3 February - climbing masts and drinking with hummingbirds
On 29 January, having failed to outwit the phone or internet, we tracked down the Wickhams Cay Riggers (who are Selden mast agents) by sailing into Nanny Cay Marina and walking just across the road to their smart new premises. It turns out that the phone numbers and email addresses on their website have not been updated since the hurricane nearly 18 months ago (it’s the Caribbean, after all…). We made an appointment for them to visit on Wednesday and returned to Peter Island to wait. I had a very useful chat with Harry James at The Rig Shop in Southampton about the sorts of issues that we might find and the potential solutions and Stephen Jeckells helped us to lower the genoa ahead of the visit.
Isaac, the owner of Wickhams Cay Riggers, turned up with two assistants on Wednesday afternoon at Nanny Cay. We instantly warmed to these guys, who were relaxed, professional, interested in the boat and us, and who got on with the job. Isaac spent a couple of hours up the mast whilst the rest of us discussed politics, cricket (woe is me), hurricanes and the importance of having wonderful adventures like this before you get too old and silly. Eventually we let him come down and he reported that all is well as far as the mast is concerned. I needed to upgrade the spinnaker block (last changed in Antigua for the only one I could get hold of) and replace the genoa halyard deflector, which had pulled out. We also looked at the backstay tension and I am now far more confident about putting about 3000lb of pressure on it that I was before!
Escapade alongside the brand new pontoon at Nanny Cay
Isaac’s business carries a wealth of spare parts – far more stock than we’ve seen outside the Solent – so the next morning we collected the bits we needed and I spent a couple of hours up the mast fitting a new deflector. I found it very difficult to wield my rivet gun accurately up there, but had more luck with a cordless drill and a hacksaw blade. I had the bits I needed in a bucket hanging alongside me and dispensed with bits of string to stop them dropping to the deck – everything got in too much of a tangle. The rain came whilst I was up there, but it seemed a bit feeble to retreat, so I focused on how warm it was compared to Gosport! I wonder how long the repair will last – the bolts seem quite short and I reckon there’s a good chance of them pulling out as there is no thread in the aluminium mast and no backing plate or nut to tighten them against. Still, they are probably better than the rivets that were in there before.
On Friday morning we left our anchorage at Peter Island and sailed for Deshaies on the north west coast of Guadeloupe. We had half a mind to beat upwind to Antigua and catch the last couple of days of the Second Test there, but something told me that might be a disappointing experience… as it was, the course to Deshaies put us close hauled on port tack with a reef or two in the genoa and main. The backstay was on much tighter than before and I think the boat now points better, but interestingly the movement in the top third of the spar remains. I’m relaxed about that now.
By Friday lunchtime the wind was gusting around 30 knots and I was wondering whether we were doing the right thing – a couple of years ago we decided to forge a track that would involve the minimum of upwind sailing, yet here we were faced with 36 hours of it. Julie pointed out that the forecast was for the wind and sea state to drop, so we ploughed on. Sure enough, it did ease to a fairly steady 17 – 20 knots from just south of east and we made good time past St Kitts and Nevis and then Montserrat. We crossed the Saba Bank during the Middle Watch – the depth goes from 15m to 1500m in a few hundred yards, but on this occasion there was no obvious change in the sea state.
By mid-afternoon on Saturday we were ten miles downwind of Deshaies and skirting the edge of Guadeloupe’s own personal weather system – regular rain squalls and wind shifts of 45o. Over afternoon tea and the last of Julie’s homemade ‘tiffin’ we decided to motor the last few miles into the anchorage in order to arrive before dark. As we closed the coast the wind dropped and the sea calmed, so that by the time we entered the bay and the sun was setting behind us, it was tranquil and picture perfect with the last of the afternoon light playing over the town and the surrounding hills.
Deshaies is definitely French. It reminded us of the small fishing towns in Martinique, albeit quite affluent and clearly focused on tourism. This is not a ‘kiss me quick’ culture though, nor a sandy beach bar and dirt track environment: there’s a proper road, brick-built houses, bright colours and it looks as you might expect a Brittany fishing village might if it was transported to a lush, tropical Caribbean island. Paradise? Well, they film the popular TV series ‘Death in Paradise’ here, so clearly the location manager thinks so!
Deshaies – the view from my bunk
We really liked it. We anchored in 10m of crystal clear water, enjoyed the sunset and went ashore in the morning. Clearing customs is done online in a souvenir shop and costs €4; we quickly found the patisserie selling tarte citrone (see French blog posts from 2017) and a beachfront restaurant providing a reasonable light lunch. The highlight of the day was our visit to the botanical gardens.
A hummingbird joins us for refreshments at the botanical gardens
It’s not just a reaction to living on a boat for two years with not much greenery about; the gardens here celebrate the wonders of the natural world and we saw beautiful, majestic, fragile and dominating plants and trees of every type. Hummingbirds busied themselves just as a humble bumblebee would at home and there were orchids of every colour growing as parasites everywhere. Running water, great views of the bay below with Monserrat gently smoking away in the distance, every shade of green mixed in with the colours of the rainbow. I found it inspiring and wondered what it would be like to work here, to create and maintain such a collection. We stayed for several hours and only left to get back to the boat before dark.
Paradise in the botanical gardens at Deshaies
As we returned, we saw that our good friends Andrew and Carolyn Bellamy aboard ‘Askari’ had anchored next to us, so a splendid day ashore was rounded off with Sundowners in their cockpit and a good catch-up.