Caribbean (West Indies)
Having dragged Gordon off to the hotel on Reduit Beach in St Lucia for 2 nights after his arrival, we then had to begin preparations for the kids joining us for Christmas and New Year.
Martin had gone off to begin his 'honeymoon' with Anna (I know they aren't getting married until April, but what the hey!), and Jan Eirik had gone off 'Easy Rider' style to see the island on a hired motorbike.
Meanwhile we also partied some more and at one do Gordon somehow ended up in a Jacuzzi with 3 topless woman! (I took a photo!) - Don't ask - Too long at sea maybe?
On a more constructive note Gordon also busied himself with yet another round of modifications on the boat e.g. strong hooks to hold doors open in transit, the magnets are never strong enough. Also more cleats around the winches etc etc. It seems the boat is never finished.
On 21st December Jan Eirik returned home and after a day of general domestics we went to 'Scuttlebutts' (the marina drinking hole) to await the arrival of the 'weans'. Whilst there I had to repair to the ladies rest room and exited the cubicle straight into a waif like little person coming in. I warned her (in the spirit of the sisterhood) that paper was low to which she replied, "I don't need any." I then said "Wow you're the double of Amy Winehouse." To which she replied, "I am Amy Winehouse, who would copy a drugged up waste of space like her!" I said "You're so little" and"what are you doing here?" She responded "Having a ball like you." We high fived and I went back to the bar where we were sitting with a group of people. When I told them who was in the loo they were a bit dubious, but then she and her whole show biz entourage- heavies, hangers on, and that boyfriend, whose face keeps popping up in the papers (her hubbies in prison) came to the bar too. She was so high she couldn't sit still and kept disappearing to the toilets to 'freshen up'! Next time I went to the loo I wiped her 'face powder' from the vanity unit surfaces. Tragic wee soul really. They all went off as Rachel and Chris arrived.
They had had a terrible journey, mainly because Rachel booked the flight from Edinburgh to Heathrow instead of Gatwick! After missing their flight had then to book another flight with BA instead of their original Virgin flight. No one at Virgin told them they could transfer to a later flight. We are in the midst of a big battle for compensation.
Putting all that aside it was great to see them.
That same night when the kids went to bed exhausted from their travels, Gordon and I waited on "Sunbird" with a large group of volunteers to welcome in the last boat "Atoa", who had lost an engine so required a tow into the marina. They arrived at 3.15am.
Christmas Day was fantastic. We woke early to the sound of Rachel and Chris opening their stocking presents. We had arranged to get together with all the remaining ARC participants on Reduit Beach to have a big BBQ. We loaded our dinghy with supplies then Barbara came over to say they had outboard problems so we towed Lee in his dinghy and took Barbara in ours and sang Christmas carols on the way. The day was spent chatting, eating, drinking and dipping in and out of the sea to cool down, it was 32 deg C. The water was turquoise and warm. The drinks were kept cold in a dinghy full of ice begged from local hotels. We shared our food with a couple of local "limers" wandering about and it was all quite surreal. We returned to the boat in our dinghy in the dark again all singing Christmas carols at the top of our voices. (O come all ye Faithful with 3 part harmonies of course)
Note: Useless information No. 362: Lime, to lime, limer. Lime means chill, hangout, wander. A limer is a person who wanders - a hobo, usually of "no fixed abode". But to lime is acceptable since it means you are relaxed and everything is "Irie" (all right). The Caribbeans used this word to describe relaxing after watching the British sailors "relaxing" round the docks in the early settlement days. Therefore "Limeys" became "Limers".
Anyway moving onto New Year, spent hogmanay day on the beach, then showered and changed and off to join the locals and tourists on the beach for great fireworks at midnight. Then partied the night away in true "jump up" style. Oh yes - Gordon wore his kilt!
Rachel and Chris returned home on the 4th January and we prepared the boat for moving on to Martinique.
I realised I have now been in St Lucia for close on five weeks so am now a 'local'. The people here are so lovely, although will charge you several times 'local' prices if you are not careful. But everyone from Rasta Man, Simeon (local equivalent of H Samuels see picture), to waitresses and taxi drivers have a smile that just lights up your day (and can lighten your wallet!).
There is a great deal of poverty here as I mentioned before, but when we travelled round the island overland in a minibus with driver, we experienced optimism in the people and great pride in what they do have. Also endless ingenuity in parting you from your money. Some local children gave us an Oscar winning performance about a "burst football". We gave them small change (although a new ball apparently would cost $US 30 !!) and saw them later playing football happily. Either they got a good deal or it was a well used line. I suspect the latter. (see photo)
On Tuesday 6th January at 11.25am we headed off for Martinique in a good 18 - 22 knot east wind. So close hauled all the way to St Anne's Bay where we dropped anchor for the night. Black velvety sky with no light pollution, beautiful. The following morning we moved into Marin, but the marina was full and approximately 400 boats were anchored off, so we joined them. We spent a week in Martinique and rather than take the boat round to Fort de France, instead used a local bus. We find this is a better way to see the countryside and experience the local differences. Martinique is a pretty wealthy place by Caribbean standards and is so French. Of course it is French and the food and language reflects this. We were culture shocked to find ourselves on an 8-lane motorway at one point.
I decided we need a trailer on the back of the boat! The shopping opportunities in Fort de France were astonishing. Shoes to die for and all kinds of clothes at cheap prices, but apparently again we don't have room for such things!
We met up with Betty and Anton from "Cassiopeia", other ARC participants, in the marina and had great chats. Also found Dr Dick and Lizzie from "Indian Summer" who were also here. They gave us a lovely dinner on board and we caught up with each other's experiences so far. Thanks Guys!
One interesting feature of the islands are the cemeteries. They are like little white cities, since burial takes place above ground in concrete mausoleums which are a riot of colour because of plastic flowers and decorations left by relatives. Real flowers are not encouraged since the stagnant water in vases can encourage dengue fever from mosquitoes.
Food here, as in the whole of the West Indies, is based on very high carbohydrates e.g. for one lunch in a local restaurant we chose fish but along side it was served lentils, plantain (like a green banana) , semolina and potatoes. Hence the high number of "traditionally built" women in the Caribbean.
On Tuesday 13th January we upped anchor and left Martinique straight into a huge squall, not really a big problem though since we now sail in swimwear and dry quickly.
Strange to be back in Rodney Bay again which has begun to feel like home. We had a lovely reunion with Allan and Dianna Colinson of "Morgan le Fay" and after drinks on board decamped to "Equinox" for supper and showing of the Spitsbergen film. Hi you two.
One of the main reasons for coming back here is to have the old girl's bottom seen to (the boat's), so Friday 16th we motored to the boat yard where they lifted her out of the water. Her hull was covered in tubeworm and looked very different from the usual Forth weed growth. We decamped to the Village Inn hotel and had a lovely three nights stay while work was completed. Gordon took the opportunity to replace all anodes.
During this time "Sunbird" came back into Rodney bay enroute to Martinique. Although Gordon and Liz weren't aboard (back in Spain and UK) we met up with crew Steve and Amanda and had a very good Italian meal in a restaurant hidden behind the Happy Bar. The owner and chef is authentically Italian and goes to great pains to give an excellent meal. Highly recommended.
"Equinox" went back into the water on the 19th January (Rachel's birthday, happy birthday darling) and we spent a day getting the boat prepared for at least 10 days of anchoring. On 21st January we left Rodney Bay for the last time heading for St Vincent.
St Vincent and the Grenadines
We anchored overnight in Chateaubelair on the island of St Vincent. The foliage and greenery in this bay make it look like something out of the Jurassic period. The only missing elements were pterodactyls flying overhead. We were greeted on arrival by John, a boat boy, who paddled out on an old surfboard, wearing his best business suit of underpants and shredded t-shirt. We negotiated a price, 8 EC$, for a hand of bananas which he went back to pick for us. We only had a 10 EC$ note and he actually brought 2 EC$ change. When he returned with the bananas he told us that "boats don't come to 'Belair' anymore since the people were killed." He said "Don't you read the papers?" Apparently a few months before some locals boarded a yacht in the bay, killed the couple on board with machetes and stole property. He told us the people responsible had been caught and jailed and the police now kept a close eye on the bay (we saw no evidence of this). As he stood on his board clinging to the side of the boat drinking a beer (ours) he described the devastating effects of this tragedy on his village. The guidebook which most people use (we don't) is emphatic that because of this incident one must not go near this place, but I feel it is for individuals to decide given the facts. Our feeling is that given the circumstances we could not have been safer. Having told John that if we had a good night here we would tell everyone that Chateaubelair was safe ,we felt very protected. He was so pleased by this I think he kept watch all night for us. We still didn't sleep much though.
We departed Chateaubelair bay at 0950 and experienced very variable winds in both direction and speed on our journey to Bequia (max wind speed 29 knots max boat speed 8.8 knots). Admiral's Bay is a beautiful setting. The water was the clearest turquoise and the bay surrounded by pretty houses and restaurants with the ubiquitous palm trees leaning over white sandy beaches. However winds of 23 knots made for a pretty bouncy anchorage and interesting methods of getting in and out of the dinghy which in my case meant a lot of girly shrieking and wobbling about as the space between boat and dinghy ever widened with me acting as a line between the two. However it was worth the effort since the famous Frangipanis was hosting a 16 piece steel band as part of a four day music festival on the island.
We met Brigit and Paul from "Namaste" once more (Brigit had been one of the WAGS in St Lucia). We had not seen them since Christmas in Rodney Bay. We celebrated Gordon's birthday here in Bequia with lunch at Frangipanis and dinner at Jack's Bar. Excellent band from Sweden playing all our old favourites and none of the musicians were over 25!
Port Elizabeth, the town here, is reminiscent of the 50's. The shops have glass display counters and sell weird and wonderful mixture of goods e.g. Amami hair spray (pre aerosol type has to be squeezed out of a plastic bottle by hand) beside one can of beans beside an ancient rusty pack of razors and a very out of date magazine. I was on the hunt for fresh vegetables and spotted a typical covered market, so in we went. The market consisted of some five or six trestle tables groaning with fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices. We were immediately surrounded by several Rastafarians who plied us with many good things, spinach, greenbeans, avocado, yam, pineapple, parsley, basil, and after much negotiation and refusing the ganja (which was just another herb!) we found ourselves outside in a daze, loaded with stuff, some of which we actually wanted.
Incidentally Gordon is very taken by the number of brown boobies to be seen here in Bequia. They dive from the cliffs to catch fish.
On Sunday 25th January we left Bequia for Tobago Cays and en-route passed a boat very closely, going in the opposite direction called "Brimble". You may remember way back in Lisbon we spoke of this wonderful little family who were crossing the Atlantic in a 28 foot Twister, but not as part of the ARC. We of course said 'no it can't be!' But almost as soon as we said it, sure enough the call came on the radio "Equinox, Equinox, Equinox, this is Brimble - over" It was them and they were on their way to Bequia and hoping to meet up with us on their way north. We were so sad to have missed them and Gordon had sent them an email just two days before which they had missed. Anyway hi Selma, John, Ella and Jacobim .Some other time?
Tobago Cays is pretty stunning, being a small group of islands surrounded by coral. It is reputedly one of the best places for turtle spotting and snorkelling, but the wind and sea were pretty high so visibility under the water was not good.
On Monday we took a picnic onto one of the little coral islands and swam, snorkelled and lunched. The whole Cays is a protected National Park and carefully maintained. Many turtles lay their eggs here.
Gordon has had to order a new fridge thermostat since ours is broken. The fridge is on all the time and freezing everything which of course spoils vegetables and is very greedy on the battery.
On Tuesday 27th January we departed Tobago Cays for Clifton Bay in Union Island. Still a strong wind and very crowded anchorage with treacherous shallows all around. It took us 45 minutes and 3 attempts to settle the anchor in a good spot. However a large tourist boat came and picked up a mooring close behind and at times we could reach out and touch their very long bowsprit, so moved again.
We found Union Island to be one of the most picturesque and friendly islands so far. Initially we were put off by the very aggressive boat boys who came out to meet the yachts and pester you all the time you are trying to concentrate on anchoring. They want you to pick up a mooring which they then claim belongs to a local restaurant - so you have to eat there. 'No thanks' does not compute with these guys.
We managed to break my camera in Tobago Cays by snorkelling with it. It says "can be used underwater" but not that it will necessarily survive the experience. So we are back to Gordon's old Sony and at the moment cannot access the latest photos on my memory card.
The little town here is a riot of colour, each building being painted in national colours. Green gold and red, and all the shades in-between. Everyone who passes greets you with a bright 'good day' and they seem quite British in both dress and manner. Of course the island was owned by a Scot for sometime towards the end of the 19th century. We shopped in a 'supermarket' where I was able to buy a second hand pot lid, which fits my wok perfectly, and could have chosen from a great variety of used and almost new goods which were displayed alongside foods and beers. The owner gave us permission to 'take as long as you like and buy anything you want', uh huh! He said this whilst reclined in a chair at the door eating his lunch with huge belly exposed and bare feet on the shelf, Tescos take note.
A wee knock on the boat announced the presence of Holger, a chap who is sailing with his wife and two and a half year old daughter, in their boat "Ohana"(meaning family). They also did the ARC and are going as far as Australia. So we will link up with them as part of our fleet for the Panama Canal passage. We have now accumulated 9 or 10 boats which will gather at about the same time in Panama. Whilst on the island we spent a pleasant hour at the Anchorage Yacht Club where we sat watching a huge shark circling the small lake they have created. If you are brave (and sober) you can cross a plank and sit on a floating deck to have your drink while the shark swims around you.
On Thursday 29th January we set off from Union Island to Grenada, a previously British ruled Island which gained independence in 1974. The distance was 42 nautical miles and we left Clifton at 09.45 in 20 knots east wind. With between 0.1 and 0.9 knots of tide against us we arrived at St George at 17.00 hours. We reversed into the pontoon having first picked up a buoy, a new method for us but perfectly done. This small marina is called the Grenada Yacht Club but Campers and Nicholson have opened a superyacht marina just across the lagoon and apparently plan to develop the whole bay.
The lagoon was landlocked and was an extinct volcano crater but in the late 60's they blasted through the rock to open the lagoon to the sea creating this very safe harbour.
Having been at anchor for some time now its lovely to plug in and have access to laundry facilities and water again. On Friday Gordon spent a lot of time going to and fro to the Venezuelan Embassy to obtain a sailing visa which we were advised was necessary for the next leg. The process was laborious and eventually took two full working days. We also arranged to do an island tour with Felix, a local taxi driver, but in true Caribbean style when we turned up on Saturday he had enlisted another 3 people for the same trip. I was none too pleased having planned for just the two of us to suit ourselves for the day, however I told Felix I would go and talk to these unknown people and see if they might be ok. They turned out to be a Canadian couple from Calgary, Don and Fiona, and an American girl Kristen, whose husband was involved with the regatta which was taking place that weekend. We had a lovely day with lovely people.
, Grenada is very aptly named the 'spice island' and we picked up nutmeg from the ground, saw cinnamon trees, cocoa plants, turmeric, sage, pimento, cloves, sugar cane, bay leaf, ginger, etc etc. All these grow together mixed up in small areas, so it is possible to stand in one spot turn in a circle and gather almost all of them, the smells are amazingly heady.
The island was devastated twice by hurricane in recent years, first in 1955 by Janet and again in 2004 by Ivan. The destruction caused by Ivan was incredible all greenery and vegetation was stripped from the island. Most roofs and many whole buildings were lost. They are slowly recovering and have a great spirit of survival and optimism. By the end of the day we had gained greater knowledge of this very noble little island and had made some lovely new friends. Later Don and Fiona invited us onto their boat and we had a memorable evening enjoying a full turkey roast dinner on the lovely "Fido" an Amel 52' yacht. Cheers guys.
We were lucky enough to be here for Independence Day on 7th February and had a great time participating in the official goings on held at the spectacular sports stadium in St George. Everyone including us dressed in national colours leading to a riotously colourful scene. I am rather fond of my photo in the company of some young men from the Venezuelan Navy who had taken part in the ceremony (well you can always window-shop).
We had a very happy reunion with Gordon and Liz when they flew back out on 6th February to join "Sunbird" much enjoyable stuff ensued including dinner at Gary Rhodes Granadian restaurant. It was brilliant but with a West Indian twist when the maitre de joined the band to sing Elvis songs a la reggae.
After 15 days here and much discussion we have decided to avoid the mainland of Venezuela altogether, there are just too many reports of attacks on yachts and piracy to make it a sensible option. Instead we will make straight for the Venezuelan island of El Gran Roque in the group of islands Los Roques. This will involve approximately 48 hours at sea and my first solo night watches. So wish me luck.
I am leaving the West Indies with a head full of so many images, some great and some troubling. Many islands are thriving under some kind of 'protector ship' others floundering and seemingly aimless. Some proudly independent and forward looking and others stuck in a cycle of crime, drugs and disease. But overwhelmingly my memories will be of a people who are welcoming, dignified and striving for betterment. For most life is good. No one need go hungry as the trees groan with fruit just for the picking. I wonder what South America will bring and the onward journey to Panama.