Having extended time ashore in Antigua reminds us of some of the “real life” activities that we often miss out on whilst enjoying our cruising in the Caribbean. Nothing more so than the recent elections which have been the main topic of conversation for weeks. I have some experience of what is involved in election campaigns in England, but the Antiguans definitely have their own twist on campaigning.
In the run up to the elections our mornings were kick started between 6 and 7am with campaign vehicles driving around the villages delivering their messages over a speaker system. Slander does not seem to worry the Antiguan politicians as we listened to messages being broadcast about rival party candidates being “thieves who have stolen money from the church” amongst other alleged crimes ! The parties must have spent a fortune on printing with virtually every lamp post being decorated with some sort of party leaflet or flag and road sides surrounded by hundreds of enormous, billboard sized posters.
Other fascinating elements of the election for me were the ban on the selling of alcohol until 6pm on polling day and the day after being a public holiday. Presumably everyone needs a day off work to catch up on the drinking they missed out on during polling day ! It is obviously an effective way to remind people to vote as there was over 70% turnout. We were then awoken at 1am the following morning by the car horns, music and loud hailers as revellers celebrated the results. The Antiguans always know how to party.
We have continued to explore different areas of the island and always find something of interest, even when just strolling through the local village. Some of the simplest local houses are very well tended with the owners clearly taking pride in keeping their homes in order. The people we meet on our strolls are always friendly and we enjoy glimpses into “real life” as we pass families chatting on their front porches and children playing in the roads and fields, always accompanied by a slightly scruffy looking dog.
We also finally made a long planned visit to the Carib Coffee Co. to watch the grinding and learn about this local business. As always, the staff were very friendly and informative and we enjoyed a delicious coffee whilst listening and learning. It was great to see how many local hotels and restaurants buy from the Carib Coffee Co. with bags of orders all lined up in the shop waiting to be delivered. We love a 'proper' coffee in the morning and took the opportunity to stock up on some of the different blends ourselves.
The Easter celebrations also brought another day of alcohol restrictions with the ban on sales of alcohol on Good Friday. Another valiant attempt to reduce drinking before a boozy long weekend. How wonderful it has been to see large groups of family and friends gathered on the local beaches making the most of their holiday. Again the Antiguans know how to party at the beach and we witnessed some very elaborate camps with huge awnings covering separate kitchen and dining areas, piles of water toys to keep the kids happy and lots of seating for the extended family groups.
We were fortunate to be invited to a friends camp for breakfast on Easter Sunday and tucked into an amazing spread of fried plantains, local bakes, codfish, fresh fruit and even bacon and eggs, all washed down with coffee and hot chocolate. We had missed the singing but did arrive in time to see the children hunting for eggs. A lovely treat for us to be included in this special family event and a reminder of the nicer side of “real life.”
Back in our 'home port' of Jolly Harbour, Antigua, we have decided to become partial land lubbers for a while. Living on yachts has so many wonderful advantages – being able to dive off to swim in the wonderful Caribbean sea whenever you want, being treated to amazing displays by birds diving for fish, being able to put your hands on all your belongings within a few feet of space and even staying in your bikini all day if you want to !
However, once on land, there are certain temptations that I am eager to give in to. One of the first temptations for me has to be a freezer. Whilst freezers are now much more common on yachts, we have managed for many years without one. Being a little more creative in planning meals is an easy trade for reducing our electricity consumption on board. Having been in a house for a little while now though I seem to have become addicted to ice cubes, freezing big batches of meals and even eating ice cream. I am going to have to come up with a plan to wean myself off the freezer before we return to life at sea, if only to stop myself from turning “island shaped” in the interim.
Whether at anchor or on land, staying in one place for a while gives us the opportunity to expand our social activities and we are certainly making the most of it. Lots of happy hour drinking, dining out, beach days and even occasional pool matches with local friends are becoming our new norm. The quality of the pool table may leave a little to be desired, but there is no lack of fun, banter, cheating and incredibly luck shots – the slope of the table helps and hinders in equal measure, as does the quaffing of Caribbean beer ! Unfortunately all this socialising is adding to my waistline again and I fear that a dramatic increase in exercise is now required.
A change in our surrounding flora and fauna has meant us learning to share our garden with land crabs, mongeese (or is it mongooses ? The debate rages on on our house), lizards, geckos and even the occasional cat. Night noises are also different with tree frogs, cicadas, music, cars and the neighbours cows and donkeys making their presence felt. Unfortunately for me, one of our local tree frogs recently decided to make it's presence felt by landing on my forehead whilst I was reading a book in bed ! I shrieked (very girly I know) and leapt up to see the tree frog now calmly sitting on the headboard. It must have taken me 10 minutes to release it back into the wild and a further 10 minutes for me to be able to focus back on my book.
Our biggest challenge with local fauna so far though came in the form of Steve getting a bite that turned into a very nasty cellulitis infection. He became ill surprisingly quickly, necessitating visits to the doctor, many prescriptions and enforced bed rest. Whilst it could have been due to a mosquito bite, a few locals have suggested that one of the native caterpillars was probably to blame. Many weeks later and his leg is still showing the aftermath of this nasty infection. We certainly sweep any type of caterpillar out of the house as soon as we spot it now.
Our lovely Wanderlust provides a welcome escape when we need a break from solid ground. How lucky we are to be able to pack an overnight bag and sail away for the weekend. This was particularly wonderful over Christmas and New Year when we were able to sail around Antigua to join friends, enjoy the parties at Nelson's Dockyard and even take part in the Nelson's Pursuit Race on New Years Eve. We may not have covered ourselves in glory in the race (long story about reefing lines and knives as we crossed the start line!), but we certainly won the prize for “most fun” - oh and some rum of course.
As we try to refine our plans for 2018 we continue to take full advantage of the opportunities and fun presented by life ashore, whilst also getting a few jobs sorted on our yacht. Although we are embracing our current land lubber status, our itchy feet are not being calmed any by our lovely cruising friends regaling us with stories and photos of their continued travel. The call of the sea still seems to be strong and further adventures beckon.
A rather lengthy tale this time, but I am sure my family will appreciate the detail !!
Hurricane season was still with us, but it was time to start making plans to head back north to Antigua. It would be a bit of a wrench to leave Grenada for many reasons, but we were looking forward to re-exploring the wonderful island of Antigua and catching up with old friends, and the chance to welcome more family and friends on board over the coming months.
We were well provisioned and had made the most of stocking up on the wonderful fresh produce that is so abundant in Grenada. We were amused to see a couple of young sailors in the supermarket queue who had decided their provisioning only required 20 packets of instant noodles, 4 bags of tortilla crisps and 2 bottles of mojito mix. Our passage planning for the 350+ miles was done to give us roughly a week at sea with a few stops, a possible night sail, plus 5 days contingency before family landed in Antigua. With plans A, B, C, D and E in place, safety checks done (including a quick hop onto the back of the boom to check the backstay fittings), we had a final swim on the wonderful Grand Anse beach, had a few farewell drinks and even said our farewell on the cruisers radio net. We were ready – as sailors we should know better than to say that.....
Our first hop was to Carriacou where we intend to snorkel at Sandy Island before finally leaving Grenada and her islands. We were having to motor-sail for a while in the lee of Grenada when we heard an alarm sound. The engine coolant was too warm. We stopped the engine, stuck up the headsail and managed to continue to make progress as we waited for the engine to be cool enough to investigate. Steve tracked the problem down to the impeller, but there was obviously an underlying issue as he had replaced the impeller only a few days earlier and it was already starting to wear. Despite putting in another new impeller, checking and clearing all the pipes, checking the through hull fittings etc.. etc... the engine refused to work.
By now some very wet squalls had arrived and the wind was drifting us too far off our intended track so we made the prudent decision to return to Grenada and get the problem fixed. As we progressed towards St George's the wind died and we kept our fingers crossed that we would have enough momentum to sail across the entrance channel to the marked anchorage area. We finally glided into position just before dark and no doubt gave the other yachts something to look at as we anchored under sail.
We managed to get an engineer on board the next afternoon who fixed up the impeller housing and got the engine running. He advised that the repair would last the season, but we cheerfully said we would get a new part as soon as we arrived in Antigua. Having had an enforced rest and being keen to progress, we made the decision to night sail up to Bequia and save Sandy Island for another time. This time we progressed much further, but after a few hours of running overnight, the engine decided to fail again. We continued to sail well through the night and the next morning, after much short tacking into Bequia, we were pleased to see that there were very few yachts around and that Lower Bay was empty. We successfully anchored under sail again and decided to go below for a couple of hours sleep before tackling the engine again.
An hour and a half later our sleep was disturbed when the wind picked up and a short while later we heard a loud bang. We leapt on deck to discover that a catamaran from Princess Margaret's Beach had dragged its anchor and somehow managed to hit the only yacht in Lower Bay – us !! We quickly deployed our fenders and got on the radio to see if someone could assist with the runaway cat. Apparently no-one listens to the radio in Bequia on a Saturday morning, but eventually a dinghy approached with a very worried looking couple who turned out to be the owners. By now their cat had managed to hook our anchor or chain and was bobbing very close to our stern. We explained that we couldn't start our engine to try and sort the problem out so the husband valiantly dived into the water and managed to unhook the chains and his wife then raised theirs out of the way. They were extremely apologetic, but miraculously we had suffered no damage. Unfortunately they had a scratch in their hull where they collided with our anchor roller, but it could have all been much worse.
As our plans for sleep had now been somewhat disturbed, we discussed what to do next. Whilst we thought that would could find an engineer in Bequia, we were not sure if the small chandlery would be either open or have parts that we needed. After much deliberation we took the decision to try to sail on to St Lucia where we could find much larger chandleries and boat yards. We successfully sailed off the anchor and picked up the winds in the St Vincent – Bequia channel. We decided to sail up the east coast of St Vincent as this should give us more wind and a good direction to reach St Lucia. As we rounded the bottom of St Vincent we were hit by a massive squall and had to just run with it for 40 minutes until it had reduced enough for us to try and get back on track. As is typical with sailing, the wind then decided to completely die, but we were left with a nasty swell. We realised that our situation was now far from ideal and Steve spent the next 4 hours trying everything to get the engine running as I tried to find a puff of wind to keep us offshore.
By late afternoon we were faced with the predicament of having no engine and no wind, with the swell pushing us onto a lee shore. “What does the chart show for this part of the coast if we have to try and anchor?” I shouted down below. “Uncharted rocks” came the reply. Oh dear ! After much discussion we made the very difficult decision that we were going to have to contact St Vincent Coast Guard and ask for assistance. For the first time in our sailing lives we had to be towed in, but this was a much better alternative than drifting onto a rocky shore, without an engine, as night approached. The coast guards managed to secure us to a mooring buoy in Calliaqua and came on board to check we were OK and to fill in the necessary paper work. We were very pleasantly surprised by the fee for being towed in and very grateful when they offered to get an engineer to us next morning.
The very helpful coast guard returned at 8am next day with an engineer who proceeded to spend many hours tracing issues, going ashore to his workshop and returning to get our engine running again. Whilst very happy, we were also very cautious with our optimism and decided to spend another night in St Vincent so that we could test the engine. We ran, stopped and ran the engine for many hours during the afternoon until we finally started to believe that the problem had been resolved. We finally retired to bed ready for an early start next morning.
We decided to sail up the west coast of St Vincent this time as we knew there were numerous anchorages if we ran into problems again. Unfortunately, 4 hours into our journey, the engine failed again. We decided to return to see if the engineer could have another look, but knew that we couldn't risk sailing around the reef into the Blue Lagoon and so chose to try and pick up a mooring buoy at Young Island instead. We radioed as we approached and were kindly escorted onto a mooring buoy by one of the Young Island Moorings team. Our engineer returned and another few hours of swearing and work and the engine seemed to be back on track. By now we were completely paranoid and decided to spend yet another night in St Vincent running and testing the engine. We were obviously also rather behind schedule and concerned that our family member would be arriving in Antigua before we did. After much reviewing of flights, hotels and options, we decided to book them into a hotel in Antigua for a few nights to take the pressure off our arrival and ensure they would be comfortable. We then took the opportunity to go ashore for some fresh produce and so checked in with customs and immigration first. We were very, very happy to be advised that as we had been towed in by the coast guard, the customs and immigration fees would be waived. How wonderful are St Vincent Coast Guard, Customs and Immigration ? Yet another thing to love about the fascinating island of St Vincent.
The lovely sailing gods decided to treat us to yet another storm in the middle of the night and at 1am we responded to a strange noise to discover that our mooring line had snapped. We quickly started the engine (phew!) and circled as we tried to find another mooring buoy We soon realised that the wind, driving rain and dark was not going to make things easy and we were also concerned about catching one of the many mooring buoy lines in our propeller. We made the possibly crazy decision that we were better out of the bay and drove out to sea crossing our fingers that we wouldn't snag any lines. Things were calmer out there and we decided to use the wind to our advantage and set sail again for Antigua. This may sound like another crazy decision to many sailors, but was the decision we took at the time.
We had wonderful wind and speed and were soon past St Vincent and St Lucia. Relieved to finally be making good progress we pressed on through the following night. We lost the wind up the west coast of Dominica as expected and the engine inevitably decided to fail again. After a few hours of trying to fix the engine, drifting backwards and dodging a tanker who must have wondered what we were doing, the wind returned and we continued up past the Isle des Saintes and the west coast of Guadeloupe.
As we approached the north of Guadeloupe the wind died and we started the tedious drift backwards again. By now we were resigned to having to face yet another challenge and decided it was a good opportunity to have a shower off the back of the boat and a relaxed lunch. At the most inconvenient moment the wind returned and we raced off on the final leg to Antigua. We know Antigua fairly well and were able to keep well clear of the reefs in the dark and finally dropped anchor again near Jolly Harbour. We collapsed into bed and caught up with some well needed sleep and were finally moored alongside the Jolly Harbour Marina pontoon next morning. We were really rather relived to be back in our home port in one piece, able to catch up with our family member only a day late and order the new engine parts we so clearly needed.
We can look back slightly more calmly now on our 'adventure' and marvel again at various aspects – how contingency days just vanish; we do still remember how to anchor under sail; the people in St Vincent are very helpful; our yacht sails fantastically (a comfortable 8 knots with 3 reefs in at one stage); and how unbelievable it is that you get hit by a runaway yacht when anchored alone in a bay. That's idyllic sailing in the Caribbean for you !!
It has been a strange week here in Grenada as we anticipated and then watched the dreadful destruction wreaked by hurricane Irma. We were lucky to be able to sail south earlier in the year to position ourselves out of the main hurricane belt for the summer season, but this was a luxury many, many people simply did not have. The loss of life, homes and yachts has been unbelievable and very upsetting to watch. With so many countries impacted it is difficult to decide which relief schemes to support as we fondly remember our wonderful experiences in the BVIs, Anguilla, St Martin/Marteen, St Barts, Barbuda and many others. Whilst Barbuda has been all but destroyed, we were pleased to see and hear that Antigua did not suffer extensive damage and are looking forward to returning at the end of October. We have family and friends visiting us there over the coming months and hopefully we can all provide a little support to the delightful nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
Whilst feeling very sad about what was happening elsewhere in the Caribbean, America and Mexico (hurricane Katia adding insult to injury as they were reeling from the terrible earthquake), life has to go on here in Grenada and we certainly had a busy and varied weekend.
We started off our weekend with the Mount Airy Young Readers group and had a fun few hours with the local children, helping them read out loud, do some spellings and sums, and play a few games. The very lovely founder set up the scheme a few years ago and has seen the number of children attending each week grow year on year. She and her husband have generously converted their garage into a 'classroom' full of wonderful books and games. She encourages yacht cruisers like ourselves to come along and help out with the children and we were delighted to be able to join in. Prayers were said for those suffering from the impact of hurricane Irma (Grenada was devastated by hurricane Ivan in 2004 so locals are very able to empathise) and we even sang the Grenadian National Anthem. The children were lively and polite and happily set off home again after their busy morning, rounded off with drinks and snacks. We are looking forward to getting to know the children better over the coming weeks and of course to more singing, reading and games !!
After a quick change of clothes back at the yacht we headed back out to join the weekly “hash.” This is a run or hike through the local countryside following trails of paper and this weeks course proved to be an extremely steep route around Mount Parnassus. I am not sure if we hiked as much as we did climb and abseil around the course, making liberal use of the local trees and vines to aid our passage. The occasional loud 'crack' of a tree put everyone on alert for a human domino style cascade down the hills, but we all emerged relatively unscathed by the end of the hash. My trousers did not fare so well and I am forever grateful to the 'gentleman' who took a photo of my slightly exposed bottom descending down a tree – not !! We returned to the local shack for beers, a helping of oil down (local dish of vegetables or meat and vegetables, slowly cooked in coconut and spices) and the hash ceremonies. This mainly involves treating first timers to a beer shower, inviting those with brand new shoes to drink beer out of them, celebrating birthdays with yet more beer showers – you get the idea – it mainly involves beer. The motto of the worldwide Hash House Harriers is “drinkers with a running problem” after all. After our refreshments and a little boogie to the pumping soca music, we loaded back into the mini bus for our trip home with a little detour to one of the local rum shacks.
Instead of treating our weary bodies to a relaxing Sunday morning, we decided to take an early dinghy trip out to a nearby reef for a swim and snorkel. It was surprising how much coral there was in an area frequented by so many yachts and it is always fun to see the colourful Caribbean fish darting around. Sunday afternoon usual means Grenadian Train Dominoes and this weekend was no exception. We joined the play at the Tiki Bar in Prickly Bay and had the usual mixed fortunes. How can I go from being the winner at half time on my first table to being the loser at the end of the match on my second table ?!! Luckily we don't take it too seriously and had another fun afternoon with our fellow domino 'funsters.' Sunday at the Tiki Bar features a traditional Sunday roast dinner and whilst I left Steve to tackle the roast beef, roast potatoes and vegetables on his own, I couldn't resist the Yorkshire puddings. There were wonderful and a real reminder to Sunday lunches back in the UK. How lucky are we to be able to eat a Grenadian speciality one day and a British speciality the next ?
We rounded off our busy and sociable weekend with drinks back on board Wanderlust with fellow cruisers, comparing sailing stories of course, but also discussing the terrible events of the week. A sobering reminder (despite a glass of wine in hand) of how life on board can be at the mercies of the weather and how fortunate we had been not to be in Irma's path. We love the Caribbean and know that the wonderful people who live here will restore the islands to their former beauty, supported by people from around the world. However, having visited the islands of Vanuatu in the South Pacific after Cyclone Pam we know this may take some time and our thoughts are with everyone who has suffered during this catastrophic event. The friendly Grenadians often greet us with 'blessings' or 'have a blessed day' and we have certainly been counting our blessings this week.
I posted this blog a little after I had written it and we are again counting our blessings and thinking of those currently being affected by hurricane Maria. Enough now with the hurricane season x
We are having a ball living on our yacht in the Caribbean (I know – why wouldn't we ?!) and were lucky enough to be in Grenada for the recent SpiceMas Carnival, where we took the opportunity to base ourselves in the rather lovely Port Louis Marina for the week. We were right in the middle of many of the carnival parades and activities, and amazingly became became accustomed to the incredibly loud music that blasted out all day and night from the enormous speaker ladened trucks.
Unfortunately the first big event we had tickets for was a bit of a disaster. We travelled over to the National Cricket Stadium to watch the Panorama where many local steel or pan bands were due to perform in what must be one of the main events for these bands during the year. As with many things in the Caribbean, things were running late, but we made the most of watching some of the bands warm up outside the arena before the gates opened. We then found some seats in the arena and waited for the bands to start rolling in on their huge drum supporting rigs. After an hours delay the crowd were starting to get a little restless. After another hour we started trying to find someone 'official' who might be able to explain what was happening. After 3 hours of no music and vague assurances that we would get our money back, we decided to give up and go home. The fallout of the cancellation of the Panorama has been front page news with the Grenada Steel Pan Association and the carnival organisers blaming each other for what happened, but it is the performers and their families that I feel sorry for. Some of the band members were quite young children and everyone had obviously put in hours of dedicated practice for this event, with family and friends eagerly awaiting the performance in the stadium. There are clearly some politics around the pan scene in Grenada !
After this bad start to carnival, we had high hopes for the J'overt and were definitely not disappointed this time. We had anticipated setting off around 4am to join in with this unusual event, but around 3am the volume of the all night music around the lagoon suddenly increased and heads started popping up from yacht companionways. We joined our friends to stroll around the dark street watching people apply motor oil to their bodies. I know it sounds crazy – that's because it is ! There are many stories around the origins of J'overt, but an obvious link is with emancipation and we certainly saw lots of people dragging chain accessories . As dawn arrived the crowd increased and the costumes and accessories became more bizarre - an oil covered vacuum cleaner and a fake office set up complete with computer and phone. The atmosphere was incredible with all ages joining in, colour, oil, weird accessories. The locals were very happy to share their oil and paint with the visitors and our hair and clothes were soon an interesting mix of colours overlaid with 'essence of motor oil'.
Trying to move around the parade of floats basically involved getting wedged into the crowd, bouncing along the street with the pounding music and jumping crowd and then trying to 'pop' back out of the mass to get our breath back. We were amazed how well such an enormous (and in some cases quite drunk!) crowd behaved and really appreciated the number of locals who welcomed us and wished us an enjoyable carnival. After many hours of fun, we decided to drag our weary and dirty bodies home for some sleep in readiness for the Monday Night Mas light parade. Port Louis Marina were very organised for the return of revellers and we were greeted with flannels, bottles of washing up liquid and a high pressure hose ! Having removed the worse we were then able to enjoy the lovely shower blocks and get ourselves looking almost normal again.
In our refreshed state, we then headed out for Monday Night Mas which involved a parade of floats and people wearing every possible flashing accessory, accompanied by the ever present pounding music. There were flashing wands, earings, Viking style helmets with horns (?) and my particular favourites – flashing tutu skirts and gum shields. As with J'ouvert, the crowd were very well behaved and welcoming and it was such a pleasure to be in the thick of the action and feel so safe.
Tuesday arrived and we prepared ourselves for the final parade of the carnival which was a riot of colour, glamour, sparkle and rather scantily clad bodies ! The costumes were amazing and had clearly taken many months of hard work to produce. There seemed to be a slightly different feel to the crowd today and there were lots of well dressed families enjoying the festivities. Some of the parade groups contained lots of children and it was amusing to watch the 'mum bodyguards' flanking them – whether this was to protect the children from the crowds or to be on hand in case one of the kids played up, I am not sure. Another fantastic day.
As Wednesday arrived a palpable silence descended upon the lagoon in St George's. No longer were our ears pounded by music (I am sure we heard the same songs every 20 minutes), cars returned to what had been the main parade route and businesses and shops re-opened. Gosh, 'normal' life had returned to Grenada. I am sure that the SpiceMas Corporation were already working on next year's carnival and that some of the locals were still recovering from this year's, but it seemed that it was time for us to return to our 'normal' life at sea.
I know that all around the Caribbean there are fantastic carnivals each year with unique and special events, but we loved, loved, loved SpiceMas in Grenada. It is not easy to explain the fun that can be had with a bottle of motor oil, some glitter and load music, and even the photos don't do it justice. We were delighted to meet so many welcoming locals and were impressed with how quickly the streets were cleaned between each event, with liberal amounts of sand scattered to try and contain the oil from J'overt. It is unfortunately inevitable that some of this oil and debris will make it's way into sea, but at least people were trying to protect the environment. It was good to see the marina staff out every day with big nets scooping up rubbish, it's just a shame it is necessary. So here we are, anchored in a beautiful bay watching the sun rise as fish jump around the yacht, trying to slot back into our 'pre-carnival and posh marina stay' life on board. What a wonderful country Grenada is.
Should we or shouldn't we ? We had many discussions about whether or not to make the trip down to Trinidad and Tobago; perhaps we would just stay in gorgeous Grenada ? We had already cancelled plans to visit Venezuela due to the ongoing issues there and now were undecided about TT. However, we reminded ourselves that we were on an adventure and decided to set sail.
We followed the advice about sailing overnight, advising the coast guard and others of our plans and picking a route that would keep us off the coast of Venezuela - there hadn't been a pirate attack for 18 months, but better safe than sorry ! We had done our safety checks, oiled moving parts and even had a curry ready for dinner. Time to go.
We left Prickly Bay in Grenada before 1800 to give ourselves some time to remember how to sail before it got dark. It had been 4 weeks since we had hoisted the sails after all. We were then treated to one of those rare experiences at sea - a near perfect night sail to Trinidad. The wind remained fairly constant all night (only a brief spell of motor-sailing required), no squalls or rain came to challenge us, we took turns to nap, all the other vessels and platforms we saw were well clear of us, we watched shooting stars and kept beautifully on track with our passage plan.
As dawn approached we started to see the outlines of Trinidad and Venezuela and I think we would admit that pirates crossed our minds again, just for a second. However, when our yacht was approached by visitors it was by a very welcome pod of dolphins. They played in our bow waves for at least on hour, taking it in turns to swim perilously close to the bow before leaping off to breathe and then start the game again. We always love watching dolphins and wonder what they are thinking as they turn their heads to look up at us. How lucky to be able to dangle our feet and hands overboard and get splashed by their play.
Our visitors departed as we neared the north coast of Trinidad and we then heard the harbour control talking to a large vessel who was approaching Port of Spain. The harbour master advised the vessel that they were clear to proceed and wished them a “blessed day.” What a lovely start to the day and end to our night passage. Next stop Chaguaramas, Trinidad......
What an enchanting country this is. Having visited Dominica three years ago, we were familiar with Portsmouth and Prince Rupert Bay, but we found ourselves delightfully unfamiliar with some of the other areas we explored this time around. We were greeted by Elvis on our approach to the bay and he confirmed he had a mooring buoy free for us when we were ready. We initially dropped anchor outside the customs dock and then headed back over towards the Purple Turtle Bar, radioing Elvis on our way. Once secured to a buoy we were in plenty of time to join the Easter Monday beach activities. Clearly this was the place to be on Easter Monday and the beach was full of families and young people enjoying the water, the sun, the company, the music and of course the local refreshments. A great start to our trip to Dominica. Amazingly, the whole area looked immaculate by the time we headed ashore next morning, a testament to the hard work of those we could see picking up the rubbish and generally tidying up.
There are many trips offered by the local 'boat boys' and the taxi drivers are happy to provide island tours, but this time we opted to hire a car and visit the north of the island, an area that we had not managed to see on our last visit. We had an incredible day, full of contrasts, local insights and the most spectacular scenery. Local insights were provided by the many local people that we provided lifts to (local buses don't run very regularly in this part of the island and we were happy to offer rides), ranging from information about what to go and see, to the employment situation for young people on the island, to the governance of the Carib Territory and even how to grow pineapples. We had a great lunch at the Islet View restaurant, where the view really did live up to the name and we were able to sample an assortment of local produce.
Our drive through the north east area of the island took us through incredible landscapes with unbelievably steep farming and plantation areas. We take our hats off to the farmers that were managing to grow pineapples, passion fruit, cassava, bananas, coconuts, guavas, mangoes, pumpkins and numerous other fabulous crops in this challenging terrain. Whilst in the Kalinago Territory, we took the opportunity to visit the L'Escalier Tete-Chien where a local guide told us briefly the story of how the Carib people believe that a snake from Martinique climbed from the ocean at Dominica using the stone staircase and went to live in a cave. They also believe that the snake breathed in tobacco, removed the smell and 'breathed out' white people. I might have lost a little in the translation there !!
The roads were a little challenging on occasions and unfortunately we spent half an hour negotiating a particularly tricky road, only to find that that it was closed as the bridge had been swept away down river. Having found our way back to a route that was open, we picked up another hitch-hiker who advised that the bridge had been damaged over a year ago and that there used to be sign to say the road was closed, but “someone had moved it” - you just have to go with the flow in the Caribbean !
The following day we decided to take the dinghy over to visit Fort Shirley and the Cabrits National Park – another eye opener for us. We love Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua, but are surprised that Fort Shirley in Dominica does not get similar publicity. The buildings are beautifully restored, the gardens kept in lovely condition, the staff extremely helpful and informative, plus it has access to numerous walks through the surrounding forest – all detailed on the hiking trail guide. I guess it just lacks the super yachts that frequent Nelson's Dockyard. We have decided that this area of Dominica in particular warrants a return trip with our hiking shoes and back packs. One of the restored buildings even has overnight accommodation that we may well make use of. All in all, our return visit to Dominica was a delight - full of new discoveries with plenty more just waiting for our next visit.
Link to Dominica Tourism Board
Easter is a popular time for a long weekend away on board and nowhere more so than the Iles des Saintes. Luckily we had arrived early for the 'caravanning on water' weekend and had secured ourselves a lovely mooring buoy off the Islet de Cabrits - not everyone was quite so lucky...
As we enjoyed a little quiet contemplation on deck, we noticed that two yachts were honing in on the only spare buoy, located just in front of us. Team A was the two young men on their small mono hull. Team B was a catamaran with some “more mature” couples on board. As the two yachts battled up our port and starboard sides, their target in site, Team B made the buoy first, but at a rate that was never going to work. One of the crew made a valiant effort to pick up the buoy with the boat hook at 5 knots, but sensibly backed off fairly quickly. Their skipper made a quick 180, but was then confounded to find Team A trying to capture the buoy A very heated exchange then took place (I am sure I need to learn more French swear words!) with both teams forcing their yachts into very close quarters, waiting to see who would give way. Team B managed to make their superior girth felt and captured the buoy. Team A made a less than graceful exit, even returning later to hurl more abuse at Team B.
Things calmed down for a little while in the anchorage and we used the time to make popcorn ready for the next round of entertainment – enter the family catamaran. Dad positions his catamaran on the approach to the buoy, hands over the helm to his wife, grabs the boat hook and heads for the bow. Dad grabs for the buoy, misses, drops the boat hook overboard and then promptly falls off the back of the yacht himself ! He shouts from the water for his wife to stop the boat (quickly I would suggest!) while he swims around, climbs aboard and makes attempt number two. He manages to hook the buoy this time and then disappears below – probably to down a large rum whilst changing into dry clothes.
The following day, another buoy becomes available !! You can almost hear the yachts anchored outside of the buoyed area discussing how quickly they can get their anchors up and swoop in. This time, Team C nips in with the dingy and ties a fender to the buoy, hoping this will secure it for long enough for them to get back in their yacht. No chance ! Team D zooms in, pretends not to see the fender and is securely tied up to the buoy by the time Team C arrives on the scene. A rather calm exchange then takes place (surprising) and Team C makes a graceful exit with their reclaimed fender. This latest experience has not gone unnoticed by the other yachts anchored outside of the zone and when the next buoy becomes available a more fail safe approach is applied. This time the hopeful yacht sends the dinghy on ahead to claim the buoy and remain in place until the yacht arrives. A much less confrontational method, albeit a little stressful for the guy in the dinghy trying to secure his position from the water until the 'big boat' arrives.
These kind of situations provide a fantastic insight into the behaviour of sailors and provide our version of television. However, we ensured we didn't put on our smug faces as we watched events unfold – it could well be us in the situation next time ! Happy Easter everyone.
Such a dilemma – do you share details of a lovely anchorage with your fellow sailors or try to keep it all to yourself ? We find ourselves in Indian Creek, Antigua and are very taken with this little spot. It was a little difficult to spot on the approach and care needed to be taken to round the rock near the entrance, but once inside the bay we could see the creek curving away into the mangroves, providing a tranquil anchorage. “It will be lovely if we have enough water to get in there” I shout from the bow. Luckily we did.
The pilot book describes Indian Creek as a small hurricane hole, but for us it was a place to unwind for a couple of days before returning to the 'real world' of Caribbean cruising. In fact we ended up staying for 3 nights; snorkeling in the clearer water towards the sea entrance, waving to some local fishermen, listening to baby goats bleating for their mothers and practicing our star gazing. We did some work on the boat too of course !
We did find the wind funneled into the bay providing some occasional gusts and it might not be comfortable in all conditions, but we will definitely keep Indian Creek on our list of lovely anchorages.
It is great to be in the right place at the right time. This time we were anchored in English Harbour, Antigua on the night the first solo competitor in the Talisker Challenge was due to arrive. Obviously these competitors must be a little crazy - I can't imagine rowing across the Atlantic myself, but admire anyone who is brave and fit enough to try. I will never know how it feels to arrive at an island after nearly 2 months alone at sea, but it was a surprisingly emotional experience to watch it happen.
Supporters had hiked out to Fort Berkley with torches and flares to cheer their competitor Gavan Hennigan in and his small craft was surrounded by the local rescue boat and numerous dinghys as it passed through the channel in English Harbour, en route to land at Nelson's Dockyard. Those of us at anchor in the bay joined in the festivities with cheering and horn blowing, particularly when Gavan lit a triumphant flare at being the first solo rower over the finish line. The loud cheers from the Dockyard could be heard as he finally stepped ashore and I felt very fortunate to have been an active spectator of this exciting and emotional experience.