Sailing 2004/5: Grenada, Windward Islands to Maine, USA
Having first met in July 2004, Jenny and I joined Al Shaheen in late October, fortunately
lying unscathed among the wreckage caused by Hurricane Ivan, at Grenada Marine’s
yard in Grenada. Once Al Shaheen had been extricated from the mud we launched and
sailed immediately for Antigua where we had arranged to have a deck paint job done.
Jenny, who had never sailed on salt water before, found the first few weeks of squalls
and incessant rain quite at variance with the white beaches-and-sunshine Caribbean
sales pitch I had used to lure her aboard, and was wondering why she had ever left
the African sun. (See Jenny's story 'A Caribbean Package Deal'below). However, 3
weeks inactivity in Antigua and an introduction to the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua
and Barbuda allowed her to recover and then the sun did finally shine! (See Jenny's
story 'Oh Captain, dear Captain!' below).
From Antigua, and Christmas in The Saintes, we wandered north to the BVI, via St
Marten and Anguilla. From there we ventured into US waters, to St Thomas (where we
got engaged on Valentines Day), Culebra and back to St John. Then Jenny had to return
unexpectedly to S Africa to wage war on a South African Bank that had re-possessed
her property without warning! Meanwhile I sailed single-handed and with friends.
When Jenny finally got back two months later we set off for the USA on “the slow
route”, via the south coast of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.
We loved Puerto Rico and rented cars to explore the interior. The Dom Rep was very
beautiful but very, very wet and we found the bureaucracy, corruption and petty crime
spoiled it for us. Bad weather kept us in the famous hurricane hole of Luperon far
too long and, on leaving, we felt we would rather endure a hurricane at sea than
ever enter that sewer of a place again!
From Luperon we had a brisk sail to Rum Cay (Bahamas) and, with 3 nights at sea,
Jenny’s then longest trip. From there we visited Georgetown, strangely deserted after
the exodus of 500 winter visitors, then up the Exuma chain of islands and across
Eluthera to the Abacos and Marsh Harbor which we made our base while waiting for
friends to join us for the 500 mile passage to Beaufort, NC.
We had sailed from the BVI in loose company with friends Graham and Lorriane Parkinson
in “Lorrigray II”, a 65 ft steel sloop with a draft of 8’6”. In the Bahamas, with
a draft of only 6’5”, we became their pilot vessel and felt the way into anchorages
and between the reefs in front of them. Even so, we never felt really relaxed in
the Bahamas unless we had 50 or more metres under the keel.
Arriving in Beaufort we nearly ran down the local OCC Port Officer Jon Roop, out
rowing in a gig – he lost his balance when he saw the OCC burgee hard alongside!
After a short stay in the beautiful Colonial town of Beaufort, where we were fortunate
to be given 200 litres of clean diesel, we motored 200 fascinating miles though the
ICW to Norfolk and spent four nights at some very tranquil anchorages. Engine failure
on a Sunday morning at Great Bridge just outside Norfolk quickly brought assistance
from Norfolk Port Officers Gary Naigle and Greta Gustavason and we later pulled into
their slip in downtown Norfolk for a week’s glorious stay during which we Brits visited
Williamsburg on Independence Day!
From Norfolk we set off to sail outside to New York but put into Cape May to avoid
the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy. There we dragged anchor at 0530 in torrential
rain and 40 knots of wind and had an altercation with US Coastguard who insisted
we were anchored in the channel. The sail from Cape May to Sandy Hook was uneventful
except for huge numbers of tugs and tows plying the New Jersey coast in and out of
New York that forced us close inshore.
Having anchored off Sandy Hook at 0300 we awoke late next morning to find ourselves
in the middle of a fishing tournament, so we shifted to nearby Atlantic Highlands
and experienced some delightful New Jersey humour.
The passage of Manhattan was an awe inspiring event, undertaken a few days after
the London terrorist bombings amid intense maritime security which left us unhindered,
even with an Arabic boat name! It was a hot windless day and we set off in the dawn
mist, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, past Governor’s Island, Ellis Island, the
Statue of Liberty, Battery Point and into the East River, past the UN Building and
Hell Gate where we were finally spat out into Long Island Sound at at 11 knots over
We progressed up the west shore of Long Island visiting Oyster Bay and Shelter Island,
where we were regally entertained by OCC Port Officer Charles Weiner, who also provided
us with his mooring at the Shelter Island Yacht Club. From there we went to Block
Island in thick fog and enjoyed the hilarious dialogues on the VHF between US boaters
and commercial skippers. Heading for the Cape Cod Canal we visited friends of friends
at Pocasset and stayed ashore for a few days while Al Shaheen swung to a mooring
at the bottom of their garden, alongside Toby Baker’s (OCC US Rear Commodore) boat
although sadly, we didn’t manage to meet up with Toby.
At the northern end of Cape Cod we spent a fascinating long weekend in the “gay capital”
of the North East, Provincetown before heading for Gloucester, Mass, Portsmouth NH
and our target, Maine. We progressed quickly into Casco Bay, thence to Boothbay Harbor
and across to Penobscot Bay where we finally met up with George and Nancy Marvin
on Trumpeter who became our guides to Maine and seemed to find free moorings for
us wherever we went! Once in such a beautiful cruising ground we quickly abandoned
plans to move on to Nova Scotia that season and idled around enjoying the hundreds
of Maine anchorages for the next few weeks.
On returning to Southwest Harbor at the end of August, Jenny and I got married aboard
Al Shaheen before hauling out at the Bass Harbor yard of Morris Yachts. (See Jenny's
story 'Barefoot in Maine' below).
4,500 miles sailed over 10 months does not break any records but it was a hugely
enjoyable trip. For us, one of the most enjoyable parts was meeting other OCC members
and particularly, the various Port Officers and Rear Commodores who all went out
of their way to greet and assist us. If there is a single message to other OCC members,
it is: Make contact with your Port Officers, they are great value and, they love
to see you!!
'A Caribbean Package Deal' - or 'The Right Knots for Red Knickers'
“Blue seas and lots of sunshine,” he said winningly. “Do come! Calm winds blowing
spray gently into your face; the Caribbean is fantastically romantic.”
Well, what girl in her right mind can resist a man offering romance? Add blue skies,
coral reefs, white beaches and life lazing aboard a yacht for two – an idyllic dream!
So what if I’ve never sailed before? “It’s a breeze!” he said.
So, a series of flights from Cape Town to Grenada via Johannesburg, Nairobi, London
and Tobago and here I am. All ready for the start of my romantic sailing life. And
the rain’s been pissing down almost non-stop for days, the boatyard, courtesy of
hurricane Ivan, is a quagmire of mud and slush and smashed boats, the travel hoist
has to be pulled out of the mud ditches by the bulldozer. “Don’t worry,” he says
as we sip rum punches by candelight (not because we’re feeling romantic but because
there’s no electricity). “It’ll change soon.”
With the boat finally launched, we set off in the pouring rain for Prickly Bay, my
first sail. With rivulets of water running down my neck despite Musto gear, we drilled:
hoist the mainsail, drop the mainsail, unfurl the jib, furl the jib. All a very confusing
cluster of colour-coded ropes to use! Some 7.2 nautical miles later, I successfully
dropped my first anchor – what a sense of achievement!
Greater sense of achievement was using the heads – I had been avoiding it all day,
but could finally hold out no longer. Pump 25 times one way, then 10 times the other
– and why the hell was water pouring all over my feet? “Oh, sorry,” he muttered,
“not screwed down tightly enough.” And here I thought I was pumping too hard! Lovely
story about the origin of the term “heads” – appears the sailors of yore had to hang
in the nets below the bowsprit of the boat, and all the rest of the crew could see
from the deck was their heads!!
Next day was the biggie – 45 miles to ‘a lovely quiet anchorage in Chatham Bay, we’ll
probably have it to ourselves’ wink wink nudge nudge. We motored most of the day,
in driving rain, squalls chasing us all the way. But suddenly the weather stopped,
and we had a glorious hour or so sailing into Chatham Bay. He was right, it was delightful.
Uninhabited except for Shark Attack’s fishing shack, only two other boats in the
bay, far away from us. We showered, and I changed into a skimpy little sundress and
put on red tie-on knickers. Well, why not? We watched a spectacular sunset, sans
green flash unfortunately.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “Some more wine?”
“Love some,” I replied, at peace.
He went below, (I’ve already learnt it’s not downstairs) and all hell broke loose!
Thunder, lightning, winds that picked the boat up and swung it around and around
like a ball tied to the end of a bat. I was dumbstruck. So was he. “It’s not supposed
to be like this,” he kept saying as the giants played swingball with us for the next
But as suddenly as it had started, it was over, and the water was calm and glassy
again, the wind just a whisper. We scrambled a quick meal, thoughts of romance pushed
aside by the need for sustenance. While I washed up in the galley (not the kitchen
please) he went up to scrape the bits over the side (fish, it’s biodegradable!).
“Oh Christ,” I heard as he dived back down to switch the engine on. “We’ve dragged
the anchor, we’re almost aground.” What?
“Get the anchor up,” he yelled, “fast!”
Up – opposite to down? This wasn’t in my contract!
Skimpy dress riding up my thighs, no shoes, I pressed the windlass button, and up
rose the chain, metre by muddy metre. I turned to yell “ok” (couldn’t see him in
the blackness of the night) but gaped instead. There was no big comforting lump of
lead on the end of the chain – absolutely nothing. Just the mangled remains of the
anchor connector which rammed home into the slot as I stared in horror. Those giants
had gone home with our ball!
“Christ,” he shouted. “There’s no anchor!” I could only nod in agreement. “Take the
helm,” he barked. “And steer this course while I find the spare.” And he disappeared
downstairs (ok below, what the hell, you expect me to think straight as well as panic?).
Steer where? What course? Am I supposed to know what those numbers mean in the boxes
of instruments? It’s pitch dark – no street lights out here! Where’s the land – and
I know there are other boats somewhere, but where? How do I know when to turn this
damn thing? For that matter, how do I turn it? Are there degrees of panic? If so,
I was on ultimate!
Somewhere in the organised chaos of the next few hours I lost my red knickers – I
guess that’ll teach me to use a rolling hitch instead of a dainty bow next time!
I was seriously thinking of asking for a refund on this Caribbean package deal, but
you know what? Today has been glorious, picture postcard perfect. Blue skies, blue
seas, sunshine, 25 knots of wind coming from the right direction and we’re cruising
into Prince Rupert Bay to anchor.
So, the saga continues! I helmed for the first time today. For all you landlubbers
(says she with some weeks experience below her belt now!) that means I steered the
boat, properly. You know, pointed the front bit, which I now remember most times
to call the bow, in the direction I want the boat to go, keep the wind on the right
side of the boat – that’s the correct side, not the starboard side – and watch the
instruments that tell me what my course is. All very exacting, especially when the
sails flap all over the place each time I turn the wheel!
We’d spent some time at Rickets Bay, Green Island, wonderful little anchorage close
to Antigua with white beaches and a coral reef with our own private turtle. On a
clear day from Green Island you can see Morocco across the Pond! We were the only
boat there, so I took the opportunity to go skinny-snorkelling. Floating around face-down
clad only in my luminescent pink goggles and flippers watching the pretty fishies,
a strange noise made me look up. A catamaran full of about 30 tourists coasted past,
all 30 on my side, cameras clicking away! So, when you see that publicity pic of
pink goggles and flippers and white butt, you know it’s me!
It was coming back from Green Island to English Harbour that I helmed. My course
was 200°T (that is true course over the ground, not compass reading – I’ve learnt
something in the past few weeks!)
All well and good, but I forgot that there was also a sea, with waves and swell and
currents to contend with. So no matter how much I pointed Al Shaheen’s bow in the
right direction, with all the good will in the world she went in another! If I’d
connected the dots, my course would have looked like an ECG reading, a series of
sharp jerks from side to side.
And the vocals on board sounded like a late night porn show.
“Oh John! Oh! Oh! Ooooooh!”
“Just feel it,” he said soothingly. “You’ll enjoy it soon.”
And he was dead right. For a few fleeting moments every now and then I DID feel it.
That glorious moment when you and the boat and the sea and the wind move in tandem,
and all is right with the world. That, I guess, is why sailors sail.
But then I blew it again. We gybed to come into English Harbour, then smoothly furled
the gib. Just after the reef at the entrance, John commanded, “Drop the mainsail.”
(This is my job now.)
But the thingamajig that holds the head of the mainsail to the top of the mast (oh
yes, the shackle) is a little too high for me to reach, so usually he shackles it
on. All well and good, except that he tightens it. Tight! Which means me dropping
the main, trying to hang on to it to stop it falling off the boom while standing
on my tippy-toes desperately trying to unscrew a tightly screwed shackle pin. All
to the accompaniment of some choice sailor’s language I’ve learned!
And this time it was right in front of the Sunday afternoon spectators up on the
hill at Shirley Heights, so we needed to put on a good show! Seeing my distress,
my dear Captain left his steering as we entered the harbour, and came up to the mast
to help me. Unfortunately, when I looked up, all I could see was boats anchored close
by, too close in my inexperienced view. I panicked.
“Fuck off to the back of the boat to do what you’re supposed to and leave me to do
this!” I yelled. With a shocked look, he complied.
Apparently in naval terms, that’s insubordination. So now my Captain, dear Captain
has to install some discipline back on his boat!
I have redeemed myself somewhat though. After myriad adventures from Antigua sailing
up to the British Virgin Islands, we decided to cross to Anegada, a first for both
of us. For those who don’t know, Anegada is an 11 mile coral island, highest point
28 feet above sea level, and completely surrounded by shallow coral reefs. There
is a narrow entrance channel, marked with 3 red and 2 green buoys – but of course
the first red is missing, so you start off somewhat unsure!
We arrived at what we determined by GPS was the beginning of the channel just after
midday, with the sun nice and high in the sky to show us where the shallow parts
were. I perched precariously on the pulpit, bracing myself gingerly (in the crossing
from Anguilla I had managed to break a rib or two getting myself slammed against
the winch in a gybe!). Unfortunately we also had lots of cloud in the sky, so I found
it very difficult to determine what was dark cloud shadow and what was dark shallow
reef. Not conducive to confidence! However, I could see the far red and green buoys,
so could direct him appropriately.
John kept calling, “We’ve 2.8 metres below the keel, we’ve 2.2m, we’ve 1.8m, (I know
it gets repetitive, but stay with me), we’ve only got 1.2m.” (his voice got higher
as the depth got shallower). I kept calling back, “Just stay in the middle of the
channel, dear.” The Mars/Venus books have it right though; no man really likes being
told where to go or how to do it! Things were getting a little tense.
“There’s only 0.9 metres now!” came the voice from the cockpit.
“It’s ok, sweetie, others have done it, so can we,” was my soothing reply.
As I said this I looked down, and there on the deck below me was a screw, all alone
on the deck. Where the hell had it dropped from? I looked up at the furled genoa
we had flown for the first time that day, and down at the furling drum. Mmmm? John
would know – he’s amazingly meticulous about every little detail on Al Shaheen, and
the boat is beautifully maintained. But, tell him there’s a screw loose right now?
No, I decided, he’s a man, and men bless them are notoriously single-minded. If I
mentioned it now, he would rush up to see where it had come from – and Lord knows
where we’d land up.
So I saved the news for later, after we’d anchored safely with 1.3 metres of water
below our keel and had a cup of tea. John’s also British.
It had come from the furling drum – in fact we’d lost two screws, and the others
all needed some tightening. I glowed with his approbation later, as we sat on deck,
sundowners in hand, watching for this elusive green flash.
“Well done,” he said. “I can always rely on you to pick up all the loose screws!”
26th August 2005, we arrived back in South West Harbour after a glorious 7-day jaunt
gunk-holing the lesser-known inlets and anchorages in Maine, ready to strip Al Shaheen
and haul out for the winter. South West Harbour is a great place to be, close to
town and email facilities, great bakery, Laundromat that works, friendly folks, and
also temporary home to Craig and Emma Dimmock, good friends from Antigua Tot Club
days. We picked up a buoy, complimentary through Ocean Cruising Club connections,
and called the Dimmocks to say we were back in town.
‘Great to have you back,’ says Emma. ‘Have you thought about getting married yet?’
‘Well, yes, but…’
‘Well, we’ve found out you can get a licence from the Town Office, and we know a
notary, and we can have the ceremony on board, and the reception on the dock. Ok?’
‘Well, umm, how long will it take…?’
‘5 minutes to get the licence. Meet us on the dock at 5pm for drinks’
‘Well,’ says John looking bemusedly at me, ‘guess we need to go to town, love!’
So, a few minutes later we were in the Town Office, buying a licence to get married!
At $20, it was a bargain the Yorkshireman couldn’t resist – would have cost us $200
in the British Virgin Islands! The two ladies in the office were most intrigued by
us; Craig and Emma had set the scene earlier in the week, and they recognised us
by the description immediately!
5.30pm we dinghied up to the dock to meet with C&E – only to be met by a chorus of
‘ so you’re the wedding couple!’ from the ladies sitting around. In short order Emma
introduced us to Peggy and Mary, ladies extraordinaire – and within the next 40 minutes
these three women had planned and organised an entire wedding – time, venue, food,
ceremony, flowers, and a guest list consisting of everyone with a boat on the docks
and some folks who were just walking by! John and I simply sat and watched it all
happen. Every now and then one of them would say something like ‘What kind of flowers/
colour ribbons/ sort of ceremony??’ but generally it just floated past both of us.
Chris (14) was inveigled into going out early in the morning to catch enough lobsters
to feed maybe 20 people ( 20? We only knew C&E!!), Vicky offered her blooming azaleas
off the slipway in front of her boat, Preston from the local pub was conned into
supplying his restaurant’s potted chrysanthemums, Dysart’s office was stripped of
its decorative flower boxes. John agreed to go into town next morning with Craig
and Bill to buy champagne, beer and wine. We had the basics for a good party!
The next morning was all go! Emma and I left early to find a hairdresser – both badly
needed one after months at sea! No luck. No self-respecting hairdresser in South
West Harbour works on Saturdays! So I took her up on the offer of a shower on board
le Cochon Noir (we’d run the water tanks on Al Shaheen empty ready to haul out).
Stark naked, hair dripping, I suddenly heard Peggy pounding on the boat.
‘Are you in there, Jen? Get out, now! We’ve got a hair appointment!’
‘’ ok, just let me…’
‘No time! Get out! Now!’
No shoes, minimum clothing, hair tied up in a towel, hairbrush in hand, ‘brush it
in the car’ Peggy yelled as we ran down the slipway and up the ramp to the dock.
‘Excuse me, folks, gangway, this is an emergency!’ What kind of emergency? I could
see everyone thinking as we charged along! I’d left Al Shaheen’s engine running,
charging batteries, left without my purse, left without my shoes – I was just lucky
she’d allowed me enough time to put at least my jeans and top on!
‘Hmmm, who’s been at your hair?’ Standard question, but this time relevant. When
the tangles had become unbearable, I took scissors to it, then John tried his hand
at it – the result wasn’t too bad, but definitely not professional. It was wonderful
to look at my reflection in the mirror half an hour later!
In the meantime, the ladies had been shopping: I now had a bridal bouquet, boutonnières
for my entourage and husband-to-be, a wedding cake, and umpteen bags of goodies to
be cooked and baked and steamed for dinner. It was 11am, and the planning for this
wedding had only started at 5pm the night before! I was shooed off the dock and told
to ‘go rest, you’re going to need it later! Just be ready at 3.’
By 3pm I was standing nervously below decks on le Cochon Noir, waiting to be ‘escorted’
across to Al Shaheen for the ceremony. Nervous? You’d better believe it! Marriage
is a big step, at any age! I was worried my dress was too tight – definitely had
put on a few pounds since leaving the trauma in South Africa in April, too bad, nothing
could be done now! That was also a rush job, bought just a few hours before I flew
back to join John in the BVI, from a delightfully camp black tailor who had an hour
to put in a zip, put up the hem, and finish the dress – I’d seen it hanging on the
model in his shop, half-finished and told him I had to have it, now! It did look
good though, and the bouquet was perfect. Only problem was I couldn’t wear my ‘wedding
shoes’, as high heels on a teak deck are a no-no, so guess what? I got married barefoot!
Craig ‘gave me away’ – we’d had to climb over the guard rails from le Cochon Noir
on to Al Shaheen, not the most elegant way to make an entrance, but effective. Peggy,
in formal mode as the notary and officiant, looked back at Craig and said ‘What are
planes famous for?’ making large flapping gestures with her arms. When we all stood
around very blank, she eventually looked straight at him and said solemnly ‘Zip up
The boats both looked stunning: Al Shaheen was dressed all over with flags fluttering
down both fore and aft, and le Coch had red, white and blue bunting all along her
guard rails – very festive. Enough so that several little dinghies came past to take
Peggy conducted a great service – she’d given us some formats off the internet and
we’d written up a very brief personalised service – caused much hilarity when we
both promised to accept each other for who we were, not who we’d like the other to
be. Then it was photo-shoot time, and champagne on board le Cochon Noir – Craig and
Emma do know how to do things with class!
Then finally down the slipway and up to the dock for the reception – what a job these
ladies had done! The bare wooden dockside had been transformed with pot plants (begged
& borrowed from all over the marina), tablecloths and umbrellas, and a British racing
green open-top Toyota Miata (known to us as the MX5) draped in white ribbons, colourful
leis and tin cans – our ‘gift’ for the night to use to drive to the next gift, a
classy night off the boat at Lindenwood Inn, hot tub and all.
These ladies outdid themselves, providing a feast of note: hors d’ouvres, lobster
and corn, pork tenderloin, salads to die for – and the champagne just kept coming!
So did the guests! It was the most amazing wedding! Apart from Craig and Emma, and
George and Nancy Marvin, roving rear commodores with the Ocean Cruising Club who’d
broken all speed records to get to South West Harbour from Canada that day (we’d
only let them know on the 7.30am OCC net that morning!), we knew no-one else in South
West Harbour. But by the end of the evening, we felt privileged to have made so many
new friends, very special, very wonderful people, people who made us feel a part
of a community – and people who knew how to party! Doug and Vicky, Henry and Violet
(aboriginal lawyer on a reservation), Donny and Wanda (power boat builders in Wanset),
Holly (the ‘bait bunny’ on a lobster boat), Peter (flyer of model airplanes), Lucien
& Kosa (French Americans), Bruce (film-maker who made The Monkeys), Christy and Tim
(professional photographer and maker of a mean corn salad), Bill and Amy (not paired,
yet!) wonderful people both of them. They all helped to make this an incredibly special
But the kudos have to go to Craig and Emma, who got the ball rolling, pushed and
tugged us along, and who went out of their way to provide the most stunning touches.
Promptly at 6pm, they hauled out a huge bottle of rum and some paper cups, and we
all drank a toast to the Queen and to ‘wives and sweethearts, may they always be
the same’. And Craig, as best man, toasted us with another famous Tot Club toast,
finishing off with ‘ but the best ships are the friendships’.
So finally, it was time for us to leave, and let the guests continue partying – which
they did until 2am we hear! In all the excitement, I forgot I had no shoes on, so
had to check in to this delightfully larney little B&B, barefoot!
Thank God it’s too late to fall pregnant – barefoot, ok. In the kitchen, ja-well-no-fine;
but that’s where this buck stops!