A Game of Two Halves

John & Susan Simpson
Sun 13 Feb 2022 23:31
A game of two halves - not a reference to England Rugby’s games against Scotland or Italy in the Six Nations, nor even Southampton FC’s recent unexpected draw against Manchester United, but a reference to the past two days sailing as we make our way to Antigua from St Lucia.  

A week ago we were watching the England v. Scotland game in a sports bar in St Lucia mostly occupied by Scottish fans or Welsh fans who’d witnessed their team’s demise in the morning and now wanted to see England thrashed!  When it came to the deciding moment and Luke Cowan-Dickie bashed the ball away as Scotland were about to score a try there were howls of dismay as the video screen froze and the message ‘cannot connect to this video’ replaced the most exciting moment of the game!  By the time someone had (a) put a coin in the meter, (b) found the remote control, (c) remembered which channel was playing the game (or a combination of all three) five minutes had passed and Scotland were inexplicably winning!  Oh the disappointment for us and the utter joy for the Scottish and Welsh all around us.  We’ve nearly recovered!

And so to our journey North from St Lucia.  We had an early Friday morning appointment with the Doctor who comes to Rodney Bay Marina to do PCR tests so we hopped in the dinghy out in Rodney Bay and motored into the marina ready to meet her at 8.15 am.  She was absolutely on time, which was a nice surprise, and then proceeded to do the tests straightaway.  In true quirky Caribbean style she performed the tests as we all stood in a gap between two shipping containers.  Swab kits were balanced on a wooden ledge and a stray cat threaded itself between our legs miaowing indignantly as our nasal cavities were swabbed.  Still, no matter how unorthodox it was as a medical procedure, it was very efficient and we had our negative certificates and the green light to go to Antigua in our email inboxes a few hours later.  It was so efficient that we had half an hour to wait before the Customs & Immigration Office opened so we treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast in one of the cafes overlooking the marina!

Checking out with Customs & Immigration was completed by mid-morning and we returned to Casamara for the rest of the day.  Once you’ve checked out of an island you must leave within 24 hours, so we’d timed all our formalities in order to be able to leave at sunrise (6.30 am) on Saturday.  It would be a 95 mile sail to our first port of call so we wanted to have an early start to try get there before darkness fell twelve hours later.  It was a bit of a long shot as Casamara typically averages just under 8 knots an hour under sail but it was technically possible.  

The next morning dawned bright and early and at 6.30 am we went to raise the anchor, which had so firmly attached itself to the rocky seabed that the anchor came up with an enormous rock fixed very firmly to the point of the anchor.  There was no way we were going anywhere whilst that was still attached.  It was so heavy the bow of the boat was lying low in the water.  After circling for a while and trying to dislodge the rock, it eventually dropped off and we could leave.  It was by then nearly 7 o’clock, so anchoring in the dark at the other end was now highly likely!

It had been very windy in St Lucia on Friday and we knew as we set off on Saturday morning that the wind was likely to be blowing hard all day.  The Caribbean islands have a huge effect on the wind and the sea state as the islands are so mountainous.  The wind is almost always East/North-Easterly, i.e blowing from the Atlantic towards the American continent, and the islands disrupt both the air flow and the sea swell so that the waters tucked behind the islands are invariably calm with light winds.  This made for interesting sailing on Day 1 as we sailed from St Lucia past Martinique and on to Dominica where we anchored for the night.  As we emerged from behind St Lucia all hell broke loose for the next twenty miles until we were able to tuck behind Martinique.  The wind screamed in the rigging, gusting to gale force, and spray blew off the tops of the 3-4 metre waves to coat us and the boat in a fine covering of salt.  Every now and again a wave would catch Casamara’s bow and a deluge of seawater would dump itself on the decks.  John changed out of wet t-shirts twice before donning his oilskin jacket, last worn as we crossed Biscay last July.   Despite what you might think from the description above, the sun was shining and we had a rollocking good time!
John in uncharacteristic garb for the Caribbean

Within a mile of coming into the lee of Martinique we were ghosting along in flat calm sea with very light winds.  In some places there was so little wind that we had to resort to engine to keep up the pace.  It wasn’t all peace and quiet though as the wind tends to funnel through the valleys given half a chance.  You can be sailing along without a care in the world and then suddenly. - bang - a squally blast will hit you and the boat veers all over the place until the squall passes through.  You need to keep your wits about you sailing around here!
The weather still managed to look threatening even when we were in the lee of Martinique

We emerged from behind Martinique to cross the 25 miles to Dominica and - you’ve guessed it - all hell broke loose again and we thrashed our way across the gap in similar fashion to earlier in the day.  The only difference being that John kept his t-shirt dry and avoided getting back into his coat!  As we emerged from the deluge into the peace of the waters behind Dominica, we were greeted by a beautiful rainbow.

As the sun went down the clouds were lit with the most amazing pink light, almost as if Dominica was on fire.  The weather in this region is quite spectacularly beautiful at times.

We arrived in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica around 7.30 pm and crept our way into the anchorage in the dark.  It was quite a different experience as usually we do our anchoring by hand signals from John at the bow to me on the helm so as to avoid being overly shouty.  All went well with very polite loud speaking in lieu of the hand signals and we dropped the hook in perfect stillness ready for a good night’s sleep.  

Day 2 of our journey towards to Antigua took us from Dominica to Guadeloupe and the game of two halves was repeated.  We left Dominica at 8.15 am in calm waters, to be replaced just minutes later by rolling seas and strong winds as soon as we emerged from behind the island.  The weather was not quite as rough as Day 1 so John managed to remain in just the one t-shirt and no coat, but it was still a good old romp across the waves as we travelled the 25 miles from Dominica to Guadeloupe.  

As we drew closer to Guadeloupe we were at first puzzled by what appeared to be a cross between Egyptian pyramids, the Sphinx and the presidential faces chiselled into rock face in the USA.  It turned out to be a quarry, but what a feat of engineering and bravery it was, and very dramatic to look at.

We anchored in Deshaies, Guadeloupe at around 4.00 pm - an earlier finish on Day 2 as the overall distance for the day was only 49 miles.  
 - and were greeted by yet another rainbow.  It really has been sunshine and showers for the last couple of days.

As we didn’t check in to Martinique, Dominica or Guadeloupe we couldn't go ashore.  We anchored whilst flying the yellow ‘Q’ flag which signifies that we are resting overnight, effectively in quarantine, and will not be staying.  We liked the look of all three islands though so will come back this way later.  Next stop Antiqua where we look forward to welcoming Alex, Josh and Xavier who are flying in on Thursday.