CARIBBEAN: OCTOBER TO DECEMBER
Sunday 9th of October, it was dark, we were sitting in the middle of a public road on a concrete block, drinking a beer. Two hundred and fifty yards up the road were the judges, sitting in the front garden of an office building. Thirty yards down the road, spread right across the road, six ranks deep, was the biggest pan band we've ever seen, with at least a dozen other pan bands behind them. They were advancing on us with the speed and menace of a steamroller. Mike leant over to me and said "How did you die? I was run over by a pan band". Not a bad way to go really but lest you think we bin smokin da ganja, officer, I'll try to explain what we were doing there. Ami, from the US flagged boat Tara Vana, plays pan for one of the big Trini bands. She had told us about a major competition they were in, due to be held in Port of Spain. What we couldn't get our heads round was that the venue was a public road. There were twenty two bands in the competition and each was given a maximum time period to set up and to play, with points deducted for overruns. To get twenty two bands consisting of five hundred odd players and one thousand plus pans set up in front of the judges, in a reasonable time frame, is the sort of logistical challenge loved by the military. The Trinis do it by mounting the pans on big steel frames, with wheels on - they just wheel the pans up and they can even play while on the move. It's a seriously impressive sight. The event layout then was the judges in the front garden of an office block and twenty two bands lined up down the road waiting to move forward to be judged. Ami had told us that rather than stand by the judges it was more fun to walk up and down the road because the bands set up and then rehearse their piece. She was right, it was brilliant, they rehearse more than once so we could choose music/the bands we liked and we could get right up close. The players cover the whole social spectrum - lots of female players, many kids as young as eight or nine, seventy year olds... And it's hard to describe the sound and motion of a big band (fifty players, one hundred and twenty pans) close up. Very loud for sure but that doesn't convey the joy on display, with every player moving to the rhythm. After a couple of hours wandering around it was time for a break and a beer. That's why we were sitting in the middle of the road, in the dark, in a country that is deemed 'unsafe', having a fabulous time, officer. The Most Beautiful Cat In The World
We first met the US flagged yacht Sogne di Mare in Graciosa. They had come out of the Med and while they were in Almerimar (Spain) they had taken in a feral cat. When we first saw the little beastie we said "what a beautiful cat" and everybody said the same thing - thus she became known as 'The Most Beautiful Cat In The World'. This was not an overstatement, her markings were such that she looked like a miniature tiger and if she was in the vicinity you couldn't take your eyes off her. After the Atlantic crossing we next saw Sogne di Mare in Dominica and we asked about the cat. A terrible silence descended. She had been lost overboard, nobody saw her go but, since she was still half wild, the guess was she chased a flying fish. All the cruisers who knew her were upset but it led us to hearing another story. We don't know if this is true but it was written up in the magazine Cruising World. A UK flagged boat lost their cat overboard in the Atlantic and they threw a danbuoy (marker) over, but they didn't see her. A week later their friends arrived in the Caribbean, after their transatlantic. On board were both the cat and the danbuoy. Apparently they had seen the danbuoy and found the cat clinging to it. Stranger things have happened, so we hope it's true, but we still miss The Most Beautiful Cat In...Heaven, hopefully. Canvas work (written by Mike)
Other than listing what she has made, Jane hasn't said anything about all the canvas work she did in Trinidad. Before we left the UK we knew that at some point we would have to replace all the canvas on the boat and make a few new things, thus we bought an industrial grade Sailrite sewing machine that can handle multiple layers of canvas. The canvas is important to us, both to protect us from the sun and to protect sails, winches, satellite aerials, steering wheel, instrument panel etc from UV damage and dust. The amazing thing is the scale and complexity of what she has been doing. The most complex thing she has made is the sprayhood which has multiple curves on curves and clear plastic inserts. Although there were a few hiccups on the way I still find it hard to believe she made it and to me it looks highly professional, though doubtless she would point out the odd blemish. The funniest sight has been watching her make the main sun awning. Each panel covers the area of a large double bed and there are four panels! She used to disappear behind a mountain of canvas doing I don't know what but with much whirring and the odd curse, and then we end up with a sun awning. She's done enough now that I think she could work professionally for a canvas company but I still sit there bemused, wondering how it's possible to even sew straight lines (I've tried it and, trust me, it's impossible). The haul out
We hadn't hauled out Kelly's Eye for twenty months and the antifouling paint was beginning to 'fail' - the barnacles down here must be on steroids, they make UK barnacles look like wimps. So we hauled her out on October 17th and, since staying on a boat on the hard is a serious pain (no running water, no loo, no fridge etc), we booked into the marina's hotel for a week. Clearly that was a foolish thing to do because nothing ever goes according to plan and we duly extended our hotel stay to nearly three weeks. This was the first time Mike had slept off the boat for nineteen months and he said "it's very odd to sleep in a bed that doesn't move". The original plan was to rub down the antifouling, apply a barrier coat and then apply three new coats of antifouling. However, when we hauled and power washed her we found areas of antifouling and some filler flaking off. Since we always try to do a job properly this meant removing all the coatings on the hull from the bottom of the keel to a couple of inches above the waterline, a big job best done by professionals. We also wanted little chips in the hull, and the place where the boat boy in Dominica had T boned us, painted. The yard recommended a team of people to us, run by a guy called Kamba, and they started work on the 18th. Having removed all the hull coatings they then applied three coats of a special epoxy primer for steel called Pitt Guard - it's used on all the oil rigs out here. This was followed by one coat of black antifouling and two coats of blue (we'll see black when the blue wears off and know it's time to do something). I have to say that Kamba and his boys did a magnificent job. It took longer than expected, due to occasional rain, additional work, two public holidays in one week and the Trinidadian work ethic, which is manana without the urgency. We also lost a day when some paper masking blew free and attached itself to wet paint. But we have no complaints and the price was way cheaper than the UK. We finally got back in the water on November 5th. Meet Alan
Alan is an American who owns a condo in Puerto Rico and is cruising the Caribbean in a motor yacht.
He is married to Barbie.
Barbie is his seventh wife and they don't get on.
And, yes, Barbie is a blonde.
Barbie doesn't like Alan drinking alcohol.
Alan has an arrangement with the local barman who spikes his soft drinks.
Steve, from the yacht Aspen, thought he heard the sound of a Harley Davidson, that's because Alan keeps a 1970's Harley on the aft deck and he occasionally runs it up.
Alan has only one eye.
He also has a dodgy shoulder.
Alan sustained his injuries when he fell out of an aeroplane, the ground crew didn't bring up the boarding ladder and he forgot to check.
He was a CIA pilot.
Alan owns a parrot called Birdie.
Birdie has only one wing.
But Birdie's eyesight is much better than Alan's and he's very good at spotting reefs.
When Birdie sees coral he calls out "Go back, go back".
Since you couldn't make this stuff up, I can assure you it is all true. Alan was parked in the marina opposite us, in Trinidad, and he provides the cruising community with endless funny stories. Battle of Trafalgar Day
Since it is now politically incorrect to celebrate giving Johnny-Foreigner a good smacking, a dinner was held in memory of all those who lost their lives. Naturally we wanted this to be held in Spanish 'waters', but since there is no Spanish restaurant in Trinidad we had to do the next best thing. Yes, a French restaurant (I said you couldn't make this stuff up). In fact the restaurant was brilliant and really got into the spirit of things. They put large red, blue and white ensigns on the end wall, signal flags round the room, had pictures of Nelson on every bottle of wine and produced an excellent meal of Stilton soup, roast beef with all the trimmings and a choice of rhubarb crumble or bread pudding. The food was the best we have had since we left the UK. Mike from Altair who organised the evening gave a brief but fascinating insight into Nelson's life and the crew of Fruition re-enacted the battle, set in modern times, subject to modern health and safety regulations and political correctness...You are now on the deck of the recently renamed British Flagship, HMS Appeasement. "Order the signal, Hardy."
"Aye, aye sir."
"Hold on, Hardy, that's not what I dictated to the signal officer. What's the meaning of this?"
"Sorry sir?" "England expects every person to do his duty, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion or disability".
"What gobbledegook is this, Hardy?"
"Admiralty policy, I'm afraid, sir. We're an equal opportunities employer now. We had the devil's own job getting 'England' past the censors, lest it be considered racist."
"Gadzooks, Hardy. Hand me my pipe and tobacco."
"Sorry sir. All naval vessels have been designated smoke-free working environments."
"In that case, break open the rum ration. Let us splice the mainbrace to steel the men before battle."
"The rum ration has been abolished, Admiral. It's part of the Government's policy on binge drinking."
"Good heavens, Hardy. I suppose we'd better get on with it. Full speed ahead."
"Sorry Sir, this is a 'no wake' zone. I think you'll find that there's a 4 knot speed limit in this stretch of water."
"Damn it man! We are on the eve of the greatest sea battle in history. We must advance with all dispatch. Report from the crow's nest, please."
"That won't be possible, sir."
"H&S have closed the crow's nest, sir. No harness. And they said that rope ladder doesn't meet regulations. They won't let anyone up there until a proper scaffolding can be erected."
"Then get me the ship's carpenter without delay, Hardy."
"Can't do that sir, he's busy installing wheelchair access to the fo'c'sle."
"Wheelchair access? I've never heard anything so absurd."
"H&S sir. We have to provide a barrier-free environment for the differently abled."
"Differently abled? I've only one arm and one eye and I refuse even to hear mention of those words. I didn't rise to the rank of admiral by playing the disability card."
"Actually, sir, you did. The Royal Navy is under-represented in the areas of visual impairment and limb deficiency."
"Whatever next? Give me full sail. The salt spray beckons."
"A couple of problems there too, sir. H&S won't let the crew up the rigging without helmets and sun lotion with a PF of at least 60. And they don't want anyone breathing in too much salt - haven't you seen the CDC commercials?"
"I've never heard such infamy. Break out the cannon and tell the men to stand by to engage the enemy."
"The men are a bit worried about shooting at anyone, Admiral."
"What? This is mutiny."
"It's not that, sir. It's just that they're afraid of being charged with murder if they actually kill anyone There's a couple of ACLU lawyers on board, watching everyone like hawks."
"Then how are we to sink the Frenchies and the Spanish?"
"Actually, sir, we're not."
"No, sir. The Frenchies and the Spanish are our European partners now. According to the Common Fisheries Policy, we shouldn't even be in this stretch of water. We could get hit with a claim for compensation."
"But you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil."
"I wouldn't let the ship's diversity co-ordinator hear you saying that sir. You'll be suspended and subject to disciplinary action."
"You must consider every man an enemy who speaks ill of your King."
"Not any more, sir. We must be inclusive in this multicultural age. Now put on your Kevlar vest; it's the rules."
"Don't tell me - H&S. Whatever happened to rum, sodomy and the lash?"
"As I explained, sir, rum is off the menu. And there's a ban on corporal punishment."
"What about sodomy?"
"Sodomy is legal now, sir, and homosexuals are to be encouraged in the Navy."
"In that case - kiss me Hardy."
P.S. Bearing the above in mind, to start the anniversary celebrations in London, an actor dressed as Nelson posed for pictures on the River Thames at Greenwich. Before he was allowed to board an RNLI Lifeboat, safety officials made him wear a lifejacket over his 19th century admiral's uniform. Makes you want to cry really. P.P.S. Before we left the UK we took one day off to visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Since we were about to set off ocean sailing we particularly wanted to see Harrison's clocks, that enabled longitude to be calculated. However, they also have the uniform jacket that Lord Nelson was wearing when he was shot, complete with bullet hole and blood stains. The jacket is tiny and looks as though it was made for a modern-day child. It is an extremely moving sight that brings tears to your eyes, Mike found it very difficult to drag himself away from it. Definitely worth seeing. 5.5 on the Richter scale
On Friday 29th October, at 18.30, we were in our hotel room getting ready to meet Altair and Water Music for a meal. Suddenly the hotel began to shake and there was a deep rumbling sound, not unlike thunder. Earthquake! As we were to discover later the epicentre was just north of Trinidad. The shocks lasted two to three seconds, then stopped for two to three seconds, then came back even stronger, again lasting about three seconds. I was having a shower, Mike came in and we had a quick discussion (based on the number and strength of walls) on the safest place in our room and the safest way to exit the building. By this time the tremors had stopped and we decided to stay put. I can assure you that having a solid concrete floor shaking under your feet is seriously scary. Even worse though was not knowing what might happen next - will the shocks start again, will the building collapse? In fact the reason we stayed put was that we were aware that Trinidad suffers from minor earthquakes but nothing serious...yet. The Trinis go mad
On Wednesday 16th November Trinidad's Soca Warriors, captained by Dwight Yorke, beat Bahrain 1 - 0 (in Bahrain) in a World Cup football play-off, to qualify for the finals in Germany. They are only the second Caribbean nation ever to have qualified (the Jamaican Reggae Boys were the other one) and qualification has been one of Trinidad's greatest dreams. The effect of the win on the nation was extraordinary. To say that the Trinis know how to party would be one of the greatest understatements of all time. They don't need drink, they don't need drugs, they don't even need music, they just put on their big smiley faces and get out on the streets and dance. And that's precisely what they did in the afternoon (and through the night) of the 16th, everybody walked out of their workplace and started to party. Roads were blocked and people couldn't even get home. We've said before that the nations out here have their priorities right and once the party started why stop it? The same afternoon the government announced that the following day would be a public holiday (who cares about the effect on businesses) and so the party went on. We were really pleased for the Trinis, both as our hosts and the fact that the mean-spirited Bahrain officials wouldn't let the Trini supporters' pan band take their instruments into the ground. With pan meaning so much to the Trinis that was a serious insult, mentioned on national television - justice was done. Leaving Trinidad for Grenada
We were going to leave on Monday November 14th but our wind instruments had packed up. Mike went up the mast (while we were on the hard, tut tut) to take the 'wand' off and removed the instrument display, both of which were tested. Basically it was cheaper to replace the whole system rather than attempt repairs. This meant ordering the kit from the USA and tearing half the boat apart to route the new cabling so we changed our leaving date to the 21st. The delay turned out to be fortuitous because during the week of the 14th an unexpected low pressure area formed just off the islands to the north and the boats that did leave were pasted by fifty knot winds blowing straight into all the anchorages. Along came the 21st and we didn't leave then either. We had ordered some memory foam from the States and asked for it to be couriered. It didn't show up and we were about to cancel the credit card payment but I happened to check with the local post office on the 21st and found that our package was being held at the airport. Instead of leaving we went to the airport to collect it, in the afternoon. We finally did get away on the 22nd and were helped out/seen off by the crews of Altair and Alaté. We had grown really fond of Trinidad and the Trinis, so we went out really slowly, heading to the Mouth of the Dragon, wondering if we will ever go back. We had stayed far longer than we originally planned but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. As with everywhere we had met people beforehand who liked Trinidad and others who didn't. Yes, it's hot, but we had an aircon unit for the summer on the boat especially as we knew we'd be doing a lot of work down below. Shops and offices are kept really cool, so much so that you are advised to take a sweater if you go to the cinema, or you freeze! Yes it rains, but this last summer was remarkably dry, spoilt only by my big mouth about three weeks before we left saying how dry it had been, at which point we had a lot of rain! The cruising community is well looked after by Jessie James and his team. He runs a maxi taxi service for supermarket runs, the trip to the market, airport, embassies and is generally a brilliant asset to Trinidad. Jessie really looked after us and will always advise if he thinks somewhere is unsafe to go or what to do about any problems you encounter. The morning VHF net was very well run and extremely useful, the medical services are very good and inexpensive - both doctors and dentists. One lady we know was diagnosed with cancer last year in Trinidad, treated there successfully and this was after doctors on other islands and the UK had found nothing. She has nothing but praise for the speed and way things went. The fabric shops are like heaven on earth to me. Full of materials of every sort and colour, well priced and stacked high. As with many countries outside the UK people make their own sheets and shirts and there was even a wide range of swim suit material available. Many cruisers bought it and had a local lady make them new costumes. Most stores had a floor selling fabrics and materials for Carnival costumes, everything from glitter to feathers and fascinating to walk round. But it was definitely time to leave! So with memories of the vultures that sit on each lamppost going in to Port of Spain on the highway, and with appreciation for a country where you see prayer flags outside Hindu households, where Hindu and Muslim marry each other (and their children adopt Seventh Day Adventism - as someone said with their tongue firmly in cheek!), we made our way to the Boca with the yellow and green parrots that flock nightly overhead. Once we cleared the pass we found good wind. In fact, through that night we had some of the best sailing we've ever had, with a current helping us we were sailing consistently at over seven knots, peaking at eight point three. Initially there was a lot of ship and fishing boat traffic (two of which came close) and we had a very interesting encounter with a ship. We were both on deck watching a ship that was on a converging course, a collision was likely. Suddenly the VHF radio sprang to life with a ship asking to contact a sailing vessel in such and such a position, heading 355 degrees at seven knots - us! I went back to them and they were a seismic research ship towing a cable array, they asked for us to pass in front of them. After about fifteen minutes we were obviously still on a collision course, so Mike went below to talk to them. They talked about the ship slowing down one knot but with the vagaries of the wind there was no guarantee that we would keep our speed up. Mike also asked about going over the cable but that was strictly forbidden. With no other realistic option Mike volunteered to go behind the ship and the cable - they were very grateful for the offer, but how did we know where the end of the cable was? They said it was lit by a white strobe light, but it wasn't because they had forgotten to turn it on! Eventually they turned the strobe on and told us where to look - the end of the array was 2.9 MILES behind the ship! We turned off and sailed round it. About ten miles south of Grenada the wind began to die and we slowly closed the Grenada coast as the sun came up, perfect timing. Then we had another problem - the anchor winch wouldn't work. Mike went below and started taking things apart, the solenoid was clicking but not engaging and tapping it (they sometimes stick) didn't work. Not wanting to haul up around a hundred feet of chain and a forty five pound anchor by hand, I explained the situation and managed to get a pontoon slot at the Grenada Yacht Club, in St George's. It was here that we discovered that the anchor battery was knackered - a voltmeter test Mike did showed good voltage but when load was applied the voltage plummeted. So we fitted a new battery, cleared customs and immigration ready to leave for St Lucia and left the dock on the 25th. When we started the engine we noticed a smell of burning rubber, a slipping belt, so we anchored in the lagoon to fix it before setting off. What Mike found was extraordinary, a metal slide that is used to adjust the alternator position (and thus belt tension) wasn't bolted or attached to the engine in any way! This 'crime' was perpetrated by Gittens Engineering who rebuilt the engine. By the time we discovered this, and worked out what needed to be done, it was early Friday evening and everything was closed for the weekend. We contacted Enza Marine Engineering on Monday morning and they sent an engineer to measure up for the bracket we required. We did have one unexpected and very pleasant surprise when Jason, Kirsty and Rosie on the yacht Ciao came into St George's. You may recall that Ciao were our fellow radio net controllers over the Atlantic and it was little Rosie's first birthday on the day we left the Canaries. Well little Rosie is now two, she can walk, talk and count to ten in English and Spanish - what a change but she's still a real sweetie. We hadn't seen Ciao since February, they escaped to Venezuela just ahead of hurricane Emily and we had two great evenings on their boat, catching up. Grenada to St Lucia
We eventually left Grenada at 03.00 on Friday 2nd December. Earlier that evening we thought we might have another problem to delay us when the generator wouldn't start. After spending over an hour checking all the electrical systems Mike found a blown fuse on the glowplug circuit - big sigh of relief. Our original plan was to sail straight up to St Lucia, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles. However the rebuilt engine required oil changes at five, twenty and fifty running hours, so we decided to put into the nearest island if an oil change came due. It did and around midday we went into Chatham Bay on the west coast of Union. We hadn't been into Chatham for many years and we had forgotten how pretty it is - nothing on shore, big sandy beach and beautiful clear blue water. We stayed the night knowing that the next leg would be the sail from hell, on my birthday!. We left Union at 07.30 on December 3rd, with a northeasterly right on the nose blowing fifteen to twenty knots and due to increase. We reached St Lucia at 11.00 the following day, having covered about one hundred miles. The wind did increase overnight and at one point something started 'beeping', a noise we hadn't heard before, that we traced to the new wind instruments. After about an hour of beeping it began to drive us mad, so Mike got the manual out and sat with the manual and a torch pressing buttons to stop it. It turned out to be a 'high wind' alarm that the factory had preset to twenty five knots (do people really need to be told when there are strong winds, when it's blindingly obvious?). Our expectation of a sail from hell was delivered, we had rain, the wind went right up and the seas followed, with water breaking over the boat. At one point it seemed like we would never leave the north west tip of St Vincent, doing 0.9 of a knot, wind howling, big seas and the coast seeming not to move away! We also had a slight scare when a boat that was catching us from behind on a parallel course, altered course to close on us when a quarter of a mile off, he also switched off his navigation lights! Since the area is not known for piracy we weren't too concerned but... Given the number of nervous Americans with firearms around it was an extremely stupid thing to do, but he crossed our bows and disappeared into the night. We were also kept busy when Mike inadvertently pressed the Man Overboard function on the GPS and we didn't know how to get out of it - out with another manual. Then the fluxgate compass packed up - Mike fixed it. Then we had another first, maintaining our reputation for attracting wildlife - we found a crab running around on deck! It must have arrived with all the water coming over the boat but we've never heard of anybody else finding one. Needless to say after twenty seven hours of smashing upwind, getting our heads beaten in, we were glad to get in. If we hadn't said to the ARC people that we would be in St Lucia to help them, it is a trip we wouldn't have made until a better wind angle came along. However I've decided that if you are facing a birthday you are a bit apprehensive about reaching then you may as well have something like that sail to take your mind off it! Bit extreme I suppose... The ARC and St Lucia
Our first stint as finish line boat was from 11.00 Tuesday 6th to 11.00 Wednesday 7th and it didn't start too well when the mooring buoy dragged but once we sorted that out we had a fabulous time. It was still windy and to see the big boats powering upwind and passing close by is spectacular. Also, the faces of the crews are a picture, as they jump up and down after crossing the line - we even saw a lady run up the companionway steps just as the boat crossed the line, holding a bottle of champagne. One breathtaking sight was the yacht that fired a red hand flare as they crossed the line, it was predawn around 05.30, and the sky was a mix of very pale blue and orange colours. With the red flare and the boat passing close and fast we just sat there in awe, it was probably one of the prettiest things we've ever seen. Mainly though it was the crews we liked to watch, having been there done that ourselves we know how they felt and every boat finishing brought a lump to our throats. I'm sure you will also be pleased to know that it wasn't all work and the ARC parties are legendary. Since we missed most of them when we arrived last year I can assure you we made up for it. Two of particular note were one that was held in the house and grounds of the marina manager, a quite spectacular waterfront location. Also we went to the 'staff' party held on a local charter catamaran - Mike loved it because we were at sea and he had absolutely no responsibility. Our second stint on the finish line was forty eight hours over the 10th to the 12th of December, this was a real killer. We 'finished' over sixty boats each of which called in on VHF radio about forty five minutes out, again at two miles and again after crossing the line. With the radio traffic and the need to time the boats over the line there wasn't much time for sleep, we probably got no more than four or five hours in forty eight. Given that the crews are nervous (especially at night) when approaching land and want clear instructions and a warm welcome it was tough but we were pleased with how we performed and the ARC team complimented us. Boat maintenance never stops and one thing we hadn't fixed in Trinidad was a sticking pressure switch on the fresh water accumulator tank. In theory it's a simple job - take off the switch cover and repair or replace it. In fact the cover was impossible to take off as was the whole switch, we had to take the whole tank out and that took over a day. We decided to replace the accumulator tank and use the pressure switch on the water pump (that was new in April). Unbeknown to us the switch was faulty and it caused the pump's electric motor to burn out. Fortunately we carry a spare motor (none were available in St Lucia) and we bought a new pump pressure switch. Basically what should have been a quick and easy job became two days of grief and I won't even mention what happened when Mike serviced the watermaker. St Lucia to Antigua
We wanted to get north fairly quickly in the season and meet some other yachts we know in Antigua, for Christmas. Thus we set off at 11.40 on December 19th with the intention of stopping no more than once in the 180 mile trip. We had some cracking sailing between the islands only needing to use the engine when we were in the lee of the islands (the wind dies in the lee and we don't like sailing the windward sides at night, the potential risks are too great if something goes wrong). We arrived at Deshaies, on the north west coast of Guadeloupe around 13.30 on the 20th, tired but exhilarated from the great sailing. We're pretty convinced that the work we had done on the bottom of the hull, replacing and refairing filler and taking all remnants of old anti fouling off before applying new has helped get a tiny bit more speed out of Kelly's Eye. She has a nice smooth bottom - it's nice for Mike to have something in his life with one! We spent the night in Deshaies but didn't clear in or go ashore. We left at 06.20 on the 21st for the final 42 mile leg to Antigua, which was a brilliant sail again. We had fifteen to twenty knot winds just forward of the beam with big seas (there was a significant swell running) and water breaking over the boat. We arrived in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua around 13.30 after one of the fastest passages we've ever made and by then we really were tired. Having sailed most of the way from Trinidad at night and not got much sleep in St Lucia we crashed in spectacular fashion. Water Music were in the bay and asked us over for cocktails, the fact we politely declined says it all, although we did meet up the following night. Antigua
Our primary objective for Antigua was to use the visit as downtime (a holiday, almost) with time for swimming, reading and doing nothing. Other than a book I read travelling from the UK to Trinidad in September I hadn't read a book since sometime in August! Only three things needed fixing: a new battery for the generator; a new membrane for the watermaker; the light on the fluxgate compass. On Christmas Eve we went to a 'pot luck' lunch on the beach attended by twenty three cruisers from ten boats, including two Australian boats that had just completed their Atlantic crossing. The beach is very pretty with good shade, the food and company were excellent so a good time was had by all. Deborah and David from Water Music had organised it, a great start to the festive season. One thing struck us as we walked the beach looking for the site of the pot luck. The beach had numerous people lying in very liitle clothing soaking up the sun. Where did we find the cruisers? Standing and sitting under two large beach umbrellas with tables underneath, wearing shorts and shirts and hats! Those who did swim, did so and then sat in the shade. Bit of a difference in attitude! English Harbour, Antigua is well known for its Christmas Day celebrations - live music and champagne party on the dock, starting around eleven in the morning. We were there of course and went on to treat ourselves to a horribly expensive lunch (that turned out to be good value) with Dale and Rita from Alaté, at the Admiral's Inn, one of our favourite places in the Caribbean. On the 29th there was an Ocean Cruising Club drinks evening attended by John and Christine from Oriole, Deborah and David from Water Music, Robert and Sue from Sunday's Child, Mike and Sadie from Kiss plus Mike Tyson who is the OCC representative in Antigua. We went round to English Harbour on Friday 30th to get diesel, petrol and water before heading up to Green Island on the east coast, a short but nasty upwind bash in fifteen to twenty knots of wind. The place is as pretty as ever but the wind increased further to twenty knots gusting twenty five and the noise from the wind whistling in the rigging became a serious pain. Parked next to us was the mega-yacht Timoneer, a one hundred and thiry eight foot aluminium ketch designed by Ed Dubois. The yacht's manager (he has seven crew including a skipper), Phil Wade, paid us a visit on New Year's Eve and stopped for a drink. Phil has sailed over half a million miles, including twenty six trans-Atlantics, on boats ranging from a Contessa 32 to (the J-Class) Velsheda to (the Maxi) Drum, and he'd spotted our OCC flag. He was fascinating to talk to, not least about Timoneer. The boat really does move around, they've been down to Cape Horn and in 2006 are going through the Panama Canal and up to Alaska, however it is cheaper to motor than sail! The reason is that when they sail they break things, for example: when they blew up their staysail (the smallest sail on the boat) a replacement cost USD 60,000; for some reason the boat eats halyards and they cost USD 16,000 each. The following day we were invited aboard Timoneer! I can't really describe the guided tour - three forty kilowatt generators; an eight hundred horse power main engine; all winches hydraulic, handling sheet loads up to twelve tons; five fridges, two freezers and ice maker; two washing machines and the same number of dryers and dishwashers; three thousand litres a day watermakers; every system monitored by sensors linked to a computer; alarm sensors hidden under the deck; mainsail weighing nearly a ton; two bow anchors weighing five hundred and fifty pounds each; (real) gold hinges, door handles etc in the owner's quarters; a DVD player for every cabin; and so it went on and on. The interior was beautifully done with dark wood in the open areas and light wood in the more enclosed smaller areas. The overriding impression is, of course, money - sums that we can't even imagine, just to keep her running (the crew costs alone must be well over one million USD per annum). The owners and some of their family were on board and we met the owner's wife, but it is always noticeable that nobody ever mentions the surnames of mega-yacht owners. It is almost unheard of to be invited aboard such a yacht, so our thanks go to Phil, the owners and the friendly crew who answered all our dumb questions. If you want to see more about the yacht their web site is www.timoneer.org. Night watches, are we dreaming?
When we sail at night we look for lights and we listen to the rhythm of the boat and any changes that might spell trouble, all our senses including smell (for burning) are heightened. When you are tired this can lead to what seem like hallucinations as well as actual hallucinations (although the latter are rare, most things have an explanation). I'll give some examples. Over Biscay there was a period of a few minutes when we could smell vegetable soup and we don't know where it came from. At various times we have both heard voices, which are particularly apparent in the aft cabin - we worked out that the noise comes from gurgling in the galley sink but it really does sound like people whispering. If Mike is really tired and he watches a light on the horizon (it could be a ship or a star coming up), then the lights multiply until he thinks he is seeing the equivalent of the Manhatten skyline. Even if he closes his eyes it stays with him for about five seconds but it's gone by ten - if it hasn't gone when he opens his eyes then he's looking at a big cruise ship! The most recent example of wondering if something is real or not was on the overnight from Trinidad to Grenada. We were forty miles from the nearest land and we heard "chirp, chirp...chirp, chirp". Initially we wondered if the rigging had started squeaking and what the problem might be. But no, we had a cricket on board - it was still with us days later. Odds and ends
Going native? On three separate occasions, Mike or I were asked for directions by Trinis. We could answer every question and we're not sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. We heard that:
- nearly fifty per cent of the UK workforce is now employed by the state (over fifty per cent in some areas).
- Hull City Council has banned the word 'lady' and the phrase 'old people' and that 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' is now 'Snow White and the Seven Gnomes' (or Guardians of the Forest).
- average public sector pay is now higher than average private sector pay and public sector retirement age remains at sixty, with inflation linked pensions.
- Religious jokes may be made illegal and police gave a hard time to a woman who described the man, whose car mounted the pavement and hit her, as 'fat'.
It's good to hear it's all going so well. Anybody know when Sharia Law might be introduced? - The bird life continued to fascinate us during our stay in Trinidad. In the marina alone we could see: vultures; frigate birds; a pair of pelicans that live at the head of the bay by the fishing cooperative; green parrots by the dozen and Carib Grackles (like a blackbird but the tail is vertical). The cheekiest birds look as though they have been designed by a kid with a colouring book - black head with a white stripe above the eyes, white throat, light brown back, bright yellow underparts and a yellow crest that they only display when angry. They are called Kiskadees and if you say Kis-ka-dee, that is their cry. - The unluckiest boat we've come across is a Dutch flagged Halberg Rassy 42 that came in alongside us at Coral Cove marina. They were up in Tobago and in the early hours one morning they took a lightning strike. Every single piece of electrical equipment was destroyed - nav instruments, radios, even the fridge and their national flag, on the backstay, was scorched. The highest point on the boat was their VHF radio aerial...it simply doesn't exist now, presumably vapourised. - Well, they were they the unluckiest boat until we met Cutting Edge. They came over the Atlantic about the same time as us but decided to avoid hurricane season by going back to Spain/Portugal. They got hit by the first ever tropical storm to reach the Iberian peninsula, then they got hit by the hurricane that pasted the Canaries - the marina in Tenerife was destroyed and their boat was damaged. Since there were no repair facilities left in Tenerife they came over the Atlantic again, for repairs in Antigua! Wherever they go for next hurricane season, we're heading in the opposite direction. - We met up with a couple on a boat called Splendid Adventure, they used to know the previous owners of Kelly's Eye. When talking on the radio they tend to shorten their boat name to Splendid. Thus we heard on many an occasion in Trinidad the following calls being made between them and another boat named Just In Time: Just in Time, Just in Time, Splendid - or Splendid, Splendid, Just in Time. Well, it tickled us at the time anyway. The ARC boats gave us more material for wondering whether their owners had given any thought to how they would sound in a radio call, especially to someone like Falmouth Coastguard. For example try imagining the following boats making a call - Bla, Exocet Strike, Hurra!, Ole Ole. One of the boats that finished when we were on duty produced a supreme effort of control on my part as I talked them through the finish line details. Luckily he had started his call to us with the information as to his distance out from Rodney Bay. Otherwise he would have had me saying: 'this is Arc Finish Line, Scoubidou Scoubidou where are you?' Shame..... Enough for now, we intend heading up to St Martin in mid January then on to the Virgin Islands for a while. Depending on where the wind takes us on the sail back south we are hoping that we might get to see one or two of the islands of Saba, Statia, St Kitts and Nevis as I've never been to any of them before. Happy New Year to all.