The last leg

Sun 19 Jan 2014 09:34
16:35.0N 61:26.9W

It is 05:05 local time and there is a certain sense of deja-vu on board: I am sitting at a 45 degree angle below deck, feet propped against the seat opposite to prevent me flying off across the galley. I'm in the middle of a 4AM - 6AM watch, just to the north of Guadeloupe. It was all so different 24 hours ago. Even 36 hours...

We were finally assigned a berth on Thursday afternoon and we soon understood why the harbourmaster was reluctant to let anyone turn up at any time. Le Marin, it turns out, is home to one (it must be) the world's largest charter fleets of catamarans. Big, wardrobe-shaped GRP palaces awaiting their US and French holidaymakers by the dozen - perhaps there were 50 cats or more - their decks gleaming, locals cleaning, polishing and repairing. The harbour was a hive of activity. Never mind, custom formalities were pleasantly brief - completed online in the capitainerie and forwarded electronically to the relevant authorities that evening. Beautifully simple. Which isn't a phrase often used for bureaucracy!

Having obtained key cards for the showers and already replenished Carpe Diem's water supplies (our 600l had been run out 6 hours before reaching Martinique!) we jubilantly set off to find the shower block. Our swaying was obvious, not just to us. After almost three weeks on the boat, walking in a straight line was impossible. We must have appeared like the smelliest, most clear headed drunks in the harbour that afternoon.

It is difficult to describe just how pleasant running water in form of a warm shower is after all that time, even if you had managed to keep yourself reasonably clean with a flannel. It was, put simply, blissful.

That evening, having met with Christian's wife and friends we headed to the nearest restaurant to celebrate our arrival on Terra Firma. Rum, beer and wine flowed liberally. Steaks and grilled fish kept coming. I think we also had an ice cream at the end. The mood was incredibly cheerful, although it was mixed with disbelief at the journey and our sudden arrival on shore as well as sadness, that the iconic part of the journey, not the shortest, but perhaps the best known, was now over. At the end of the evening we all fell into our bunks happy and exhausted.

And we all promptly awoke about 5.5 hours later, as the sun was coming up - our body clocks telling us that a watch must be due!

Plenty to do on Friday, including re-provisioning, changing the headsail (which ultimately also involved a trip to the top of the mast for myself), purchasing several spares for the engine and generator and deciding how to approach the final leg. First, though, we had breakfast at another harbour-side bar, with what tasted like the world's best coffee: short, hot and syropy - enough to stand a spoon in! We ended the day having decided two things: given the complications of the suitable shelters on route and distance involved we would head to Antigua in one go
and, secondly, we were going to treat ourselves to a really good meal and several more cocktails before we cast off again.

Fast forward to yesterday morning: Saturday 05:30 the alarms went and 06:15 we cast off from our stern-to berth in Le Marin. We motored slowly out of the harbour as the sun was gaining height and started heading south east - yes, back the way we had come, around the southern tip of Martinique. We had asked several people the day before about the weather conditions on the leeward side of the so-called Windward Islands. The wind, we were told, was unreliable in the shadow of the mountains and our chosen route was therefore the slightly longer one along the Atlantic coast of Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe, before reaching Antigua - in total about 200nm distant - but with the promise of the uninterrupted trade winds pushing us along.

Our pilotage books do not recommend stopping at Dominica for safety reasons, which is a shame, because it is also described as one of the lushest Caribbean Islands - virgin rainforest which can be explored with local guides. This is part of the reason a two day crossing to Antigua is forced upon us as no one was really that keen to spend another 36 hours at sea uninterrupted, having just started to recover from the previous leg!

Sailing conditions in the last 24 hours have been markedly different to anything we experienced during the previous 2,900 miles. We had to tack across an easterly force 5 for a couple of hours, which made for uncomfortable and very wet sailing, as Carpe Diem nosed into the oncoming swell. Once we started pointing north, though, we started to sail on a reach - with the wind coming almost at 90 degrees off our starboard side. Still with the occasional wave crashing over our deck, though.

I think we are all ready to reach Antigua now. Papi and Stefan will meet their wives there. I will be making plans to head back to the UK this week to see my wife and three children. I can't wait to be reunited, although before all that, I might be able to squeeze in just one more rum cocktail...

Until Jolly Harbour,