St David's Day 2014 - and the rest of March!
We flew the welsh flag and the Regimental one - with Prince of Wales feathers - for St David's Day and we celebrated in the evening with Colin and Izzi from Endorphin. They arrived brandishing a leek and dressed in green, white and red! The meal wasn't exactly 'haut cuisine' but we did enjoy the leek and ham pie and James concocted a special rum punch for the evening! What's more we had entertainment laid on and were treated to a grandstand view of the arrival of ICAP Leopard into the bay (she is one of the fastest sailing boats in the world), we were definitely in illustrious company.
The next day (2nd) we set off for Des Haies in the north of Guadeloupe where we intended to check out ready to go to Antigua. What a mixed bag in terms of sailing. We had reefed main and yankee and no stay sail for the acceleration zone and then we had very little wind and everything up for the next part of the trip until the wind died – we went swimming, absolutely beautiful sparkling seas – and we then put the engine on for an hour and a half! The last part of the trip we sailed. We anchored at the back of the bay amongst a whole pile of French boats and very close to a reef although the snorkelling was a little disappointing as the water was quite murky. Des Haies is a very small village with a number of cafés and very little else but we did find wonderful bread and really fresh and delicious vegetables. Although we hadn’t intended to stay in Des Haies it was so charming we ‘tarried a while’ – and very glad that we did as the heavens opened mid-morning and there was torrential rain for a few hours. It would not have been nice to be out trying to sail! Later that afternoon Endorphin turned up from Les Saintes and said they were heading to Antigua so we challenged them to a race! Please bear in mind that they are 54’ long to our 40’.
Race day dawned bright and early on Ocean Rainbow. We weighed anchor at 0630 and slipped out of the bay without disturbing Endorphin! Well, we had to do something to make the race fair!! We calculated that we would need a 2 hour start if there was going to be a competitive finish to the race as we thought Endorphin would average 8 knots to our 5 knots. The conditions were totally perfect so Ocean Rainbow creamed along with all sails flying and averaged 6 knots! A classic Caribbean sail - and about time too! These are the conditions we signed up for - long may they continue. The results of the race ..... Endorphin came second! Shame as we had been looking forward to getting some great shots of the boats for our scrapbooks.
It has to be said that we anchored first in Falmouth Bay with Endorphin following about half an hour later. Sadly, therefore, no opportunity for photo shoots as they roared past us. Magnanimous in defeat, Colin and Izzi invited us on board for Sundowners. It was probably our last sundowner with them until next season as they are continuing to head north and we are about to turn south again.
On Wednesday, while stocking up on fresh fruit and veg, we were told by the stall holder that rain had stopped play in the One Day International (ODI) – we had totally forgotten about the cricket! That was it - all plans on hold. Back to the boat lickety-split, change into decent shorts and tops, load up the backback with water and fruit and returned to town where we got a taxi to take us to the Sir Vivien Richards Memorial Cricket Ground. Edgar – our driver – was great and gave an update on the cricket score and turned up the radio each time there was commentary. Claire had asked if he could point out the places of special interest as we passed along the route – his first place was his local Anglican church. When we said that we were Anglicans too, we then had a running commentary on every single church along the way – and there were many! Liberata village (enroute) has the most churches of any town on the island, including St Barnabas, which is the oldest church on the island. Had it not been for the call of cricket we would have stopped as it was really pretty and, unlike any other Caribbean church we have seen, it had opening stained glass windows instead of the normal shutters. Edgar got us to the grounds by 11am and advised us to buy tickets in the south stand, first level for EC$40. He said it wasn’t worth paying the extra EC$10 to go to the second level. What we then appreciated was that he had directed us to the seats that he would have chosen – in amongst the West Indies supporters! It was magic. The locals are inveterate gamblers and apparently bet on anything. At various stages of the game one particular chap would stand up, wave some EC$ notes around and challenge the folk seated around him to a bet. We could barely understand what they were saying, it sounded ferocious but we were assured it was all in good fun. There was a lot of money being passed around amidst great guffaws of laughter. There was also a lot of rum being passed around! The locals had brought coolbags packed with ice cubes, plastic 5 litre bottles of rum and we saw just one 2 litre bottle of ginger ale as a mixer! The foodstalls were all around the grounds and were reasonably priced however we left it too late for the jerk chicken and had to make do with fried chicken and chips! They were simply delicious though so we weren’t complaining. We had a fabulous day and it will remain in our memories for a very long time.
The next day (Thursday) we sailed up to Jolly Harbour, anchored outside and dinghyed in for a recce. Jolly Harbour has 7 miles of waterfront moorings….how the other half live! We went to a Waitrose look-alike supermarket and stocked up with 5 litres of rum…cannot be outdone by the locals! Then had happy hour at the Marina Bar and caught up with emails. We met Beyzona who recommended Deep Bay as a good chill out anchorage and then we had a lovely surprise - meeting up with Ishtar – last seen off St Vincent where we had a brief chat on the high seas! They invited us on board for a ‘guided tour’ of their Warrior (she has a master cabin with en suite and bunk room as starboard stern cabin) and sundowner; it was really lovely to get to know Elwyn and Mo properly.
Friday we set off for Deep Bay and managed to anchor just off the beach with absolutely no room for anyone to anchor inside us. Heaven! The snorkelling around the rocks just by the boat was a trifle murky but the visit to the ‘Andes’ wreck made up for that – we had such fun diving down amongst the fish and the remaining carcass of the ship. On Saturday we had a bit of exercise and climbed up the closest hill to visit Fort Barrington which gave us wonderful views from St Johns (capital of Antigua) in the north to Five Island Bay towards the south. However, on returning to the beach we found two elderly German ladies advancing purposefully towards us – it transpired that they had been robbed. They had left their clothes, money, cameras and watches in a bag on the beach with their towels and gone to paddle in the sea. They became aware of a shadow and turned around just in time to see a large young black man help himself to their bag and run off. They gave chase but youth had the advantage and these poor ladies were left on the beach with nothing more than their swimming costumes, towels and shoes. They went to The Royal Antigua Hotel (situated at the far end of the beach) to ask for help but got nowhere – a language barrier apparently! We went to the hotel ourselves and asked the security guard for help and pointed out where the ladies were sitting waiting until 12 o’clock when their return taxi was due to arrive (they had come to the beach from one of the cruise ships in St Johns). They were rather worried (as were we) that the taxi driver might have colluded with the thief and therefore wouldn’t show up to collect them. We reassured them that we would be keeping an eye open and if the driver didn’t turn up we would help sort something out for them. Luckily they were collected as we didn’t see them again but what a shame for them and what a shame for the reputation of the locals.
9th – 14th March
We set off late morning for Jolly Harbour to meet up with Alan and Holly from Summer Wind. We had a nice gentle sail there and manage to anchor almost next door to them which was great. They came on board for drinks on their way home from lunch ashore and then we went to them for supper. Holly is a professional cook so it was a real treat to eat with them – although I do wish my contribution of salad had been a trifle more exotic! We met Nancy and Stephen from Fair Wyn (a wooden masted S&S 42’yacht that they had owned for 40 odd years!). Fascinating stories and lots of sound advice – yachties are very good at sharing their expertise which is brilliant and probably the only reason that we will survive this adventure! One of the pictures below shows the water frontage of Jolly House where the owner appears to have a flying caribe parked outside!! We'd like to see it launched!
The next day we set off mid-morning for English Harbour and our rendezvous with the Glyn-Jones’ (friends from the Regiment). We had an easy sail down the coast and managed to anchor very close to the beach – any closer and we would have been in the Glyn-Jones’ bedroom! What a lovely bay. It is much smaller than Falmouth Bay and there is a certain charm to it that was, perhaps, lacking in Falmouth. The shops are quite a walk in the heat of the day but we thought that was small price to pay and would return to English Harbour again – and we can thoroughly recommend Elizabeth’s laundry service in Nelson’s Dockyard. The best since Morocco and the price was good.
We had a great time with Christopher and Philippa; the first evening they came on board for an Ocean Rainbow sundowner, the next day we all had lunch on board and in the evening we joined them at the Inn for a superb dinner. On Wednesday we went sailing and took them for a scoot around Falmouth Bay to see all the super yachts and then we had a beat up to Indian Creek to see Eric Clapton’s house and have a picnic lunch. We didn’t drop an anchor in the creek as time was running out for us to get back to English Harbour and Customs so we could check out of the island, but it was lovely to go up the Creek and we would definitely go there again. Shortly after we had re-anchored, Jon arrived on Hecla with Free Spirit (Sam and Toby) and Ascent (Alan) closely following. Jon managed to drop a hook right next to us which was great and after he had completed his customs formalities he came on board for a sundowner and supper. Our last with him probably until next season, as Jon is heading north and we are heading back down south.
Thursday morning we were going to set of really early but we had a slight hiccough with the heads! Not an area that anyone wants to go wrong so we were rather dismayed at the thought of dismantling the pump etc. However, James’ Mr Fix-It skills have really come on in leaps and bounds and he was able to fix everything with a few screwdrivers and a couple of rags! Greatly relieved we weighed anchor rather nearer 8 o’clock than the planned 7 o’clock and set sail for Montserrat, bidding a fond farewell to Jon who was up and about with his camera to record our departure …. Probably to make sure we really were going!
We then had an exceptionally lovely sail across to Montserrat. The seas were exactly what we had expected from the Atlantic with a good roll and white crested waves. As we approached the exclusion zone for Montserrat from the east we were able to see the Soufriere Volcano really clearly. The clouds broke every so often to allow a view of the top, and what we had thought were clouds turned out to be steam escaping from the flanks. The pyroclastic flow from the last eruption in 2010 is clearly visible with vast acreages covered in ash. An awesome volcano.
Our anchorage is in Little Bay which is on the north-west corner of the island and relatively sheltered. The bay is small, with only a few other yachts at anchor but in terms of the other islands we have visited this is incredibly simple - reminiscent of Carriacou but without the marine facilities. Montserrat is known as the “Other Emerald Isle”, as the Irish were he first to colonise the island, so we are much looking forward to celebrating St Patrick’s Day in true Irish style – although we think the whisky may well be replaced by rum! We shall see! In the meantime we are in search of ‘mountain chicken’ – the largest frog species found in the Caribbean – and the ever elusive Green Flash.
On Friday we did get out the bikes! Well, James was reliably told by the lady at the customs that he should take his bike to the supermarket – ‘it would be a good idea’. It was not a good idea! Montserrat is seriously mountainous and we had to admit defeat before reaching the main town and hail a bus! We were then dropped off at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory which was our ultimate aim and we were not disappointed. The short film was extremely informative and we had magnificent views of the Volcano and the surrounding terrain, including the former capital Plymouth, buried beneath the ash. We then set off on our return journey down a very steep hill but disaster struck. Claire’s faithful Brompton suffered an equipment failure – 4 spokes snapped, the wheel buckled and the brakes jammed! A casualty of the heat? We don’t know …. but we were very grateful to some young men lounging around outside a beauty parlour who managed to find the right sized spanner to release the brake pads so we could at least wheel the bike back to the nearest bus stop! It was a while before the bus turned up and in that time we managed to buy lunch from a mobile car that stopped outside Desert Storm (a local pub)! ….honestly. Such a shame we don’t have a photo but the meal was delicious and all the locals were eating the same and paying the same – EC$20. We are really looking forward to the main St Patrick’s celebrations and are really pleased to have met up with Selkie (Trish, Justin, Cian and Elin) as they are from the original Emerald Isle. So we are teaming up with them and will see what happens next!
What a show! The African Music Event was fabulous with the Zimbabwean group entertaining us with some wonderful harp and drum music. Really beautiful. The female singer, who was not exactly sylph-like, treated us to some great African dancing which is very energetic indeed! It was a stunning performance. We had supper there – Goat Water! It was the same lady who had sold us lunch the day before so we knew it would taste good and we weren’t disappointed. Later in the evening we wandered back up the hill to Desert Storm to catch a bus home and while waiting had some fried chicken! We like the Caribbean food stalls! No buses, so we managed to persuade a local to drive us back. He only charged EC$40 so we were delighted and he was happy too.
On Sunday we got up early to go to St Patrick’s Church on Lookout Point. Selkie weren’t quite ready so we went ahead. At the entrance to the port we saw a fisherman packing up his kit – the surf was too high so no fish to be caught – and we asked if he might be passing Lookout Point. He wasn’t, but it didn’t stop him offering us a lift which we gladly took. He dropped us off outside St Patrick’s where we were able to enjoy the view and watch as the locals started to gather for the service. The church has the most amazing view across the Caribbean Sea. It is highly modern with electric organ, drop down screen for the words of hymns, priests wired for sound and the whole service is recorded and sent out via radio and the web. All very organised. The choir were excellent and we enjoyed some really lovely music and all in such a colourful setting with everyone in their national costume. The new national anthem was sung as well – it’s a very pretty tune and the words are lovely, encouraging Montserratians to build a new life and be proud. At the end of the service we were offered a lift back to the harbour by an American couple who visit Montserrat for 6 weeks every year. Montserrat is lovely. It is simple with only one tarmac road through the country, it isn’t prosperous but the local people are so kind and generous. Long may that remain so and long may the volcano remain silent. The devastation that it has caused is tragic to see and we found it hard to comprehend that Plymouth had once been a busy city.
It would hardly be a 'Short' blog if we didn't mention another party! Well, actually, it was a wonderful tour of 'Desiderata' a classic 62' yacht that was anchored alongside us in Little Bay. We met Stuart and Julia and they kindly asked us on board for a tour and a drink. What a magnificent yacht and what fun for those lucky people who charter her. Keep an eye open for Antigua Race Week and the Antigua Classics as Desiderata will be there and we get the feeling that Stuart is no mean sailor and very competitive!
17th - 20th March
We left Monserrat on St Patrick's Day as we really had to start moving south and the weather forecast for the next few days was predicting stronger winds. We set off early on Monday down the west coast of Montserrat. We passed Plymouth and saw the devastation of the volcano but no pictures as the sun was in the way which was a shame as we had a bit of rain and cloud but at the moment critique the sun came out! The passage across the acceleration zone was interesting! We had strong winds but these came in gusts but it meant that for the lighter winds we had too little sail and didn't move too swiftly! At the very end we had to motor into Deshaies as the wind was directly on the nose! It was a difficult balance to strike and we did have a fair few sail changes which meant that by the end of the trip we were a touch tired! Deshaies was very comfortable and we spent a good night there.
On Tuesday we set off again for Isles des Saintes but again the winds were really strong and we were beating so we decided to end the day early and dropped an anchor in Basse Terre. We'd had every intention of going ashore to investigate but our anchor wouldn't hold despite trying three or four times so we picked up a mooring buoy which was a mission! The loop is really small and we had real difficulty getting our line through it - managed eventually but by that time it was too late to launch Puddle, put on the engine etc and in the rolly seas we certainly weren't going to be heroes and row! We spent a very rolly night but at least we knew we weren't moving!
On Wednesday morning we set off early again and spent another day sailing in strong winds. Ocean Rainbow is in her element and we love it but we really do wonder why we bought a new main sail as we only every use it with two reefs! The great thrill of the day was to see a whale - we are reliably informed it was a sperm whale - just 20 metres off to starboard. Not sure the picture is quite up to National Geographical standards but it will do for us! The whales just seemed to amble past gently blowing. Hopefully we will see more in the next few days. We are now in Dominica and anchored in Portsmouth just off the beach. Wonderful to arrive to a party! We hadn't expected the mid-week BBQ to be quite as good as the Sunday one but it was excellent and everyone was dancing so quite a late night for everyone but a lovely way to start the celebrations for James' birthday. We met a lovely couple at the BBQ and asked them over for drinks for James' birthday - their yacht is called Y Knot! While they were on board we agreed to meet up in Roseau and do the Boiling Lake trip together on Sunday which will be a challenge but hopefully worth all the effort.
22nd - 23rd March
Saturday morning we got up bright and early to go to Roseau’s Saturday market. We perhaps didn’t need to get up quite so early but it was fun to catch a bus and join so many local folk as they made their weekend purchases. We bought some Kasava bread from a friendly local who assured us it would be well worth the EC$5 (£1.50). Actually it really was very tasty but not sure we will be eating it regularly as it is quite heavy and chewy (although that could have been the coconut bits that had been added). We then found our way to Moses’ bakery down River Street. We walked straight past the entrance first time and would never have found it if a local hadn’t actually taken us there. We were only just in time to buy some brown bread – all the white loaves had sold out (and it was only 7.30am!). We caught a bus back to our mooring and spent the rest of the day chilling out and cleaning the aluminium and stainless steel on the boat. Y Knot (Jim and Janet) put an end to our labours by inviting us on board their yacht for sundowners. A welcome break and a real treat to have a look at Jim’s Freedom 45. The Americans really do build sturdy yachts, with both fridge & freezer. The “vodka tings” on ice were a wonderful new experience.
Sunday morning we woke to an alarm clock so that we could make our arranged rendez-vous with Earl (a friend of Jim’s and a local guide) and Janet for a trip to Boiling Lake. What a fantastic sight it was to see the lake just bubbling away and feel the heat of the steam coming off it. It was a huge effort to hike there and the trip back didn’t appear any shorter either! Age is definitely creeping up on us as we were not feeling quite so sprightly 7 hours later when we got back to the car. We had to walk up and down two mountains before we even got to the one with the lake but it was fascinating walking through the rain forest. The noise of the trees rubbing together is really spooky but that was offset by birdsong and lots of humming birds. The Valley of Devastation is in stark contrast with no vegetation and the rocks covered with sulphur and smelling quite obnoxious! The boiling springs were everywhere with steam billowing and red hot streams of water running down the valley. As we set off back into the rain forest Earl stopped by a stream and wrote the names of our boats in the sulphur deposit – not sure how long it will last but it’s a nice photographic memento for us!
24th – 31st March
The days just seem to evaporate in the Caribbean! After our herculean hike to Boiling Lake we knew we were in for a couple of achey days! We weren’t wrong and, as always the second day was the worst and, in our opinion, every bit as bad as the time that we climbed Mount Olympus in2002 (an 11 hour hike in one day) which just goes to prove that age really is creeping up on us!
We left Roseau on Monday and headed for St Pierre in classic sailing conditions. A really great blast in 20 knot winds with blue skies and puffball clouds. We anchored in the north of the bay with plenty of chain (40m) – we didn’t want to repeat the ‘dragging anchor’ experience of our last visit to St Pierre. As it turned out we were the only boat to hold when the wind suddenly got up and swirled around with all the boats turning through 360° and anchors dragging in all different directions. It took a while for the other boats to settle back down but after that all was peace and quiet. Janet and Jim from Y Knot came over for sundowners and they experienced their first green flash! It was a really lovely evening. The next morning we woke early so went ashore to the market – wonderful mangoes at the moment – and then wandered around a bit until the tourist office was open so we could clear customs and immigration. Formalities over, we went back to the boat and set off for Grande Anse d’Arlet.
Another lovely sail and what a welcome in Grande Anse – the turtles popped up everywhere, it was really great. The south side of the bay was really full so we decided to go to the north and pick up a mooring buoy and put up with the swell. As anticipated it was really, really rolly but we slept well – our Atlantic training has its bonuses! We decided not to stay and have a ‘veg out’ in Grande Anse but to press on to Le Marin and stock up the boat and then on to Sainte Anne to meet up with Annemarie and Steve from Freebooter. We set off early expecting relatively light winds from behind us so we decided we would tow ‘Puddle’. Why is it that any time one breaks with one’s wise routine it turns out to be the one time you shouldn’t have? Normally we stow Puddle down below on passage but for the shorter hops we do sometimes put her on the foredeck and sail without the staysail. We were only going a few miles down the coast so what could go wrong? Well, the wind for a start. It was on the nose and it was howling. The seas turned from flat calm to lumpy, bumpy waves with spray flying off the tops. Puddle was not happy and nor were we. The answer was to stop and sort out a more robust method of towing her so we heaved to and James went over the side onto the bathing platform and threaded another line through the pad eyes on Puddle to make a secure bridle. It wasn’t ideal but it was certainly better than towing her with a single line. Moral of the story – don’t take short cuts and don’t believe the weather forecast!!
We anchored in our normal place in Le Marin and set off for our shopping spree! James went off to do chandlery purchases and left me in ‘Leader Price’ the local supermarket. It was a mammoth shop with the trolley full. You can imagine James’ face when he saw what we were supposed to be loading into Puddle to take across to the boat. However, where there’s a will there’s a way but we did have to travel very slowly to avoid shipping lots of water into our very low lying dinghy! We’re now ready for the arrival of Edward and Verity. Thursday morning Claire went off to the hairdresser – Monsieur Gobaly – and got an extremely ‘good value for money’ haircut! This is positively the shortest style possible without having a ‘buzz cut’, perhaps not quite what was envisaged but it’ll grow –eventually! With all the shore based tasks completed we weighed anchor and headed across to Sainte Anne. We do enjoy being at anchor there with the surrounding water such a wonderful azure colour. That night we had a lovely surprise on popping our heads out of the cockpit to see ‘Hestur’ anchored next door to us. They are great friends of Swallow and we have spied them a couple of times on our travels but never had the chance to meet and chat. We ‘knocked on their hull’ on our way to Freebooter and said we would try and catch up with them in the morning. Supper was a really enjoyable affair and it was good to catch up with Annemarie and Steve. To make the most of their company we arranged a ‘return match’ the following night when we had also invited Y Knot to supper.
Friday was ‘doby day’ – the washing machines near the Maya Beach Bar are excellent. We made good use of the facilities and laundered virtually everything so Ocean Rainbow is now squeaky clean and smelling very fresh. Our attempt to catch up with Hestur was only partially successful, we weren’t on our boats at the same time so the meeting was reduced to a chat at the back of the boat just before they weighed anchor to continue north. However, great to actually meet Dan and Charlotte in person – maybe we’ll meet again in Bristol. Friday evening we had another lovely evening full of laughter onboard OR. Janet from Y Knot brought the appetiser (a great combination of prosciutto, fig jam, goat’s cheese, rocket and balsamic vinegar) and a very grown up salad; Annemarie brought a fab fruit salad laced with ginger syrup for pudding, so combined with my ‘Welsh chicken’ we had a veritable feast. It turned into a bit of an ‘Australian’ party when heavy rain arrived later in the evening – the girls went down below to play guitars and gossip leaving the men topsides to discuss spark plugs and spanners. The result was an early morning assignation for a run ashore to find a new spark plug for Puddle’s engine (spark plug broken while trying to remove it for cleaning) while the girls met for coffee and a guitar lesson! Jim’s Cariabe made short work of the distance between Sainte Anne and Le Marin and it wasn’t long before they were back with new spark plugs, croissants, fresh bread and appetites! We all had a breakfast together and then it was time to weigh anchor again for the trip back to Grande Anse and a meeting with Swallow. Puddle’s engine now has a nickname – it’s Ho Ho Ho Yamahahaha, after the garage where James finally located the correct spark plugs!
Saturday lunchtime we arrived in Grande Anse after a good sail downwind and found a nice spot to anchor in the south of the bay so hopefully it will prove less rolly. Swallow is anchored a little ahead of us and we are meeting up with them on Sunday to catch up with all their news.
Sunday 30th and Monday 31st March
We did indeed meet with Swallow and also Elliot’s parents – Dai and Anne John. Dai will forever be known as Dai bach to us – blame Claire’s welsh heritage but she reckons anyone called Dai has to have ‘bach’ added to the name. We had a riotous evening with a hearty rendition of the welsh national anthem (with the words available – spelt phonetically for the uninitiated!) and a couple of rounds of ‘Bread of Heaven’. Really sad that this was our last meeting with Swallow before their crossing back to UK but we shall meet again in the future as they are hoping to set up home in Monmouthshire! On Monday we weighed anchor and sailed up to Fort de France in lovely conditions. We checked out another couple of bays en route so we are increasing our knowledge of Martinique ready to be tour guides for Edward and Verity. We found a lovely spot to anchor just off the Fort and we are now settled down and getting organised. It’s a tad rolly here with all the passing ferries but things quieten down at night so no spilt drinks!