Saturday, 31 January 2015

New kids on the block

The dinghy dock at the Antigua Yacht Club

You'll forgive us if we sound a little disoriented. We sailed away from Antigua five days ago. Falmouth Harbour, where we finally got to sleep at anchor again (the last time was at Castellamarre in Sicily - a lifetime ago, as Claudia will agree), is two countries and three islands groups back. Who pushed the fast forward button?

Elena at English Harbour

A common sight in Falmouth Harbour (and below)

Pelicans are smaller here

Nelson's Dockyard bakery - still cookin'

To some extent, the geography of the Caribbean is setting our pace. We are heading south, with a loose goal of being in Grenada by the end of February. We have no idea of what we're looking for here. We're avidly reading between the lines of the three different Caribbean cruising guides we're carrying on board (plus the Lonely Planet). Mostly, we're trying to give ourselves some time to think. Our hearts are pulling us towards the Panama Canal and the Pacific ocean, but it's possible we are missing something.

Pigeon Beach, Antigua, with Montserrat on the horizon

Sea flora

The prevailing winds in this part of the Caribbean chain appear to be from the south-east, but they swing about a bit, and they can be fresh. That makes for great sailing, or not, depending on which direction you're heading. We covered the 40 miles between Falmouth harbour and Deshaies on the northwest coast of Guadeloupe sailing close-hauled(this was the moment to unfurl the jib, a nicely-cut sail we're particularly fond of but rarely had to use in the Mediterranean.)

Deshaies had the feel of a place where people might stick around a fair while. It's a pretty fishing town with clear blue water, and (free) mooring buoys close in to the beach where it's possible to pick up strong (free) wifi signal from a cafe called L'Amer. Latecomers who park at the back of the class miss out on the signal. That's us. A long way yet from catching up on what the cool kids know.

Deshaies, Guadeloupe (and below)

Menu board at L'Amer

Old Salt, English Harbour
We don't know enough yet about the ocean currents around here either, which is more serious than ignorance about internet etiquette. The hop from Deshaies across to the island group called Les Saintes looked very doable in a short day, we thought. With a light breeze on our beam, we slid down the lee coast of Guadeloupe, feeling very pleased with ourselves. We were close enough to shore to admire the scenery. That doesn't often happen. Later than we should have, we pulled out the brand new fishing reel, bought in Arrecife, threaded the line through the rod and....threw it in the water! Gaff and bucket and alcohol (for killing the fish) were at the ready. It was just a matter of time, wasn't it? We didn't have time though. Just past the nondescript island capital of Basse-Terre, the wind comes funneling down from the volcano above, whips up the sea, and makes a full-on frontal assault. No time now to debate whether feathers or sequins are the better lure. You are hauling everything aboard, reducing sail, gybing, and the speed dial is going nuts. Too fast (again) for fishing. The Saints is very close. Only five miles from the bottom of Guadeloupe. We check the time. A brisk run should get us in by 3 pm.

Guadeloupe looks THIS close from Les Saintes

Main street, Le Bourg (Les Saintes)

Even with those three cruising guides on board, we missed the crucial information that there's a strong west-setting current in this channel. Actually, I don't think this information was spelled out, and indeed it may have been somewhat fudged. Or been plain misleading. But it's poor form to blame the messenger. In many instances there's no substitute for local knowledge, and if there's one thing we are short of everywhere we go it's local knowledge. I remind Alex as we find ourselves tacking in vain and being swept further west to nowhere that we have barely arrived in the Caribbean. Still, he's cross when it becomes obvious that we'll have to motor into 20 knots of breeze to get to where we intend to go. "It's embarrassing," he says later. Who knew except me? I put his sensitivity about such matters down to too many years spent racing yachts. Then everyone was looking.

Old fella on the road to the Baie de Marigot

A palm tree draws attention to itself

The church in Le Bourg

The Saints is another place which could keep you for weeks. The living is easy. The water is warm and clear. The bread is French. The last point is perhaps the most important.

At anchor, Le Bourg 

We still don't have internet on the boat. Perhaps in our next country we'll get lucky.

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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Trans-Atlantic in pictures

Enki motors up the west coast of Antigua

We arrived at Jolly Harbour on the west coast of Antigua four days ago. On our way in we registered the basking sharks and turtle off Irish bank, and the stunning blue of the shoal water. Our friends from Angel Louise, Ed and Sue Kelly, brought their dinghy out to meet us in the channel and guided us into the customs dock. So kind of them. Since then the local life and the colours have smudged and smeared. We kind of collapsed. Not actually, because we've been busily putting the boat back together, but as Alex says, the adrenaline letdown has been severe.

I won't write anymore about the crossing. Memory has begun its work of organising the experience into a few defined points (yes, Cathy Cook - just like childbirth).  Alex didn't take very many photos. He had too much else going on. When we reached for the camera it was often to photograph clouds. There was a lot of cloud action out there and clouds are very obliging photographic subjects. The sea on the other hand is famously resistant to being frozen in time.  Its essence is motion.

So here's a strip of photos of the ocean, the sky, the boat and of us for your (and our) retrospective enjoyment:

Departure  pic - skipper with attitude
The first few calm days gave us a chance to fine-tune the pole set-up

Calm enough to commune with dolphins riding the bow wave (below)

A Spanish tipple on New Year's Eve

Dust from Africa shrouded the sky for several days (and below)

Alex working on deck (and below)

Our daily noon positions (marked with an X)

We give thanks daily for the hard top

As the squalls build, we start to look crazier

HF radio contact was very difficult, and became impossible

The squall lines just kept on coming

Barb and Andy's gift of a Coast beanbag was never more appreciated

Moving mountains

A man's best friend - strapped down with shock cord

Heavily reefed genoa (and mainsail looked much the same)

He's enjoying himself (and below)

You can taunt yourself with miles-to-go, and ETA

It wasn't tropical


12 hours of darkness...

And the sun also rises again.

On the 18th day, the sails came out - "normal" trade winds

Easterly wind all the way, until it turned to the south - northerlies missing in action

Flying fish, and mis-directed camomile teabag

We're on the same page now as the Caribbean Sea 

You could get bored with weather like this

Time to raise the quarantine flag
It's safe to go to the stern seat now

He's not sure if he wants to go ashore

Sharks on approach to Jolly Harbour

Ahoy sailors - Ed and Sue Kelly come to meet us with the Go-Pro

Chatting to Ed at the Port of Entry, Jolly Harbour

We have so little idea about what to expect from the Caribbean, despite having a plethora of cruising guide books. Thus far we've been occupied with getting the generator working again (done), organising better security onboard, cleaning up, getting the dinghy and kayak back in the water, and so on. We opened our first over on West Indian soil by catching a local mini-bus into St John's, the capital of Antigua to buy phone credit. I was so foggy I forgot to go to the market which was right by the bus station. Things can only get clearer.

St John's, Antigua  (and below)