Norfolk, Virginia to the Bahamas

By early November Virginia is getting cold and it was time for us to leave and head south. Whilst only 700 or so nm, the trip from Virginia to the Bahamas has a couple of interesting aspects: First you must round the notorious Cape Hatteras, one of the most feared headlands on the US East coast, then you must cross the Gulf Stream, the north east stream of water that flows up the East coast.

Finding a weather window long enough to give acceptable breezes from the right direction can be a challenge. From a sailing perceptive, wind behind is  preferable but since the Gulf Stream flows north east, that would give wind against the current, which can make both Cape Hatteras and the Gulf Stream nasty and potentially quite dangerous.

After a couple of shopping trips the boat was fully stocked so that we could be self sufficient if we needed to, when when stopping in islands still recovering from the hurricane season.  Boat preparation, included fitting a new radar and chart plotters was completed, so we were ready and waiting for the weather. Finally on the morning of Wednesday 15th November  the weather window was the best we were likely to get for the foreseeable future – equally importantly, all the different weather models we use finally agreed!

We left Norfolk Virginia at 14:00 on Wednesday 15 November in the company of Tourterelle and Aura, some friends who had also been waiting for the right weather and who were heading down the US East coast. After passing the huge navy base and the most enormous aircraft carriers, complete with patrolling Black Hawk helicopters we headed out to sea. We were hot on the heels of Lady Rebel who had left earlier in the day and who were also heading for the Bahamas.

Our passage was predicted to be between 4-5 days and after a night at sea riding the last of the south going Labrador current, we approached Cape Hatteras. The shift pattern was organised with Hatteras in mind. Lesley determined that she would be ‘off watch’ around the Cape, which suited Derek since he wanted to be ‘on watch’!

There are many strategies for rounding the Cape, depending on the weather. We had some North in the wind and the Gulf Stream charts were showing it converging quite close to the Cape, so we opted for a tight rounding, inside the Gulf Stream and in fact inside the old abandoned lighthouse and outer buoys. The routing worked out well and the rounding was thankfully uneventful and was followed by a stunning sunny, though slightly chilly afternoon before a beautiful sunset.

Gulf Stream Chart

Next was crossing the Gulf Stream. Our latest downloaded charts showed that there should be a narrowing of the stream where we could enter it about 2am and be out by about 8 am, but we got a call from Lady Rebel on the VHF to say their weather router had advised them to ensure they were not in the stream after midnight due to some potentially nasty weather. this led to some rapid downloading of weather info which was a bit inconclusive, but we opted to abandon the slight southerly push we were still getting from the Labrador current and head SE immediately to cross the Gulf Stream, which we could do by about 2am. The plan worked and we hardly noticed the change in water state, just a difference in our speed over the ground.

Once we moved away from the coastline and deeper into the Atlantic there was a familiarity. We settled into a loose shift pattern mostly 4 hours on and off watch although daytime was flexible. Most importantly, the temperature was rising, with less technical sailing clothing needed at night!

Away from the USA shore the night skies were amazing. We had a clear sky most nights and the dawn and sunsets that we had missed being on the east coast were good for the soul, a great sense of freedom and at one with the rhythm of the earth and nature.

The remainder of the trip was a little light on wind, involving a fair bit of motor sailing, but the seas were relatively flat and we could relax. Our water generator managed to hook two abandoned fishing buoys, complete with 100+ metres of rope and the propeller got completely fouled by an abandoned fishing net 30 miles N of the Bahamas, meaning we had to completely stop, to allow Derek to don the diving gear and cut it away. Thankfully the water was crystal clear and not too cold.

Fishing net around the prop taken with a Gopro camera

Not to be outdone by the boat, and despite the fact that the freezer was packed full from the supermarket, the fishing lines went out and in addition to a lot of seaweed, a nice 10 kg Skipjack Tuna, was landed filleted and frozen.

Tuna landed
Tuna being filleted

We approached the Bahamas via the Nunjack Channel, a wide deep cut through the north Abaco reef and after 4 days and 2 hours we dropped anchor just before sunset in turquoise clear water in the first bay we found, romantically named ‘Rat Cay’. After a sundowner, a tidy up and some dinner, we slept peacefully for the first time in 4 nights.

Stats for the trip:

Log distance: 779 nm (probably a little high)

Wind: Max 25 kts, Min 3 kts

Lost: one winch handle (Derek’s stupidity)


Cape Cod to Newport

After heading back south through the Cape Cod Canal we decided to explore some of the anchorages at its mouth in an area known as Buzzards Bay. An area 28 miles long by 8 miles wide with many small bays and anchorages. Buzzards Bay was named by colonists after the birds they saw and called Buzzards. The birds are actually Ospreys, and some remain.

An Osprey in Onset

We had a relaxing two nights in Onset, a bay just to the southwest of the canal. We took the dinghy up some of the inlets and also spent some time getting used to the paddleboard. Going ashore with the bikes one day we found ourselves in the annual Cape Verdean Festival – With over 70 vendors, music and a great party atmosphere, groups of descendents from the Cape Verdes celebrate their heritage the other side of the Atlantic. Cape Verdean communities come from Florida, Texas, Georgia, Ohio and as far as Ontarion, Canada to join in the fun.

A short trip east took us to Phinney’s Harbour, another quiet pretty anchorage but with a little less to explore.

Leaving Phinney’s Harbour we headed for Fairhaven, a town on the east bank of the Acushnet River, directly opposite New Bedford on the west bank. Our reason for visiting here was to collect a spare skin fitting which might help us with our ongoing issue of the fridge losing gas.

New Bedford from outside the barrage

There is a tidal barrage across the entrance of the river and having entered the river we could find nowhere to anchor for the night so left and anchored outside since the harbour master was not responding by radio or telephone. In the morning we called and were pleasantly surprised to hear that we could use one of the mooring buoys inside free of charge as long as we left before night time, and there was a dinghy dock we could use close by. How welcome we felt. We picked up the buoy and took the bikes ashore to collect the fitting and enjoy an afternoon exploring the towns. The New Bedford Whaling Museum was fascinating and even included a 30 minute movie – the first time we had been to a cinema for a long time!

Breakers off the shallows of Newport
No doubt where this got it’s name

We had arranged for some spare parts to enhance our battery monitoring to be delivered to Newport so we left the next day for the sail southwest. As Newport appeared in the distance we spotted a delightful looking bay that looked like it would give us a pleasant sheltered evening, so we changed our plans and dropped anchor off Third Beach, just north of Flint Point on the Sakonnet River.

Newport Mansions

The next morning we sailed the short distance west to Newport where we had first arrived in the USA a month or so earlier.

Approaching Newport

Since the large supermarket was right next to the place where our parts had been delivered to, Lesley was in her element re provisioning in a familiar store.

Classic yachts in Newport

Previously in Newport we had visited one of the mansions and our ticket allowed us to visit a second one, so we duly took the opportunity to see more opulence at The Elms which was the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of Philadelphia and New York. Mr. Berwind made his fortune in the coal industry. In 1898, the Berwinds engaged Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer to design a house modeled after the mid-18th century French Chateau d’Asnieres outside Paris.

The Elms

Construction of The Elms was completed in 1901 at a reported cost of approximately $1.4 million. The interiors and furnishings were designed by Allard and Sons of Paris and were the setting for the Berwinds’ collection of Renaissance ceramics, 18th century French and Venetian paintings, and Oriental jades.

The Conservatory

Mrs. Berwind died in 1922, and Mr. Berwind invited his sister, Julia, to become his hostess at his New York and Newport houses.

Original artwork

Mr. Berwind died in 1936 and Miss Julia continued to summer at The Elms until her death in 1961, at which time the house and most of its contents were sold at public auction.

Marble and bronze statues

The Preservation Society of Newport County purchased The Elms in 1962 and opened the house to the public.

The sunken garden

Sightseeing, shopping, ideas of grandeur and collections completed, it was time to start working further west into Long Island Sound.

Elizabeth Islands and Martha’s Vineyard

After refuelling, we dashed across Newport entrance to Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth islands in poor visibility. When we arrived early evening we anchored next to two boats we knew and settled in for an early night. In the morning we were completely fog bound and couldn’t even see Cuttyhunk which was only a few hundred feet away!

The dock in Cuttyhunk

It was a ‘full English breakfast’ type of morning so after our brunch and a morning of catching up with work we were ready to explore.

The island only has about 35 permanent residents and the small museum depicts the basic lifestyle over the years. The nearby 75 acre Penikese island, has had a variety of uses. In 1904 it was purchased by the state of Massachusetts for $25000 to use as a leprosy hospital then closed in 1921 when the state burnt and dynamited the buildings! It was also briefly considered as an isolation island for people with AIDS and from 1973 to 2011 a private residential school on the island was used for juvenile detention of troubled boys and operated a substance abuse treatment programme.

Overlooking the islands

We decided to leave late afternoon as the visibility was adequate and we had no wish to be fog bound again. This is a fairly typical weather pattern for the area. We had a pleasant sail, passing some of the other islands on route to Hadley harbour in convoy with two other boats, and on arrival even managed to russell up a meal for six. It was a beautiful setting with a few grand isolated and very private holiday homes. As the sun set a deer came down to explore the small sandy cove.

Hadley Harbour

We moved from the outer harbour to the inner lagoon for the next night and explored the shallow creeks in the dinghy, deciding to leave the next afternoon for Martha’s Vineyard as the weather was benign and settled.

You have to love the typical New England Verandas!

Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island, sits in the Atlantic just south of Cape Cod. A longtime New England summer colony, it encompasses harbor towns and lighthouses, sandy beaches and farmland. It’s accessible only by boat or air. Vineyard Haven, on the eastern end, is a ferry port and the island’s commercial centre. Another village, Oak Bluffs has Carpenter Gothic cottages and an iconic carousel.

We arrived mid afternoon and anchored in Vineyard Haven. We took a quick trip ashore to get our bearings and decided to eat ashore. We had a good meal in the Black Dog pub. The story is that Robert Douglas, born in Chicago in 1932 spent his childhood summers escaping the hustle and bustle of the city at his parents’ summer home in West Chop. He watched the Vineyard ferries traversing the waters between the island and the mainland and in 1960 he left the Air Force and built a topsail schooner for himself, using early construction techniques and materials wherever possible. He later acquired a black Labrador dog and the inn.

One of the ‘Black Dog’ schooners

Out of his love for the sea, his island home, and of course, his dog, The Black Dog brand was born. So says their website!

We decide to sail the next day to Edgartown on the east side of the island to get a more protected spot away from the passing ferries.

We went up the river but found there was no anchoring allowed so returned to the outer harbour. Boats of all shapes and sizes, traditional and modern were here. Including one of the worlds largest super yachts called Le Grande Bleu. She is 113 m long, 18m wide and comes complete with a helicopter pad, 72 foot sailing yacht and 68 foot motor boat, both of which can be winched into the water! Originally owned by Roman Abramovich, he reputedly gifted it to a colleague, when he bought a larger one!

A 72 ft yacht on the deck

We met up with some fellow ARC sailors on Supertramp who were planning to sail north to Maine. We swapped details on experiences so far and plans for the future, including potentially getting our boat wrapped and updating equipment over the remainder of the summer.

The Edgartown Yacht Club

We enjoyed the facilities at The Edgartown Yacht Club which perpetuates the maritime traditions of Martha’s Vineyard and Edgartown and encourages friendly competition on the waters around the Island and ashore which was founded in 1905. The social life of the Club – so creative and active today – began in these earliest years with clambakes and old-fashioned ice cream socials.

Martha’s Vineyard – a big US tourist destination

Those first few years of the twentieth century were a time of great change in the town of Edgartown. The whaling era, which had come to a sudden end after the Civil War, still animated the memories of the oldest inhabitants, and family vacationing through the summer season, as we know it now, was some years away.

We took the bus to explore the island because apparently cycling can be a little risky on the island! We went to the Gay Head light, which had had to be moved to stop it falling into the sea from the eroding Aquinnah Cliffs — the clay cliffs, formerly known as Gay Head — were carved by glaciers millions of years ago. From the top we could see the Elizabeth islands we had previously been to.  The Aquinnah Cliffs are part of the island’s Wampanoag reservation.

The lighthouse cottage

The Wampanoag are one of many Nations of people all over North America who were here long before any Europeans arrived, and have survived until today. Wampanoag, means People of the First Light.

The eroding Aquinnah Cliffs

In the 1600s, there were as many as 40,000 people in the 67 villages that made up the Wampanoag Nation. These villages covered the territory along the east coast as far as Wessagusset (today called Weymouth), all of what is now Cape Cod and the islands of Natocket and Noepe (now called Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing and agriculture.

Sculpture in Chilmark Harbour, Menemsha Creek a fishing village on of the locations on the island where Jaws was filmed

Newport, Rhode Island

We left Bermuda at 09:00 on Thursday 29 June. We arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, USA, another previous home of the Americas Cup, after sailing for just under 4 days on Monday 3 July at 07:00.

The hazy view and the eary sound of the fog horn on Beaver Tail Point lighthouse guided us into Newport where we anchored in Brenton Cove, where you can anchor for free outside the moorings for up to 14 days. After a quick tidy up we contacted the customs office to organise our customs and immigration clearance.

Brenton Cove Anchorage

We were given several options of docks to take the boat into to meet the customs officer who would do the paperwork and potentially search the boat for items that are not allowed to be brought into America. We chose Perrotti Park, a dock which turned out to be very easily accessible and where we met another British boat also waiting for customs. The customs clearance was quick and easy – too quick unfortunately as the customs officer, who was new in her job, despite taking our money omitted to issue our cruising permit, a document legally required when cruising in the US. (Eventually after many phone calls and emails we did get a copy, but it took several days)

It always surprises us how friendly everyone is in the long term cruising world. A chance encounter provided an invitation to sundowners that evening and the opportunity to meet other cruising boats who had previously crossed the Atlantic in a different rally called the Barbados 500. We had briefly met most of these boats in Bermuda just before we left – they left together the night before us. Their occupants provided a new social circle and the opportunity to learn about other destinations, intentions and experiences.

Having cleared customs we returned to the anchorage and started by cleaning up the boat and getting settled for some time exploring, plus some sleep.

Clairborne Pell (Newport) Bridge, spanning the east passage of the Narragansett Bay

We had hoped to make it to Bristol to see one of the oldest 4th July parades in the states, however we were quite tired from the journey and woke up too late to catch the bus to make the best of the day. Instead we watched an amazing fireworks show from the boat which was one of the best spots in the harbour.

Independence Day fireworks

Although American independence from British rule is widely and happily celebrated there was no animosity towards us joining in the party. Houses and boats were cheerily dressed in red white and blue. Everyone was enjoying the holiday atmosphere and the events.

Newport has a a holiday atmosphere and although it is clearly centred around sailing there are plenty of other activities too. We spent almost a week here acclimatising to living in America.

There was the visit to the chandlery to purchase charts for the area, several very good bike rides with a handy leaflet marking routes, cliff walks, beaches, surfing and several historic houses to visit and also there was the opportunity to provision the boat at a fraction of the cost of in the Caribbean.

We spent a happy half day at the Breakers Mansion on Orchre Point Avenue – the grandest of many huge mansions, learning about the 1890s summer cottage, it’s construction and lifestyle.

The Breakers Mansion

Commissioned and owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, whose family fortune was made in steam ships and later in the New York Central railroad. The mansion was built in the Italian renaisance style with lots of excess, gold gilt and platinum on the walls and ceilings.

Amazing opulence

Lavish parties and the importance of being seen and dressed for the occasion were clearly the order of the day, with the women of the household changing outfits five times a day for different activities. It was a totally different world for the rich families of the gilded era.

Italian Renaissance style

We used the bikes to explore and shop for provisions. The more or less flat environment was a welcome change after the volcanic hills and narrow roads of the Caribbean which made cycling impractical.

The iconic Newport Yacht Club Burgee over the Stars and Stripes

We had Sunday lunch at the New York yacht club’s Newport base. A lovely old house with a commanding presence and view over Newport Sound and the anchorage.

Ladies dressed to lunch

After a few days we decided to explore the rest of the estuary and sailed up to Bristol for a visit to the Herreshoff museum.

Beautiful Herreshoff designs

We were able to pick up one of their free buoys and also got a discount on the entrance fee for coming by boat! A very interesting exhibition and the opportunity to look inside some of the old vessels built by the talented brothers.

You could even climb on board some of the vessels

We spent the night in Potter Cove, on Prudence Island,  a wonderful national estuarine sanctuary with an abundance of green grass and variety of trees, another reminder of home and a complete contrast to the Caribbean.

It was time to move on so we left early to exit the river via Dutch harbour and purchase some fuel from a commercial fish quay at Galilee, in Judith’s point harbour. This was the cheapest place for refuelling our 1000 litre capacity fuel tanks, so worth the slight detour west before continuing east again towards the Elizabeth Islands.

The Galilee Fuel Dock – the cheapest diesel in the area

The random names here are great. Most have been copied from English towns and villages, based on their heritage and the area was very reminiscent of Beaulieu, with the large houses set in sweeping lawns only ending at the river bank and their private jetties.

Even the weather was cooler and variable much like England! The main difference is the size, everything is bigger! It is New England, USA.

Bermuda and The Americas Cup

St. George’s is a lovely quaint town which used to be the capital of Bermuda. It has lots of history and it’s great to wonder around and read the information plagues and follow the trails.

St George’s Quay

The main square has free wifi and most sailors seem to gather with computers, iPads or phones to connect to the outside world. We exchanged wifi codes with others and compared where the best speeds could be found. One girl who was boat hopping her way back home and about to leave for the Azores happily shared the local knowledge she had gained while she had been on the island. There was an immediate sense of community not just within the visiting sailors but the locals have been fantastically welcoming and helpful here.

Bermuda is made up of lots of islands joined together by roads and an old railway track.  It is divided into nine parishes. Everyone is happy, perhaps because they have the highest per capita income in the world!

Rock Pools

We walked across the tip, to  gorgeous beaches and views. We snorkeled, picnicked and came back for ice cream!

Exploring with friends

The next day we ventured into Hamilton on the bus. A system where the price is calculated on the number of zones you go through to your destination. You purchase a token at a participating shop for the fare which is cheaper than paying on the bus.  Alternatively you need the exact money if paying on the bus.

Walking around the Headland

It was great to see more of the islands during the journey and arriving in the busy bustling city of Hamilton felt like we could have been in England with red pillar boxes etc. We collected our Americas Cup spectator boat flags and checked out facilities ahead of arriving here by boat later. Sampling a ‘Dark and Stormy’ in a bar with Goslings rum, as Bermuda is the home of the cocktail, felt like a must do!

After a few days in St. George’s resting, washing and exploring the East end of the island we  did a last shop in the supermarket in St. George’s called Sommers, which offers us a 5% discount on our groceries as a visiting yacht. Worth asking for if we visit again. Then we sailed around to Hamilton so that we were ready for the start of the racing. We also wanted to find a sheltered anchorage before some forecast windy weather was due to come through the next day.

We chose a likely spot in the designated anchorage but before we could settle in, a local launched his rib and came to see us, not to say that we could not anchor in front of his house, but to welcome us and impart local knowledge about the forecast, and the best sheltered place to be in the harbour. After exchanging telephone numbers and with the invitation for a beer later in the week we moved to Hinson’s Island, or ‘Cat Alley’ as we got to know it as, since it was the designated anchorage for the charter cats, which was a lovely spot to hide from the wind.

We were with friends on Nisida, and decided to leave one boat anchored and take the other out for the racing each day. We soon fell into a pattern leaving the anchorage at midday, sussing out the race area for the best place to view from and having lunch on board before the racing started.

Up close with Oracle
Landrover BAR were outsailed

Although not competing in the racing , no guess as to who started the sweepstake for the challenger series then the finals picking the results each day and culminating in prizes of Rum and Wine!

The racing was tight

Whilst we watched from the boats most days, on Friday 2nd June we headed for the AC village to sample the racing from ashore and to get a close up of the boats. It provided a great atmosphere and well worth doing but not the same as being alongside the race course on the water.

The J Class Regatta provided a spectacle too

The event was amazing, the locals incredibly friendly and we had a ball. We got to know the locals at Sandy Boat Club and met people who were supporting the race teams or involved with running the event such as the super yacht course marshal who invited us to the race area with the other ‘super’ yachts the following morning. Basically it was a six week party and one that will always be very close to our hearts. The 36th America’s Cup will be held in the southern hemisphere in the AC75, a fully foiling monohull in March 2021. The organisers will have to do something very special to match Bermuda.

Amazing sunsets

We went to the top of the lighthouse, walked part of the disused railway, swam and snorkeled off the external reef, went underground to see the crystal caves, learnt about the rain water capture from the roofs, climbed and explored several old forts, danced in the streets with the Gombeys. We had visitors on board for short trips and meet and made some  great friends. We also learnt to paddleboard, so now we need to buy our own! And tried to kitesurf but had more success with the board as a wakeboard!

Great water for snorkeling

All too soon it came to an end. We wished friends a safe trip as we all headed off in different directions. Many back to Europe and ourselves and others, North to the USA for the summer.

BVI to Bermuda – We have arrived!

After 5 days, 3.5 hours we arrived into St Georges, East End of Bermuda through the narrow Town Cut. Unfortunately we had to motor for 52 hours since the winds dropped off but at least that meant the seas were calm and we could get some rest.

During the trip we fished very little (about 2 hours) and succeeded in catching weed, about every fifteen minutes and nothing else – the chartplotter states we were sailing through the Sargasso sea, so maybe that should have been a clue. However, the boat left to its own devices succeeded in catching half a dozen flying fish of various sizes, including one acrobat who landed on the bimini.

Flying fish, discovered on deck one morning

We were treated to a beautiful display by a pod of dolphins on the last morning which lasted for approximately half an hour just after sunrise.

Later that morning we started to see land. Being fairly low, we were quite close before it came into view, the first visible things being trees then buildings – all with whitewashed roofs, which seems to be a common theme here.

As we closed in on the island we also started to see more boats, as we all converged from different departure points. There being only one place to clear in, everyone heads for St Georges initially.

Arrival and clearance were very easy and the Bermudans are certainly very welcoming.

The customs dock in St Georges

The lagoon is charming and very sheltered and shortly after dropping anchor we were visited by our friend Carl from yacht Nisida and his crew Traci, who had arrived a few hours earlier from Antigua. It was great to catch up and share stories of the past few months since we have last seen him. After a few beers and a bite to eat on board we settled in for our first full, still night in bed for 6 days.  We slept soundly!

Leaving the marina where we left Ocean Blue for a trip home
400 miles from land we were visited by this bird, who did several laps of the boat

Beautiful dolphins in amazingly clear water
One of the dolphins swimming past, taken with our go pro, a present from our Rowlands Castle neighbours.
Entering the Town Cut
The narrow Town Cut


We spent a few fantastic days in Dominica with Dave and MC from yacht La Contenta.
Dominica was named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 as he discovered it on a Sunday, and it is the Latin for Sunday. The Carib meaning for it is ‘tall and beautiful’ and it certainly is. It still has seven potentially active volcanoes.
Our taxi driver who took us on a tour of the northern half of the island described it as the ‘fruit basket of the Caribbean’, they seem to grow everything including Cloves, Nutmeg , Mango, Papaya, Coconut, Cocoa,  Yams, Avocado and Grapefruit.
There are nine active volcanoes and hot springs emitting sulphurous clouds. There is supposed to be good whale spotting off the island but they were elusive when we were there.
Portsmouth in Prince Rupert Bay is the second largest town on the island.
Quirky buildings addorn the backstreets
The boat boys have set up a co-operative called PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services), the current president is Jeffery call sign Seabird on Ch16, which caters for visiting yachts.  They do security sweeps at night, island and river tours including the Indian River, which was the location for the river scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean 2. They also run various events and their Sunday evening BBQ and music, tickets can be purchased from PAYS, was a fantastic evening with plenty of rum punch!
We took an early morning tour up the Indian River where river crabs, flowering hibiscus,  elaborate tree roots and herons accompany the row up the river to the river bar.
The charming Indian River
We even spotted an iguana basking in the early morning sun in the tree tops.
Spot the iguana
We were back in time for the Saturday morning market. A few stalls line the fish dock most days but come Saturday morning the place is busy, with stalls and trucks selling Coconuts and Plantain, street food stalls, and the music blasting from speakers. A great atmosphere even if purchases had to be conducted with sign language.
Street vendors outside the market selling sugar cane , coconut water and Sorrel, (in the plastic bag).
Our pre-cooked breadfruit being prepared by the vendor

We took all of our purchases from the market and attempted to cook a flavours of the Caribbean meal together. Breadfruit, plantain chips, mashed yams, christophine with coconut breaded chicke, yum.

We went exploring the next day to work off the calories to a beach with potentially good snorkeling.  This ended up as quite a hike up and down steep hills and interesting discoveries on the way. local production of palm oil, rain forest trail, re-mobilisation of a truck with 4 flat tyres that we were assured was only going a short distance and a fantastic rum bar on the beach at our eventual destination. We enjoyed our picnic lunch and swim although the sand was too churned up to see any fish. We later settled into a tasting session of the many home flavoured different rums with dodgy names such as ‘the terminator.’ The locals were also playing  dominos which was played with attitude. Apparently how you slam your domino on the table communicates to your partner your hand.

One day we took a tour around the northern end of the Island, taking in the sulphur springs, the chocolate factory, the Kalinago (Carib Indians) territory and the Emerald Pool and waterfall. MC was keen to obtain a Calabash so that she could carve it and make a cockpit lampshade. The driver was able to oblige with this, stopping at the roadside and taking us into a small residence, where the owners were not only growing, but harvesting and selling decorated Calabashes.  They can be used for many different things such as bowls, lampshades and maracas.  They are hung over a fire to to darken the colour and then polished and a design carved into them. How nice to be able to point to one on the tree and say ‘I’ll have that one please!’

The Pointe Baptiste Chocolate factory was one families passion for chocolate turned into a small business from their home. We were able to follow the production sequence and best of all taste the chocolate! Some unusual flavour combinations with different strengths of coco. My favorite was the ginger.

The chocolate factory
Nutmegs drying in the sunshine
MC’s Calabash just before it was harvested

On returning to the bay one Sunday afternoon, we stopped for a refreshing beer in the bar and were distracted by a gathering of youngsters on the beach. It didn’t take long for Derek and MC’s curiosity to get the better of them and for them to wonder down among the growing party to see what all the fuss was about. There is a medical university on the Island and it transpired that it was one of the student’s birthdays. To celebrate, her boyfriend had come to the beach at 2 am in the morning, dug a hole and made a fire in a the pit. Then using leaves and various other natural wrappings, wrapped and buried a pig amongst the fire, covering it with sand. The pig had been roasting all day and now it was time to celebrate. What we were witnessing was the unearthing of the roasted pig and the start of the birthday party, complete with further barbecued piglets halves cooked in a massive drum, homemade ginger beer and much more. As we stood on and chatted with many of the friends of the birthday girl, we were invited to share her birthday celebration, eating and drinking with them all. What an amazing impromptu experience and one we were extremely grateful for.

The ‘Pit’ where the pig had been roasting since 2am

After the three days La Contenta and Ocean Blue sadly both had commitments that took us in opposite directions. Exploring and experiencing the different islands is made all the more special when you share it with friends.

If you are interested in viewing more of the photographs from our trip to Dominica we have put a selection of them on Flickr, follow this link

Up Island to Antigua – How tough can it be?

Five years ago we experienced the phenomena locally known as the ‘Christmas Winds’ when we were sailing from Grenada to Cariacou. Caused by a big high pressure area to the northeast, winds typically blow from around 25 to 30 knots when the isobars get tight.

As the post ARC parties ended we knew these were building but we also knew we had a deadline to get to Antigua where we had family joining us for Christmas. Having just sailed nearly 3000 miles, how tough could a few short hops up island to Antigua be, despite the winds? Tougher than we had expected was the short answer!

Our first hop was St Lucia to Le Marin on Martinique. Chosen for the ease of provisioning due to the fact that the supermarket at Le Marin has its own dinghy dock where you can take the shopping trolley straight to the dinghy. Very important when using the opportunity to stock up with French wine. Having refueled in St Lucia we set out late morning for what was expected to be a slowish windward bash of just over 20 miles. Everything was stowed securely after a few weeks in harbour and the spare sails were lashed to the deck.

After about an hour of getting thoroughly soaked by spray, as we pounded into the waves, we were experiencing some pretty large short steep seas coming straight over the bow and sluicing down the deck. Trying to get as close to the wind as possible we now had two reefs in the mainsail and the genoa and we were also running the engine to try and minimize the time until we got into the shelter of Martinique. Lesley was not coping well being sea sick despite the precautionary patch and nervous of the sea state. We were hit all of a sudden by a couple of massive waves which broke over the foredeck and brought a wall of green water several feet deep straight back over the coachroof towards the cockpit obscuring foreward visibility for a split second. As the water drained away we spotted the two old spare sails, that had been lashed on the foredeck, slipping straight under the leeward guardrail and landing in the sea beside us. They had torn free from their webbing straps with the weight of the water.

Last view of our old mainsail before it was lost at sea

The next 20 to 30 minutes was a salutary lesson in how difficult it is to retrieve anything from the water in these conditions. We did recover the old genoa, it took several attempts but the mainsail sank and has not been seen since! What we learnt was that although we could get back to the semi submerged sail, which was drifting quite easily, staying near it long enough to hook it, and attach something too it was very difficult. For what its worth, we eventually dropped all sails and salvaged it under engine. In those winds and seas the traditional techniques we all learn for man overboard recovery under sail proved just too tricky. However had it been an unconcious person in the water, approaching and holding station under engine, would not have been an attractive proposition at all due to the risk of injury. The sail weighs approximately 75kg dry, so not far off the weight of an average person so it was quite a realistic exercise in man overboard recovery – difficult enough with two people on board, but it would have been far more difficult if it was one of us.

Sail recovered, we re-hoisted the working sails and motorsailed to Le Marin where we dropped anchor, tidied up the boat and went to bed exhausted.

Whilst the supermarket was very convenient the next day, in retrospect we could have made our previous day much easier on ourselves by changing the destination to Fort De France which would have given us a much freer course – faster and more comfortable, with the added bonus that the next leg would have been shorter. Oh well we live and learn!

The next afternoon we sailed in the lee of the island to St Pierre on the north west coast – an easy sail, and an ideal kicking off point for Dominica the next day. The anchorage at St Pierre is on a shallow shelf which does not extend far off the beach so effectively you get a row of anchored boats but only stacked one deep – the shelf is not wide enough for two rows before dropping off into water too deep for most of us to anchor. One of the risks of anchoring is dragging the anchor – where when the forces on the anchor move it from where it is dug into the sea bed. In this situation it can break out and not reset, effectively just dragging along the seabed as the boat floats away! To minimise the chances of this we almost always lay out a lot of chain (normally 5 times the depth from bow roller to sea bed, or more if there is expected to be high winds and a chop) and having set the anchor we reverse against it at fairly high rpm (2000 rpm) to ensure that its bedded in hard and fast. When we go to sleep we often set an anchor alarm – a gps device that has a preset distance that you set, that if exceeded an alarm goes off. Now if you consider that with 60m of chain out and the anchor alarm at the back of a 17m boat even if the anchor does not move, but the wind changes direction and the boat swings around, the gps can move through a distance of over 140m we normally want to know before we have moved that far so we set a much smaller alarm distance and accept that we will be woken occasionally by change of wind or tide (not such an issue in the Caribbean as it was in Europe). Our anchor alarm is great because it shows a track of where the boat has travelled since being set on a little screen so its easy to tell the difference between dragging and just merely swinging around the anchor.

That evening with anchor alarm set to just 50m we went to bed but were woken by the alarm at about 1 am. Taking a look around, it was clear that the wind had died and was going round in circles. We, like the boats around us, were just swinging to whatever breeze there was. However, one nearby catamaran seemed a lot closer than it was before – not uncommon with boats swinging in different directions, but this was not comfortable.

Checking again after about 15 minutes it was clear that things were not right. In relationship to all the other boats we remained fairly static but this one catamaran  was definately coming to meet us! Our choices were to try and wake the cat crew or move. We decided the latter was the easiest for us, however having we could not find a suitable gap to re-drop the anchor so eventually Lesley suggested we just move on – after all we had had a couple of hours sleep!

We set sail north, Derek taking the first stint until we got into the shelter of Dominica then Lesley took over and sailed us up the Western shore. By daylight we had passed Dominica and decided to head to the beautiful Isles De Saintes – a tiny set of islands between Dominica and Guadeloupe. Arriving mid morning, we went ashore to check in and stretch our legs. It was a brief visit as we had to keep heading north but we had heard a lot about the islands and they did not disappoint – we would definitely be back to spend some more time here.

Isles des Saintes
Isles des Saintes

After an early lunch ashore, we set sail and had an uneventful trip to Guadeloupe. By evening, having gained ourselves a day by doing the overnight sail from Martinique to Isles de Saintes, we were a little more chilled and anchored in the lovely Deshaies bay, location of the TVs series death in paradise. We enjoyed watching the sunset over a sundowner or two. Just one more island hop and we would be in Antigua before our visitors touched down.

The trip to Antigua was equally uneventful. The winds had by now subsided a little and our course was a bit freer so we were averaging some pretty high speeds with comfortable sailing – just how we had envisaged Caribbean sailing. By mid afternoon we had made it with a day to spare. We anchored outside Jolly Harbour, halfway up the western shore and arrived in time to clear in.

Jolly Harbour
Anchored off Jolly Harbour

For those not so familiar with Caribbean sailing clearing an and out is something that has to be done every time you sail between islands belonging to different nations (and sometimes even between those that belong to the same nation). The process can be painless (in the case of most French islands it is normally done at a single computer terminal in a shop, bar or intenet cafe), or it can be a long frustrating affair (Barbuda involves three different offices in three different corners of the capital town). What often surprises us is the bureacracy and volume of paperwork that is involved. The principle is simple: The skipper must go ashore at the first opportunity and report to customs, immigration and port authority. Nobody else is allowed ashore until all formalities have been completed! In most ports the three offices are together or close by but it still involves a lot of toing and froing between the offices and the officers can be so grumpy!

In theory many of the islands use advanced web based clearance systems too which should speed up the process but our experience has been that although its a big time saver when they work, always worth doing in advance, many of the port authorities don’t know about them or don’t use them which is rather frustrating. There is often a fee and that can be trivial or huge depending on the islands. It can also be different on the same island (Jolly Harbour is cheaper than English Harbour in Antigua), Woe betied anyone arriving out of hours or over a weekend in some islands – the additional fees can be daylight robbery. In most places you also need your outbound clearance from your previous island in order to check in – if you haven’t got it you can’t come in so don’t forget to clear out. If you do lose it, head to a French island because its not needed there for check in, so the process gets reset!

St Lucia – the post ARC parties

One of the valuable things about crossing the Atlantic as part of a rally is the friendships that you make before and afterwards (and to a certain degree along the way on the radio nets). The crews on Emily Morgan, Nisida, La Contenta, Aurora Polaris and Ludanka were some of these.

Boats arrived into St Lucia over a period of about 10 days and on many days the arrivals had people on board that we knew, so that period became one of party after party. Not only the impromptu arrival parties, marking the arrival of each boat (day or night), but also World Cruising Club pre-arranged shore parties on the dock. We enjoyed the camaraderie from comparing and sharing experiences of our different ocean passages and supporting and helping each other to fix the inevitable breakages by loaning tools and muscle where needed.

Rum Punches on the Party Cat

The ARC arranged various events and trips, one to Anse La Raye for a fish fry evening arriving via a large catamaran.

History of Anse La Raye

The locals prepare their catch from the day in the streets, you wander the stalls and decide what you fancy to eat. Afterwards we browsed the market stalls and spent time talking to Anthony Cadasse.

Anthony Cadasse

We were impressed with his passion for his village and island. He told us of his ideas and his previous job as a ranger with the Hawksbill turtle Marine protection and  SMMA (Soufriere Marine Management Association).

In between arriving and the final closing ceremony and prize giving, we did take a brief overnight excursion to the lovely Marigot Bay, to mark Pete’s final night with us but other than that we stayed in Rodney Bay spending time with our new friends. We knew it would be all too soon that many would go their separate ways continuing their different adventures. Some we would meet up with again, and no doubt some will have been fleeting friendships, but still ones that will leave lasting memories.

Collecting the plaque for second in class and 10th in all cruising boats
Collecting the plaque for second in class and 10th in all cruising boats

The prize giving came all too soon and after an excellent evening with some very worthy winners getting their prizes – the most notable for acts of seamanship and selfless assistance to others, the day came to leave and head North up the island chain towards Antigua where we were to meet up with Derek’s mum for Christmas. However the weather was not on our side and we suspected it could be a challenge. Ironically having just sailed nearly 3000 miles across an ocean, the next 40 mile trip to Martinique was to be more unpleasant and more challenging than anything we faced in the Atlantic!

After checking out we were able to top up our fuel tank duty free. Jeffery at the fuel dock took our mooring lines and effortlessly secured them!

Islas Graciosa

Our landfall in the Canary Islands was the tiny island of Graciosa, just 6.5 km by 3 km. Despite its small size it has 4 volcanic cones, almost as many cones as there are residents (not quite true, but its very quiet).

One of the Volcanic Cones
One of the Volcanic Cones

Graciosa lies just a mile or so north of Lanzarote, separated by a narrow stretch of water called the Estrecho del Rio, rumoured to be a route favoured by migrating pilot whales. Alas, we didn’t see any but the site of the 500m high almost vertical cliffs of Lanzarote on one side and the pretty island of Graciosa on the other was a site to behold. The harbour is a little small for our boat and we had already heard on the radio that it was full so we bypassed it and dropped anchor in the neighbouring bay. A total novelty to be able to see the anchor and chain on the sea bed in crystal clear turquoise water; a far cry from the muddy waters of the Solent!

Much of the island is protected by a marine reserve and we had applied for permission to anchor in the bay of Playa Francesca, the designated reserve bay but that looked very busy and the bay closest to the harbour was empty so we had it to ourselves. Later we discovered the reason – since our guide book was published, they had prohibited anchoring in the one we were in, so we upped anchor and joined the busy throng in the bay of Playa Francesca.

Ashore we took a walk into the island between the cones – there is no tarmac just a few dirt tracks and roads.

The busiest Junction on the Island
The busiest Junction on the Island

It was fascinating to explore and quite remarkable to see the lava dust covered in tiny white shells, not only on the shore line but up on the volcanic cones too. Apart from a few fenced off areas of vegetation, and some low lying plants Graciosa has little to spoil the natural look once you are outside the small settlements.

Some form of Cactus maybe?
Some form of Cactus maybe?

Back at the harbour we were surprised to find a small but well stocked supermarket, so we bought a few bits and pieces before returning to the boat.