Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Life on a Boat in Carriacou

A particularly striking feature of the Caribbean summer, apart from the sultry, sauna heat, and the mind-numbing detonation of the occasional tropical deluge, is the Royal Poinciana, standing proud and redly flamboyant out of the lavish greenery of the lofty hillsides. Right now, a dozen of these startling trees flare out of a swathe of banana and palms that reach down to a windswept, reef-mottled ocean with her pointed islands, poking up like so many green methuselahs. In the foreground, as I stand on the narrow roadway overlooking Belmont, a long abandoned tin shack, as lonely as those scattered islets, it’s rusty red carapace an almost exact colour-match for the showy flames beyond.
At midmorning, I stop to rest in the shade of a gnarly old avocado tree; nearby, a herd of goats stare at me in astonishment, as if they had never once set eyes on such a phenomenon as a pale human taking a drink of water and a chocolate bar.

My Sunday morning walk lasts around three hours, long enough in this climate. I end it by taking a shortcut; a tortuous rocky trail over the forested hillside - where a thousand variously-sized lizards scatter before me, and a three-foot snake makes me wish for something rather more substantial than sandals on my feet - back to Harvey Vale, where I meet up with friends for lunch at the Slipway Restaurant. Grilled Tuna with salad, followed by a rather decadent mango cheesecake, and coffee, plus the two Bloody-Mary’s I started with, rather quickly combine with the fatigue of walking – so I take my leave and clatter the dinghy out to my boat.

After a short nap in the cockpit, I flash up the Internet and look at the latest Atlantic weather. A small disturbance over the Cape Verde’s has a 30% chance of developing.

By Tuesday morning (18 July) it’s clear that Tropical Storm Don (when they give it a name, it’s time to take notice) is heading our way. By midmorning, boats all around the bay are hauling up and heading into the mangrove. I do likewise. The lagoon’s pretty full by the time I get in, but I find a space next to a big steel schooner, drop my kedge some way out, and motor gingerly into the foliage, not quite getting the bow stuck in before the keel comes up softly against the muddy bottom. Thus kedged and roped into the dense roots, lines to the boats either side, I consider I’m safe as can be made.

By noon, it’s raining stair-rods; shouts of latecomers struggling with lines and anchors as they squeeze in where they can. A Frenchman catches my kedge-line with his rudder, pulling me out of line. I manage to untangle him and haul back in. Later he comes by in his dinghy to apologise. No problem, say I, have a drink. Foreign voices call back and forth across the lagoon; French, German, Dutch, Spanish, American; all seagoing life is crowded here in a miraculous spirit of mutual support. A tiny dinghy slips by, rowed by a handsome yachtswoman, two enormous dogs standing rain-raggled in the prow, keening eagerly at their boat ahead.

I’ve done all I can to secure Island Spirit against the worst – fingers crossed now for Don’s dissipation, or diversion from his direct-hit trajectory. Okay, it may come to nothing (like last time), but it’s never worth taking the risk of staying out there, exposed to all-hell and too late to move.

By 2pm, all is quiet. A few dinghies glide around the lagoon, recording with phones and cameras this unusual gathering for the enlightenment of friends and families back home, and no doubt for posting on social media (don’t we all?). Some wave to me, or call a polite “Hi Mike!”, or “Good Afternoon!”, as they pass sedately by.

There no Internet here (for me, at least), and the cockpit’s too wet and open (without my side awnings) to use the laptop. Down below, with all the hatches locked down, is like a sauna. So, not much to do. Except… get out the rum bottle.

After the rain, the lagoon is all wobbles of reflected grey on olive oil. In the green margins of dense vegetation, a huddle of sailboats gathered together for safety – the Dutchman in the posh schooner tells me the latest forecast is for Don to pass 7 miles north of us by 8pm tonight. A laughing gull (not laughing now) dives and scoops something from the water, leaving expanding ripples as the only other moving thing. I pour another rum and light up… something.

At times like this, I get to thinking I might like a female companion. For a while. Maybe a long while. Maybe. The right one, at least – a respecter of solitude.

By dusk, it’s raining again; the wind has stalled, so the rain falls vertically; the water growls darkly, olive. I feel I could stay here always; tied to root and branch, nipped by insects, but otherwise calm and silent.

Next Morning. It’s all over. The wind came up around 8pm, and was done by midnight. Thirty-knot gusts, maybe, no more. We hardly moved. The tuna boats were first out this morning, gurgling their way out into the fairway, and off to their fishing grounds. The sailboats on the eastern bank are mostly aground, masts tilting crazily, hulls exposed; it’ll be much later when they get off.

Me? I’m out of here just as soon as the Dutchman wakes up and casts me off. By 11`am I’m back out in the bay, tidying up; stowing ropes, fenders and anchors, rigging awnings, etc.

So, am I happy here, with this, my chosen solitary life in paradise? Well, I do miss my daughters, my diasporic family, and my friends; some of the latter more than others, one above all (who never reads my blog). I worry at the reception of my latest novel, published, but lacking feedback and reviews – a sign perhaps that my story-telling prowess is perhaps not good enough for popular success. Must try harder with my next.

I love the seclusion that informs my writing, that inspires it. I value the simplicity that is Island Life, the perpetual warmth, the natural beauty, the freedom. The simple spontaneity; a turtle’s head rising out of the water like a wrinkled old man struggling for air while doggy-paddling, a rush of boobies and pelicans diving into a nearby school of fish, a prehistoric looking frigate bird on the lookout for a gull to rob of its hard-won catch, Warrior in his dilapidated rowboat calling each evening for my garbage and stopping for a chat and a glass of rum, Popo, who stops by every few days to sell me a trio of freshly caught snappers or jacks.

So, Yes, I like my life here.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Log of the Island Spirit (MMSI 235113215)– Cruising the Windward Islands

Crew: Mike Rothery (Skipper); Nigel Sampson (Mate)
Tuesday 7th February 2017
At Anchor in Prince Rupert’s Bay, Dominica

Prince Rupert's Bay (Portsmouth) Anchorage, Dominica
Silence. No, Dear Reader, I refer not to the silence you’ve suffered waiting for my next update, but the silence of the Rain Forest. Far from the anticipated hooting of howler monkeys, the raucous ticking of a billion insects, or the screeching of myriad birds, here in the Morne Diablotin National Park, only a sullen tranquillity reigns.
Somewhere below, a river roars
Our guide, Boodah, parked up at the deserted visitor centre and sent us hiking unescorted into this strange and melancholy forest, following the Syndicate Nature Trail. Despite the gloomy hush, the experience impressed us with the sheer wonder of the giant hardwood trees and chaotically lush vegetation. The winding trail under that vast canopy soon had us totally disorientated, but a sudden opening along the way gave us a wonderful panoramic view of a steep, tree-filled valley where a mighty river roared invisibly below.

The Emerald Forest


Now, That's a Hardwood
Leaving this enchanted spot, we drove back down the narrow road to where a dirt track led us to Milton Falls, a picturesque waterfall, reached only on foot along a squelchy trail. Along the way, we had to pay a man to pass his shack, though he did mitigate this with a welcoming grin and a selection of fresh fruits for our EC$5 toll (£1.50); so not quite Billy Goat Gruff and the ogre under the bridge. From here the trail wound downhill, becoming increasing wet and rock-strewn, until we reached a small but fast-flowing river.
“We got to cross dis river four times.” Boodah told us. I looked around for a crossing point, but saw only a narrow log lying across the rushing gorge. Without a word, Boodah skipped blithely over this perilous crossing, then, with a wicked grin, beckoned us to follow.
“Dis de easy one,” he assured us when we were safely across.
The next two crossings consisted of mere stepping stones, most of which were submerged below the surging waters, but surprisingly, we all managed to keep our feet reasonably dry. The final hurdle was more fun; a thick lianas creeper hanging some sixty feet from a bough, by which we had to swing, Tarzan-like, across. This went mostly without mishap, though I managed to misjudge my landing and dropped short into ankle-deep water.

Geoffrey Boycott in Flight

Wow! can you feel it?

Me, about to get my feet wet.
Our visit to Dominica is for me, a kind of nostalgic fancy. I was last here in January 1980, a few months after the infamous Hurricane David which all but devastated this beautiful island and took many lives. I was then a Petty Officer on HMS Birmingham, and we were sent here to aid the continuing disaster relief effort. Thirty-seven years on, that vile storm is still vivid in local memory. I remember well the shock and despair even six months after that tragedy, and was therefore pleased to see the welcoming and gregarious spirit returned once more to this extraordinary island.

So, I guess, Dear Reader, you’d like to know what’s happened between the last update, from our arrival in Grenada on 17th December, till now?
In Prickly Bay (southern Grenada) Nigel found a previously unknown taste for rum; a lethal discovery, given our fatigued condition after sixteen days at sea. Having eaten a goodly meal - and here my memory of events become somewhat hazy – someone managed to take a picture of the two of us fast asleep with our heads on the table next to our empty plates. A little later, returning from the bar I was dismayed to discover Nigel lying curled up on the ground, having fallen sideways off his seat and banging his head on the ceramic tiles. Luckily, he sustained no lasting damage, and a nice young lady helped me get him back onboard.
We stayed a full week in Prickly Bay, getting our boat back into fighting fitness after the tribulations of the crossing. Yes, we finally managed to get that pesky genoa back up. We went shopping to stock up our diminished supplies, and had quite a few stomping evenings out, with much alcohol consumed. We also hauled the dinghy out of its stowage in the lazarette, inflated and engine shipped, and took it for a test run across the bay. From here on it would be a vital asset, as we would now be mostly anchored or moored out, there being an almost total absence of marinas in the Windward Islands.
It was here, at Prickly Bay’s marina bar, that we met our new friends, Jo and Andrew, a lovely Canadian couple with their catamaran, Sierra Hotel. Our paths were to cross several times in the following weeks.
We left Prickly Bay early afternoon on Friday 23rd December, a lovely sail up the east coast of Grenada. It is said that one shouldn’t sail on a Friday, and sure enough, as we approached the northern tip of the island under full sail, a sudden fierce northeaster brought us a nasty squall that plunged the lee rail deep under water and had us scrambling to ease sheets and furl away some of the genoa. The remainder of the afternoon saw us battling into wind and swell; an uncomfortable passage making a paltry four knots under engine and as much sail as we dared. Thus, we arrived at Carriacou after dark, feeling our way gingerly past the reefs into Paradise Bay, dropping anchor in 3 metres in almost total darkness.
We found ourselves next to our friends on Sierra Hotel, and called them to come ashore and meet the locals. There ensued a boozy evening with Curtis and the guys from Off the Hook, and I was delighted to see my old friends Ingmar and Charlie again after my four-year absence.
Christmas Day in Carriacou kicked off with Irish Coffees, Andrew’s wicked version of Bloody Mary, fresh fruit salad, and a magnificent fried breakfast aboard Sierra Hotel, after which we all adjourned to Island Spirit for lunch. While the latter was mostly liquid, I had prepared an enormous bowl of Russian Salad with cheese and crackers, and this was gradually demolished throughout the afternoon. We eventually climbed unsteadily into our dinghies and hit the Off the Hook once more - and I regret to report that nobody remembers returning to our respective vessels that night.
We spent the next few days relaxing on the soft, white sands of paradise bay, whiling away the evenings chatting sociably with other yachtsmen and holidaymakers, and getting sensibly sozzled. 29th December was my birthday, and while I rarely mark yet another year’s passing, Curtis’ girlfriend cooked a special goat curry, gratis on the house; sufficient in quantity to share with a few of our friends. That was also the day Pamela and Steve arrived from England. I have known them from my Warwickshire days and they came to the island on my recommendation, staying in Curtis’ modest holiday chalet on the beach for two weeks break from their swimming-school business.
Early in the new year we motored around the corner to Tyrrel Bay, a somewhat crowded but well-sheltered anchorage where we watered ship and got some maintenance done on the dinghy outboard. But by now we were both getting restless. Time to move on, we agreed.
Pam & Steve England - Great Day Out


On 9th January we took Steve and Pam out to White Island for an enjoyable day’s snorkelling and lunch onboard, and the following day, booked out of Grenada, upped anchor and sailed north.
Heading North at Last!
The four-hour passage to Union Island passed unremarkably, although the sailing was good and blew away the Christmas cobwebs. Unfortunately, while anchoring in Clifton Bay my ancient anchor windlass decided to give up the ghost. We were in 12 metres at the time, with the hook firmly on the sandy seabed. So, reluctant to let out any more chain that would have to be recovered by hand, we hauled it back up and took a mooring buoy instead. A local engineer later took a look – and, in typical fashion, shook his head sadly and sucked his teeth; the old girl was a dead duck. After much discussion, I decided to muddle through without the windlass until we reached Martinique, where we could get expert opinion and a possible solution.
One highlight worth mentioning, was Happy Island, a quirky little bar out on the reef, that can only be reached by dinghy. To this day, we can’t remember which one of us drove the dinghy back that evening, but thankfully we woke up next morning safely back onboard. Two days later, on 12th January, we sailed to Tobago Cays, a mere two-hours passage with the aid of a kindly breeze.
Gliding into this beautiful marine park with its startlingly bright blue water, we managed to find a sandy anchorage in four metres, making less work to haul up again. 




Here we met up once more with our friends on Sierra Hotel, and passed the next two days snorkelling and swimming among the turtles, and of course, visiting each other’s vessels for sundowners.
Tobago Cays is completely devoid of human habitation, being manned in the daytime by seaborne park wardens and “boat boys” offering a variety of goods and services, such as taking your garbage, delivering fresh bread in the mornings, and beer and rum in the afternoon. Oh, and the ubiquitous “mountain tea” of St Vincent, of course.
There is one special phenomenon I should note about this amazing place; at night, when the moon is up and the water calm, one can look down and see the bottom as distinctly as if there were no water there at all. You can trace all the anchor chains arraigned along the seabed, with fish and turtles just gliding as if through air. The effect is quite breath-taking. (No, dear reader, it wasn’t the “mountain tea”)
Yacht flying the White Ensign in Tobago Cays
On the morning of Saturday, 14th January we said farewell to Sierra Hotel (who were heading south), weighed anchor, and made the short crossing to Canouan, a small, sparsely inhabited island to the north of the Cays. We anchored in Friendship Bay just past noon and took the dinghy ashore to look for provisions. Apart from a dilapidated fish dock where we parked the dinghy, this southern side of the island had little to offer, so we walked up a monstrously steep road, then down the equally steep other side, to a small village. Here we found a modest grocery store, and fresh fruit and veg sold by the roadside. And a pleasant little beach bar…
The following day, Sunday, we sailed for Bequia
Admiralty Bay, Bequia
We took a mooring buoy in Admiralty Bay, close to the several dinghy docks at Port Elizabeth, and went ashore to reconnoitre. Being Sunday however, the little town was quiet and that first excursion, brief; after a few drinks in one of the harbour-side bars, we returned onboard for supper. We were in need of rest, and still had Monday and Tuesday to enjoy the place.
Port Elizabeth is a pleasing little ferry port with markets and good provisioning, and a host of waterside bar/restaurants, many with their own dinghy docks. A quirky little walkway along the waterfront connects all these establishments - a barefoot stroll; slopping waves can ambush the unwary.
Port Elizabeth
Nigel spent most of that first day on his phone to his business manager dealing with some contract or other that needed his input, while I took off shopping for provisions. In the splendid fruit and veg market, I bought papayas, christophines and bananas, then some domestic essentials from the supermarket. Eventually we met up again and adjourned to one of those cute little bars; The Whaleboner, where we had lunch - not all of it liquid, and chatted to an English couple on holiday.
On Wednesday morning, after two agreeable but unremarkable days in Bequia, we slipped our mooring and headed north for Rodney Bay, St Lucia. 
That was the plan, anyway; to sail directly there with an overnight passage. However, motor-sailing in a light breeze became a tad tedious, and by 1700 we found ourselves seduced by Wallilabou Bay, a beautiful little anchorage on the west coast of St Vincent (where most of the filming took place for Pirates of the Caribbean), and decided to call in. The only problem was, we couldn’t find a shallow enough anchorage – neither of us fancied hauling up the anchor chain by hand from 12 metres. So we settled for Kearton’s Bay next door, where we took a mooring buoy and, with the help of a local boatman, deployed the spare danforth anchor as a kedge to hold us off the shore.
“De mooring am free,” the boatman told us, “long as you use de restaurant.”
I looked around the deserted, reef-bound beach and sheer rock-face surrounding the bay, and saw nothing remotely resembling a restaurant – not even a shack. I certainly didn’t want to beach the dinghy on that rocky shore. I shrugged, nonplussed, at the boatman.
“Der, in de corner, mon,” he called, “see de steps up de cliff?”
In the dying light of dusk the steps were barely visible, but there, in faded blue paint, I made out ‘Rock Side Café’. I gave him a dubious look and exchanged glances with Nigel.
“Call when you ready go ashore,” the boatman called, “and dey send a boat for you.”
At the top of the rough-hewn steps we found a magical garden, lush with flowers and shrubs, then the quaint little open air restaurant where trestle tables were laid for dinner. Two other boats were moored in the bay, and their crews were already seated at one of the tables. We were greeted by Rosi, the German lady of the house. We declined the complimentary rum punch (“we’ll have it after dinner”), and settled instead for a couple of beers. Dinner was fresh grilled Tuna and a vast array of salads and side dishes. And it was delicious.
Early the following morning we used the dinghy to recover the kedge, then slipped the mooring.
The crossing between St Vincent and St Lucia was a real bitch, with a big swell and 20+ knots of wind against us. The weather was too heavy for the autopilot, so Nigel took the wheel while I lay reading/snoozing in the saloon (Nigel relishes the challenge of hand steering in rough conditions – and who am I to deny him?). We reached the Pitons, St Lucia’s famous landmark, at around 1500, and with some fifteen miles still to go to our destination it was clear we wouldn’t make it before nightfall. 
The Pitons, St Lucia
Despite my pilot-station chart plotter, I’m loath to enter an unfamiliar anchorage at night, so we decided to drop the hook for the night off Anse Cochon, a nondescript but sheltered bay halfway up the coast. Having yet to clear in to St Lucia, I hoisted the “Q” flag opposite the country’s courtesy flag, and, like the good mariners we are, we left the dinghy on its davits.
We slipped into Rodney Bay Marina at 1140 next morning and took a pontoon berth. We needed water, and besides, it was time the batteries had a good charge up from shore power. First things first though; after booking in I joined Nigel at the bar, and we drank the afternoon away swapping sea stories with other yachtsmen. Oh, and we took our first hot shower since La Palma, back in October. Lovely! Next morning a lady came to collect our long-overdue laundry and returned it that afternoon, clean, dry and folded.
Rodney Bay Marina, St Lucia
On Saturday evening, I bumped into an old friend; Colin Thomas*, with whom I’d first sailed the Atlantic four years ago; he, more than anyone else, gave me the inspiration and courage sail my own yacht single-handed from Greece to Spain (see my early blog entries), a voyage I now consider much more arduous and risky than the Atlantic crossing. 
Memories of Summer Breeze with Colin Thomas and Friends
I had already met Colin again briefly during our stay in Union Island, and his opening words then were: “So you did learn something from me after all?”. If you’re reading this, Colin, yes, and thanks.
Later that night we joined a bunch of German yachtsmen for a barbeque in the local village of Gros Islet, a rip-roaring evening with much beer and good food consumed, then later, after Nigel got a taste for Mudslides (a fabulous concoction of vodka, baileys, tia-maria, cream, and chocolate syrup), found ourselves in a noisy, crowded bar in Rodney Bay Village. Once again, collective memory loss (and propriety) prevents me adding more details to that night.
Mudslide - Nigel's New Tipple
On Sunday (22nd Jan) morning, we anchored out in the bay to save money (for all its advantages, the marina is expensive), but that didn’t stop our shoretime excursions – that’s what the dinghy’s for, after all.
We finally left St Lucia on Tuesday (24th), arriving in Marin, Martinique later that afternoon. We spent the first night in the overcrowded anchorage, then moved alongside the marina to get that damned windlass seen to. After two days tutting, shaking of heads, wringing of hands, arguing, heart-searching, and hard negotiations, I finally went with a brand-new replacement windlass at a cost of 2000 Euros; a decision made tougher because I had to borrow the money.
It was in the marina at Marin that I met an old friend from Lanzarote. Trevor, a retired judge, crossed with the Barbados Fifty rally in early November (far too early, in my opinion), and had just arrived from Barbados, where his wife, Corrie, had joined him. Over a few beers, he regaled us with his stories of hilarious (and often unlikely) judicial scenarios, and, as a criminal barrister, with some of the less-than-savoury characters he defended. As a natural raconteur, Trevor has managed to abolish the awkward silence in conversation, and Nigel never seemed to tire of his long, drawn-out (but nonetheless, funny) anecdotes. I guess my listening-fatigue was due to having heard them all before in Arrecife. Trevor remains, nevertheless, a valued and likeable friend (I hesitate to say rogue, but he is, after all, a lawyer).
On Saturday (4th Feb), spanking new windlass fitted, we sailed round to Fort du France, anchoring at 1130 under the shelter of the great wall of the fort, close to the town with its long and spacious dinghy dock.
The word city is a vague and frequently misused term in the Caribbean, but Fort du France is, in every sense of the word, a city, complete with tall office blocks, hotels, and grand civic architecture. The pavements are clean, well maintained, and wide, and its people, whether black, white or unspecified, are undeniably French. The women dress like French women, stylish and beautiful, and the men behave like Frenchmen, self-assured, humorously rude and slightly patronising to foreigners. French, and French Creole, are the only languages spoken (though many more of the population speak English than you would expect in the continental homeland), and the Euro is the only currency.
And Martinique, like the rest of the French Antilles, is notionally and politically French, so, as Europeans, we get all the privileges afforded to any Brit visiting the European mainland. Good, eh?
Until Brexit, that is… don’t get me started!
And like France, everything closes at the weekend. So, the following day, Sunday, we weighed anchor and sailed north for Dominica, agreeing to call here again on the way back for a longer stay, and so exploit all this European oasis in the tropics has to offer.
Once again, we spent Sunday beating to windward in heavy seas, and finally had to drop anchor in Roseau Bay; another non-landing overnight stop. The following morning, Monday, a few miles from our destination, we were intercepted by a Coastguard patrol launch; flashing blue lights as she streaked towards us.
“Good morning, Sir,” came the voice on #16 as the boat took station a few feet to leeward, “what is the name of your vessel?”
I resisted the temptation to glance over the stern to see if the name had been wiped off the transom. Besides, he must have been tracking my AIS signal, so he knew full well who we were.
“Island Spirit,” I replied, “and good morning to you. What can I do for you?”
“This is a routine check. We will now ask you some questions, after which we may board your vessel.”
For the next twenty minutes, as we drifted gently ahead together in a light breeze, he questioned me about my registration details, last ports, destination, next ports, names of persons on board, etc, with long pauses in between, presumably while he checked my replies and consulted his flow chart.
Finally, “Thank you, Sir, welcome to Dominica, and have a good time in Portsmouth.”
With that the launch roared away, towards his next victim; a catamaran sailing closer inshore.
As we entered the Prince Rupert’s Bay, another vessel raced towards us, this time a small, garishly painted speedboat of the type seen everywhere in the islands, usually there to sell you something you don’t need at a price pushed to the limits of credibility.
“Good morning,” the young guy shouted, a cheerful grin as he drew alongside, “welcome to Dominica!”
“Good morning,” I called back, “are you PAYS?”
He nodded, and I said, “Show me your card.”
He closed in, still smiling, and held up the plastic card that hung on a chain about his neck.
Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services. I’d read it up from the Imray Cruising Guide, how the local people had got together and evicted all the aggressive boat boys in order to provide services to a high standard at reasonable prices, and without the belligerent pushiness usually encountered at popular locations. This is what makes Portsmouth such an attractive anchorage for visiting yachtsmen; a model that has won much acclaim throughout the boating community.
I noted his name, and told him to come and see us after we’d anchored.
“You need a mooring?” he asked.
“No, we’ll anchor.”
He nodded, flashed another smile, and sped off ahead.
We anchored among several other yachts, a couple of hundred yards from a neat little dinghy dock leading up the beach, behind which, among waving palms and lush greenery, stood the PAYS reception office. To its left was another stone building; a bar with free WIFI, run by PAYS, and to the right, along the sandy beach, another dinghy dock with a line of shanty-style bars and restaurants, some of which were already populated by members of the yachting community.
The Island of Many Rivers. And why? Because it’s nearly always raining. The verdant, lush greenery here is astonishing; every space not occupied by a building is filled with trees and shrubs – you can almost see the stuff growing. Breadfruit, avocado, papaya, banana, mango, passionfruit, all sprout wild among a dazzle of richly flowering shrubs. As we explored ashore, we saw men with cutlasses, chopping back the encroaching vegetation from buildings and gardens. Brightly coloured blooms of countless exotic variety bursting through garden fences and cascading over rooftops, great bunches of fruits hanging ripe and juicy from above.
Supernature!
And the people here are also different from those on other islands, perhaps a product of their gentle environment. This is arguably the least economically developed island in all the Lesser Antilles; no hotels or resorts have sprung up here as they have elsewhere, and there is little in the way of tourist amenities. So their only income is from the abundance of local produce. But while the poverty here is palpable – the people are kind, generous, polite, and extraordinarily helpful. Here, for example, you don’t buy ‘mountain tea’ – they give it to you.
“It grow wild everywhere, mon, so why I want to take your money?”
We went to a back-street bar – little more than an improvised shack really, and a grinning black face bade us welcome and paid for our beers.
Perhaps I’ve overegged it a little – as everywhere, there are exceptions. Once or twice in the main town we were accosted by folk wanting a couple of dollars, ostensibly to buy food. But that doesn’t detract from the kindness of the general population, and even those beggars weren’t pushy or aggressive, and accepted our refusal with good grace.
The day after our trip to Morne Diablotin we took a boat trip up the Indian River. Here, motorboats are prohibited, and we were rowed up river by Boodah, our guide from yesterday, one of half a dozen official guides employed by PAYS.

Dr Boodah
Boodah, we discovered, has a doctorate in botany, and as he pulled the boat effortlessly upriver, he entertained us with interesting and anecdotal facts about the plants and trees along the densely-vegetated riverbank. Along the way we saw herons hunting on the muddy bank, iguanas swivelling their weird eyes down at us from high up in the trees above, tiny frogs with big luminous eyes that glow in the dark and give rise to ghostly folk superstitions, and the shapes of great fish gliding silently beneath us through the turbid, brown water.
In a quiet backwater of the river, we stopped at a roughly-built shack on a pile of rotting tree debris. The ramshackle structure was wet and slimy, hanging with weed and creepers, and exuded a sinister and evil presence, which was clearly the intention. It was almost theatrical - it could surely have no practical use?

The Witch's Cottage - apparently
This was built for the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean, Boodah enlightened us. It was apparently the witch’s hut. But never having seen the film, there was no connection for me. I assume it was the same for Nigel, for he just stared at the ghastly edifice in blank silence. I took a picture, nevertheless.
Finally we stopped at a rickety wooden pier, where we climbed out to stretch our legs.
“Dis way, folks,” said Boodah, leading the way along a neat little pebble path. And there, in amongst the wild forest, was the strangest and most unlikely thing.
A Bar!





0700 Monday 13 February 2017
We’ve been in Dominica for a week, and it’s time to go.
We wanted longer; Nigel especially eager to explore the wild places around the island; the unmanaged forests, the mountains and rivers, the hot springs and the sites of the original inhabitants; the Arawak and the Carib Indians, the former now long wiped out, the latter still evident in a handful of the island’s modern population.
Such a safari would need a couple of weeks, and would require proper hiking gear and camping equipment; which we don’t have. And Nigel’s flight home is on the 21st Feb.
From St Lucia.
One day, I hope to come back and do it alone – or perhaps he’ll be back for his unfinished business.
Since his recent visit to the Pompey and Herculaneum ruins, Nigel’s got a bee in his bonnet about visiting St Pierre on Martinique, the island’s former capital before the 1902 eruption of Mt Pelée wiped out the entire population. I’ve agreed to stop there briefly on the way south. For that, Dear Reader, you’ll need to wait for my next update. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it; and perhaps feel inspired to seek an adventure of your own. Don’t forget to leave a comment or two below – it helps to gather new followers.


·  * Colin is an RYA Yachtmaster Instructor with more than twenty Atlantic crossings under his belt, and author of the Gibraltar Straits Handbook. He now runs sailing holidays with his yacht, Summer Breeze, in the Caribbean.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Log of the Island Spirit (MMSI 235113215)– Atlantic Crossing

Crew: Mike Rothery (Skipper); Nigel Sampson (Mate)

Nigel fixing the Veggie Net
Floating Bar, Mindelo
A Great Place to Meet & Greet
All Ready to Go!
Thursday 1st December 2016
2100 - 16 38.5N 25 22.7W Co 260 Sp 5
The last two days taken up trying to source provisions for the big passage; very frustrating, especially on the bread front. Should have stored up for the full month-long passage in Canaries. Apart from that, Cabo Verde was worth the stopover, as you will see from Nigel’s following contribution.

The floating bar is a magic place, buzzing from breakfast till late. We spent many a pleasant hour there socialising (and trying to connect to WIFI, which was slow everywhere). Here’s some of the memorable characters we made friends with:
Phil, the American alcoholic; okay when half sober, but not much cop after 11am.
Heinz and Karin, an Austrian couple on a Lagoon 42 anchored out in the bay (more on them later). Then there’s Philip who’s German but sent to England for his education by parents fearful of his involvement with the home drugs scene. Nice guy, once you get past the public school/Oxbridge affectations. This tall, muscular, twenty-something Adonis was crewing for a German couple, but jumped ship at the last moment due to “unspecified difficulties”. Apparently, the parting was amicable enough.
We also met up with Jaques & Odelle, a gregarious French couple with their bright-yellow plywood RM whom we’d first encountered in La Palma.
Finally, Shayla, a waitress at the floating bar who took us shopping – good to have someone along who knows where stuff can be found.

Despite all the difficulties of getting our engine repaired (faulty Bendix on the starter motor) and that pesky autopilot (drive belt misaligned on the clutch), and the hassle of re-provisioning in a subsistence backwater, we had a great time in Mindelo. Though for a heart-stopping moment on the first night, I thought our adventure had come to a horrible early end when Nigel, after one too many local rum cocktails, fell headfirst down the companionway. Luckily the saloon sole-boards broke his fall, and probably due to his ultra-relaxed condition, he survived with only a bruised shoulder.
On Monday (28th Nov), leaving me in the Floating Bar to write up the previous Blog, Nigel went on a trip with friends Heinz and Karin to the neighbouring island of Santo Antao. Here’s his account of that trip, and some of his pictures.

We caught the 0800 ferry (€8 each) to Porto Novo, where we spent the first 20 minutes negotiating for a taxi/minibus. Ended up paying €47 to share a ride with a few others. Drove all along the coast road round the north of the island to Ponta do Sol, a sleepy little backwater with an airstrip. Most of the roads are basalt-cobble, not the quietest of road surfaces. Driver didn’t mind stopping a few times for photos, though from the glum faces of our fellow-passengers, I suspect our frequent calls to halt caused them some irritation. The coastline is scattered with small fishing villages, while inland on the western side, the lush volcanic slopes of this greenest of all the islands provide most of Cabo Verde’s fruit and vegetables.
Some of the views were spectacular; steep caldera and jagged knife-edge ridges. Sometimes the vertical drop was on both sides of the narrow road! (No, Mike, it’s not called a bridge, it’s a ridge).






Karin & Heinz
I was still hard at work blogging when they finally returned at around 1830, so I declined the invitation to join H&K on their boat for dinner, urging Nigel to go ahead and finish his day with this charming couple, something I came to regret later when he couldn’t stop going on about how nice everything was, the great food, the spacious boat with all the mod cons (multiple fridges, generator, water maker, washing machine, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Yawn).

Yesterday we had a young lady come by asking if we knew anyone needing transat crew. Said the could cook, hand and steer, and had been the chief provisioner on the tall=ship that bought her here. Lexie was late-twenties and had the look of good sailorly qualities about her. She talked about her skills at breadmaking and veggie cooking, as well as her abilities to plan provisioning. In fact, as I soon discovered, she talked a lot. When she finally left us alone, I suggested to Nigel she might be a useful addition to the crew. “Your call, Skipper.” was all he said. That evening we met up with Lexie in the bar and I questioned her further, telling her of the hardships she would have to endure on a small, elderly sloop, sleeping in the saloon with little space for her kit (and banjo!!), and with two of those nasty carnivores to feed each day – in fact, two grumpy old geezers who smoked and farted and snored (at least, Nigel does). She wasn’t at all put off, and so I invited her to move her kit onboard and stay overnight. In the morning, we would both decide if it was a go or nogo.
In the end, Lexie didn’t work out, and after I asked her to leave the boat, we both knew we’d made the right decision. Nice girl, but far too much to say, very critical of our preparedness for the crossing, ambivalent in her commitment to the passage, and quite manipulative in her dealings with us. So off she went, complete with giant kitbag and banjo, to another boat who hopefully found her a place.

We eventually got away just before two this afternoon, after waiting for our turn on the fuelling jetty, and very soon we were clipping along nicely on 15 knots of following wind, genoa on the pole and main goose-winged to starboard. Our “beautiful bunch of bright bananas” dangling from the stern gantry, and our supply of fresh fruit and veg hanging in a net under the bimini like an elephant’s testicles.
Last of Cabo Verde


Nigel Writes up his Diary

A Bath at Sea

Fishing for Supper

Madame du Sac

Knackered!




Hazardous Duty

The Perfect Lid!

And Off We Go1

Goose-winged & Poled Out

Fitting a New Autopilot

Hove To with Genny Poled

I’m now on watch until midnight, on a calm sea, following wind and swell, and the autopilot managing nicely with minimum rudder effort, under the glorious tropical star-canopy. Looks like we picked the perfect day to depart, and it seems we weren’t the only ones; for the lights of no less than ten other vessels dot the darkness around us. We seem to be gaining on a fourship-flotilla ahead, which may give us a problem if we get to overtake them. Nigel’s gone to bed, commenting: “This is quieter and calmer than the pontoon!” Very true; the surge in that marina was formidable, and relentless.
My intention is to remain (if possible) on this point of sail for the entire 15-17-day passage, keeping the wind almost dead astern, and thus allowing the gradually-veering easterlies to waft us southwest, then sweep us along a southerly Great Circle route on the 14th parallel.

Friday 2nd December
1542 – 16 11.0N 26 52.0W Co 250 Sp 5
Did I say the new autopilot was working well? Well hush my mouth and fill it with dog shit!
This morning she (we’ve dubbed her “Georgina”) she reverted to her all-too-often defunct status, grunting as she tried unsuccessfully to turn the wheel. Same trouble as before. Nigel hand-steered all morning, both of us daunted at the prospect of doing so for the next 17 days and dreading the prospect of creeping fatigue as the continuous vigilance and effort takes its toll. Finally, we faced the inevitable conclusion.
And what I haven’t told you, Dear Reader, is that I bought a second-hand spare autopilot unit in Mindelo, for just this eventuality, but in truth, not really believing it would be needed. Such an attitude of denial stems from the facts of undertaking such a task whilst underway in heavy seas; not least of these being the removal of the steering wheel. So, we bit the bullet, fitted the emergency tiller, hove to, removed the wheel, and got work. Wonder of wonders, it took less than an hour to complete the job, Nigel proving his technical skills with great aplomb, and soon we were underway once more feeling much relieved to have Georgina back in business.

Saddened by a trio of forlorn visitors this afternoon. The young egrets appeared from the south flying low over the great Atlantic swell, and began circling the boat, looking decidedly weary and barely able to stay airborne. They looked as if they wanted to land on the boat, but clearly put off by the sails and whirling wind genny. One even attempted a water-landing, lowering its long legs towards the breaking wavetops, but wisely thought better of it. They continued their hopeless circling for another ten minutes, me pointing the way to Africa and refuge, they tragically unable to comprehend, until finally struggling on northward to an undoubtedly watery end in a baffling and alien world. My spirits lifted half an hour later when a pod of large bottlenose dolphins arrived, surfing in grand formation down the precipitous swell. All this high drama on a warm, balmy afternoon with just 2100 miles to go.

Saturday 3rd December 2016
1249 – 15 15.3N 28 46.5W Co 280 Sp 6
I should point out, Dear Reader, that all courses reported are in degrees magnetic. Right here, the variation is close to 18 degrees west, so our true course right now is nearer 260.

The wind has backed a little too much, and to keep my original plan would take us too far south – don’t fancy Brazil. So, this morning we took the genoa off the pole and continued a broad reach westward

2100 – 15 07.6N 26 33.8W – Hove to, making 1.5 kts to the south.
I make a point of not using bad language in my blogs, Dear Reader, but describing this latest occurrence, I just want to let rip with all the profanity at my disposal – which is substantial.
******!!!
At around 1645, engine on to charge batteries, I went below to fill in the log, and discovered the red “active” light on the stern gland bilge pump was on. Nigel had not long turned in, so rather than disturb him, I went into my cabin and ripped out my bed to investigate. Good news and bad. The stern gland was intact and not leaking. But… the engine bay was so full of water that it was flowing freely over the top and into the stern gland compartment. I then called Nigel, before opening the engine bay, to reveal a split cooling-water pipe from which copious amounts of seawater was pumping into the boat. It had long since flooded the engine bay, flowing freely into the main bilge and slowly sinking us. I killed the engine and groped down through the murky water to turn off the engine seacock. Reader, this was serious. Not only had we lost the engine, but we had a ton of water in the after bilges, which was even now seeping through the forward ones.
So, while Nigel assesses how to proceed to fix it, I lug down the toolbox and a length of spare hose from the cockpit lazarette, noting with some relief that Georgina was on course and carrying us along nicely.
Two hours later, both running with sweat and caked in black engine muck, we get the new pipe on and start the engine. She runs perfectly, no leaks, and exhaust water aplenty. “Get in there!”
We shake each other’s blackened greasy hands, before setting to work bailing out. That takes another four hours; hot, sweaty, filthy work, the two of us staggering about against the violent rocking, free surface water sloshing back and forth in the bilges as we try to balance buckets and bail out. by which time it’s fully dark and too late for food. At some point during our labours Georgina has decided to give up, slinging us off course into an untidy heave to. We decide to leave her hove to, nav lights and AIS collision alarm on, and go to bed.

Sunday 4th December 2016
0134 – 15 01.9N 26 34.7W – Hove to
I wake, and leave Nigel snoring as I check our position, write up the log, and prepare to get under way. He wakes at 0230, refreshed and raring to go. We get under way by 0300, on a broad reach making a bouncy 7 knots. We share the remaining night watch, me crashing in the saloon until 0530 while Nigel takes the helm – for some reason the autopilot’s fluxgate compass has gone wild, so Georgina can’t hold a course. We’ll investigate in the morning.

1415 – 14 58.1N 30 49.3W Co 280 Sp5.4
Wind now steady back easterly, so put the genoa back on the pole, and goose-winged the main. Only 12 knots or so of wind, so quite pleased with our 5+ knots. Still no joy with fluxgate compass – have removed all possible sources of interference from the nav-station area, but no change in its erratic behaviour. Tried powering down everything and starting up one at a time. No good. Damn!

(A few days later it mysteriously resets itself and Georgina’s up and running again. Eventually we discover that the fluxgate is tripping each time Nigel goes past the nav station with his iPad switched on. Even placing his machine on the saloon table can send the compass crazy, from a good two metres away. Okay, so now we know.)

Monday 5th December 2016
0610 – 14 57.3N 32 26.4W Co 290 Sp 6
Nigel: While on watch in middle of the night we had a visitor; a flying fish flew into the cockpit right in front of my face and landed in the piss bucket. After a quick look, I flipped it over the stern. Mid-afternoon yesterday a yacht passed about 2 miles astern flying a big spinnaker, en route to Brazil, judging by her course. First we’ve seen since Friday. Tried fixing the autopilot – thought we had it sussed, but it decided to go walkabout; Ward 4 by the looks of it. Just had a great skua flying around us. Out of filters for my rollups – couldn’t find any in Mindelo, not for lack of trying. Still hand-steering, but an uneventful day – thank God!

On flying fish. The novelty of flying fish quickly wore off over the next few days, with the beasts entering the cockpit and skidding across the sole, leaving their scales and smell everywhere. Every morning we’d find them littered across the decks and in every nook and cranny in the cockpit.

Wednesday 7th December 2016
1344 – 14 10.6N 37 41.6W Co 285 Sp 5.5
Nigel: Last night Mike told me about steering by the stars – he uses it a lot. Must try that. We’d been talking about fixing the fluxgate compass, and carrying out a compass swing, when Mike, at the wheel, lost concentration as a big wave slewed us to windward and backed the genny. Mike steered on around, boxing the compass, then oversteered and did the whole manoeuvre again. Glad I was in the cockpit to witness it – we fell about in fits of laughter.

Yes, Dear Reader, I boxed the compass, not once, but twice. What made it funnier, we’d just been talking about doing a compass swing to try and calibrate the fluxgate. No, it didn’t fix itself.

Nigel: Our big bunch of bananas have ripened a little earlier than we’d hoped. Any suggestions for recipes? Must have eaten half a dozen yesterday (burp). They taste beautifully sweet. Did the first VBlog today, Mike doing commentary with me at the wheel. The take out was funny. I cooked tagliatelle bolognaise tonight, and just managed to get it on the t5able before sunset.

2126 – 14 13.0N 38 24.6W Co 280 Sp 4.5
Nigel:  We now do 2 x 3-hour watches each night, so I practice sailing to the stars. In this instance, it was the star just behind the wing of Pegasus. This technique is brilliant, letting you look out all around, rather than staring at the compass for three hours. That is, until the clouds come and crash the party.

Nigel got gradually more accomplished at steering this way, using the glitter-paths from the setting Moon and Venus, Vega on the starboard shroud, and the various stars in Calliope and Pegasus.

Thursday 8th December 2016
1040 – 14 05.3N 41 16.1W Co 280 Sp 6
We now have around 1300 miles to go, and the last couple of days have passed pleasantly enough. The sea has become quite boisterous, but by now we’re well inured to the violent motion, coping well with cooking and cleaning, and even managing each to get a shower (seawater soap-down and fresh rinse) from time to time. This morning we have a new sail plan – Sailplan Charlie (Clipper Rig). Here we stow away the pole and the mainsail, and attach the genoa to the main boom. After a bit of trial and error, we discover this works best with the genny sheet hauled up tight to the boom. It’s wonderfully stable, easy to steer, even for Georgina, and gives us a good turn of knots in all wind speeds.

Saturday 10th December 2016
0315 – 13 53.4N 44 11.3W Co 280 Sp 5.5
I’ve secretly been on tenterhooks for the past week. Why? Because misfortunes usually come in threes, and the last week has been trouble-free; and I’ve been trying to second-guess lady fortune on what her next trick will be. Well, now we know; three hours ago, she let rip with a real sneaky one. The genoa decided to part company with the top hoist-swivel, sending the full sail sliding overboard to float serenely alongside, held only by the tack-shackle and the sheets. I was just coming on watch when it happened, so quickly donned lifejacket and went forward to recover the errant sail while Nigel started the engine and held her steady down wind and swell. I have no idea where I found the strength to get that great sail inboard, but soon I had it all lashed down on the foredeck. With the swivel-hoist still at the top of the mast, there was no chance of hoisting that sail again, so we got the main up and continued on our way, resigned, for the time being at least, to completing the remaining voyage on main only.

Over the next few days we discuss various strategies for getting that genny back up on its furled, and conclude that, while getting the hoist down again should be quite a simple task (using an improvised grapnel of fish hooks seized onto the spinnaker halliard), hoisting the sail in these conditions would be difficult and quite dangerous. We would need virtually zero wind, and because I’ve come far enough south to guarantee consistent trade winds, that seems highly unlikely.

Thursday 15th December 2016
2127 – 13 10.4N 57 42.6W Co 270 Sp 4.5
Our local time is UT -1, so for us, it’s still daylight. Wind down to 10 knots, so took the opportunity to pull down that hoist – our improvised grapnel worked a treat. However, attempts to get the genny hoisted failed miserably – so gave up that idea. The last five days have been characterised by wave after wave of heavy squalls, with the rain lashing down in torrents and the winds gusting 40 knots in sudden shifts, forcing us with our restricted sailplan to veer temporarily off course to keep from backing the main. When a squall hits it’s sudden and violent, forcing us to hand steer and react instantly to gusts and shifts as the boat gets slewed barely under control along at a ripping 9 knots. It's like driving a F1 racing car in the rain with dry-weather tyres. Scary but exhilarating. We have 249 miles to run and our ETA Prickly Bay, Grenada, is Saturday afternoon.

Saturday 17th December 2016
1352 – I’m awakened from my afternoon slumber with Nigel’s strident shout “Land Ho!”