BEQUIA, St VINCENT and St LUCIA - A HARD SAIL.
Latest position: N14:04.58 W60:57.48 St Lucia
There's something about Bequia (pronounced Bequay) that keeps cruisers coming back, like me. Its so peaceful. There's an air of timeless tranquility about this relatively low lying island, one of many in the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Yes it can be noisy on party night but its not about noise, its about peacefulness. Lack of hassle. Bequia has a whaling history that still continues to this day but on a very limited scale. Boats are handbuilt by eye on the beaches, children taught to sail. The main anchorage, Admiralty Bay, is not a perfect anchorage as anchors can drag on the rocky outcrops, yet the bay is always full of boats. Port Elizabeth heads the bay, a bright, lively, gaily painted strip of bustling trade, taxi drivers, and strolling cruiser families. It might be small, but it has an ATM, shops, its own Customs and Immigration, and plenty of good restaurants, bars and cafes all along the seafront, many with their own pontoons for dinghies to tie up to. Big steel ferries come and go at full speed, disgorging locals and tourists hourly from St Vincent - the main island of the group. All is bustle and liveliness, yet peaceful. Last time I was here I was sick with a fever, yet still enjoyed the stay. It was good to be back.
Arriving on Boxing Day of all days, we enjoyed snorkelling on the western reef from an anchored Perky (dinghy), a couple of meals out, walks around the small township, and just swimming in the 30C. On the last day of 2012 we sailed out around the long finger of rock that runs out to the SW to arrive four hours later just half a mile from our original anchorage - but now on the other side of the ridge, in Friendship Bay. En route we encountered a really stiff tradewind accelerated by the gap between islands, and passed Bequia's small airstrip reclaimed from the sea along the shoreline. To get to Friendship Bay, our next anchorage, you have to pass through one of several narrow passages between a string of small islands through which wind and sea are forced and accelerated even more. We were sailing with just the genoa and mizzen up and no mainsail, which proved comfortable, but we needed the engine to make that gap.
Friendship Bay is delightful. Much smaller than Admiralty Bay, it had just a few cruisers anchored there - mainly catamarans - plus half a dozen local boats on buoys. But the problem for us was the swell. Swell is the energy left over from storms raging in the North Atlantic (and probably now blasting UK) thousands of miles to our north, and swell in accordance with the laws of physics, when encountering a gap (such as our bay) will turn the corner up to 90 degrees. So on our anchor we were nicely into wind, facing East, but the swell was now running into the bay from the south and was setting any and every boat rocking and rolling beautifully in rhythm, apart from the catamarans of course, being more stable laterally. Rolling is hard work. You have to hang on. Cooking is a nightmare. Everything rattles and bangs, sleeping is hard rolling from one side to the other. The pilot book mentioned the problem, and came up with a solution too. A second anchor!
I have five anchors - the trusty 20kg Rocna as main, two heavy old spares that came with the boat, a small grappling type for Perky, and a brand new lightweight aluminium one as kedge that had never even got wet. Time to change that! The idea of a lightweight kedge anchor is that its light enough to put in your dinghy and row out to set it, so instead of chain it has 80 metres of 2" multiplait line spliced (beautifully by son Joe) onto 8 metres of chain. Time to put it to the test. The whole thing is kept in a good strong nylon netted bag, and all we had to do was tie the end on somewhere, and run the rest out. As Stu fed the line out, I motored out and dropped it well out to the side of Pinball's stern, so that we could haul the stern around and into the swell instead of across it as we were. It worked a treat, the wild rolling now converted to a gentle pitching and no longer a problem.
Snorkelling wasn't so good here as the water was cloudy, but still pleasant. Oh yes.. But the palm-lined beach beckoned. Landing on a beach from a dinghy is pure kids stuff - you can't help feeling like Robinson Crusoe. With an outboard you have to get the timing right, pick your wave and then whip the prop out of the water before it grounds. I thought I was doing alright as we surged in on a wave, until Stu very quietly said 'Rock'. Too late to do anything about it, I could see its dark shape now right in our unstoppable path, but somehow we missed, pure luck.
'Stu, next time you see a rock, could you SHOUT please!' I didn't hear his answer. Stu doesn't shout.
With Perky chained to a palm tree, we walked the dream beach shoes off, then took a seat in the beach side restaurant belonging to the Bequia Beach Hotel, and had a coffee as an 8 piece steel band of youngsters played right in front of us, the girls smirking to eachother at their newfound fame as I photographed them. Stardom at last.
After 3 nights in paradise we set sail back round to Admiralty Bay again to clear out with Customs and Immigration for our next leg up to St Lucia the following day.
BEQUIA to St LUCIA
4 Jan 2013
Up at 0500 and up anchored 0600 at the first hint of dawn. There are two possible routes to St Lucia - up either the west or east coasts of St Vincent. We had thought long and hard about how to organise it so that we could stop there on the way, but whatever plan we came up with always had problems like Customs being shut, or security issues at night. So we settled for just sailing up the west coast and having a good look, which as it happened was the right answer.
St Vincent is a dark and forbidding volcanic island with mountains and a volcano still active on occasion, and being so high produces its own micro-climate of rain. Last of all the islands to be conquered by the land hungry Europeans, we could see why - its brooding heights seemed permanently cloud-covered and uninviting, and I for one was glad to be out at sea and in the sunshine. Ideal for growing fruit and veg, all the vendors we met in Bequia were from here, arriving by ferry daily. But the peaks looked steep and impenetrable and any explorers much have had a hard time - except for finding water. Well the water finds you.
Sheltered by the dark green peaks the wind became fluky and inconsistent, so progress slowed and we needed the engine for a while. Stu, an avid reader of all the pilot books, gave me a timely reminder as we approached the northern tip, to reduce sail before clearing the islands, as recommended. Good job we did!
Winds increased to galeforce within a few minutes of leaving the shelter of the island and the sea turned nasty too as currents swept round the headland. But PW took it all on the nose, and apart from a little more reefing of the genoa to not-a-lot, we just had to sit it out, with Stu on the helm soaked from the pouring rain, but happy. He loves it rough!
Between islands two things happen, as already mentioned. The west setting current increases (we're heading north) , and the east wind increases. These force you to point more upwind to counter the effects, which slows you down. Also the increased wind produces bigger waves, and each wave pushes the nose off course a bit, and slows you down too. Net result: we aren't going to make Vieux Fort on this tack! The options are tack - and struggle against the forces of nature, probably to little effect in such a strong wind - or engine. Good ole Yanmar!
We motored into the shelter of Vieux Fort, on the southern extremity of St Lucia, at 1700 and dropped anchor. Upwind of us was a rocky but fairly low ridge, which did strange things to the wind. Whorls of mini-tornados would hit now and then - you could see them coming on the surface, dark round patches of energy - pulling the boat round one way or another. I knew it was like this here, but hadn't experienced it quite this bad. The problem is that it never lets the boat settle and can actually spin it round and round - not good for the anchor! But the good old Rocna held ok.
You are supposed to 'clear in' with Customs as soon as you arrive. Here Customs are in the main shipyard, now full of container ships, so I set off in Perky to find them. But first I had to find somewhere to climb out onto the jetty, which was too high without a ladder. The outboard, recently fully serviced by yours truly in Trinidad and which had behaved perfectly since, now wasn't. As soon as I reduced throttle it would die, so learning curves being what they are, I went in there at full throttle, killing it only when almost there. I found a ladder; well, a sort of ladder. Top two rungs were solid and set in the jetty wall, the rest hung by an old bit of rope attached on one side only. Great!
Customs were in an office at the head of the shipyard, but the door was locked. Asking, I was told to wait around. I waited. I met a guy with a mask on his forehead. 'Hey man!' We chatted. He sprayed the crops here he told me. Hmm.. This is a shipyard? I waited. I was told of another office and went there, but no Customs man. Right. I tried. It had been a long hard day.. Dodgy ladder, full throttle, and supper.
Next day I tried again, and found a guy eventually. 'You must go to the airport' he said. 'We only do it on weekdays.' It was Saturday. But he called a taxi for me and off I went with 'Steel' in his immaculate 1998 4x4 which he polishes every day. A cleaner let me into the airport arrival areas. The Customs girl I found in her office had to look up how much to charge me, and was hard to understand. Immigration were fine, and wished me a pleasant stay. Steel was waiting, and I warned him of another possible pick up later on, for Stu.
And later that afternoon I saw Stu off at the fishing harbour - where he had previously left us on his last visit - and went back onboard, this time to move PW to the other anchorage right in front of the fishing harbour, where I hoped the mini-tornados wouldn't make it. They didn't..
It had been great spending more time with big Bro, we had done a lot of talking and filling in of holes - I'd hardly seen him since he left UK to emigrate to Canada in his early twenties. I knew he'd enjoyed the adventure, even though it had been hard sailing pretty well all the way, and maybe he'll come back for more one day. Why not!
I left Vieux Fort next day in fairly strong winds, as the forecast was for similar or worse for the next 5 days. For the trip up to Rodney Bay from here you start off downwind, it becomes a reach around the middle, and finally turns directly into wind for the last 5 miles as the winds tend to follow the coastline at the northern and southern extremities. And so it was! Going past the high Pitons was not easy as usual, as they mess the wind up nicely. Not only that, but there are lots of fishing buoys in the water in this area and I'd already picked one up on my prop on a previous trip. But the sun was shining, the autopilot coped well and the solar panels provided the power. Normally I would have used the windvane self steering but it was broken still, a new part waiting hopefully in Rodney Bay.
I was surprised at how relatively few boats were at anchor in Rodney Bay - there had been many more when last here in May last year. But it meant a good spot for PW closer to the beach and the entrance to the Marina, which is reached via a short waterway lined with small boats and businesses. Here I would await the replacement pendulous rudder for the self steering, and hopefully some more crew!