Money, Money, Money

Monday 15th April 2019

On Wednesday we left the superyachts of Antigua, for, if possible, the even more opulent world of St Barts. In the immortal words of ABBA, it certainly is, at least around here, a rich mans world.

We are anchored off the west coast of St Barts, it is windy and the fetch combined with a bit of a swell is making things rather uncomfortable. The conditions are not improved by the continuous wake of large fast tenders racing back and forth from their luxuriant motherships.

The most luxurious of all is Le Grand Bleu, who at 113m long is one of the largest private yachts in the world and on her deck has, indulgently, a 22m sailing yacht (that’s 5m longer than Raya) and a 20m motor yacht. If Wikipedia is to be believed it was exchanged in payment for a lost bet between two Russian oligarchs.

Just plain greedy

Despite all this and the rocky anchorage outside Gustavia’s harbour, we are loving it here. From the efficient customs check in, to the restaurant staff, to the well stocked supermarket everything has been friendly and very french and unlike some of the French islands we have been to everyone is happy to speak English. Despite the superyachts in the harbour, the multi million pound villas that sit above us in the hills and the designer shops that line the Main Street, prices are unexpectidly reasonable. We decided to stay a while.

Not having local Sims for mobile data, we have been forced to spend time over long lazy lunches using the restaurants free and fast WiFi services. Not much beats eating fantastic food, with a cooling breeze and nice views.

Lunch time view

In fact overall St Barts has a very different vibe to the other Caribbean Islands we have visited, I decided to look into its history. Named by Christopher Columbus after his brother Bartomoleo. Little more than nine square miles of rugged rock, for years nobody paid much interest in it, even the local Caribs it appears only visited on occasional fishing trips. However in the 17C as the Europeans battled for dominance of the area, the French claimed the island and an increasing number of settlers began to live on its steep hills. In 1784 the French gave the islands to Sweden in exchange for trading rights in Gothenburg. As the only Swedish interest in the Caribbean they spent time and money modernising the island, building roads, forts and with no flat areas for plantations, they instead took advantage of it protected harbour to create a freeport, naming the capital Gustavia after the Swedish King. This in tun attracted more trade, legal and not so legal, and the island began to prosper. Eventually after a hundred years, with the population still mainly descendants from the original French occupation, Sweden returned the island to France and St Barts today is an ‘independent overseas collectivity’ and part of the French West Indies.

Pretty streets in Gustavia

Its main focus is now tourism, with many hotels and upmarket holiday villas. It restricts the number of large cruise boat visits and instead encourages cultural and sporting events. Including, another reason for us lingering here, the Voiles St Barts yacht regatta. For the past week amazing sleek racing yachts have been arriving and we have been enjoying watching the action as they prepare for first race today.

Racing Yacht Sorcha setting out for a sail

To escape the turbulence of the outer harbour anchorage we sailed around the corner to Colombier Bay. The water around St Barts is exceptionally clear and we had an enjoyable snorkel along the its rocky sides. As with the rest of the Caribbean there was little coral and few fish but an enjoyable swim never the less. The bay was still busy, escaping the large motor yachts seems impossible here and so when the next day a wind shift bought fierce gusts into the anchorage, we moved back to Gustavia to make ready for the overnight sail to the British Virgin Islands we plan for this evening.

Nautical Giants

Sunday 7th April 2019

The stunning 200ft schooner Athos joins us in Hermitage Bay.

Torrential rain beats down on the hatches, I’m up to my elbows in laundry, which, if the rain doesn’t stop soon, I’ll have nowhere to dry and Rick has his head over the innards of a broken toilet. The cruising life is not all sand, sun and sailing. Luckily, in compensation, we have had our fair share of each of these over the past few days.

English Harbour, a quick walk from our anchorage in Falmouth Harbour, is home to Antigua’s premier historical sight, Nelsons Dockyard. The bay was recognised during the 18th Century as large and sheltered enough to protect the Royal Navy’s Caribbean fleet from hurricanes. It quickly grew into a working dockyard repairing ships that otherwise would have had to have made the long and arduous trip back to England. In the 1780’s Horatio Nelson, then a Captain, was stationed here for three years and when the dockyard was restored in the 1950’s it was named in his honour. Now full of restaurants and gift shops it still retains its marine links with numerous yacht services based in its old buildings and docking for large yachts around its edge.

The old dockyard buildings although converted to commercial use still overlook large sailing boats

Last week the dockside was gradually filling with Oysters, the participants of the World Rally arriving for the official completion of their circumnavigation and boats gearing up for the Oyster Regatta that starts tomorrow. Oyster engineers were, as always at these events, on hand to help check over the boats and happily extended their advice to us and any other Oyster yachts anchored near by.

It was great to link up with old faces, one family that we met sailing their Oyster across the Atlantic with us nearly four years ago, were also on the dock. However, they have turned to the dark side, swapping their sails for a 72ft motor cruiser. They kindly gave us the tour, the engine room alone seemed nearly as big as Raya, a lot of pipes, connections, filters etc. to look after but all comfortably at eye level. The living quarters were as luxurious as expected but the thing that caught our eye was that chairs sat unfixed to the floor and picture frames adorned the shelves, having stabilisers makes life at sea much more comfortable.

Back across the headland in Falmouth Harbour there were plenty more nautical wonders to admire, megayachts filled the marina and they were quite a sight, at night, their tall masts fully lit,the scene was reminiscent of a huge oil refinery..

Nightscape created by dozens of mega yachts.

Near the entrance of Falmouth Harbour is Pigeon Bay with its pretty beach. Monday we took the dingy over to investigate and nestling, almost hidden, in the trees, we found Catherine’s Place a lovely barefoot beach restaurant. With great food, exceptional cocktails and friendly service, all a few steps from a cooling swim, we couldn’t resist and retuned the next day to do it all again.

Wanting to explore Antigua a bit further, for Phil and Julia’s final trip we set off around the coast. The first planned anchorage was very full, the second, although pretty was gusty and noisy from building works. Eventually we found Hermitage Bay, it was still a bit windy but there were few boats and the holding was good. We enjoyed a quiet couple of days at anchor, even finding an empty beach, our first in the Caribbean. It took a wet and bouncy trip in the dingy around a small headland to get there but was well worth the effort.

First impressions of the reef that ran the length of the beach was rather disappointing, but the more you looked the more you saw. Soft corals swayed in the current and amongst the scattering of small fish a few giants lurked, including, at three foot long, the largest porcupine fish we’ve ever seen.

Large spotted porcupine fish

We are now tied up in the Jolly Harbour marina, our friends have left, the large supermarket has been raided and the normal list of jobs actioned. Tuesday or Wednesday we head off for the British Virgin Islands, where Rachael, Mathew and partners join us for one last tropical fling.

As I begin to plot our trip back across the Atlantic it seems impossible that our journey is almost finished, last week as I sunk my toes into soft white sand, my feet bathed by the warm Caribbean Sea, it felt impossible to imagine giving all this up. However today as we contemplated another set of custom officers, tried and failed to get our cooking gas canister refilled, decided the water on the dock tastes too musty to fill our tanks, while the washing machine decides to lock up full of now precious water and a very soggy set of clothes, moving on to our next adventure, whatever that might be has its appeal.

Island Hopping to Antigua

Sunday 31st March 2019

It was with relief that we entered, past the Pillars of Hercules, from the choppy beam sea off the south coast of Antigua, into the still waters of English harbour. Unfortunately anchoring is tight here and we were forced back out and around the corner to the larger but thankfully equally protected Falmouth Harbour. Over the last few days we have been making our way north, day sailing the 200nm from St Lucia.

The journey passes three large islands, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe and again involves some interesting sailing. Luckily the trades had veered slightly to the SE keeping the winds mostly behind the beam. Still, the 40nm passage between St Lucia and our first stop Grand Anse was quite lively, throwing our poor guests in at the deep end. Luckily we had taken the precaution of dosing up on seasick pills and had pre-made lunch, everyone survived unscathed..

Grand Anse turned out to be a bit disappointing and feeling rather tied we were not pleased to discover that the customs check-in was no longer in this bay and required a walk over the hill. We fled back to the boat deciding to check in the next day in St Pierre our next stop in the north of Martinique.

The French ports, rather conveniently, have computers placed in restaurants and small shops to allow easy check in. L’Alsace Kay served us cold beer and wine while we filled out the required forms and then lunch in their first floor restaurant overlooking the bay. The menu was in French, the boys took the easy route and ordered the dish of the day, chicken curry but Julia I opted to tackle the translation. I ordered ham with potato salad and Julia an onion tart from the vegetarian selection, or so we thought. What arrived was a little different, Julia was presented with a giant chicken vol-a-vent and I, a whole knuckle of ham. Luckily Julia does eat meat and decided it was too difficult to complain, the leftovers from my plate fed all four of us that evening!

We made an early start the next day and with a little less wind we had a fantastic sail across to Dominica, once in the lea of the island the wind dropped completely and we had a smooth motor up to Portsmouth near the top of the island. The boat boys, who in their small motor boats, scream out to meet you as soon as you appear around the headland were thankfully very organised. Anthony found us a mooring, took Rick to customs, relieved us of our rubbish and the next morning led us on a tour up the Indian river.

Beautiful Indian River

Named after the few final native Indians that took refuge here as the British and French battled over the island in the 17 century, the Indian river tour takes you a mile into the forest. Motors aren’t allowed so the tranquillity of the still green water, lined by large mangrove trees, with amazing gnarly buttress roots, is undisturbed.

Amazing roots of the Mangrove trees

The rainforest river scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here, but Calypso’s, hut has been mostly destroyed, along with, unfortunately, many of the large trees. Hurricane Maria devastated the island 18months ago and the people, some of whom lost everything, have only just got back on their feet.

Faster to recover has been the river and it’s surrounding rain forest and they are home to, amongst other things, 20 varieties of crab, large shoals of mullet, juvenile barracuda, blue herons, snakes, humming birds and Iguana’s.

Iguana sunning himself in the early morning warmth.

We saw a good selection of these occupants as we glided serenely through the water, before taking a stroll amongst a plantation of fruit trees, the visit ended at a fruit and rum bar for refreshments. An enjoyable few hours that is well recommended.

Keen to get to Antigua before the wind returned to the North East, with the resultant rougher passage, we forewent the Saints Islands and took off for Deshaies, in the north of Guadeloupe.

We arrived mid afternoon to a very choppy anchorage and, despite the pretty town ashore, decided to stay onboard avoiding having to check in and a soaking from what was going to be a very wet dingy ride. Instead, as we had every evening in these west coast bays, we enjoyed a lovely sunset from the cockpit, watched 4ft long tarpons glinting in the light off the stern and prepared for an early start the next morning and the 40nm to Antigua.

Pretty Town of Desharies

The English and neighbouring harbour Falmouth are the Superyacht centres of the Caribbean, we are looking forward to a bit of nautical voyeurism.

Rum, Rain and Reunions

Tuesday 26th March 2019

Marigot Bay became much more fun with arrival from the UK of Phil and Julia and then three more Oysters, two of whom were celebrating the finish of their circumnavigation as they sailed into the bay.

Undeterred by their long journey Phil and Julia were happy to get straight into the Caribbean vibe, we took the dingy across the bay in time to watch the sunset with a rum punch. Doolittle’s restaurant, is named after the 1967 movie Dr Dolittle that was partly filmed in the bay. The rum punches turned out to be extremely strong and although there are no longer any animals here to talk to that didn’t stop us from trying.

It was four groggy passengers that joined our driver for a short tour of the island at 9am the next morning, the steep, windy roads testing our constitutions. The views were spectacular despite the succession of showers that were passing over the island. Near the coast we looked down on a sparkling blue sea full of yachts, beaches where rows of local fishing boats sat back from the often black sand and valleys full of tightly packed colourful roofs.

Marigot Bay from the cliff top

Inland we climbed high into the rainforest, the air became humid and the smell of the undergrowth thick and peaty. Huge ferns, leaves the size of a child, jostled for space in the thick undergrowth with fruit trees and large clumps of 15ft high bamboo. Deep valleys like gashes in the landscape made for precarious drop offs right next to the road.

The Pitons, two, tall, narrow peaks are the symbol of St Lucia and stand in the middle of a still active volcanic area. We gave the crowded natural hot springs a miss and went straight to see the centre of the collapsed caldera with its pools of boiling mud and steam vents. We didn’t stay long a combination of the sulphurous air and darkening skies sent us scurrying back to the car.

The Pitons with the roof tops of Soufriere lying in the valley

Our final visit was to the botanic gardens, an oasis of lush greenery and a feast of exotic flowers. We marvelled at the incredible shapes and colours of the blooms, it hardly seemed possible that they had evolved naturally. A tiny iridescent humming bird hovered enjoying the nectar, a waterfall cascaded over a cliff and a stream, coloured grey from volcanic minerals, meander downward.

Monday still feeling a bit tired and with the weather against us, we decided to spend one more day in Marigot Bay. The showers had turned into longer periods of rain but with the temperatures still warm we headed for the pool. The sun beds were covered with puddles of water and the towels sodden but the restaurant was open and a very talented singer was in full song. We spent a pleasant couple of hours swimming in the rain and drinking beer at the swim up bar.

What else is there to do on a rainy day

During the day the bay had become crowded with Oyster yachts, five in total. For our friends on Vela, whom we’d last seen in Richards Bay South Africa, Marigot Bay marked the completion of their circumnavigation. So that night they invited us all onboard to celebrate. With a lot of the round the world yachts reaching their completion points in the Caribbean it looks like a few more reunions and bottles of champagne are still to come.

Crowded Caribbean

Thursday 21st March 2019

View of Marigot Bay from the resort

Today’s stop is Marigot Bay, a very pretty, extremely protected inlet on the west coast of St Lucia. It is wonderfully still and the perfect place to give Raya a bit of love and attention and prepare for our friends who arrive on Saturday. However it is crowded, hooked up to our mooring ball, we are at times, as we all swing in the gentle breeze, no more than 3m from our neighbours. We knew that this is how things are in the Caribbean but the reality is still a bit of a shock.

Crowded mooring field at Marigot Bay

It’s not just the anchorages we are finding busy, sailing up the coast of the islands there is a steady stream of yachts coming towards us, requiring constant vigilance. Cruise boats disgorge their occupants into the small towns and beaches, and local ‘boat boys’ whiz around offering you everything from help hooking up to a mooring to live lobsters.

The crowds are here. of course. because the Caribbean has a lot going for it. The islands are beautiful, the sea is clean and warm, restaurant and bars are everywhere and the climate is near perfect.

We spent two days off Sandy Bay enjoying the classic Caribbean view, we still had plenty to do to get Raya straight after two months at sea but the anchorage was a bit too rolly to comfortably get things done. So we relaxed, strolled in the soft white sand and snorkelled in the shallows where shoals of tiny fish filled the water.

Lovely beach on Sandy Island

Each group of islands in the Caribbean are different countries, which makes for a lot of checking in and checking out with officials. Sandy Island and Carriacou are still part of Grenada, to move on we had to get our clearance papers. Tyrell Bay, just a couple of miles away had a customs office and first thing Monday we were waiting at the door so we could clear out and set sail for the island of Bequia, part of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The prevailing winds here, at this time of year, are still dominated by the trades, so generally come from the north east or east. As we are travelling north through the islands we are sailing mostly into the wind which is unusual for us and has taken a bit of getting use to, but Raya seems to like it and the 40nm sail to Bequia was fast and exhilarating.

The anchorage when we arrived was very busy and the only area free meant trying to drop the anchor in one of the few patches of sand between a mass of sea grass. It took us three tries before we were happy that the anchor had set firmly, it was reassuring, especially during the night, to have our anchoring App on my iPad to warn us if we started to drag,

Busy Bay at a Port Elizabeth, Bequia

Bequia was one of our favourite places as we sailed south three years ago and although this time the island had been invaded by the passengers of a cruise ship, ashore it still had a charming and friendly feel to it. For lunch we revisited Jack’s, a beach bar right on the sand and just a minute or so dingy ride from the boat, a great spot to eat and swim.

The next morning we sailed on, passing by the stunning scenery of St Vincent and on to St Lucia. It was another nice trip with varying conditions keeping things interesting. In the channel between the islands, open to Atlantic Ocean, we had plenty of wind which again made for fast and fun sailing but in the lea of the islands the wind dropped and the sea calmed giving us time to make lunch, have a cup of tea and enjoy the view.

A shower threatens over the stunning Mountains of St Vincent

The marina in Marigot Bay is part of the Marigot Bay Resort which means we have access to its restaurants and swimming pools. Once we’ve stopped scrubbing and polishing and if we can find the space to park the dingy we’ll go and see what it has to offer.

On Dry Land

Friday 16th March 2019

We have just arrived at Sandy Island, a small half moon slice of sand just a mile off Carriacou. It’s nice after our time on passage to be at anchor again, just chilling, while being gently rocked, watching the sun go down. The view from the cockpit is a bit more crowded than we are use to but we are now in the Caribbean, the yachties playground

Today’s view from the cockpit.

Our week in the villa was fantastic, we ate, drank, talked and enjoyed the pretty pool. We lounged on the comfy sofas and put the world to right in the shade of the pagoda. And we slept, whole nights, in still beds. The sole disturbance being swarms of mosquitos that seemed to be everywhere, we all rapidly became covered in bites and the only fluid consumed faster than the wine was the DEET insect spray that was being applied liberally.

In the background of course Raya was still demanding our time. After three weeks at sea she was a mess, the decks covered in salt, the laundry basket full and the bottom of the fridge was supporting its very own eco system. She also needed some time on dry land, to fix the leaky through hull fitting and give the hull a once over before our trip back to Europe.

So just a few days after we arrived at St Louis Marina, Thursday morning, we, plus our villa crew, let go the lines and motored her around to Clark’s Court Boatyard. We had had the hull scrubbed by a diver in CapeTown but were still surprised how clean she looked.

Raya being lifted out of the water by the Hulk, a huge lift in Grenada.

While Rick supervised the cleaning of the hull, topsides and superstructure, replaced the through hull fitting and changed the engine impeller, I took a day off to join the others on a hike to a waterfall. When I say hike, stroll would be a better description of our pretty walk that took less than half an hour. Of course, as seems always to be the way when I visit waterfalls, the lack of recent rain had severely lessened the flow, the waterfall was still a pleasant site but the pools mentioned in the guide as swimming opportunities look uninviting.

Mount Carmel Falls

We drove back towards the coast, the small towns that line the road were full of Caribbean colour, with houses ranging from ramshackle purple and red huts to grand yellow and turquoise villas. And in keeping with the mood, the hotel we found for lunch that sat on the lovely beach at Sagresse Bay was bright pink.

Girls taking a cooling dip

Although all a bit of a rush, having Raya on the hard while we lived at the villa, was perfect timing and having the use of the car meant we could easily get back and forth and top up with provision. Penny and Stephen dropped us back on their way to the airport with just one day to cope with living on the hard. Yesterday a very shiny Raya was put back into the water.

Without a doubt one of the highlights of this cruising life is the people, not just the locals we meet all around the world or the pleasure of being able to get together with family and old friends in exotic places but also the comradery of our new cruising family.

In the bay next to Clark’s Court were our friends on Britican, Britican is also an Oyster 56 and we sailed across the Atlantic together. While we have been on the other side of the World they have explored the waters of the US and the Caribbean, we have stayed in contact, following each other on Facebook and via our blogs. It was great to catch up with them again in real life and we enjoyed a delicious Caribbean lunch swapping stories and comparing Oyster notes.

Revived from our spell on dry land and with more friends flying out to St Lucia next Saturday, we have a week to enjoy some quiet time and slowly sail the 120nm north to pick them up.

All the Way Round

Thursday 7th March 2019

We are circumnavigators, on Tuesday morning we sailed into Port Louis Marina on the Caribbean Island of Grenada, where 3 years and 45days ago we had set sail for the Panama Canal and the Pacific. We have been swamped by messages of congratulations and have been toasted with champagne but I’m not sure our achievement has really sunk in.

We are being very kindly treated to a week in a luxurious villa, with Jonathan our sail mate, his wife and my sister and husband. Slowly we are unwinding but the last few months of continuous sailing have taken its toll and we feel pretty tired.

The pool at our lovely villa in Grenada

The second half of the passage from Ascension was much windier than the first half. Having cleared the squalls the sea calmed down and for a day or two we enjoyed perfect trade wind sailing. With the sea flatter Jonathan put the rods out and we finally had some fishing success catching a small tuna and a few days later a Mahi Mahi.

Successful fishing day

The days rolled by, sleep, watch, eat, read, eat, sleep, crossword, eat sleep, watch……. We sailed on in our ever changing disc of blue, some days calm others a mess of conflicting waves, the oceans colour varying with the sky from deep ink blue to somber grey. The moon gradually reduced to a slither that rose later and later each night and as the nights grew darker we were treated to skies of a trillion stars.

We were mostly completely alone, the occasional brown booby flew close catching the flying fish we disturbed with our wake and a few AIS targets passed by on the chart plotter but too distant to appear on our horizon. So it was rather a shock when, with our waining vigilance, we spotted a fishing boat less than half a mile away. It had no AIS, in fact, covered in rust, it’s waterline thick with algae, for a moment we thought it may be abandoned but no, tossing wildly in the waves it’s crew valiantly fished on.

Ever since the equator we had been sailing through increasingly large patches of free floating, bright orange Sargassum seaweed. With no engine running it wasn’t a problem for the propellor, but we sat aghast trying to imagine how many acres of ocean it must cover, hoping that it was at least using up lots of carbon dioxide to help the atmosphere.

Masses of Sargassum seaweed covered the ocean

We were sailing fast which meant our eta had us arriving the morning before the arrival of our welcoming committee, who were flying in from the UK Tuesday afternoon. But after 15 days the thought of slowing up and spending an extra night at sea didn’t appeal to us, we pushed on. Until suddenly, and against every chart and source of information we had for this area of water, we encountered a negative current and for 36hrs we stared depressingly as our speed over the ground struggling to reach 7kts. Thankfully about 200nm from Grenada the current firstly went neutral and then positive, at times we screamed along at 10 knots towards the finish line.

The traffic had increased also, not only more fishing boats, with and without AIS but tankers and cargo boats, plying their way between the Americas and Africa or the Far East. The radio sparked into life with a large drilling platform calling up to ask us to leave them a minimum perimeter of two miles as we passed. On our final night we had to call up two cargo boats to ensure they were aware of our presence and as always they were happy to change course to give us plenty of space.

Tuesday morning we arrived off the SE corner of Grenada, land ahoy was excitedly written into the log. But we weren’t quite there yet, blackening skies and high winds built as we approached the island, overfalls tossed us about and we had to slow to let the rain pass so we could prepare the boat for docking. Then we faced the challenge of the complicated mooring system at Port Louis Marina, it was with a sigh of relief we secured the final line.

The ‘got here beer’ tasted good but not as good as the Champagne we shared with our friends that evening. We’d made it, we’d sailed all the way round.

Got here beer Grenada

Back in the Northern Hemisphere

Sunday 24th February 2019

Latitude : 02 12(N). Longitude : 034 54(W)

South Atlantic sunrise

Raya is back in the Northern Hemisphere. We crossed the equator about 400nm off the Brazilian East Coast heading for the Caribbean and celebrated the event with four glasses of bubbly, one each for the three of us and, as tradition dictates, one over the side for Neptune. Strangely it is almost to the day exactly three years since we crossed the equator going southwards in the Pacific.

Capturing the moment

We left Ascension Island under blue skies, with light winds and calm seas. A nice easy start while we settled into the pattern of eating, sleeping and night watches that would be the rhythm of our lives for the next 18 days or so. The going was a bit slow but we were saving our fuel to help us through the Doldrums.

Either side of the equator in the tropics run the trade winds, winds generated by the rotation of the earth that blow from the NE in the northern Hemisphere and SE in the Southern Hemisphere, we have been enjoying their consistency for most of our trip and they are the reason for our westerly circumnavigation. Running around the equator however is the intertropical convergence zone, the ITCZ. Here the winds drop dramatically, historically the doldrums were dreaded by mariners as they could become becalmed for days on end. These days with most yachts equipped with an engine it is more a matter of motoring through them as fast as you can to pick up the winds on the other side.

We motor sailed for a couple of days before the wind picked up a little and we managed to sail for a while. Friday evening however the wind dropped again, but when we turned on our engine, we were assaulted by a loud and worrying banging from the prop. As we crossed the equator we had thought of taking a mid ocean dip but decided there was a bit too much swell, now it looked like Rick would be getting wet after all. We sailed slowly through the night until at first light, equipped with his mask and a knife he went to investigate. For the past few days we had been passing through dense patches of weed, and to our relief it was this that was entangled around our prop and the simple act of stopping the boat freed it up. Rick stayed down to check things were ok before we continued on our way.

Where the trades meet the ITCZ there is often an area of unsettled weather and unfortunately as we sailed through the northern boundary we had 36hrs of squally conditions. Ominous dark clouds would continually build on the horizon and we’d watch as they either scooted past, missing us or relentlessly approached. Each squall brought high winds that backed northwards and torrential rain that fell for about half an hour. With light winds between them the trick to not getting continually soaked was to reef the sails with the wind increasing just before the rain arrived, this was not always that easy. On the upside our decks that were still covered in dirty South African dust have been cleaned beautifully.

Another squall comes through

Thankfully we are now through the squalls and are picking up the northeasterly trades which, with an accompanying current, are whisking us quickly towards Grenada. Just over three years ago we took off form Grenada for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean, as we arrive back we will cross our outward track and unbelievably our circumnavigation will be complete.

For now however we have another week or so of sailing to do. We are pretty low on fresh fruit and veg but have plenty of frozen meals, we are all swapping Kindles to ensure everyone has plenty to read and we are becoming better and better at the four o’clock crossword. Raya as always is preforming well and our spirits are buoyed by a continuous stream of entertaining emails from home. The sight of land however will be very, very welcome.

Green Highlights in Ascension

Thursday 14th February 2019

Ascension Island turns out to be a place that is far more captivating than first appearances would lead you to believe, from the tropical cloud forest covered peaks to its pristine beaches, from the large Greenback turtles to the land crabs, even the sun sets have been special.

The passage from St Helena was very slow and rather frustrating. The winds were light, under normal circumstances we would have resorted to the engine but obtaining fuel in Ascension is difficult and with a further 3000nm to go until Grenada every drop of diesel is precious. Ever since our return to the boat at the beginning of the year we have had one date that has been driving our schedule, the 9th February. With only one flight a month into Ascension Island this was the day, our good friend Jonathan, would be arriving to join us for the trip to the Caribbean. With little tourism there are no hotels on the island so our arrival to pick him up on time was particularly important. We sailed into Clarence Bay the anchorage off of Georgetown, the capital of Ascension, at first light on the 9th just a few spare hours before Jonathan’s arrival that afternoon!

Georgetown and Long beach

When I describe Georgetown as the capital of Ascension I should point out that the population of Ascension is only about 800 people. There are only four areas that could be classified as towns, the American base, Georgetown and two small villages. Georgetown has a few houses, a shop, a church, a bar, a police station, the main government offices and little else.

And when I say that the Island receives few tourists, I should explain that so rare is their presence that when we checked in to all the normal authorities not only were we expected but everyone knew Jonathan would be flying in to join us.

Further the shop mentioned above is not exactly Tesco’s, its few short aisles are rather bare and any hope of finding fresh food were quickly dashed. Our diet for the next few weeks will be interesting to say the least. The bar, and our access to internet, has turned out to have rather erratic opening hours and the lasting memory of the much talked about cafe on the American base that we visited last night, will be the delightful aroma of deep fat frying that lingers on our clothes.

Despite all this we have had just the best time, we are so glad we stopped. The people, all in some way employed by the military or the island government, couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly. And the scenery and wildlife have been really special.

Ascension unlike St Helena has some spectacular beaches. The central peaks of the island are surrounded by barren lava fields, and industrial signs of the islands military status are everywhere, oil storage tanks, radar domes, huge arial fields, secret Sam type warehouses etc. etc… so it is wth surprise that you suddenly find yourself enjoying the sight of a stunning beach, the turquoise of the sea and the white of the sand exaggerated by the blackness of the rock.

Stunning beaches

Its not only humans that enjoy this coastline every where there are warnings that sharks frequent these waters. Intrepid as we are and avoiding the high risk times of dawn and dusk we have swam and snorkelled most days.

Shark warnngs

Visitors of a more gentle nature are the large Greenback turtles that incredibly swim the thousand or so miles from their feeding grounds in Brazil to lay their eggs in the soft sand, particularly on Long Beach right in front of the anchorage. By day they swim around the bay popping up next to us with the familiar puff as they breath out at the surface. By night the females climb up the beach and begin the laborious process of creating a hollow above the tide line, laying and then covering the eggs. Monday night we joined the conservation team, carefully making sure not to frighten the females climbing up the beach. They found, in red torch light, a female in the middle of laying, she weighed in at about 200kg and 115cm long. Once the nest has been dug, the turtles go into a trance like state and are not disturbed by an audience, so we were able to watch for half an hour before leaving her as she began to shovel sand to cover the eggs and gradually wake up.

Turtle laying her legs

Tuesday found us walking near the 859m peak of Green Mountain. Now a lush rain forest it has an interesting past. Seen by some as an innovative ecological terraforming experiment and by others as the worse type of man made biological invasion, over the past couple of centuries the mountain regions have been transformed from a sparsely vegetated arid area to the luxuriantly green landscape that gives the mountain its name today. In 1836 Darwin visited the island and noted the lack of vegetation and the complaints of the British marines that the island was “destitute of trees” on discussions with his friend Sir Joseph Hooker, later to become director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew a plan was hatched to increase the vegetation. Plants and seeds from all over the world were planted and the survivors remain to create this unique environment.

Walking on a Green Mountain

The islands other highlights include the bright yellow land crabs, crisp horizons that gave us a brilliant ‘green flash’ one sunset, clear rich water from which Jonathan supplied us with an iridescent green Dorado for lunch, amazingly caught from the dingy and donkeys that seem to require refuelling at the local petrol station.

Only customers at the petrol station

Tomorrow we leave for the Caribbean and will be at sea for nearly 3 weeks. Follow us on the tracker.

Swimming with the Whale Sharks

Friday 8th February 2019

Stunning views all around St Helena

St Helena, just a speck on the chart of the South Atlantic Ocean, is home, for a few month each year, to magnificent 10m long whale sharks. Nobody knows why they gather here or why for hours on end they come up to near the surface of the water and seemingly just float about. But for the few visitors to St Helena this behaviour means we get to see them up close and personal.

We arrived in James Bay at 3pm last Thursday and were almost immediately summons to the authorities so they could process our papers before the end of their working day. St Helena, at least when there are yachts moored n the Bay, has a very convenient ferry service that runs between the boats and the yacht every hour. Stepping off the ferry that surged up and down about a metre next to the dock, on legs that had been at sea for over nine days was not easy but we made it. We cleared customs and Port control filling out the normal raft of forms and then in the afternoon heat trudged up the hill to immigration sited at the police station.

We needed refreshments, in town we spotted an Edwardian hotel with, on its first floor, behind wrought iron filigree railings, an inviting breezy balcony. We sat and took in our surroundings over a very welcome cold beer. Jamestown is a thin strip of urbanisation running down a gully between high steep cliffs. The majority of buildings and houses which mostly seem to date from the late 19th century, cluster around the one main street, whilst the newer developments perch on the cliff tops high above.

James Town

The islanders are a rich mix of ethnic backgrounds, reflecting the history of the island as an important staging post for shipping heading east and west around the Cape of Good Hope. Everybody seems to know everybody else and life is led at a slow island pace.

Running impossibly steeply up the hillside is the infamous St Helena ladder, an almost vertical set of nearly 700 steps that rises straight up from the town, challenging visitors to climb it. I’m so glad we decided against it, if my vertigo thought climbing up would be difficult, standing at the top, a couple of days later when we visited it as part of our whistle stop island tour, it looked to plummet straight down.

St Helena Ladder

As is the way in small communities the ferry man turned out to be the man who also ran the whale shark trips, so on the return run to the boat we booked to go out the next morning. The dive boat retraced our track, following the sheer rock faces that we sailed past on our way in accompanied by lively spinner dolphins the day before but this time it was the telltale shadow in the water of two whale sharks that caught our eye. Their fins and tail tips cut through the surface Jaws style, but unlike Great Whites, Whale Sharks are plankton eating placid creatures. We slipped in and they seemed happy to just swim along with us. The trip was very well regulated with no more than 8 swimmers per shark and a limit of 40mins with them each day. It was such a privilege to be able to interact with them so closely, these amazing animal encounters are without doubt for us the highlights of this trip.

Wow! Swimming with Whale Sharks

Raya, with the pressurised schedule we’ve had for the past month, has become rather high maintenance and the weekend turned out to be no different The high pressure hose that feeds the watermaker has starting to split . We quickly filled our tanks with as much water as we could before Rick dismantled the offending piece and with the help of what appeared to be half the island tried to find a solution. They almost got there but were one connection short, luckily he had time to order what hopefully will be the right bits to be delivered to Jonathan who flies out to meet us tomorrow.

We couldn’t visit St Helena without seeing a bit more of the island, so putting down his tools for a few hours, we took a quick tour of the Island. Our guide had spent almost all of his 82 years on the island and was extremely knowledgable. St Helena’s greatest claim to historical fame is as the place of exile for Napoleon. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life, surrounded by members of the French court, in a large villa with exquisite gardens and extensive views. In fact the views everywhere on the island are fantastic, steep green valleys, forest covered peaks and dramatic rock formations all surrounded by a sparkling blue sea. Not too bad a place for a prison cell.

Napoleon’s residence while in St Helena

In between times I was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to buy some fresh supplies. Luckily we still had some fruit and vegetables left from CapeTown, but that after another 5 days at sea is now almost gone, fingers crossed we will find more on Ascension Island for the 3000nm passage to Grenada.