Rum Sodomy and the Lash

sailing around the world on our yacht, Ruby Rose

Category: Windward Islands

The Last of the Windwards

Martinique marks the northern-most island that makes up the windwards, and Nick and I can now breathe a sigh of relief that our days of sailing close hauled are- hopefully- over for the present. Our course now turns vaguely north-west and we’re hoping for more favourable passage making conditions.

Sunset in Martinique

Sunset in Martinique

We crossed to Martinique, once again battling with the inter-island Atlantic swell, and arrived back in Grande Anse d’Arlet, one of our favourite anchorages from our week in Martinique with Kate. However, there was a major difference on this occassion. As we approached, the bay opened up and we were shocked- shocked I tell you- at the number of yachts in the anchorage. It was positively rammed.

There are, essentially, three possibilities when anchoring in Grande Anse. The southern corner, the northern corner, or somewhere in the middle. That might seem bleeding obvious, but allow me to explain. The swell was coming from the south, so the southern corner was nicely protected thanks to the headland. The northern corner was, as a result, less crowded but was open to the swell. The middle was also well protected, but very deep- too deep for us to anchor. We spotted a buoy- the last one- in the northern corner, so we decided to just tie up to it and then go ashore for a sundowner. However, as we sat on the beach watching the sun set, the ambiance was somewhat marred by the view of our mast swaying wildly back and forth. I sulked for a bit, anticipating a sleepless night, before Nick relented and agreed to move.

We had an hour or so of light left, so dropped the lines and, after a bit of deliberation (read: heated discussion) chose a spot close to the beach with the other catamarans and smaller yachts. Sometimes having a lift keel is really, very cool. We were closer to one of the catamarans than is strictly polite, so like the good boat neighbours we are, we re-anchored and finally settled down for a meal. We were back in France and boy, we were happy about it.

Evening guitar practice

Evening guitar session

The following morning we walked to Les Anses d’Arlet to clear in, and spent a good 20 minutes wandering around in the heat following several different sets of directions before coming across the poorly marked customs office (for reference: if you’re in front of the church, with your back to the dinghy dock, turn right and it’s about 100m on your left. If you’ve reached the market, you’ve gone too far). At least the office was air-conditioned.
Once we were officially cleared into Martinique, we wandered down to Chez Fab et Claude, where we had a meal last time. Once again, the Claude was great entertainment, running around and chatting the entire time. We mused that things weren’t quite the same without Kate with us ordering one pina colada after another and so sent her several pictures of us holding our drinks on the palm-backed beach. I’m sure she really appreciated it.

That afternoon we went for a snorkel to find turtles. We’d spotted quite a few swimming around the boat, popping their heads above water for a quick look around before diving into the depths once again, so we knew they were there. We did indeed spot a couple and swam with them for a while before they buggered off.

Another beautiful sunset

Another beautiful sunset

The next couple of days were rainy with no wind. We really don’t like these days at all, not only because they’re unpleasant in general, but more specifically because we cannot produce any energy at all if we don’t have sun or wind. So we put out buckets and collected water, and put the basil plant out for a good drink (I think we’ve only prolonged its agony- it’s looking pretty limp and sad to me and has done for some time…). At least the rain washed all the salt off the boat. We saw quite a few of our neighbours braving the elements with a mop, but Nick was reticent to get his hair wet and I obviously wasn’t going to do it, so we just let nature do its thing.

Uh oh! Not always a paradise...

Uh oh! Not always a paradise…

Eupraxia were once again at anchor nearby and they have friends visiting, so we all went out for dinner and had a lovely evening drinking rosé and eating fresh mahi mahi at L’Escale.

Mt Pelée, the volcano that overlooks St Pierre

Mt Pelée, the volcano that overlooks St Pierre

The sun finally came out so we motor-sailed up to St Pierre, the northernmost anchorage in Martinique. The scenery was magnificent. The town of St Pierre sits under a huge volcano, the summit of which is obscured by cloud. It was very impressive, even more so when we read in our trusty cruising guidebook (the Chris Doyle one- highly recommended) that in early 1902 the volcano started rumbling in a pretty ominous way. The population of St Pierre was 30,000 and it was the capital of Martinique. For reasons that seem rather unsatisfactory in retrospect (mainly to do with politics and money- but, of course!), the people in charge decided against evacuation and stayed put, despite recent minor eruptions that had covered several surrounding villages in ash and had swept away a couple of nearby estates. In their defense, very little was known about volcanoes at the time, although the island of Martinique was about to get one hell of an education. I think you know where I’m going with this.

At 8am on the 8th May the side of the volcano facing St Pierre burst open and a ‘fireball of superheated gas flowed over the city, releasing more energy than an atomic bomb’, according to Chris Doyle. Depending on which source you consult the surviving population numbered either one or two. Either way, it’s not many, is it? Fort de France is now the capital.

Nick diving on our anchor at St Pierre

Nick diving on our anchor at St Pierre

We had planned to stay an extra day in St Pierre, but the holding was a little poor- we dragged and had to reset our anchor that evening- and the weather was good. Not one to miss a weather window, and with the delights of Dominica only a day-sail away, we decided to set off with the dozens of other yachts heading north the following morning.

Honey, I’m Home

After almost three weeks of cruising St Vincent and the Grenadines (WHERE HAS THAT TIME GONE!?) we are back in Rodney Bay, somewhere we’re coming to think of as our ‘Caribbean home’. There is something wonderful about coming into a port and not spending your entire first day working out where to clear in, where the supermarket is, or walking around trying to find an internet cafe. We’ve treated ourselves to a weekend in the marina and have celebrated this increasingly rare convenience by doing nothing but cleaning, provisioning, fixing and repairing, replacing, washing and laundering. After two day’s we’ve almost finished our long list of jobs. Who said living on a boat was nothing but lazy relaxation?

Lots of actual sailing this past week!

Lots of actual sailing this past week!

Well the last week hasn’t felt very relaxing. We’ve spent most days sailing north from Grenada, but it’s been somewhat reminiscent of the old days beating up the English Channel. Except, thankfully, without the beanies, gloves and wet weather gear. But it certainly hasn’t been easy, or particularly pleasant. However, we need to get used to it; we’ll likely be sailing very close to the wind for the next month at least.

We first sailed to Carriacou, but only overnight in order to break the journey up. After clearing out first thing in the morning, we headed to Bequia and arrived mid-afternoon. We were very pleased to be back in Bequia and celebrated by going back to our favourite internet cafe Chameleon and ordering their awesome ham, cheese and pickle toastie. Eupraxia were also anchored nearby- just can’t get rid of them- so we had dinner again with John and Sandra. We dinghied over to their’s and Sandra and Nick teamed up to produce a very delicious pork and vegetable dish. One of the things about the Caribbean (so far- would love to be able to change my view on this) is that, if you can cook, there’s really not much point in eating out that often. The restaurants have, in general, been both expensive and the food quality unexceptional. Rodney Bay I exclude from this- there are some awesome restaurants here, although they are pricey. So we prefer to cook for our friends than go out to eat.

Goodbye once again Bequia!

Goodbye once again Bequia!

After a day in Bequia we made the 15 mile journey to a little bay called Keargan’s in St Vincent. There we tied up to a mooring buoy owned by a local restaurant called Rock Side Cafe, with the help of a questionable looking fellow in a tiny wooden dinghy. Once secure, we went ashore to explore.

St Vincent was completely different to anywhere else we’ve been in the Caribbean. Okay, well we only saw one little corner of it, but still, it was in stark contrast to the relatively sanitised version of tropical paradise we’ve experienced so far. It is totally undeveloped and feels wonderfully wild and rugged. The people are so friendly- everyone we passed said hello- and it was completely unsophisticated and rural. We walked to the neighbouring bay and then around the corner to a little waterfall (a local described it as “some rocks with water” which did sum it up) amongst a tropical garden. It was 5EC entry but we didn’t mind, even if the waterfall was a bit of a let down.

Sports day!

Sports day!

We then had dinner at Rock Side Cafe with Rosi, its German owner. The dinghy ride in was a little fraught due to the breaking swell on the beach, and there was a moment of exhilaration as we managed to ‘touch down’ without getting wet. That quickly turned in dismay as we realised that the pink, rubbery object floating in the nearby water was pig’s intestines. We saw the slaughtered animal earlier that day, being nonchalantly wheeled through the small village as the local school put on what was clearly a sport’s day. Charming!

Home for the night

Home for the night

There were two other tables there, both from our neighbouring boats and we had a wonderful evening. We had a perfect view of our boat at anchor and Rosi treated us like friends rather than guests. She even gave us a printed personalised menu- although my name was, as usual, spelled incorrectly!

We worriedly told her that we planned to leave first thing the next morning, but were concerned that one of the other boats’ mooring line was going to get caught around our propeller as we swung around (we were tied both stern and bow). Rosi cheerily said that someone will be out at 7am to drop the lines for us, making life much easier. We went back to the boat full of rum, wine and Caribbean food, and, after a few nervous minutes on the pitch black beach trying to a) find our dinghy and b) avoid the pig’s guts, we managed to return to the boat, still dry. Small miracles.

The next morning we waited in the cockpit drinking our coffee and watching the shoreline for signs of movement. A man appeared on the beach and waded into the water, putting on his snorkel, mask and flippers. Nick and I looked at each other.

“That must be him.”

“It can’t be. It’s 6:58.”

“So? Ross said 7. This must be her guy.”

“Yeah, but it’s the Caribbean. There’s no way he’ll be on time.”

Yet, I ate my words, because at exactly 7am he undid our stern line (with a wave) and 30 seconds later we were motoring out of the anchorage.

Garden in St Vincent

Garden in St Vincent

Our sail to Saint Lucia was long, tough and rolly. It didn’t help that we were constantly being pushed away from our target. The wind was coming directly north-east and guess which direction we were trying to go… yes, north-east. The last 10 miles took forever, not helped by the engine cutting out sporadically. We decided to forgo Marigot Bay and get ourselves into Rodney Bay marina to try and sort out the engine. Plus, if it died completely, we knew we’d be able to get towed in. Luckily it didn’t come to that!

Nick’s changed the filters and the diesel looks clean, so we’re not sure what the problem is. Hopefully it won’t happen again, but it’s something we’ll need to keep an eye on.

So that brings you up to date! This week: back to the land of french baguettes and rosé wine!

Spicy Grenada

You know you’re in Grenada when nutmeg is added to literally everything- local chocolate, ice-cream, banana smoothies… Not complaining though. I adore nutmeg, so am in heaven over here.

Our local beach in Prickly Bay

Our local beach in Prickly Bay

We’re leaving Grenada tomorrow and are quite shocked to realise that we’ve been here a week! That’s forever in sailing-time! That said, we’ve been quite busy. In between the obligatory afternoon naps, lazy mornings drinking coffee and listening to the cruiser’s net, and yoga classes (yes, I finally found one that fit into my hectic schedule!), we had to make time for more serious pursuits. Namely, changing the boat batteries. Our first morning in Grenada we dinghied over to Budget Marine- the only reason we chose Prickly Bay anchorage. Nick scuttled off to enquire about the batteries and I hung around the book section. They had free magazines and leaflets and I picked some up for perusal at my leisure. Then I went to find Nick, who quietly slipped me some money and advised I head over to the bay-side bar. This was going to take a while.

After an hour, we were finally free. They had the batteries and would deliver them in two days. So we turned our attentions to securing a berth in Prickly Bay Marina, which were stern-to moorings with a lazy line. To make a long story short, Nick spent a long sweaty day changing the batteries over, and we spent two nights listening to the live music from the marina bar (like, we’re trying to watch Game of Thrones over here!), and then decided we’d had enough of marina life. We went back to the anchorage.

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We had all sorts of weather over the week. While we were in the marina, it was still and humid. There was almost no wind- quite unusual! It made sleeping at night quite difficult and we were grateful when the breeze picked up again a few days later. Then of course we had a different type of sleepless night- the one where we’re lying in bed listening to the shrill whine of the wind generator, feeling the boat swing back and forth and buck with the swell, knowing that it was gusting over 20 knots all night long and fretting that our anchor was going to drag. Just can’t win.

We also spent a day doing the grocery shopping. Okay, not particularly exciting, but it’s a curious fact of life these days that the simplest of chores can take up an entire day. Consider how long your last trip to the supermarket took you. An hour? Well, we first had to dinghy across to the dinghy docks, ask around for the location of the bus stop, walk to said bus stop, hail down a bus, make that first nervous bus journey where you know where you want to go in theory, but you have no idea how you’ll know when you’ve arrived. I didn’t even know how to stop the bus when we got there (turns out anything from yelling, “Here!” to knocking on the window to tapping the driver on the shoulder will work). In the end, we passed the supermarket, and, not wanting to cause a scene, simply got off when the next person- a little old lady- did. It just seemed easier.

Then we backtracked, found a little cafe for lunch, did the shopping (there’s always something oddly exciting about entering a supermarket in a new country for the first time) and, exhausted, got a cab home.

Prickly Bay anchorage

Prickly Bay anchorage

 

The following day, invigorated by our successful shopping trip, we caught the bus again into St George’s, the capital. The bus system here is quite fascinating. They’re actually a series of privately owned minivans. Some are old, hot and uncomfortable. Others are wonderful, with air-conditioning so powerful that you start to shiver. Without exception, they all play pop music at full volume. There is the driver, but there’s also an assistant who sits in the back and sticks his head out the window to call out to pedestrians, “Bus!? Bus?!” Some nod, and the bus swerves suddenly to the side of the road to pick them up.

The driver and assistant frequently call out familiar greetings to other drivers on the road, or people on footpaths. Even the passengers join in: we were parked to let someone off, and the elderly lady seated in front of me had a shouted but necessarily brief conversation with another woman waiting at the bus stop, before it was cut off mid-sentence as we sped away, door still open.

It was brilliant. Nick and I sat there grinning the entire journey. We’d been observing that we’ve been struggling to break away from the sailing communities on these islands, and find a more authentic cultural experience. Not to sound like a travel snob, but hanging out with a bunch of yachties is rather a pointless exercise- I could have done that by staying in Conyer. We’re here because we want to explore other cultures and see how the locals live.

St George's

St George’s

St George’s was hilly and situated around a small harbour full of tourist boats and small wooden dinghies, but it was lively and colourful and, despite a slightly tacky air and the overwhelming presence of cruise ship passengers, we loved it. We wandered the streets and finished up at the market. Finally, we found the main bus station where we were crammed into another minivan. Nick was sitting next to a young girl attempting to juggle a baby, a bagful of recently purchased fruit, a handbag and a hold-all, along with her packed lunch in a plastic bag. Nick offered to hold her lunch while she fed the baby, and when it came to our stop the elderly man behind me, having heard my earlier conversation with Nick, cheerfully informed me that this was where we had to disembark. Nick knocked on the window like a pro. It was all very satisfying.

Tomorrow we head north again, as it’s already the second week of February and if we’re going to make it to the US for hurricane season, we need to get a wriggle on!

Turtles At Last!

Well, at last we’ve swam with turtles! It’s been on my to-do list since we saw a little turtle’s head briefly break the water’s surface in Martinique, so I can finally tick that off.

We spent a total of 5 days in Bequia in the end, and we’re glad we did. I really liked Bequia. It has a perfect blend of plenty of things to do- beautiful beaches, bars, restaurants, shopping- coupled with a slow pace of life and a chilled out vibe. We spent a lot of time snorkelling, swimming and eating out, as- somehow- about six ARC boats convened in Admiralty Bay during the week, and we had some serious catching up to do!

Snorkelling off the Admiralty Bay point

Snorkelling off the Admiralty Bay point

Nick continued to woo Sandra and John with his skills in the galley. We offered to cook for them one night and managed to intercept a dinghy that was selling lobsters.

“How much?” Nick called as they passed, holding a poor lobster up for display. It waved its claws feebly.

“25 EC a pound!”

“What? You said 20 EC a pound yesterday!”

“Ah, okay, 20 a pound.” They came alongside and as we started the process of choosing which lobsters looked the tastiest, the boy apologised, looking sheepish. “The thing is, I told your friends [he was referring to John and Sandra] 25 EC because they got a big, posh boat! They looked like they could afford it.”

We grinned at the implication that perhaps we couldn’t afford that extra 5 EC (£1.25) a pound, but were happy with the transaction. Clearly having a smaller boat does occasionally have some perks! Nick bunged the lobster in the pressure cooker and then turned the cooked meat through a lightly spiced coconut and dill sauce. I swear, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Ever. John and Sandra couldn’t stop talking about it for days.

We left Bequia for the Tobago Cays because everyone said, “Oh, you MUST go!!” Nick had been before, in the low season. He was not happy when the anchorage that he’d been in last time was suddenly teeming with charter yachts. We anchored and then dinghied across to the turtle watching area. Nick glared at all the charterers.

“This place was empty when I was here! Now look at it!”

“Yes, but it’s- OH MY GOD I JUST SAW A TURTLE!!!” And with that, I literally jumped into the water and swam over to the spot I had seen it’s head poke curiously out of the water. I don’t know what I planned to do when I got there- cuddle it perhaps? But, alarmed, it swam away.

Turtle! Come back!

Turtle! Come back!

Not to worry, we went to the protected turtle watching area and soon found several more. Nick and I took turns diving down to get a closer look, but were careful not to frighten them by getting too close. They looked pretty serene to me anyway and are probably used to tourists gawking at them.

On the hunt for turtles...

God, do I really look like that?!

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Anchoring in the Tobago Cays

Anchoring in the Tobago Cays. Such concentration!

The next morning we left. I’m not going to lie. I was disappointed by the Tobago Cays. I’d love to come back out of season when there aren’t so many charterers and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. But it was not very pleasant being crammed into the anchorages (not small anchorages either!) like sardines. We motored over to Union Island to clear out of the Grenadines.

Tobago Cays. No boats in this picture!

Tobago Cays. No boats in this picture!

The anchorage at Clifton in Union Island is protected by a reef, but otherwise completely open to the easterly winds. We didn’t have a choice, though- we were here to check out. After going aground on the reef- yes, it was embarrassing, let’s move swiftly on, shall we?- we then anchored on our second attempt out near Happy Island. We were too close to another boat, but luckily they cleared off within an hour, so we let out a bit more chain and relaxed.

The next morning it was Monday, so we could clear out without being charged weekend rates. Nick went in first thing, but ended up having to go to the airport because no-one was in the office. It was only a five minute walk away, so hardly an issue. He returned by 9:30 and we were off!

Happy Island, Union Island! It's a bar and an island all in one- sadly closed the day we were there.

Happy Island, Union Island! It’s a bar and an island all in one- sadly closed the day we were there.

Now, the sailing thus far hasn’t been brilliant. The sail to Bequia from St Lucia was challenging due to the variable conditions the whole way down, and between Bequia and the Tobago Cays it was pretty windy and choppy. However! The 45 mile sail between Union Island and Grenada was, I have to say, absolutely cracking. We had a consistent 15-18 knots on the quarter, and made an average of 6.5 knots. The boat was wonderfully stable, the sun was out, the scenery was pleasant- what more could one ask for!? Nick got so excited that he even unearthed our magnetic chess board, and we had a game off the Grenadan coast.

He won, but I swear it was close!

We came into Prickly Bay about 5pm and found a spot in the anchorage. It is a lovely and very well protected hilly bay with lots of impressive houses dotted around the place. Nick radioed the marina and asked if customs were still open.

“They were meant to leave an hour ago, but they’re still here…” Nick and I were momentarily confused by this, but when Nick went ashore with the paperwork, it all became clear. They were in the bar, enjoying happy hour! Nick dragged them away from their half priced beers and got us cleared in, and now we’re planning to spend the next few days in this location in order to change the boat batteries and do some general maintenance.

The Latest Visitor

Two weeks!? I do apologise. Let’s get straight to it, but I hope you’re prepared for a lengthy one…

Firstly, we never did make it out of Rodney Bay with Nick’s parents. You know how it goes. Bad weather, then someone doesn’t feel too good because they ate a dodgy prawn (or possibly overindulged in the local rum), or there’s a kite surfing lesson (we’re now standing up on the boards!) … there was always something. So instead we spent the next week chilling out at Marie’s fish shack on Reduit Beach, going to the Friday night “jump up” street party, and catching up with our mates on Belafonte who actually left on the World ARC last Saturday. We sat on the beach drinking beer and waved the fleet of about 40 boats off. The sun was shining and there was 10 knots of wind with almost no swell. Far, far more benign conditions than the beginning of our Atlantic passage!

After a fortnight of eating, drinking and sunbathing, we said goodbye to Nick’s parents, and spent the following 24 hours madly trying to wash all the linen and towels and clean the boat from top to bottom in order to make ready for the arrival of our next guest: one Kate Berry, a mate of mine from London who had wisely decided to escape the cold of another UK winter and hang out with us for 10 days.

Grande Anse d'Arlet

Grande Anse d’Arlet

Sunset chilling

Sunset chilling

We celebrated her arrival in typical Caribbean fashion: by dragging her out, feeding her chicken wings and plying her with passion fruit and thyme cocktails- fabulous combination by the way. The next day we got up early and finally, after a month- yes, a month!- dropped our mooring lines. We were Martinique-bound!

Sainte Anne sunset

Sainte Anne sunset

Three hours later, after a beautiful sail in brisk but sunny conditions, we dropped our anchor in Sainte Anne, a pretty seaside town on the southern coast of Martinique. We went ashore, cleared in, then came back to the boat and watched the spectacular sunset with a bottle of newly purchased rosé. Just as we were admiring the serenity and congratulating ourselves on a job well done, four charter boats rocked up and anchored literally right next to us. They were all together and soon congregated on the boat nearest to us, where they proceeded to play loud music, whoop loudly (for no particular reason that I could see) and generally be a bloody nuisance. I woke early the next morning, and, as I was enjoying the sunrise and thinking, “Surely those charterers will sleep in today and give me some peace,” they emerged into the cockpit, flicked the sound system on and started dancing. I mean, you have to admire their stamina. Trying to get more than a couple of monosyllabic grunts from me before my first coffee is almost impossible, let alone dancing and socialising.

Needless to say, we moved soon after breakfast.

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Give Nick a beach bar and he’s happy!

The next few days were spent bay-hopping up the Martinique coast. It was lovely, with some spectacular anchorages. We left Sainte-Anne after a couple of days, and moved to Grand Anse d’Arlet, a stunning bay with good snorkeling, some very cool beach bars painted in all the colours of the rainbow, palm trees and soft, white sand.

Not bad...

Not bad…

Feeling the need for some exercise and adventure, we also decided to hike to the bay next door, Les Anses d’Arlet. Okay, so I bullied Kate and Nick into doing the hike with me and what started off as a gently sloping trail turned into clambering up and down steep rocky paths surrounded by jungle and gasping for water. We passed many others using the trail and, almost without exception, they glanced at our flip flops and sweaty brows, smiled sympathetically, then continued with their hiking boots and poles. Some even had those water tube things that attach to a backpack. I mean, these French tourists take their hiking seriously.

Views were worth the hike!

Views were worth the hike!

But the views were well worth it, and Les Anses was even prettier than Grande Anse, so the grumbling didn’t last too long, although Kate was complaining of sore thighs for some days to follow, bless her cotton socks. Fragile thing, isn’t she?

Grande Anse d'Arlet

Grande Anse d’Arlet

Unfortunately, we were quickly running out of food. So we made a mad dash to Fort de France, the capital, and Nick and I caught the bus out to the hypermarkets for a big shop. Kate, sensible girl, stayed on board and read her book in the sunshine, while Nick and I slogged way out to Hyper U. Our energy levels were temporarily revived by the sight of all the french wine, but then we saw the prices and realised that although we’re talking french produce, we’re still looking at Caribbean prices. We trekked up and down the aisles, piling up the trolley with food and slowly losing the will to live. We gave up around the dairy produce section, headed to the till and then into a cab. From there we lugged the bags into the dinghy and finally arrived back at the boat shortly before collapsing. Stocked up, we later enjoyed an easy and satisfying dinner of roasted chicken and salad with buttered baguette washed down with a glass of wine, musing that the ordeal was very nearly worth it.

The following day we woke to rain and cloud. Nooooo! We stared at the sky, willing the clouds to break up and saying things like, “It looks a little brighter over there…” or “I think the rain’s lighter than it was an hour ago…” while knowing it was anything but. However, it did eventually clear for long enough for us to motor across the bay to a tiny cove called Anse Dufour that was described in our cruising guide as having superb snorkelling. We anchored and jumped off the boat into the crystal water, and were not disappointed. When the sun came out, it turned the world underwater into a magical place, full of shifting light and colours. Afterwards we ate homemade banana bread (there’s a lot of bananas in this part of the world…) and made the final journey of the day back to Les Anse d’Arlet.

Snorkel time!

Snorkel time!

No, it's not some strange new breed of fish... that's just Kate.

No, it’s not some strange new breed of fish… that’s just Kate.

Anse Dufour snorkeling

Anse Dufour snorkeling

Snorkel selfies

Snorkel selfies

That evening we went ashore for a sunset drink and selected one of the many beachside bars with plastic chairs and tables and a great view of the bay. The eccentric and genial owner rushed over and took our order. When I hesitated, he simply asked me, “Alcohol or no alcohol?” The answer was obvious. “Planteur!” he declared. I agreed, perfectly happy to have the choice taken out of my hands and it turned out to be a delicious rum punch, Martinique style! We watched with some amusement as he literally ran from table to bar, slightly hunched over with a tie died t-shirt and a bandanna, his grey hair in a little pony tail, chatting all the while to passers by and his customers. When we paid the bill, he all but ordered us to come back tomorrow for lunch, booking us a table pretty much before we’d even nodded our heads. We were instructed to return at 10am to place our order, then we will eat at 12pm sharp. Bemused, we agreed.

The meal the next day was superb and I urge anyone staying at this anchorage to visit Chez Fab et Claude and don’t leave without trying the coconut ice-cream! Full of fish and rum punches, we had (another) lazy afternoon snoozing and reading.

Perfect anchorage

Perfect anchorage

Monday we headed back to Saint Lucia- another brisk and not altogether comfortable sail!- and anchored in Rodney Bay. Tuesday we moved into the marina and then Kate and I decided to head to Pigeon Island. “How far’s the walk?” she asked casually.

“Oh, about an hour, then a steep climb to the top,” I replied.

“What!? How am I going to manage that?”

“You’ll have to use those skinny white things sticking out of your shorts,” Nick said.

“Terysa, Nick’s being mean to me…”

We had yet another boozy lunch (sensing a theme?) at the national park, in a restaurant called Jambe de Bois. Kate almost attacked the waitress who came to clear her glass before she’d finished the last, warm mouthful of her pina colada. The waitress returned a minute later to give Kate her passionfruit daiquiri, and even poured the leftovers from the blender into a small plastic cup, obviously sensing Kate’s need for every last drop of that cocktail!

So today Kate left, and it’s been such a fun week and a half with her. She’s the ideal boat-guest: cleans up, sits and quietly reads her book when we feel lazy, goes to bed early and sleeps in, is obsessive in water conservation, eats anything and loves her rum-based cocktails! We’re already planning her next trip out to see us.

The next few days will be spent in Rodney Bay sorting out the boat and then we will see where life takes us next!

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!

Gwen and Marco arrived on Boxing Day after an uneventful flight and we immediately celebrated with drinks and pizza in the marina. The following day was Gwen’s birthday, so we decided to spend the day down the beach. This involved getting everyone into the dinghy, which Nick and I were quietly trepidatious about, but it was managed without anyone ending up in the water and we scooted around to the beach. By 10am were on our first of many rum punches for the day. We had planned dinner at a nice restaurant in town, but by the time night fell it was all we could do to stagger down to the marina village.

Little girl who decided that the perfect location for eating her lunch was under our table. She later gave me a total body exfoliation (i.e., rubbed sand into my arms, legs, stomach and back), which was about as much fun as it sounds.

Little girl who decided that the perfect location for eating her lunch was under our table. She later gave me a total body exfoliation (i.e., rubbed sand into my arms, legs, stomach and back), which was about as much fun as it sounds.

We spent the following days showing Nick’s parents around Rodney Bay and one day we all went to Cas-en-Bas beach for another kitesurfing lesson while Gwen and Marco ate shrimp curry in a beach restaurant.

We celebrated the last day of 2015 with Gwen and Marco down the beach, swimming, eating BBQ’d fish and drinking beer, followed by an obligatory snooze, and then a night of partying at a beach restaurant called Spinnakers.

Our main form of transportation these days: dinghy!

Our main form of transportation these days: dinghy!

Playtime at the beach

Playtime at the beach

On New Years Eve we got down the beach quite early and Spinnakers was still setting up, so we took our shoes off and wandered across the sand in search of somewhere to have a drink. We came across a little stall with a tarpaulin roof, the domain of Auntie Jane and her motley crew, including a beautiful grand-daughter, a couple of nephews, and an old drunkard who claimed to be her husband, but may have just been her whipping boy. They sat us down in their little tent, out of the rain, and we drank Auntie Jane’s homemade rum punches, chatted to her and her family about anything and everything. Jane was quite a character and had all of us, including the various family members in fits of laughter. We wished we could have stayed with them the whole night, but alas, we’d already paid to go and party with the British/American middle classes a few doors down.

Marco and Sandra having a dance

Marco and Sandra having a dance

Gwen and Sandra having a laugh

Gwen and Sandra having a laugh

Sandra and Gwen getting into the swing of things...

Sandra and Gwen getting into the swing of things…

Let's party!

Let’s party!

New Year celebrations

New Year celebrations

Me. God, my hair's gone light...

Me. God, my hair’s gone light…

So, allow me to get a little reflective, since it is the end of a fairly significant year for Nick and me.

The first 4 months of 2015 were spent in Conyer living onboard, with regular trips to Nick’s parent’s house in London whenever we fancied sitting in front of a warm fire, getting some washing done, or having fast wifi- which was quite often. We also enjoyed a series of European holidays to Florence, Rome, Leipzig, Seville and Rhodes with Nick’s parents as an almost last-ditch attempt to have some quality time together before we set off. Amongst all this we were, of course, preparing our boat- and ourselves- for a life of cruising.

Quick piccie break

Quick piccie break

Finally we had our farewell party- which, to this day, Nick has very fuzzy memories of- and a week later on the 7th May we got our weather window, dropped our mooring lines, and motored out of Conyer creek for the last time in a long time.

The first month of our cruising was spent in the UK, exploring the beautiful West Country, and so it didn’t really feel like we’d actually left. It wasn’t until we crossed Biscay and arrived in Spain that we finally felt we’d taken the first step of this new adventure.

Looking back, it’s hard to choose a favourite. But, for those who care, Nick and I both agreed that the week we spent at anchor in Muros in Galicia was borderline perfection. If the water had been a few degrees warmer and thus more inviting for a swim, I think we would have found paradise. The anchorage was wonderfully secure and scenic, the town of Muros was a beautifully quaint Galician town full of Spanish holidaymakers, the food was exceptional and the weather was warm and sunny.

Since then we’ve sailed the coast of Portugal, Andalusia, Morocco and the three eastern islands of the Canaries. Crossing the Atlantic was, of course, the biggest challenge we faced this year, and we’re feeling pretty damn proud of ourselves for getting across safely and with no breakages. Turns out crossing oceans is actually fairly easy! Who would have thought?

So, as our thoughts turn to the coming year, Nick and I are excitedly planning our 6 months cruising in the Caribbean. We have to find somewhere safe to leave the boat for the hurricane season as we plan to use that time to head back to Europe and Australia for holidays. But part of the beauty of our lives right now is that we can just let life unfold however it wants to, and we cannot wait to see what the following year brings.

DCIM105GOPRO

Our First Christmas Onboard

First thing’s first: Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We hope that your Christmas’s were full of love and joy wherever you are, however you choose to celebrate. Nick and I aren’t religious in the slightest, but Christmas is definitely steeped in tradition for Nick especially, and celebrating in a reasonably traditional fashion is important to both of us. So it was difficult to spend this year away from our families, who we are both very close to, and no matter how many Christmas decorations we covered the boat with, it just didn’t feel very festive around here without experiencing the usual run-up of pre-Christmas catch-ups and parties with friends, pre-Christmas theatre (The Nutcracker has become a tradition for every year we’re in London), and the never-ending Christmas adverts on television or the radio.

Peeling veggies on Christmas morning

Peeling veggies on Christmas morning

Christmas eve is normally spent preparing for the day itself and seeing family or friends, but this year it was fairly low-key. In fact, apart from the odd waitress wearing a santa hat, or a bit of tinsel in the shops, it didn’t really feel like Christmas at all. Nick baked some home-made sausage rolls and we did the last-minute supermarket run, but it was pretty quiet. The marina has emptied out with only a few ARC boats left, most of which are locked up, their owners obviously staying in land-based accommodation or back home for the holidays.

My favourite Christmas sweet!

My favourite Christmas sweet!

However, Christmas eve night we had Magda and Tim over for a drink, and we quickly decided that we ought to go out and celebrate properly. We dinghied over to the village, and found a microbrewery for a couple of beers. Very pleasant, except I was getting savaged by mosquitos and Nick and Tim were becoming quite vocal about their sudden and intense need for jerk chicken. We had planned to head down to the beach, but we were distracted by a bar that Magda assured us had good BBQ’d meat (despite being a vegetarian, she seems to be very keen on sourcing good quality meat wherever she goes!), and it looked pretty lively so we decided to give it a go. We ended up drinking cocktails and eating awesome slow-cooked beef brisket, chicken and pork ribs with macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and roasted veggies. God, it was good! Excellent way to celebrate Christmas eve!

Christmas day dawned with a hangover, pancakes and lots of peeling of vegetables and steaming of puddings. Tim and Magda were doing the turkey and we (okay, okay, NICK!) were doing everything else. Seems like a fair trade- the success of a Christmas dinner hinges on having a delicious and moist turkey, after all!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

So, you know how I was saying how it didn’t feel like Christmas at all? Well, that was until the moment the turkey was unveiled on Christmas day at lunchtime, and the cockpit table was suddenly laden with perfectly roasted potatoes, carrots braised in butter and honey, red cabbage with sultanas, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing and, of course, the turkey itself. Suddenly all four of us were like, “Oh my God, it’s CHRIIIISTMAAAS!!”

The big moment!

The big moment!

Yuuum

Yuuum

Magda and Tim, very happy about our feast

Magda and Tim, very happy about our feast

Christmas dinner was hugely successful- possibly one of the best I’ve ever had, and that says a lot considering my mother-in-law makes an absolutely cracking Christmas dinner- and followed it up with pudding (that my mother-in-law made earlier this year), brandy butter, cream and mince pies. In-keeping with tradition, we all over-indulged and almost fell asleep in front of the television, watching The Germans episode of Fawlty Towers and the Christmas Blackadder special.

While I’ve got you here, I’ll also provide some photos of our walk up to Pigeon Island and the view over Rodney Bay from the lookout at its pinnacle, where an old fort stands from the 18th Century.

View from the top

View from the top

Soaking up the view. And recovering my breath from the climb.

Soaking up the view. And recovering my breath from the climb.

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Fort Rodney

Fort Rodney

Nick’s parents are arriving today and we’ll stay here with them for the next week or so before moving on to explore some other parts of the island. Bye for now and, as the North Americans say, Happy Holidays!

 

Beautiful Saint Lucia

It’s been about a week since I last posted, but what can I say- I’m working on Caribbean time!

Our beautiful boat approaching the finish line! Thanks Miles for this awesome pic.

Our beautiful boat approaching the finish line! Thanks Miles for this awesome pic.

The moment we crossed the finish line!

The moment we crossed the finish line! Yes, we had a couple of reefs in… kinda wish we’d shook them out just for the photos!

Life has definitely taken a turn for the… slow. We’ve been in Saint Lucia for over a week, and we’ve not even left the Rodney Bay area yet! We’d feel bad about that, but our friends from Belafonte only yesterday inflated their dinghy- they haven’t even made it to Rodney Bay village yet, which is a 2 minute dinghy ride away.

So last Sunday was a bit of a blur. After the initial boat-side hysteria, we got ourselves sorted and spent the rest of the day in the bar. I’m not kidding. I’d already had a champagne and rum punch by 10am, so I was happy sticking to one beer, and then iced coffee, but Neil, John and Nick are obviously made of hardier stuff and they celebrated in a predictable fashion. We logged onto the internet for the first time in 3 weeks, realised that we’d missed absolutely nothing of importance, and by 6pm we were ready for bed. We forced ourselves to stay up a bit longer, but by 8pm I was curled up in a bed that wasn’t rocking at all- not even a little bit!- and we enjoyed our first night of unbroken sleep in 3 weeks.

Boy, it was good.

The rest of the week passed in a blur of social activities. Every night- and most days- we had something to do or someone to see. For the first few days our body clocks were still a little messed up- we were craving our bed by sunset and waking up with our watch system, which effectively meant being wide awake at 4am and enjoying the sunrise from our cockpit.

The Rodney bay lagoon

The Rodney bay lagoon

Thursday night was the ARC 80s party night (complete with a reggae band…?) and although Nick, Tim and Madga got dressed up and went to the party, I went on strike. I was knackered and hadn’t had a quiet night since we’d arrived. So, after four consecutive nights of drinking, eating out and socialising (all of which was great fun, by the way!), I stayed in, made myself spaghetti carbonara, watched Stardust and polished off half a bar of chocolate. It was amazing. Although, perhaps not quite as amazing as Nick and Tim in 80s drag…

ARC 80s party (this photo courtesy of the ARC Facebook page!)

ARC 80s party (this photo courtesy of the ARC Facebook page!)

John flew to Florida on the Thursday to see his sister, and on the Friday we took in a couple of Aussie strays, Bel and Stephen who crewed for another ARC boat and were now, after much wooing, crewing on Belafonte for the World ARC! They were a lot of fun, and listening to the four of them talk excitedly about doing the World ARC in January, Nick and I came pretty close to throwing caution (and sense) into the wind, and signing up ourselves! Okay, we’d had a few rum punches by this stage… and in the cold light of day, we realised that cruising the Caribbean for 6 months was probably just as good a plan as anything else! Next year, maybe…

We also got our paddle board out and inflated, and have been gradually teaching Sandra to use it. The first lesson was in the marina (ostensibly because it would be easier for Sandra to hold onto the side of her boat while learning to stand up on the board, but I have it on good authority that Nick was feeling a little fragile that morning after getting stuck into the rum punches the night before, and couldn’t quite face the trip to the beach in the dinghy), and, as predicted, it featured Sandra spending more time falling off the board than standing on it. Her shrieks could be heard from all four corners of the marina- and probably much further afield- and before long she had an audience who had rushed over to see what all the fuss was about. Truly excellent entertainment.

However, she’s improved greatly over the past week, and we had a memorable afternoon having a late lunch at Spinnakers on the beach, then a group swim and paddle boarding session with another couple who we bumped in to, Chris and Helen who also did the ARC and were on our pontoon in Las Palmas. They were at anchor in the bay, and we hadn’t had an opportunity to catch up since arriving in Saint Lucia, so it was awesome to spend some time playing in the water with them.

The beautiful water at Reduit Beach.

The beautiful water at Reduit Beach.

Friday night we went to the Jump Up street party- a weekly event in Gros Islet, the nearest town, which involves a lot of loud music, street food and home-made rum being sold by the cup-ful. We went with Bel, Stephen, Tim and Magda, but bumped into many familiar faces. It was a great night and we’ll definitely be going again.

Saturday night was the prize giving ceremony and official closing of the ARC 2015. We didn’t win anything of course, so we were basically just there to cheer everyone else, listen to the somewhat tedious speeches, and enjoy the free booze and nibbles. The next morning we woke up feeling a little wooly headed to the sight of a mass exodus from the marina. Suddenly the ARC is over and boats are leaving in droves, off to explore other parts of the island or moving south to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

So, first impressions of the Caribbean and Saint Lucia in particular are extremely positive. There’s plenty to do, mostly watersports which suits us just fine! We’re finally learning to kite surf after Nick’s impulse purchase of some equipment in Lanzarote, and we’re hoping to get some diving and snorkelling done as soon as our wallets recover from all this eating out and the kite surfing lessons!

 

Our Atlantic Crossing- We Made It!

Well, the title says it all really. We have completed an Atlantic crossing. Wow!

After exactly 3 weeks- almost to the hour- at sea, we finally crossed the finish line at 9:51 local time yesterday morning. As the foghorn blew, and the voice came over the radio saying, “Congratulations Ruby Rose, you have completed the ARC!” I think it’s fair to say that although we had mixed emotions, relief was a definite front runner.

Is that land I see?!

Is that land I see?!

Our first glimpse of land!

Saint Lucia!

But let me start at the beginning. I’m warning you, this could stretch out into a fairly long post- but I’m hoping my captivating prose will hold your interest.

So, the night of Saturday the 21st (my god, that’s a long time ago now), we went out for pizza and pasta at the local bar, and then retired to bed early. Nick and I had gone past nervousness, past dread, past excitement, and were now like, “Right, can we just get going now?” I think the fact that we slept like babies all night indicates just how relaxed we were feeling. Unbelievable, really- I thought I’d have a sleepless night for sure. But no, after weeks of planning and stressing, it seemed that we’d reached our limit, and we just passed out.

Sunday morning: the Big Day! We woke up to rain, which wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for, and although the sun started to shine through during the morning, it looked like a cool and blustery day. We knew we were looking at about 20-25 knots of wind, so we were prepared for that.

Up and down the pontoons last minute preparations were taking place and everyone was slowly getting ready to leave. We’d been told to leave the marina between 11 and 1pm, and so Nick and I decided to wait until the majority of the boats cleared out before dropping our mooring lines ourselves. This gave us a great opportunity to wave off Eurpaxia (John and Sandra) and Belafonte (Tim and Magda). There was a real carnival atmosphere as a band was playing and foghorns were… hooting?… and everyone was grinning like maniacs and wishing everyone else good luck, and we’ll see you on the other side!!

Eventually, Nick and I looked at each other. “Shall we go, then?” Hell yes!! It was time to depart on our Atlantic crossing.

We motored out of the harbour- no turning back now, this is it!!- and suddenly the atmosphere was less jovial and more… grey, wet and windy. And choppy. Lots of chop.

Nick: “So that’s why Chris (the ARC meteorologist) had his wet weather gear on…”

200 boats were crammed into the outer harbour, trying not to hit each other and negotiate the swell and wind at the same time. It was a relief when 1pm rolled around so we could get our sails up and turn so the wind was coming from behind us. We barely registered that we’d officially began- we were too busy holding on and desperately trying to think if we stowed everything correctly!

Well, that day was a bit of a doozy. Our previous record for speed was 11.6 knots. We smashed that within a couple of hours to a fairly impressive 15 knots as we surfed down a particularly big wave. Now, I hate trying to guess swell height, but I’m going to go ahead and say the waves were probably around 6 metres. We also lost some fruit out of the nets in the cockpit, and, devastatingly, our bean bag from the side deck! How was I going to do all my lounging around on the foredeck now!?

After about an hour’s sail we entered the aptly named ‘wind acceleration zone’. Yep, the wind accelerated alright! 40 knots to be exact. We just kept holding on and hoping that once we were away from the islands (which wreak havoc with the local weather conditions by popping up out of a thousand meters of water in the middle of nowhere), everything would just settle down.

Well, it took about 3 days for the weather to settle, but that first day was definitely the worst. We kept 3 reefs in for those first few days (and still managed to do about 160 miles per 24 hours), and when we were suddenly becalmed on day 4, it came as something of a relief.

Day 2- we've got a long way to go!

Day 2- we’ve got a long way to go!

Finally, we were able to sleep!! Finally, we were able to cook a meal, have a shower, put the fishing line out, drink a cup of tea without it going everywhere. We were making very little progress, but who cares! The water was the most amazing cobalt blue, we had dolphins (briefly- they didn’t really seem too fussed by our presence), we could finally shed out wet weather gear- life was good!

We- and by ‘we’ I mean Nick- took advantage of these benign conditions to rewire the hydrogenerator. After all that fuss getting the thing delivered to Las Palmas, then installing it, then having the Watt and Sea guy tell us we’d installed it wrong and spending a day with Nick fixing it, it was only putting out 4 amps instead of the expected 10. So, Nick, John and Neil spent a few happy hours with their heads in the nooks and crannies where the wires go rewiring the thing. Basically the regulator needed to be moved so it was right next to the batteries, and a different (er, thicker? I don’t know) wire needed to be used. Nick was like, “Oh, it’s so good to have someone on board who knows how to do wiring!” Knock yourself out, boys.

Always something to fix! This time- the bin latch.

Always something to fix! This time- the bin latch.

We also caught some fish. After we landed our first dorado we had a quick conference and decided to never leave John alone with a hammer and a fish ever again. Perhaps he’s got some pent up anger he needs to work through, I don’t know, but after Nick stunned the poor little fishy, he asked me to go and grab his filleting knife. At that moment the fish gave the most feeble twitch imaginable, and John’s response was to take up Nick’s discarded hammer and bring it down on the fish’s head with all his might. There was a moment of stunned silence, then:

Nick: “What the hell…!”

John: “It was still wriggling!”

Nick: “It was stunned! I was just about to chop its head off!”

John: “I was helping…”

Nick: “Geez, it looks like something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre over here…”

Me: “Uh, Nick? You’ve got some fish blood on your face. And your neck. And all over your t-shirt.”

We also caught a massive dorado, it probably weighed at least 10 kilos, probably more, but Nick and John were so trigger happy with that knife that they were half way through filleting it before I had the chance to emerge with my camera. They offered me a shot of its head, which I declined, so you’ll have to make do with some pics of the filleting process instead.

Filleting fish off the back of our boat!

Filleting fish off the back of our boat!

The first day of lighter winds we decided to bring out The Beast- i.e., the Parasailor. Before leaving Las Palmas we had (okay, okay, Nick had) changed the run of the spinnaker lines through the mast on the advice of the Parasailor Man, and what do you know, 3 hours after hoisting the thing there’s a shout from on deck. I look out the window to see our huge red kite slowly toppling backwards into the sea like a felled tree. Panic ensued, but we miraculously got it back on board without any tears, back into its snuffer sock without it getting all twisted up, hoisted and then flying again all within a couple of hours. Turned out that the line had chaffed through. When we got into Saint Lucia we accosted Parasailor Man only moments after jumping off the boat.

Parasailor Man: “Hey guys! Congratulat-”

Nick: “You!! Your advice was absolute shit. Our spinnaker line chaffed through in 3 hours thanks to your advice!”

Parasailor Man: “Er… huh?”

Nick: “Yeah! 3 hours it lasted! Thanks very much!”

Parasailor Man: “Well, it would have chaffed through the way you had it originally…”

Nick: “We flew the Parasailor for 2 years like that without any problems. 3 hours!!”

Parasailor Man just kind of backs away. I mean, what can you say? We’re just grateful that we were able to retrieve it without any tears (the type that rhymes with bears, not the type that rhymes with cheers… although that too!).

Sunset sailing with our Parasailor

Sunset sailing with our Parasailor

Sooo, Parasailor worked well after that. We flew it for a couple of days, including leaving it up at night, but once the wind starting building to 20 knots again a few days later, we took it down and just poled out the jib. We ended up sailing goose winged for most of the crossing, actually. The winds were just too strong most of the time for anything else.

So, what did we actually DO during the Atlantic crossing? Well, we’d usually do a gybe once a day, especially during the final week. We realised that we couldn’t actually sail directly downwind with our sail configuration: the main wouldn’t tolerate deeper than 160-170 degrees to the wind, which was a pain when we wanted to go west and the wind was coming directly from the east. But, having looked at our track now we’re in, we didn’t do too badly. We think we added about 100 miles to our course, which is the equivalent of about 16 hours.

Day 4- still in our wet weather gear but smiling!

Day 4- still in our wet weather gear but smiling!

Anyway, where was I? So, generally the day would start at 12am. Yes, am. I would be up for my watch until 2am, sleep til 8am, then another 2 hour watch. The first week or so, it would be light by the time I got up. By day 21, the sun was rising at 10am.

After cereal and instant coffee for breakfast, we’d generally sit around doing some reading, or I’d put the bread on for lunch, or Nick would start on his list of things to fix. We’d usually do emails in the morning, and receiving correspondence from my mother and sister was a boost- especially as they were keeping us up to date with our position in our group. (We finished 6th out of 18 in our class, which we don’t think was a bad effort considering how conservatively we were sailing most of the time.) At 12pm we would have the SSB net for about half an hour which gave us an opportunity to check in with the surrounding boats and discuss any issues, ask questions, compare notes and get advice. Then, lunch. Then, a few hours of fixing things, or, if we were lucky, reading and working on our tans. Dinner started off being just stuff we could reheat, but depending on the weather and availability of provisions, could get quite complicated at times. We had Sunday roasts, home-made chicken pie complete with home-made shortcrust pastry (that was mine… never again on a moving boat!), sweet and sour dorado, shepherd’s pie, breaded veal with ratatouille (the look on John’s face when I presented him with a vegetable stew… bless!), as well as a couple of cakes and freshly baked bread once we got the hydrogenerator up and running.

Sailing goose winged

Sailing goose winged

SSB time

SSB time

It was funny, the first week I was quite bored. Our pace of life had been so hectic in the lead up to our departure, and I was thinking, “What the hell am I going to do on this boat for 3 weeks?!” Interesting that my main concern was how I would entertain myself rather than any issues that we might encounter with the conditions or our boat. I just had faith, I guess, that we’d done so much preparation and had considered how we would cope if certain things went wrong, that we’d be able to just deal with any problems. And we did! We didn’t thrash the boat, we just sailed comfortably without much consideration given to speed. We had a standing order that everyone wore lifejackets and were clipped on at all times if they weren’t down below. We reefed down most nights in case of squalls, especially after a few memorable early-hours encounters with all of us up on deck trying to reef the main and jib, bleary eyed and trying to communicate primarily with grunts.

Dolphins!

Dolphins!

Reaching half-way was a momentous occasion and we celebrated with steak and a small glass of red. The next milestone was less than 1000 miles to go, and time really started to slow down at this point. We started getting word that ARC boats were starting to arrive in St Lucia and we were suddenly desperate to get over that finish line ourselves.

Squalls on the horizon

Squalls on the horizon

Sunset at sea

Sunset at sea

Chillin'

Chillin’

Sunrise at sea

Sunrise at sea

I woke up for my 8am watch on Sunday morning (which is really about 4am Saint Lucian time) and was greeted by a double glow on the horizon: Martinique and, just beyond, Saint Lucia. The sun slowly came up and the sky went from black to deep blue, to grey, to lavender, then finally a golden blue as the sun peeked over the horizon. The lights from the islands disappeared, to be replaced by a faint mountainous outline in the distance. Slowly that indistinct shape solidified into green-capped mountains and we were delighted when we finally heard a reassuring Canadian voice over the radio saying, “Ruby Rose, this is the ARC finish line…”

Our last sunrise

Our last sunrise

After 3 weeks at sea, what's the first thing everyone does when we spot land? Get their phones out, of course

After 3 weeks at sea, what’s the first thing everyone does when we spot land? Get their phones out, of course

Putting our flags back up before our arrival

Putting our flags back up before our arrival

My expression when we sighted land!

My expression when we sighted land!

We rounded the northern tip of the island and saw the yellow buoy and orange flagged boat that marked the two points of the finish line. We had all changed into our crisp white polo shirts, and were looking pretty smart if I do say so myself. As we crossed the finish line, we heard the foghorn and erupted into cheers.

Rounding the northern tip of Saint Lucia

Rounding the northern tip of Saint Lucia

Nick's smiling!

Nick’s smiling!

A dinghy suddenly appeared and it was John and Sandra with their crew Miles and Phil! I just wanted to leap right into that dinghy and give them a hug, but I managed to restrain myself for a few minutes more: they led us up the channel leading to the marina and locating our berth was easy- there were a few ‘yellow shirts’ waving us in and, to our surprise, a little welcoming committee! Neil’s wife Viv was there with her sister-in-law and her husband, our friends from Belafonte were there and by the time John and co had clambered out of their dinghy, they were also waiting on the pontoon. Usually we check all our lines and fenders before jumping off the boat, and ensure we’ve got everything in its right place- not this time! I just trusted that the yellow shirts and Neil and John had done everything correctly and, as soon as the transom was within leaping distance of the pontoon, I was off! Lots of hugs and well wishes ensued and once we were all off the boat Nick got the champagne out of the fridge and we celebrated properly. Rum punch was soon thrust into our waiting hands- I nearly choked it was so strong, but boy did I need a stiff drink- and we babbled incoherently (or maybe that was just me) for an hour or so with our mates before getting on with the process of checking in.

I cannot put into words what a sense of achievement we all feel for crossing the Atlantic ocean. Just to put things into some perspective, among the many incidents that took place amongst the ARC boats, the most serious include a medical evacuation, an amputated finger, a dismasting and a boat that actually sunk. The crew were thankfully rescued by a cargo ship a couple of hours before the boat went under. That doesn’t include the plethora of broken equipment and boat parts, ranging from the annoying (i.e., broken autopilot) to the more serious (i.e., masts coming down, goosenecks breaking, sails tearing, etc). There are as many problems as there are boats. So for us to have no issues that couldn’t be speedily fixed at sea, and for everyone to arrive safe and happy is an achievement that shouldn’t be understated, and I feel mighty proud of all of us, especially Nick who worked twice as hard as anybody else on board and took on all the stress and responsibility in addition to that.

So, the obvious question is, would I do it again? That was the first thing Viv asked me as I jumped off the boat, and even I was a little surprised at the strength of my answer: “ABSOLUTELY!!”

Just need a little rest first. Oh, look, we’re in the Caribbean! This will do nicely.