Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Happy Days at Saba Rock (7-8 May 2013)

Most of our first day in the BVIs was taken up with paperwork - signing in with immigration, then finding Wifi to confirm our shipping place and sort out payment.  We needed to print and scan some forms for the shipping company, and it took a while to get everything sorted - helped by a friendly estate agent who let us use her office.  Finally we were free and could relax.  It was the 7th May, and we were shipping from the USVIs, slightly later than scheduled, on the 14th.

At the dinghy dock, we were delighted to finally meet Fiona and Iain on their Sadler 34 Ruffian - they knew several of our friends, including Oliver and Carlotta of Troskala, who were now anchored just the other side of the island.  We hadn't seen Troskala since Madeira, and it was time for a reunion.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Heading North (5 to 7 May 2013)

Limbo's rendezvous with a ship arranged, we were to head back round the corner to Jolly Harbour to regroup and get some provisions in, before hurrying to the BVIs.

Except the engine wouldn't start, leaving us feeling vulnerable in the fairly exposed anchorage. Normally switched separately to guard against exactly this eventuality, except when I forgot, our batteries had both been drained by our heavy laptop use courtesy of Dickenson Bay resort's wifi.  Not a good moment.  But for the first - and almost certainly last - time, we were grateful for jetskis: they use starter batteries. Lugging a heavy battery ashore in the dinghy, we asked nicely and it was soon hooked up to a charger for a few hours' boost.  We had a drink in the bar and wandered along the shore for a swim.  We couldn't help noticing the deadly bored demeanour of the holidaymakers there.  Perhaps they were disgruntled to find themselves on this rather scrubby outpost of a beach rather than among the gleaming white sands and reef-blue waters the Sandals brochure, no doubt, had promised...

We waited a decent amount of time, headed back, re-installed the battery, and were on our way.  Anchored again in Jolly Harbour, we told Bella of our plans and dinghied into the supermarket.  Hailed by a late middle-aged couple from their Legend on the way back, we went over for drinks and a chat.  A happier evening than the one before.

Rain off Antigua

We couldn't have asked for an easier trip north (or, from a sailing point of view, a less satisfactory one).   We left Antigua the next day with a nice breeze, and soon some heavy rain.  I waited outside the customs hut for more than an hour to clear out - the customs lady, totally unapologetic, explained she'd been doing her shopping. 

The plan was to head to Nevis, but it was straight to windward and we altered course for a more comfortable sail to St Martin.  But the often-boisterous Caribbean soon slept, and before long we were motoring over a sea calmer than we had seen for weeks.  Natalie, as Chief Dolphin Spotter, duly saw just those on her early evening watch.  The islands of Kitts and Nevis stood hazy-blue on the horizon to the west towards dusk, and we carried on through the night.  Shooting stars and lightning flickering silently on the horizon. It was a while since we'd done night watches.

Not long after dawn, we approached St Martin and dropped anchor in the large harbour. I had a swim. We slept. Later in the day we found the uncomfortably high-walled fuel berth where a friendly Rastafarian refilled our tanks, ready for the second half of the trip.  We got away without signing in.

At anchor off Saint Martin
We had a beautifully still afternoon sail along the well-developed, well-heeled coastline where jets come in to land just feet above the heads of sunbathers.  Saba was visible on the horizon, a stunning island I had glimpsed during a night passage on Trompeta years ago, and had vowed to visit. Maybe next time.

It was comforting to have islands in sight all the way on these two passages: Nevis, Kitts, Saba, St Barts...  For some time it was just us, the wind and the sound of the waves.  Sadly, inevitably, the wind died and it was back to the drone of the engine. We raised the BVIs early the next morning.

BVIs from the south
It was a stunning approach, sandy-green hillocks emerging as we came closer in the early morning light.  We passed through the high cliffs of the deserted, rocky chain of smaller islands to the south and into the shelter of the Sir Frances Drake channel.  An hour or so later we dropped anchor off Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. In lieu of sleep, we jumped in and swam in the invitingly clear water.

Final morning approach to Spanish Town, and the end of our 300-mile dash north.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A decision...1-3rd May 2013

We woke early and spent some time watching a dolphin (or was it a small whale?) swimming close to Limbo, until it headed out of Hermitage Bay into deeper water.  Deep Bay was just 3 miles away, and we headed off against the wind, our sail plan soon augmented with the engine to help against the steep chop.  It was only an hour, but not the most enjoyable passage.

Deep Bay is, not too surprisingly, a deep and indented bay, and notable for the wreck of the Andes in the entrance - its mast just breaking the surface.  The Andes sunk in 1905, carrying a cargo of pitch which caught fire, and sits at a depth of only 30 feet or so.  We spotted a large turtle as we passed.  A quiet anchorage with just a few boats.

Rainbow over Deep Bay

The next day was dry and we headed over to the wreck with our snorkel gear in the dinghy.  Wreck snorkelling was an eery experience, and the visibility wasn't great (think dark shapes looming out of the murky waters..) so we didn't stay in too long.  The afternoon was spent exploring the 18th century battery on the north side of the bay and a stroll along the empty beach towards the 'Grand Royal Antiguan Resort', which seemed strangely deserted.  We did see a mongoose - but where was everyone?  It was late season, but not that late.

We headed a few miles further north in the morning and anchored off the Sandals resort at Dickenson Bay - a shallow and fairly unprotected anchorage, the beach far from deserted and with jetskis - but we were there for the wifi!  It was a stressful day as we waited for replies to emails and worked through our options.  I'd previously thought there was a ship leaving in late May, but now discovered that the service was unconfirmed.  Limbo would have to be on the MV Fagelgracht, due into St Thomas in the BVIs on 12/13 May (10 days!) or we would either be sailing back or effectively abandoning Limbo to a boatyard somewhere.  Not keen to end our trip so soon, I even looked into shipping to the Med then sailing back, via the canals, but this looked expensive and complicated. We had an email from our friends on Amorosa, who were in a similar situation, and confirmed they were putting their Sadler 25 on the same ship.  In a way, that made our minds up.

By the end of the day, we had a confirmed space on a ship for Limbo, and seats on a flight for us a week later.

I felt a mixture of relief at the end of our period of indecision and great sadness that the adventure was coming to an end in what felt like an abrupt way.  Looking back, much as I liked the idea of arriving back in Falmouth Harbour with all flags flying, I think it was the right thing to do.  I've done that crossing before, on board La Cautiva (85 feet) and that year we were heavily reliant on a large engine and generous fuel tanks to get to the Azores. Alternatively it can be rough, with prolonged headwinds, and long passages aren't as much fun on a very small boat when it's cold and wet and at a constant heel.  Maybe we would have had a pleasant passage; but perhaps the best way to describe our decision is that we just didn't feel psyched up to do it.  This way Limbo would be home safe and sound in a few weeks, and we would have good memories of our ocean crossing.

We went for a swim and, afterwards, my eyes filled with tears as we watched the sun set.

Deserted beach at Deep Bay

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Jolly Harbour and Rendezvous Bay (25th to 30th April 2013)

Mondango leaving Antigua.  A mere 170 feet.
We left English Harbour in light winds, sailing west passed the Pillars of Hercules - column-like rock formations on the cliff face - with the wind behind us.

The white sands of Rendezvous Bay glistened in the sunshine and Montserrat and Redonda were clearly visible on the horizon; it was a good day for heading through the Goat's Head Passage, a narrow channel between the shore and a reef off the island's south west coast, instead of taking the detour in deeper water around Cades Reef.

Shallow water sailing
It was Limbo's first taste of reef sailing; polarised sunglasses made the colours of the water more obvious as we kept clear of the aqua-marine shallows, disconcertingly close to port, and stayed in the deeper coloured (and, umm, deeper depthed..) blue of the channel.  The wind was dead aft at this point, without much sea-room to sail at a more comfortable angle with less risk of gybing, but we were soon through the passage and round the southwest corner of the island, very close to the coast, where we headed up more comfortably into the wind.

Gliding towards Jolly Harbour
The water here is incredible.  It changes from the deeper blue of the ocean to a chalky, vivid almost jelly-like light blue; hard to describe except with a photo.  We had a fantastic time sailing close hauled up the coast, through this beautiful water, sheltered by the land, watching a squall hit the sea on the horizon.  It was a shame to arrive at Jolly Harbour; we took the sails down at the last possible moment and headed in to anchor outside the harbour, where it is all very shallow.

Tropical squall.
It was always fascinating to see who was already moored at any new harbour.  Here, it was Bella - a Hallberg Rassey 352, crewed by Ulrike and Matthias from Germany.  We hadn't seen them since Madeira; cue a wonderful impromptu evening on board (my birthday!) catching up with our stories and plans.  The next morning, slightly hungover, we were more than pleased to see Matthias heading towards us in the dinghy with a delivery of bread and fresh croissants...

Jolly Harbour itself, entered through a narrow cut into what used to be swamp (rather like Rodney Bay marina in Saint Lucia), is a rather overdeveloped marina surrounded by identikit waterfront properties, many with their own dock.  Built in 1992, it felt slightly run down and in need of investment.  But it had an unusually good supermarket (complete with some Waitrose Essentials products - we've no idea how they ended up there!), and the anchorage itself was pleasant and sheltered, if sometimes rolly, off a reasonable beach; and, of course,  surrounded by that blue...  There were pelicans too.

Under our excellent awning - made to our specification by Island Canvas, IoW.
Our plans still weren't clear. I checked on laying-up prices in the marina, but half-heartedly.  Bella was soon sailing back - why weren't we?  We felt lethargic and under the weather, and far from primed for action.  We had another evening with Ulrika and Matthias, at the marina bar for happy hour, joined by the crew of a steel live-aboard called Tranquilo.  We practised our German.

The long dinghy ride back to Limbo was starlit, but the atmosphere was rather spoilt by another sighting of our large resident cockroach.  I caught him (or her) crawling over a sandal in the cabin and managed to flick it overboard.  We hoped this wasn't one of many (we never saw another, fortunately - once acquired, they are hard to get rid of!).

We continued up the coast in the morning, with our shortest ever trip, to Hermitage Bay - just over half a mile round the point, but even less than that as the crow (or pelican) flies.  The trip had its interest though, as we passed through the Five Islands channel, using an island off the headland as a transit and passing close to a prominent rock (seen in the third photo above).  It was a quiet anchorage with just a couple of other boats (including Jambalaya, a lovely Caribbean-built charter schooner), and right off an upmarket beach hotel. The advantage of this was unsecured wifi; I picked up an email from a broker explaining that they weren't interested in selling boats worth less than US 40,000 or so.  It was not encouraging.

Monday, 10 November 2014

English Harbour and Antigua Classics. 19-25th April 2013.

The Antigua Classics Regatta: above all other events, this was the one I had wanted to make.  A week of the world's most beautiful yachts, racing close offshore, combined with a buzzing atmosphere - I couldn’t wait.

We arrived on the second day of racing, the weather humid, wet and gusting to 30 knots.  Most of the classics moor in Falmouth, but we watched the few moored near us in English Harbour up-anchor and head out into the rain, heeled well over.  Later, we went ashore to clear in; a convoluted process with the usual grumpiness from the officials (and, in Antigua, more expensive than elsewhere, including daily fees for anchoring).  The place seemed much the same as it had 14 years before, apart from the addition of a large super yacht dock in a corner of the harbour, removing some of the anchoring space.

Kate, a replica of a 1909 America's cup yacht, heads out into the squalls.  

Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour
The weather clearing slightly, we walked across to Falmouth Harbour - just half an hour away - to see the yachts returning from the race. There was activity everywhere as they docked, crews calling good-naturedly to each other across the pontoons. Two boats at least had lost masts, including the Alfred Mylne yawl Blue Peter.  Her crew looked understandably downcast, and she earned a round of applause as her lines were thrown ashore. (Coincidentally, I was on a sailing course with her owner and skipper many years ago, just before he took extremely early retirement from a not entirely unlucrative city trading job. But it didn’t seem the moment to say hello).  

Blue Peter returns from racing on Day 2...
We wandered the pontoons for some time, taking photographs, and saying hello to a couple on board a boat we recognised from the Saintes.  Over everything towered the silver masts of Maltese Falcon, not unimpressive at 289 feet, but horribly ugly nonetheless.  Our gaze was drawn much more by the svelte, sweeping lines of perfect varnish and teak decking of the real classics, many with famous names. 

Spirited Lady of Fowey returns. The same class of boat seen in the Bond film Casino Royale.

I chatted to the owner of Troubadour, the yacht I’d photographed sailing off Guadeloupe, and gave him my memory card to copy the pictures from.  I had hoped he might have room for an extra crew member, but it was not to be.  In ’99 I had raced here on board Arita, a 48’ John Alden owned by the charismatic South African Rob DeHaan - a real sailor in every respect - and it remains one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Hard on the wind on board Arita, Antigua Classics, 1999
The evening before we had watched a Hallberg Rassy 42 motor into the harbour. Her name was Trompeta and she had been here in Antigua exactly 14 years ago, my younger self on board.  Later, in 2003, I went on to join her retired owner, John Arregger, on a trip across the South Pacific, as he continued his circumnavigation.   

She was moored on the wall in Nelson’s Dockyard and we went over to say hello to the owners, who had just completed the World ARC rally (a tightly scheduled dash around the world in 15 months - why?).  They had bought Trompeta from John Arreger just before his death, but never met him.  Sadly, I had not been in touch for some years, but I believe he continued on to Australia and the Indian Ocean before he had to give up for health reasons, the boat being delivered back to the UK.  I wondered where the other people I’d met then were now…

Nelson's Dockyard in 1999 - much the same as today!  In the background is Irene, a west country trading schooner.  She lost her mizzen mast in that year's races.
We had a happy few days in English Harbour.  Limbo was perfectly placed for the parade of sail. Cheering mingled with bagpipes and cannon fire! 

The parade of sail.

Lone Fox
The view from Limbo.
We joined the crowds watching the friendly layday sculling races by Nelson’s Dockyard. We spent some hours on the cliffs photographing one of the races (photography heaven!), getting some good shots from above and narrowly avoiding sunstroke, went out for my birthday for a great meal at one of the places on the strip between English and Falmouth Harbours, drunk some rum, and had a great evening at the obligatory sunset barbecue at Shirley Heights, with legendary views of English Harbour.  

We were delighted to see Christian, of the 70 foot Alina from Madeira, who arrived on a delivery trip.  We'd seen him last in Cape Verde, crewing on a friend's yacht.  We were delighted to hear him call over to us, and dinghied over to him later on, but sadly he soon had to fly off for another charter delivery.  Friends are quickly made in this kind of life, but goodbyes are frequent.

Classics from the cliffs

Watching the gig races.

Gig racing, English Harbour layday

Shirley Heights sunset. Limbo just visible!

We left on my birthday after refuelling at Antigua Slipway.  This was where I’d lived on board La Cautiva, a 78 foot steel ketch, while prepping her for the voyage back to England.  I have more than a few good memories of that square mile or so of English Harbour.    

With the crew of La Cautiva, English Harbour, 1999. About to depart for the Azores.

Limbo and Natalie, in the same spot, 2013.

The blog is not dead!

It's been a while.  Life, our wedding (and, more prosaically, a broken laptop) have taken precedence over the blog since our return, but a few more posts will follow to complete the story, together with - eventually - some technical details on the boat and our equipment.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Bashing onwards to Antigua (19 April 2013)

It was a grey, unfriendly morning, but it was time to get to sea if we were to catch Antigua Classics.

Deshaies to English Harbour is further than many of the inter-island passages, meaning a 0700 start to be sure of arriving in daylight. The wind was still blowing, but - as we'd discovered - Deshaies seemed to be an almost permanently windy anchorage. It was tempting to wait another day, but we'd signed out with immigration the night before...

A damp arrival
I hauled up the anchor and Natalie steered Limbo out past the other boats. I went on deck to get the main up. I didn't hesitate to put a couple of reefs in, until we knew what the conditions were like; the trip was likely to be hard on the wind all the way.  We unfurled the genoa and heeled over as we headed out of the sheltered bay. We would be in the lee of the island for a few miles, out of the worst of the sea, but our Doyle guide told us to expect more wind until we were clear of the coast.

We headed north past the green, craggy shore. We had about force six with stronger gusts which heeled Limbo right over, more than I was comfortable with. It was rough, bucking right into the waves. If it hadn't been for our book's promise of less wind in a couple of miles, we would probably have turned back. Natalie hung on to the tiller while, safety harness clipped on, I climbed up onto the cabin roof to pull down the third reef. Now we were more under control, but the boat was sagging down to leeward, away from our course. Motor sailing was the way forward, and I put the engine on with fairly low revs to keep us pointing up into the wind.

Further out, we found no less wind but bigger waves of probably 2.5 to 3 metres. Sailing home, I couldn't help thinking, could involve days of this as we headed up to Bermuda.. But we were making progress, and would be there that evening, and we could cope.

The 42 mile trip was a long slog of torrential rain, scudding grey skies and 30 knot squalls, followed by calm periods which left Limbo rolling around awkwardly in  the lumpy seas. We got cold, too cold, and wet. Antigua was visible in the gloom a few miles out, looking like an island somewhere off Scotland rather than in the Caribbean. A big, 65 foot Oyster passed us, going to windward under engine and staysail alone; she clearly didn't much like the conditions either. It was a relief to get the sails down in the flatter water outside the entrance to English Harbour and head into shelter. We put the kettle on.

Freeman's Bay, English Harbour, on a much nicer day.

Antigua was a place close to my heart. I had fond memories of the island from my previous trip, spending several weeks living and working aboard the 75 foot ketch La Cautiva before helping to sail her back to England where university awaited. It was one of the places I'd always pictured going back to, and now Limbo was anchored here, in Freeman's Bay.

The anchorage was crowded, and it took a few tries to find a space with swinging room. A big superyacht dock has taken over much of the anchoring space, but nothing much else had changed. The grey buildings of Nelson's Dockyard still stood sentinel, unspoilt though much-visited, the green, forested hill behind the harbour still rose steeply to Shirley Heights, and the waves still broke on the reef to the east of the narrow entrance. This was the place where, more than anywhere else, I thought we have done this.