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.


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