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Date: 11 Mar 2011 00:39:00
Title: Frightening the Customs

16:18.493N 61:47.793W Deshayes, Guadeloupe, Thursday night

We had another great day today with plenty of different episodes so we're all tired now.

Andrea and I had a good lie-in while Kali went over to Terre-de-Haute with the 2 children of her Norwegian friends in the boat next door. By the time she returned, Andrea and I had got up and had a conversation with the parents Hans and Ingunn although, as they were snorkelling at the time, it was somewhat truncated. Kali returned so we invited them over for breakfast with the delicious pastries she'd brought. While they were getting changed, Andrea gave me a severe haircut so that I now look very frightening/sensitive/bald depending on how you interpret it.

The Norwegian family arrived and we had a delicious and very enjoyable breakfast discussing their plans and the places they'd been. The two children are delightful. The boy, Emil is 12, confident and charming. He's creating a wish-list of things for the ideal boat so I've asked him to send me a copy when he works out which one is perfect. The girl, Selma is 9 and very creative. They're both making the most of their time sailing and learning about the world from first-hand experience rather than from books. They're both also stunning looking. It was like having breakfast with a family of angels.

While we were chatting, a French Customs Cutter came in towards us, then anchored more of less on top of our own anchor. Great seamanship from our Gallic cousins. We wondered if they'd board us straight away but they didn't seem too bothered. Given that Customs are always the last people you want to get on the wrong side of, Kali went over to town again with all our stuff to Clear in. We had our Courtesy and Q flags flying so felt safe enough so Andrea and I went off snorkelling. We went the other way along the beach to usual and it was very different with scattered smaller rocks. We saw all the usual suspects plus a fantastic larger fish with striking pink spots and googly eyes who didn't seem in any hurry to move, even when I dived down right next to him. I wasn't about to poke him in case he fought back.

As we got colder, we swam back past Saxon Blue and on towards the sandy beach so we could get out and warm up. That didn't really work, though, we we swam back again. Kali was back by now having been unable to Clear in as the customs guys ashore were more interested in going off for a long lunch but at least we'd tried. As we neared the boat, I was looking for her shadow on the sea bed but couldn't understand why it was so big. Then I looked up and realised that she was sitting in an enormous school of tiny silver fish - the same ones who had surrounded Andrea on our last visit. They were massed around the keel and churning out either side. Andrea saw them too and we both went out for a closer look. Andrea went to get Kali so all three of us were swimming on top of the silver tide. The shoal extended out past our anchor chain and they kept clear of it so it seemed to disappear downwards through a vortex of shimmering silver.

I dived down through the shoal so that I was underneath it and the fish were so dense that I couldn't see the surface through them. As I came back up, they parted to let me through until I could see the dappled light on the waves with only a few fish between me and the air. The whole experience was magical. The numbers of fish were beyond counting and the strangest thing was how identical they all were - no difference in size or colour atall. We got back onboard stunned but it was now getting late and we had to get going so we had a quick shower and Hans volunteered to release our line from the shore so we could get the tender loaded up. The only trouble was the Customs boat.

Hans released our line and Kali pulled it back onboard while Andrea winched in the anchor chain. We moved steadily towards the forward end of the grey patrol boat while a black-clad guy on the bow tried to look unruffled. We got closer. Then closer. I had a bit of a cunning plan in that, so long as I could reduce the scope, I was confident that I could pull the anchor up and out by reversing away from it, even if I wasn't directly overhead. We were only a couple of meters away when I popped the engine into reverse and the anchor chain started coming in more quickly, indicating that we were clear of the seabed. Andrea looked up at the Customs guy and melodramatically wiped her brow. He reciprocated the gesture. "Very long" he said to Kali, indicating the length of chain we had out (which was 5 x water depth so perfect). "Very close" she replied, indicating that his captain should be more bloody careful where he drops his hook next time.

We packed our lines away and diddled around as I didn't want to look like I was making a fast getaway. Then we set course for the southwest headland of Guadeloupe, got most of the main and all the genoa up and got underway. The wind was on our starboard quarter so we had a great run with both the sails pulling and the swell helping us along so we were doing about 8 knots all the way across. As we rounded the point, we could see a catamaran ahead of us just sitting dead in the water with his sails flapping. At that moment, we were in 25 knots of breeze. Then we just hit a wall. The wind stopped completely in about one boat-length and our sails flapped idly before getting a bit of a push from the opposite direction. I put the engine on and that was it for sailing for the rest of the day.

As we headed north up the coast, the wind filled in from dead ahead so we ended up motoring into about 20 knots with a nasty steep chop. It was downright uncomfortable and slow. Kali and I tried to keep cheerful while Andrea had a nap but we struggled to do anything more than wish it would stop. After an hour or so, the wind did die down to about 12 knots and we changed course to cross the waves a bit, put a bit of main out and got ourselves a bit more comfortable but still pretty slow. As we worked our way up the coast, things improved gradually, helped by Andrea making banana smoothies for us all. We knew that we'd struggle to reach the only real anchorage at Deshayes before sunset and I was concerned that, in the northerly swell, it wouldn't be very tenable anyway.

As we rounded the final headland, we could make out a whole herd of yachts anchored up which was to be expected as it's the only proper anchorage on this whole coast. The ones on the outside were rolling around all over the place, much as I'd feared. When we were in here before, we sat well outside the crowd but, if we tried that again, we'd be rolled right out of bed. Some smaller boats and catamarans were tucked right into the headland on the north side so we went in there for a look on the basis that it would give us better protection from the northerly swell. We toyed with backing into the rocks and tying ourselves on but it was a bit too shallow and we'd have been broadside to the waves anyway. I carried on a bit further and we found a long, thin gap between some smaller yachts at the very northeastern corner.

There wasn't anywhere near enough room for us to swing so we nosed in as far as I dared, dropped our anchor and motored back onto it, much to the consternation of the surrounding boats. Little did they know that we had another cunning plan. The tender was already launched and Kali set off astern of us with the kedge anchor aboard and the nylon rode attached. She dropped the smaller anchor just as the sun set behind her and I motored forward on that one to set it. We then got ourselves balanced between the two and here we are, about 100 meters off the rocks and sitting firmly in the most sheltered bit of the bay surrounded by 25 foot yachts. I laughed to Andrea that all the people watching Kali in the tender wished they had a girl like her onboard but it's not really a joke - I'm sure they all do.

Anyway, we congratulated each other on our parts in the textbook maneuver, lit our anchor lights and got ourselves sat down with a cold drink. Kali cooked up a lovely dinner, as ever, and we're now doing our last few little jobs before it's Battlestar time. A few people have just come in to anchor - I don't envy them the stress of trying to do that in the dark. We're off early tomorrow to make sure we get to Antigua in time to do our tricky stuff in the daylight.

Harvey

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