon. We have been treated to dramatic dark orange sunrises and sunsets and one night the ocean was so smooth, I sat mesmerised by a whole sky full of stars reflected in its surface. As always we gaze in wonder and reflect on how honoured we are to witness such things.

Sun rising over a silky sea

While we enjoyed all this we were slowly travelling northward and we were noticing many changes. The temperatures of the sea and the air dropped daily forcing us into more and thicker clothing. The Southern cross that has for so long been our focus in the night sky, a few days ago disappeared below the horizon and after years of pretty much 12 hours of darkness each night, the shorter nights are taking a bit of getting use to. With the sun setting later and later each day, despite our routine changing of the clocks as we travelled through different time zones, we had eventually to push our night watch system back an hour because we were struggling to get to sleep. Even the duration of dawn and dusk is changing, the sudden onset and disappearance of darkness of the tropics is being replaced with the hour long fading and brightening of light of higher latitudes.

We hope to have about a week to enjoy the Azores, we suspect the passage back to the UK may not be so tranquil, so we must be patient and wait for a good weather window.

Homeward Bound

Sunday 2nd May 2019

There’s one certainty when you’re ocean sailing and that is you can guarantee that whatever conditions you have now, they will be different very soon. Currently we are sailing at about 7.5 kts, as high into a F4 wind as we can, trying to make our track to the Azores in persistently easting winds. The boat is well heeled over which means we are living on a slope, it is hard work!

Beating into calm blue seas, 500nm north of the BVI

Just a few days ago on the other hand, we were wishing for more wind, with so far to go we were reluctant to use too much of our fuel and so we were sailing as much as we could, often barely reaching 5 kts.

Last Sunday, however, the conditions in the mighty Atlantic were still just a forecast. With only a day to prepare for our departure, it was an exhausting day, especially in the humid heat of Road Town. We were extremely pleased to have the extra pair of hands belonging to our friend Tony, who has joined us for this crossing.

We walked to the customs office determined to keep our cool whatever procedures or rudeness were thrown at us. Thankfully the terrible experience we had had during check in wasn’t repeated and with our clearance papers ready, the fridge and fuel tanks full, we set off Monday morning just in time to miss the mass of dark clouds  descending on Tortola.

Leaving the islands calmed the sea and cleared the sky but didn’t produce any wind, we tried our best to relax and enjoy the comfortable conditions, making ourselves stop obsessively watching the speed dial, we had no deadlines to meet after all.

The sun was shining, the sea a deep royal blue and we had plenty of entertainment from a flock of shearwaters that seem to be following us, gliding in and landing right next to the side of the boat, we assume they must be snapping up tiny fish that are being stirred up in our wake.

Manx shearwater feeding right next to the boat

At night we have had the odd squall bringing erratic winds and torrential downpours but for the most part the nights have been tranquil too. With just a slither of moon the stars are incredible, one magical night-watch at around midnight, I sat with the warm breeze brushing my face, watching a display of a thousand sparkles not just above but in the water too, we were passing through a patch of dense phosphorescing algae.

The early calm conditions meant our warnings to Tony of what to expect and the difficulties he may have to endure appeared exaggerated but now when just getting from ones side of the salon to the other is a challenge and everything from preparing a meal to cleaning your teeth has its problems, our words are beginning to ring true.

A bit tricky washing up on a slope

Luckily the sea state is still reasonably clement so although heeled over we, at least, aren’t slamming too badly into the approaching waves and everybody is getting some sleep.

For a bit of a break this morning we furled the Genoa and put on the engine to flatten Raya out so we could more easily, shower, make tea, do a few jobs…., it was a relief to be able to walk around the boat without having to cling on to every hand rail.

We also took the opportunity to tackle a couple of issues, the AIS was accidentally turned off with the nav lights yesterday and when turned back on didn’t seem to be connecting back up to the chart plotter. We used the time on the engine to reset all the systems, unfortunately in the absence of anything close to us in this huge ocean for the receiver to pick up, it is difficult to ascertain if it’s working or not.

At the other end of the technical scale, our 25 degree angle is causing problems with our sinks and toilets, as water finds the lowest corners, a lot is flowing to the other side of the bowls from the drains and so can never really be emptied and in the warm conditions are quickly becoming unpleasant, the level boat gave us a chance to give everything a good clean.

Now with sails back up, we are again clinging onto our seats, moving around downstairs as little as possible and trying to see when the next change might take place.

Can’t really complain, just routine problems, such is the life of ocean sailors.

Goodbye to the Tropics 😢

Sunday 26th May 2019

Preparations in full swing, Rick scrubbing a very furry prop

As we lifted the anchor today and headed towards the marina to prepare to leave tomorrow it occurred to me that, rather sadly, this may be the last time we ever anchor Raya. Our next destinations, Horta in the Azores and then the South Coast of England will most likely have us tied up in marinas for the rest of the trip, our trusty anchor unneeded. By strange coincidence, while I play about with the possibility of writing a book of our adventures, I was just yesterday writing down my thoughts about our very first night at anchor, off the coast of Portugal as we sailed towards the Mediterranean.

Where on earth have the last four years gone?

Since our arrival in the Caribbean we have found ourselves trying to absorb the details of everything we love about our tropical watery life, fixing them into our memories to be conjured, at will, to brighten dreary November days.

Stunning tropical colours in the BVI

Not just the incredible events we have been honoured to experience but also the small every day things, like the feeling you get when, sweaty and hot, you jump over the side into the water, it’s delicious silky coolness enveloping you. The anticipation of what might be revealed today as you dip your head into the magical underwater world whose sights rarely let you down. Or the spectacular shows of the seabirds as they swoop and dive or dance above your heads. And the kaleidoscope of colours of the fish and the coral, the burnt oranges and baby pinks of the sunsets and the turquoise of shallow seas.

How can I live without that turquoise.

Not sure who this chap is but his home is a colourful mini reef

It’s difficult to imagine living without these things, however, I have recently caught myself contemplating other aspects of our life and thinking how nice it would be to wear perfume rather than insect repellent out to dinner, how great it would be to have a fridge full of green vegetables and what a luxury it would be to be able to flush the toilet paper.

So perhaps this is a good time to be leaving this life while our tolerance of the inconveniences, the price we pay to enjoy these things, is still high.

Thursdays sunset

You can track our homebound route through our Yellow Brick tracker, found at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

Fish and Officialdom

Monday 20th May 2019

The sea around the BVI has become rather rolly and we are finding it hard to find a spot to escape. Swell is a very difficult thing to predict when sailing around islands, it has the tendency to creep around headlands, bend through passes and enter bays that look on the chart like they should be protected. We are currently on a mooring off the Cooper Island Resort and during the night a swell that in the ocean is from the E/NE, bizarrely began entering the bay from the SW.

It might be rolly but the views pretty good

It’s been quite an up and down week in other respects too. Last Monday we went back into Village Cay Marina, we needed to top up provisions, get the laundry done and extend our visas. We had mentally prepared ourselves, determined to smile through the unhelpful attitude of the immigration officials and to relax through the normal inefficiency, what we weren’t prepared for was the 2 3/4 hrs we would have to wait for a simple stamp on our passports. The office was crammed full of anxious people trying to get resident or work permits. We were all told there would be about a 20 min wait, so nobody dare leave feeling sure they would be called any minute, frustration levels were high. Finally we were seen but only given an extension to the end of the month, desperate to just get out of there, we didn’t argue but with our friend Tony not arriving until late on the 24th that doesn’t leave us a very wide window for departure.

To make things even more irritating, despite only being allowed 15 days extra on our visas we have had to pay the full $200 to import Raya for the whole year. Although we knew all this in advance it doesn’t make it feel any fairer and that evening we felt exhausted. It is amazing how tiring, just sitting or standing, feeling cross, while gradually dehydrating in a very hot room, can be.

As soon as our town tasks were completed, we left the marina and got back out to the islands, where jobs could be interspersed with cooling swims.

The pain of our visit to immigration was quickly erased by a particularly good late afternoon snorkel. Back in our favourite spot anchored in Privateer Bay we took off to visit the caves with the sun, now lower in the sky, shining straight on the cliffs, highlighting the caves interiors. Immediately we spotted a baby pelican, unfortunately our arrival frightened him and with his flying skills not yet up to parr, we watched as rather comically he struggled to get airborne.

A slightly clumsy take off but he made it.

As I entered the first cave his sibling was hiding inside and his exit took him only inches from my head, while below me a 5ft long tarpon emerged through a veil of a million tiny fish escaping the cave just below my feet. The light inside was glorious however and the shoal of inch long fish glinted in the sunshine like a curtain of slithered glass..

The cave was full of thousands of fish, tiny and huge (see bottom right corner)

Outside the cave it was crowded too, a large shoal of bar jacks followed me as I swam. If I swam right, they all turned right, if I went to explore a cave, in they came with me, if I slowed they all bunched up so as not to get ahead of me, I felt a bit like the Pied Piper.

From the blue depths, three large tarpons, their ugly mouths showing off their sharp teeth, cruised in, more shoaling fry filled the water, along with of course the ever present blue tang and sergeant major fish. With a good scattering of plankton in the water and gulls above us, it felt like whole food chain was ready to start supper.

Tarpons carolling their supper

Most of the rest of the week has been spent on preparations for the journey ahead. While I cook for the freezer, sort out the admin and start the passage plan, Rick has been carrying out some routine maintenance. In the marina I winched him up the mast so he could check the rigging and instruments. He has repacked the lazerette, our big storage compartment at the back of the boat, so the fenders can be put away for the passage. Batteries for torches and radios have been charged, the generator serviced, a broken fan replaced and lockers cleaned and sorted.

Touching wood as I write, which is not so easy while I cling onto my cup of tea which is threatening to be thrown off the table as we roll, everything has been in good condition, so far we’ve found only a few minor issues.

The plan today was to dive under the boat to clean a rather furry prop and slow cook a beef stew, but in this swell perhaps we’ll just abandon trying to work and head out for a snorkel instead.

Family Fun

Friday 10th May 2019

We have just waved the kids off at the airport, it has been fantastic to have them with us to share our last bit of tropical cruising. We now have only a couple weeks to ready ourselves and then we head off back across the Atlantic. It is impossible to comprehend that in a few months we will be back in the UK with Raya up for sale and us beginning the search for a new land based home.

Final walk along the beach at Trellis Bay

After leaving Privateer Bay we headed for a surprisingly windy Great Harbour. The kids, continuing their efforts to tick off every famous bar in the Islands, a visit to The Willy T’s floating restaurant was high on their list. We were in desperate need of refilling the fridge and the small supermarkets we remembered scattered around the islands were either no longer around or very badly stocked. So after a fun evening, bright and early the next day we headed off to Village Cay Marina in Road Town, the capital of BVI on the main island of Tortola, to restock at the bigger stores.

We also thought we’d take the opportunity to wash the decks, clean the bathrooms and fill our water tanks. Unfortunately we hadn’t read the small print of the marina contract. Often Marinas will put on a small extra charge for water, but here, unnoticed by us, they were charging 25 cents a gallon and we were faced with a shocking $90 bill just for water. To add to our woes Andy discovered his bank card had been cloned and used liberally a few miles away in the US Virgin Islands, it took him many frustrating phone calls back to the UK to sort everything out. Lessons learnt we put the water-maker on full steam ahead and none of us let our cards out of our sight again.

Feeling somewhat disgruntled we headed off for Gorda Sound, here the effects of hurricane Irma was still very much in evidence. The only restaurant open on the coast is at Leverick Bay, Saba Rock is a building site and despite a website speaking of rebuild plans, the legionary Bitter End Yacht Club has been seemingly wiped from the map. We found a nice anchorage however on the northwest side the sound, off Prickly Pear Island, next to a pretty little sandy beach.

Fruit Salad Beach, Gorda Sound

We discovered this beach many years ago during a charter holiday, nobody else seems to go there and while we enjoyed having the sand to ourselves, on the surf in bobbed a piece of pineapple, then a half of lime, a slice of orange, more pineapple……., we christened it fruit salad beach. Thankfully there was no food waste this time and after admiring the view we put on our masks and went for a snorkel. The visibility wasn’t that great but the rocky landscape of the sea floor, filled with soft corals, looked like an underground garden and with a good sprinkling of fish it made for an enjoyable hour.

Fan corals in Gorda Sound

Our next stop was on the South of Virgin Gorda, an area called the Baths, a jumble of gigantic boulders that sit on a pure white sandy shore. Although the boulders look like they have tumbled down from some long forgotten hill their geology is much more complicated. During a period of volcanic activity about 50 million years ago molten rock was forced to the surface, cooling to form granite. As it cooled the rock cracked and split into slabs and over the eons all surrounding softer rocks have eroded away and the slabs themselves rounded and smoothed to produce the magnificent spectacle we see today. It is a national park and a trail through, up and over the boulders leads you into small passages, picturesque pools and amazing spaces. If you arrive by boat as we did, to add to the adventure you have to leave your dingy tired up to the provided buoys and swim ashore. The water is crystal clear and the landscape beneath the waves as dramatic as above.

Robyn exploring the Baths

Back onboard we discussed what to do next, although the youngsters were enjoying the bars and the internet they provided, everyone agreed it was the swimming and snorkelling that were our prime objective. We got a bit of both at Cooper Island and then it was back to Privateer Bay.

Again the snorkelling was superb, Rick and I swimming far out on the point even spotted a reef shark our first in the BVI. Rachael and Andy continued there long swims around the shore line and back to the boat. And then there were the turtles, turtles everywhere. Robyn’s squeals of delight as turtles surrounded her summed up our excitement. And finally Matt got us that perfect shot.

Hawksbill turtle with a couple of small remora hitching a lift

Bubbles, Bars and Big Fish

Monday 29th April 2019

It’s a rather blustery morning with dark clouds rushing across the sky, but with the early light playing spectacularly on the hills, I am enjoying a few moments of quiet, in our calm anchorage in Privateer Bay, to catch up on my blog.

Hills of Tortola in the morning light

Last Tuesday morning we sailed to one of our old favourites, Diamond Cay and opted to drop the anchor in the slightly deeper water at the centre of the bay to escape the crowds. It is a beautiful spot with the shallowing sea providing every shade of turquoise imaginable with, in the distance, Sandy Spit. Sandy Spit with its Robinson Crusoe look of white sand with a solitary palm tree had often acted as the poster boy for the BVI, sadly, post Irma, the tree has gone but the sand island still acted as a good focus to paddle out to in the kayak, as did the bar on the opposite shore. Our kids were using every moment of their holiday to the full.

The walk through the mangroves to the ‘bubbly pool’ has also been stripped bare, the dead trees cast aside leaving open beach. However the view here where the mighty Atlantic is halted in a froth, by a wide reef, to produce a tranquil lagoon is still great, as is the clamber up the hill to the cliffs.

Mangroves stripped bare but the Atlantic forces its way into the lagoon just the same.

After a short 15min walk you are brought to the main attraction, a small bay where the same power of the ocean is squeezed, this time, through a gap in the rocks, each wave turning the calm pool into a seething mass of bubbles.

Having fun at the Bubbly Pool, Diamond Cay

After a couple of days we pushed on to visit two of the ‘must dos’ bars here in the BVI; the Soggy Dollar Bar and Foxy’s Bar. Both were full to the brim, in fact Josh Van Dyke Island, at least as far as the tourist dollar is concerned, appears to be very much business as usual.

Sopers hole on the other hand looks to be using the devastation to rebuild bigger and better, the whole place is currently one large building site, with nothing open we moved on to Norman Bight.

And finally we found some good snorkelling not just on the edge of the bay but around the corner to an area known as the Caves. While the younger crew opted to investigate another beach bar, Rick and I took the dingy out to explore. The water was beautifully clear and right on the southern point of the bay we found turtles. They were quietly relaxing on the rocks just under the surface, they were so close we could almost touch them. Surprisingly unbothered by our presence, they just sat there, rarely have we had such a good photo opportunity. Unbelievably, and probably for the first time ever, we had forgotten the camera!

In the morning we took Raya around to the Privateer Bay just beyond the caves and we all snorkelled most of the day intent on getting that perfect turtle shot. Typically there were none to be had, but there were plenty of things to enjoy instead.

The local big fish here are tarpons. They can grow to be 6 or 7 ft long and we have seen them, attracted to the light at the back of the boat, most evenings since Antigua. They are easily identified not just by their size but by their startlingly, shiny, silver scales that reflect in the spotlight. Yesterday we saw them as we swam along the cliffs, lurking in the blue of the deeper water their size was slightly intimidating despite knowing that they are harmless. In the shallows were smaller but more colourful specimens, from the crowds of sergeant major fish that Matt and Robyn fed with old bread to large parrot fish, elegant french angel fish, bright queen triggers and peculiar looking file fish.

A queen trigger fish snapped by Matt and a perfect Parrot fish caught by Rick

As the name suggests the cliffs here are full of small caves, the light playing on the water as you enter is magical and for those less frightened than me, the dark interiors fascinating. As everyone investigated I was excitedly floating above a large spotted eagle ray and later in the afternoon Rachael and Andy even found a nurse shark for company.

No turtles today but nobody was complaining.

Back to the BVI

Tuesday 23rd April 2019

With the wind behind us and a bright moon above us, it was a lovely night sail from St Barts to the British Virgin Islands. We sailed excitedly through the outer islands into the Francis Drake Channel as the first signs of light appeared in the Eastern sky. It was in the BVI , over a few charter holidays, that the seeds for this trip were sown and, as such, is a good place to have our final tropical fling before we set off back across the Atlantic to cooler climes.

Unfortunately our happy memories were immediately soured by the check in process. The anchorage in Road Town was small and very choppy in the brisk wind. The dingy dock for customs required us to squeeze between a ferry and the rocks. Once inside the custom office the procedure had about seven ill defined steps, each one requiring either form filling or payment and the receiving of numerous stamps. We have occasionally seen worse bureaucracy but nothing like the bad attitude of the officers here, they were incredibly rude, arguing with us and each other and being purposely unhelpful.

So it was two tired and rather cross sailors that docked a few hours later in Nanny Cay marina, to spend a couple of days on the normal marina jobs. Hose down the boat, laundry, cooking gas refil, provisioning…… It has to be said that it took us a few days to find the Caribbean vibe that a stay in the BVI normally brings

Every where has a not quite familiar feel to it. Of course not only has it been about 7 years since our last visit but during that time the country has suffered the effects of a devastating hurricane. On the 6th September 2017 Cat 5 Hurricane Irma passed directly over the islands. Producing wind speeds in excess of 180mph, it was the strongest open sea Atlantic storm on record and nothing much survived its fury. Eighty five percent of the housing stock in Tortola was distroyed or damaged, Island infrastructure was mostly wiped out and the charter yacht fleets, a major source of income for the area, were decimated. Miraculously due to the effective early warning systems in place only four people lost their lives.

The Islands after a huge effort have mostly recovered but signs of wreckage are still in evidence. Particularly poignant for us were the yachts that Irma left high and dry and that still line the beach at Trellis Bay, their typically jaunty nautical names, ‘The Good Life’, ‘Chillin”, ‘Starry nights’, now seeming cruelly incongruous.

Wrecks still litter Trellis Bay

We were however there for a happier event, Trellis Bay is five minutes from the airport and Rachael, Mathew and their partners Andy and Robyn arrived Saturday on the evening flight. Despite the fading light they couldn’t resist an immediate swim, in fact they have hardly been out of the water since.

Readying to snorkel around Monkey Point

We have been nicely surprised by the lack of crowds, of course we return with a lot more experience and are, where possible, anchoring, instead of being squeezed tight in the mooring fields. And there are so many protected anchorages here it’s easy to just hop from one to another each day as the conditions dictate.

Not so good is the lack of life in the sea, we remember the BVI for it’s good snorkelling but it seems Irma has taken her toll under the water as well as on land. Monkey Point always one of our favourite spots was teeming with baby fish but with very little coral the reef fish were missing.

The sea is still a remarkable blue, the beaches are of soft sand and the green hills of the islands still make for a stunning back drop.

Cane Garden Bay

Having six people onboard has rather embarrassingly shown exactly how much we have spread out over the past four years, emptying lockers and clearing bunks took us a couple of days but by Saturday there was plenty of room for everyone. The cooking and washing up is a bit of a mission, the beer seems to somehow be disappearing and the rails are permanently full of damp towels. However the conversation is good, the laughter is loud and trips ashore frequent, I think everyone is having fun, despite the captain dishing out cleaning tasks.

Crew earning their keep