Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sailing down the Windward Islands

We have been here in the Caribbean over 2 weeks and so much has happened. We are mindful of the fact that during the crossing, the blog was being updated daily ensuring regular news from home just when we needed it, and now, when we have reached a decent place, we practically abandon it altogether! Cruisers are fickle too! Well it was fantastic making landfall, and we quickly found a decent bar where we could use the internet for free and meet other cruisers, which is what we did on New Year's Eve. We met up with Margot, Leigh and Nigel (and Hamish the Westie) on Aqua Symphony. We had been moored opposite each other in Gibraltar way back in November and when I accidentally barged into Nigel in the bar, everything gradually fell into place.

We saw in 2006 with great food, great music, and in the company of French and Brit cruisers. More friends were met when I bumped into Peter from Valhalla in the customs office and we enjoyed catching up with their adventures on the Blue Water Rally.
So, we were beginning to feel quite at home, when who should motor into the harbour but none other than Free Spirit! Mark and Nat had made landfall on St Lucia but wanted to sample the delights of Martinique (better class of cruiser). We spent quite some time reliving the passage with them as we felt bonded after speaking to them on the SSB every day through good and bad. Both boats went to anchor in the gorgeous Ste Anne's bay just south east of Le Marin.

It was here in the calm crystal waters where Kika got her port side hull cleaned of naughty barnacles. I was helped by a curious duo of fish - real little busy bodies who kept coming to assist. I also discovered a shy brown fish skulking in our stern heads through-hull. We hope it was just it's temporary home! It was a tough but satisfying job. The barnacles are very tenacious and I still have the starboard side to complete but I need a calm, clean anchorage to finish the job off. Until then, we just have to stop her going round in circles!

Having been in Martinique for a week, Nick and I decided to hire a car and see a little more of the island. We didn't do as much as we wanted of course, but the highlight was an unplanned walk through tropical forest around one of the peaks. We climbed pretty high and our stairway was the roots of the trees. I have never been in an environment where greenery was so abundant. The smells, sights and sounds of the forest were a delight.

So as everyone knows, New Year is a time for reassessment and planning, and after our crossing, we had some tough decisions to make regarding time, direction, seasickness etc. When we started the trip, it soon became clear from our conversations with other cruisers that to do this in 2 years would be difficult, so we have decided to extend it in order to complete and enjoy a passage across the Pacific. This may mean stopping off somewhere to wait for a weather window for a while, and perhaps doing a bit of work to ease the pressure of the finances. It will also mean that for those long passages, I will have to take some drugs in order to function fully as a crew member.

In Ste Annes we met the legendary 'Peace and Aloha' the very boat from where the net controller, Ellen, had made her broadcast on passage every morning. We had imagined a NASA style communications centre humming with the lateset electronics but were delighted to discover the identical SSB set to ours. We had built up a picture of Ellen and her family and it was good finally to meet them. Their arrival in Martinique signalled the end of their 5 yr 6 month circumnavigation. We took over some fresh bread to say 'thanks' for the support during the crossing, and were invited over to share their experiences and advice. We learned some invaluable things such as which sharks to watch for when spear fishing, and which day to head through the Red Sea 'corridor' to avoid pirates, but one of the best pieces of information was the fact that Ellen was never without a seasickness patch when on passage - a very reassuring fact for me.

So now we are making our way south and then west to meet up with family before our passage through Panama. We have anchored in a couple of beautiful picture postcard bays first in St Lucia, and then St Vincent, and we are currently moored in Port Elizabeth, Bequia. A boat boy brought round some fresh bread and banana cake this morning - a little extravagant but so delicious! We had just arrived yesterday when Julie, Andy and Jacques from Blue Iguana sped past in their flash dinghy. They crossed the Atlantic with us, arriving a day before and, as usual, it was fun to catch up and swap stories.

Nick adds:
Unfortunately the free WiFi at the bar vanished in the New Year and we were left struggling with the crazy French keyboards in overpriced Internet Cafes. However we spied a set of yachties using their laptops in a passageway outside some offices and we 'sped' back to Kika and grabbed our laptop. Sure enough free WiFi access. Unfortunately limited battery life meant frequent trips to the bar to plug in - amazing how many drinks it takes to recharge a laptop.

The unplanned walk was great fun - our free hire-car map deceived us into thinking the road along the north coast of the Island is continuous. It isn't. After risking life and car round precipitous hair-pin bends in dense forest we arrived at a dead end. By this time we were starting to think of lunch. A cursory study of the map, appeared to indicate that Grand Rivière, the village we were aiming for, would be a 1/2 hour hike through the forest. We set off at a good speed anticipating the guide's promised seafood delights. Two hours later we met a French guy coming in the opposite direction. It turned out he was four hours from Grand Rivière. Our promised lunch there never materialised, but we had a spectacular walk through rainforest, alternately winding its way along the coast before plunging back into the forest.

We would have loved to explore the less visited anchorages on the east side of the Martinique - they are protected from the Atlantic by a reef, however navigation is a tad tricky and the pilot guide recommends a calm day to visit which we haven't had since we've arrived. The winds have been blowing consistently 20-25knots with gusts up-to 35knots.

The crossing from Martinique to St Lucia was short, but choppy and showed how two weeks at anchor one starts to become blase about secure stowage as all manner of items escaped from their resting place and crashed around the saloon. The reward was the beautiful Marigot bay, a small inlet surround by high green cliffs containing a couple of bars - an almost perfect anchorage.After 5 attempts we managed to get the anchor to hold and in a spot where we weren't in danger of dropping back on other boats [Ellen thinks our anchor is rebelling as we bought another one just before leaving Martinique]. We took so long to anchor that the customs office had closed by the time we made it in. In theory as we hadn't checked in we should have stayed on the boat however undercover of darkness we sneaked ashore and without local currency exchanged some US dollars for beers.

The following day we sailed into another idyllic anchorage; Cumberland bay in St Lucia. We negotiated for one of the boat-boys that form a "welcoming committee" at these small anchorages to take a line ashore and found ourselves anchored with our stern tied to a coconut tree. Other negotiations ensued, in which we had to bargain hard as we didn't have any local currency, we'd drunk our US dollars the previous night and our small euro change was no good to them. Eventually we exchanged some of the largest grapefruit I've ever seen and some passion fruit for a couple of Kika special rum punches. We're still perfecting the recipe as the boat boys' verdict was "dis a drink for da ladies, more rum". Once the mixture consisted of 80% rum they seemed satisfied and the grapefruit looked less of a bargain.

Cumberland bay was slightly marred when I trod on a sea urchin and spines broke off and embedded themselves in my feet. After consulting "Offshore Doctor", Ellen put away the amputation kit and bought out the toilet cleaning vinegar. It's supposed to dissolve the spines - but we're concerned Kika will smell like a fish and chip shop before the treatment finishes. Its been an interesting reversal of fortunes, I've been milking my incapacitation while Ellen races round tending to the boat and the invalid.

It seems that Blue Iguana practically lived off the fish they caught. After another fishless sail here I noticed that the hook had vanished from the lure and am hoping for more success on the sail down to Grenada.