1st - 3rd May
What an amazing month! Shipping your yacht on a cargo ship is definitely not like booking a flight and knowing precise timings. Cargo ships get delayed for a variety of reasons and there is nothing that can be done about it but wait. Sevenstar had originally allocated space for us on the m/v Floretgracht but bad weather delayed her so we were transferred to another boat. No problem, just a little more time to wait. Then another change and even more delay which was a bit depressing as it meant so many things we had planned would have to be cancelled. We emailed Wiebke at Sevenstar to ask if there was any way that she could squeeze us on to an earlier vessel. We didn't hold out much hope and were resigned to sit and wait for another week when lo and behold, into our inbox came the email saying we had been allocated space on the very much delayed m/v Floretgracht arriving in St Thomas on Monday 1st May. We thought we might load on the 2nd but not a bit of it, we loaded at 6.30pm on the 1st and by 8pm we were off the transporter and on our way for our last night in the Caribbean!
The process of loading ran very smoothly. We motored around from Brewers Bay to Crown Bay late afternoon on the Monday and picked up a mooring buoy within sight of m/v Floretgracht to wait for notification to move OR to the dock for loading. Sure enough at 6pm we had a call from Traci at St Thomas' Cargo asking us where we were ... anchored off, we replied ... oh yes, I can see you! She was on the bridge of m/v Floretgracht coordinating the loading of the yachts. We were told to put fenders and lines on the port side and at 6.15 we were called forward. Tim, from Larus, had offered to help us remove the backstay so he was on board too. Our lines were not actually needed as the crew threw down their own lines which we secured. Two of the crew then came down the rope ladder hanging down the side of the ship and boarded Ocean Rainbow. They then took off their heavy duty boots and socks and padded around our foredeck in bare feet! Very considerate. The Loadmaster supervised the positioning of the strops and a diver (free diver with amazing lungs!) went below to make sure that they were lined up correctly and clear of our log. All very efficient. Tim and James released the back stay while Claire stowed excess fenders and lines and took some photos!! With the backstay off we were ready to be loaded onto the ship. James and Tim clambered up the rope ladder but Claire was allowed to wait until OR was level with the deck. It was still a bit of a clamber to get off but with lots of crew around to lend a hand if necessary there was no danger of falling into the sea.
We then scrambled up to the next deck where we were allowed to watch OR being craned into position. Once she'd been raised clear of the upper deck, she was turned through 180 degrees and then very slowly lowered into a recess between the upper deck and the bridge. It was an amazing operation involving a dozen or so people. With OR positioned in her cradle, we were allowed back on board her to refit the backstay and tidy up the foredeck ready for the ocean passage. Work carried on below as the cradle was welded into place and OR was securely strapped down. When the backstay was secured, Tim took his leave and we stayed to just check everything over for a last time. We had already taped the two leaking windows we need to sort out once back in Portishead, put towels under all the hatches just in case they sprang leaks on route, stowed all the deck canvas, run fresh water through the heads, put Milton tablets in the water tanks and taken down our courtesy flags but there was still that last minute polishing of the sinks! Old 'March-out from army quarter habits' die hard! When we were sure we'd remembered everything we handed over the keys to the crew (in case customs needed to have access on arrival in UK), collected our luggage (2 small backpacks and one hold-all) and made our way off the ship - this time by means of the gangway. A much easier route!
Our next task was to find our way to an apartment in Secret Harbour at the eastern end of St Thomas. Janet Sweeney, our friend from Dominica, had very kindly offered us a bed in her apartment. The only snag was that, because of all our date changes, she was away on holiday and we hadn't managed to do a recce before she left. By the time we got to Secret Harbour it was really quite late so we were fortunate that James spotted the pizza restaurant and managed to order a take away. Janet's directions to her apartment were extremely good so we didn't spend very long trying to orientate ourselves and were soon settled in to enjoy our pizza and recover from our hilarious ride across the island. Why hilarious? Well ..... it had taken a very long time to find a taxi driver willing to drive us across the island at 8pm so when we did manage to negotiate terms with a really lovely gentleman we didn't protest too much when, having set off in the right direction, he suddenly swung around a very dodgy looking block and headed back the way we had come. His explanation: he had negotiated that we cross the island with a colleague of his (female and therefore she would be much better for us?!) and he would pick up some other people instead. We got back to the taxi rank at Pueblo only to find that the 'nice female' wasn't going to honour the deal, had got a better offer and was off with her taxi already full. We assumed our driver would give in and take us to Secret Harbour. Not at bit of it, he wasn't going to miss out on his fares. With very little explanation we headed off into the hills surrounding Charlotte Amalie and after a while we found ourselves entering a gated community. Up, down and around a wiggly road we went until we arrived at a very nice villa surrounded by bougainvillea and statues. Somewhat surprised we waited to see who would appear .... our taxi wasn't exactly the smartest of limousines. After a few minutes our curiosity was satisfied. Two young ladies appeared, ready for a night out. We said good evening and off we all went. Being curious, we asked them how they liked the island, were they on holiday, were they working, was it easy to find a job etc., etc. One of the girls said that she was living and working on the island and the other girl was a friend of hers from her home town - Philadelphia - and she was going to be moving permanently to St Thomas. We asked what line of work they were involved in - expecting restaurant or hotel trade as the answer. Almost right, but not quite. They were strippers. They loved their job, they enjoyed going to the Club and they considered the girls they worked with as their best friends. In fact they went to the Club even on their nights off! All a bit bizarre but our taxi driver was their regular driver and, as he explained, he had the code for the gate to the estate and he didn't want to pass it on to anyone else. No doubt protecting his job as well as the community! We dropped the girls off in town and then we were finally underway - only an hour later than anticipated!!
The trip back to UK was long but uneventful! It wasn't ideal that we hadn't read the small print before paying for our tickets as we might have realised that going from St Thomas to New York, New York to Oslo and then Oslo to Gatwick wasn't the fastest route!! But we hadn't dared buy tickets until we knew OR was going to be loaded so with only 24 hours notice, we took what we could get!! We arrived back at Tansy Lane at 02.30 on Thursday 4th May - a very full start to the month!
4th - 17th May
It was lovely to be back home and seeing friends and family again. When you've been away a while you really appreciate the 'green and pleasant land' that is England. The warmth of the Caribbean is wonderful but it is a long way from home and, much as we will miss the warmth, it is nice to cycle everywhere again, pop to the shops for the forgotten loaf of bread and see some more of the grandchildren. By next spring/summer we're sure will be ready for our next trip (and preparing OR for that will keep us out of trouble this autumn/winter) but for the time being we shall enjoy everything that's good about being British and living in the UK.
We welcomed Ocean Rainbow back to England in the rain! Well, we need to get used to it so why not start as the weather is bound to go on?! M/V Floretgracht made excellent time across the Atlantic and arrived in Southampton earlier than we had dared hope. We had initially been told that OR would be offloaded on Thursday 19th at 10.45 but on Tuesday at 17.15 we received an email (which we didn't see until bedtime!) to say we'd be offloaded even earlier - Wednesday 18th at 13.45! A clear run down to Southampton, a chat with Brian at Town Quay Marina and we were all set for a berth and a car park space for the day. We walked along to the dock in good time and were met by Sevenstar, given our hard hats and reflective jackets (not needed in the Caribbean!!) and escorted onto the ship where we scaled the sides again onto the cargo deck. After securing a ladder to our bathing platform we were able to climb back on board. OR smelt sweet and was dry as a chip. Brilliant. We set to work and released the backstay, took off the topping lift and placed fenders and lines on the starboard side. By the time we had finished this it was our turn to be lifted. We were allowed onto the cargo deck again to watch as the strops were positioned and OR was expertly lifted, swung off the ship and lowered against the side so that we could climb back on board together with one of the crew who, once OR was lowered into the water, supervised the release of the strops. We fastened the backstay in place, started the engine, checked for leaks and then we were ready. No more than half an hour from start to finish. A remarkably efficient operation. With a last wave goodbye we motored gently to Town Quay Marina and OR's berth for the next two weeks.
It didn't take long to berth and sort out OR for her short stay in Southampton so we had time to get to Crusader Sails in Poole before they shut for the day. Why the sailmaker? Answer: While packing away the mainsail in St Thomas we managed to tear a small hole in a seam and we wanted to get it repaired and the sail checked over before our sail back to Portishead. Once at Crusader we showed Paul the damage. He was his normal helpful, cheery self and said he'd get back to us in a couple of days with his recommendation and a price. This he did, and the news wasn't good. Our main had not fared well in the Caribbean UV. Paul was very disappointed that it hadn't held up better but in his opinion it was no longer 'reliable'. We asked the inevitable question - how much for a new sail and how long would we have to wait? Not long was the answer if we were happy to take a sail that had been made for a Warrior a couple of years ago and had been rejected as the owner had decided he wanted a fully battened sail. The price was right! Paul was helping us out but we were also helping him out by relieving him of a sail that was only suitable for a very few yachts. A good deal all round. We made it home in time for supper.
19th - 29th May
Full on family activities with a day off to drive to Southampton and load provisions on to OR for the passage north and put on the sails, including the new main that had been delivered to the Marina 10 minutes before we arrived. Great timing and it fits a treat so we are very happy.
And so to the final leg of the journey home. We caught the train down to Southampton and walked the 20 minutes from train station to Marina. Once settled back onto the boat we borrowed bicycles from the Marina (they have 4 for the use of sailors) and went in search of Lidl for fresh provisions. Loaded down we made our way back skirting around the historic walls of the town. One day we should come back and have a proper look around this historic City. Our first night on board in England was very comfy - although we did have a hot water bottle in the bed to take the chill off the sheets! And we had a duvet.
On Tuesday we set off and had a rather fraught time. We left the marina and all was well. We then raised the main and found that the second reefing pennant had pulled through into the boom and there was no way we could reach it. Why the knot on the end of the pennant had undone is anybody's guess but we needed to do something as the winds were strong (20-25) and we needed to reef down. We removed the spare mainsail battens from inside the boom and then tried to run the pennant back through using the mousing line. Fatal flaw, the mousing line led to the wrong side of the boom and we just couldn't rethread the pennant in its correct slot. Next move was to use the third reefing pennant and retie it in place of the second. We were in the process of doing this when disaster struck. We snagged a lobster pot. We'd been doing a really good job of avoiding the pots as we exited Southampton water but this one was a grey plastic container and Claire only spotted it as it appeared against the port bow. Too late to take avoiding action. It just disappeared under the boat and the next thing we knew, we had stopped. Isla Beata all over again.
We managed to furl the Yankee but, once again, the wind spun the boat around and we were down wind with 20knots of wind filling the sail and holding it against the spreaders. Our brand new sail! With the rudder jammed by the lobster pot we had no steerage and slowly but surely we were drifting into the shipping channel. Typically, it was at the narrowest point by Calshot point. Nothing for it, we needed help. Jumping into the water with a knife was not an option in the very cold, murky waters with the tide rushing past. Solent coastguard put out a call and Mons Meg came to our rescue. She's only a little boat but we threw a line to her and after a third attempt - and a big run up - she succeeded in pulling us around into wind. We dropped the main and it was fairly easy then to pull us out of the main shipping channel. We started the engine, engaged gear and moved forward, then we tried reverse - no ominous noises to indicate that we had rope around our prop, we were underway and we had steerage. We released the tow line and set off again. But, not for long. Despite full revs we were barely making 1.5 knots. The lobster pot was still attached. We turned around and motored back towards Town Quay Marina. Mons Meg stayed with us in case we got into difficulty but all was well and with the help of the tide we made it to the floating pontoon at the head of the Hamble River. Once tied up at the pontoon the Lifeboat arrived. Why they were launched beats us. Three times we said we didn't need them but the female on duty said that we had asked for help so they'd been launched! The crew were all fairly sanguine but we were very upset that they were called out unnecessarily. James had a word with the Harbour Master who said that he would call a local diver to see if he could come out and release us from the lobster pot. We only waited an hour before a local river ferry arrived complete with diver and the wherewithal to cut us free. 30 minutes later we were free of chain, rope and plastic container. We had to gather every last penny together to pay the £120 fee - credit cards aren't much use on a floating pontoon! - and then we were free to go.
Not an auspicious start to our trip. However, we did have a good sail to the Needles tacking up the channel in very efficient fashion! Well, we have had a lot of practice this year!! Then, after a rather bumpy exit, it was off to Salcombe by the most direct route to see if we could meet up with Carol and Martin Speller. We spent one night at sea and were expecting a second as the winds were very light but a combination of tide with us and then no wind for the last three hours (so we put the engine on) meant that we actually got to Salcombe before the Harbour Master turned in for the night. Martin had called up the HM to say we were on our way so a mooring was all arranged. At 10.15pm we entered the estuary and carefully made our way across the bar and up the river to the town where the HM met us in his launch and escorted us to our mooring buoy, handed us the strop and waited until we were secure before bidding us goodnight and making his way home. By 10.45 we were all ready for bed and anticipating the start of a new month and breakfast on board with Martin and Carol.