Sunday, 19 May 2013

Last days in the BVIs. The End.

With Limbo stowed on MV Fagelgracht, awaiting her passage back to Southampton, we had a few days to spare before our flights home.  Olly and Carlotta on Troskala had offered to have us on board for what turned out to be a wonderfully care-free few days cruising the BVIs - free of the pressures of skippering and among friends.  The BVIs turned out to be a spectacularly good cruising ground, with a beguiling combination of line-of-sight navigation, decent wind, yet sheltered seas.  The only downside, of course, being the volume of charterers who - I couldn't help thinking - had not really earned their right to be there..

We sailed, swam, drank, swam again, and took our leave of the Caribbean and the cruising life - for now.  I will leave you with a few pictures.





Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Shipping Out (9 to 14 May 2013)

We sailed in company with Troskala to Road Town, Tortola - an easy downwind run, with a swimming stop.

Troskala approaching Road Town

We anchored in the inner harbour, where space was tight and holding dodgy.  Emma and Stuart on Amorosa were there, after a long and mainly windless sail from the Grenadines, a long way to the south.  They had rushed to get to the BVIs in time, and their Sadler 26 would be shipping back with Limbo in a few days.  Fantastic to be reunited.

A rare photo of Amorosa and Troskala together!

Before we could get our boats over to St Thomas, in the USVIs, we had to perform a convoluted exercise to legally enter the islands.  A visa waiver scheme operates for mass transit passengers.  With two of us on board, we hardly qualified for this.  Longer-term cruising in the States requires a proper visa which can be obtained, following an interrogation, from a couple of inconveniently-located embassies (Trinidad, Puerto Rico).   (The answer is to get one in London, before you go, just in case you want to go to the States, USVIs or Puerto Rico - which by all accounts is well worth seeing).

Fortunately for us, there was a perfectly legal way round this for short stays: (i) travel to the USVIs by ferry; (ii) get your passport stamped with your tourist/mass transit visa; (iii) return to the BVIs by ferry; (iv) enter by yacht, using your pre-stamped passport.

Getting the magic passport stamp was our mission for the following day, and we joined Emma and Stuart on the fast hydrofoil ferry for a day-trip to St Thomas.  On the top deck, it's an exhilarating ride and a great view of the islands we'd soon be travelling through at a much reduced pace.  It all went to plan, and we were back on board Limbo that evening.

We sailed to St Thomas over the next couple of days (distances are short in the islands), with a calm overnight stop at an anchorage north of Cruz Bay on St John's.  We gave the Amorosas supper and rum on Limbo.  It was hard to believe this was coming to an end.

USVI anchorage. Amorosa on the right.

Cruz Bay is a port of entry, and we anchored off for a quick trip ashore for customs and immigration.  In the process we were, apparently, too close to someone's mooring buoy - and encountered the most aggressive, unpleasant individual we'd seen in months of cruising, who circled us in his dinghy yelling 'haul off!'  Welcome to the States...

Stop Press: Coming Home!

We are in the US Virgin Islands, having rushed up here at fairly short notice.  With the hurricane season fast approaching, and feeling that we weren't ready for another long ocean passage just yet, we've decided the best option is to bring Limbo back on a ship. I'll write about how we made that decision in much more detail when I get time. The organisation has been interesting...

In the meantime, we're about to enjoy one last evening with our friends on Amorosa before Limbo is loaded on the MV Fagelgracht tomorrow.  The trip isn't quite over for us: we're looking forward to a few days sailing with Oliver and Carlotta on Troskala before flying back to the UK.

Don't stop reading - there are more instalments to come!

We can't quite believe it's nearly over.


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Happy Days at Saba Rock



Most of our first day in the BVIs was taken up with paperwork - signing in with immigration, then finding Wifi to confirm our shipping place and sort out payment.  We needed to print and scan some forms for the shipping company, and it took a while to get everything sorted - helped by a friendly estate agent who let us use her office.  Finally we were free and could relax.  It was the 7th May, and we were shipping from the USVIs, slightly later than scheduled, on the 14th.

At the dinghy dock, we were delighted to finally meet Fiona and Iain on their Sadler 34 Ruffian - they knew several of our friends, including Oliver and Carlotta of Troskala, who were now anchored just the other side of the island.  We hadn't seen Troskala since Madeira, and it was time for a reunion.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Heading North

Limbo's rendezvous with a ship arranged, we were to head back round the corner to Jolly Harbour to regroup and get some provisions in, before hurrying to the BVIs.

Except the engine wouldn't start, leaving us feeling vulnerable in the fairly exposed anchorage. Normally switched separately to guard against exactly this eventuality, except when I forgot, our batteries had both been drained by our heavy laptop use courtesy of Dickenson Bay resort's wifi.  Not a good moment.  But for the first - and almost certainly last - time, we were grateful for jetskis: they use starter batteries. Lugging a heavy battery ashore in the dinghy, we asked nicely and it was soon hooked up to a charger for a few hours' boost.  We had a drink in the bar and wandered along the shore for a swim.  We couldn't help noticing the deadly bored demeanour of the holidaymakers there.  Perhaps they were disgruntled to find themselves on this rather scrubby outpost of a beach rather than among the gleaming white sands and reef-blue waters the Sandals brochure, no doubt, had promised...

We waited a decent amount of time, headed back, re-installed the battery, and were on our way.  Anchored again in Jolly Harbour, we told Bella of our plans and dinghied into the supermarket.  Hailed by a late middle-aged couple from their Legend on the way back, we went over for drinks and a chat.  A happier evening than the one before.

Rain off Antigua


We couldn't have asked for an easier trip north (or, from a sailing point of view, a less satisfactory one).   We left Antigua the next day with a nice breeze, and soon some heavy rain.  I waited outside the customs hut for more than an hour to clear out - the customs lady, totally unapologetic, explained she'd been doing her shopping. 

The plan was to head to Nevis, but it was straight to windward and we altered course for a more comfortable sail to St Martin.  But the often-boisterous Caribbean soon slept, and before long we were motoring over a sea calmer than we had seen for weeks.  Natalie, as Chief Dolphin Spotter, duly saw just those on her early evening watch.  The islands of Kitts and Nevis stood hazy-blue on the horizon to the west towards dusk, and we carried on through the night.  Shooting stars and lightning flickering silently on the horizon. It was a while since we'd done night watches.

Not long after dawn, we approached St Martin and dropped anchor in the large harbour. I had a swim. We slept. Later in the day we found the uncomfortably high-walled fuel berth where a friendly Rastafarian refilled our tanks, ready for the second half of the trip.  We got away without signing in.

At anchor off Saint Martin
We had a beautifully still afternoon sail along the well-developed, well-heeled coastline where jets come in to land just feet above the heads of sunbathers.  Saba was visible on the horizon, a stunning island I had glimpsed during a night passage on Trompeta years ago, and had vowed to visit. Maybe next time.

It was comforting to have islands in sight all the way on these two passages: Nevis, Kitts, Saba, St Barts...  For some time it was just us, the wind and the sound of the waves.  Sadly, inevitably, the wind died and it was back to the drone of the engine. We raised the BVIs early the next morning.

BVIs from the south
It was a stunning approach, sandy-green hillocks emerging as we came closer in the early morning light.  We passed through the high cliffs of the deserted, rocky chain of smaller islands to the south and into the shelter of the Sir Frances Drake channel.  An hour or so later we dropped anchor off Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. In lieu of sleep, we jumped in and swam in the invitingly clear water.

Final morning approach to Spanish Town, and the end of our 300-mile dash north.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Wildlife of the Caribbean

Wildlife spotting is one of the many pleasures of sailing and hiking in the Caribbean.  We often didn't know exactly what we were looking at (and, in spite of searching in several places, never found a good wildlife guidebook), but - whatever it was - there was a lot of it.

We often saw pelicans diving for fish or sitting, statue-like, on moored boats.


We were delighted to see turtles regularly. They would often appear near the boat in various anchorages, staying for half a minute or so before diving down.

We think this is a green sea turtle, about two feet long.
I've no idea what this is..


We saw several of these large, fat caterpillars in Martinique and on other islands.  They're a good 10-15 cm long and feed on frangipani.


Not exactly wildlife..but I liked the photos.

Beeeaah



Friday, 3 May 2013

A decision...

We woke early and spent some time watching a dolphin (or was it a small whale?) swimming close to Limbo, until it headed out of Hermitage Bay into deeper water.  Deep Bay was just 3 miles away, and we headed off against the wind, our sail plan soon augmented with the engine to help against the steep chop.  It was only an hour, but not the most enjoyable passage.

Deep Bay is, not too surprisingly, a deep and indented bay, and notable for the wreck of the Andes in the entrance - its mast just breaking the surface.  The Andes sunk in 1905, carrying a cargo of pitch which caught fire, and sits at a depth of only 30 feet or so.  We spotted a large turtle as we passed.  A quiet anchorage with just a few boats.

Rainbow over Deep Bay

The next day was dry and we headed over to the wreck with our snorkel gear in the dinghy.  Wreck snorkelling was an eery experience, and the visibility wasn't great (think dark shapes looming out of the murky waters..) so we didn't stay in too long.  The afternoon was spent exploring the 18th century battery on the north side of the bay and a stroll along the empty beach towards the 'Grand Royal Antiguan Resort', which seemed strangely deserted.  We did see a mongoose - but where was everyone?  It was late season, but not that late.



We headed a few miles further north in the morning and anchored off the Sandals resort at Dickenson Bay - a shallow and fairly unprotected anchorage, the beach far from deserted and with jetskis - but we were there for the wifi!  It was a stressful day as we waited for replies to emails and worked through our options.  I'd previously thought there was a ship leaving in late May, but now discovered that the service was unconfirmed.  Limbo would have to be on the MV Fagelgracht, due into St Thomas in the BVIs on 12/13 May (10 days!) or we would either be sailing back or effectively abandoning Limbo to a boatyard somewhere.  Not keen to end our trip so soon, I even looked into shipping to the Med then sailing back, via the canals, but this looked expensive and complicated. We had an email from our friends on Amorosa, who were in a similar situation, and confirmed they were putting their Sadler 25 on the same ship.  In a way, that made our minds up.

By the end of the day, we had a confirmed space on a ship for Limbo, and seats on a flight for us a week later.

I felt a mixture of relief at the end of our period of indecision and great sadness that the adventure was coming to an end in what felt like an abrupt way.  Looking back, much as I liked the idea of arriving back in Falmouth Harbour with all flags flying, I think it was the right thing to do.  I've done that crossing before, on board La Cautiva (85 feet) and that year we were heavily reliant on a large engine and generous fuel tanks to get to the Azores. Alternatively it can be rough, with prolonged headwinds, and long passages aren't as much fun on a very small boat when it's cold and wet and at a constant heel.  Maybe we would have had a pleasant passage; but perhaps the best way to describe our decision is that we just didn't feel psyched up to do it.  This way Limbo would be home safe and sound in a few weeks, and we would have good memories of our ocean crossing.

We went for a swim and, afterwards, my eyes filled with tears as we watched the sun set.

Deserted beach at Deep Bay

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Jolly Harbour and Rendezvous Bay


Mondango leaving Antigua.  A mere 170 feet.
We left English Harbour in light winds, sailing west passed the Pillars of Hercules - column-like rock formations on the cliff face - with the wind behind us.

The white sands of Rendezvous Bay glistened in the sunshine and Montserrat and Redonda were clearly visible on the horizon; it was a good day for heading through the Goat's Head Passage, a narrow channel between the shore and a reef off the island's south west coast, instead of taking the detour in deeper water around Cades Reef.

Shallow water sailing
It was Limbo's first taste of reef sailing; polarised sunglasses made the colours of the water more obvious as we kept clear of the aqua-marine shallows, disconcertingly close to port, and stayed in the deeper coloured (and, umm, deeper depthed..) blue of the channel.  The wind was dead aft at this point, without much sea-room to sail at a more comfortable angle with less risk of gybing, but we were soon through the passage and round the southwest corner of the island, very close to the coast, where we headed up more comfortably into the wind.

Gliding towards Jolly Harbour
The water here is incredible.  It changes from the deeper blue of the ocean to a chalky, vivid almost jelly-like light blue; hard to describe except with a photo.  We had a fantastic time sailing close hauled up the coast, through this beautiful water, sheltered by the land, watching a squall hit the sea on the horizon.  It was a shame to arrive at Jolly Harbour; we took the sails down at the last possible moment and headed in to anchor outside the harbour, where it is all very shallow.

Tropical squall.
It was always fascinating to see who was already moored at any new harbour.  Here, it was Bella - a Hallberg Rassey 352, crewed by Ulrike and Matthias from Germany.  We hadn't seen them since Madeira; cue a wonderful impromptu evening on board (my birthday!) catching up with our stories and plans.  The next morning, slightly hungover, we were more than pleased to see Matthias heading towards us in the dinghy with a delivery of bread and fresh croissants...

Jolly Harbour itself, entered through a narrow cut into what used to be swamp (rather like Rodney Bay marina in Saint Lucia), is a rather overdeveloped marina surrounded by identikit waterfront properties, many with their own dock.  Built in 1992, it felt slightly run down and in need of investment.  But it had an unusually good supermarket (complete with some Waitrose Essentials products - we've no idea how they ended up there!), and the anchorage itself was pleasant and sheltered, if sometimes rolly, off a reasonable beach; and, of course,  surrounded by that blue...  There were pelicans too.

Under our excellent awning - made to our specification by Island Canvas, IoW.
Our plans still weren't clear. I checked on laying-up prices in the marina, but half-heartedly.  Bella was soon sailing back - why weren't we?  We felt lethargic and under the weather, and far from primed for action.  We had another evening with Ulrika and Matthias, at the marina bar for happy hour, joined by the crew of a steel live-aboard called Tranquilo.  We practised our German.

The long dinghy ride back to Limbo was starlit, but the atmosphere was rather spoilt by another sighting of our large resident cockroach.  I caught him (or her) crawling over a sandal in the cabin and managed to flick it overboard.  We hoped this wasn't one of many (we never saw another, fortunately - once acquired, they are hard to get rid of!).

We continued up the coast in the morning, with our shortest ever trip, to Hermitage Bay - just over half a mile round the point, but even less than that as the crow (or pelican) flies.  The trip had its interest though, as we passed through the Five Islands channel, using an island off the headland as a transit and passing close to a prominent rock (seen in the third photo above).  It was a quiet anchorage with just a couple of other boats (including Jambalaya, a lovely Caribbean-built charter schooner), and right off an upmarket beach hotel. The advantage of this was unsecured wifi; I picked up an email from a broker explaining that they weren't interested in selling boats worth less than US 40,000 or so.  It was not encouraging.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

English Harbour and Antigua Classics. 19-25th April 2013.

The Antigua Classics Regatta: above all other events, this was the one I had wanted to make.  A week of the world's most beautiful yachts, racing close offshore, combined with a buzzing atmosphere - I couldn’t wait.

We arrived on the second day of racing, the weather humid, wet and gusting to 30 knots.  Most of the classics moor in Falmouth, but we watched the few moored near us in English Harbour up-anchor and head out into the rain, heeled well over.  Later, we went ashore to clear in; a convoluted process with the usual grumpiness from the officials (and, in Antigua, more expensive than elsewhere, including daily fees for anchoring).  The place seemed much the same as it had 14 years before, apart from the addition of a large super yacht dock in a corner of the harbour, removing some of the anchoring space.


Kate, a replica of a 1909 America's cup yacht, heads out into the squalls.  

Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour
The weather clearing slightly, we walked across to Falmouth Harbour - just half an hour away - to see the yachts returning from the race. There was activity everywhere as they docked, crews calling good-naturedly to each other across the pontoons. Two boats at least had lost masts, including the Alfred Mylne yawl Blue Peter.  Her crew looked understandably downcast, and she earned a round of applause as her lines were thrown ashore. (Coincidentally, I was on a sailing course with her owner and skipper many years ago, just before he took extremely early retirement from a not entirely unlucrative city trading job. But it didn’t seem the moment to say hello).  


Blue Peter returns from racing on Day 2...
We wandered the pontoons for some time, taking photographs, and saying hello to a couple on board a boat we recognised from the Saintes.  Over everything towered the silver masts of Maltese Falcon, not unimpressive at 289 feet, but horribly ugly nonetheless.  Our gaze was drawn much more by the svelte, sweeping lines of perfect varnish and teak decking of the real classics, many with famous names. 


Spirited Lady of Fowey returns. The same class of boat seen in the Bond film Casino Royale.

I chatted to the owner of Troubadour, the yacht I’d photographed sailing off Guadeloupe, and gave him my memory card to copy the pictures from.  I had hoped he might have room for an extra crew member, but it was not to be.  In ’99 I had raced here on board Arita, a 48’ John Alden owned by the charismatic South African Rob DeHaan - a real sailor in every respect - and it remains one of the most memorable experiences of my life.


Hard on the wind on board Arita, Antigua Classics, 1999
The evening before we had watched a Hallberg Rassy 42 motor into the harbour. Her name was Trompeta and she had been here in Antigua exactly 14 years ago, my younger self on board.  Later, in 2003, I went on to join her retired owner, John Arregger, on a trip across the South Pacific, as he continued his circumnavigation.   

She was moored on the wall in Nelson’s Dockyard and we went over to say hello to the owners, who had just completed the World ARC rally (a tightly scheduled dash around the world in 15 months - why?).  They had bought Trompeta from John Arreger just before his death, but never met him.  Sadly, I had not been in touch for some years, but I believe he continued on to Australia and the Indian Ocean before he had to give up for health reasons, the boat being delivered back to the UK.  I wondered where the other people I’d met then were now…


Nelson's Dockyard in 1999 - much the same as today!  In the background is Irene, a west country trading schooner.  She lost her mizzen mast in that year's races.
We had a happy few days in English Harbour.  Limbo was perfectly placed for the parade of sail. Cheering mingled with bagpipes and cannon fire! 


The parade of sail.



Lone Fox
The view from Limbo.
We joined the crowds watching the friendly layday sculling races by Nelson’s Dockyard. We spent some hours on the cliffs photographing one of the races (photography heaven!), getting some good shots from above and narrowly avoiding sunstroke, went out for my birthday for a great meal at one of the places on the strip between English and Falmouth Harbours, drunk some rum, and had a great evening at the obligatory sunset barbecue at Shirley Heights, with legendary views of English Harbour.  

We were delighted to see Christian, of the 70 foot Alina from Madeira, who arrived on a delivery trip.  We'd seen him last in Cape Verde, crewing on a friend's yacht.  We were delighted to hear him call over to us, and dinghied over to him later on, but sadly he soon had to fly off for another charter delivery.  Friends are quickly made in this kind of life, but goodbyes are frequent.


Classics from the cliffs


Watching the gig races.

Gig racing, English Harbour layday

Shirley Heights sunset. Limbo just visible!

We left on my birthday after refuelling at Antigua Slipway.  This was where I’d lived on board La Cautiva, a 78 foot steel ketch, while prepping her for the voyage back to England.  I have more than a few good memories of that square mile or so of English Harbour.    

With the crew of La Cautiva, English Harbour, 1999. About to depart for the Azores.

Limbo and Natalie, in the same spot, 2013.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Bashing onwards to Antigua

It was a grey, unfriendly morning, but it was time to get to sea if we were to catch Antigua Classics.

Deshaies to English Harbour is further than many of the inter-island passages, meaning a 0700 start to be sure of arriving in daylight. The wind was still blowing, but - as we'd discovered - Deshaies seemed to be an almost permanently windy anchorage. It was tempting to wait another day, but we'd signed out with immigration the night before...

A damp arrival
I hauled up the anchor and Natalie steered Limbo out past the other boats. I went on deck to get the main up. I didn't hesitate to put a couple of reefs in, until we knew what the conditions were like; the trip was likely to be hard on the wind all the way.  We unfurled the genoa and heeled over as we headed out of the sheltered bay. We would be in the lee of the island for a few miles, out of the worst of the sea, but our Doyle guide told us to expect more wind until we were clear of the coast.

We headed north past the green, craggy shore. We had about force six with stronger gusts which heeled Limbo right over, more than I was comfortable with. It was rough, bucking right into the waves. If it hadn't been for our book's promise of less wind in a couple of miles, we would probably have turned back. Natalie hung on to the tiller while, safety harness clipped on, I climbed up onto the cabin roof to pull down the third reef. Now we were more under control, but the boat was sagging down to leeward, away from our course. Motor sailing was the way forward, and I put the engine on with fairly low revs to keep us pointing up into the wind.

Further out, we found no less wind but bigger waves of probably 2.5 to 3 metres. Sailing home, I couldn't help thinking, could involve days of this as we headed up to Bermuda.. But we were making progress, and would be there that evening, and we could cope.

The 42 mile trip was a long slog of torrential rain, scudding grey skies and 30 knot squalls, followed by calm periods which left Limbo rolling around awkwardly in  the lumpy seas. We got cold, too cold, and wet. Antigua was visible in the gloom a few miles out, looking like an island somewhere off Scotland rather than in the Caribbean. A big, 65 foot Oyster passed us, going to windward under engine and staysail alone; she clearly didn't much like the conditions either. It was a relief to get the sails down in the flatter water outside the entrance to English Harbour and head into shelter. We put the kettle on.

Freeman's Bay, English Harbour, on a much nicer day.


Antigua was a place close to my heart. I had fond memories of the island from my previous trip, spending several weeks living and working aboard the 75 foot ketch La Cautiva before helping to sail her back to England where university awaited. It was one of the places I'd always pictured going back to, and now Limbo was anchored here, in Freeman's Bay.

The anchorage was crowded, and it took a few tries to find a space with swinging room. A big superyacht dock has taken over much of the anchoring space, but nothing much else had changed. The grey buildings of Nelson's Dockyard still stood sentinel, unspoilt though much-visited, the green, forested hill behind the harbour still rose steeply to Shirley Heights, and the waves still broke on the reef to the east of the narrow entrance. This was the place where, more than anywhere else, I thought we have done this.   





Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sell, sail or ship?

We were in Deshaies for two further grey days, the wind howling, and not feeling much like the early start for Antigua.

Not before time, we started to think about our plans for the next few months in more detail. Not having arrived in the Caribbean until mid February meant we would have a scant twelve weeks in the islands, at most, until it was time to get north and up to Bermuda.  The rule of thumb is to be out by mid-May, to arrive in Bermuda by June. It didn't seem like nearly long enough: not only to see what we wanted to see, but to find the energy for another long - and this time more challenging - ocean passage. The winds are far less predictable on the route home in both strength and direction, with a higher probability of both calms and gales. The more I read about the route, the less appealing it seemed.  Without the capacity to carry much fuel, we could be sitting out there for a very long time, and water supplies were going to become an issue (on my return trip in 1999 on La Cautiva, a 75 foot steel yawl, we had to motor virtually all the way to the Azores).  Feeling that we'd earned our ocean stripes, the motivation was lacking.

Our first thought, on arrival in Barbados, had been to extend our time in the islands by sailing into the summer. This wasn't possible without missing the weather deadline for heading back to Europe, but maybe we could sell Limbo in the islands instead? I wondered if Solent weekends were ever going to be the same again, and - after all - we were going to have plenty to sort out on our return without looking after a boat (jobs and somewhere to live not being the least of our worries..). With that in mind, we had loosely decided to sail north before heading back south to see the islands we'd missed beyond Saint Lucia (Grenada, the Tobago Cays and the Grenadines providing some of the best anchorages in the Caribbean). Then, down in Trinidad and safely away from the hurricane belt, we could, perhaps, lay up Limbo and put her up for sale.

As time went by, the flaws in this plan became more and more apparent. Firstly, we didn't really want to sell. Abandoning Limbo to a corner of a humid boatyard was deeply unappealing. Secondly, not only are boat prices in the Caribbean at rock bottom in general, but I had started to realise that there was virtually no market at all for a boat of Limbo's size. An advert in Caribbean Compass for a 30 footer on sale at $3000 US, with free yard time thrown in, drove the point home. I emailed a couple of brokers who had zero interest, one stating they were only interested in boats worth at least $40,000. Maybe there was an expat in the BVI who'd like a boat for weekend sailing? Then I realised the BVI's entire population was about 25,000, and Limbo - lovely though she is - was not going to impress an offshore corporate banker on a tax free salary. Finally, the cost of yard storage and haul-out was much higher than I'd imagined. We were looking at £200 to £250 a month just to keep Limbo somewhere, with no idea of how long that might be for.

The third option was to ship Limbo back. While we were in Guadeloupe I found out there was a ship going from the BVIs in late May, but this seemed too early. We still wouldn't be able to see the southern Caribbean as planned, and it would be a huge expense, around 5000 Euros, which had never been in the budget.  There was also a sailing to Palma in June, and I thought of spending the summer heading back to Biscay through the French canals. But, while this would buy us some time, the cost of getting from the Med to the UK was going to be an issue, having spent so much on returning Limbo to Europe.

Maybe we should sail back after all? It would be a shame not to complete the circuit, and arriving in home waters, flags flying, would be fantastic.  But we kept coming back to the fact that we just didn't feel prepared. On a 35 footer, yes, but it felt as if it could be asking too much of a very small boat (and her crew...).

There was no clear answer, and we went round in circles. We tried to put the problem to the back of our minds, and looked forward instead to the next island.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Passing through Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe sunset


Guadeloupe is a hilly, green, butterfly-shaped island, with lots of coastline to explore and excellent hiking. We didn't have time to see as much as we wanted, in a hurry to get to Antigua in time for Classics Week, but found fantastic snorkelling at Pigeon Island and a relaxed, pleasant anchorage at Deshaies in the north.

Guadeloupe is less than 10 miles of open water away from the Saintes. Natalie saw a whale breaching in the choppy waters (I managed to miss it every time) and we then had a relaxed sail mostly in the calmer lee of the island. A classic yacht approached and overhauled us, and I managed to get some good pictures as they passed close by. Later, the wind dropped and our engine went on.

Troubadour passes us, en route to Antigua.

Pigeon Island is two-thirds of the way up the coast, a little islet less than a mile from the mainland shore. We arrived shortly before sunset and anchored off a slightly touristy area with several dive shops and restaurants, spotting a turtle as we did so.

Jacques Cousteau once described Pigeon Island as one of the world's top dive sites, guaranteeing - you might assume - that it would be instantly spoilt. Luckily, we found it was well managed, if inevitably quite crowded. We took the dinghy across in the morning and tied to one of several mooring buoys (anchoring isn't permitted for obvious reasons). The snorkelling was on a different level to anything we'd seen so far: superb visibility, abundant coral, an interesting underwater landscape and no shortage of fish. There were plenty of jellyfish too, but they were the none-stinging kind.  It's a shame that our underwater camera had given up by this stage..

We had lunch back on board before packing up the dinghy and setting off up the coast. A couple of hours later we were anchored in Deshaies, an attractive anchorage with, for once, no rolling. Our fastest turnaround ever! Ashore, landing via a smart dinghy dock, we found a small town with several restaurants and bars, and (this being France) a good small supermarket.

Deshaies, late afternoon.


We fancied eating out for a change that evening, and (after a particularly good sunset) took our chances with a pizza place one road back from the waterfront. We sat outside on the terrace and enjoyed p'tit punches (white rum, lime juice and sugar - they left the bottle with us!) and were delighted to see musicians turn up. An ancient local was the most energetic dancer to a mixture of local Zouk and reggae, some of the best music we heard on the trip.

The anchorage had been calm that day, but it wasn't to last. Deshaies is a naturally windy place, the bay funnelling air down from the hills, and in the night we were woken by disconcertingly strong gusts whistling through the rigging. We tried to sleep, hoping it wouldn't last..

Limbo, Deshaies sunset

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Saintes

For the first time, our route north offered a choice beyond just sailing down the lee of the next island. Four small island groups lie between Dominica and Guadeloupe (see map). Should we take the well-trodden route to the Saintes, just 18 miles away, or head for the small, less visited island of Marie Galante further to the east?  If the latter, we could sail on to Iles de la Petit Terre, then La Desirade, leaving a good but long reach to Antigua.

The Caribbean trade winds blow quite consistently from the north east, with some fluctuation either side. This generally makes heading anywhere to the east of north an uncomfortable proposition: into the wind and the sea. The route towards La Desirade would mean three legs to windward, assuming we could land on Iles de la Petit Terre, which are only really accessible in settled weather. It was these two tiny islands which were the real draw, Marie Galante and La Desirade sounding interesting but not unmissable.

Approaching the islands


As ever, the wind made the decision for us. I was keen on getting off the beaten track if we could, but we set off from Prince Rupert Bay unsure of our destination. We would see what it was like when we were out of the sheltering lee of Dominica. We found a reasonable if rather lumpy beam sea, and a force four to five wind which had more than enough north in it to make Marie Galante a real thrash to windward. The track was beaten for a reason, and the Saintes it was. We eased sheets very slightly, and stormed along at 6 knots.

Terre de Haut and the anchorage
The Saintes is a cluster of islands offering several anchorages and some interesting walking, all in a very small package. Reluctant to start the engine, and enjoying a great sail in the flatter water between Le Bourg and the jagged rocks of Les Augustins, we didn't get the sails down until the last minute. Dolphins approached us before we picked up a mooring off Terre de Haut towards the end of the afternoon (see map). This bay has strictly delineated anchoring and mooring areas, but the anchoring areas are a token concession, being further out and in deeper water.  There weren't too many free buoys, and we ended up moored a fair way from shore. We were approached for payment within minutes of arriving. The slight swell wouldn't let Limbo sit quietly, but the sense of arrival made up for that, and we enjoyed our new surroundings.

The schooner 'Lilly Bolero' approaching from Guadeloupe


We had another rocky night, often disturbed by the large metal pick-up loop on the mooring buoy scraping against the hull. In the morning we watched carefully for any departures, and soon got another buoy close up to the shore by a small beach, where it was more sheltered.

We headed into town to explore. Some of the smaller cruise ships visit the Saintes (few places, it seems, are immune) and the town was horribly crowded. Fortunately the cruise shipper is a plain-dwelling creature and very easily avoided by heading uphill, however slight the incline. We followed the road out of town past the beach, then onwards as it wound towards the summit of the island. It was hot going, several goats and the lizards our only companions. A large iguana dashed across the path in front of us.

Lunch stop


An old fort building sits at the top of the peak, and we climbed a rusty ladder for a better view, across to Dominica to the south and to Guadeloupe just a few miles away to the north. The shades of the reefs below were startling.

Hilltop Fort


Commenting to Natalie on the absence of any black people, she replied, 'yes, it's great, isn't it?'. Had I inadvertently become engaged to a closet racist?  It transpired she'd thought I'd said
'bike people', meaning moped riders (mopeds are for hire all over the island, but there were none up here). Which was a relief.

Summit view
We continued down to a small beach by the Pain au Sucre, a distinctive mound of rock which forms one side of a small bay. It was an appealing anchorage, and we decided to move there once we'd finished in town. Terre de Haut is a pastel-coloured place full of T-shirt shops, delicatessens and restaurants, but has a pleasant, holiday atmosphere. It could be in the south of France somewhere. Our Chris Doyle sailing guide had promised cheap set menus, but we couldn't find any for less than 20 Euros, so we gave up and bought a pizza to cook on board.

Limbo and the sailing cruise ship Royal Clipper


We needed to catch up on email, and we had a frustrating day finding a connection. I'd thought we could access one from the boat, using our booster, but after getting back from town it didn't work so we headed back in.  We ended up paying to use an internet cafe. In the end, we achieved very little. One of the downsides of cruising is that it can sometimes take ages to accomplish the simplest task. We bought some fresh fish and a baguette.

Pain au Sucre anchorage. 


After three nights off Terre de Haut, it was time for somewhere quieter. We motored the couple of miles to Pain au Sucre and, after a couple of attempts, found a reasonable space not too close to the other yachts or to the reef. It was a lovely anchorage, with some interesting snorkelling around the reef close to shore. We saw a lion fish, a striking brown and white-striped creature with feathery fins: a venomous, invasive species with no natural predators, apparently introduced by thoughtless aquarium owners in Florida. We found out later that several islands hold 'lionfish derbys', with prizes for the most kills. Also disconcerting was the wreck of a catamaran washed up on the rocks, its engine block still lying on the seabed.

We spent a couple of days lazing on board, with a walk up another hill for the views across the anchorage. We deployed, for the first time, our inflatable kayak (an ebay purchase). Shamefully, we hadn't got around to unpacking it until now. I did wish we'd chosen a slightly smaller, quicker to inflate model, but it was great fun. We were a bit jealous of those with boats big enough to store rigid kayaks on deck, to nonchalantly throw into the water whenever required.

Kayaking


We felt slightly isolated at Pain au Sucre. There were several other yachts there, mostly French and American, but nobody really talked to us (and we were bad at approaching them). It had been a while since we'd had an evening with other cruisers, and our friends were scattered far and wide across the island chain at this stage.

One evening I was excited to see a gleaming gaff ketch approach and anchor near us. She was the Thendara, built in the 1930s, and looked stunning. Limbo was in good company: we were also heading for Antigua Classics, starting in just a few days.

Thendara, 1936