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

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.

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

Bonaire Bound

Wednesday 20th Jan
Jonathan and Sheridan flew out Saturday, they are sailing with us to Panama and through the canal with a few stops en route. After a morning provisioning and lunch at the beach we readied the boat to leave. Midmorning Monday we said a fond farewell to Grenada to sail westward. It is often hard to find a moment to look up from coiling the lines, stowing the fenders and checking the charts as we leave a marina or anchorage but I always try to make sure I say a quiet goodbye to places as we sail away.

For the first few hours the winds were light and directly behind us, add to that rather lumpy seas that rolled the boat and flogged the sails, it wasn’t comfortable. The 410 nm to our next destination, Bonaire, seemed like a long way away. Within a few hours however the sea settled, the wind increased and backed slightly to the north and a strong westward current appeared. For the next 48hrs that’s pretty much how it stayed. We were running a downwind rig with the genoa poled out to windward, the boom on the other side as far forward as the shrouds would allow and the stay sail pulled tight in the centre. With the favourable current we have been flying along often at over 8kts with the promise of arriving in Bonaire with an hour or two of daylight remaining. Today unfortunately the wind has dropped and is back in the east, so to keep us on schedule the engine is on.

But it has been a pleasant sail, conditions have been relatively benign, with little rain, sparkling sea and moonlit nights. The watch system has worked well and with Jonathan, an experienced sailor, onboard, Rick has got much more sleep than normal. We have been entertained by shoals of flying fish and flocks of fishing birds. We saw again the elusive green flash as the sun dipped below a crisp horizon and at night we have whiled away the hours identifying the stars using a clever star guide app on my iPad.

It is amazing how far the flying fish can fly, a few feet above the waves they swoop and glide, looking much like a swarm of giant dragon flies. For some reason at night they fly much higher, sometimes high enough to strand themselves on our decks, as Sheridan can attest to. During her early morning watch she was startled as one flew straight into the cockpit and hit her on the head!

We are sailing less than a hundred miles from the Venezuelan mainland so we have had plenty of bird life around the boat as well. Our favourites were the masked Boobies, largish white birds with black around their faces, on their tails and under their wings. They dive spectacularly, vertically straight down, to catch small fish which they eat on the surface before taking off and diving again.

Not too much luck however with the fishing this trip, there was the ‘one that got away’, a 3ft Dorado that escaped as Rick attempted to haul him onboard and a Spanish mackerel too small to bother with, otherwise the rods have been quiet. We have noticed one odd thing, all our catches on the boat so far have been with the starboard rod, whichever lure is put on the port side nothing happens?

Landing the ‘fish that got away’

Friday 22nd January 

Bonaire is the B of the ABC islands, three islands that lie north of Venezuela and are part of the Netherlands Antilles. The coast off Bonaire is very deep and the water crystal clear, the National Park to the north is home to the rare yellow shouldered parrot and many of the beaches are turtle nesting sites. The authorities are making a big effort to preserve this pristine environment, imposing strict rules, there is no anchoring anywhere around the Island, large sections of beach are off limits and to dive or even snorkel you need a permit. Yachtsmen are asked to dispose of their rubbish correctly, use their black tanks at all times and be careful not to allow anything to end up overboard. A couple times a year the local population don thier scuba gear and take to the harbour to clean the sea bed.

We approached around the south of the island past the salt lakes, used still, to provide salt for export. We pass three coloured obelisks along the shoreline, spaced about half a mile apart, that years ago were used to indicate the location of varying grades of salt available to the ships arriving to take salt around the world.

The main island is kidney shaped with a small island lying to the west, providing a well protected natural harbour at its centre. We sail in as the sun sits low in the sky and pick up a mooring bouy off the main town. Kralendrjk is an interesting place, which we are finding as hard to describe as to pronounce. It stretches long and thin along the sea front, the buildings architecturally unremarkable but solid and colourful with their orange roofs and yellow and blue walls. The traffic moves along the streets at a snails pace and the locals, a mix of Caribbean, Dutch and American, are happy and helpful, there is a definite feeling of a place stuck, pleasantly, in the past.

After checking in at customs and immigration and wandering around, we pop into one of the numerous dive centres to buy our snorkel permits and get the low down on the best spots to visit. The island of Kliene Bonaire, an easy dingy ride away, is one of the spots recommended, so we collected our stuff and motor across. 

A wet crossing in a very full dingy

As we approach, the white sand and turquoise sea is breathtaking and when we put our heads underwater the clarity of the water is amazing. We are surrounded by hundreds of fish, of dozens of species, large dazzling Parrot Fish, inquisitive Sargent Major’s and large silver Bermudan Chub, yellow and blue Scrawled Filefish, two foot long Trumpetfish and tiny iridescent blue Angel Fish. The corals seem to sparkle in the sunlight. Bonaire, our guide book tells us, is one of the top three of the Worlds scuba diving areas, we were sceptical, could it really compete with the Maldives or the Red Sea, after our first rate snorkel we decide to stay another day and take a dive trip to investigate.

  

About 30m off the beach a change in colour from turquoise to dark blue marks where the sea bed drops away to hundreds of meters deep, creating what’s termed in scuba speak as a wall. These walls are brilliant to dive as they are covered in coral and fish and importantly to us, without a guide, you can’t get lost. The coral was extremely petty, hundreds of different varieties of hard and soft corals, the branches swaying in the current. The small fish weave in and out and the larger ones patrol up and down the sides. A shoal of bright blue Chromis rush past us, we peer warily into the never ending blue to see what might be chasing them. After 40mins we come to the top feeling exhilarated, but top three, well perhaps at other spots on the island.

Jonathan and I diving the wall

Calm, Colourful Days

Sitting on deck we watch a deep red sun set dramatically beneath the horizon and as the resulting flaming sky fades it reveals the smallest slither of a moon, that following the suns path, sets itself a few hours later. The last couple of days have been good days, I can’t remember the last time we have really relaxed and soaked up our life afloat. The weather has improved, we have calm, blue seas, blue skies and a soft cooling breeze. Caribbean weather at last.

At anchor in True Blue Bay

We left the marina still with grey skies, more squally showers and battled against a strong head wind around the bottom of Grenada and into Clark Court Bay. The entry to the bay was through a pass in the coral but the charts were accurate and the channel buoys in place so the lack of sun to show up the depth of water wasn’t a problem. Once inside it opened up to a large, deep and protected harbour and with surprisingly few boats inside we found a quiet space to anchor. I don’t know whether it was coming from the noise of the town surrounding the marina but it seemed incredibly quiet, the wind dropped and we relaxed.

We had been drawn to this spot by the promise of sausages. On the opposite side of the bay was Whisper Cove and a small marina, the guide book told us of a butcher that sells good quality local meat and home made sausages, looking out at the jungly green hills surrounding the bay this seemed unlikely but we took the dingy across to explore. We entered behind the few boats moored at the pontoon and hemmed in by mangroves it was shady and a little spooky. As we tied up to a neat and tidy dock we realised that the undergrowth was in fact managed, a pretty tropical garden. We climbed the hill to a veranda and an extremely welcoming restaurant, “Steak, Chips and a Beer for £8” said the blackboard, it tasted as good as it sounded. And sure enough through a door at the back of the restaurant was the butchers, having sampled the produce we stocked up with sausages and enough meat to get us to Panama and headed back to the boat.

Our next stop was a few bays down, we sailed past the crowds in Prickly Bay, around a small headland into the near deserted True Blue Bay. On shore The True Blue resort is a muddle of dark pink, blue and orange buildings nestled in the undergrowth. It has an equally colourful waterside restaurant the Dodgy Dock. 

I wonder why it’s called the Dodgy Dock Restaurant?

The bay lived up to its name, with the improved weather the sea is true blue. We haven’t done much, Rick filled some dents in the swim deck, I scrubbed around the waterline of the hull, we have read, explored in the dingy and foraged ashore for Internet. This we have found in the restaurants, so each day we have logged in and lunched.

After a day alone, we were joined in the bay by first one, then two other Oysters. One of the things we are really enjoying is meeting so many new people. It is rare in life to meet and make so many new friends but everyone has so much in common with each other that friendship within the cruising world is easy. 

Over the last week we have enjoyed a glass of gin or two with a couple from Tasmania, Bill and Naomi who are cruising the Carribean before sailing back to Hobart. A young couple, Charles and Zoe, with a beautiful, 1984, 37ft Oyster who like us have upped and left to sail around the world. Finally a lovely family from Cork, we first met during the ARC, on thier Oyster 53 Crackerjack, Sully, Joey and the kids, who are enjoying the Caribbean for a few months. 

People are extremely generous with their knowledge and time, happy to help each other out, freely swapping experience, information and discoveries. We discuss past adventures, future plans and the continual lists of maintainance to complete.They tend to be brief encounters but there is a real sense of community and with trackers, blogs and social media we can all follow each others progress and no doubt will bump into many of them again elsewhere in he world.

Holed up in Grenada

Before we left experienced cruiser told us that sailing around the world was just carrying out boat maintenance in exotic places. And so it is we find ourselves in Grenada, an island of wooded mountains, white sandy beaches, reggae, spices and rum, tied up to the dock of Port Louis marina, a marina much like any other, with spanner and cloth in hand and little or no time to explore. We are very aware that not only are the places we are about to visit even more exotic they are also more remote, so we are working hard here, in relative civilisation, to get the boat in as good a condition as possible. Doing anything is hard work in this heat, everything taking more time than normal, our clothes are soaked with sweat. We have to stop frequently to try and cool off and however much water, tea or beer we drink, it’s hard not to get dehydrated and tired, never the less, we are pleased with what we have achieved.

Rick has managed to fix the wiring problem on the “up” mechanism on the anchor and with help of the rigging company here, Turbulence and Harry back in Southampton the main sail furler is also fixed. He has been through all 26 of the through hull fittings that are below the water line and checked they are in good condition, repaired a leaky lid to the watermaker oil reservoir, got the boom lights, that have never really worked, working and almost sorted a problem with the gas supply to the cooker. 

Repairing the furler

Raya has been scrubbed and polished  inside and out and the provisions left over from the Atlantic crossing have been sorted and re-catalogued. Spares have been ordered and the charts for the next passage to Panama have replaced the windward Islands on the table.

While we have decent internet I have been battling with all the paperwork required for our transit of the Panama Canal and our visit to Galapagos. This has required dozens of emails to the agents that we have had to engage to help with this process and numerous forms, copies of passports and crew lists have been sent. 

Luckily the marina is very well placed with most of our requirements within a dingy ride. The chandlers, a supermarket, even the main town of St George’s all have dingy docks. St George’s, the small capital is surrounded by steep hills that run right down to the protected harbour. The waterfront is lined with rather incongruous Georgian style buildings, a legacy of times when the harbour was busy with Clipper yachts exporting spices particularly nutmeg to Europe, now the Clippers mostly carry tourists.

Yesterday feeling that we deserved a break we took a cab to a beach restaurant that had been recommended as one of the best on the island – The Aquarium. It lived up to its reputation, the location was picture perfect with tables right on a stunning beach, we played in the waves, ate lunch under the palm trees and drank too much rum. 

The beach at the Aquarium Restaurant

Today it was back to work but we had some help. One of the poles that support the Bimini had taken a bash during the Atlantic crossing and was proving hard to fix. We seem to be making a habit out of bumping into people even though we are half way around the world and bizarrely Rick’s brother and wife, who are on a proper cruise arrived into Grenada for the day today and with thier friends Bob and Yvonne, popped over to see us. Between the three boys they applied their combined engineering knowledge and a couple of hours and plenty of tea later we had a workable Bimini pole. 

Most of the jobs done, tomorrow we plan to leave the marina for a few days and anchor ina quiet  bay somewhere and catch our breath ready for the next leg of the journey.

Visitors, Tony, Brenda, Bob and Yvonne

Happy New Year

Well here we are at the dawn of 2016, time marches on relentlessly. We have achieved so much in 2015 but this new life is a continuous succession of challenges. This year we set off into the Pacific and waters unknown. Rick points out that when we swapped our house for a boat, as we set off from Southampton for Plymouth, did our first night sail, spent time at anchor, crossed our first ocean, it was all unknown and this is just another step. However as we waved goodbye to Rachael, Matt and Robyn for a moment our links to home and our comfort zone seemed stretched thin.

Rachael and Matt re-enacting Pirates of the Caribbean where it was filmed on Petit Tabac

Boxing Day brought yet another day of squalls, we were headed for the reef studded bay at Clifton on Union Island, with the hope of being able to snorkel straight off the boat. But with the weather being so stormy and the reefs so close we decided we should stay for as short a time as possible. 

We did have to go ashore however, as Union Island is the most southey island of the Grenidines to have customs and immigration and before we could enter Grenada we had to check out. This is one of the downsides of island hoping in the Caribbean, each island or group of islands is a new country and requires you to fill out a huge form in quintuplicate or whatever five copies is, on entering and again when you leave. This process takes place in a variety of drab offices, manned by stern and bored custom officers. You are advised to treat these formalities with due respect and to be smartly dressed, not so easy when you have arrived by dingy, are soaking wet and are  protectively clutching all your precious documentation. You are often required to queue at three different offices that each take money from you for various unknown reasons and to get your five forms stamped, they do this with such relish you wonder how long thier rickety desks will last.

Paperwork all correctly completed we stopped for a beer, Union Island was quite different from the islands we had visited so far. Between the small town of Clifton and customs at the airport, a five minute stroll, was a goat farm. The town was sleepy and friendly, the locals proudly announced it was the Caribbean of the 1960’s. We would have liked to stay but the straining of the anchor against yet another squall persuaded us otherwise and we sailed on to the Island of Caraicou, part of Grenada and another customs office.

Papers again stamped we settled at anchor in Tyrel Bay where we spent a pleasant couple of days dodging the rain showers and relaxing. There was a nice beach, yet another good beach bar and a mangrove swamp to explore in the dingy. The visibility for snorkelling hasn’t been brilliant but we did have a final swim at the marine park just north of us here in St Georges on Grenada. Statues have been placed on the sea bed and make for an interesting sight amongst the fish and the coral.

  

We are now moored up in the very plush – great showers and Internet cabled to the dock, Port Louis Marina, St George’s where except for a few days to explore we are based until Jonathan and Sheridan arrive and we head to Panama. Tonight there is a big New Years Eve party, at lunch time we sat and listened to the band setting up, they were brilliant so we have bought some tickets, have put on our dancing shoes and are heading across to join in. Here’s hoping our ears can take it. Happy New Year.

Christmas in the Cays.

Early on Christmas Eve we left Bequia with a succession of squalls battering us. The squalls first appear on the horizon as forbidding dark clouds and as they carry high winds and torrential rain when spotted we leap into action, reefing the sails, clearing the decks and then if possible hiding below. The rain reduces visibility to almost nothing and the winds rattle through the rigging. The high winds, in or out of the squalls are common at this time of year, locally called the Christmas Winds, we have been trying to concentrate on the Christmas rather than the Winds. Alas, the winds and squalls have continued, at times it’s a bit like we are holidaying in Devon, all huddled below reading, writing or playing scrabble. Of course it is still hot and when the sun comes out to play our surroundings are magnificent.

We arrived in the Tobago Cays at midday and Christmas really started when Rachael produced, Mary Poppins like, a five foot tree from her bag, Matt and Robyn brought baubles, Rick and I provided some fairy lights, which Matt strung around the cockpit and we played Chrismas songs on the stereo. The boat was transformed within minutes. 
  

 

Christmas Day started as normal with scrabbled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast, followed by present opening, at eleven our neighbors came over for a glass of champagne, we ate a large lunch and took a little exercise. However, it was very much a Chrismas with a difference, our few presents were constricted by luggage restrictions, the neighbours came over by dingy from their Oyster yachts and the champagne was the bottle we had won from the ARC. The excercise consisted of snorkelling with turtles and strolling with iguanas and our lunch was of huge BBQ lobsters that we ate at the beach.

    

 

When the sun comes out the Tobago Cays are a mass of amazing colours, the small islands, as we have witnessed, get plenty of rain and are a rich green, the coral reefs from above the water are a pale brown and the sea a kaleidoscope of turquoise and blues. 

  
  
The area is a national park and the snorkelling although challenging in these windy conditions rewarded us with lots of fish and much to our delight a turtle. The islands are uninhabited by humans but home to large, 3ft nose to tail, iguanas, which, use to the tourists stroll past you nonchalantly.
   

  
It was difficult to feel too Christmassy with the sun beating down and sand between our toes, we pinch ourselves to realise not just that we are here but that we sailed here, all the way from Southampton.

Blowy Bequia 

We are anchored off the small Island of Bequia in the Grenadines, half way accross the world but we are continually bumping in to people we know. Half the crews of the ARC seem to be here and in a villa on the other side of the island are our old friends Laurie and Ian enjoying a Christmas break with friends and family.

Talk about a room with a view, their villa, perched high in the hills, looks out to the Atlantic Ocean. We joined them for the evening yesterday, not only did they serve us a fantastic fish curry, they gave us a few hours on firm ground to relax.

   

The high winds came as forecast and Monday night there was pandemonium as gale force gusts screamed across the bay. Anchors and even moorings were dragging, we spent all night watching out for problems, our anchor held firm but the catamaran in front of us was not so lucky. Rick spent a few tense hours on deck as they, fast asleep, slowly but inexorably drifted in our direction. Eventually he managed to wake them, flashing a high powered torch through their hatches and they turned their engine on with only 3m to spare. As we chatted with others the next morning nobody had had much sleep and all had there own tale of near misses to tell. Thankfully today – Wednseday – the winds have finally eased but the bay is still quite rolly.

The dingy has been a feature of our stay here, it is our only means of getting from the boat to shore. Riding into the high winds, especially with all five of us onboard has been very wet, protecting the paper wrapped baguettes an impossibility. However, it is vital and tying it securely to the boat imperative but today it has “escaped” twice, we are lucky to still have it! The first time Matt dived in to get it back, the second time a passing water taxi rescued it for us, I think there needs to be some serious knotting lessons for the crew tomorrow.

Despite the rather lively anchorage, we like Bequia it has a small town feel to it, everybody is very friendly and it lacks that feeling of intimidation we felt in St Lucia and St Vincent. As we wandered around the few streets that make up the main town, buying bits and pieces for our Christmas celebrations, there was a happy mix of boaties, tourists and locals. The interior is made up of lush, tree covered hills and the coast is rugged. Where we are in Admiralty Bay, there are two great beaches, one of which has a fun restaurant/bar, there are plenty of jetties for dingies  and good snorkelling.

Rachael, Matt and I swam around the small, rocky headland that devides the two beaches and saw a good variety of fish, including a small, black and white moray eel that was swimming in the open instead, as is normal, hiding amongst the crevices of the rocks and a shoal of Caribbean Reef Squid that look much like cuttle fish, rather strange creatures but fascinating to watch. Rach and Matt also went for a dive on a reef further out where they saw many more and much bigger fish.

We plan to leave early in the morning tomorrow and sail to Tobago Cays, a few low islands and a horse shoe reef with stunning turquoise seas, where better to spend Christmas Day.

Laurie, Ian and the boys join us for a beer in Admiralty Bay , Bequia

Goodbye to ARC World

Yesterday we left Rodney Bay and ARC World with a mixture of emotions. Excited to be getting on with the next part of the journey, sailing through the Grenadines with the Kids over Christmas, sadness at saying goodbye to our ARC family – all the friends we have met over the past couple of months and slight trepidation at emerging back out into the real world from the ARC’s protective bubble.

Rodney Bay from the top of the mast

The final night in St Lucia was prize giving night. The World Cruising Club, organisers of the ARC, do a great job at including everybody in the prizes and everybody enjoyed the evening. We are still surprised at how well we did to win cruising class C and were especially pleased to win the a Oyster cup for the first placed Oyster in all the cruising classes, particularly as it was accompanied by a magnum of Moët.

We cast off from the dock at eight thirty for the fifty four mile trip to Walilabou bay on the Island of St Vincent. It’s funny how your perspective changes, a few months ago a 54nm trip would have seemed a long way but now it seemed like a quick hop. It was quite quick, we were anchored by four thirty, but it was also a rough trip, the channel between the bottom of St Lucia and the top of St Vincent was horrible – 3 metre swell on the beam, overlaid with messy waves and 40kts of wind. 

We arrived into a beautiful bay with a sigh of relief, unfortunately this was short lived, having crossed an Ocean with hardly a breakage, we arrived in St Vincent to discover the mainsail wouldn’t furl and the up button on the anchor wasn’t working. Tired from the difficult crossing this was the last thing we needed, but finally with the sail furled away by hand, the anchor set at the bows and the stern attached by rope to a tree, we dinged ashore for dinner. We would face these problems tomorrow.

Walilabou bay was used for the filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean and the ramshackle restaurant was full of props, including a dozen coffins, a huge water wheel and a model of Captain Jack Sparrow  clinging onto the top of a mast, as seen at the start of the first movie. The food to our tied and hungry tummies tasted excellent despite our rather alternative surroundings.

We woke to a freshening breeze and we felt uneasy about the position of the boat, it sat awkwardly between the anchor and the stern line, the rocks seemed uncomfortably close. The forecast was for the winds to increase so we decided to make a break for it and sail to our next stop, Bequia, a day early. This, of course, first entailed raising 1/2 ton of anchor and anchor chain by hand, well done Rick, Matt, Rachael and Thomas the boat boy. St Vincent we’ll have to visit you properly next time around.

Reflections on an Island

We have left ARC World, in Rodney Bay, for a few days to take Roz B, who flew out to greet us, for a couple of days sailing. It feels great to have escaped the heat and intense activity of the Marina and fantastic to finally be swimming in the warm Carribbean sea but we sit in a place of contrast. 

Anse Chastanet is a beautiful bay surrounded by steep wooded cliffs that drop right down to th sea. In the foreground is a pretty resort that sits nestled in the vegetation and where we had a very nice lunch yesterday. The background is dominated by Petit Piton – the pitons are the symbol of St Lucia, volcanic conical peaks that create a very dramatic landscape. The sunlight twinkles off a green sea reflecting the trees that enclose it, we are tied to a mooring bouy with just two other boats, it should be extremely tranquil.

    

Unfortunately our relaxation is tempered, there is a small swell that is rocking the boat just a little too much and we have been plagued by a swarm of tiny flies that has found us and our food. 

The real tension however comes from the boat boys that aggressively insisted on helping us pick up a mooring, demanding money for their service. They have been followed by others that continually buzz past us in a selection of rickety craft showing more interest in our boat than feels comfortable. Last week we were visited by the General Manager at Rodney Bay Marina, the day before Eric, Roz and I had dragged one of the security guards from the water, he was completely out of it, not having a clue where he was or what was happening, had we not been passing when he wandered oblivious off the end of the pontoon I’m not sure he would be with us now. I felt obliged to report the incident not just for the security of the boats he is meant to be protecting but for his own safety. So it was that the English marina head came onboard for a cup of tea and we discussed amongst other things the perception of crime on St Lucia that is damaging the tourist trade. Sitting in this lovely bay, although nothing untoward has happened, that perception is unfortunately being re-enforced. 

For the first few days after our arrival, life past in a daze of exhaustion and  excitement. We revelled in our achievements and the congratulations of others, as all our fellow competitors, sorry participants, began to arrive and the emails and messages from home flooded in. Our smugness only increased, when wandering the dock we discovered Pixel, the boat and that had pushed us the most, was a full on, open cockpit racing boat, with eleven professional crew hot bunking and surviving on a minuscule ration of water to save weight. Bonkers!

In quiet moments we reflect on the crossing, we all agreed the ‘racing’ had added to the fun, but overall that the whole experience had been more straightforward than expected. It seems we had very few breakages or problems compared to most and that most boats had used much more complicated routing than ourselves. Our success seems to be down somewhat to our ignorance, a lot to our meticulous preparation but mostly to the brilliant boat we have in Raya.