So what have we been up to for the last five months?
Cruising The Caribbean again …
We returned to Grenada mid-November and stayed at La Sagesse, while Pipistrelle was prepared to be launched. The resort is excellent, and staying there again was delightful. Unfortunately it was all rather marred by an unsatisfactory experience prior to ‘splashing’ at Grenada Marine – we will not be hauling there again!
Ingemar and Ann-Britt arrived from Sweden on 24th November, joining us in Prickly Bay for a two week stay taking us north to St Lucia. Before leaving we had a very enjoyable dinner at The Aquarium restaurant with Ole & Jette from Lahaina who are Danish. The weather was far from settled, strong breezes and rain, sometimes heavy, but we did manage to return to the Tobago Cays for a couple of fine days, as well as visit Mustique for the first time. In 2010 the winds were not favourable so it was ‘third time lucky’.
Mustique is a lovely island, and very different from the other West Indies. Through ‘The Mustique Company’ the wealthy property owners fund the roads, the airport, it has its own airline, and is all kept impeccably. We enjoyed sundowners at the famous Basil’s Bar, and took a taxi tour of the island to ogle at villas owned by the rich and famous.
After a short stay in Bequia, and leaving there early in the morning, we managed to make Marigot Bay on St Lucia in a day sail, and moored stern-to for the night at the Chateau Mygo restaurant. A half-day guided tour took in Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island and climbing to the peak, Ingemar and Ann Britt left us to return to a cold Sweden, and we sailed on to Rodney Bay to collect some urgent parts, and had the pleasure of watching the final ARC participants cross the finishing line – as we did in 2009!
Our next stop was Sainte Anne on Martinique, where we had decided to spend Christmas and the New Year. As we approached we encountered a mighty squall and rainstorm reducing visibility to a few yards, but it cleared enabling us to pick out the anchorage, and decide where to drop the hook. Imagine our surprise to find we had chosen a spot right next to Gosi. We last saw Tom and Barbara in Jacare, Brazil where we had spent time together, including a trip to Olinda.
Sainte Anne is a lovely village on the west coast of Martinique just to the south of the major yachting centre of Le Marin. The village has almost everything you could wish for, a quaint church, lovely buildings, quiet alleys with bars and restaurants, a brilliant boulangerie and patisserie, hikes and hills to climb.
We then met up with Phil and Norma Heaton on Minnie B, and a Belgian couple, Stephane and Ann. So, the stage was set for dinner on Christmas Eve at ‘La Dunette’, overlooking the anchorage, and then New Year’s Eve at ‘Les Filets Bleus’ on the beach just to the north of St Anne, with midnight fireworks courtesy of nearby Club Med. Memorable gatherings in themselves, on Christmas Day we were treated to an absolutely perfect sunset and remarkable ‘green flash’ to clapping and cheering from all the boats in the anchorage.
Hiring a car, we explored the capital of Fort de France and the Jardin de Balata, beautiful tropical gardens in the hills to the north east. Phil and Norma joined us for a trip up the east coast, which was a delight after the heavy traffic on the west, and we found many interesting and enjoyable places to stop.
We were sorry to leave Sainte Anne, but were on a time line for our next visitors Brian and Helen. So after a night in Grande Anse d’Arlet and then in a quiet anchorage just south of St Pierre, we daysailed to Dominica and anchored in Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth, towards the north of the island. We had no sooner anchored than boat boy Edison came alongside, and remembered us from 2010 – wow! Once we had got ourselves organised it was time to drive our hire car along the picturesque and windy road to Douglas Charles Airport on the east side of the island to meet Helen and Brian. They had flown down from Antigua with LIAT via Barbados with two bags of luggage. Whilst the flight was more or less on time, LIAT had managed to lose one of them (Helen’s), and it was over a week before it was finally found at Barbados. So a visit to Roseau the ‘capital’ towards the south of the island was in order to buy essentials for Helen from a limited selection in the one and only ‘department store’, and Elaine lent her other clothing to keep her going. Brian was constantly on the phone to LIAT, and through his persistence the bag was eventually found in Barbados. We then discovered LIAT is known locally as “Left it at another Terminal”! Their record on the customer service website is appalling and local advice is to use the ferry.
Our passage north took us to the islands of Les Saintes where we found we had to pick up a mooring – anchoring is now forbidden except in deep water. Part of Guadeloupe, Terre-de-Haut on Les Saintes with its narrow streets, boutiques, bars and restaurants is charming. La Fringale proved once more to be a lovely setting for dinner. On Guadeloupe proper we enjoyed the botanical gardens at Deshaies, and hired a car to tour the island, and take a hike to the Carbet waterfalls in the southeast.
And so on to Antigua and Jolly Harbour. After a visit to the airport Helen was happy to be reunited with her luggage, just a day before their flight home!
Jolly Harbour was a short stop for us before we made our way to Gustavia on St. Barts, to find the anchorage had totally changed for the worse since our visit in 2010. It was incredibly busy and uncomfortable from the wash of constant ferries, so after one night at anchor we sailed the short distance for Saint Maarten/St Martin (yes – that half Dutch/half French island).
St Martin and Marigot Bay on the French side is protected from easterlies, and being duty free as far as chandlery is concerned, provided us with the opportunity to purchase a new Jabsco pump for the aft heads, and to find an engineer to fix the watermaker, which had been giving us problems since leaving Grenada. We met David Dowoghue who is an expert on Spectra, and he totally serviced the Clark Pump. We now are making more water than ever before.
Quite by chance we met up again with Serge and Siao on Pearl 2, a Wauquiez PS 47 built in 2015. We first came across them in Martinique, and this time we sailed with them to Baie Blanche, Tintamarre, which is a national park. Once we had re anchored closer in to the shore it was calmer, and an evening on the beach with crews from 3 different boats, all French, was very enjoyable. So too was watching numerous turtles popping their heads up above the water line before disappearing once more into the deep – always a marvellous sight.
We left Marigot Bay at 04.30 to make the 80nm passage to the British Virgin Islands during daylight, and arrived at Virgin Gorda at 18.20, to find Phil and Norma on Minnie B waiting for us in Gorda Sound. Having checked in we managed to hire a car and do a tour of the island, finishing for sundowners at Hog Heaven, overlooking the bay, Necker Island and Mosquito Island (owned by Richard Branson), before we parted company again, sailing in opposite directions.
The need for a medical check-up took us to Nanny Cay Marina, where Miles is the General Manager, and also as it happens the Port Officer for the BVIs with the Ocean Cruising Club. We found him not only charming, but also very generous and hospitable. We unexpectedly encountered some problems, and Miles and his Yard Manager Keith took control and our stay at Nanny Cay was excellent. In the ‘Peg Leg’ Nanny Cay has a good restaurant, hotel, swimming pool, haul out facilities, as well as all the trades that one would expect at a world class marina.
Culebra, or the Spanish Virgin Islands beckoned, but we stopped at Cruz in St John (US Virgin Islands) to check in, and try to buy a local sim card. Being US, their values are rather different from ours, a sim card costs $25US, and the minimum data we could buy was $55US, or a total of £64! Just unreal, so we decided to rely on internet available in bars or restaurants. We then headed north west to the north coast of St Thomas, anchoring in Magens Bay, and were amazed to find only one other yacht there, though it is large and well sheltered. Maybe the reason is that in strong trade winds, you have the katabatic effect of gusts screaming down the hillside. But we sheltered there whilst the strong easterlies persisted, and discovered that the whole sandy beach was privately owned, and a charge was made of $2 US per person from cruise liners that dock in Charlotte Amelie, plus the taxi fare, a deck chair, drinks, food, paddle boards all extra! A nice little earner!
We then sailed west to Culebra, an interesting passage knowing that we would have to sail back against the prevailing winds, and also knowing that the anchorage we were aiming for faced the prevailing winds, so what would the shelter be like? As we approached the offlying island of Culebrita we could see masts in the anchorage, and then the reefs we had planned to negotiate. As we passed through the reefs and into the buoyed channel, the seas calmed and we found a lagoon that reminded us of being in the South Pacific!
Needing to find out where to leave the dinghy to get to the airport to check in, Bob approached a boat that turned out to be a Wauquiez Centurion, owned by a fascinating Australian and his charming American wife, Paul and Lynn Elliot on SV Kiana. Sundowners followed, and a phone call to Immigration by Paul announcing that we had arrived, and would check in the next day. The week that followed was cold, wet and windy, so whilst on a mooring, the anchor was deployed together with a line made fast to the mooring block on the sea bed. But we managed to explore the island, and in particular its beautiful sandy beaches, made use of by day trippers from Puerto Rico, only a few miles away. The weather prevented any exploration on Pipistrelle, but we would love to return, it is so different and relaxed compared to the rest of the BVI/USVI’s.
Our passage against the wind to Jost van Dyke to check back in to the BVIs was good, and we arrived in the late afternoon. At 1900 when it was dark, a yacht anchored close to us, and then Bob heard French voices, followed by a dinghy coming towards us. Instantly Bob realised this was Max who he met on Damahwil in Corsica last summer, and with friends he had sailed the Atlantic to the Caribbean. A great crew, who we met for lunch the following day, before they left for Puerto Rico, and then on up the eastern seaboard of the US. It is such a small world!
Mo and Nigel joined us in Nanny Cay, and we spent a very enjoyable 10 days exploring Tortola by car, then to Virgin Gorda for a repeat of our experience with Phil and Norma. Then west to Norman Island for a visit to the ‘The Indians’, a very good snorkelling site in 2010. What a change for the worse; a lot of the corals have been damaged or have disappeared, in particular the soft corals, and the fish life has left for pastures new. So that was a big disappointment, but in Benures Bay, Norman Island we found some good coral and plenty of fish, so returned there after ‘The Indians’ for another night, before sailing back to Trellis Bay, Beef Island for Mo and Nigel’s departure. It was a great week, and the weather could hardly have been better.
As they left, the heavens opened, which delayed our return to Gorda Sound to check out of the BVIs. Then an overnight passage to St Martin, our first for almost a year, and then on to St Bart’s where we anchored at Ile Fourchue which has a small bay protected from the north and east. Again, all up wind sailing, but with a purpose in mind!
This bay is lovely, surrounded by craggy peaks just waiting to be climbed, the island private but hiking here is acceptable. And snorkelling is good. There is virtually no coral, but the surrounds of the bay is fallen rock, giving way to a sandy weed strewn bottom, which turtles love. And they are in abundance, with heads continually popping up for air, and we found a baby turtle resting amongst the rocks, but happily he swam away as Bob snorkelled down to check he/she was ok. There are plenty of sting rays here, together with some live conch shellfish, which we have never seen before. Normally we see plenty of shells but all of them empty. We also saw a Nassau Grouper, again a first for us, but unfortunately no photos as Bob’s Sony camera that he puts in a special case for underwater photography has developed a fault. We now find it common to these cameras. Thanks for the built-in obsolescence, Sony! The bay will certainly be one of those unforgettable experiences.
We then made the short hop to Anse de Colombier, another lovely bay on the NW corner of St Barts, before setting off on the long day sail back to Jolly Harbour on Antigua, to await the arrival of Andy and Annie, Bob’s son and daughter-in-law, and their two young children, Florence whose 6th birthday we celebrated on board after Easter, and Reuben who is three. This turned in to a very special time for us. They were with us for 10 days, so we cleared sails, seating and other ‘stuff’ we have accumulated over the years out of the starboard aft cabin and into a locker at the marina. At last more habitable space on Pipistrelle! To share the boat, go swimming in Deep Bay, and take them to other sights on Antigua was truly memorable.