Pinney's Beach, Nevis    
West Indies 2007 EUROPE 2005
Northbound from Martinique to the Virgins
Martinique 22nd -28th February 2007
Antigua 3rd - 6th March 2007
Nevis 7th - 9th March 2007
Sint Maarten 10th March - 5th April 2007
British Virgin Islands 6th - 17th April 2007
US Virgins 17th - 20th April 2007
Sint Maarten 21st April - 10th May 2007

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22nd February - 3rd March 2007: Martinique to Antigua

Rum punches are now firmly off the menu the night before a passage. Our sail to Martinique was done in silence; neither of us daring to mention our last night of debauchery in 'Jambe de Bois' and both of us keen to arrive ASAP so the boat would stop moving and we could crawl back into our drunken slumber. The following morning we awoke in Marin refreshed and busied ourselves with provisioning and the mammoth task of washing a month’s worth of laundry. Mark sat in a nearby café reading his book, always ready to help. In return I’d like to think I thanked him with the brilliant find of a five euro bow light cover in the dusty Sea Recovery (i.e. second hand) corner of the chandlery. Only days before he had mentioned that we should get exactly the same one but new for 90 euros as ours was looking very tired. So with 85 euros still in our pocket, and with our fill of fresh bread, poulet roti and ripe brie, we left the south coast of Martinique with our sights set on a fast passage north to Antigua.

Our first stop was St Pierre on the northwest coast of Martinique. While sailing up the west coast we picked up a VHF call from sailing vessel Guinie - ‘Can anyone hear me?’ We responded and found that the boat, having sailed from Isla Margarita, Venezuela, was now 30 miles to the west of us and evidently overdue at its destination. It would take him at least another ten hours to tack upwind to reach Marin. Please could we call his girlfriend Christina to tell her that he was OK and give his ETA. No problem. Thinking she was in Martinique we called on our mobile. She seemed to be in quite a fluster about it all and after reassuring her that everything was OK we found out she was in Slovenia and we promptly cut the call short. Although poorer for sure we were happy we could assist. Mark was especially happy that all the work he had put into re-wiring the VHF was worth it - our reception and transmission were obviously clearer with a much larger range.

We departed St Pierre just before dawn in a slight drizzle. The sail to Dominica was lively, especially around the south coast as we surfed up and down the large waves. We anchored off the town of Portsmouth in the north of Prince Rupert’s Bay (previously we have anchored in the south) and were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful beaches and clear water. We have been testing our Harbour-Fast anchor since St Lucia and after finding it lying on its back on the sand like a playful dog as the boat slowly moved backwards we can confirm it is still on a trial period. While indulging in a spot of VHF lurking, we heard of the tours other boats had taken. A ‘gentleman called Shadow’ did tours of the island for US$40 each but, tempted as we were, we decided to move on quickly. Dominica is a poor country with known security problems for boats and, rather pathetically, we couldn’t be bothered with the worry of it all. The night was uneventful with a security boat doing its slow but thorough rounds of the anchorage. We left before dawn, happy to be on our way but admittedly a little sad to be leaving behind an unexplored island.

The sail past the islands ‘Les Saintes’ and up the west coast of Guadeloupe was an easy and enjoyable reach. As we neared Deshaies on the northwest coast the skies looked moody and the wind picked up and we found ourselves anchoring with the rain lashing down with the force of 25 knots of wind behind it. The rest of the day looked set to be gloomy so I baked a cake, brewed some tea and we settled into an old film. Tired from a few days on the go and with a NE-E 20-25 knot wind forecast for the next day (stronger than usual for here), we considered staying a day or two. However, we were told that the boats had to clear the anchorage the following morning for a local rowing race to take place, and after a mad night swinging around in gusts up to 30 knots we decided to brave the elements and head north to Antigua anyway. Once again we raised the anchor before dawn. The wind was howling and we were somewhat fearful of what awaited us out at sea. And we were right to be fearful. It was hell! The waves were massive and as we ploughed into them they vented themselves over us, the splash often reaching half way up our mast soaking our courtesy flags. Poor Mark got soaked the most though as wave after wave pummelled into our cockpit as I sheltered under the spray hood. Thankfully as we cleared the top of Guadeloupe the sea gave us a bit of a break. The ride was still wild but we knuckled down with Free Spirit carrying a double-reefed main, staysail and a scrap of genoa and made good progress. We were quite relieved to enter the turquoise waters of Antigua some five hours later, with Mark and I both looking rather dishevelled.

Rough seas south of Dominica


Arriving in Antigua

POSTED BY NAT, 23/03/07
4th - 6th March 2007: Antigua

We really enjoyed our three day stay in Antigua. We took a bus to the capital St John’s and from there hopped on another taking us across the island to Falmouth Harbour, which is just next door to English Harbour where we stayed last year with Tristan and Emma (my brother and sister-in-law). We had no particular goal, we were simply keen to get off the boat and wander around on land for a while. At Falmouth we sat in a café watching the bustling of countless superyacht crew while we enjoyed the best cappuccino we have had in the Caribbean to date. We stayed on for lunch and headed back to St John’s where we explored a little and drank beers in a shady, cool wine bar. Just nearby we found the veggie café ‘Mama Lolly’s’, which Tris and Emma had visited the previous year, and to which I couldn't resist returning to for lunch the following day - veggie cafes are a bit of a novelty here in the Caribbean.

The bus rides here are quite different to England. While back during the winter months I would catch a bus from my parent’s home to work in Stamford, about nine miles away. Some days I would have this  40+ seater bus to myself most of the way, while other days it felt rather full with another four or five passengers to keep me company. Here buses leave when they are full. And by full I mean really full. There are say eight rows of seats, two seats on one side of the bus, one on the other. Just when you think it’s full and we’ll be off, more people arrive and fold down seats appear in the aisle. So now there must be over 30 people, four people to a row with no aisle plus shopping bags and children on laps. Then the game starts, it’s a bit like musical chairs at a party. To stop the bus you shout ‘Bus Stop’ (whereas in Grenada you knock on the roof of the bus) and then everyone shuffles around, sometimes with passengers pouring on to the pavement to allow one person to disembark. As we sat there, conveniently at the back of the bus, the panic soon set in. However thankfully ours was the last stop! It seems like such a good and efficient system to me, one that has life in it, whereas I wonder how much longer my bus at home will remain running with so few people seeming to need it.

While in Antigua we met Mike and Chris from Shropshire on their Vancouver 32, Reverie. We enjoyed having a nose around each other’s boats and discussing, over a couple of beers, the great number of advantages to having a Vancouver 32 over any other boat.

Ready to celebrate our arrival in Antigua

POSTED BY NAT, 23/03/07
7th - 11th March 2007: Nevis to Sint Maarten

On Wednesday 7th March we set off for Nevis. The sail there was downwind, something we had not done since our Atlantic crossing. The boat rolled as we clumsily set up the rig, finally settling on a reefed genoa and poled out staysail. The boat continued to roll all the way to Nevis (oh the forgotten joy of downwind sailing), and as I lay in the cockpit in a sort of rocked doze I spotted through squinted eyes a large fin behind the boat in our wake coming towards us. That woke me up fairly quickly and as I sat up I saw the large light blue shape moving through the water. It could only be one thing: a whale. With trembling knees I stood on the coach roof to get a better view and we saw two whales glide past, about twenty metres from our starboard quarter. For about three minutes we watched them go about their journey, it clearly looked like they had white undersides, making them Orcas, commonly known as Killer Whales (but we tried not to think about that at the time!) They looked to be slightly smaller than our boat. One blew and then they disappeared. Amazing.

We arrived in Nevis and anchored off the beautiful Pinney’s Beach. The following day we checked in and out at the same time and I got the bus to Bricklyn to pay a surprise visit to Emma’s Grandmother. It was lovely to see Georgina and Arthur Pemberton again and also Elrika who was on vacation. The rest of our stay was spent walking up and down the beach, swimming and chilling out with beers at fellow Vancouver 32 owners - Mark and Lindetta’s - beach bar Double Deuce.

On Saturday 10th March we got up at 0330 and raised anchor at 0400 to the light of a half moon. We were on our way again, this time into new waters for us. We motor-sailed up past St Kitts and at the north of the island we switched off the engine. We sailed through the channel between St Kitts and St Eustatia and out into the open sea bound for Sint Maarten. It was one of those days when the sailing was just perfect. The waves weren’t too big, the wind wasn’t too strong and it was coming from just the right direction. As we effortlessly swept towards our destination, we took turns to doze and kept ourselves busy with our books. At 1500 we anchored in Simpson Bay, on the Dutch side of the island (the other half is French) and it didn’t take us long to tidy up the boat and get ourselves back into bed, shattered after our early start.

Mark rowing off Pinney's Beach

Mark snorkeling - Nevis

POSTED BY NAT, 23/03/07
12th - 22nd March 2007: Sint Maarten

Mark spent most of the week jammed behind our toilet and under the bathroom sink plumbing in a holding tank for our toilet waste. This is a job that has been hanging over our heads for some time and is a requirement if we are to visit US coastal waters. After a number of days anchored out in the lagoon scouring the tax-free chandleries for parts and doing prep work, we moved into the marina so that we would have use of their facilities during the crux of the job. The install was done quickly and smoothly with minimal alteration to the boat, which was in no small part down to Mark's meticulous planning and all round greatness in DIY.

While in Sint Maarten we awoke one morning to find our outboard hanging off the back of our deflated dinghy, submerged in the sea. Cursing both ourselves and our trusted steed Dude, Mark set to on trying to revive it. We managed to get a final trip or two out of it before it gave up for good. Luckily we found a Yamaha agent on the French side of the island and so we purchased another 2HP. Although we should have been elated with our purchase, there is something rather dissatisfying about spending £250 for what you already had. However we can't complain as it runs brilliantly. We also treated ourselves to a new dinghy, a solid one as opposed to an inflatable. We've been lusting after a hard tender for over a year now, even to the point where Mark and his Dad actually built one over the summer. Although a bit more tippy than an inflatable, they are robust, row more easily, don't have to be pumped up all the time, don't weigh a ton and are much cheaper. So we are now the proud owners of a Walker Bay 8, and our Avon Dude - still in perfect working order - has been retired to the cockpit locker for a bit of a rest after some 16 years of service around the world.

Our new tender

POSTED BY NAT, 23/03/07
19th March 2007: Sint Maarten

After much consideration we've decided to sail back to England this year. Rather than try to pack too much into our remaining time here and risk missing the perfect weather window for our second Atlantic crossing we will spend the next 5-6 weeks exploring the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We will ready for our departure to Bermuda late April / early May and look forward to being back the British Isles for some summer cruising in home waters.

POSTED BY MARK &  NAT, 23/03/07
23rd March - 9th May 2007: Sint Maarten & the Virgin Islands

We ended up spending a lot more time in St Maarten than we had originally planned. The lagoon here is big and swell free and we couldn't help but enjoy night after night of undisturbed sleep. The supermarkets are as big as any Sainsbury's with a great selection of fresh food. The island of St Maarten is half Dutch, half French with the lagoon straddling both. We are anchored on the Dutch side where most of facilities are, however we often dinghy over to the French side for a coffee and croissant and a wander around the streets. It amazes us just how far from France we are and how much like France the French West Indies feel! Aside from the obvious language similarity, the streets are littered with Renault Clios, quaint street-side cafes, bakeries, pharmacies and boutiques. Throughout our Caribbean interlude the islands of the French West Indies have always appealed to us, our favourite being Martinique.

At the beginning of April our good friend Kieran on Dart Warrior finally caught up with us. The last time we saw him with his boat was in Portugal in September 2005. It was great to catch up with him. We followed him to the Virgins to meet up with his sister Suzy and her friend Dee. After a good overnight sail under a canopy of stars we arrived in Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda. From there we headed north to the beautiful Virgin Sound and anchored off Prickly Pear Island for a couple of nights, with a secluded beach all to ourselves. Our 'holiday' came to an abrupt end as a 47' catamaran drove into the back of us while we were at anchor, ironically in the 'Bitter End' anchorage. Luckily for us the damage was not structural and the catamaran was a Moorings charter boat i.e. insured.  We promptly went to the Moorings Marina on Tortola Island where we remained for a week while the repairs were completed. Although it was all a bit of a battle (general incompetence) we did enjoy the free use of their facilities including a great swimming pool. 

Thoroughly fed up of the British Virgins we decided to head straight for the island of St Johns, part of the US Virgin Islands. Disappointingly, Customs and Immigration here were very unprofessional - the worse we have experienced in the Caribbean, which is a bit of a shock seeing as it is technically America. Cruz Bay on St John's was a dump but the rest of the island made up for it, the majority of it designated as a National Park. We wished we could have stayed longer but all of a sudden the wind shifted to the south and we were presented with a perfect window to sail back to St Maarten. With St Maarten located to the east of The Virgins and the trade winds usually blowing strongly from the east, this brief wind change couldn't be ignored. We had a fantastic night sail back accompanied by many jumping dolphins, which is quite unusual for the Caribbean.

The past two weeks have been spent preparing us and Free Spirit for our upcoming transatlantic crossing. The rigging has been inspected, halyards and lines replaced, provisions purchased, engine serviced, medical kit renewed, and our heavy weather rig tested. In between the work we have found time to relax and we feel more prepared than ever to cross the Atlantic once more.

We long to be out there again. Just us, our boat and the big open ocean.

Sailing with Dart Warrior again

Dee, Kieran & Suzy snorkelling

Mark reading on a quiet beach

Free Spirit at anchor

POSTED BY NAT, 09/05/07

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