A few days stretched into a week, then another – and suddenly it was three weeks
and much swearing and cursing and we were still not off sailing! In fact, it was
almost four weeks before we even got back into the water! Living aboard in a hot,
dusty, smelly mosquito-infested boatyard is no-one’s idea of fun, I can assure you!
However, D-day finally arrived, and with great glee we took off – only across to
Peter Island, a sail of all of 4 miles, just to test things out. Just as well we
did, because next day we were back being hauled out again, this time to replace all
the bolts holding together the 8 seacocks we have – several had simply sheared the
heads off. While there was no water ingress yet, we didn’t fancy the possibility
of sitting off Cuba in a storm with seacocks popping open. I’m a great believer in
water outside the boat, not inside! Of course, there was a lot more cussing during
that job – as John says, it really requires a contortionist dwarf to access most
of the seacocks, as they are in the most awkward places -see below!
Whilst in the BVI we tested the wind generator and found it had an inherent vibration
problem. The only solution was to either replace it ($900) or send it back to Arizona
for repair ($500). We chose the latter and air freighted it away with a return address
in St Thomas. We then got a sheepish email from the manufacturers to say that “the
computer”, all by itself, had sent us a brand new unit and asking if we would be
interested in negotiating to buy it! ‘Yes’, we said, as long as the price was less
than $300. We then picked it up and installed it! And a few days before Christmas
we received a message to say that it was a present from Father Christmas, no charge!
More than a month after we’d arrived back in the Caribbean, we made it the 20 miles
or so to St Thomas USVI. Here we spent the next couple of weeks, provisioning, getting
some refrigeration problems sorted and doing a 3-day STCW course in fire-fighting,
survival skills and first aid – refreshers for John, but first time with much of
it for me. Very interesting, if a bit too American-flippant for John. He’s used to
the RYA way, you know! But we met some interesting folks, as usual, and had a guest
on board for a couple of nights. Steve had come across from BVI, and couldn’t get
a ferry back in time, so stayed with us: very worried the whole time as to whether
he’d left his rabbit enough food to survive until he got back!
In fact while in St Thomas we caught up with Stan Frost again, single-hander met
in 2006 who played father-figure to me when John had to rush back to UK and left
me in St Thomas. Great to catch up – he’s a wonderful source of local talent, and
found all sorts of repair people for us. And regaled us with stories of his time
in Vietnam as an army linguist, a major in the “Pink Brigade”!!
Then across to Culebra for Christmas, one of our favourite islands – and what a Christmas
We dinghied over to a South African catamaran for pre-lunch drinks - and they only
let us off well after 10pm – 22 bottles of alcohol between 4 couples is a fair rate
of consumption even for South Africans!! We had a great week or so with Amarula,
Nanou and Out of India, a real League of Nations: Sikh, Norwegian, Channel Islanders,
Brits and South Africans – melting pot, as they say. But great party pot!
In Culebra it blew so hard for 7 days that the wind generator kept our batteries
topped up without running the engine at all. Lots of wind on the water too though
- although we had anchored close to the municipal dock, we got pretty wet going ashore
in the wind chop.
To do our livers some good after Christmas, we took off for Vieques, the next little
island west in the Spanish Virgin chain, previously the site of a US Navy bombing
range. The USA took over 70% of the land and put it out of bounds while they threw
their bombs around, and when they finally succumbed to the protestors and stopped,
it was with the proviso that it would remain a natural sanctuary.
Two nights chilling in Ensenada Honda – the first night completely alone in this
huge mangrove-surrounded bay with not a house, a boat, a light in sight! Quite distressing
the next day to be invaded by another boat! But we had a great evening with Magus,
and Chris sparked off an interest in chess again – and martinis! Brought his own
shaker, ice and makings aboard, and did his thing: he’s a believer in the ‘shaken,
not stirred’ brand.
We spent New Year’s Eve kayaking in Mosquito Bay through the most spectacular bio-luminescence:
truly a magical feeling to dip your arm in the water and bring it up covered in zillions
of little sparkling organisms!
Fabulous, and we topped it off with dinner in Esperanza, a ‘pasada’ of a town of
bars and cafes where all the locals hang along the main street to see and be seen!
The island is very lush, lots of mahogany trees and thick bush, and inundated with
gazillions of wild horses, left there at various stages by the Spanish and/or British
armies way back when, and left to roam free. They do the most amazing ‘quick trot’
walk, fascinating to see as they trot through the town, usually ridden by the local
kids – bareback! All adds to the mystique of the town.
Time now to hit Puerto Rico! John needs to get to a chandlery (of course) and I need
to provision – and buy give-aways for Cuba eg fish-hooks, bic lighters, pkts panado,
cakes soap etc etc. Apparently these will buy us lobsters and fresh fish – fair trade
Desolation Sound, British Columbia – the picture that conjures up is not anything
like the real experience! It is beautiful, magnificent, spectacular – the superlatives
run out fast. But then, it was a Copeland-organised OCC Rally, it was September,
it was summer, and it was sunny!
We picked up our charter boat Mikayla, a Hunter 46 (ok, stop laughing already!!)
in Powell River on the Vancouver mainland side, and joined the OCC Rally at Comox,
on Vancouver Island.
By the time we got to our first night’s stop at Cortes Island, we’d already realised
this was going to be a work cruise, not a holiday – the for’ard heads was blocked
(we later decided it was probably solid sh..t from 3-4 charters back!), the mainsail
had torn (minor winds of 15-18 knots only, but that was too much), the outboard motor’s
starting cord had shredded with the 2nd tug, not to mention that the dinghy was very
old, very tired and very deflated, the wind instrument didn’t work, the GPS didn’t
work, the hot water heater didn’t work….well, the list goes on and on, but I won’t
bore you with it.
Suffice to say that by the fifth day out John was threatened with divorce if he didn’t
get his head out of some compartment in the nether regions of the boat and we got
an award at the final dinner at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club for ‘persistence and
perseverance in the face of severe difficulties’!!
And a refund from the charter company, with sincere apologies.
But other than that, what a fun cruise! Organisation was first-class –Liza and Andy
Copeland were top-class organisers and hosts. Although Liza is somewhat daunting
for an amateur sailor like me – she just knows so much! All ran smoothly (except
our boat!!), the anchorages chosen were superlative, and we all learnt the best,
easiest and quickest ways to raft-up 19 boats with anchor and a stern-line back to
the trees. Part of the fun of a raft-up was that you always had different neighbours
– I felt sorry for ours, who had to deal with a blocked heads on the port side and
a very noisy electric heads on starboard! No sleep for the wicked, as they say.
It was a very social and festive event – no evening passed without an excuse for
a party, and either the bigger boats were co-opted (very politely!) as party boats
or we all dinghied out in our individual dinghies, laden with drinks and snacks,
and ‘hung out’ together in a dinghy raft-up in the middle of the bay somewhere. This
was somewhat precarious at times, as the current occasionally took us far off the
original stop – if my kids ever told me they’d hung together in the middle of a channel,
drinks in hands and all motors off, drifting downstream to who knows what, I’d have
probably paddled them. Amazing what you can get away with as an adult.
Each day started with an 8.30am radio call from Liza, outlining the day’s activities,
designated party boat for the evening, key positions for the raft-up – and of course
the check-in times for the two major narrows we had to negotiate – twenty minutes
of slack water to get 19 boats (and whatever additional traffic there was around
us) through before the tide turned fairly dramatically the other way! The Copelands
managed the timings so well that both passages were a bit of an anti-climax, and
in fact several boats delayed the second passage specifically to create a bit of
Takes all types! And talking types, we were all shown up by David and Fran on Tystie
(above), a delightful little junk-rig who was the only boat to SAIL everywhere –
the rest of us all took the easy way out and motored. There WAS no wind, but as Tystie
showed us, that was really just an excuse.
Once the briefing was over, the rest of the day was in our own hands, and the wilderness
called. There are hundreds of little hide-aways and nooks and crannies to explore;
places to go ashore if you wish (beware the bears!), beautiful small anchorages to
hang out in for tea or a snack-lunch before braving the next 10 miles to the evening
And there were all types of folks – a large contingent of Irish and Brits, several
Americans, and even some Canadians. The Irish certainly added to the general exuberance
and bonhomie of the cruise, Fred commandeered a group to regale us regularly with
his special homebrew of songs, we celebrated a 60th birthday in great style – and
had a ‘sports’ day which was a riot!
I will never forget the sight of blindfolded Chris rowing the dinghy for all he was
worth, Terry shouting encouragement in the prow. “Row! Row! Row!” yelled Terry. And
Chris did – straight between the bows of two rafted-up boats!
Or John and Martin going head-to-head in the sculling race, ducking frantically under
the stern-lines of the rafted-up boats and trying not to tip each other out – or
was that trying TO tip each other out?? Shaun led us a merry dance on the organised
hike – we did all eventually get there, but it was a wilderness trek! The swim at
the end was worth it though.
A different anchorage each night, I don’t think we ever went more than 20 miles in
a day, but each one was more beautiful than the last. In total I’d guess we only
covered about 200 miles (again, we had no way of measuring that on our boat!), but
it was a lifetime’s worth of memories packed into those miles. We met up with some
old friends, and made some wonderful new ones – and have already signed up for the
next OCC BC Rally. Well done, all who participated, and well done Liza and Andy!
What to say about Bosnia??
Incredibly beautiful, incredibly complex, still suffering the pain of a war that
tore communities and neighbours apart, yet getting on with life with a smile and
a cheerful “Dobro jutro”. I feel like a computer on overload – too much information,
too much emotion and too many experiences to assimilate in such a short time.
Our ‘leader and guide’ Toby (left, wearing blue) and his assistant Harun (left, wearing
green) have been fantastic: Harun is a passionate born and bred Bosnian, whose father
and much of his family were killed in the ’92-’95 War, a 17 year old dedicated to
making sense of what has happened in his life. Toby is an ex-Brit policeman who started
coming to Bugojno as a young aid worker in ’93, has come back regularly ever since
and has now settled in Bugojno permanently – and also passionately Bosnian!
Both are a mine of information and stories, but even more importantly, have a wealth
of experience, both of daily life and traditions and of the war. It gave the entire
4x4 trip a poignancy and depth that was invaluable.
Our object in taking this trip was to learn how to handle our new Land Rover Lavinia,
and to see what she was capable of.
Well, Toby certainly put us through our paces! Mud up to our eyebrows, winching,
rock climbs, grass slides, ditch straddling, hair-raising inclines and declines .
. . .
I have to confess to wimping out several times and walking while John edged the vehicle
into some impossible situation!
Campsites were either on the edge of some escarpment with a view forever ahead of
us, or tucked in a forest clearing surrounded by sheep, fire blazing away while the
‘sutch’ sang, merrily slow-cooking our dinner.
Toby and Harun prepared traditional Bosnian meals – no camping shortcuts here. And
I have definitely developed a taste for Bosnian ‘kafa’ – little espresso cupfuls
of the most delicious coffee!
Served of course with a glass of slivovitz on the side. Oi vey!
We were so impressed by the sutch meals, that we bought ourselves one – of course,
how to use it in Sevenoaks, given that it requires a couple of hours over an open
fire, is another story. Somehow I don’t think the local Health and Safety are going
Life in Bosnia has an unbelievable undercurrent. Muslim Bosnian, Catholic Croat and
Orthodox Serbian in one ethnic pot - just recently they were viciously slaughtering
each other’s grandfathers, raping each other’s daughters, mercilessly wiping each
other out in racial ethnic cleansing the like of which has not been seen since the
Holocaust. Today these same people sit next to each other in the coffee shops, sipping
kafa. Talk to each other across the shop counters. Go to the same music festivals.
But the tension’s still there. Harun is Muslim Bosnian, not religious, but ethnically
definitely Muslim Bosnian. Toby’s loyalties are Bosnian, strongly so. So when we
met up with a Croatian farmer (Croatian therefore obviously ethnically Catholic)
up in the mountains, Harun disappeared behind the cooking boxes and Toby played the
‘I’m just an ignorant Brit tourist’ to the hilt. So it was a bit of a relief when
the short visit came to an uneventful end and he was waved off with a casual ‘Chou’
from us all. Well, almost all. ‘Ma'a Salaama!’ called John cheerfully. International
Lavinia performed exceedingly well. And John proved to be an exceedingly competent,
cool driver. He had to be, because we certainly got into some scrapes!
Being dug into mud proved to be an interesting schoolroom in winching: Toby had to
winch us out, then we had to winch him out, then we had to winch ourselves out –
but at least we learnt that we needed to add a snatch block, a tree strop and some
shackles to our toolkit!
And as for ditch straddling – well, that was another story. John was upset by the
first one, when we slid off the side of a muddy ditch and he landed up lying on his
side in the ditch, but Toby quite effectively pushed the vehicle upright again, no
damage inflicted. Although the language from inside Lavinia was fairly blue! But
the next was really dramatic.
He managed to get across the ditch, but as he turned to straddle it, the entire vehicle
just gently tipped backwards and landed up with her front wheel 7 feet up in the
air! I was screaming, Toby was white-faced, Harun was frantically taking photos –
“Shall I get out?” asked John. “No!” I yelled, knowing if he saw where the vehicle
was he’d never get back in again! “It’s ok,” Toby kept repeating, “she’s stable.
The vehicle’s stable, that’s ok. Let’s think about this. It’s ok, she’s stable. That’s
good, she’s stable.”
He was as scared as I was, I think, but being very British stiff-upper lip and ex-cop
cool about it all. On the surface! Still, some clever driving and some time later,
Toby had managed to get his vehicle up the ditch and back down again to put a tow-rope
on Lavinia (to stabilise her more!), then very slowly winched her back down to the
ground again.I was expecting a dramatic drop to the ditch, but she came down smooth
as a baby’s bottom. Then all that had to happen was John had to now get her across
the ditch properly and run up it – but Toby had to reverse up it first – quite a
feat, reverse straddling a ditch of this size. Needless to say, I walked – it’s a
good excuse, taking photographs!
Those were some of the dramatic points – but the wonderful part of it all was the
scenery and the people. It’s the world’s biggest and best 4x4 playground – so long
as you know where the mine-fields are and there are lots of them – miles and miles
and miles of empty, beautiful, spectacular countryside to play in. And camp in. And
get lost in. And enjoy.
If you haven’t been there yet, you have to go.
Life in South Africa is definitely a challenge these days – the electricity load-shedding
seems to be on the decline, thank goodness, but the general infra-structure definitely
also seems to be on the decline! Crime’s still a problem, anything to do with government
offices and services is an absolute nightmare, and if you’re not very cautious about
your PC manners, you just get ignored. Eg. a recent call to get the electricity reconnected:
after spending some 35 minutes waiting for the phone to be answered (“Please be patient,
your call IS important”), the stroppy local lady on the other end refused to understand
why I was upset at my electricity being disconnected for non-payment when my account
had been in credit for over 3 months. When I eventually exploded and said “This is
stupid!” she put the phone down on me, muttering “I won’t talk to you if you’re rude
to me.” Little did she know what I was thinking – or maybe she did and that’s why
she put the phone down!
As usual, the days in South Africa were passed in maintenance and building projects
– John adapted one of the cottage bathrooms to make it wheelchair-friendly for my
mother. Who then proceeded to complain that it didn’t work well – actually she kept
hanging on to the tap instead of the rail, turning the hot water on and off when
she moved, with fairly dramatic and very vocal results! John said, very politely,
that she should use it more – with amortization it cost less each time she used it
and he wasn’t getting his money’s worth!
One of the amazing things about Broederstroom is the freedom to do projects like
this without all the Brit red tape – and the unbelievable cost of labour. Morgan,
our trusty Tswana builder (above), built the most amazing new winter patio – with
all materials and 3 weeks labour, the cost was under £800!
And Hatton, our Malawian caretaker, has concrete-stripped almost the entire driveway
(700 metres) - single-handed, mixing concrete by hand and laying 4 sections per day
over the past six months for just over £1000.
Talk about value for money!
Of course it’s always family time too.
The grandies came to visit, and we had Jamie denuding my wardrobe of anything ‘sexy’
to wear while Connor became John’s shadow.
Anything the Big Boy can do, so can the little!
And as well as Mom’s extended visit, we had some of the oldies from the Retirement
Village come for the day – now that was an experience.
Not sure if they were actually allowed to drink, but how can you refuse a 90 year
old who demands a beer with lunch – or two??
We left just in time – the winter’s hit, and it’s apparently freezing. Well, at least
the UK is just overcast and wet!
It’s been a different year this year – full of the unexpected. But also full of adventure
– and here we are, almost ready to set off on the next one.
We hauled out at Nanny Cay mid-April, after spending a great week with Emma and Sarah
on board. One of the nice things about this season has been seeing the BVI again,
through newcomers’ eyes: I think I’ve got a bit bored with its inherent tantrums
and bad service, so it was good to take a fresh look of appreciation. So Al Shaheen
is now in a welded one-piece cradle (cost the price of a small house, but who’s complaining!),
tied down securely and hopefully hurricane-proof. It’s always sad leaving – the frantic
eating up of the last bits of food, wiping down everything with vinegar to stop the
mould, putting down cockroach bait in the hopes of discouraging those voracious monsters
from invading – there’s always that nagging feeling of something left undone, that
‘have I left the stove on’ feeling.
England this April did not give us the warmest of welcomes – snow over Easter, for
goodness sake! But it has warmed up now, and we are enjoying some glorious May sunshine.
Enough to possibly trot out the barbecue John’s just got for his birthday! Talking
of birthdays, he’s just had ‘the best ever’ according to grandson Jake. A day out
for all the boys, big and small, at Diggerland ! 5 hours of using various monster
JCBs to shuffle sand from one pile to another – what absolute bliss! And no Health
& Safety guys around to tell you to Be Careful or Wear a Hard Hat Here – just a youngster
nonchalantly giving you the run-down on which lever did what, then you were on your
own – at the controls, waving those scoops in the air like crab’s claws.
We also caught up with progress on Lavinia, our future adventure. She’s a 2nd hand
Landrover we’re having adapted to take overland to Africa sometime soon – not sure
when yet, but it will be sometime! Also not sure of the route yet – the shortest
way obviously is London to Cape Town via Africa. But the maybe more interesting one,
and perhaps less dangerous, is London to Cape Town via Russia, all the ‘stans, China,
Australia …we’ll have to see. Anyway, she’ll be all ready (rooftop tent etc all in
place) to meet up with Toby in Bosnia in July, her (and our!) 3 week shake-down trip
where we’ll put her through her paces.
But before that, it’s off to South Africa (by plane this time!) for 2 months, to
see family and pick up on the other half of our lives – the African bush of Broederstroom!
Not planning to do much travelling this time; we’ll have my Mother come to stay,
and as she’s pretty immobile, we’ll probably stay put to a large extent. And not
really planning a lot of projects either – although as I say that, John talks about
pulling out the bath in one of the bathrooms, and throwing a slab for a new patio,
and…and… you know him, never content unless he’s doing something!
So, watch this space – we’ll keep you up-to-date with our ‘landbound’ adventures
– it’s a hectic year ahead, with South Africa in May, Bosnia in July, an OCC meet
in Maine, USA in August and an OCC Rally in Vancouver in September – a diary is an
imperative this year!
Tuesday 1st April 2008
Yes, it’s April Fool’s Day – but we got taken some time back in Puerto Rico! More
of that later.
Just after we got our auto-helm fixed, our weathermen said 9 metre swells were going
to be coming in from the north-east. As this would make the coast of St. Croix completely
untenable for a week or more, we decided to scuttle off to the Spanish Virgins early
and tuck away in Culebra for a while. Culebra is a wonderful hidey-hole with a totally
sheltered anchorage, friendly people and great Spanish food. No real hardship involved
in being there!
And of course we weren’t the only ones: the boats poured in for several days prior
to the swells arriving, until there was hardly room to swing a cat. And where there’s
lots of yachties, there’s lots of activities.Don & D on Southern Cross (last seen
up in N. Carolina in 2006) initiated a crowd to charter a ‘publico’ (local bus) to
go to the other shore to watch the swell breaking, and one couple joined the gang
simply because they’d “seen all the dinghies going somewhere and decided to join
in the fun!”
And the waves were pretty dramatic – crashing against the rocks the spray was going
some 50 feet in the air – not good weather for sailing. Many delightful dinners on
board – we met up with Dana & Martha on Sara Jane, Paul & Jane on Shian (also last
seen in Annapolis in 2006), and we also made good use of the chance to have some
local cuisine. Boy, those churrasco steaks at El Eden were to die for! And we brought
Alex and Erica Berg aboard, a talented lovely young couple from New York, photographer
and actor/writer – unfortunately they got totally soaked in an unexpected downpour
just as they got into our miniature dinghy, but they thought it was all part of the
The highlight of our time in the Spanish Virgins however, had to have been our trip
to Puerto Rico. Joined by Duncan & Ria from Sea Topaz, we left Al Shaheen safe and
snug in the anchorage and once the swell had died down and the ferries were running
again, took the ferry from Culebra to Farardo ($1 each for a 40 mile trip – bargain
in anyone’s book!) and hired a car for some serious land exploring of the island.
Puerto Rico is a beautiful island, and we spent the first day enthusiastically hiking
up to the top of El Yunque, at 3490 ft the highest peak in the rain forest. Well,
some of them did it enthusiastically – I plodded along at my usual 10 minutes behind
everyone else. I don’t do uphill well. But the forest was spectacular, thick and
lush – and raining! Pity about the view from the top though – thick mist meant all
we saw was ourselves. And even worse, after all that slogging, we arrived at the
peak to find several vehicles full of maintenance men who’d just driven up! Oh well,
can’t win them all.
Lunch was very specific. Duncan had his Lonely Planet guide out, and had us all salivating
with his descriptions of pork barbecue stalls (lechonera) along the roadside. We
drove for hours, across the most magnificent escarpments and through delightful little
villages, looking for those stalls! No village had any name to it, so we had very
little idea where we actually were, and had almost given up when suddenly, there
they were – stall after stall listing pork, pork, and more pork! And it was every
bit as good as it had been described; mouth-watering, juicy, crispy crackling in
abundance – I’d go back to Puerto Rico just for that!
By the time we’d finally wiped our faces clean of all the pork juices, it was nearing
time to find a hotel for the night. On the telegraph pole right opposite us was a
sign, Motel el Montana. First sign of any sort we’d seen like that (no B&Bs, no hotels,
nothing up to now), so we decided that would be it. And that started the next search
– we wandered down one road, up another, back-tracked on ourselves, asked for directions
(that got us to a Sheraton, but we’d all set our hearts on a lonely mountain retreat,
not a glitz palace), and it was now getting very dark.
The roads are incredibly narrow and twisting, and it’s very hard to discern anything
with just your headlights on, so when the sign El Montana suddenly appeared on the
wall ahead of us, we all cheered! No sign of a reception in the street, so we turned
into the obvious entrance, and drove up into a courtyard surrounded by what seemed
to be garages. Some had doors open, most had the garage door down. We all got out,
and were standing somewhat bemused when a woman on an electric cart came across (the
housekeep? She was holding a broom and bucket in her hand!). She rattled off something
in rapido Puerto Rican: John and Ria both looked confused as their Spanish couldn’t
keep up! Anyway, we eventually got the drift that she was offering us a room. Yes,
yes, we all nodded. Can we see? Sure, she took us across to an open garage, and let
us into the door at the side – oh I see, park your car and walk straight into your
room. That’s convenient. The rooms were very nice, neat tidy clean, even if there
were a few too many mirrors, I mean on three walls was one thing, but on the ceiling
We agreed to take the rooms – although she seemed a bit startled that we wanted 2,
not just one. And sorry, no credit cards – cash only. But at $33 each, we could handle
that. Receipt? She scuttled off, and we moved our things in. While John was waiting
outside for the receipt, I switched on the TV to see what was happening in the world
– hadn’t seen TV for months. Oi vey – had never seen TV quite like this either! Instantaneous
hard-core porn – 14 channels and each was much like the one before – no CNN for us
that night! No receipt arrived, and we finally realised this was a ‘discreet no-tell
motel’ – no names, no pack-drill, park your car, close the garage door and your wife
will never know you’re here! No wonder she was surprised we only wanted one room
between the four of us.
After much giggling at what we’d landed ourselves in, we thought a quick drink across
the road, and we’d all be ready for bed anyway. Except the bar was closed (it was
all of 8pm), so we decided to order from the Sexy Menu in the room. Except this really
was a Sexy Menu – more lubricants and creams and toys than I’d known existed! But
at the very bottom was a short list of drinks – so John braved it and went to order.
That was when we discovered the other really neat item in the room – a hatch in the
wall where all your transactions were discretely conducted with no facial contact
– goods passed in from outside, cash passed out from inside. Beats having to tip
the surly waiters anyway!
Anyway, it had been a very long day with a 5am wake-up call for the first ferry that
morning, so bed beckoned. And the TV. We crashed finally. Jolted awake with the most
unlikely sound of a buzzer. Brrrt! What’s that? I asked. Brrt..brrt…again. It’s from
the hatch, says John. So he staggers across, and the most bizarre conversation ensues
between John stark-naked on one side of the wall and some fully clothed Puerto Rican
on the other side, at 3.30 in the morning! $33, he says. What? Asks John. $33 – another
8 hours, must pay $33. The penny dropped! We’d booked ourselves into a motel that
ran on hourly rates – and what we’d thought was a cheap deal was for only half the
night! In order to stay until 7 or 8am and get some sleep (which was obviously not
what this motel was usually used for), we had to fork up another $33 each!! Well,
there was some ‘conversation’ between John, Duncan and the Puerto Rican, with him
muttering about getting police and the men trying to say sort it out in the morning,
but it all finished up with us having to fork up or get out. Basically!
So when was the last time you did something for the first time??
Still it was a great conversation piece, and we laughed all the next day – and then
went and checked into a beach-front hotel in San Juan which we later found out was
one of the only gay hotels in the town!! I had wondered why all these men were coming
out of the toilet right at reception! Did the fates see us coming or what? As Duncan
said, the only thing to have completed the trip would have been one more night, spent
at el Convento, a renovated Dominican Convent right in the middle of the old town.
Then we’d have had the whole gamut.
After all the hotel experiences, it was a pleasure to spend time looking at another
side of humanity – we took in the two forts in Old San Juan (which is a particularly
picturesque town), El Morro and San Cristobal. Both amazing feats of engineering
and building, massively bulky yet amazingly graceful. And well preserved and maintained,
not to be missed on a trip to Puerto Rico.
Suddenly our time in the Caribbean is drawing to a close: we left Culebra and came
back to the BVI, and are sitting once again at Marina Cay, waiting for Emma and Sara
to arrive on Friday for a week sunning and snorkelling and sailing.
Then it’s haul-out and back to land again. Short season this year! But next season
will be longer – watch this space!
Monday 10th March 2008
Well, as John has just said, a lot has happened since the last newsletter 3 weeks
John and Mervyn had some serious sailing from Antigua to Spanish Town in the BVI
in fairly adverse conditions, check in, clean up somewhat, and get across to Beef
Island in time to meet me off the plane from Johannesburg (via London, New York and
San Juan!). Exhausting trips for all of us (as Mervyn says, “I had a great time,
but I don’t think I’ll do it again!”) but wonderful to be reunited again. It has
been a long, hard slog – John has coped extremely well single-handing when he needed
to, and Mervyn did very well all things considering.
I managed in a month to get my mother back on her feet again after she smashed her
hip falling out of bed, and settled into a big bright room in the Frail Care section.
It was quite an education spending 6-8 hours a day with all those biddies and boddies
in the retirement village!! I met some fascinating characters – but came away with
the strong realisation that old age is not fun. Those who are physically strong are
often mentally lost, and those who are all there mentally are very often physically
incapacitated – it’s as if the body and the mind are not in sync somehow.
Anyway, we said goodbye Mervyn (off back to New Zealand), and made a quick trip across
to the USVI to pick up our next guest from St Thomas – more guests this year than
ever in Al Shaheen’s history! Julian and I did the same RYA Day Skipper’s course
in Cape Town, and we’ve been encouraging him to come sailing with us ever since,
promising him all the temptations of gentle winds, calm seas and beautiful BVI beaches.
Unfortunately he arrived towards the end of an exceptionally windy period – we had
nothing but 20-25knots every day! Still, we did a wonderful circuit with him, from
St Thomas (where we explored the thrills of Blackbeard and cruise-ship shopping in
Charlotte Amalie), across to the peace and quiet of Lamershur Bay on St John and
a strenuous hike up the mountains.
John put Julian through his paces those first few days: as our autohelm has temporarily
given up the ghost, he bravely helmed whenever possible: from Lamershur, through
huge gusts, weaving in and out of ferries and commercial boats and charterboats,
past Red Hook and Cruz Bay. For the next week we tacked and gybed, put sails up,
took sails down, anchored, picked up buoys, ran the dinghy up the beach on Sandy
Cay, dropped the boathook overboard picking up a bouy (that necessitated a quick
dive over the side from Cap’n John in his white y-fronts!!): there wasn’t much that
Julian wasn’t made to do!
As usual the supermarket in Sopers Hole was manned by staff who had obviously just
completed their annual workshop in courtesy and customer relations – fresh veggies
were lying piled up in boxes waiting to be unpacked onto the empty shelves, but they
were all busy chatting on their phones. So eventually customers were opening the
boxes and helping themselves – but I guess that’s one way of getting the stuff put
away! I have a history here of trying to get hot roasted chickens, so thought I’d
try it again. “Hi,” I asked politely “do you have any roasted chickens?” “No,” was
the answer. “Do you usually have roasted chickens?” “Sometimes.” “When will you have
roasted chickens again?” “When we get ‘em.”
Well, what else could I expect. I mean, that’s a reasonable answer isn’t it??
Virgin Gorda, the Baths, Peter Island, a barbecue with Lorrigray and Rasi on the
beach on Norman Island, a ‘working’ lunch on Sandy Cay. We’d thought about going
across to Anegada and showing him the vagaries of picking your way through shallow
coral heads, but the weather was just never settled enough. So we made up for that
with cocktails on Lorrigray (that Lilian is a card – 81 years old, on disability
but out for her sail every year!!) and an evening of rum shots and pirate songs with
Michael Bean on Marina Cay.
Saturday Julian flew out, and we took off for some quiet romantic twosomeness at
Great Harbour on Peter Island. Wonderful lunch at Deadman’s Bay beach bar – and returned
to find four catamarans rafted up not 50 metres off our stern! The whole bay to sit
in – and it was completely empty – and they had to park up our rear!! I thought it
was only the French??
Tuesday 19th February 2008
Whilst in Rodney Bay marina I managed to put the water hose into the wrong deck filler
and put about 50 litres of water into the diesel tank before I realised my mistake!
That evening I pumped out about 45 litres of water which had separated at the bottom
of the tank and next day I had to get the remaining fuel “polished” which involved
sucking it out of the tank, circulating it through a series of filters and re-injecting
it into the tank. This took most of the day, cost £100 and delayed my departure by
a day. Not a mistake to be repeated! On the way out I collected my liferaft which
had had its 3-year service and 5–year hydro-test, another very expensive, but necessary,
I then sailed 35 miles to Le Marin, Martinique, still hard-on-the-wind and involved
some motoring. I spent 4 days at anchor there stocking up with French food and doing
some walking along the beaches on south Martinique.
When single-handed, anchoring and coming alongside are the most tricky operations
and require a lot of planning and preparation. I left Marin in company with a Dutch
single-hander, Ben on Brut. It was a dead downwind leg and I was dangerously over-canvassed
at first but got things under control by the time the wind came abeam after Diamond
Rock and ended up having a splendid beat up to the anchorage at Fort-de-France where
I anchored at the second attempt. I am able to operate the anchor windlass from the
cockpit but generally only use this for letting down the anchor. Raising it requires
much closer supervision than is possible from the cockpit and necessitates a presence
on the foredeck, often tricky in a crowded anchorage as the boat’s head pays off
rapidly once the anchor has broken out and this requires helm and engine work at
the other end of the boat!
By this time I had arranged by email for a New Zealand friend, Mervyn Rex, to join
me in Fort-de-France and stay until we reached the BVI, so I waited a couple of days
during which Martinique celebrated Carnival. Having seen it all last year, I found
this a rather frustrating period as Fort-de-France was in turmoil, everywhere was
closed, no shops or services were open, the telephone system was down and when Mervyn
came from the airport the taxi couldn’t get within a mile of the anchorage and we
had to walk in the rain carrying his bags amid very noisy revellers.
We sailed next day, gently under jib alone, 15 miles to St Pierre and then next day
a more boisterous 50 miles to Portsmouth, Dominica, during which Mervyn got caught
off-balance as the boat lurched to a wave and he hurtled across from the chart table
to the galley, coming up hard against the galley “crash bar”, which deformed badly
with the impact (see above).
He was very lucky not to have had much more serious injuries.
We spent 3 nights there, during which we met up with friends Ken and JoAnn on Alicat
and were wonderfully entertained by them aboard their sumptuous catamaran and climbed
with them to Signal Point above Fort Cabritts to view the scene of the famous Battle
of the Saintes where Admiral Rodney demolished the French fleet under De Grasse in
Photo (right) shows view from Fort Cabrits overlooking Prince Rupert Bay.
We then had a very lively 46 mile leg to Des Haies on Guadeloupe. Des Haies is a
windy place at the best of times but with strengthened Trade Winds it is like living
in a wind tunnel.
One day we had sustained 30 knots all day and gusts to 40; fortunately the holding
is very good. The wind generator was howling all the time and kept our batteries
charged for 3 days. The departure was just as lively with 30 knots and 5 metre seas
on our way to Antigua, where we arrived absolutely saturated in salt and quite exhausted.
English Harbour in Antigua is a lovely spot but gets very crowded in the season.
This time I found it more crowded than ever and, over 4 days we had the anchor up
and down 8 times! The first night our anchor dragged in a squall and we ended up
rafted to another boat all night until we could sort out the mess in daylight.
It was entirely my fault having anchored in a spot where we just didn’t have enough
room to put down and adequate amount of chain.
During our stay in English Harbour a number of Atlantic rowers arrived some 75-76
days after leaving La Gomera in the Canary Islands. As might be expected, they looked
absolutely dead-beat, but received a magnificent reception. We made couple of visits
to the “Tot Club” and had a fabulous lunch with Oriole at Harmony Hall, as good as
Having received a favourable forecast a few days ago for our next 200 miles to the
BVI, it has all changed and we again have strengthened Trade Winds of 25-30 knots.
Luckily it is a downwind leg but we still have to cope with 4-5 metre seas. We are
poised waiting in Deep Bay in the NW of Antigua, for a 0530 departure tomorrow morning!
Thursday 31st January 2008
After launching on 15th January we sailed to the anchorage at Prickly Bay where we
spent a very rolly week at anchor doing jobs aboard the boat and exploring Grenada,
the highlights of which were a visit to “Fish Fry Friday” at Gouyave on the west
coast and a full-day island tour with the fabulous driver/guide “Cutty”.
The fish fry was an amazing experience - a whole fishing village turned over to providing
an enormous array of fish dishes, beer and rum, for their own people as well as the
tourists. We ate sumptuously!
The day tour took us over most of the island and Cutty was an inexhaustible source
of information on local plants, fruits and spices, and particularly on their medicinal
values. Among other attractions we visited an old distillery, equipped with industrial
archaeology, where the product is a 75% rum, so strong that it has to be diluted
to enable it to be legally transported! We claimed dispensation for marine transportation!
After a week of enhanced trade winds we got some moderation and, being unable to
stand the rolling any longer, put to sea on 23 January, bound for Chatham Bay, Union
Island (scene of the “Red Knickers” story in 2004). At this time of year one expects
to be able to sail this course direct but there was so much north in the wind that
direction we were unable to lay the course and had to make two legs, being “hard
on the wind” all the time. We had winds of 25 knots, gusting to over 30 and big seas,
making it a very wet trip and we arrived soaked and exhausted.
Next morning, just as we were leaving for Bequia, we received an email to say that
Jenny’s 92 year-old mum in Johannesburg had fallen and broken her hip. This started
the long and complicated process of getting Jenny back to South Africa as soon as
The sail to Bequia was miserable, big seas, lots of wind and from the wrong direction
and neither of us really in the mood for it.
A nasty feature of this trip was that I had two “close calls” on a heaving deck in
vile seas. Firstly, I got caught off balance and was thrown heavily into the cap
shroud coming up hard on my left shoulder. A couple of inches to the right and I
would have broken my collar bone. Later, I was putting in a second reef from the
port (difficult) side and, as I thought, clipped on to the cap shroud. As I finished
I found that the safety spring on my harness clip had broken and the hook was hanging
limply open leaving me very exposed!
A couple of hours on the internet that night got Jenny booked from St Vincent to
Johannesburg via Barbados and London. We left Bequia on the ferry at 0930 Friday
and she landed in Jo’burg on Sunday morning 41 hours later! By that time Ena had
had her hip pinned and is now discharged from hospital and doing well.
Meanwhile I enjoyed the Bequia Music Festival at “De Reef” and sailed for St Lucia
at dawn on Sunday, having a lovely sail 60 miles to Soufriere, where I picked up
a SMMA buoy aided, unnecessarily, by local “boat boys” who promptly broke my bow
light (US$97 to replace) “helping” me to pick up the buoy. Whilst the majority of
charterers undoubtedly need assistance, even with 8 or more crew, I would far prefer
to do it unaided, even when single-handed. Still, it was a perfect setting, as the
sun went down off a palm-fringed beach with the stern tied into a tree ashore, even
with 1000 watt reggae from beach revellers!
The next day took me to Rodney Bay to get the life raft serviced after 4 years, and
4 nights in a marina during which I visited Pidgeon Island and climbed to Signal
Peak from where the British kept an eye on the French fleet in Martinique during
their constant skirmishes in the 16th and 17th centuries during which St Lucia changed
hands 14 times between British and French rule!
Sunday 13th January 2008
Finally! We’re back in the Caribbean, back at La Sagesse enjoying the beach and palm
trees - and after all that bleating about cold and wet and winter, boy is it hot
and humid! Enough that standing in one spot for longer than 5 minutes leaves a large
pool of sweat beneath your feet, enough that you understand why the locals all move
Grenada Marine has done its usual incredible job of getting the boat ready – not
one single one of the 8 or 9 meticulously detailed jobs listed by John to be done
while we were away has been done – but they’re all quite happy to ‘start’ on them
now. Needless to say, we have both said No thanks very politely. It’s time we were
on the water again!
You forget when you're away just what the attitude is here in the Caribbean. Laid
back is not the word. Classic example was lunch at the boatyard. The waitress is
very coiffed, very sulky. I order (from the day's chalked-up menu) hamburger & chips,
John orders fish platter - I mean what else in the Caribbean with the sea 5 yards
20 minutes later she’s back, flops down at our table. Pouts. "No fish." The pout
more than anything else gets John going! He trudges off to look at the menu board
again. "OK what's 'provision'?" he asks. She stares at him. Sighs. "Green bananas,
yams, dashish…" Her voice fades. "Oh," I say helpfully, "you mean like vegetable
dish?" Shakes her head. "Do you have it with something else?" I ask. I get an astounded
look. Don’t I know anything? John eventually succumbs and asks for a roti. "Will
that be a chicken roti?" he asks, still quite polite. "What kind you want?" she mutters,
bored stiff. "What kind you got?" asks John. "Chicken," she replies stone-faced.
45 minutes later still no food - several other customers have been in, ordered, fed
and left. John finally loses it, and storms off to sort things out. I page through
the magazine on the table pretending I can't hear him yelling. 5 minutes later she
comes back again. "It be taking long ‘cause they have to t’aw the ‘amburger," she
glares. (Translation took a while, but we got it in the end.) We subside into passive
silence – what else can you do?
Al Shaheen’s been invaded by geckos – we seem to have at least two families, one
of whom has taken up residence inside the boom and the other in the cockpit sole.
Of course every time we do any work there they scuttle out, and sit watching beady-eyed
until they can scramble back into the shade again. Of course it’s fine if they stand
on the teak – but it’s a bit uncomfortable if they stand on the metal deck! A few
minutes and they and doing the ‘Gecko Calypso’: two feet on the deck balancing themselves,
two feet in the air – a quick shuffle, change of feet, and the other two are in the
air cooling off! If they stay on board, I wonder if they’ll get seasick??
We’re still not sure of our immediate plans – I guess they depend on our long-term
plans, and we’re not at all sure about those! But tentatively, we’re looking at going
down to the Margaritas for a few weeks, then a scoot up the islands to finally haul
out in Nanny Cay in April or so. Maybe. Or maybe not – reports of recent bad attacks
make us nervous. Especially this last quote from s/v Fair Winds after a night boarding,
beating & theft in January this year: “Chavez has made statements that he does not
care about Gringos and that they get robbed because they have more than the people.
He has basically given the poor people permission to steal from people that have
more than them, including their own.” So, watch this space!
1st January 2009
Another year gone! What can we say? It’s had its ups and downs, but generally has
been a very good year: both John and I regularly pinch ourselves to make sure this
life is not a dream! It is an incredible life we lead – and we’re both very, very
grateful for it.
The end of 2008 was a bit hectic, in many ways. Out to Nanny Cay, BVI in early November,
planning to spend only a few days there before taking off for more exciting shores
west. What do they say about plans?? Major maintenance and repairs reared their ugly
heads – boats do NOT like being left alone, we’ve decided.