Date: 16 February 2014
Position: 17:15.011N 062:39.574W White House Bay, St Kitts
This is the first day for a couple of weeks that I’ve been able to find time to fashion a blog, so a bit of a catch up. I last left you having arrived in St Pierre in Martinique, mast intact. Since then we’ve sailed to five different countries and had an enforced holiday. Busy, busy, busy.
After our eight-day unscheduled stay in Rodney Bay in St Lucia sorting out the rigging problems as best we could, we were now on a mission to get to Antigua for our rendezvous with good friends Jo and Caroline who were to join us for nearly a week. As the Downstairs Skipper doesn’t do night passages, this was to involve five longish day-passages over six days. We had sailed to St Pierre only because it was conveniently located about half way between Rodney Bay in St Lucia and Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica. We had been advised that St Pierre didn’t have much to recommend it, but actually we loved it. It is a very unsophisticated small town but with very friendly people and Gallic charm. Clearing in to this Départment of France was a breeze, not least because we arrived at 1605 to find the immigration and customs offices closed at 1600 (Friday afternoon) and wouldn’t reopen until Monday. We were delighted to find an incredibly well-stocked French supermarket where we loaded up on charcuterie, patisserie, delicious cheeses and tins of foie gras. Despite being called Huit á Huit the supermarket was not open throughout the lunch break and, belying its name, closed at 7pm.
After an excellent dinner ashore we had an early night ready for an 0630 start the following morning for the 55 mile, nine-hour passage to Prince Rupert Bay at the top of Dominica. Sailing in the lee of Dominica I saw the familiar blow of a whale – the first we had seen since we were half way up the Brazilian coast. I identified it as being a Sperm whale (square head – Moby Dick – you know the one), the first of this species I had seen.
We have been told that Dominica as a country is delightfully undeveloped compared to most of the Caribbean islands, but as we arrived late afternoon and were due to leave again early the following morning, it wasn’t worth the hassle of clearing in and out just for a couple of hours, so we stayed on the boat. Hopefully there will be the opportunity of seeing something of the country on our way back south.
Our next hop was a short 22-mile passage to the islands of Les Saintes at the bottom of another French-owned island, Guadeloupe. The islands are a gem and we thoroughly enjoyed a day and a half here, this time stocking up on gallons of good French wine in boxes – difficult to come by in the Caribbean.
Now well-supplied with delectable foods and fine wines befitting a Luxury Holiday Yacht we made our penultimate passage to Deshaies at the north end of Guadeloupe before our final 42-mile passage across the boisterous stretch of water between Guadeloupe and Antigua. We dropped anchor in Freeman’s Bay in English Harbour beneath the plush hill-top villa in which Jo and Caroline had been staying for a few days before joining us on Mina2.
We were advised by a friendly American that in the southern end of Freeman’s Bay where we had anchored the wind tended to swirl around and the yachts spin round in different directions in a merry dance, so it was best to put out a couple of fenders just in case your yacht decided to get chummy with another yacht during the night. He wasn’t kidding. The dancing started as the wind moderated at sunset and continued until morning. The DS and I didn’t sleep too well that night. I awoke early as usual and went on deck clad in a rather short dressing gown and little else. I was alarmed to find that the davits protruding from the back of my boat were just about to joust with the davits of another boat. I rushed to the back, grabbed the boat hook and fended us off. Hearing the commotion, the DS came on deck and was as horrified as I was. It wasn’t only the boats that were swirling around in the wind – my dressing gown was as well. “For God’s sake, stop exposing yourself to the entire anchorage and get some knickers on” (the DS is foreign and quite often gets words wrong). With the neighbouring boat coming back for another foray with our davits, I handed the boathook to the DS, rushed below and grabbed a pair of boxers. Trying to run at the same time as putting on a pair of boxers is a skill I haven’t quite perfected. My foot got caught whilst I was in an awkward crouching position and the next thing I felt was a sickening stabbing pain in my lower back. I froze. A disc had pinged out and I was incapable of movement without excruciating pain. Meanwhile the neighbouring boat had re-joined Mina2 in battle and the DS was desperately trying to separate them.
“What are you doing just standing there with that stupid expression your face? Get up here and give me a hand” she shouted.
“My back’s gone” I gasped.
“Oh, great. Just great”
With a Herculean effort, the DS forced the intruder away before glaring at me standing at the foot of the companionway with my pants half on and a look of genuine agony on my face.
“You idiot. You’ve probably ruined everything”.
It’s tender sympathetic moments like this that make marriage so worthwhile.
Followers of the blog will know that I have suffered from chronic back problems most of my adult life but it only tends to strike about once a year on average. But when it does, it can put me out of action for several days. The day before being joined by Jo and Caroline, the DS was right – the timing was not good.
When Jo and Caroline came on board the following day, they were horrified to find me lounging around whilst the DS was rushing around doing all the heavy work like winching the dinghy under the davits. I told them that this was how I organised things on Mina2 and they would do well to mind their own business, but eventually I had to come clean when I had to be escorted down below by the DS, wincing in pain.
Our plan had been to spend the six days sailing across the bouncy passage to Guadeloupe which J&C had never visited, and spend a couple of days there before bouncing back to Antigua again. I was delighted to have Jo on board as, before he started running London and Bristol Zoos as a career, he had been in the Royal Navy. Even though few fighter planes have taken off from the deck of Mina2, I was certain that Jo’s extensive maritime experience would be invaluable. Apart from still having both arms and both eyes, in almost all other respects Jo is just like the great Nelson. Sharp as a needle and a natural leader of men, he is as brave as a lion and has a heart of oak. But also like Nelson, it transpired he has a stomach of jelly. My first inkling was when we were bobbing around at anchor in a bay almost as flat as a mill pond when Jo went green and started popping sea-sickness tablets. Take him out on the six-hour passage to Guadeloupe in two metre seas, and my pristine decks would be covered with the contents of his stomach. In truth, with my back as it was, the rapid revision of our plan came as something of a relief to me.
So the following morning we made our way just two miles round the coast to Mamora Bay which we found had nothing to recommend it, so the following day we went a further eight miles to the east end of Antigua and the delights of Green Island and its surrounding coral reefs.
Whilst we were at Green Island, Jo and Caroline invited us to lunch at one of their favourite restaurants, Harmony Hall.
“Shall we get them to collect us in their launch?” asked Caroline.
“Wouldn’t bother” said Jo, “It’s only just round that headland – it’ll be easier just to take the dinghy”.
The headland was about quarter of a mile away. I was lowered gently into the dinghy and the others piled in, all of us dressed in our best going-out clothes. Round the headland we went.
“That’s funny” said Jo, “I could have sworn it was just here”. We rounded headland after headland until two miles later we eventually saw the restaurant. It was a fabulous lunch in a gorgeous setting and it was late afternoon before we all piled back into the dinghy for the return journey. By this time, the afternoon breeze had picked up substantially and Mina2 was two miles away dead upwind. A short choppy sea had built up which not only slowed our progress but with every back jarring lurch threw spray all over us. Within seconds we were all soaked to the skin. It was a long journey back but such is the effect of copious fine wine, we never stopped laughing.
The following morning we relocated to a more secluded bay just round the corner with greater protection from the wind. This was absolutely THE place for snorkelling and with my back well on the road to recovery I, despite the protestations of the DS, donned fins, mask and snorkel and slipped into the clear aquamarine water to join the turtles and rays swimming around the coral. Mistake. The following morning my back was as bad as ever. The DS was jolly cross and I was forbidden from doing anything more until I had fully recovered. I had been put on lounging-around duty again.
It wasn’t only what was going on under the water that was interesting. Overhead we had Pelicans and Brown Boobies dive bombing into the water; spectacular Red-Billed Tropic birds, pure white with very long trailing tail feathers, and black Frigate birds with their raked wings. And every evening an Osprey would hover overhead looking for a tasty fish for dinner. Near the beach Caroline and the DS saw a long snake moving rapidly through the undergrowth. As a world-renowned conservationist, Jo immediately knew what it was. The Antiguan Racer snake is the rarest snake on the planet. Good thing the girls didn’t kill it.
A few days before we got to Antigua, the DS inexplicably snapped. “Why does everything have to be a bloody SAS exercise?” she shouted, “Why can’t we just enjoy ourselves like everyone else here?” I couldn’t think what she was talking about. But being obliged to spend a few days in holiday-mode in deference to our two guests, I have to say that gently bobbing around at anchor off white-sanded palm-fringed beaches; swimming in gin-clear turquoise water with Green turtles and rays over the coral reefs, and sitting watching spectacular sunsets, rum punch in hand, I am now just beginning to see that some people might actually enjoy this wanton lifestyle. It’s not for me of course, but perhaps the DS does have a point after all.
News from back home has been sporadic but we have heard rumours that back in Blighty you’ve had a little bit of wind and rain and you’ve all been complaining like mad. For God’s sake, get a grip. From the fuss, you’d have thought Somerset was under water and the West Country railway lines had been swept into the sea. Nevertheless with inclement weather in the UK for the last two winters, rather than making our way back to Europe after two winters in the Caribbean, we have decided to prolong the misery by wintering this side of the pond for an additional year. At least that might give us time to actually see something of the islands we’ve been passing by, which is more than we’ve achieved so far.