Sunday, 24 March 2013

One month in the Caribbean: Barbados and Saint Lucia


Near Port St Charles, on the west coast
Barbados was the ideal place to rest up after the crossing.  We lay at anchor in Carlisle Bay with just a handful of other boats.  Apart from the moronic jetskiers who came from the cruise ships most afternoons and treated the yachts as a kind of obstacle course (is any other ‘sport’ so inherently anti-social?), we were undisturbed.  More pleasant were the race horses swimming around the anchorage in the mornings, along with the occasional turtle.

A racehorse being exercised near the boat!
One of the first things we did was to go on a tour of the island, a ‘Sunday Scenic’ run by the transport board.  It was pleasantly low-key and friendly, the passengers a mixture of locals and tourists. We saw a lot of the eastern side of the island, including a couple of the wind-swept Atlantic beaches. 

A beach on the eastern side of Barbados

Purely by chance, some friends from home were visiting on holiday with their toddler-aged son, and we met up with them at Oistins’ Fish Fry. Phil and Sara from Lochmarin came too.  The fish fry, its name self-explanatory, is a weekly event and takes place at a collection of bars and stalls near the beach a few miles south of Bridgetown. The fish is fresh and the servings large.  

With Si & Becca at Oistins

We caught a local minibus back to the harbour, to the accompaniment of over-amped reggae.  A few days later we visited Si & Becca at their rented villa down the coast.  It was lovely to catch up with them, as well as being a real taste of luxury after spending most of our time on Limbo.  The villa had an entire fridge dedicated to drinks and a spacious terrace opening right onto a quiet beach.

Amorosa, the Sadler 25, arrived a day or so after us. We had a bit of a reunion barbecue on Lochmarin, with some fish they’d caught on the way over. We all had another evening together in Speightstown, a few miles up the west coast.  We had some drinks and local food at the Fishermans Pub, a bar with a large terrace over the sea.  It was nearly election day, and we felt a bit out of place pushing our way through a big political rally to get back to our dinghies, moored in the Carenage in the centre of town. 

Amorosa arriving after crossing the Atlantic
The Carenage, in the centre of town
 Sadly, Lochmarin had to leave before long (their guests had flights to catch), and headed off to Bequia en route to Grenada.  Emma and Stuart on Amorosa stayed on, and we had a rum-fuelled evening on board Limbo, joined by Tim and Aoife who’d anchored their Rival 34 Waimangu nearby.  We’d heard about Waimangu from friends on Selkie a while back, so it was good to meet them (note to prospective cruisers: you will become known by the name of your boat..!).  They’ve already been cruising in the Med for two years before crossing to the Caribbean, and it sounded as if we’d just missed them on our way down through the Canaries and the Cape Verdes.

Natalie with the Waimangu crew
The Bridgetown anchorage is just off a long, sandy beach with good snorkelling; particularly over the wrecks of three boats out in the bay (purposefully sunk), where I saw another turtle.  

Wreck snorkelling

The town itself was pleasant, with a reasonable supermarket and a modern department store.  We spent an enjoyable afternoon on a tour of the Mount Gay rum visitors’ centre, and took the opportunity to stock up.  Barbados, pleasingly, has no branches of McDonalds (although KFC has certainly taken hold).  Instead, the Chefette chain serves up – among burgers and chips – quite good rotis, essentially curry in a wrap.  We treated ourselves to a couple of lunches out, but Barbados was our introduction to how much food costs in the Caribbean. Nearly everything seems higher than European prices – with the exception of drinks out, with a local beer in a bar costing little over a pound. Fortunately this is balanced out by free anchoring; mooring costs in Europe were a large part of our budget, but out here paying to anchor is quite rare.

We were ready to move on after ten days or so.  First we had to traipse over to the main harbour, where the cruise ships go, to clear out with immigration and customs.  It was straightforward, although – after being cleared - one of the officials gave us some money to go and buy a couple of bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label for him from Duty Free!

In Speighstown

Saint Lucia

It takes a surprising amount of time to get Limbo ready for sea after being in harbour for a few days.  There’s the dinghy to deflate and stow on deck, the awning to remove, the chart table to declutter, and the cockpit to tidy.  We headed off a bit later than planned on the afternoon of the 26 February for the overnight trip to Saint Lucia.  It took a while for the seas to build as we headed out to sea, along with a British Navy ship which had been stationed in the harbour.  It seemed very rough after our days at anchor, although it wasn’t much different to the conditions we’d had for the crossing. Neither of us enjoyed the trip much.  It was straightforward, but we were right out into Atlantic conditions again and we wondered what we were doing there.  Somehow whatever had kept us going on the big trip seemed to have deserted us, and I spent much of the journey feeling on-edge. It wasn’t a long trip, only 90 miles or so, and the lights of Saint Lucia were visible well before dawn. We rounded the southern end of the island as it got light and the waves calmed down, until we were enjoying a flat-water sail towards the distinctive Pitons, two soaring peaks of green that rise out of the sea.  We could smell the land, an exotic, slightly musky scent.

Approaching Saint Lucia

We came through some rough overfalls just off the Pitons, before heading in towards Soufrière.  Inevitably, we noticed an inflatable dinghy heading out towards us, with two local teenagers on board: our first encounter with boat boys, one of the downsides of the Caribbean.  We explained that we didn’t need any help, thank you, but they continued to follow us in.   We ignored them and, when they approached a second time, we said that we were going to pick up a mooring but didn’t need their help.  ‘But this is what we do’ was the sulky reply, when we’d managed to get the message across..well, I have no problem paying a little for genuine services, but there was no way we were going to pay someone we didn’t want pestering us just to hold up a mooring rope.  We’re not only a budget, but in possession of a boathook and some boathandling skills...Just as bad were the boys who claimed they’ve been guarding our dinghy and asked for payment – even though they weren’t there when we arrived (the dinghy was pretty securely locked to the very public town dock).

We found a vacant mooring to the south of town (it is a Marine Management Area, meaning that anchoring is restricted), and got the inflatable pumped up.  It was really hot and windless, and felt exotic after the flat landscape of Barbados.  Soufrière is undeniably spectacular, an unspoilt waterfront town located in a wide bay, dominated by the Petit Piton to the south, with lush green hills behind. We went ashore to clear customs (an unavoidable procedure with each new island, although so far painless), and spent a while soaking up the atmosphere.  Back on board Limbo, we felt pretty content after an evening swim and a drink.

Soufriere waterfront

Local watertaxi
We spent a few days relaxing around the bay.  We found our original mooring spot too busy (the local water taxis and fishing boats speed past – all equipped with at least 40 h.p outboards) so we decided to move across to the Bat Cave on the north side.  It took a while for one of the six buoys there to become available, so when one boat left we dropped everything and motored there before someone else could nab it.  Charter boats outnumber cruising boats by about five to one in the area, nearly all ugly catamarans down from Martinique, and there aren’t really enough buoys to go round.  It was extremely annoying when a local boat saw us heading over, speeded to get there before us, and then told us it was ‘reserved’ – almost certainly a highly unofficial arrangement with an in-the-know charter skipper wanting to get the best spot.  We didn't feel too thrilled with the place as we motored back to our original spot.

Soufriere bar
We got our Bat Cave mooring the next morning, and I went for a snorkel.  It was very good for that, the reefs being right by the boats.  The frustration of the previous evening continued when the toilet broke (I’d already tried to fix it a few days before), and had to dismantle it to replace the outlet hose with an old bit of hosing I’d saved in case it came in useful (the old hose was extremely scaled up, which seemed to be causing the problem).  Not the most pleasant of jobs.  We felt like we deserved our special and not cheap meal out at the Hummingbird, a restaurant on the bay overlooking the Pitons.  The food and atmosphere were as good as promised, and we made the acquaintance of some American sailors who seemed overawed by the fact we’d crossed the Atlantic.

Sunset view from the Hummingbird
After Soufrière we continued slowly north up the leeward coast.  We picked up a mooring off Anse Cochon (deftly avoiding the boat boys by pointedly heading for the mooring they weren’t waiting by..), where we were on our own but just south of a busier cove. It was a great place to sit and watch the boats pass by offshore, as well as having more great snorkelling.  The only downside was the sudden appearance at sunset of a big tourist catamaran pumping out loud music. Fortunately they disappeared just as swiftly.

The next morning we moved on to Anse la Raye, a fishing village on a wide bay.  We anchored on the south side, finding it almost disconcerting to be the only boat there (one more arrived that evening).  Our Doyle guide (for all its faults, the sailing bible to the area) mentioned a walk to the River Rock falls outside the village, which we determined to do, not having spent much time exploring ashore thus far.  Apparently the falls weren’t entirely natural, with a swimming area and bar, but sounded like a pleasant place to spend the afternoon.  Ashore there was a town dock, but it looked like a prime hanging out site for the local youths.  Instead, we thought it would be better to leave the dinghy on the beach, hopefully out of sight.  We were approached by a dreadlocked man who told us his street name was ‘Branch’ (I couldn’t resist telling him that I didn’t have a street name) who offered to show us the way to the walk, and would also tie our dinghy to his house which was just by the beach.  Obviously we were going to have to pay him, but he was friendly and this was a genuinely useful service, as we’d been worried about the dinghy.  Losing it would be a disaster..

He walked us to the start of the trail and we continued through the outskirts of the village, which was as untouristy as they come.  Outside one of the houses we were stopped by the local policeman, on his day off, who told us that people had been robbed walking to the falls, and that the road there was partially blocked so that there wasn’t much happening there any more. We were determined to have our walk, so we thought we’d carry on with caution.  Feeling slightly disconcerted, we walked along the road past fields of pepper plants and under dense, tall trees. A man with a machete carrying a huge bundle of sticks didn’t look like much of a threat, and otherwise we saw only a couple of younger guys sitting by the side of the road, until a man in a pick-up truck pulled up and asked if we were going to the Falls.  Apparently he was the guy in charge, and we said we were fine walking, although it wasn’t clear what he wanted.  The sign to the Falls advertised an entry fee of $10 EC (Eastern Caribbean dollars), around £2.50.  There was a small, steep, heavily planted gorge, an abandoned-looking wooden bar, and the Falls themselves, a concreted area with a deeply unimpressive waterfall all of ten feet high and an equally unappealing swimming area.  No-one was there, even though it was a Sunday afternoon.  We left before anyone saw us to collect the entry fee. 

We’d spotted an attractive small beach just round the corner, Trou l’Oranger, where anchoring was only permitted between 0900 to 1700 (presumably so as not to be in the way of local fishermen), and motored over before breakfast in the morning.  We had the anchorage all to ourselves and the beach, where we swam ashore, was deserted.  (This wouldn’t be a safe anchorage in anything unsettled, being small and not well-protected.)  

A beach to ourselves
We spent a few hours at Trou l'Oranger before moving on to Marigot Bay.  This is a well-known, deeply indented lagoon where the English fleet reputedly hid from the French.  It’s certainly almost invisible from seaward.  We anchored just outside on the north side, where there wasn’t too much space as it’s shallow and somehow some other people seemed to have heard about it too… (there are lots of mooring buoys, the ones in the inner part of the lagoon apparently being $30US a night).  It’s a stunning location, with a sandy spit of palm trees and water of varying shades, and mangrove trees around the inner lagoon.  The inner lagoon is a Moorings charter base with marina docks around the edge, including a couple for some very large yachts. Ashore there are quite a few restaurants and cafes and an extremely expensive small food shop.  There are some very impressive villas on the deeply wooded hillside overlooking the bay. 

Going ashore, Marigot Bay
'Bristolian' heads out
We met Derek, the friendly skipper of a Beneteau, called Buzzard, and a visiting friend of his, Maggie. Being retired, he lives in Southampton in the summer and sails the Caribbean in winter.  He said hello because he’d met some friends of ours, Pete and Debbie, when sailing in the UK. Small world – they’d been tracking Limbo and asked him to look out for us!  We had a good evening playing pool with them, very badly, in the Doo Little’s hotel ashore.
Marigot sunset
We spent three nights in Marigot then sailed on to Rodney Bay, which was our Caribbean landfall when I sailed across on my gap year on the schooner White Raven.  We had a fantastic sail, the kind of sailing you’re meant to have in the Caribbean – a nice force 4 and flat water.

Sailing to Rodney Bay
Rodney Bay is extremely well-known as the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers ends up there.  It’s a one-mile wide bay, bound to the north by Pigeon Island (actually just a peninsula) and to the south by some volcano-shaped green hills.  There’s a large marina hidden away in the lagoon, entered through a channel in the middle of the bay.  There are always lots of boats there, but it’s large enough not to feel crowded.  We anchored off the beach near Spinnakers Bar at the southern end at five o’clock, just in time to watch the sunset from the cockpit with a drink in hand.

Rodney Bay sunset
Rodney Bay is a good place to stock up and get jobs done.  It has a really very good chandlery (the first we’d seen since the Canaries) where I got a new toilet hose -oh, the glamour of this life - and a windscoop to funnel air down through the forehatch.  I also asked about getting a replacement inner shroud – the attentive reader will remember this almost broke on the crossing. There followed a frustrating couple of days trying to find out whether the parts were available, meaning a couple of wasted dinghy trips into the marina to find the rigging guy who sometimes was there and sometimes wasn’t.  In the meantime we found our anchorage a bit busy with motor boats coming and going from the marina (which housed a couple of enormous yachts, having been enlarged since I was there before) and moved across to Pigeon Island.

Pigeon Island
The Pigeon Island anchorage was really very pleasant.  It’s a bit near the Sandals resort, but you can ignore this by looking in the other direction, and otherwise is a peaceful spot. Pigeon Island is a national reserve, which means you have to pay to go there before five o’clock.  We walked round and climbed up to the old fort and the higher peak, and I took a couple of pictures of the anchorage almost identical to some I’d taken fourteen years ago.  You could easily see the hills of Martinique to the north.  A cruise ship was anchored off in the bay (one of those which pretends to be a sailing ship, but looks ridiculous as it’s clearly just a normal cruise ship with some masts stuck on for show) and we wondered how some of its passengers had managed to haul themselves uphill.  Also anchored off was an absolutely enormous superyacht called Vibrant Curiosity.  A mere US $450 000 a week, apparently.  This turned out to have been chartered by the founder of Carphone Warehouse, as I recognised him in the bar ashore.  I wonder what sort of tip he left?

A very big boat
Speaking of the bar, Jambe de Bois is an extremely nice thatched building with a good bookswap, paintings on the walls, and 2 for 1 on rum and ginger ale all the time.  They also have wifi, and we went there several times for a drink and to catch up on email.  We spoke to an American couple who had just completed a five-year circumnavigation, and some friends of theirs on a very pretty 28 footer who were on their way back to California after three years sailing round the world.  We had a very good and inexpensive meal out there one night, sitting right by the water.  Even the wine was reasonable (rare in the Caribbean).  It was great to find somewhere which hadn’t decided to cater only for the wealthier tourist. 

We spent an evening out at the Gros Islet jump up, a Friday night street party in a quite poor fishing village right next to the marina.  There was a great atmosphere and some good food.  It’s an intriguing mixture of tourists and locals, with loud music and dancing in the street.  There’s a certain edge to the atmosphere..we got a taxi back, and were glad we did - we later heard that a yachtsman had been mugged walking back to the marina that night.   

Pigeon Island sunset
Unfortunately, our dinghy met with disaster on the Jambe de Bois dock while we were eating.  Some swell came in and trapped it under the edge, where there is a protruding bolt, which caused very rapid deflation and left a four-inch gash in the side.  Some guys from another boat were there when it happened and I noticed them shining torches around before realising it was our boat that was causing all the attention.  We hauled it up on the dock and later towed it back to Limbo where I patched it enough to make it just serviceable. We’ve since been more careful about holding it off docks with a small stern anchor.  Very fortunately, Rodney Bay has a dinghy repair place, which could do it the same day if I brought it in early.  The rip was big enough to need an inside patch as well as a huge outside patch (something like 12 x 12 inches) which cost a lot to have done, about £160. On the same day I got the new shrouds, which were at least cheaper than I’d have expected (around £100).  It was a very expensive day, but a relief to have sorted out the rig and have the dinghy I just needed to fix the inflatable floor, which I’d patched twice but was still leaking…   

Limbo at anchor off Pigeon Island
We went out to Jambe de Bois again one evening to meet the guys from Waimangu, last seen in Barbados. Tim and Aoife had spotted us on their way in to the marina, where they were staying for their guests, and we had a great evening catching up. Before heading off we spent another day in the slightly soulless shopping mall area surrounding the marina, getting some food, finding an optician’s for Natalie, who had a slightly sore eye (the appointment turned out to be a wasted trip) and fitting the shroud – the old toggle pin wouldn’t fit, of course, so I ended up improvising with a shackle, pending finding the correct bit.  Then we went to get fuel and water, but managed to turn up just as the fuel dock was closing, having forgotten it was a Saturday.  Sometimes nothing seems to go right!

On 17 March we left Rodney Bay for Martinique, about 25 miles to the north.


  1. Amazing. We're really enjoying reading your blog and hoping to follow you one day in our Nic 31. How long are you planning to be sailing for?

  2. Hi!

    Nice to read your blog again, seems you made the right choice crossing the Atlantic. And again beautiful pictures!

    Were waiting for a window to head for Morocco.

    Guia IV