Going up Island – Part 3

We said “goodbye” to Richard and Sarah in Port Louis Marina – this is the Lagoon part of the port of St Georges, which had lain a derelict mosquito ridden pool of unloved water until Peter de Savary got his hands on it a few years ago and turned it into the highly desirable marina it is today. Seeing his opportunity, he swiftly moved the project on to Crest Nicholson Marinas, and now it makes a good base for provisioning, right at the centre of the capital of the island and it now has facilities that attract the largest yachts in the world.

As we were preparing to leave, the island was to play host to the “Oyster Regatta”. Oysters are a British marque of highly desirable sailing boats starting at around £1 million – but then nobody starts with the base model do they? Their regatta attracts all the Oyster Caribbean based boats to one place and they hold a sort of “up market caravan rally”, allowing lesser mortals like Carol and I to walk up and down the dock commenting on the colour scheme of each boat and how much effort their crews are putting into their polishing – which we find is a good way of telling how soon their owners are going to arrive! Each morning, another Oyster appeared and always larger than the one that docked the day before – but when you have a big boat, there is always somebody with an even bigger one and “Eos”, thought to be the largest sailing boat in the world and docked just behind them, belittled them all. However, the Oysters had a plan for that too and when duly shined up, they moved “en-masse” to Phare Bleu marina for the start of their beauty contest.

Town of St George’s, Capital of Grenada

It was time for us to move on too. We kept finding reasons to delay sailing because we have both enjoyed Grenada over the years and were conscious that this might be the last time we left her waters. Of even greater sorrow was the thought of the friends we were leaving behind us that we have made over the years, particularly Mark & Anita of Island Dreams who have helped us look after Moya and keep her up to standard during our long absences. However, we slipped our lines and slowly moved out of the marina, through the entrance to the Carenage, with its backdrop of the town of St George’s, perhaps the best example of a Georgian town in the Caribbean, and turned north toward Molinere Point, the scene of our snorkelling experiences the week before, and then our first incident of the trip happened. Carol reported to me that she could smell burning rubber. I asked her if she was cooking anything, this reply appeared to upset her and she told me she was not. I told her to ignore it. Then the alternator belt parted – it had been working hard over the last few weeks maintaining our depleted batteries. However, this was not much of a problem, the towed water generator was keeping the beer cool and we were sailing under mizzen and jib. I hoisted the staysail and found we were making a respectable five knots so fitted a new belt whilst Carol steered us northwards.

We hugged the coast, following the old sailing directions of keeping “no more than two pistol shots from the shore” to avoid the west going current and weaved our way through the fishing boats off Gouyave, the island’s fishing capital. When we reached Gros Point, the shoreline fell away to the northeast and we slowly pulled away from our “two pistol shots” distance from the shore, unable to tighten in any further and pull ourselves up to windward. I allowed Moya’s head to fall off, preferring a more leeward course as our track lay right over “Kick’ em Jenny,” an active underwater volcano, last known to erupt in 1989 and we passed just west of the exclusion zone, avoiding any volcanic fury. We then tacked abeam of the Grenadines Diamond rock and motor sailed the last fifteen miles into Tyrel Bay, the most sheltered anchorage on Carriacou Island, and the most northerly of the islands that comprise the country of Grenada.

It was five thirty in the evening and we dropped our 60 lbs CQR anchor in the busy bay we had lain safely in so many times before. It dragged three times, so we moved and found a better place, had a shower and dinner and prepared to settle down for the night. Then the anchor alarm went off and we were involuntarily under way again. This time we dragged across the anchor chain of an island trader and I managed to lift his chain in my efforts to recover our anchor and when frantic calls on the VHF failed to raise him, we managed to get a nearby dinghy to go and warn him that I may have dislodged his mooring. They did warn him, but he appeared, through a haze of rum, to think it not important enough to appear on deck, and he was right, he never moved! So we moved again and I had had enough, so I shackled a 175 ibs fisherman anchor onto the CQR and dropped that! We never moved an inch again that night, it took 4 hours to finally anchor and a full hour to recover it all the next day. There were other boats that dragged during the night and some very weary people the next day and all in all, not the best introduction to quiet Caribbean nights at anchor.

After our difficult night we abandoned our plans to sail directly to Bequia and made for Union Island instead, a mere eight miles away. We motor sailed all the way, sheltering from 25-knot gusts under Carriacou’s west coast as we went, before crossing the Martinique Channel to the Clifton anchorage at Union Island. The channel is fairly shallow for these parts, about 20 metres and absorbs the full fetch of the Atlantic Ocean to the west, building the sea, as it filters through the islands with the result that you get an effect of confused wave patterns, rather like the Irish Sea and just as uncomfortable.

We had a pleasant stay in Clifton, the anchor held just fine, and we dinghied around through the reefs visiting Janti’s Happy Island for a couple of pleasant sundowners. Janti built this island himself out of conch shells on the edge of the reef and has developed it during our times in these waters by building water tanks and further sea defences to protect his investment. Carol was convinced that Posh Spice had been there the day before, having heard of some star’s entourage being seen in Clifton that day, but I think Janti and his English partner were more impressed by Carol’s capacity for sundowners rather than some other skinny bird with dark hair that may have been there!

Janti’s Happy Island

We left Union for the 30 mile journey to Blue Lagoon, St Vincent, arriving there in time to take a pilot through the reef and into the safety of the moorings of Barefoot Yacht Charter company – a favourite spot of ours, having one of the best views in the Caribbean, maintenance facilities and superb, welcoming hospitality.

Blue lagoon is at the very southern tip St Vincent and has one of the most fantastic views in the Caribbean. From Barefoot’s Driftwood restaurant you can look south in the evening sun toward Bequia just eight miles away, and to the South East and see Mustique, imagining residents Mick Jagger, Bryan Adams et al dancing in the sand at Basil’s Beach Bar, and if you look more closely to the west, you look across the old British warship anchorage of Calliaqua Bay, to Young Island, once the home of the British Governor and now an upmarket hotel that houses the likes of Johnny Depp when on location filming Pirates of the Caribbean, even Carol has been known to sup the odd cocktail there too!

Calliaqua Bay from Blue Lagoon

We stayed at Blue Lagoon for a week, not just drinking in the view, but doing the normal running repairs – this time a pump for the grey water tank – it’s where we keep our lobsters for the non sailors – and hiding from the incessant rain. Yes rain, this is the dry season yet this part of the Caribbean has suffered floods, with closed roads and schools and even some houses washed into the sea!

Our next leg was just a short 10-mile hop for an evening on St Vincent’s west coast at Keartons Bay. Here a “boat boy” met us half a mile off the coast. He was rowing his leaky craft desperately trying to converge with us in the hope that he could take our lines and secure us to buoy near the shore. We allowed him to do so, and spent a pleasant evening at Rosi’s Café, a local restaurant, with friends we met in Grenada who just also happened to be there. It was delightful, real Caribbean, none of the locals had outboards for their boats, all tried politely to sell their home made jewellery, fish and fruit over the side of our boat and in the early evening we witnessed the fishermen actually swimming in the water with the fish, catching their prey with their bare hands and passing up to the following rowing boats.

Boat Boy in Keartons Bay

In the next bay, Wallilabou, the set of Pirates of the Caribbean was still available to see, but we moved on, ever northward with Antigua in mind.

We made an early start for St Lucia, passing up St Vincent’s west coast, just a mile off shore. Above us the mountains rose “steep-to” form the sea like rows of plated sandwiches and capped by La Soufriere volcano at 3000 feet with its cone peeping in and out of the clouds as we passed. It did not escape our notice that we were passing on the very anniversary of the mountain’s last eruption in 1974. On the shoreline palm trees filled the ridges between the sandwiches but higher up the verdant green on the steep sides looked as though it would support no agriculture – or would it? The higher the eye climbed, the glistening roofs of huts could be seen in the sunlight, the homes of the ganga farmers growing their illicit crop of Marijuana that plays such an important and unseen part in the island’s economy.

St Vincent’s West Coast

We swiftly crossed the thirty miles of sea, reaching at 7 knots, to the Pitons anchorage in St Lucia where we spent an enchanting couple of days moored between these two massive cones of volcanic rock, just drinking in our fortune at being able to spend time at such a beautiful spot before moving to the northern end of the island and the high life of Rodney Bay.

St Lucia is a very different island to St Vincent, much more affluent and more reliant on tourism. The shore appeared bejewelled by upmarket resort hotels with their thatched cottage type apartments climbing up from beaches littered with sunfish sailboats and orange canoes and other toys for their clients to play with. The island had been fairly badly hit by a hurricane the previous season, but there was little obvious damage to our passing eyes. As we approached Rodney Bay, at the northern end, a gaff-rigged vessel carrying a square sail bore down on us and as it grew closer I saw her break out a “skull and cross bones” flag. She was coming down wind and as she drew alongside, there were two loud bangs as her cannons opened up on us. She put her helm over to come under our stern and fire again but she had not accounted for the power of our “iron topsail” as we sped away to windward and out of her range. The incident made our day as well as her tourist brigand crew!

The Pirate Brig

We berthed in the Marina at Rodney Bay as we needed to take on water and I needed an ice cream – well several actually! and spent two nights here before the returned heat of the Caribbean dry season forced us back to sea to enjoy the cooling breeze.

We were still in the company of two 46 ft catamarans who had been in Grenada with us and we had re-met in St Vincent, so we sailed with them over to Martinique. They gave us a head start, intending to speed past us cameras clicking as they went, but they had not considered the advantage of the mono hull, even a gaff rigged mono hull, in being able to sail several points higher than them and although they sailed faster, they also sailed further and we held our lead to Marin, anchoring in the bay of St Anne, then joining them for a fare well meal ashore – as one of them was hauling out here.

Diamond Rock

Time was now pressing, we had a deadline – that of returning home – to be in Antigua, and we sailed alone the following morning up the coast of Martinique heading for Dominica. Just before we got to Fort de France, we passed another more famous Diamond Rock that had once been a thorn in Napoleon’s tail. In 1804 the British decided to commission the rock as HMS Diamond Rock and equip it with cannons, men and food so as to give an unpleasant surprise to any French ship sailing around southern Martinique. They held this rock for some 18 months before an incensed Napoleon sent the French fleet to remove the threat – doubtless under pressure from his beloved Josephine, whose birthplace was indeed Martinique and very local to the rock – and whilst they were at it, they were to kill the English admiral, Nelson. French Admiral Villeneuve did manage to remove the threat of Diamond Rock, but he failed to kill or even engage Nelson, so Napoleon sent him out again. This time the French Admiral did engage, but at Trafalgar, giving rise to yet another set back for Napoleon.

Before passing on to Dominica, we anchored for the night at St Pierre, once considered to be the Paris of the Caribbean before being destroyed in 1902 by an eruption of the Mount Pelee volcano which killed 30,000 people and sank about 30 ships in the harbour, the wrecks still lie there threatening to foul your anchor chain but luckily we found a good spot and held secure for the night as well as recover safely in the following morning.

Mount Pelee from St Pierre

Dominica is an island much loved by most who have been there – abounding in the wonders of nature – but its charms has passed us by. I think probably because it is sandwiched between the sophistication of the French Islands and its anchorages are not well protected. We spent a week here once but find little to draw us back, maybe, one day, we should try again.

The Saintes are a small group of islands, part of Guadeloupe, just north of Dominica, one of our favourite spots and draws us like a magnet to its enchanted bays. We chose to spend Easter here anchored under Fort Napoleon. Also, it is the site of yet another of demonstration of Britain’s former sea power when Admiral Rodney demolished the French fleet in 1782. To the eye, it is just like being in the south of France. Little narrow streets, scooters everywhere and very few cars, red roofs, French white wine, bread and cheese – the makings of a very pleasant afternoon. All very upmarket European and benefiting from not having independence from France with the evidence of EU funding everywhere. The only real drawback to being in the Saintes is the sterling euro exchange rate, which forces us back on board with those French sticks, cheese and wine, a warm sunny cockpit and a pleasant afternoon ahead!

The Saintes

We found a problem with the Saintes over Easter – and that was it is a holiday destination for the affluent population of Guadeloupe, who flooded over on little ferries all week end, creating an annoying wash that stirred our wine most unpleasantly, so on Easter Monday we moved on to a little bay on the north of Guadeloupe called Deshaies, within striking distance of our target of Antigua. The northern end of Guadeloupe is a natural wind funnel and Deshaies is the vent valve so it is always windy – but not the night we spent there – absolute flat calm and very comfortable. This should have warned us, but it didn’t and the following morning at seven o’clock – this is when Carol found out there are two seven o’clocks each day, we set sail for Jolly Harbour, Antigua, a distance of about 45 miles.

I hauled the fisherman anchor by hand and secured for sea. The wind increased as we left the harbour, just as the book said it would, and accepted Carol’s advice not to hoist the main, have a rest, and wait for the wind to decrease as we passed Ilet Kahouanne, three miles to the north, again as the book said it would. However this time the book was not correct and no decrease in wind strength came, in fact it increased and was joined by some large Atlantic rollers coming in from the East. I delayed to get a reefed mainsail up and found the fore deck becoming untenable as we headed north under mizzen and engine – this was a bad move as I needed the power of the mainsail to push us through the increasing sea!

Carol took her position at the helm, steering an impeccable course for Antigua but I needed more and more power to head up into the building sea as the waves started to break over our starboard side and give us a regular warm but salty shower. The problem with more engine revs is that the increased thrust against the rudder means that Carol has to use all her weight on the tiller to control the boat and it was not long before I had to take over so we could head up into the waves, almost stalling to 2 knots, then bearing away on their crest, building speed back to 6 knots before heading up for the next water wall with the wind whipping the peak off the crest and white foaming water rushing down the side deck and cascading through the scuppers. Then we lost visibility as a succession of rainsqualls enveloped us, obscuring our view of the diminishing Guadeloupe as it dropped astern of us. This was definitely a day to be at work and not enjoying the sunny Caribbean! At 1030 coffee and biscuits failed to be served, as was our practice on passage, but neither of us complained, and by 1130 our belongings were starting to find their way out of our carefully stowed lockers to meet on the saloon floor in an increasing chaos of paint tins, books and clothes, some that we had not seen since we came on board.

Carol regularly reported the distance to go from the GPS and gradually the “miles to run” reduced below the distance from Deshaies, giving us hope and the promise of some food, eventually! The wind was now blowing at 28 knots and gusting to 35 on a regular basis and I knew a man of my age and infirmity should not be doing this, promising myself never to do it again, when Antigua loomed up on the port bow with only 15 miles to run. We had climbed up to windward considerably during our efforts to cheat the waves out of swamping us, and so now turned westwards with the sea and the wind moving directly behind us. I had hoped I could now hand the tiller back to Carol but the fear of broaching, rolling off and skewering up to windward on our beam-ends, had to be my responsibility, and so we began our sleigh ride toward Antigua’s west coast with my white knuckles firmly grasping the tiller.

We were now travelling at between six and seven knots in the troughs and sliding down the backs of the waves as they passed beneath us at eight to nine knots – the GPS telling me that the highest speed we reached was 10.3 knots – which isn’t bad with a highest theoretical hull speed of 8.9 knots! The ground passed quickly some 200 metres below or feet until at last the bottom swam up to meet us in the form of Cades reef, marking our northward turn to Jolly Harbour. At this point a change in chart was called for, so I did exactly that and as I did so, the software went down on the chart plotter – we were lost! – or so I told Carol, announcing that we would just have to stay out here all night until there was better light to go in the following day. Her response was “can’t you find another more open bay to go into for the night?” At that point I remembered that I am supposed to be able to do all that sort of thing without the aid of electronics, so knuckled down and produced a succession of fixes until we were in the buoyed channel leading to Jolly Harbour.

We had been kindly offered an alongside mooring in Jolly by the Cockram’s but after our battering, picked up the nearest and easiest mooring buoy as we entered the harbour, downed the cool beer I had been thinking about all day, ate our pre-prepared lunch – a little late, and then retired to bed, leaving the clearing up until the following day.

Several days recovery and boat maintenance heralded the arrival of our second visitors of the trip – Dave and Jean! Dave & Jean are a couple we met in Grenada four years ago on our last extended trip. We met in a bar in Grenada during happy hour, discovered they too were on an extended trip, like us, owned a steel boat, had a Royal Naval background and Jean, like Carol, worked for the NHS – but at the sharp end! We fell into a ditch together on the way home and that sealed the friendship. Since then they have sailed with us again in the Caribbean and crewed during Antigua Classics twice as well as visiting us in West Kirby – so their company on board was very welcome. It was rather a last minute arrangement because Dave only stayed one night before leaving to crew a friend’s boat back from the US Virgin Islands to the UK and they needed him to make the boat ready, so we only had one night to repeat the Grenada experience. Jean, on the other hand, stayed with us for the week and helped us take the boat round to English Harbour, repaired sails and spray covers and more than earned her keep. As Dave said when he left, they can get on with discussing shoes and handbags, while you get on with the maintenance – and with the addition of toenail polish as a subject, that’s exactly what they did!

Jean & Carol in the pink!

As a last trip, the eleven mile journey from Jolly Harbour to English Harbour was uneventful except that we sailed the passage inside Cades Reef – neither Jean & Dave nor Carol and I had dared to do this before in our respective boats, but it was really quite pleasant, saving us both mileage and some fairly steep seas.

English Harbour was our final destination – maybe our last journey in Moya – so the final anchorage was poignant. We anchored in Freeman’s Bay, off Galleon Beach and swam with the turtles, sunbathed and made regular visits to the Inn with its shoreline restaurant. Only the week before the harbour had been packed with boats participating in Antigua week, but now, each day, the dockyard emptied as more boats sounded their sirens as they left to make the Atlantic crossing for the European season, or hauled out to snug down for the Caribbean Hurricane season – we were in the latter group and hauling out – and we spent our time stripping off the sails, cleaning the salt stained paint work and making good after another fantastic trip.

Moya stripped of her sails in Freeman Bay

Perhaps, next year, Moya will no longer be ours – or will we too be making that big crossing of the Atlantic to open yet a new chapter!

We hope you enjoyed our trip too!

Doug & Carol
Freeman’s Bay, English Harbour
Antigua, British West Indies

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