Caribbean Leeward Islands to British Virgin Islands, April May 2017
Leeward Islands to British Virgin Islands (St Martin to Virgin Gorda) – April/May 2017
Easter Sunday – St Martin, Marigot Bay – at anchor.
The first Easter in 30 years I’d not been in Falmouth, which means the first Easter in 30 years I’d not had Mum’s homemade simnel cake with an inch of marzipan in the middle and marzipan balls on top! Looking at the cake via Skype was not quite the same and I’m one of those who loves marzipan!
Worse, as Mum panned the view of Falmouth Marina over towards Flushing, bathed in beautiful sunshine and blue skies, we were experiencing thunder storms, torrential rain and 25 knots of wind! Solar panels weren’t a lot of use for sure, but at least the wind generator was giving us some power whilst at anchor. We also topped up the batteries by running the generator periodically.
Ken put in the new relay we’d purchased in an attempt to solve our engine issues. It didn’t work. We’d been sold the incorrect part which was very annoying as it was a few miles by dinghy to the electrical suppliers, under the road bridges, past the superyachts in the various marinas and across the lagoon.
Not the most successful day but made up for by a lovely meal at Port Louis Marina with Takomoana and Modjadji. Sadly Peter and Jenny were leaving the following day, heading back to the UK, their journey over; we shall certainly miss ‘our new friends for life’.
Over the next few days we fitted a new/different type of pressure gauge in our fuel lines to monitor potential vacuum, and changed the relay (again), which was all we could do and hoped this solved the engine issues. We ran the engine every other day or so and it worked perfectly.
I started an exercise regime of 30 minutes every morning as I was losing muscle fast. More worryingly, I’d be joining the seagulls in the sky if I flapped my bingo wings hard enough! I’d not exercised since 18 October last year apart from a couple of runs at Christmas and one gym session in St Lucia. Even the swimming hasn’t been strenuous. Trying to do squats and lunges on a rolly boat (the swell was quite bad whenever the wind came from the North) added another dimension to exercise purely in not trying to fall over.
Finally, on 20 April, the new water-maker arrived and was delivered to the boat. We were very excited about this although knew we were in for a week or so of hard graft fitting it. Some of the parts were missing which would consequently delay our leaving St Martin by a week or so. The water-maker consists of a pump to circulate sea water, long tubes containing membranes that desalinate the sea water, a high pressure pump to force the water through the membranes, a series of filters to clean the water, a control panel, water hoses, a tap to taste the water and a series of levers to divert the water, once not tasting salty, into our water tanks plus a heap of electric cables. The boat looked like a bomb had gone off; there were tools and parts everywhere. We made several trips to the DIY store, electrical store and chandlers. We did lots of hammering, sawing, drilling, hole-sawing, cable crimping, screwing (in screws!), hanging upside down, being bent double like contortionists, sweating and swearing. Ten days later we made our first water – 32 gallons per hour! We showered luxuriously and I did several loads of washing!
Fitting the watermaker into a small space!
St Martin is a good place for yachties to get things sorted, purchase new equipment and utilise the skills of the locals. We purchased and installed two more solar panels and took our outboard motor to a specialist as it wasn’t running efficiently. He found a wire had come off the automatic choke plus he blew compressed air into the water cooing outlet to clear a blockage. This seemed to do the trick.
Unfortunately my exercise regime didn’t last more than three days due to a very badly sprained ankle, that took over three weeks to mend and still isn’t quite right. We’d gone to meet some friends, who were departing the next day for the BVI’s, at Lagoonies Bar for happy hour, where rum punches and lager were just $2/each.
View from Lagoonies
On return to Lady Rebel I realised we’d left something in the dinghy so I jumped off the back of the boat into the dinghy, instead of using the ladder. I’d done this successfully several times during the day when I’d been in and out of the dinghy fixing the stern light. This time it wasn’t successful and I landed badly on an oar, twisting my ankle. It was agony, swollen and very bruised, but I couldn’t expect any sympathy as it was my own fault – too much rum punch! It’s a shame I wasn’t drinking gin; I could have called it a ginjury!!
The next few days I spent with my foot up as much as possible, covered in an ice wrap, while Ken continued with boat chores. I assisted with the stuff I could do sitting down. Shopping wasn’t an option so we were living on tinned produce that we’d bought for the Atlantic crossing but hadn’t used. We’d run out of breakfast cereal other than porridge and had lots of soup to eat up. Porridge and soup in 28 degrees of heat just wasn’t right! Luckily when Steve and Dee came over with their two guests that evening they bought their own wine and beer as we were down to our last bottle and couple of cans! Dinner was interesting – packet Chinese chicken soup with risotto rice, jarred carrots and tinned beansprouts thrown in for good measure! This was certainly not good for my new diet regime.
We were anchored a good half mile off shore but were still being eaten alive by mosquitos during the night. The little buggers managed to find not only our boat, but our cabin. I was under the impression they didn’t like flying very far; I guess they go where the wind takes them.
Eventually a trip ashore became a necessity, so with ankle tightly strapped we offloaded some of the great mountain of rubbish – the old water-maker that weighed a tonne, some of the packing boxes for the new water-maker, bits of wood and general domestic waste. We refuelled the dinghy tank and purchased some cutting discs. The supermarket was too far to hobble so we gave that a miss; I detest food shopping at the best of times! A few more days on tins wouldn’t hurt!
Eventually, having used our last tin we caught the shopping bus to the supermarket, put on for free by one of the yacht chandlers. We stocked up on beer and wine, diet coke, tonic, lemonade and soda water as these items would be too expensive in Bermuda, where we were eventually heading, for the America’s cup. We did also purchase some fresh meat, fruit and vegetables! We would need to do another shop to replace all the tins, pasta, rice etc. that we’d been using. We couldn’t fit all the beer and wine in the dinghy so Ken took half of it back to the boat while I guarded the rest! There was a company that delivered wine to the boat but the cheapest bottle was $20! Another company offered a delivery service of food to the boat, but the mark-up was ridiculous. $8 for a box of cereal that was $3 in the supermarket.
Ken’s bouffant was getting him down and quite frankly, weighing the boat down. I think that is why the dinghy wasn’t performing efficiently; the drag of Ken’s mass of hair! I gave him a haircut on the back of the boat. I’m not a trained hairdresser so he’s lucky to still have two ears, as trying to cut hair with sharp scissors on a rolly boat is quite an art. It actually looked, ummm ……. ok, even though I do say so myself!
Monday 1 May 2017 – St Martin, Marigot Bay, still (and not yet done any exploring).
Bank holiday and carnival day – Caribbean style! I’d been looking forward to this ever since we arrived in
St Martin, but we never actually got there, partly due to boat chores and partly my poorly foot. It was apparently quite a walk due to roads being closed for the procession so would not have been sensible. Very disappointing as it is said to be a spectacle not to miss.
We’d heard about an organised rally called Salty Dawgs. They were departing from Nanny Cay, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, just 80 miles from St Martin, on 15 May, going to Bermuda, a trip of approximately 850 miles (6 – 8 days depending on weather). This was perfect for us and relatively cheap to join too. Sailing in numbers is so much more reassuring. Regular communication by radio, weather updates, general information and not being out at sea alone. It would also give us an itinerary. They were meeting first at Virgin Gorda for a beach BBQ on Friday 5 May. We would need to leave St Martin on the evening of Thursday 4 May, do an overnight sail, arriving morning of 5 May in time for the BBQ and to meet other rally participants.
The following day we did another massive shop for dry goods, that by the time we’d taken the dinghy ashore, caught the bus, done the shop (never easy when all the labels are in French), caught the bus back and delivered the goods to Lady Rebel, took 4.5 hrs. We were both shattered so spent the afternoon snoozing and taking it easy. My foot was objecting massively so I gave it an ice pack and put it up to rest.
Wednesday 3 May, Marigot Bay
First thing in the morning we arranged for a diver to come out and clean the massive weed growth from the bottom of the dinghy. Caribbean waters are renowned for this. Weed and barnacles grow so fast in the warm sea temperatures. This was no doubt a contributing factor for the lack of performance. The diver only charged $20 so a worthwhile investment. Lady Rebel’s bottom was painted back in Grenada with ‘antifouling’ paint, that stops unwanted growth, so she was still clean. The paint on the dinghy had worn off.
We heard on the morning net that one of the other cruisers was selling an inverter/charger for a very reasonable price. We didn’t really need another project so close to our departure date (tomorrow) but this was an offer too good to miss and our existing invertor/charger had been overheating and not charging the batteries or inverting to its full potential. We duly purchased the invertor/charger and set about installing it. More wiring, as if Lady Rebel didn’t have enough already!
Easier said than done, however, several hours later the old one was out and the new one well on the way to being installed, without any electrocution or burning the boat down. I was sent off to ‘check out’ with immigration ready for our departure tomorrow and purchase a few items for the installation of the new invertor/charger. I did have to radio Ken about 15 times from the chandlers, as everything he’d put on the list they had but in a slightly different size, or metric instead of imperial. I had no idea if this would make any difference. I didn’t know if a 9.6mm lug would be a suitable substitute for the 8mm lug he’d requested but not available. And did the 1” or M6 pan head bolt need to be pan head? No idea – what’s a pan head I embarrassingly asked Ken over the radio. Then to try and explain to the French assistant – very tricky, but we got there in the end and I flew back to Lady Rebel in the now superclean, superfast rib. With all the dragging weed gone and just me and some pan head bolts as passengers we were flying along. The fun of this made up for all the frustrating ‘Je ne sais pas’ and ‘Oh la la’s’ in the chandlery!
Thursday 4 May 2017
Still a lot to do today before our planned departure time of 1830 hrs, before dark, for our next destination, Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda – British Virgin Isles.
We needed to go the few miles across the lagoon to collect the remaining parts for the water-maker, plus we needed more cable and lugs for the invertor/charger. We had rubbish to dump and needed to go to the bank for cash, plus we wanted to visit Bill and Jade on White Ibis to say cheerio as we weren’t sure of when we’d next see them. To throw a spanner in the works, we’d heard another cruiser was selling an SSB radio for a very reasonable price. We have an SSB radio on board but it is about 20 years old and only works intermittently. SSB radio enables you to communicate with other SSB users offshore and over a much greater distance. The VHF radio has limited range, just 10 -14 miles on average. The SSB seller said he’d come out to Lady Rebel at about 1730 to 1800 hrs. This was cutting it fine, but we really wanted the SSB so agreed. He duly arrived, with his wife, at 1800 hrs; a German couple that liked to talk! On any other occasion this would have been great, but not tonight! They handed over the SSB, we handed over the money. I hinted we were departing at 1830 hrs, which they understood, then promptly instigated another conversation. To my absolute horror Ken then offered them a tour of the boat, Noooooo…… Bear in mind there were still tools everywhere and we’d not even began to get the boat ready for departure. The light was already starting to fade!
After they left we ran around like headless chickens getting the boat shipshape and seaworthy. At 1930 hrs we weighed anchor, in the dark! It came up beautifully; we did wonder having been at anchor for over four weeks in the same spot, whether the anchor may have grown roots and refuse to be lifted. We crept slowly away, praying the engine would behave, weaving our way out through other anchored boats that luckily had lights on so were vaguely visible. We headed for the exit channel and left the chitter chatter and joviality echoing from various cockpits, behind us. It wasn’t long before we could hoist the sails and turn off our now trusted engine.
The moon gave some light and although the sea was a little rolly, the wind was enough to push us along nicely. There was very little shipping about and one that confused us massively. We could see a green light in front of us which indicated the boat should have been going from our left to right, however, it was actually going from our right to left and then turned and headed straight for us. With binoculars it looked like the green light was under the water. Most strange. As the vessel got closer it started to flash a white torch light at us. We tried to contact them on the radio, but no response, so we altered course to sail away from them. It was a bit nerve wracking as distances, speed and boat sizes are very hard to judge at night and they weren’t transmitting their position, therefore not showing up on our navigation screen. They passed pretty close to us and the green light was definitely under the water. We later discovered they were more than likely fishing for sword fish! We’d not seen or heard of this before.
My watch started at 2300 hrs and the first half and hour passed very quickly. Auto helm was working and holding our course well. I made a cuppa, noted our positon, course, speed, weather details in the log, plotted our position on the paper chart so we knew where we were in case our instruments failed, messed about with sail trim to see if I could reduce the rolling, tidied up various lines in the cockpit, checked the AIS for other boats transmitting their position, checked the radar for weather squalls and boats not transmitting their position, scanned the horizon with the binoculars in case the radar hadn’t picked something up, then once happy I sat in the skippers chair behind the wheel to watch the World go by, scanning the horizon and checking the instruments every 10 minutes. I began to think about a book I’d just finished, the third one in a trilogy, called A Thousand Miles From Anywhere, by Sandra Clayton. It was about a couple who’d done a similar trip to us and this particular book was about their crossing the Atlantic and cruising the Caribbean Islands. They’d experienced lots of scary moments like getting caught in a massive fishing net and having to jump overboard and dive down to cut themselves free. She spoke about how they’d seen lots of whales in the daytime and as their boat approached them the whales would, at the last minute, dive under the boat and resurface behind them. She then went on to say the whales often sleep on the surface at night, sometimes you can hear them snoring but they are impossible to see. If they are in such a deep sleep that they don’t sense you nearing them, you are in danger of hitting them, both whale and boat suffering potentially serious consequences. I soon concluded that this was not a good book to be reflecting upon during a night passage. Suddenly every black shadow created by the waves was an enormous great sleeping whale and every white crest of a breaking wave was water shooting from a whale’s blow hole and every rope that creaked was a whale snoring!
It didn’t help that every hour the French Coastguard announced over the radio that a sailing yacht had gone missing between Guadeloupe and Antigua, departing two days previously, two people on board. Had they hit a whale and sunk perhaps. Now I was being ridiculous, hopefully they’d just lost radio contact and would be found safe and sound. However, I think my next book will be ‘A year in the life of a Yorkshire shepherdess’; at least the trials and tribulations she no doubt has to deal with can’t be transferred to the middle of an ocean – not even in my wildest imagination. It wasn’t long before I was listening to The Archers, a perfect distraction from imaginary whales. Thanks Otto (Auto helm) for working 😊.
A cruise ship lit up like a Christmas tree, although 12 miles away, was visible for ages and ages. It was obviously doing a short island hop as was moving so slowly it was barely making headway. It was difficult to see at first which way it was actually heading and its navigation lights were of no assistance as weren’t visible amongst the fairy lights and disco balls. At one point I thought it was going around in circles, presumably to while away the night time to avoid arriving to the next port at night and having to pay extra docking fees. Either that or the skipper and crew were playing Blind Man’s Bluff.
It was a fairly uneventful night; neither of us slept due to the rolling but it was a pleasant and easy enough sail. We motored the last three hours and after:
83 miles, 15.25 hours, 6.9 engine hours, 5.44 knots average speed
Total Miles since departing Falmouth UK: 5693.9
we arrived at Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda, one of the British Virgin Islands.