Sunday, 29 September 2013

Bashing onwards to Antigua (19 April 2013)

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.   

Sunday, 15 September 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.