Chilling in the Caribbean – December 2009

First, for those of you who did not follow our daily blogs across the Atlantic with the ARC, here is a resumé.  Chilling out came later, much later!

ARC – The start – 22 November

Las Palmas was of course hectic but tremendous fun too. We arrived with what we thought would be plenty of time to complete all the preparation work, but Bob was still down below fixing the new barometer (Elaine’s Christmas presi to him), and the matching ship’s clock (Alan’s presi to Pipistrelle), to the saloon bulkhead at 11.30 a.m., when we should already have left the pontoon.  But within a few minutes both pieces were in place, and we finally slipped lines to a great send off with music blaring out, Pedro commentating from his Texaco fuel station, and crowds to watch and wave goodbye.

We and our crew, Alan, Nick and Paul quickly fell in to the watchkeeping system, and we headed south initially, before changing course to the west to try to stay with the wind.  We were downloading GRIB files by email over the satphone, which showed the forecast wind strength and direction for the area of the Atlantic we were interested in.  Using these files we altered course on about three or four occasions during the passage to make best use of the wind, and avoid losing it altogether.

We were incredibly lucky and had a constant wind strength of between 10 and 25 knots the whole way across.  We have since found out that yachts leaving 10 days later than us were still at sea 27 days after leaving Las Palmas as there has been very little wind.  A large number of yachts are still in the Canaries (at the end of December) waiting for the winds to increase in strength and go back to the north or north east from the south west.

Apart from the favourable winds, the high points of the ARC were the brilliant starlit nights, seeing the moon waxing and waning, dolphins leaping into the air south of the Canaries, and the one whale we saw on our last evening at sea approaching Martinique.  But the daytime approach and finish line at St Lucia where we had fresh winds taking us up to 8.5 knots rate as the climax of our trip!   Not to mention the fantastic welcome we received when we finally came alongside at Rodney Bay marina.   The rum punch went down a treat!

Cheers – we’ve arrived!

The low point had to be finding that the genoa furling gear had broken, which meant that we had to remove the genoa totally and rely instead on the staysail, which is 1/3 of the size.  This probably cost us an extra couple of days at sea.

Hey, ho – but let the Chill Out begin now with lots of sun and relaxation!

St Lucia is lush and green, and generally everyone there was very friendly and helpful.  We had some good meals ashore in Rodney Bay, having had more than our fill of boat food (tasty though it was!).  Elaine organised some well-earned R&R for herself while others were busy trying to organise new sacrificial strips for the headsails and a new part for the genoa furling gear.  Before everyone dispersed and we headed off to Soufriere in the south of the island, we held an evening drinks party on board and invited the crews of other boats we had got to know.  Even though the heavens opened partway through and 20 or so guests crowded below to dodge the shortlived downpour, it was a great success.

At Hummingbird against the backdrop of the scenic Pitons, we spent a couple of days on moorings, Paul and Nick learning to dive with the local PADI dive master, Chester, and Bob joining Paul for a couple of dives.  Our shore base in Soufriere was the Wine and Coffee shop run by a charming Danish lady, Laila Cantoni.  The Pipistrelle crew enjoyed a number of glasses of good Italian wine and a superb beach BBQ on our last night.

Picturesque Pitons

Going diving …..

View down under

Through Laila, Elaine and Bob treated themselves to a chauffeur-driven sightseeing trip (complete with picnic basket) of the nearby Sulphur Springs.   From there we drove to the Diamond Botanical Gardens, waterfall and hot baths, built by Louis XVI and where we marvelled at the tropical flora.  Our last stop was at the New Jerusalem Mineral Baths where we bathed in the hot, tepid and cool pools and enjoyed our late afternoon picnic with Italian wine – what a tonic!

Exotic flower in the Botanical Gardens

We said farewell to Nick and Paul at Soufriere, as we had a deadline to meet in Martinique, and they flew home a couple of days later after more diving and other expeditions in the area.

Pipistrelle at Soufriere

Marigot Bay was our lunchtime destination on our way north, an extremely pleasant interlude made even more enjoyable by the chance meeting with Vincent and Christian, crew from Shania (another ARC yacht – see below) whose wives had joined them and were now holidaying in a nearby hotel for a week.   Marigot was the setting for the 1967 Dr. Dolittle film – which you may or may not remember – and naturally boasts a Dr Dolittle restaurant.

We then continued north to Rodney Bay to clear Customs and immigration on the way out, as we set sail for Martinique to try to collect the new part that had been shipped by Profurl and IMP.

The wind was hard on the nose for the 30 nm passage, and the pilotage into Marin Bay interesting.  We anchored just outside the marina.  Martinique is a Department Outre-Mer of France, so it was back to the land of the Euro and almost like returning to Europe itself after St Lucia, which is a lot poorer by contrast.  Alan and Elaine went shopping, and returned laden with French delicacies that stood us in good stead over the festive season!

We met Philippe who runs the rigging side of his chandlery in Marin, and he pulled out all the stops to try to obtain clearance for the package from Profurl.  We finished up hiring a car and driving to the airport ourselves on Saturday morning, waiting for Customs to arrive, and then another hour’s wait for le Chef of the shipping agency to appear.  Without a timely telephone call from Philippe, we would have had to wait another 48 hours for clearance.  Back in Marin, Philippe and a colleague fitted the new gear with efficient professionalism whilst we were at anchor, and then we motor-sailed back to Rodney Bay to attend the ARC prize giving ceremony, albeit slightly late!

Once we had collected the genoa and staysail a couple of days later, we said farewell to Alan who after his fourth passage with us feels quite at home on Pipistrelle.

Alan taking a dip!

To celebrate Elaine’s birthday the same day, we sailed the few miles south again to Marigot Bay and the Chateau Mygo restaurant.  Already there to greet us were Urs and Doris on Shania, a Swiss boat that was on the same pontoon as us in Las Palmas.  We moored stern-to having dropped the anchor across the other side of the narrow channel, and this was our first experience of stepping off Pipistrelle, and straight in to a restaurant that stands on legs out over the water!  The four of us enjoyed an excellent evening with good food, including a sushi starter, live music and dancing.

Elaine’s birthday

Our next stop was Cumberland Bay on St Vincent, which is immediately south of Chateau Belair, a bay known for an armed attack on a yacht a couple of years back.  The bay was empty, but we were relieved to find 5 other yachts in Cumberland Bay, so proceeded in and dropped the anchor in 20 metres, and a boat boy took a warp ashore which we thought would be attached to a coconut palm!  We were disappointed to find it was attached to a new dinghy dock instead!

Christmas Day view – Cumberland Bay

Rather than move on to Bequia, we decided to spend Christmas Day here, especially as Urs offered to tap new threads into the spinnaker pole end, the rivets having failed on the crossing.  Elaine cooked an excellent Christmas dinner, and Urs and Doris joined us on board.  To celebrate, we even had a Christmas tree, festive serviettes and ate Christmas pudding!

Christmas decor on board

On Boxing Day we moved on to Admiralty Bay, Bequia, a pleasant 3 hour sail, but hard on the wind, with a significant increase in wind speed as we approached the northern end.

To our surprise we found a large number of ARC yachts there still flying the flag, and also met up with Shane, Nicole and their three children on Grace.  We had last seen them in September in La Linea, Gibraltar.  On New Year’s Eve, when we were about to leave, Bob met Jean from Superted V in the laundry ashore of all places.  Jean was on the medical course we attended at Hamble School of Yachting in February, and Bob later met her husband Matt on an SSB course.  A small world!  We subsequently invited them on board, and enjoyed the evening with them at the Salty Dog, and later just down the road at a Caribbean street party with reggae music pounding at such strength that we could feel the reverbrations through our bodies!  We said our goodbyes and worked our way through the throngs to a bar with a steel band, before watching the great midnight firework display from Pipistrelle.

Steel band

Street scene – Admiralty Bay, Bequia

Our latest stop is the Tobago Cays, just north of Grenada, where we are anchored in 4 metres, in a lagoon of beautifully clear aquamarine water, with turtles swimming unconcerned around the boat.  The Cays are a collection of islands protected by a horseshoe reef, the far side of which the waters plunge within 2 miles to 500 metres and more!  The current flows strongly in over the reef, bringing with it abundant food for the fish population, though snorkelling is a challenge in swimming against it.  The Cays was busy when we arrived, though a lot of yachts have moved on.  There are a number of ARC yachts here, many of whom we know, and a few evenings ago we enjoyed a BBQ ashore with the crews of Nika, Sunboy and Djarrka.

The Cays were a parting of the ways, with many of the yachts that we have met and made friends with moving on south to Grenada, and from there west to the Panama Canal, and for our Australian friends, home by November 2010.  Currently our plans are to go north from the Grenadines to meet friends in February in Antigua, enjoy the BVIs and maybe the US Virgin Islands, before heading back down south for the hurricane season.

Tobago Cays – just before sunset

Watch out for the next Caribbean update in a few weeks’ time!  Meanwhile, thinking of winter in Europe, we leave you with what we hope is an uplifting image  ……

Tobago Cays – Horseshoe Reef

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