Pipistrelle Takes a Break

After those well-earned sundowners we mentioned before, and flights back to the UK, Pipistrelle is now ‘relaxing’.  Chocked up and strapped down on land at Grenada Marine, St David’s to the east of Prickly Bay, it could be worse.  Staying on board would have been most uncomfortable with the heat, humidity and mosquitoes, so the nearby resort of La Sagesse is absolutely ideal with its good accommodation, quiet clean bay, sandy beach and ‘shuttle’ service running to and from the boat yard more or less on demand.  And the staff are exceptional, almost like a family, with most of them having worked there for over 10 years, all thanks to the owners Jerry and Mike, who have created a great team.  We’re already booked in there when we return in November.

In fact, of the three yards providing haul out services in Grenada we chose Grenada Marine over Spice Island and Clarke’s Court because we felt it was a safer place to layup and the trades on site are superior.   Mothballing Pipistrelle for over 5 months of the hurricane season is no trivial exercise – it’s not simply a question of ‘lock-up-and-leave’.   What seemed like – and was – weeks of preparation gradually ticking off tasks from a seemingly never-ending list, ranged from serious engine and generator maintenance, winch servicing to ensuring all laundry was done and the fridge / freezer emptied and defrosted, as well as cleaning all interior surfaces, finishing with white vinegar, removing all deck equipment, sails, lowering the anchor and chain to a trestle on the ground, and removing all running rigging … to name but a few.

But we have had some experience of tropical lay-ups, notably in Thailand when we left Pipistrelle in Krabi for the monsoon season.  Click ‘And So To Bed‘ to see the article.

One highlight amongst all the hard graft was a night excursion to see leatherback turtles laying eggs at Levera Beach which is on the north east coast of Grenada, immediately to the south west of Sugar Loaf island.  Well worth the 90 ECD combined cost of travel and entry fee to the National Park.  Flash photography was not allowed so these are the two best shots.  See too the account of our unique experience nearly six years ago in Testigos, the Venezuelan Islands.

 

 

Posted in Caribbean, Grenada and The Grenadines | Tagged , , , , ,

Summary of a Circumnavigation

First of all, and just in case you may have missed our news in the last blog, Pipistrelle has completed her circumnavigation!  Here she is at anchor in Grenada.

On 2nd June 2010 we sailed from Prickly Bay, Grenada on what would become our round the globe journey.  Almost 6 years and 35,000nm later, we dropped anchor early on 5th April 2016 in nearly the same spot.  We feel immensely privileged to have cruised to so many different destinations, marvelled at the wonders of nature and wildlife, met and appreciated people from different cultures and enjoyed the company of likeminded cruisers along the way.

To sum up our voyage succinctly is challenging but here goes …

After Grenada our first cruising grounds were the beautiful and largely unspoilt Venezuelan Islands of Los Testigos, where we witnessed what turned out to be the first of many David Attenborough-esque moments when under cover of darkness, a leatherback turtle laid her eggs on a beach.  More remote islands followed including Los Roques.  We were fortunate enough to explore when it was still relatively safe – six years later it is not.  Then on to the ABC island of Bonaire for the most fantastic snorkelling and diving, from where we commuted frequently to Curacao – a short day passage.  From Aruba we set sail for the 16th century city of Cartagena, Colombia where we took part in Independence Day celebrations in November before heading towards Kuna Yala, or the beautiful San Blas islands.  Arriving in the east, we worked our way westwards through the chain, spent Christmas and New Year at Panamarina before going back through some of the islands again, they and the Kuna Indians were just so unique.  Then making the hop to Shelter Bay Marina, on the Colon side of the Panama Canal, brought decision time…

We made the right choice!

Transiting the Panama Canal in February 2011 was a highlight in itself and descending into the Pacific was an auspicious moment in our lives.  We had heard we would have the best sailing ever crossing the ocean that makes up a quarter of the world’s water.  We did.  From the Las Perlas to the Darwinian Galapagos where we cruised for three weeks and on to the majestic Marquesas, we were enthralled, despite having an uncomfortable couple of days in our first experience of the ITCZ.  With the aim of reaching New Zealand by the beginning of November, we were on a schedule to follow the trade winds.  Time enjoying anchorages and culture of the Marquesas and Society Islands of French Polynesia with its beautiful and varied topography, snorkelling with a manta ray in the remote island of Suwarrow, the northern Cook Islands, discovering Western Samoa with its Robert Louis Stevenson associations and then on to Niuatoputapu.  Here on the northernmost island of the Kingdom of Tonga, with the local population and other cruisers we commemorated the second anniversary of a devastating tsunami and participated in the annual church feast.

A brisk sail south took us to the Vava’u group with its marvellous anchorages, snorkelling and diving spots and then we began watching the weather for THAT window to head south from the Tropics, to Opua.  Two southern summers centred on North Island in New Zealand sailing around the Bay of Islands, Whangarei and Great Barrier Island together with the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland were unforgettable experiences.  We have wonderful memories of this marvellous country and it would not have taken much for us to become harbour-bound there, simply heading north again for the NZ winters.

But in 2013 we left for Vanuatu, where we witnessed eruptions at the active volcano of Mount Yasur, watched a land diving spectacle at Pentecost, sailed to the uninhabited Huon Reef, the Louisiades (Papua New Guinea), and via the Torres Strait to Saumlaki in Indonesia.  From there we sailed westwards through the islands to Nusa Tenggara, went diving off Labuanbajo, saw the dragons of Komodo, enjoyed song and dance on Bali, stopped in Java to visit the ancient site of Borobudur, got up close and personal to orang-utan in Kumai, Borneo, and then sailed on via Jahor Bahru for the bright city lights of Singapore.  The island of Penang provided a fascinating ‘stopover’ for a few days before we headed on as far as Rebak Marina in Langkawi.

2014 saw us based around Langkawi and Phuket, from where we explored the impressive Hongs of Phang Nga Bay, the Krabi area, as well as the beautiful Similan Islands.  It was also our opportunity to go travelling in South East Asia for a month while Pipistrelle was safe in Yacht Haven Marina.

In January 2015 we slipped the lines once more and set sail across the Indian Ocean stopping firstly in Sri Lanka, then working our way through the aquarium of the Maldives where we were struck by lightning for the third time in our voyage, putting us behind schedule while repairs/replacements were done in Gan on Addu Atoll, the southernmost of the chain.  Then on to deserted Chagos, and from there a challenging passage to the Seychelles.  Our toughest, roughest ride ever followed to Madagascar where cruising the northwest coast is sublime and where fishing, lemurs and chameleons made up for the trials of the previous days at sea.  Then from Nosy Bé through the Mozambique Channel to Durban, South Africa.  Finally to Simons Town in December, where we enjoyed wine-tasting excursions in the Cape Town and Stellenbosch areas before embarking on a fascinating self-drive land safari in Namibia to round off the year.

So to this year.  Mid-January, we departed Simons Town and sailed the South Atlantic from South Africa via the remote British outpost of St Helena to Jacaré, near Cabedelo, northeast Brazil.  After a longer than expected sojourn of about 3 weeks there (we could not resist travelling for two of them), we sailed for the Iles du Salut off French Guiana (of Papillon fame) and on to Grenada where – amazingly – we closed the loop and in only two and a half months had sailed 6,000nm.

We just need to point Pipistrelle towards the UK again now, from where we set off at the end of May 2008.  But that’s for another year.

And now for a well earned sundowner …

 

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Closing the Loop

Hurrah!  We’ve done it!

Sunset at sea – what a fitting finale to a circumnavigation that has taken us almost six years to achieve, putting 35,000nm under Pipistrelle’s keel …

More to follow from Prickly Bay, but cheers for now.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a look again at the 2010 blogs St Kitts to Grenada, and the Venezuelan Islands

Posted in Grenada and The Grenadines | Tagged , , ,

Final Days to Grenada

After a passage of just under four days from French Guiana, we dropped anchor in Prickly Bay, Grenada at 08.15 on 5th April 2016, having sailed 688nm at an average speed of 7.2kn.

The rip-roaring ride of the first 48 hours was mainly due to the strong favourable current, but as ever it’s either feast or famine, and we had to resort to using the engine once for several hours while the wind dropped off and changed direction countless times.  Our subsequent progress was steady with no squalls, renewed current helping us along especially off the north coast of Tobago.  Here we changed course for Grenada having poled out the genoa to starboard enabling us to goose-wing towards our destination and putting our arrival a few hours ahead of schedule.

Having seen only a few tankers while underway – some at close quarters in such a big ocean – espying so many masts from a distance and yachts in the anchorage came as quite a shock.

Posted in Caribbean, French Guiana, Grenada and The Grenadines | Tagged , ,

French Guiana to Grenada

On Easter Monday we dropped anchor off Ile Royale, Iles du Salut nearly 9 days at sea (8 days, 17 hours and 30 mins to be precise!) covering 1361 nm at an average speed of 6.5kn. With 3 reefs in the main and no headsail for the last 36 hours we were glad to have arrived safely. If the passage from the Seychelles was our liveliest ever, we agreed this comes a close second!

Eight miles off the coast of French Guyana, near Kourou, the three small islands of Iles du Salut played a significant part in French colonial history – more about their role in a separate blog called Stopover at Les Iles du Salut

Suffice it to say, we went exploring with the crews of the other two yachts at the anchorage – Mahimahi from Sweden and Apogee from the US.

Intending to leave again on 31st March we delayed our departure for 24 hours. Lashing rain and strong gusts were not conducive to weighing anchor if we didn’t have to, so we stayed put, putting us 36 hours behind the other two boats.

So, after a very welcome break, we’re on passage again – destination Grenada in the Caribbean.

24 hour run 07.40 1st April – 07.40 2nd April = 206 nm (nearly a record!)

Posted in Caribbean, French Guiana, Grenada and The Grenadines, South America | Tagged

Stopover at Les Iles du Salut

Called ‘The Salvation Islands’ this small group lies 8nm off the coast of French Guiana, and consists of 3 separate islands, Ile Royale, Ile St Joseph and Ile du Diable.  The port of Le Kourou is on the mainland, and the EU Space Station not far away.

Because this was only considered as a short stop off just before we left St Helena, and we were only interested in a safe anchorage to break our passage to Grenada, for once we had not done our homework about the location.  It turns out that it played a significant role in French colonial history, beginning in the late 15th century, when France sent an ill planned expedition to Kourou in an attempt to claim a large part of South America as its territory.  The islands were used as a staging post because of the relatively sheltered harbour and deep water access.

Once the infrastructure had been created, in 1852 a penal colony was established on Ile St Joseph.

The former Prison Commander’s residence on Ile Royale houses an informative museum where we learned in the 19th century the islands were used to house several famous French prisoners, Dreyfus among them.  The Dreyfus Affair was a famous political scandal at the end of the 19th century involving Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was wrongly convicted of treason.  None other than the writer Emile Zola came to his defence in an open letter which helped force the reopening of his trial.   Papillon, the autobiography written by another wrongly convicted prisoner, Henri Charrière, recounts the story of his long incarceration there before and during World War II and subsequent escape.  Thousands of prisoners were shipped here from France, convicted for anything from petty crime to murder.  Apparently their lot was considered better here than back home.  All prisoners were eventually shipped back to France in 1953, and the prison closed.  But not before 80,000 convicts had met their death there.

Magnus and Sara on Mahimahi had arrived 36 hours before we did and Lori and Robert on Apogee sailed in at the same time.  Once we had anchored, we four weary sailors were invited to lunch on Mahimahi so after a frantic boat clean-up, we enjoyed a very convivial and relaxing get together!

A dinghy trip to explore Ile St Joseph followed.  Getting ashore can be hazardous, and we had not even taken cameras.  These photographs were taken on a different day.  On the top of the island is the prison, where the cells are small, a few rocks in a corner of each cell served as a toilet, double bars across the window, and bars across the ‘ceiling’ so that patrolling guards on top could prevent prisoners smoking!  350 convicts were housed on this island.  On the north coast is a cemetery for adults who had died on the islands, but not for prisoners – their bodies were fed to the sharks!  Children were buried separately on Ile Royale.

Quite an introduction when we were least expecting it!  The next day was spent diving on the hull in the morning to remove heavy barnacle growth on the prop and shaft incurred at Jacare, and a brief visit to Ile Royale to book dinner at the Auberge des Iles for the six of us, and do a tiny bit of exploring.  Here we found the original cells dating back to the early 19th century, together with a hospital room, and solitary confinement cells.  Set apart are the warders’ bungalows.  The local gendarmerie and other buildings are located next to the church.  Peacocks, agoutis and monkeys roam around, and the former fresh water reservoir is now home to caiman lizards.

The Ile du Diable (Devils Island) was never developed to house prisoners, but some were sent there without any accommodation at all.  There is no landing stage, and the currents and waves in the area are fierce.

Today the only use that we could see for the islands is tourism and fishing.  Cruise ships visit, and catamarans bring visitors over from Kourou on a daily basis.  The Auberge has a number of rooms for visitors who want to stay overnight, and has substantial restaurant facilities.

It was an interesting and educational brief stop but depressing at the same time, not helped by the weather, and while Mahimahi and Apogee set sail again, we stayed an additional day to allow heavy rain and strong winds to pass by.

 

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The Northern Hemisphere

Oops!

In his haste to send off emails, the over-zealous Captain had not understood this piece was still a draft and, as such, not to be sent! We can in fact send an email to our blog while at sea, and the article magically appears soon afterwards. Photographs are always added later.

So, to complete the short offering:

At 00.35 on 24th March we crossed the Equator for the fourth time, at full moon. Neptune was slumbering, so homage will duly be paid on a calm day in sunshine! It’s not all sun and calm seas – far from it. Since then we have hardly seen the sun for threatening skies and cloud cover and have had up to 25 kn breeze with gusts of 27 kn ahead of some big squalls. The wind angle has been steady at +/-90 deg, giving us a broad reach. Typical of the ITCZ. We’re now running with 2 reefs in the main and no headsail, our SOG still 6 kn.

Fortunately, in a squall and with everything battened down, we retreat below from where we can navigate – one of the many advantages of a pilot saloon. Here we have all round visibility, can check the set of the sails and look out on the rain, in these temperatures with all fans running!

Distance run: 1,100 nm

Distance to run: 250 nm

Best 24 hour run so far: 171 nm

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Adeus Brazil

With repairs to the ageing stackpack (sail cover) to last another couple of months, a newly galvanised anchor chain (very good price in Jacare), and re-pressurised hydraulic boom vang with new seals, we slipped lines on Saturday 19th March and headed down river for our next passage.

Six days in and over 950 nm under the keel, this stage will take us the 1400 nm to Devil’s Island, one of the ‘Iles du Salut’ off the coast of French Guiana. There we will have a short break before moving on to the Caribbean.

After a couple of bright days to begin with we have had some squalls which are likely to increase the further we get into the ITCZ, or Doldrums; a moving feast where the weather is fickle.

Ocean TV continues on a small scale with schools of dolphins playing around Pipistrelle (always a joy), hundreds of shoals of flying fish skimming across the waves and a couple of feathered hitchhikers.

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Fun in Rio and The Iguazu Falls

Having decided just what we would like to focus on in Brazil, the two ‘must sees’ were Rio de Janeiro and the Iguazu Falls.

From Joao Passoa we flew to Rio, were met at the airport and transferred to our hotel at a good location between the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.  Security was not an issue, and we felt safe walking along the promenades in the late evening.  What a change after South Africa!

The next day we did the tourist thing and went on a guided city tour.  Our first stop was to Corcovado, the famous landmark of Christ the Redeemer, which stands at 704 mtrs above sea level.  Made of soapstone and completed in 1922 the statue of Christ stands 120 ft. high and has an arm span of 75 ft.  The views from here bring the topography around Rio into perspective, with the many mountain ridges dividing the city, the harbour, forests and beaches.  This all makes the city that much more attractive.  On a clear day, the Sugar Loaf Mountain is visible – we could just pick it out through the haze.

Work was taking place at the Maracanã football stadium that will be used for this summer’s Olympics, and we were surprised to see that the Rio Carnival has its own street with grandstands each side, used solely for the event, the rest of the year it is an empty space!  We did get a taste on a different stage …

Opened in 1976, Rio Cathedral or the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian is very different from any building we had seen before, with its conical shape and four huge vertical stained glass windows.

Our day was rounded off with a cable car trip in two stages to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, 392 m above sea level.  Interestingly from here the clouds had surrounded Corcovado, leaving the statue of Christ seemingly floating on air!

Hannes was in town at the same time, and we had the pleasure of meeting up with him over lunch at the Museo de Arte do Rio, which Elaine enjoyed afterwards.  This was not Bob’s scene, but he did enjoy the very new Museo do Amanha, or Museum of Tomorrow, which was close by, and is housed in a very futuristic building opened in December 2015.  This museum concentrates on what we are doing to our world today, the damage we are causing, and its likely effect.  Lots of electronic displays, striking music, and provoking thoughts.   Interesting bearing in mind the destruction of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and exploitation of natural resources!  The whole area is a huge regeneration site with modern architecture attracting prosperity in place of the poor, crime ridden district it once was.

No visit to Rio would be complete without strolling along Ipanema Beach or enjoying a caipirinha cocktail at sundown on Copacabana Beach.  Even spending a day on the crowded Copacabana, or a half day in our case had to be done!  We hired two chairs and an umbrella, and watched the world and beach vendors go by, with many people surfing in water that could be cleaner.  The bikinis on the right bodies were very attractive, or maybe some of the bodies scantily clad by not much bikini were very attractive!  On both beaches, that ‘Girl from Ipanema’ was definitely out in force 55 years on.

Incidentally, the Copacabana stretch reminded us of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.  That was even before we saw the Copacabana Palace Hotel for which the inspiration is in fact Nice’s Negresco.  From the riches of the promenades to the poverty of the ‘favelas’ or shanty towns that dominate large cities throughout Brazil, there could not be a starker contrast.  We stopped short of going on a tour of a favela, believing it to be voyeurism to walk openly through one of the poor districts with a guide.   Photos from a distance were enough for us.  Here too, a few shots of colonial buildings still found amongst modernity.

Iguazu Falls

See our video under Pipistrelle Crew at the Iguazu Falls

All good things have to come to an end, or in our case, the vibrant, colourful city life of Rio be replaced after three days by a breath-taking Wonder of the World.  We had an evening flight via Curitiba to Foz do Iguacu, and found a different use for Navionics, in that it will record our track in flight, whereas Maps with Me won’t, as yet!

We stayed at the Best Western Taroba Hotel which was good, and were taken the next day to the Iguazu Falls, which form the natural boundary between Argentina and Brazil, separated by the Iguazu River.  These cascades are on a par with the Victoria Falls, and are far larger than Niagara.  The falls’ horseshoe is approximately 2 miles long, and 1700 cu mtrs of water flow over the 200ft cliffs per second.

Visiting the Brazilian side first, we were impressed by the torrents and scenery just by walking alongside the river.  Venturing out on walkways towards the Falls necessitated donning the latest fashion in plastic macs to avoid getting soaked – but along with everyone else we still did anyway.  The spray from the cascades and the noise of the rush of water thundering down hundreds of feet is both deafening and exciting.

As a contrast we followed up our time at the Falls with a visit to the Parc dos Aves, a tropical bird sanctuary, where we were able to walk through vast aviaries with beautiful, well-looked after birds of endangered species flying around us.  The largest aviary of its kind in the world, about half of the birds have been rescued from mistreatment and trafficking.  Eventually it is hoped to reintroduce some species to the wild.

The next day we left Brazil temporarily, crossed the Tancredo Neves Bridge and checked in to Argentina, another two stamps in the passport, another language (Spanish) and currency (pesos)!  The bridge spans the Iguazu River that forms a natural boundary between the two countries, while just a few miles away on the Parana River lies Paraguay.

We were taken to the Visitor Centre where we duly paid in pesos, then walked to the narrow gauge railway station, boarded the open train to take us conveniently close to the Garganta del Diablo, or Devils Throat, the single most impressive cascade.   In all, 275 cascades make up the falls, the number rising to 350 in the rainy season.  The network of sturdy walkways covers most of the major falls, enabling us to take some great photos.  We didn’t even need to don the fashionable rain attire of the previous day.

The six day trip was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we were glad to have made the effort to get away.  Another high spot in our travels.

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Pipistrelle Crew at The Iguazu Falls

Yes – for two days last week we were here at these spectacular cascades, an awe inspiring Wonder of the World.  An absolutely astounding experience, both in Brazil and Argentina.

Just watch this, video’d on the Argentinian side at The Devil’s Throat …

More about our trip on Fun in Rio and the Iguazu Falls

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