Unfortunately Coco had hurt her leg, and neither John nor I actually ski, but Dan
and Lia had a ball on the slopes – as Lia was only too delighted to remind us for
hours, she got two stars for her achievements, while all Dan got was a pat on the
back from the instructor! Pays to be 6.
St. Gervais was good fun; very little snow, but that didn’t dampen the enjoyment.
Being a genuine died-in-the-wool South African, my experience of snow is minimal,
so it’s exciting whenever and wherever I see it. Can’t say I enjoy the cold all that
much, but the chalet Dan had arranged had a great log fire – and blood will out:
Dan’s as bad a pyromaniac as his Dad! Huge roaring bonfires every night, kilos of
cheese melting in the raclette dishes for dinner, good company – what could be better?
And the food was fascinating: we got hooked on the local saucisson – more varieties
of sausage than most women have knickers!
John did his usual trick of attempting to carve his name in his head – first of all
took a tumble 4ft down a stone staircase in the dark, then was so busy dusting his
trousers off, he walked head-on into the low roof overhang. We heard the thud from
inside – and very definitely heard the language that accompanied it! An icepack stopped
the blood, but once again he has a large scar across his rather shiny pate – have
now threatened to pad his caps for extra protection!
Of course it took some explaining at the visit to the dermatologist next week – he
was inspecting for solar keratoses, and was most intrigued by the evidence of self-inflicted
damage presented. Still, it’s what happens when you don’t have an extra cushion of
hair, I’m told.
Back to boats, it was a bit worrying: as we flaked the main after a trip to Guadalope
three weeks ago, the leach of the sail just came apart in my hands. Now I know I’m
not that strong! And taking it to Franklin at A&F Sails confirmed that it wasn’t
me – he says it could be UV damage, or it could be as a result of the washing done
in SouthWest Harbor last year – too much bleach in the water?
The sails are only 5 years old, it shouldn’t have worn through yet, even though they
have done 20 000 miles. Anyway, it seemed to be only one patch, so hopefully Franklin
has been able to replace that.
We’d had a great time in Guadalope once again, taking Carol to the Botanical Gardens
and bus-hopping around the island with the locals: both John and Carol speak French,
so I just sat back and went with the flow!
Off back to Antigua by the end of January, to collect our patched mainsail and launch
Al Shaheen again. Will be good to get back on the water again!
Thursday 8th February 2007
Sometimes it seems like we live a lifetime in a couple of weeks! Back from the ice
and snow of St. Gervais, re-launch of Al Shaheen at the ungodly hour of 7.30am –
why do yachties always want to do things so early in the morning?? (Because it’s
cool! Skipper). Antigua Slipway does things so casually – the 2 black guys who do
the hauling are so laid back about everything. In comparison, Morris Yachts in Maine
used at least 8 guys to do the same job – all much more sophisticated, but all much
We’d planned to do a quick spring clean, then shake the rum-dust of Antigua off our
heels pretty smartly, but a meeting with John and Chris of Oriole with son Andy (2nd
mate on Mirabella 5) led to an invite to tour the incredibly modernistic Maltese
Falcon – how could I possibly expect to drag John away from the high tech mechanical
delights of this excursion? So we had a glorious morning exploring the intricate
electronics and gadgets that go to make this 290odd-foot yacht a techie’s wet dream
– and I have to say, even I was impressed!
She screams chic elegance, is an art connoisseur’s delight, has a galley to die for
– and of course, 18 crew to keep the steel and chrome brilliantly glistening every
hour of the day. All for only $375 000 a week to charter – joining us anyone? If
you’re interested, click here to look her up on her website – she is incredible.
Although under full sail, (for you electronic wizards, takes 7 minutes to put up
2300 sq metres – 25000 sq ft - of sail!) she does look a bit like an apartment block
descending on you!
So next to Guadalupe, as we’re starting now to go "down island" as the locals say,
and have just done our week's shopping - I do love this island shopping stuff! First
off was the fish man - tiny little stall on the side of the road with ice in the
counter shelf keeping the fish cool - fresh off the boat. This morning the catch
was yellow-fin tuna - a huge whopper of a guy! We bought one slice - enough to do
us for at least two meals.
Then on to the patisserie for bread - all the pain chocolat was sold out - just as
well because I'm supposed to be on a diet this week - too much cheese in St. Gervais!
So down the road we march to the veggie stall, looking very French with a long baquette
loaf sticking out the back of the shopping basket. The only veggies available, ever,
are whatever is in season - right now it's loads of tomatoes, onions, celery, and
the ubiquitous bananas and plantains which never seem to be out of season. Also some
very strange looking root things that the stallman points at when I ask for potatoes
- think I'll give those a miss. And very miserable oranges - what I'd give for a
fat South African navel right now!
Baskets now weighing considerably more, it's off to the boucherie - oi vey, what
IS that meat??? 4 huge slabs of red stuff, butchered is the right word! No supermarket
clean slices here, this has been hacked off the poor animal, probably while it's
alive!! From the little tags stuck in it, seems the one slab is filet, one is rumstek
(rum or rump I wonder?), the others are unrecognisable. To the side are 3 small platters
of sausages - one totally black and rather slimy looking, one looking a bit like
boerewors, one like pale pork sausages. Hmmm. Choices, choices. I make a vague handwave
question - poulet? (My French is growing by leaps and bounds!) Oui, oui, she says,
and hauls out something the size of a turkey! Non, non, I make handwaves saying smaller,
smaller. Non, she shakes her head. It's obviously take it or leave it. We take it
– and are still eating off it ten days later!
Bit like our restaurant last night. Basic, plastic tables & chairs with the local
Guadeloupe check material (very pretty, have bought some for home tablecloths), but
positioned literally right on the beach looking out across the harbour. Beautiful.
The waitress slops over (wearing those slip-slops that make you sound like you have
bedroom slippers on), and stands in front of us. We wait. She waits. Eventually John
(who does speak French) asks for a menu. She shrugs. It's on the board outside, she
replies, and walks off! So we shamefacedly get up, go outside, check the board, and
slink back. The menu's an incomprehensible mishmash of colombo of this and that,
and ousoussas of various kinds. She's not going to explain, so we plump for poisson
grille. Even I know that's grilled fish. John asks what kind. Fish, she shrugs. So
that's what we got, grilled fish of some kind, two or three different kinds actually,
I suppose whatever they had from the catch that day! And some grey-looking mushy
stuff, and some white-looking mushy stuff, and fried plantains. All tasted delicious,
but I have no idea what it was!
Anyway, I guess that's what travelling is all about - experimenting!
On the other hand, the general attitude is like the little old lady at the embroidery
shop – she spends 6 hours a day doing the most intricate delicate thread pulling
and lace-making: takes up to 6 weeks to make a blouse, for which she gets 60 euros
if she’s lucky! But charming, genteel, a delight to talk with – a credit to an obviously
strict olde world upbringing.
Or the folks at the carnivale – full of enthusiasm for the incredible noise they
were making – boy did they thump those drums! Bit like the local scout band, not
too much in tune, but what they lacked in skill they certainly made up for in smiles
and cajolery and pure enjoyment. And the girls’ homemade costumes were great – even
if they did keep slipping and need to be yanked up in between twirls!
Once again we attempted to climb Soufrierre, the volcano on the island, and once
again got beaten back by lashing rain and howling wind. John’s third attempt, my
second. In disgust we took off for Les Iles des Saintes, only to spend the next day
looking across the channel at a brilliantly clear mountain – would have been a glorious
day to climb!
Oh well, can’t have everything: in compensation I have just blown my year’s budget
for clothing in the local shops!
Getting slack here – still, time does fly when you’re having fun.
So to catch up – from The Saints we took off for Dominica, and spent more than a
week cruising one of my favourite islands, then took off for Martinique to restock
on French delicacies like croissants and pain chocolat – bang went my diet!
With the run-up to Easter in predominantly Catholic islands, we have been following
the “Carnivale” – in Dominica we were constantly being reminded about the ‘jump-up’
due to start in a week – seemed to be the ultimate in early morning (4.30am) boozing
come-as-you-are party! We decided to opt out, and pick it up in Martinique instead.
Dominica is a magnificently lush island, thick green tropical vegetation and rain-forest
plants, and an absolute over-abundance of tropical fruit. Grapefruits, avocadoes,
bananas, papaya, passionfruit, incredible flowers (except I never could work out
the ‘egg tree’)– there is just so much available in the wild that the locals don’t
really bother to motivate themselves to work to sell it. Once the slaves revolted
and the original plantation owners fled, everything seems to have largely returned
to the jungle. Such a pity: the people need the money, as the islanders are generally
not well-off, but there is a definite lackadaisical attitude. Instead they make their
money off the tourists, thin on the ground as they are – if it’s not a boat boy trying
to sell you fruit he’s simply plucked off the trees by the roadside, it’s the banana-pickers
or the coconut workers demanding payment for taking their photographs.
And of course there’s an active taxi market – every fourth person seems to be a taxi
driver/guide wanting to take you out on a “tour”. So, tourists are game. So we did
the tourist thing, and with John, Christine and Jane off Oriole, we took a guide
around the island and up to Chaudiere again – most rewarding trek through banana
plantations and jungle to a delightful small waterfall and pool. And Jane and I did
a Tarzan act up the Indian River! And then from Roseau we did a hike up to Victoria
Falls – and once again John managed to fall down the rocks, terrifying the little
French girl directly behind him who was convinced he was dead, and banging his knee
and elbow quite badly – still has “water on the elbow” three weeks later! He seems
to cope with going UP the mountains very well – it’s the downward slide he can’t
We were thrown off the mooring in Fort Young very early one morning by the Dominican
Coastguard (no, we didn’t think they had one either!!) – Hugo Chavaz was arriving
for lunch, and security wanted no boats anchored nearby! Just as well we weren’t
flying a US flag – they’d have probably impounded us. According to the locals later,
he was there to offer them a new oil refinery in return for votes against Bush in
the UN – what it takes to make the world work! Still, they were more official-looking
than the French army in Martinique – one US tourist asked me if they were also part
of the Carnivale drag procession! How can the army expect to act authoritatively
looking so cute in such tight cut-offs??
From Dominica we hit St. Pierre, and here we encountered “Carnivale” head-on! For
three consecutive days, the cathedral bells jangled out at 5am to wake everyone,
and then the ‘street pyjama parties’ started. I think it actually was part of the
early morning Mass ritual, but the hordes saw it as a sign that the party had started!
How they could handle rum at 5am, I have no idea. Siesta between 10am and 4pm, then
the serious parade started – hordes of participants dressed appropriately, marching
bands who seemed to consist of dozens of big brawny men (and women!) beating the
hell out of an amazing variety of tympanic instruments, everything from huge plastic
containers to metal oil drums!
They were led by a truck loaded with massive speakers, towing its own generator for
the disco music!! The parade marched up and down the streets for probably 4 hours,
collecting more and more spectators with each circle – all in great high spirits,
or should I say, filled with much spirit (rum was available everywhere on the street!)
Each day was a different theme – my favourite was the “Red Devils”, hundreds of very
tall, very black, very slim men dressed in the most outlandish drag!
There was an effigy of ‘Vaval’, the Carnival king – and that was the only time we
did get a bit nervous, as there was suddenly a lot of exuberant chucking people into
the bay and daubing people with an oily mixture of ash (of course, this all ties
up somehow with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, but I couldn’t quite get
the spiritual significance!!). Still, all in all, a very interesting experience.
Not a patch on Trinidad or Rio, I’m sure, but fun all the same.
We took advantage of the lull in festivities over the next few days to do some hiking
and exploring, driving up Mt. Pelee (fortunately it was not too hard to convince
The Man his knee was still too sore to climb this volcano!!), and then across to
the east side of the island. Martinique is also a very beautiful island – very French
again, quite prosperous, quite sophisticated in comparison to most of the Caribbean
islands. Very Creole; wonderfully spiced food that makes it very very difficult to
make a choice!
It was actually hard to drag ourselves away from St. Pierre – although we did have
a couple of altercations with other boats anchoring too close. St. Pierre has a very
narrow ledge of shallow water on which to anchor, and everyone is desperate to hang
their hooks here rather than out in 60 feet or so, which makes for some terse conversations
between skippers at times. But when it’s blowing a hoolie and you have fenders out
all around the boat to hold you off from the boat ahead – it’s time to move!
Off to the bottom end of Martinique to St. Anne – and suddenly we’re in little England!
Well, English is the language heard on the docks again instead of non-stop French,
as this seems to be the meeting-place for the UK and US boats. And suddenly it was
time for us to be sociable again – we had not really mixed with other boaters since
Dominica (mainly because my French is non-existent conversationally!!)
Not to say it’s not still French, with some great characters – like the restaurateur
in le Donette. We had a group of 8 for lunch, and he brought 2 menus. When asked
for more, he gave a great Gallic shrug and a spiel about “buut messieurs can see
– I haf onlee one shirt, onlee 2 hands, I am small, no more menoos!” When asked later,
with some trepidation, whether it was possible the place could stretch to 2 glasses
each (one for water, one for wine) we got another shrug before he roasted the waitress
for giving us the water first so we had used the ‘wine’ glasses for water. “Now u
mus drink ze wine from small glas!” No little pickers to get the lobster meat out
of the shell – just another shrug and a pointing out our hands –didn’t God give us
these first was the obvious implication! But wonderful food!
But the French have a very different approach to life – certainly here on the islands!
Wandering around the market I was browsing through the dozens of specially brewed
rum concoctions – every stall has its own recipes, all closely guarded family secrets,
and it’s fascinating trying to work out what’s in what bottle. So when the lady stall
holder started giggling as I spelt out the label, I wasn’t surprised, just kept on
spelling C..L..I..T..O..turbo?? I asked with my eyebrows raised, trying to imagine
the fruit involved. Oui, oui, she giggled merrily. Ees ver’ ver’ good for ladies
– turr..bo-sharg..! Oh well, I asked!!
It’s blowing up this weekend, so we’ve moved into Marin for some shelter, and will
stay here amongst friends until probably Sunday, when we’ll take off for Bequia.
Oh, much excitement – we have managed to book tickets for the World Cup Cricket warm-up
game in St. Vincent’s – England vs Australia. My mother’s mad at me for not watching
S. Africa play, but they’re playing in Jamaica, many many miles away!!
Friday 16th March 2007
People are fascinating – some good, some bad, some indifferent. And some weeks you
seem to hit them all!
St. Vincent & the Grenadines has shown us many – from bad John-taxi to astounding
Janti-barman. John-taxi hustled to give him the business of driving us around St
Vincent , leaping on to the Bequia ferry before the big front door had even dropped
to the ground. We should have taken note of his argument with the other taxi drivers
before we even drove away, and the fact that his ‘taxi’ was not more than a beat-up
old char-a-banc!! However, many arguments and bad feeling later, we canned the rest
of the trip after the visit to Montreal Gardens: not a pleasant experience.
But the next day we ferried over again, this time to see England play Australia in
one of the warm-up matches to the Cricket World Cup – great fun! Aus trounced the
UK, but there was some wonderful interplay amongst the spectators. The vibe in the
West Indies is electric: cricket is not a sport here – it is a lifestyle! And the
local England supporters are more British than the British – heartfelt groans of
“What are our guys doing?” when something went wrong and loud acclamations when something
went right! Mr. Union Jack was worth the visit alone – quick wit, pithy comments.
We took a walk over the island – one nice thing about Bequia and the Grenadine Islands
is they are eminently walkable, side to side and lengthwise!
And met Brother King, the turtle man. Sans electricity, this little man has built
up a sanctuary for turtles – he collects turtle hatchlings at one-day old, and hand
rears them for about 4 years before returning them to the sea. From an initial cache
of 500, he manages to return about 200 – not bad odds when you consider only one
in 3000 makes it in the wild! Armed with a toothbrush to scrape the moss off the
babies’ soft shells and a dish full of softened dog biscuits – they love it, he says
– he welcomes all and sundry and shares passionately his knowledge of his turtles.
And he finances the entire thing himself, spending more time and care on his turtles
than he did on his own kids, he says!
Leaning over the tanks, we were very startled when a total stranger rushed in and
asked John to sign his t-shirt! Faced with our blank looks, he stammered “You are
Geoffrey Boycott, aren’t you?” Cricket mania has taken hold!
Clifton on Union Island is lovely – sparkling turquoise blue water over white sand,
reefs all around, little palm islands dotting the scene – real picture postcard stuff.
And here we met Janti – tasked with the job of clearing the beaches of mounds of
used conch shells left by fishermen, he solved one problem by moving them out, shell
by shell, and dropped them on a small reef about 600 metres from shore. As the shells
piled up, so did the sand – and soon he had his own little island! A few walls later,
installation of a solar panel to generate electricity for a fridge, some palm trees
transplanted – and he has his own beach bar on his own island – all achieved with
nothing much more than hard work and ingenuity. And his marketing is very simple
– have two rum punches, and you’ll get the third one free – no wonder so many dinghies
Also on Union Island, we discovered the steel-drum man. Under the thick shade of
a big tree, he stands all day, mapping out the positions of the notes and then beating
out the surface of the oil drum until he gets the right sound. He was working on
tenor drums when we chatted – 7 oil drums that will over time become the backbone
of the steel band. Behind him were soprano drums, alto drums and several bass drums,
all waiting for his attention. Initially a bit sceptical about this cottage industry,
we were both astounded to find the scope of his work – he gets invited annually to
England, US, Finland, Sweden etc to tune their drums for all the various Carnivale/festivals
held – and when he sends these 7 tenor drums to Trinidad to have them chromed, he
pays out $30 000EC for the chroming!!
My business mind boggles – for the investment of a few old scrap oil drums and probably
some weeks work under the shade tree, he must make a good living per drum!
And just a bit further down the road are rough shelters and piles of chipped stones.
Atop each pile is a local woman, armed with a mallet, merrily breaking big rocks
from the quarry right behind her into small sizes – this is used as building material
for both housing and roads on the island. Incredible!
Close-down 2007 – landlubbing again!
Catch-up time! An emergency back in UK (Aunt Va falling) called us back earlier than
expected, and by end of March we had hauled out in St. David’s Grenada – back to
Grenada Marine again. Left a long meticulously detailed list of jobs to be done over
the intervening 6 months with Jason, celebrated my 60th birthday at La Sagesse in
great style, and hopped on a plane to pick up the threads of our UK life again.
Lots of running around, getting Aunt Va into a very good care home, settling her
in, sorting out her home as much as we could – and discovering some incredible stuff
about the family from all her notes attached to everything! Finally in July we felt
able to make a trip to South Africa, where we fell into the usual routine of maintenance,
building projects and family visits! Spent some time in a very wet and cold Cape
Town, married my daughter Tracy off – a wonderful hippy wedding complete with VW
Beetle and 30-something kilos of meat to barbecue and slice (John landed up in Casualty
because he sliced his thumb instead, but that all added to the stories to be told!)
. . .
. . . and John put in another donkey boiler, built staff toilets and shower, a workshop
for himself, and put in some super security for the cottage we re-thatched last time
out. And after all that, we managed to get a 2 week break up in Botswana, exploring
the Okavango Delta. Not bad!
Then it was back to the UK and final preparations to leave by early November to begin
our 2-year plan to sail the Western Caribbean via Venezuela, San Blas etc. Except
that plans as they say always need to be pencilled in, not cast in stone: and this
was the case here.
The unexpected death of Aunt Va (although how unexpected can it be at 101 years of
age??) delayed our departure, as John was executor of her estate. Then in early December
Jenny made an emergency trip back to South Africa to move her mother into a Frail
Care facility – all very traumatic and time-consuming.
Still there were upsides: John got to spend Christmas with his grandsons in Sarratt
(above) while Jenny trekked across to Vancouver where her SA family were visiting
her Canadian family – 4 grandies in one spot at the same time (see left), pure bliss!
And I almost forgot – we bought a Landrover! 2003model, built for use in Afghanistan
but stored at the onset of war in Kuwait and never used – has 300 kms on the clock.
Eventual plan is to drive her (named Lavinia) to S.Africa – but we’ll take her for
a spin in Bosnia in July 2008 first, just to get the hang of it. Life’s never boring
when you retire, is it?
However, cold is not our scene, and it has been a long, cold winter these past 9
months! Can’t wait for the Caribbean again.
Friday 26th January 2007
Sun, sand, sea and…snow?? Global warming gone bananas?? This is not the John I usually
No, actually we took a break from the sunshine, and took off for a week in “Les Alpes”
to meet up with John’s son & family from Australia, who were busy participating in
that big Aussie sport, skiing! Dan, Coco and 6 year old Lia had come over to France
for 3 weeks, and as I’m fairly determined not to be conned into sailing Al Shaheen
down the island path through the Pacific and across to Aus, seemed like a good time
to get together on neutral ground.