Back at the start of our adventure I started keeping a journal with the idea of recording elements of our experiences which photographs are unable to capture. Well after a good start I lost most of the journal in a computer crash just after we arrived in the Caribbean but I hope to reconstruct the missing parts, especially those written during the crossing, when we are back in the UK this summer. Here's where I took up the pen again. It is in chronological order so once on a page of interest just scroll up and down. It's mostly text so not visually exciting to look at, Alex has been doing such a good job posting pictures on the site I couldn't see the point of duplicating her fine effort.
Gallant of Fowey
February 2003 - Simpson
Bay Lagoon, St Martin, Netherlands Antilles.
About a month after arriving in the BVI I the hard drive on my PC went faulty and sadly, since I had not backed it up for three months, all the prior entries in my journal, including the Atlantic crossing. Since the hard drive crash the keyboard has not seen much use. Well after much delay I have decided it is time to catch up, something I have kept putting off and of course the longer I put it off the larger the catch up task appears to be so the more I put it off. It’s amazing, you would think living on a boat, not working, no TV there should be all the time in the world to write, not so, somehow the days seem filled with jobs on the boat, sailing, meeting friends, seeing sights etc. When we moved aboard Gallant we brought with us a couple of teach yourself writing books, likewise how to sketch books plus pencils and pads, much as I would really like to explore those hobbies they all lay untouched and dormant in the cupboard. In my defence moving aboard a boat is probably like moving house, the first year after the move you spend a lot of time getting settled in and straightened out in your new home and locality. Aboard Gallant I have learnt that many tasks which are quick and simple to achieve at home take time and planning when you don’t have a car, telephone, reliable mail, mains electricity and water etc. Prior to moving aboard one of the consistent messages we got from books about cruising is that you won’t have time for any new hobbies so don’t bother taking paint brushes and palette if you don’t paint already, how true.
Okay so that’s all the explanations and excuses. As a start, a brief recap of the time since my last update around the first week of January I believe, just after we completed the crossing and reached the BVI. We arrived in Sopers Hole, BVI on the morning of January 1st 2003 after 28 days at sea. In fact, we had to heave-to off Tortola just before midnight on New Year’s Eve in order to await daylight to make our landfall. It was blowing a force 7-8 as we hove to and whilst Tom and I made sure Gallant settled we watched the New Years firework display about five miles away on Virgin Gorda New Years morning we celebrated our arrival in Sopers Hole with cigars and champagne then went and cleared customs and immigration in a bit of a daze caused by a combination of a lack of sleep and the shock of being ashore on dry, stable land after a month at sea, perhaps the champagne didn’t help. That evening Alex’s friend from back in California, Katy Thomas arrived followed the next evening by Tom’s girl friend Amanda from the UK. Robin, our friend who lives in Sopers Hole, loaned us his car so we could meet them at the airport. A dark night with heavy rain made for an ‘interesting’ drive on strange roads interspersed with a total of twenty four unmarked sleeping policemen (speed bumps) between Sopers Hole and the airport. The suspension of Robin’s jeep was very unforgiving if you saw a speed bump too late and went over it at much more than 3mph, especially for anyone in the rear seat. Dropping off our guests two weeks later was much easier as we discovered we could anchor in a bay right next to the airport. It is rather neat to be able to dinghy ashore and walk into the airport terminal; no parking or traffic problems here. Now anchoring next to an airport may not sound wonderful but in fact the anchorage, Trellis Bay, was beautiful, exactly what one imagines in the Caribbean. Keep in mind Beef Island airport is not London or New York so we are not talking about heavy traffic of large planes buzzing overhead every minute of the day.
With our guests aboard, we spent January visiting all the popular anchorages in the BVI and it is easy to see why the BVI is such a popular yacht charter area, the sailing is easy and the bays are beautiful with some wonderful snorkelling.
Having dropped of our guests we spent a week in Road Town harbour had a look around town, restocked the food stores, did some jobs on Gallant (ordered a new ballooner and Genoa) and Tom looked around for work. Tom was very keen to stay and find work in the BVI so we left him temporarily bunking down with Robin in Sopers Hole whilst Andrea, Alex and I sailed over to St Martin. The passage from Tortola to St Martin is known not to be very nice, headed ESE we had the trade winds on the nose the whole way with steep uncomfortable seas against us and in the end motored most of the way. As normal I was sick but the girls although getting a bit grey made it without seeing their dinner twice. The distance is about seventy miles so to ensure a landfall in daylight we left Tortola in the evening sailed through the night and arrived in Marigot Bay, St Martin the following morning. Marigot Bay was like a picture postcard, for the first time we sailed into a bay that had crystal clear, azure blue waters with the white sandy bottom clearly visible five meters below us. This is the Caribbean I had expected from the pictures in books and magazines.
Marigot being French territory looked the part and sure enough ashore it was like being back in France. After a couple of days in Marigot I realised that not just the buildings, the road signs, advertising hoardings, shops etc are French style but even the aromas drifting from the restaurant kitchens into the streets smell as if you are back in France. Oh how wonderful to sit in a café and have coffee and croissants in the morning.
After a three nights in Marigot Bay we sailed around to the other side of the island to Simpson Bay Lagoon. The island of St Martin is half owned by France and half by the Netherlands, Marigot being in France and the side of the lagoon we anchored in being Dutch it was necessary to clear out of France and into Dutch side. Fortunately, the relations between the two halves are very amicable so travelling between the two is easy; there is no immigration at the border (we only had to clear in and out because we were moving Gallant).
I am typing anchored in a huge, land locked lagoon – Simpson Bay Lagoon. Entrance from Simpson Bay into the lagoon is via a channel and under an opening road bridge that opens three times a day for boat traffic at 9am, 11.30am and 5pm. We are on the Dutch side of the lagoon where the greatest concentration of chandlers and boat yards is. St Martin is a duty free island, the Dutch side is a little bit cheaper than the French although when we want to go shopping for special foods or feel like a taste of France we hop in the dinghy and motor about two miles over to “France”. On the Dutch side the language is Dutch and English, on the French side its French and English, how territorial we humans are, even on a small island like this two cultures very different from one another develop and co-exist.
The past ten days in St Martin have seen very wintry (Caribbean style) weather. Squalls pass through anything from once to several times a day; the wind picks up from the normal 10-15 knots and gusts up to 25-35 knots with rain lashing down in torrents then after a couple of minutes the wind eases back to 10-15 knots, the rains stops and the sun comes back out. Frustrating if you are trying to do any work outside but it could be a lot worse, at least its warm rain. Last night was particularly windy with gusts consistently reaching up around 35 knots, I would wake when I hear this, look outside to check we are not dragging our anchor and then go back to bed. According to our pilot these strong winds the Christmas Winds and normally occur in late December (hence the name), 2003 must be running late.
Whilst we thought the BVI beautiful St Martin is where we have finally encountered the cruising community that we had anticipated and thought life would centre around. The BVI is dominated by the boat charter and cruise ship business, the vast majority of sailing boats are crewed by people visiting on a two-week holiday, consequently local businesses, prices and the attitudes are based upon this type of clientele. In St Martin all the boats are long term, live aboard cruisers or super yachts and we have made some really good friends amongst these cruisers.
Sunday 9th March
2003 - Simpson Bay
Lagoon, St Martin, Netherlands Antilles.
This is the longest we have stayed anywhere – we arrived on the 3rd February, over a month ago. The chandlers and other equipment retailers here in St Martin are the best I have seen anywhere so it has been a busy month as I have been taking advantage of this to get some things done on Gallant. A couple of experienced cruisers told me this is as good as it gets until you get down to Trinidad so do any refitting work here, I didn’t need a second bidding. The only distressing aspect is the credit card bill; still this should be it for sometime I hope. They do say cruising is all about fixing your boat in a series of exotic places and it so far it looks to be true. They also say that put a sailor near a chandlers and he’ll spend money, also how true, it’s time we moved on!
This week we took delivery of the new Genoa and ballooner we ordered from Doyle Sails back in Tortola. The original Genoa on Gallant was seven years old and showing its age, I am hoping the new one will improve our upwind ability and maybe bring a bit more speed. When ordering it we made a few changes from the old ‘standard’ sail. First of all it is slightly smaller, the old sail was huge and frequently had to be reefed in the strong trade winds we have here, however once reefed the sail doesn’t set as well so and so performance was spoiled. The downside of this is that in light winds we will have less sail to drive us but I am hoping overall we have made the right decision, my confidence in this was boosted when I was told that new Amels come with the smaller Genoa as standard. The new sail also has a UV strip incorporated so that when furled up it is automatically protected from the sun, with the old one each time we anchored we had to pull on a long sock to cover it, a real hassle. Finally the clew (rear corner) of the sail is placed higher this means the bottom of the sail is angled up so we can see underneath it and hence have less of a blind spot when under sail, definitely a good idea in busy waters. Just as when driving a car there are rules of the road for vessels at sea. Two of the fundamental rules are that you give way to ships coming from your starboard (right-hand) side and you give way to sailing vessels on starboard tack when you are on port tack. With the old Genoa, when we are sailing on a port tack (wind coming over the left-hand side of the boat) the Genoa is out to starboard so vessels ahead and to our right are hidden behind the sail. The solution was to go up on deck and in order to see behind the Genoa, with the new sail we should be able to simply look under the bottom of the sail. The new Ballooner will replace the one we blew on the way across the Atlantic; constructed of 2.2oz fabric Doyle Sails the manufacturer tell me it should be ‘bullet proof’. The intention is that it should be okay to use in winds of 25-30 knots of wind (the old one had to be furled at 20knots). Provided Gallant will take it we should now really be able to go fast down wind.
A Sunday afternoon tradition here in Simpson Bay Lagoon is to go to the Sunset Bar that happens to be located at the end of the airport runway. Whilst the sunset can indeed be beautiful and the beer is fine, the real reason for being here is to catch the takeoff of the 3pm Air France flight. Once a week a Jumbo jet comes through St Martin as part of a round trip from Paris. Now the jet blast from the engines of a Jumbo jet as it starts its take off is very powerful, enough to have a teenager blown horizontal if he or she holds onto the fence at the end of the runway behind the jet. Yes, this is the Sunday afternoon sport of the younger set in St Martin, they all line up, sometimes with diving masks and flippers on, and hold tight to the chain link fence which crosses the runway just where the jets turn around and stop at the very beginning of their take off. The road that runs across this end of the runway is so close to the jets that cars are advised to stop when a jet is about to take off in case they are pushed off the road. Unfortunately, we got out times wrong and were too late for the Jumbo jet takeoff but tried out the sport when an Airbus took off at 4pm. It was only a two-engine plane but even so it like being sandblasted and quite takes your breath away.
One of the adaptations we have now all made is being comfortable and fluent in using the radio. When we first arrived in the Caribbean everyone aboard was hesitant being very aware that there are correct procedures and protocols to follow, none of us wanted to goof in front of anyone listening. For those of you not familiar, the radio is a public or open channel of communication; one does not have a private line as on a telephone instead anyone can tune into your channel (telephone line if you like) and listen in. There are only a limited number of channels available for use so in order for the system to work there is a set of protocols one follows in order not to interrupt someone else’s conversation and to prevent channels from becoming congested. Here in the lagoon channel 14 is unofficially designated as the cruiser calling channel. Everyone has their radio tuned into channel 14, when you want to speak to another boat you call their name on channel 14 and when they respond move to another channel to actually hold your conversation leaving channel 14 clear for the next hailing call. So our VHF radio is always on and we always have half an ear tuned into it listening out for someone calling ‘Gallant’, our version of the telephone ringing.
Channel 14 really is the main artery of communication between the cruisers here in the lagoon. An important event of the day on channel 14 is the cruisers net that operates each morning at 0730hrs, Monday though Saturday and lasts about 10-15 minutes. The net is essentially a dynamic verbal bulletin board that follows a standard agenda each morning; Jack the net controller, who if you like acts as compare, hosts it. I suppose it’s rather like one of those call in radio programs. First item on the agenda is a request from Jack for people to call in with any security issues or priority traffic, this is an invitation for anyone to speak up who has had a problem or needs urgent help. This is the agenda item where the silence of no response is a good thing. The most common issue is a theft of a dinghy (keep in mind the dinghy is a vital facet of our lives as it is our ‘car’ for getting around and to and from shore etc). The idea of this sharing of issues is of course that we can help one another out and at the same time learn from other people’s experiences and avoid trouble spots in the lagoon. Next item on the agenda is for folks to speak up and introduce themselves if they have just arrived in the lagoon or are about to depart. Then it is onto buy, sell or swap, the most busy agenda item. We are now the proud owners of a 10HP outboard motor we bought from another boat via the ‘buy, sell or swap’ announcements. Final agenda item is general announcements and queries, a chance for anyone wanting information (e.g. where can I get my cooking gas bottle refilled?), for local businesses to offer services (e.g. divers to scrape the hull) or for yacht club announcements such as a reminder of the Friday night barbecue.
Friday 14th March 2003 –
Marigot Bay, St Martin
Sitting here in the cockpit early in the morning there is a light breeze and it is comfortably cool. It is some time since we had such light winds, perhaps Marigot is more sheltered than Simpson Bay Lagoon, but the quiet and peacefulness is welcome, being close in to the shore I can hear a church clock in the distance striking seven.
We sailed around from Simpson Bay Lagoon yesterday after clearing out from Dutch immigration. Access to the lagoon is via a short canal across which spans a lifting road bridge so departure and entry times are dictated by the bridge opening times – 9am, 11.30am and 5pm. St Martin yacht club is located right beside the bridge and a popular tradition is to be there at 5pm for happy hour ($1 beers) to watch the stream of yachts coming and going.
Monday 17th March 2003
–Ladder Bay, Saba
Anchored off Saba in the wonderful peacefulness of Ladder Bay having sailed here from Marigot yesterday. Saba is a tiny, delightful island, maybe two miles in diameter and about four miles from St Martin. With no beaches or natural harbours access is very difficult, we have anchored in open water on the western side of the island, the main and very small man made harbour being on the Southern side. With the current weather and sea conditions, the anchorage on the Southern side is untenable due to the roll caused by the swell. The island is presumably volcanic in origin and being so small with a peak of just over 3,000 feet it has steep sides, hence the difficult access. The waters around Saba are a protected marine park so the island a very popular scuba diving area.
This morning we went ashore in the dinghy to a very small beach, never an easy task. With only small surf running it is amazing how tricky getting on and off a beach can be, particularly if you are attempting to stay even moderately dry. Waterproof bags for cameras are essential and I have long since discovered that most bank notes are quite waterproof, or at least they dry out without falling apart. The reality of loving on a boat is that staying totally dry is not a practical notion, this is why being in the Caribbean is so great as compared to cruising in say England, at least you dry out quickly and don’t get cold. Whilst in St Martin having bought a larger outboard we also invested in a larger RIB dinghy. The roll-up dinghy that came with Gallant was fine for short trips but with the four is us aboard going ashore almost certainly meant having wet bottoms from the spray and bow wave. With the new dinghy we now have an even chance of getting ashore with dry bottoms!
Our objective in going ashore was to climb up 800 steps called The Ladder. When first inhabited (current population 1400) everything came ashore onto this tiny beach and was carried up these incredibly steep steps (the harbour was only built in, I think the 1940’s or 1950’s, often the island was inaccessible due to sea conditions). The steps are amazingly precarious, I took photographs but they do not really capture the reality of the steepness and difficulty of the climb. As so often seems to happen we ended up making the climb at noon, Noel Coward’s song is spot on – “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” All credit to everyone we made it, just, but what a climb, when we arrived at the top in the village of Bottom I expected to find that Sabans would be recognisable by their enormous thigh muscles.
Saba is a delight; the quiet peaceful lanes remind me of walking along country lanes back in England, with the gentle background noise of pigeons cooing in the trees and pretty flowers in the hedgerows and gardens.
March 2003 – Oranje Bay, St. Eustatius (Statia)
This morning I had one of those learning experiences; you know the ones when at the time you berate your stupidity and promise the gods that provided all works out well you have learnt a lesson and will not do this again. Before leaving Saba this morning we needed to check in and at the same time clear out which required me, as master of the vessel, to go to the Saba port and immigration authorities. With our wonderful new dinghy it seemed reasonable to just dinghy around the headland to the main harbour and the required officials whilst everyone else prepared for sea. All was fine until I rounded the headland and encountered the swell. Although not seriously at risk I quickly realised that I should have donned a life jacket for this venture, on the plus side I did at least have the waterproof, handheld VHF in case of trouble. That swell seemed pretty large and steep as our little dinghy bobbed up and down over the waves. Oh yes, I got soaked.
Sailed from Saba to Statia. We left Saba at 1100hrs but with the wind directly on the nose it took all afternoon to reach Oranje Bay in Statia, we dropped the hook at 1800hrs. Gallant is a wonderful boat in pretty well all ways except for her windward ability, although we tack through 90° apparent what with lee way and the forward shift of true wind to apparent we actually have a true tacking angle of about 140° over the ground, this makes beating to windward a slow process. The new Genoa does let us point up a little better but has not given us significant improvement; she is definitely a good size for the Caribbean. I am investigating this poor windward ability issue further.
At last, I have managed to link the wind direction sensor to the auto helm. Until now the auto helm steered Gallant on a fixed compass course or heading, with this new modification it will also steer Gallant at a fixed angle to the wind direction. When the auto helm steers to a fixed compass course a change in wind direction causes the boat to stop sailing well as the wind angle to the sails is no longer optimal. With the new set-up if the wind changes direction then so does Gallant, so the sails stay at the same angle to the wind for which they are trimmed, as a result Gallant keeps sailing at maximum speed. When the direction that Gallant is going in changes by more than fifteen degrees an audible alarm on the auto helm warns the helmsman. It is quite normal for the wind direction to fluctuate a little from side to side so these automatic adjustments typically cancel out and the over all direction remains constant. Now we usually sail to the wind and not compass, if a permanent wind shift should occur we make a correction to our course on the hour along with the hourly log entry. Watch keeping on passages has become even easier.
Anchoring in Oranje Bay we noticed many boats had set a second anchor to stern as advised in the pilot so we followed suit. This is the first time we have set a second anchor let alone one to stern but Oranje Bay is not a particularly well-protected bay and quite a bit of swell comes in around the breakwater. With an anchor off each end of the boat Gallant is held at a fixed orientation rather than swinging head to wind. The idea is to hold Gallant bow to the incoming swell whose direction, due to the breakwater, is pretty constant. With bow to the swell the swell translates into a slight for-aft rocking rather than an uncomfortable side to side roll.
Wednesday 19th March 2003 –
Oranje Bay, St. Eustatius (Statia)
Just back from checking in with immigration and the marine park. It’s surprising how the fees involved in touring these small islands start to add up. Saba cost $32 for the two nights we stayed, the fees for Statia this morning were $45 for three nights ($15 clearing in/out fee plus $10/night for the marine park). A further $12 charge appeared for the mountain park so that we can hike the Quill tomorrow morning. We don’t begrudge it if it means the natural beauty, marine and wildlife of the islands are preserved, the economy of many of these islands used to be based upon sugar, that is long gone and tourism is probably the mainstay now.
Although not as tidy and well kept as Saba Statia has that same peaceful quiet, there is nothing more evocative to me than a gentle breeze making the trees rustle and a wood pigeon cooing in the background. Oranjstad, the town above Oranje Bay, is an old Dutch settlement and some of the old buildings are very pretty and quaint. We walked up to town from the bay via the old Slave Road. This is the original road from the harbour, very steep, cobbled and dating back to the 18th century and now open to pedestrian traffic only having been replaced by a modern tarmac road with switch backs and less of an incline. At the top is the old fort built with the small red bricks you still see in use in Holland today and with the wood work painted cream and a dark, flat pastel olive green. Many years ago when we first lived in Holland Andrea and I fell in love with this colour which we dubbed ‘Dutch Green’ as we had never seen it used by anyone else and still haven’t to this day.
Staying in these smaller anchorages definitely has its advantages, the water here is about 5m deep and absolutely clear, wonderful to swim in it, which we all did morning and evening today in order to cool-off.
For the second night running, we have set up the cockpit table had dinner and then played some games of Paludo. This is a significant development as we have never been much of a game playing family as board games usually degenerate into squabbles and arguments. Paludo seems to have hit a sweet spot and I have lost count of the games we have played, all without any major argument, maybe I should stay quiet and not tempt providence. Is this perhaps the miracle of cruising and family togetherness? I believe this game is called Liar dice in America.
For the second day running, we followed through with our one-hour of maintenance discipline this morning. We have agreed that on weekdays we will all get up by 0850hrs each morning ready start a one-hour of maintenance work on Gallant. The logic is that one hour each morning between four people is a lot of manpower and should enable us to keep Gallant clean and sharp. Alex and I have started polishing the stainless steel whilst Tom and Andrea cleaned heads.
Having made some good friendships with other cruisers the challenge is communicating with these new friends as we each move along with different itineraries and without the benefit of telephones (unlike Europe’s GSM standard there is no international mobile ‘phone here). The solution to this problem is the SSB radio and what’s called the Caribbean Cruising Net. The SSB frequency 8104MHz has, unofficially, become the calling channel between cruisers and at anytime one can tune into 8104Mhz and keep a listening watch for anyone calling your boat name (analogous to VHF Ch16). For those non-boaties and or radio users out there, today it is not (GMDSS aside) possible to call someone on the radio and have their radio ring like a telephone so that they know they have a calling coming in. Putting a call out on radio is rather more like a hail, you hope the other party is listening and hears you calling out their name so that you can then talk. The way the Caribbean Net works in practise is that each morning from about 0730hrs to about 0815hrs people tune into 8104MHz and listen in and or hail other boats they want to contact. If you hear someone calling your boat name you respond by giving them another frequency which you both switch to in order to have your conversation, thus leaving the 8104 calling channel clear for other people to put out hails on. So this morning on 8014MHz I heard “Gallant, Gallant, Gallant this is Quietly,” my response “Quietly, Quietly this is Gallant go to 8182, over” and back “Quietly going to 8182”. So we both tuned into 8182MHz and there are our good friends Dalton and Gretchen on Quietly, currently in St Barts, wanting to know where we are and in fact arranging to meet us when they arrived in Statia the next day. As the two of us were making contact on 8104 friends on two other boats were also listening and heard the call so they also followed to 8122, the radio is not private! Having talked with Quietly for a couple of minutes, during a pause I heard “break break, break break, Cheshire Cat”, to which I replied “Good morning Cheshire Cat this is David, over” and so Mike and Deirdre on Cheshire Cat (in Guadeloupe) joined in the conversation followed shortly by John and Brenda on Willow (in Nevis). It is quite tricky having a conversation between four boats on radio when only one person can speak at a time. Anyway the net result was we all agreed to meet again on the same frequency at 0900hrs this coming Sunday to decide when and where we will all physically meet up in April to celebrate Mike’s 60th (Cheshire Cat) and our Alexandra’s and Andrea’s birthdays.
Thursday 20th March 2003 –
Oranje Bay, St. Eustatius (Statia)
We all got up at 05.30am today in order to hike to the top of the Quill in the cool of the early morning. The Quill is a long extinct volcano 1,970ft high at its peak. Leaving the boat at 06.00am we soon hit our first stiff climb hiking up a trail out of the bay into Oranje which sits atop cliffs overlooking the bay of the same name. Twenty minutes walk up through the town and found us at the foot of the peak and the Quill trailhead. The hike from the trailhead to the rim of the volcano is about 1.5miles but it is a hot, steep climb, especially the last few hundred yards. The crater is filled with forest and lush undergrowth, sitting on the rim and looking down into it is quite spectacular the only sound being the cooing of pigeons in the trees around us and the song of the birds down in the crater echoing around and coming up to us. The trail down into the crater was closed although I am not sure how many of us really had the energy to go down inviting that it was, Andrea was looking very, very hot and Alex only a little cooler. Not being able to go down Tom and I decided to continue up the panorama trail which, as indicated in the guide, was quite scramble along the crater rim and up to the peak. We were rewarded with, as the name suggests, with a panoramic view of the island.
Coming down was definitely easier although tricky as we decided to follow a trail that goes directly down the mountainside rather than weaving back down the easier switchbacks that we had come up. Both Alex and Andrea ended up with dusty bottoms having taken a slide on some of the loose scree.
Having mentioned walking through ‘town’, I ought to perhaps clarify a little lest you are misinterpreting the scene. The towns on these small islands, and for that matter even the larger ones such as St Martin, do not bear very much resemblance to the towns we know back in England or the USA, except for perhaps some of the small settlements we saw in the remote, rural countryside of California. Here a small town comprises a few two-story buildings at the centre surrounded by largely single story small homes and shacks. Most homes have some sort of yard that is barren, they have had a very dry winter, with a scattering of rubbish and perhaps a goat or two. Saba was the exception with many pretty well tended cottage style gardens albeit again rather dried up due to the dry season they have been having. There is a wide range in the standard and style of the houses, the wealthier ones look vaguely Californian in style, with rendered cinder block walls (breeze block in the UK) and tiled roofs, uninteresting to look at. However, most homes are very small, crude wooden constructions perched upon boulders as foundations with rusty corrugated iron roofs, the endearing feature being the classic gay coloured Caribbean style of decoration.
Friday 21st March 2003 –
Basseterre Bay, St Kitts
Had a delightful, easy sail from Oranje, Statia down to St Kitts this morning in very light and fickle winds. On Wednesday evening the trade winds died away and we have had almost no wind the past twenty four hours, very unusual I am told, it also means it feels a lot hotter.
First impression of St Kitts is not favourable, sadly it seems to follow the rule of many past or existing UK territories, that is, shoddy, run down and dirty. The Dutch and French territories always seem to have good infrastructure and look so well kept but the British territories look so unkempt and poor, hmmm.
Arriving in St Kitts, we temporarily anchored at the far Southern end of Basseterre Bay in order to clear customs and immigration. The bay was empty bar two other yachts but upon returning from shore, having cleared in, I find a huge catamaran anchored almost on top of us. It seems to me there is a law of sailing which says that the larger the anchorage and the more room there is, the closer the next boat coming in will anchor to you.
Upon arriving in Las Palmas in the Canaries last November I noticed the contrast on my Palm Pilot became so dark it was unusable. It has remained so for the past few months and it is with great difficulty that I can read phone numbers from it. Just before leaving St Martin we had a couple of cool days, that is the temperature dropped from the steady 30°C (86°F) to about 27°C (80°F) and low and behold the screen was clearly readable again. It seems my Palm Pilot is temperature sensitive, this has been confirmed by experiments which involved putting it in the refrigerator for half and hour! Oh well at least I know it should work fine back in Europe and the USA.
March 2003 – Charlestown, Nevis
Walking on deck this morning the decks felt as if they were covered with heavy salt, as they often get during a passage, it’s amazing how much salt builds up on the boat from the spray. However looking down I realised it wasn’t salt but a covering of fine, grey ash. We are downwind of Montserrat and it’s very active volcano, this is the fall-out from it.
Wednesday 26th March 2003
– Little Bay, Montserrat
St Kitts is about thirty-five miles from Montserrat however, the passage was up wind, took twelve hours and after tacking we actually sailed seventy-two miles to get here. We averaged about six knots although for the first two hours we only had 5-10 knots of wind and were trickling along at 3-4 knots. Anticipating the upwind passage we made this a night sail leaving St Kitts at nine in the evening on a pitch-dark night with no moon. Being concerned about snagging fishing pots and nets, typically laid close to shore, we turned off the engine and started sailing as soon as the anchor was in and we had cleared other boats in the anchorage; If we did snag something at least it would not be wrapped around the propeller. Tom sat up in the bow with the search light spotting any hazards and sure enough we had to make a couple of quick turns to avoid a string of buoys, marking what we don’t know and didn’t care to find out.
Montserrat’s claim to fame is of course it’s live volcano. The eruptions started in 1995 but the big ones, which claimed nineteen lives and devastated property and the capital Plymouth were in 1997, the volcano has been erupting ever since. Prior to the eruptions the population was about 15,000 now it’s about 4,000. Little Harbour is at the South end of the island about five miles from the volcano and is now the main harbour, it is also now the capital although at the moment it’s little more than an clutch of containers and porta-cabins.
Checking in was fun and friendly, we started with customs in a cramped porta-cabin located amidst the building site of the new port warehouse and customs offices. A short walk then to the trailer of a truck which has been converted into the police station, however we had to go with the police officer to another building which turned out to be the immigration hall and offices in order for her to stamp our passports (the first time our passports have been stamped in the Caribbean). This was largest and most permanent of the buildings, at first I thought it was a restaurant and bar, they are obviously hoping for large numbers of people to visit. From here we had to visit the Port Office, again located in a converted trailer, to pay our harbour dues. All the folks were very friendly albeit a little officious, they like their paper work in Montserrat. Our favourite character was a very large lady, the port security guard who caught us as we walked from the dock where we had moored the dinghy. Her blue uniform, similar to that of the US police, strained to contain her considerable bulk as she rolled over to where we had stopped. The local language is English but with a heavy accent and in a dialect which meant we had great trouble understanding the seriously given but friendly instructions about whom we had to go and see in order to clear-in. What did come across was that after each stage we should return to see her in order to get our next set of directions and after seeing everyone else we must complete a form she had; remember return to her and complete her form last. So each time we exited a truck trailer office there was our friendly guard watching out for us. After failing to understand her shouted and gesticulated directions we would walk over to her in order to successfully obtain the next set of instructions and a reminder that we must return to her to complete her form. Finally, it seemed we had done the full circuit and we got to complete her form, which was identical to the one I had completed twenty minutes earlier in the customs office. All this had been very hot thirsty work but fifty yards up the road was a welcoming bar where all the local taxi drivers hung out. The owner had his head down on a table fast asleep, so the drivers served at the counter, it wasn’t exactly busy, we were the only strangers there; I wonder how many days we would have to stay before we would be serving ourselves? Well it was a pleasant place to sip a cold beer and watch the Iraq war on CNN. With quenched thirsts, we walked back to the dinghy only to be waylaid by our friendly guard wanting us to complete her form. Much laughter and embarrassment as I explained we had done this. She checked her file before she believed me though; A wonderful character.
Thursday 27th March 2003 –
Little Bay, Montserrat
The best way to see the Montserrat, which is quite beautiful, is to hire a car or rent a taxi to take you on a tour. Having spoken to one or two drivers at the quay, they always hang out there pitching for business from cruisers, I had god some idea of the going rate being asked. I always think you get the best deals when someone deals from the inside with local knowledge and contacts, it didn’t take much effort to have one of the customs officers call a friend and arrange a good deal for us with “Peter” and his mini-bus. No doubt my helpful customs guy got his little kick back but with the rate we got we were all happy. So along with Gretchen and Dolton from Quietly we had a four-hour tour of the island and a visit to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, the later manned by British scientists and opened only a month earlier. We really like Montserrat it is such a pretty, friendly island, the shopping centre in each of the small towns were cute. By town I guess I am talking about a 500-800 people and the shopping centre a row of half a dozen small, gaily painted wooden shacks. Sadly the Southern half of the island, where the volcano is, is now designated as an exclusion zone so entry is barred and all residents have been obliged to leave their homes. Eruptions produce pyroclastic flows of lava, volcanic ash and dust, which travel at seventy miles an hour and so all possible areas, which may be subject to such flows, have to be kept clear. The exclusion zone extends two miles offshore.
Looking at the volcano from the observatory was awesome but the best was yet to come. Friends on Cheshire Cat, a Canadian boat we first met in the BVI, advised us to make a night sail past the island and the volcano. 2200hrs found Gallant and Quietly raising anchor and motoring out of Little Harbour and headed for Guadeloupe. Staying just outside the exclusion zone and upwind of the volcano, we were treated to what I rate as the number one event of this whole cruise, surpassing the whale swimming under us mid-Atlantic. In daylight the flows from the erupting volcano produce lots of steam and smoke and one can see ash and lava streaming down the sides of the volcano, in the darkness of night the true nature of those flows stands out as the molten rock glows bright red and orange. The sight mesmerized us all, the best night sail ever.
March 2003 – Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe
0200hrs: Enroute from Montserrat to Port Deshaies in Guadeloupe, the moon has just come up over the horizon changing from wheat yellow as the crescent first started appearing over the horizon and changing to white as she got higher and higher into the sky. Quietly is about one and a half miles away, I can see the green of her tri-colour navigation light, it’s fun sailing in company like this, Dalton and I having occasional chats on the VHF. I went out with him for a sail this morning to help adjust the set up of Quietly’s sails; he had been getting very poor performance but now he is heading up to wind better than us and going nicely even in these lightish airs, it’s good to hear the cheer in his voice. The forecasted backing of the wind from SE to NE is not happening and we are going too far South to make Deshaies. In true cruising style we have changed plan and decided to go where the wind is taking us, Les Saintes, a group of small islands South of Guadeloupe and which we have heard are beautiful and a ‘must see’. This is one of the best night sails I have ever had the sea conditions are slight (i.e. minimal swell), wind is around 10 knots true, pleasantly cool after the heat of the day, clear skies with the stars bright the moon now shining on the water and those memorable sights of the volcano. Hmm, what more could one ask for?
0900hrs: Fast asleep in the saloon bunk and awoken by excited voices on the VHF. Willow has just called on the radio, they overheard us talking with Quietly I presume (yacht to yacht the VHF has a range of about 10-20 miles so anyone in that radius will hear our signal), it seems we have caught up with them again. The wind has dropped and since we are level with where they are anchored we have decided to motor over and meet them at Pigeon Island. How wonderful to meet up with John and Brenda again, we last saw them in Simpson Bay, Lagoon. In fact that is where we first met them, at a Sunday afternoon domino session in the yacht club.
April 2003 – Pain de Sucre, Terre d’en Haut, Les Saintes
Living aboard is not as I imagined, surprise, surprise. The pictures I had in the years of dreaming about this adventure were always very much ‘aboard a boat’, not so much confining as cosy, everything to hand, a consciousness of being afloat, time to reflect and take in the sunsets and sunrises, time to watch the birds on the water, time to care for the boat and to do things I have always wanted time for. The reality, so far, is proving quite different. When aboard Gallant I am not conscious of being in a confined space, somehow one’s horizons seem to automatically adjust to the smaller space and just accept it as being the way it is, I cannot imagine what I could need more space for. Are the homes we live in ashore are unnecessarily large? Perhaps it’s the beautiful vistas, wide horizons and distance which I see everytime I look out of a port hole or sit in the cockpit that give the mind the space it needs, that make Gallant seem so spacious. Gallant works well with the four of us aboard, yes there are times when I would rather the stereo wasn’t on, the kids like their music, but it’s not often that I feel any lack of solitary space. Reflecting upon this adjustment to life aboard it makes sense; I have experienced this before when moving and adjusting to a new home. It’s the lack of time that is that I am struggling to accept. Somehow, I still seem to be keeping busy, too busy, is this the learning I have the opportunity to get from this adventure? The fact is I still have a To Do list which at times tends to drive me, there are further modifications and improvements to be made to Gallant, maintenance to be done, finances to be managed, issues back in the UK and USA to be dealt with and so on. It is seven months since we moved aboard Gallant and perhaps there’s an adjustment still to be made, well there’s time for that!
2000hrs: Sitting in the cockpit, stars shining bright in a clear dark sky, lights twinkling across the water from Guadeloupe about ten miles away. At a first glance it’s easy to mistake the anchor light of a nearby yacht for Venus until you notice it swaying side to side, I’ve lost count of the times I have done that. There’s a warm, gentle breeze blowing and Gallant is rocking very gently to a slight swell which I can hear breaking on the nearby beach. This is a delightful anchorage.
Saturday 5th April 2003 –
Pain de Sucre, Terre d’en Haut, Les Saintes
This is such a pretty anchorage, as is the island. Until tourism took over the primary industry on the island was fishing, presumably it is too small and lacking in flat fertile areas to have had sugar plantations and without the latter slaves were never brought to in so consequently the population is primarily white. Yesterday saw the four of us zipping around on scooters we had rented, two of us on each. Some of the hills were so steep and the scooter engines so small that we could only make it to the top with a good run up, slowing down for oncoming traffic or a hairpin bend was fatal. Andrea had to hop off on two occasions and walk to the top of a hill. Our tour of the island took us to the local yacht club, one that is the stuff of Caribbean dreams. The clubhouse is an old home painted bright yellow and French blue on a beach under palm trees with a lean-too shack in one corner of the former garden serving as a bar. What could be more Caribbean than to sit in the shade of a palm tree with sand running between your toes looking out over clear azure blue water at the boats moored in the bay?