End of a long, hot summer.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria have all but wiped out some of the northerly islands but left us largely unscathed; with only four precautionary moves into the mangrove lagoon to avoid the easterly swells, we’ve been fortunate to have escaped the worst of this season’s unusually high-category storms.
My final week here turned gloriously convivial with the arrival of my old buddy, Jamie, from Maine, and his friend, Sadie; memorable days and evenings at Off The Hook, invariably ending with me climbing unsteadily into my dinghy to motor round the bay in pitch darkness searching for my boat. The one exception was when I spent a night up at Jamie’s hillside house, grateful for the cooler air, and for once not to wake up in a pool of sweat.
|Me, Jamie & Curtis at Off de Hook|
|Sadie & Me|
Now, dear Reader, after a languid nine months in Carriacou, the time has come to move on.
Tuesday 28 November 2017
0800 – Tyrell Bay
Hauled up anchor and motored out into the offing, passing close to my friend, Hutch’s boat to exchange shouted good-byes and hopes for fair winds.
A lovely sunny morning with a brisk easterly breeze saw me around the west side of Union Island. It then became quite blustery, with boisterous seas and winds gusting 20 knots; I was thankful to have shortened sail early on before it became tricky. I’d intended to hit Admiralty Bay (Bequia) before nightfall, but with the wind and current against me, it quickly became clear I wouldn’t make it. In fact, owing to an awkward wind-direction, I had to sail well past my destination, with the lights of Port Elizabeth twinkling teasingly on the starboard beam and those of Kingstown (St Vincent) ahead, before I could tack with any hope of making the bay.
It was well after eight before I got into the lee of Bequia and started the engine for my final run in to the anchorage. It was a moonless night and I spent the first hour slipping between closely-moored boats, trying to find safe anchorage. Patchy sea-grass made anchoring difficult in the dark; it took three attempts to find firm holding ground, and by the time she held fast, I was splattered from head to toe with silt and weed thrown up by the chain.
I took a shower in the cockpit, dithering in the cool breeze as I hurried to dry off and get below into the warm. (eighteen months in the tropics makes one kinda thin-blooded, yanoo.). Afterwards, skipping supper, I flopped into my bunk, sleeping soundly till the morning sun poured scorchingly through my cabin window.
Wednesday 29 November 2017
0800 – Admiralty Bay, Bequia
|Admiralty Bay, Bequia|
A hurriedly-cooked full-English, then lowered the dinghy and motored ashore to clear into SVG (St Vincent & the Grenadines). Lunchtime found me at one of my favourite bars, The Whaleboner, and I whiled away the afternoon chatting to a nice couple; bare-boaters on vacation from Florida. They left as dusk began to descend, and I myself wanted to get back aboard while I could still find my boat.
But as luck would have it, paying my bill at the bar, I got chatting to a fellow single-hander; a loquacious Englishman called Greg. Two hours later I clambered into the dinghy and motored out into the pitch-dark bay. Fortunately, I’d anchored fairly close to shore, so came home with little difficulty.
Imagine, dear Reader, sitting in the cockpit under the sparkling stars, drinking a restful cup of tea and listening to the wind, when your ears are suddenly accosted by a blast of Van Morrison from a nearby American-crewed catamaran. Personally, I quite enjoyed the music, in my tranquil and semi-inebriated state, but not so the French cat moored close astern of the American music-lovers. After an hour or so, they’d had enough, and a tirade of Gallic protestations floated over the water. When this had no effect, they resorted to sounding off a hand-held foghorn; one of those gas-powered ones, the forlorn wail of which is the very epitome of despair and disapproval. The Americans, however, failed to hear this vexatious outpouring above their booming speakers, now churning out fifties rock & roll. Then, in a lull between tracks, someone popped a head out to see what the noise was about. The music then switched to an old Edith Piaf song accompanied by an accordion, reducing the French boat to a fuming silence. Very soon, however, all was quiet once more. A little later, I turned in below.
Thursday 30 November 2017
0600 – Admiralty Bay
Hauled up anchor at first light. Horrible sea again between Bequia and St Vincent, with lashing rain and fierce squalls all the way across. But getting into the lee of the Island two hours later, the wind dropped, the water flattened, and, as I motored up against the prevailing current, I realised I wasn’t going to get far; I certainly wouldn’t make St Lucia before nightfall. Eventually, after much fruitless deliberation, I dropped into Cumberland Bay, where a kind, local chap took my warping line ashore and tied it to a palm tree. I was now anchored in 12m of steeply-shelving sand with my stern secured ashore; a beautiful, densely forested arbour with a scattering of shanty buildings along a narrow strip of shingle, all of which I could scarcely make out through the torrential sheets of rain that started almost as soon as I was secured. It was mid-afternoon when the downpour suddenly ceased, so, with tendrils of mist rising from the tree-clad hills, and a watery sun making a faltering appearance through thinning clouds, I lowered the dinghy and went ashore to forage for supper.
|Cumberland Bay: Rasterman Jo, bottom left. Island Spirit, far centre shot.|
Of the six quirky, ramshackle restaurants, I finally settled for Mojito’s on the north side of the bay. I was the only customer, and they quickly produced a dinner-table complete with cloth and a chair, and bade me seated. While waiting for my grilled tuna, I sat and chatted with Joseph Rasterman and a few of his buddies; all a bit oddly dressed and fierce-looking, but friendly, with ready banter and good humour, helped along with beer. And, dear Reader, the famous Vincie Mountain Tea, which, I have to report, is great for getting up one’s appetite.
|Sunset approaches in Cumberland Bay|
Friday 1st December 2017
0500 – Cumberland Bay
Woke up and cooked a hasty beans-on-toast, hoping for an early departure at first light. As I ate, I realised I had stupidly hoisted the dinghy last night, so would need to lower it again to untie myself from shore. I needn’t have worried however, for through the morning gloom appeared a guy in a kayak, who waited patiently alongside until I was ready to slip. So promptly at six, with the dawn light looming over the hills, I chugged out into the offing once more, motoring on a calm, windless sea with a single-reefed main and the headsail furled away.
Gradually the wind began to pick up, and by eight I was skipping along nicely with a shortened genny and engine off. I knew it was going to be a rough and bouncy crossing once I cleared the north tip of St Vincent; it always is. The Doyle’s Cruising Guide warns that the St Vincent Channel northbound is “not for the faint-hearted”. Last time I’d done it was with brother-in-law Nigel, and on that occasion, we’d made a little extra ground to the west before hitting open water, and had ended up very tightly close-hauled, battering into waves on a short, choppy sea.
This time, therefore, I decided to hug the coast, and give myself a broader wind-angle. By the time I realised this was a mistake, it was too late. Yes, I had a good beam reach while nicely pointed to St Lucia, allowing for considerable leeway. The problem was not the wind, dear Reader, but that awful Atlantic swell that was now quartering the boat and making for a most uncomfortable ride. Worse still, the autopilot couldn’t cope, and I found myself hand-steering most of six-hour crossing. At least if I’d been close-hauled, I would have been able to balance the sails and tie off the helm. On a beam-reach in these seas, that was no longer an option.
|The Pitons, Saint Lucia|
At last I came under the lee of the mighty Pitons, and a couple of boats raced out to offer me moorings at nearby Soufriere. Not interested, I told them, I’m heading for Rodney Bay. They gave me their habitual stare of disbelief that anyone could think of passing by such a wonderful opportunity, before roaring off to find their next victim.
|Don't need no mooring, man.|
The wind off the east coast of St Lucia is quite unpredictable, ranging between zero and twenty knots, so that, while making reasonable progress, one has continually to adjust for trim and watch out for sudden gusts. Passing the port of Castries, I strayed rather too close under the massive bow of the Cunard cruise ship Queen Mary 2, at anchor and disgorging passengers into a flotilla of liberty boats. I passed safely by, however, and marvelling at her anchor chain, (individual links as big as beer-barrels) decided to give them a courtesy call on the radio by way of apology.
The response was immediate: “Island Spirit, this is Queen Mary 2, please be advised I am at anchor and unable to manoeuvre.”
Gosh, who knew?
|Queen Mary 2, off Castries, Saint Lucia|
It was almost five by the time I tied up in Rodney Bay Marina, too late to avoid the EC$100 overtime charge at Customs & Immigration. Ouch!
This marina is the destination of the ARC transatlantic race, and just now is when they begin to arrive. I am therefore under notice that I may have to move berth if they need it for an ARC participant, who always get priority over us mere cruising rabble.
On Saturday morning I took the bus to Castries and met up with my old friend, John Morris, a passenger on the Cruise ship, Columbus, and only in the port for six hours. We haven’t seen one another for more than a year, so caught up over drinks and lunch.
|Lunch with John Morris in Castries|
Afterwards, he hopped on a boat to rejoin his ship while I tootled off shopping for fresh fruit and veg – bought loads of stuff I didn’t really need – not used so much abundance, I guess.
Getting onboard later, I was accosted by the Norwegian crew of an ARC arrival opposite my pontoon, and got invited on their boat for a drink. I accepted, of course, with the caveat that I was tired and couldn’t stay long.
“That’s okay,” their skipper said, “We are going into the village to eat, soon.”
However, sleeping in my cabin later, I was woken by a slurring Scandinavian on the pontoon calling “Mike, are you awake?”
“I am now,” I called back. I checked the time. It was 3am.
So, I was hijacked onto their boat once again; a Viking breakfast of beer and strong rum. Eventually I realised just how drunk these people now were, and after a polite interval, managed to extricate myself from their senseless ramblings and crawl back to bed. This morning they were all very apologetic, miserably hungover, but being good Norsemen, went straight back on the booze.
I went ashore for a quiet full-English in one of the Marina’s many eating-shacks, and was once more accosted by ARC finishers, celebrating their safe arrival. This pair, a Spaniard and a Brit (a garrulous Manchunian), had been drinking all night, and now were breakfasting on the bottle of complimentary 60% rum given to each participating vessel. Despite their impaired condition, I found their company pleasant and not at all invasive.
I spent the remainder of the weekend resting, getting my laundry done, and chatting with strangers at the bar, as one does in these places.
On Tuesday morning I chugged out to the anchorage in the bay, and remained quietly onboard overnight.
Wednesday 6th December 2017
0800 - Rodney Bay
Weighed anchor and headed north for Martinique. Clearing the headland, I careened into a fifteen to twenty-knot easterly, and the roller-coaster over-falls north of St Lucia, with a single-reefed main and three-quarter genoa on a close reach. Once again, sea conditions precluded use of the autopilot, so hand-steered most of the five-hour crossing. It was quite a nice sail, however, despite a couple of nasty squalls, and I made Port du Marin anchorage in good time to get ashore, clear customs, and fetch up at a bar for a cold beer.
Here I sit now, passing the days reading and writing, shopping ashore, and popping across to the Marina occasionally for an Internet “fix”. Whilst here, I’ll be changing my four (almost expired) batteries, for two spanking-new 160 AH AGM’s, which will need a little bit of carpentry down below to make them fit the space. The cost of this upgrade is fearsome, but I have little choice in the matter, and here is the cheapest place in the Caribbean to buy them. I’m also investing in a new anchor-chain to replace the pile of rust presently in the chain-locker.
Whist here I’ve learned the wonderful news that I have a new Granddaughter. That makes ten grandchildren so far: five boys, and five girls. All very symmetrical. So, Congratulations to daughter Stephanie, proud father, Anthony, and young Bailey who now has the sister he always wanted.
Oh, and the other reason I’m here in Martinique: my friends Pamela and Steve are coming here at the end of this month to join me for a three-week cruise of the Grenadines. So I’ve got lots of cleaning and repairing to do over Christmas. No rest… eh?
That’s all for now, dear Reader. Hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings. More to follow soon.