A FAST BLAST SOUTH TO BEQUIA
POSITION 17:54.4N 62:51.5W
St BARTS - THE ONE THEY KEPT QUIET
Gustavia, St BARTHELEMY must have been lovely to cruise once. A neat, secluded harbour away from the swell, and smart sassy town surrounding it, a perfect place to moor a boat. Well, that was once upon a time, not now. For the well heeled, there might be moorings to rent no doubt, but the place is nowadays inundated with boats, so many that not only do you have no chance at getting in the harbour, you have little chance of finding a spot in amongst the moorings outside the harbour – which is open to swell – and so have to look a mile away across the other side of the bay at Corrosol where more moorings abound – all taken. I didn’t like the anchorage outside the harbour, not enough room to anchor safely, and so cruised around the equally crowded Corrosol anchorage, finally dropping the hook in front of the boats on moorings. This is not a great idea. If you drag, you’ll be too close, but no option.
Pinball dragged overnight, nothing horrendous, but now too close to matey behind. I had had my eye on a mooring buoy close to a green channel marker buoy, and if I was to stay here, I needed to be on a mooring, so took it. Picking up a buoy when you’re on your tod is a bit of an art I like to tell myself when I get it right, but not that difficult. However, there is an element of luck too. You just have to stop the boat with the bow right next to it. Easy right? Anyway, I got the points on this one, and settled down for a breakfast. Shortly after – TARRAR….!!! Craig and Christa of SIMUNYE arrive in their dinghy – the reason I am here at all. Their boat is just four moorings down on Pinball, and….I’m hitched to a private mooring apparently.
‘Aha!’ I wondered what those letters spelt’ ! I had tried to read what it said on the buoy in vain, but now could see quite clearly it said PRIVATE.
‘Wouldn’t worry about it. They’re probably away somewhere’, said Craig dismissively. So I didn’t, and I didn’t get ousted.
We had a very quick catch up, then they had to leave to go to work! Yes, they both had jobs, working for the rich and famous in one of their smart houses overlooking the bay. This was good news, as I knew that the green dollar had been getting a bit short of late for them. But a couple of hours later Craig returned and took me across to the very smart boardwalk in town to visit Customs, insisting that I left my dinghy stowed on deck. Clearing in here was actually pleasant – fill your form in on their computer, see the bloke, get stamped and pay the money. It was not cheap though. $26 for 3 days. But at least the guys make an effort to be pleasant.
Then we jumped in Craig’s tiny white car, on loan, and headed up a winding cliff road to pick up Christa from the house.
Later I was spoiled rotten by being invited to dinner on Simunye – now equipped with a homemade bimini or two – and we traded tales of the Caribbean, and drank my small bottle of desert wine. I didn’t know it was a desert wine, just thought it was a half bottle.
Next day the fun continued with a whistle stop tour of the island in their little car, starting at the delightfully compact airport with a runway approach requiring a good 15 degree approach angle to get over a small hill, and then you could still dent a car roof. I would have loved to have had a go in a British Aerospace 146, fitted as it was with the massive airbrake in the tail, allowing it to descend like a brick. Might fall off the end though. We went clockwise round, stopping for lunch on a lovely beach, ending up overlooking Gustavia from the West with Craig assessing possible paraglider launch sites as we went. That evening I glanced out of Pinball to see him 1000’ up having launched from the cliff overlooking the Corrosol anchorage.
St Barts is a classy island with high quality real estate and the patronage of some very well heeled punters, the roads are good quality concrete and nowhere looks scruffy. No wonder the rich and famous have kept it quiet.
Monday 27 April 2015
ON TO ANTIGUA POSITION: 17:00.9N 61:46.5W
Normally, if travelling eastwards through the Caribbean, you would find it very hard sailing to make Antigua from St Barts, or even from St Maarten, due to the Trade winds normally on the nose. Not so this week! This week the Azores High Pressure has been shoved southwards by a series of troughs and lows to the North, and this has brought unusual SE, almost South winds to the Leewards Islands. So taking advantage of the SE forecast wind, Pinball left St Barts and took up a starboard tack and headed due east, which would bring us to the North of BARBUDA – a British Overseas Territory together with Antigua to the south – then a final port tack down the lees of the two islands giving calmer waters.
It turned out to be a 27 hour sail, but quite pleasant considering, and only 3 tacks to worry about. Picked up a hitchhiker overnight, a bird took a fancy to one of the solar panels and balanced on its slippery glass surface for many hours – up until I started the engine in fact. Didn’t like that.
Sailing down in the lee of the islands worked well, the wind didn’t die as it can do, but the seas flattened nicely.
I had thought to go into Jolly Harbour on the West coast as I hadn’t been there, but changed my mind and made Falmouth Harbour instead – arriving nicely in the middle of the start of a race of 30 x 40+ foot yachts. I got gesticulated at of course, good! My sea as well..
The book says there’s loads of room in Falmouth harbour – in fact it’s just a large lagoon with a narrowish entrance – which is true. But, there’s also quite a few very shallow bits which are not obvious. But no probs, parked in the middle, started dragging but laid some more cable out and heh presto! Next day dinghied in to Customs down in the impressive Nelson’s Dockyard amongst all the nicely restored buildings, which was fine except I couldn’t remember my own password so had to re-register, as it’s a self input job on a computer, then pay the money to the thin lady with the scary fingernails.
‘When did you arrive?’
‘Um.. Yesterday afternoon’.
‘Oh, must have been..about 4.’ Glared at.
‘Why didn’t you visit Customs then? We are open til 5.’
‘Well it takes a while to get the dinghy ready, and there’s only one of me.’
Back over in the café/bar area next to The Antigua Yacht Club (this is the Mecca for racing yachties) I caught a glance out of the corner of my eye, literally just a second, of someone familiar.
AJ. Got to be.. I waited, watching both exit points. Sure enough, AJ appeared and started loading kit on his dinghy.
“AJ!’ I said quietly, standing near him.
‘Oh hello’ he said, as if this was the fifth time today. Busy, crewing on the smallest entrant in Race Week for a 78 year old Skipper, we arranged to meet later, when we had a good catch up. Andy was living on a 72’ ketch just two down from Pinball, acting as caretaker and fixer for the owner, a 57 year old lady who had divorced well. He awaited various spares, including a new generator. And he was paid! He looked well, and T’was good to see him again. Antigua was exactly as I remembered it from 2012, including the meeting of AJ.
2 MAY 2015 SOUTH TO GUADELOUPE POSTION 16:18.4N 61:47.8W
For the first time this year Pinball would be heading South, not East. Whoopee! No more tacking…?
For some reason I decided to go pre-dawn, even though it was only 44 nm to DES HAIES, GUADELOUPE. Keen I suppose. Reveille was at 0400 – which sounds horrendous but actually I don’t mind, as nowadays, on the boat, I can crash out at 2030 easily. No one to talk to I suppose..
Unless I watch a film.
Pulled the anchor at 0500, and immediately ran aground. Really aground. Solid. I’m wagging Pinball on the rudder but its slow, very slow, and wastes nearly half an hour before I’ve wiggled and wagged back to where we came from. I must have been anchored right next to a shallow patch.
Bugger. In the pitch dark surrounded by anchored boats, this you really don’t need. Then, just as I’m finally sliding out, there’s a small SAIL right next to Pinball – a stupid little dinghy SAILING around the bloody anchorage at 0500 with no lights! I would have liked to run him over to teach him a lesson but was too slow. I mean, I’ve only been awake an hour and all this stress already.
Threading through a field of boats in the dark is not my favourite game, even with the million candlepower searchlight – it just blinds me some more mainly – and where was the bloody channel?!
Finally at the entrance, hoist the mainsail, and of course it jams. Thanks.
Feeling a bit sick.
Nevertheless, it was porridge by 0930, as the wind and sea seemed to have calmed down a bit by then, wonderful. Went below to have a little nap, and on wakening discovered the wind had shifted round to SE, so had to harden up to make good the track to Guadeloupe.
DES HAIES sits in a small indentation in the coastline on the NW side of the butterfly shaped GUADELOUPE – two islands really, separated by a waterway. A dozen or so boats were moored or anchored in front of the attractive waterside town, but I was looking for a free mooring buoy. Gotcha!
Just one remained, and I made a beeline for it. Winds here funnel down from the mountains and can be ferocious, as well as highly unpredictable in direction, so a mooring is the business. But why hadn’t the half dozen yachts at anchor gone for it?
As it got closer, I knew the answer. The buoy had no pick-up line, just a large metal ring on top, through which you were supposed to thread a line, somehow! Hmm… Even with crew this is NOT easy, and usually take several attempts. I was single handed.
Then, with a hundred yards to go, I remembered I had a special hook mounted on a boathook, the hook attached to a line – designed for just this problem! I had only ever used it once I think, in Trinidad, but now was the moment.
I dashed aft and retrieved it from the lazarette, unwound the attached line, mounted the hook with jaws open on the boathook, and walked back to the bow once the boat was stopped slightly upwind of the buoy. Amazingly, the buoy was just within reach, but wouldn’t be much longer as Pinball drifted back. I knew I had ONE CHANCE.
The hook was on, the line firm on a bow cleat, and hopefully strong enough to hold Pinball whilst I figured a way to ‘thread the needle’. It worked beautifully, and I just hoped that some gawking doom-merchant had witnessed this demonstration of how to do it, single-handed. Once attached to a proper mooring line, even the hook release mechanism worked, releasing it.
DES HAIES is a most pleasant place to be, Van Sant is right. I strolled down the main street looking for ‘Le Pelican’, a clothes and gift shop run by a sassy French lady in her thirties, where resides the Customs (Douane) computer on which you self-sign in – a wonderfully quirky, French and efficient answer to the problem. No grumpy Customs Officers here, and no charges either, except a few Euros for Madame’s trouble. And trouble comes aplenty, especially with non French. For a start, it’s a French keyboard, so people like me who touch-type have to stop. Then, when it asks for the name of your anchorage, you have to select from a massive list of anchorages, which until you’ve learnt to type the first couple of letters in the box, might take an hour to go through. But Madam is watching, and frequently has to intervene, especially with the English speaking races. Worth a few Euros I feel.
At night, when the winds die back a bit, the boats all turn circles, round and round they go - sometimes quite suddenly, like on a turntable. This is of interest if, like me, you have attached two mooring lines, one either side of the bow, just to be sure. For by morning there will be the most ingenious knot tied over the metal loop which defies any undoing in a hurry.
One reason to be on a mooring amongst otherwise anchored vessels is the difference in turning circles. A mooring normally goes nearly vertically down to the seabed and its own anchor – usually a very heavy weight – so when attached to this, your turning circle is quite small. A boat at anchor, by comparison, would have usually around four times the depth of water in chain, often more, so typically for instance, in a depth of 4metres, there would be about 25m of chain out – the radius of the turning circle. That’s 50m diameter.
Which brings me to the s/v SEABEAR (CAN).
SEABEAR, Skippered by a Being one could easily describe as a Seabear, dropped his anchor quite close behind me, and slightly left, whilst the day winds were still East and clearances looked OK. Well, OK to him. By late evening the night lee winds were playing and we merrily rotated round and round, SEABEAR swinging very close when facing West. In fact his dinghy, hanging on his stern, was now no more than 10m away.
‘AHEM!’ Seabear caught me fiddling on the bow late at night.
I do have a rather large Blue Ensign on the stern, I thought. ‘Yeees...'
There then followed a lengthy dissertation, most of which I couldn’t make out, but clearly about the proximity of HIS boat to MINE.
‘..but don’t worry, I WILL be keeping an eye on it’, SEABEAR concluded.
What, all night?
The gentlemanly thing to do of course, is move. SEABEAR stayed.
Monday 4 May 2015 ONWARDS TO MARTINIQUE (or that was the PLAN)
Truth was, I didn’t want to leave DES HAIES just yet. With a 2pm departure plan, I went back to Le Pelican to Clear Out.
There was a queue. I went walkabouts then returned. The queue was bigger. I queued too.
I asked Madam if it was necessary, as the form already had my departure date on it, and nothing had changed.
‘Oui Oui!’ So I ploughed through it once again, producing an identical product.
‘Are you sure I have to do this again’ I asked.
‘You ‘ave shainged eet?’
No no. It is the same!
I didn’t have to do it again.
Then had a look at Spar, for food. But I’ll buy later.. First into L’Amer Restaurant on the seafront for a spot of lunch, choosing a laid up table overlooking the bay.
Madam arrived, and told me to move. I moved to a smaller, unmade up table, as she explained that the other was for if you wanted to eat.
‘Mais je veux manger Madam!’
Apparently, no food before midday. An hour to wifi..
Back at the Spar afterwards, and it was shut for a French lunch – about 3 hours. I should know by now.
It was 1530 by the time all was ready to go and the mooring slipped – an hour and a half late. Then, I realised I had used the wrong distance to calculate the timings for Martinique, and would only arrive by 1930 at 4kts groundspeed, what an idiot. There was no way now I could make it before dark tomorrow. Oh well, press on, just have to come up with a new plan that’s all. We all make mistakes. I wasn’t going back.
Two miles out and there were some real gusts up to 35kts, so double reefed on the main, but at least the sea was flat. Working south down the coast of Guadeloupe was hard work as the wind was all over the place, alternately blasting then dying. Even had several total wind reversals to West – must be rotor over the mountains. You could guarantee that as soon as I stopped the engine the wind would die, and vice versa.
Crossing the Guadeloupe passage was vicious, with sustained winds of 40+kts and growing seas all the way, I was getting regularly goffered too, and was in lifejacket and tether with the boards up and cabin closed. This was not fun.
It was now gone midnight, and I had had enough. I decided to make for the anchorage at PORTSMOUTH on the West coast of Dominica – a hard motorsail against ferocious headwinds of 45-50kts. A large bay, I aimed for the more popular north end and approached cautiously, hoping the wind would abate some. It didn’t. It was fierce, gusty and scary. I could see a couple of anchor lights off to the left and aimed to anchor next to them, but then to my horror saw the dark shape of a large vessel dead ahead, no lights. More and more boats slowly became apparent, most of which had no lights on at all. I was crapping myself. I tried to use the searchlight, but the reflections on the boat just blinded.
How was I going to get the anchor prepared? The wind was so strong the autopilot just couldn’t hold it, so it had to be manual steering therefore couldn’t leave the wheel for more than a few seconds. I decided to turn back downwind and run with it – much easier on the autopilot – and made my way carefully to the bow to unlash the anchor, remove the retaining pin and get it ready for an instant drop. Right!
Turned back into wind, got the nose where I wanted it and hit the ‘Down’ switch with my foot and the anchor ran out. Not being on the wheel anymore, Pinball straight away started blowing off to port and downwind, whilst I ran a load of chain out drifting sideways now.
I began to doubt the anchor had held, and somehow in this massively strong wind, Pinball was somehow sailing forwards whilst drifting sideways – its sides acting as sails. We were getting closer and closer to a small yacht anchored well behind us originally, but now were dragging /sailing into it. Jeez!!!!
Back up on the bow, with the engine in reverse to clear the yacht, I began winding all that bloody chain back in again, all the while having flashbacks to the Turks and Caicos Islands, when Pinball had dragged nearly onto the rocks at night and I had given it full reverse, only to wrap the dinghy’s painter round the prop. This was SHIT!
Finally, much to my relief, the anchor appeared with a clang on deck and we were free to manoeuvre again. This time I chose somewhere as far from other boats as possible, this now identified as being the major threat.
I began running out the chain again, then remembered I’d not got the metal bar I use to poke the chain down into the locker when it jams, and went back for it. Good job I did.
Suddenly the chain came off the gypsy – the only thing stopping it running away – and began doing just that. Chain is heavy. Once it gets going it’s the devil to stop. It was dark. I was knackered. The wind was howling, and I was holding the chain with my bare hands against the drag on the boat. I couldn’t hold it. More chain slipped overboard. I grabbed the metal bar and jammed it over the chain. It stopped running. On hands and knees, I tried to figure how on earth I was going to get the locking plate onto the chain to hold it, or get the chain back on the windlass. Both required TWO HANDS. I was using both mine just to stop the chain running away. I knew I’d secured the ‘bitter end’ below, but would it be strong enough to stop a runaway chain? I daren’t risk just letting it go and hoping it stopped at the end, if the lashing failed I would lose the lot. I must have knelt there for five or ten minutes, trying to work it out. Then I had the idea to jam one end of the bar in the cleat which freed up one hand, whilst the other maintained the pressure. Maybe I could tie the chain somehow. But what with? Then I saw it – the piece of rope I used to lash the anchor. A few one-handed bights round the chain and tied off to the pushpit, and bob’s your uncle. RELIEF!
This is about the 3rd or 4th time the chain has come off, and is always bad news. When I replaced the chain in Florida, metric sizes were not available – for which this gypsy was designed – so instead fitted 5/16 chain. The manufacturer stated that this gypsy WOULD work with this chain, but this is the result. They didn’t say it might fall off every now and then.
This time the anchor held.
It was 0430 on 5 May 2015
TWO STEPS FORWARDS, ONE BACK
At 0630 I was up to listen to the NOA Caribbean forecast, and Chris Parker’s forecast for the week at 0700. Neither had mentioned 45 kts for today, so I was beginning to wonder what the point of listening to it all was. 10-20kts had been given. It just shows how powerful a local effect mountains and sea can bring, when the gradient wind is forced between mountainous islands, accelerating it.
It was still howling in Prince Rupert Bay, and the forecast was for no change all week.
RUN FOR COVER AGAIN!
0900 on a bright sunny day, white horses all around, and off we go. It moderated once past the headland, but still gusty and very unpredictable. By mid morning it looked like the Southern Ocean, just white water and windspeeds of 50-55kts, and I didn’t like it. Something would break soon. Already the zip on the mainsail cover had vanished, the genoa had strips of cloth hanging off the leading edge, and the Skipper had one mauled forearm from the anchoring episode. I could lose a sail, or a shroud could break.
I set course for another diversion – this time the anchorage at MARO, DOMINICA, a small town with a beach and nice sandy anchorage – under power plus just the mainsail. Another small yacht which had been paralleling me carried bravely on, pitching and flapping against the gusts, but later gave up and headed in also.
With the anchor down in this most pleasant anchorage – the kind I like, sandy, a beach, unspoilt, gentle shelving, attractive, with an offshore wind – I noticed something round floating next to Pinball, recognising it as the tricolour lens from the masthead.
WAAH! Tried to reach it, no. Dash back and get the boathook, too late its floating behind the stern. Start getting the ladder dropped so I can swim there…too late. Sunk.
Noting its last location, I would dive for it later.
This may be a pleasant anchorage, but the wind still shrieked and whistled, going instantly from a breeze to 35kts with the noise of a tube train entering a tunnel, then just as quickly it would die. It is difficult to comprehend just how air can behave quite so manically, for one particle to be nearly still whilst its neighbour is careering past at 40kts, even 50kts. The noise on a boat with 50 kts is astonishing, with every rope, wire, sail vibrating and thrashing, halyards on the masts slapping - ringing the bell. I can’t imagine what a hurricane must sound like, and I don’t want to experience it thankyou. When the wind drops back to gale force, ie 34kts, it feels like silence by comparison. True!
The young Swiss guy who followed me in, left early afternoon, and a good call I would say as the winds had definitely moderated a lot then. Inspired, I thought perhaps I could stage ten miles further on to another anchorage at Roseau – the capitol of Dominica. But just as I was readying to go, the winds picked right back up again with terrific blasts of increasing frequency, so binned it and instead got my yellow flippers on and mask, jumped in and there it was, the masthead lens, sitting on the bottom. MMmmmah!
But I still had company. A nice looking 50’ French ketch had dropped his hook here when I wasn’t looking.
I stayed put that night.
6 MAY 2015
Up at 0415, and slipped past the sleeping French yacht in moonlight on a flat sea, with fingers crossed for better conditions, and headed just West of South along the Dominican coast, on engine and mainsail. There was little wind, but I still had a triple reef in the main as I was pretty sure it would soon be picking up.
As Pinball approached Scots Head at the Southern tip just after dawn, it did. The crossing to Martinique that followed was rough as anything, with quite a big swell from the NE, and I was very glad I had managed to rig the small staysail on the inner forestay and triple reefed main in time, for these were the right sails for a steady 40kt East wind. The poor old genoa had been looking very sad anyway, with great strips of cloth hanging off it where the stitching had gone, and was now unusable. Rough it may have been, but it was like the M25 out there, with at least another six boats on the same route, one way or the other. Only one of them was actually sailing though, the rest on engines and maybe a mainsail. But I knew it would be a rough passage, it always is between these big, mountainous islands, and I had Martinique to look forward to – a metropolis by comparison to most other islands.
I was being regularly goffered in the cockpit, and one wave in particular really sluiced me down – wettest trip yet! I had started off, back in UK, with dodgers fitted to the lifelines for the express purpose of reducing the gofferings, but had stopped fitting them after a while. For one thing they weren’t essential, and secondly they had PINBALL WIZARD blazoned across them – readable from miles away – which is great much of the time, but there are times when you don’t want to be instantly recognised…if you know what I mean. I don’t always obey the rules!
Passing the towering Mount Pelée – the volcano that erupted big time in 1902 and wiped out 30,000 leaving, it is said, just one survivor, a prisoner – Pinball was getting some strong old gusts coming down from the mountain, so it was good to get past.
Emptying the portaloo (by dragging behind), I cleverly managed to catch it on something pulling it out, and snapped off the slider - without which a Portaloo is not a lot of use. Great.
The final 5 miles into FORT DE FRANCE is always a smash into wind, and today was no exception, but as the winds were so strong I was power tacking with both small sails up plus the engine, which gives a good speed, and has the advantage that if the wind gets stronger, you just get more power from the sails so maintain your speed. Under engine alone, you slow down with the increased drag.
ETA was 1600, and 1600 arrival it was!
Anchored up in the lee of the massive Fort, no dragging, a bit rolly but not too bad, and a good day’s sail.
No1 Genoa unusable, probably uneconomic repair
Mast-top tricolour and anchor light lens sheered.
A leak from the stern area
Both mainsail cover’s zips u/s
Cruisers often wave to eachother, on passing, arriving or departing. Not long after Pinball’s arrival, a French yacht anchored behind and I received a really wavy wave. You know, one of those lambs-tail waves that girls do very rapidly, and definitely not the measly lifting of a hand you usually get. Very odd. I quickly convinced myself that I must be looking really good, and she is hoping to jump ship my way, so had a look in the mirror in the heads to check. I couldn’t actually see much difference, but maybe from a distance I looked better than I thought. Yes, that’s it!
Then I was looking at their snubber line on the anchor. It was too short. Hang on! I’d seen this before! It all became clear. This was the French boat I had ghosted past early this morning, and had shared the MARO anchorage with!
FORT DE FRANCE, MARTINIQUE POSTION 14:35.9N 61:04.2W
The good thing about French islands is, you don’t have to visit Customs and all that palaver. Here the computer you self-sign yourself in on is in the chandlery in town, run by a very pleasant and fluent English speaking couple. Now wise to the quirky non-querty French keyboard, and the answers to various questions like: Nationality? Grand Bretagne, it took just minutes, and was free. Vivre La France!
It might be French, but it’s populated almost entirely by Afro-Caribbeans so the flavour is not very French at all, they just pay for it. Or the EU does. Jaques in the chandlery explained how the EU hands out dollops of money which has to be spent or lost forever, so schemes to spend it tend to be thought up in a hurry and no doubt explain the semi-incomplete massive road works along the front by the dinghy dock which sits boarded up and unworked on whilst Martiniquers dutifully go round it. This is very like how the MOD works, no money, no money, ah we’ve got a load of dosh to spend by yesterday or we lose it, what do you want? Probably not like that now. Just no money period.
I went to the bus station and asked the lady behind the screen how to get to this hardware store, WODRUM. She wrote the numbers of all the buses that go there on my ticket, and I went and stood by one of the bus shelters. Don’t the French do funny No 1’s. More like 7’s. Next thing she’s out of her cubicle and waving at me, moi?, pointing at this bus that had snuck in under my nose without me noticing. Not only that, but she tells the morose looking driver to let me know when to get off. Top girl!
It was one of those BIG DIY stores, no camping section and I couldn’t find a portaloo, so without much hope of success asked one of the myriad assistants if they stocked them, and got a laconic and unhelpful reply…basically a vague wave that could have been anywhere in one half of the store. Thanks Frogface. Go fall in a box. But, wandered over in the vague direction to the bathroom section and there it was, one single solitary plastic Thetford Campapotti wedged in amongst rows of porcelain. Wow! Bit of luck eh..
In true Cruiser fashion I took it to bits to make sure it was all there, and it wasn’t. The vital cap for the dodgy bit was definitely not there. I complained to the girl. She went and got a youth who stared at me. I explained again in Franglais, ‘no cap, il ne marche pas!’ Youth was not impressed with my complaint, laughed and pointed to the price. ‘C’est le pris!’
Being British, I should have stormed out and written to the MD at Head Office, but I had a cap that would fit – off the old one, made by the same company – so swallowed my National Pride and walked out with a loo. No box. I sat on it at the bus stop, which amused me. Then my hat blew off, landing in a garden 30’ below, and had to break in carrying a toilet.
It was a bit posher than the old one, the slider thing (that had come off the old one) was now a knob with a lever at the side – better; less likely to catch hauling it up. It had a loo-roll holder too, and was more rounded. The only thing was, it was slightly taller than the storage place but heh, have to adapt it.
It always seems to be cloudy and dull at Fort De France, I guess because it’s a big mountainous island which creates its own weather, but after a while I always want to move on, find the sun again. Its never very far. But needed to get on, still a way to go to Trinidad and I wanted to be back in UK by June. But first I re-glued the masthead lens back together and went up the mast to stick it back on – being a British piece of kit it was brilliantly designed to snap fit back on with just one hand, nice when you’re right up there. Then spent two days sewing up one of the panels on the spare genoa, a good 3 or 4 feet of it. That’s the easy bit; its getting the genoa hoisted back up that’s the fun bit, especially on your own as you’ve got to do two things at once – pull it up by the halyard at the mast, and feed the bolt-rope into the channel on the foil at the bow. This is not something to do in any wind, and boy had it been windy! Not wanting to wait any longer, I had a go early am one day before the wind got too gusty, and got most of it up, then a nice Yank on his way past gave me a hand for the final bit. Not much I can do about the rest of the repairs needed.
You know something’s not right when you open a sealed pot of Scots Porridge Oats and a big fly escapes from inside.
Watched their Customs RIB cruise around manned by men in black, then board one of the huge catamarans in the anchorage, much to the kids on board’s delight. This is how the French do it, they check you out on the water. I was boarded at St Pierre with Stu on board first time here, very nice lady though.
Only 80nm to go to 10,000 since UK.
Thursday 14 May 2015 TO ST LUCIA, OR NOT?
0800. Up anchor and depart. I could see the Customs RIB hanging around in the middle of the bay, right on my track. Bugger. They were going to board me.
After I’d passed them realised it was actually a fishing boat!
Great anchorage and marina at Rodney Bay, St Lucia (ST LUCIE on the French Customs Computer), ideal for night arrivals, and only 34nm away. 7 hours. But I didn’t go there. Maybe it was because I wanted to get on, get some miles under the keel now we’re not fighting the Trades anymore. Or maybe because their Customs are one of the rudest in the Caribbean. Anyway, I skipped it and set coarse South for Bequia in the Grenadines, to run down in the lees of St Lucia, and then St Vincent – both big mountainous lumps g rock. Porridge for breakfast coincided nicely with a blast of wind leaving me mottled white. St Lucia blocked the swell nicely so enjoyed flatter seas, but suspended use of the Windvane steering by midday as it wasn’t coping very well, and went onto autopilot, occasionally running the engine to keep the batteries charged. Ahead lay The Pitons on St Lucia, like a pointy upturned egg-box, and I knew that the winds could get ‘difficult’, and by dusk the winds went very fluky, combining with a counter current of a massive 3kts. At one point we were actually going backwards.
Later that night, crossing the channel between St Lucia and St Vincent, the AIS showed that Pinball was piggy-in-the-middle with a couple of large merchant ships approaching from opposite sides perpendicular to Pinball’s course. They would know all about Pinball, if they were looking, as my AIS transponder was ON too, but neither budged an inch from their courses, one of which would pass very close. Well, it’s a big ocean, but when this is going on you can’t just go below for a kip. I held my course, they held theirs, we passed eachother, chill. No moon either. This is when the radar can be a big help, you can plot their position and see if they will close to impact! Or not.
0100. I decide to take the lee shore of St Vincent as the winds are over 30 kts now, and a fair old sea running. This course change puts us almost downwind, taking the pressure off nicely. Once firmly in the wind-shadow of St Vincent, the wind died back to 12kts with a flat sea – most pleasant. Good call Skipper. However, just as I’m beginning to enjoy the ride, I notice a masthead light very close on my starboard beam, red so heading my way. No AIS though.
‘Pinball Wizard this is PLATINA, what are your intentions, over?’
Well this guy was hemming me in to the coastal strip, and getting closer all the time. I had no sea room, he had plenty, he should have eased off a little and just paralleled for a while. He didn’t. He was getting closer and closer. I was not impressed.
‘Maintaining course’, was my curt response. He then proceeded to remind me that I was responsible for avoidance, the git. Canadian too! He should know better.
He crossed my bow taking a more inland route up the coast, whilst Pinball stayed out, and we slowly overhauled him until the wind died and he started his engine.
The small island of Bequia lay just beyond St Vincent’s mass, a short channel hop away and Pinball was careering along at 6.5kts under full genoa, leaving Plonker PLATINA a mile behind. I was tired, what with all the other traffic there’d been no opportunity to cat-nap, and didn’t hang around. The anchorage is a large bay on the West side, full of yachts and ferry traffic, and Pinball had to anchor some way from the dinghy dock, taking three attempts before deemed satisfactory. It was good to be back, Pinball’s third time now.
NEXT: THE FINAL STRAIT - TRINIDAD