Dominica

On Saturday the 17th March, we made an early start from the anchorage in St Pierre. We had a good easterly wind for the passage to Dominica but were in wind shadow until a gentle westerly took us along the Dominican west coast. We could see what appeared to be widespread hurricane damage to the rain forest, with a lot of bare trees and landslides in the mountains. We sailed past the capital Roseau and proceeded to Prince Rupert bay.

IMG_3105_Dom_PortsmouthPortsmouth, Prince Rupert bay

The local boatmen have formed a consortium, PAYS, to provide moorings and other services and we ended up on one of their moorings after a false start on a temptingly large mooring, which turned out to be private. We were not far from the beach, opposite the roofless ruins of a hotel.

IMG_3099_Dom_RooflessRoofless, like many buildings in Dominica

The Indian River winds through the swamp to spill into Prince Rupert Bay. The PAYS office fixed us a guide to row us up the river next morning. We had some trouble getting hold of PAYS next day, but were eventually given a lift in a skiff to the river entrance.  Here we had to go to a nearby garage to get a permit, then went up Indian river in the guide’s boat. He pointed out the different trees, green iguana and various birds (green heron, egret, bananaquit etc) and explained the damage done by the hurricane. He had cleared many trees himself, to make the river accessible. At a cafe- stop, we chatted over a beer to the guide and barman about their experiences of the hurricane & the local people’s skill in surviving the appalling experience. The river trip has clearly changed a lot, with many large trees gone, but it was still interesting.

 

Dom_IndianRiver2Shattered rain forest up the Indian River

That evening, we went to the PAYS barbecue along with over 50 other cruising sailors. This was a friendly affair featuring grilled fish, chicken, rice & salad, well lubricated with as much rum punch (or fruit juice) as you could drink. We rowed boldly away afterwards, taking a rather circuitous route to our boat.

Dom_IndianRiver1Mangrove swamp, Indian River

On Monday morning we took the dinghy a mile or so across the bay to find the customs office. Two guys on the beach scraping a boat came over to help, and directed us to the commercial jetty, where the customs and immigration office was located behind a World Food Aid tent. Checking in and out was straightforward if slow.

On our return we landed on a slip below Fort Shirley (near the cruise ship dock which had been trashed by the hurricane), and bought permits to visit the Cabrits national park. Up the hill the main fort has been cleared and seems in good repair, and many of the tracks through the forest were cleared or in progress. We walked to the Douglas Bay battery, a series of tumbledown buildings and defensive wall, overgrown with jungle. Large canon lay amongst the ruins. A variety of butterflies flew among the cleared paths, and alongside lay the cleared baulks of teak and other fallen trees. We had hoped to scramble down to the shore beyond the fort, but the jungle was too dense and the way too steep. So afterwards we took the dinghy round the point and beached it with some effort on the pebbles and boulders. R took pic of J with corals and shells, then went swimming. On return to the boat, he realised that his phone had been swimming too. We tried to flush out the seawater with gin (in the absence of 99% alcohol) and buried it the dry rice box to dry for a few days, but it did not revive, so we lost most of our pictures of Dominica!

IMG_3113_Dom_FortShirleyFort Shirley, and the wrecked cruise ship terminal

In the morning we hauled the rubber dinghy on deck (upside down on top of nesting dinghy), and sailed out of the bay, taking a few photos with J’s phone as we went. Our course was NE for Marie Galante. The scene was dramatic with dark rain clouds over the rocky northern mountains of Dominica, then we had a good SE wind most of the way. That afternoon we were anchored in the bay west of St Louis.

 

Martinique

On Monday 5th March, R motored the rubber dinghy into Rodney Bay to check out at customs, immigration and the port authority, then the dinghy was loaded on deck and we set off through a huge mat of weed, past Pigeon Island and north towards Martinique. We had good weather and a light ESE wind to help us along. Weed choked the engine filter so this had to be cleaned not long after we cleared St Lucia. Our planned destination was the beach anchorage at St Anne, but with stronger winds forecast we sailed on into the huge protected estuary of Le Marin, and anchored between some islets and a shallow bank (le Banc Major) on the west side.  Le Marin is a big sailing centre, and it was nice to see this included the Gommier, local traditional boats originally carved from the trunk of the Gommier tree.

IMG_2968_MTQ_TradBoat1Gommier hauled out on the beach. Note the long sprit, steering oar and poles for leaning out.

IMG_3006_MTQ_TradBoat2The same boat setting out downwind

From here in the dinghy we could make our way across the shoals, past an egret colony and many wrecks in the mangroves, then through hundreds of moorings to the town of Le Marin (a distance of just under a mile). We made several such sorties into town. First, we had to check in to Martinique, which was the easiest yet – a customs terminal in the marina office. Then we set out to discover the comparatively excellent supermarkets (Leader Price has its own dinghy dock, and Carrefour is nearby). Our stock of wine, beer and rum were replenished. We also bought canned and preserved goods for the months ahead, including the voyage back to the UK. We also made use of the laundry at the dockside bar at the Caren Antilles boatyard, which also had wifi so we could download our daily paper and emails.

IMG_2977_MTQ_LeaderPriceThe popular dinghy dock at Leader Price supermarket

 

Our purchase of a data SIM card from Orange France ended in failure, because the guy in the shop lacked the expertise to configure it properly. We won’t be using Orange France again!

IMG_2967_MTQ_CattleEgretGrazing cattle near the beach, complete with egret

 

We wanted to check out the beach at St Anne, so after several enquiries and false starts (there seem to be no formal bus stops or timetables) managed to catch a bus going there, and walked along the shore. It’s a huge long beach with a lot of boats anchored off, but clearly the best spot would be off the Pirate Bar at Anse Caritan, which has its own dinghy dock. At one end of the beach lay a big ketch that had clearly been swept ashore and abandoned. This was to be a common sight, and there were many derelict or sunk yachts in the harbour and mangroves near Le Marin, some no doubt victims of Hurricane Maria the previous year.

IMG_2981_MTQ_TrashedYachtsAbandoned and sunk yachts after last year’s hurricanes

 

Another day we landed the dinghy at a fishing jetty near the anchorage, and found our way up and up winding roads dotted with houses and livestock, including cows, chickens and bees to the top of Morne Gommier, where there are great views over Le Marin and St Anne, as well as to the SW coast and some of the interior.

IMG_3061_MTQ_View_LeMarinLe Marin from Morne Gommier (spot Ambition 2)

IMG_3060_MTQ_View_DiamondRockView towards Diamond Rock to the SW

IMG_3048_MTQ_BeehivesBeehives in lush forest on the hillside.

Back on the boat there were rust-spots to clean and paint. The warm weather accelerates the rusting process, so it pays to catch every spot before it spreads! While working on this (or just idling in the cockpit) we were entertained by a succession of ships which anchored nearby to load yachts for transport to the Med or other places. The first was a conventional cargo ship which craned the boats on deck. The next was a purpose-built floating dock, which sank down until its deck was underwater, and the yachts were floated in over the stern. After they were all aboard, the ship rose up from the depths as props were placed round the yachts and welded into place. There are some film clips on the net : search for the ship’s name “Super servant 4”.

IMG_3034_MTQ_YachtFreight1One of the yacht transporters in Le Marin

 

One afternoon as we were sitting watching the ship loading, R noticed something float by, quickly stripped off and dived in. It was a Tilley hat! It had been floating around for a while, but J scrubbed it and after the sun had bleached the stains it was fine for sailing, and a good fit. J’s best Tilley hat was lost to the Atlantic, so it was good to get one back.

After a week at anchor in Le Marin, we motored Ambition II round to the marina on Tuesday 13th March to fill our water tanks. Then, with lighter winds in prospect, we moved out past St Anne, to Anse Caritan, and anchored just off the Pirate Bar. Here we had ice creams and rum punch while watching the local birds which frequent the bar, and nest in branches overhanging the sea.

Next morning we set off for a long walk around the Southern peninsular of Martinique, not sure how far we would get but planning to get a bus or taxi back to St Anne. The trail leads through dry forest along the shore, past beaches of white sand and rocky headlands. There are great saline ponds and marshes at the southernmost part, rich with wildlife. What we mostly saw were land crabs, which live in burrows everywhere. Many of the larger burrows were covered with wooden traps – clearly there is a market for land-crab meat. Some beaches were deserted, on one the attire was informal (or completely lacking), whilst others were popular family beaches.

image1 _MTQ_AnseCaretanNestsBeach at Anse Caretan, with bird nests overhanging the sea

As we reached the east coast, the scenery became even more dramatic, with rocky islands and sweeping reddish cliffs, interspersed with deep bays. After wading through the stream which links the marshes to the sea (there’s a bridge but it only covers the middle, with precarious stepping stones each side) we crossed a great bare hillside, then walked through more woodland by the sea, often finding hermit crabs in our path, in colourful shells of all sizes. Eventually we reached the Bay Des Anglais, accessible to boats but only through a narrow channel through the reefs. We now discovered how isolated is this part of the coast, with few visitors making it by car along several miles of rough track. Certainly no busses or taxis!  Wearily we started walking, and 10 minutes later waved a couple of thumbs at the first car to pass. They stopped, and took us all the way to St Anne! We did our best with our poor French to keep up a conversation and thank them for rescuing us.

IMG_3063_MTQ_View_StAnneView of St Anne (centre) and the peninsular round to Baie des Anglais ( top left)

On March 15th we weighed anchor and sailed with a following wind West from St Anne, outside the Diamond Rock, and on to Grande Anse d’Arlet. Diamond Rock was apparently once occupied by the British who filled the rock with caves to defend it whilst blockading Martinique.  The rock is hardly bigger than the ships of the day. On reaching the Grande Anse, we found the anchorage quite packed and the only available space in 10m of water and quite steep-to. Nevertheless we held our spot overnight, and it was only in the morning during breakfast that we noticed the anchorage slipping past us! Quickly hauling in the chain, we set sail as if nothing had happened, and headed north round Cap Solomon and across the Bay de Fort de France.

We reached St Pierre in the afternoon, and anchored (twice just in case) south of the town. Rowing the rubber dinghy in to the beach, we visited the restaurant where they have a customs terminal, and declared our intention of checking out of Martinique the next day, destination Dominica. There was still time to walk up the hill to see the ruins of the theatre and prison, maintained as a reminder of the volcanic eruption that destroyed the town in 1905.

St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines

After a convivial couple of days with the crew of Fortino in Rodney Bay, we settled in t St Lucia, to be joined a couple of weeks later by daughter Jn with partner Rl and their 3-month old baby Io. It was a time of high winds, and it was a rolly anchorage at times, so we were glad that the weather improved before the family arrived.

IMG_2594_StLuc_Marigot_PirateShipPirate trip boat in Marigot Bay, St Lucia

We moved to Marigot Bay where they had booked a B&B for the start of their holiday.  After 3 nights on a buoy in the outer bay, we took a pontoon berth (stern-to) at the marina which is attached to the posh hotel (complete with swimming pool). Marigot Bay is very sheltered, so we enjoyed calm water even on the buoy. We were visited by various ‘boat boys’ – some of whom could not even afford a boat and traded fruit and vegetables from sailboards etc. Large vessels packed with day trippers visited from Rodney Bay, the small ferries crossed to the beach and back – there was plenty going on. The scenery was lush and beautiful, although the mangroves were a little smelly. In the marina, we were in the small boat category for once, being under 50ft long. The baby had her first swimming lessons in the hotel pool and soon got used to the water.

IMG_2629_StLuc_Marigot_SupYachtsSuperyachts in Marigot Bay (spot the helicopter)

As our visitors had a hire-car, we all took a trip to Souffriere, 10 miles to the south. The roads are pretty hairy but the views stunning, especially the volcanic plugs known as the Pitons. We all enjoyed exploring Souffriere, which has colourful buildings in many states of repair. J expressed her thanks for Rl’s careful driving but decided to stick to water borne transport in future.

IMG_2596_StLuc_Pitons1The Pitons, St Lucia

We also visited a former plantation where many species of fruit-bearing tree are still cultivated, as well as orchids ad other flowers. It was interesting to see the process from cocoa bean to chocolate! The chocolate made on the premises was expensive but delicious.

IMG_2611_StLuc_Plantation_CocoaFruitsCocoa pods on the tree

IMG_2616_StLuc_Plantation_DryingTrayAntique cocoa bean drying trays

Another day we visited the market in nearby Castries, where we could buy and sample some of the fruits we had seen on the tree. The sour -sap fruits were the most interesting – a natural version of the penny fruit salad sweets that some of us remembered from childhood.

IMG_2628_StLuc_Castries_GraffitiGraffiti in Castries (on the back of the police station)

With all 5 of us aboard, we sailed south for St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was a rougher crossing than expected – too much for some! But the baby was OK, rocked to sleep in her hammock, slung in the pilot berth. When she awoke, she was entertained in the downwind corner of the saloon seats, with her toys on the table and many entrancing mobiles: the fruit nets, the tea towels and the swaying lantern. In calmer waters, she enjoyed being up in the cockpit but it was easier to lull her off to sleep in the corner below.

IMG_2647_StLuc_BabyHammockBaby in hammock at sea

IMG_3089_AsleepOnTheJobAsleep on the job

 

It was almost dark as we arrived in Cumberland Bay, St Vincent, so we were glad to see a local boat heading out to greet us. With help, we anchored off the beach with a long stern line ashore. Cumberland Bay was beautiful, with lush trees right down to the shore.

IMG_2661_StVincent_CumberlandBayMoored to a coconut palm in Cumberland Bay

Next morning, we motored round to the next bay, Wallilabou, which was one of the settings for the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Here we were under siege from guys selling local produce and offering various services. One guy (we’ll call him “Beach”) had only a paddle board and always showed up smoking a spliff. We ended up with a good supply of coconuts and a bag of random small green fruit purchased from local youths, which in the fullness of time turned out to be limes, lemons and oranges. These took some hours to arrive so we did wonder whose garden(s) they came from.

 

IMG_2673_StVincent_Wallilabou_CoffinsPirates of the Caribbean film set at Wallilabou

IMG_2694_StVincent_Wallilabou_Jetty2Moored off the jetty at Wallilabou

We ate a tasty lunch including local vegetables at the pirate bar and then had a look around the various film props and items in an idiosyncratic collection (old telephone equipment & Carib pottery).  This was followed by a walk up the road to a waterfall, guided of course by Beach. The former dammed stream serving a sugar mill wheel has been converted to a garden and the pool below the waterfall makes a fun place for a cool dip.

IMG_2726_StVincent_Wallilabou_Pool1Wild swimming upriver at Wallilabou – Jn was first in the water…

IMG_2736_StVincent_Wallilabou_Pool2…followed by the guys

Next day we bought some fresh fish (Mai-Mai) from one of the boats and set off for the Grenadine island of Bequia. It was an easier sail, and we picked up a mooring on arrival, and cooked the fish for a late lunch before Jn and family caught a water-taxi ashore. They had a couple of B&B nights booked inland. The local traditional sailboats (presumably a relic from the whaling days) could be seen sailing in the harbour, or in various states of repair on the beach.

IMG_2771_Bequia_TroubleRemains of a traditional boat, Bequia

We spent a pleasant afternoon at Lower bay beach on Bequia and had lunch at a great local café (Dawn’s) tucked away at the western side. We enjoyed an interesting walk back to the main town along Princess Margaret beach, coastal paths and one or two more exciting sets of steps.

There is strong community involvement in sailing, with young sailors out in Optimists, teenagers learning the ropes on faster boats and older sailors taking part in competitive rallies round the local islands. Bequia is a popular island with cruisers and its friendly family ambience, large safe harbour and varied scenery all contribute to its appeal.

IMG_2791_Bequia_MoreWorriesYouth sailing, Bequia

We launched Tringa, our own sailing tender, to get about the harbour. Jn and Rl both went out with R in the dinghy and took turns on the helm.

IMG_2820_Bequeia_TringaTringa in Bequia

All aboard again, we set off for Canouan, some 15 miles south, where we booked into the new marina in Glossy Bay next to the airport – part of a resort complex which is still being developed. At $90 US per night it was the most expensive ever, and no wonder it is almost completely empty! However, the staff were helpful, the facilities were luxurious, and it served as a handy base to explore the nearby Tobago Cays. Canouan has large resort developments in the north and the south of the islands, with the local population living largely around the village in the middle. There is a more marked contrast in the space available for locals and visitors than in other islands that we visited.

 

IMG_2835_GlossyBayMarinaThe empty Glossy Bay marina, Canouan

An afternoon was spent on one of the attractive southern beaches of Canouan, fronted by a wide sandy lagoon with surf on the reef beyond. Amongst the trees behind the beach we found land tortoises, and on the shore, conch and sea-urchin shells.

IMG_2838_Bequia_TortoiseLand tortoise on Canouan

Back on board, the Ship’s baby was getting into the ropes (eating them) and other equipment. She too was signed on as part of the crew when we checked in at Customs, and has “By Sea, Ambition II” on her passport stamp!

IMG_2849_ShipsBabyShip’s Baby inspects the equipment

Next morning, we negotiated the reefs of Tobago Cays, and moored in about 3m of lovely clear water over sand, to the south of the island called Baradal. We soon noticed the turtles bobbing up for air near the boat. We were in the ‘turtle watching area’ and it lived up to its name!

IMG_2850_TobagoCays_TurtleTurtle coming up for air, Tobago Cays

After taking turns to swim with the turtles, we all went ashore in the rubber dinghy to Petit Bateau to partake of the sumptuous beach barbecue – lobsters and tuna steaks with rice and salad dishes, and Carib beer.

IMG_2858_TobagoCays_BBQBBQ lobster and tuna, on the beach at Tobago Cays

The beach scenery here is stunning. Stingrays swim along the shore to be fed scraps from the barbecue, and metre-long iguana hunt on the sand.

IMG_2868_TobagoCays_BeachAnchorage and islands to the West of Petit Bateau, Tobago Cays

IMG_2877_TobagoCays_Beach_JRIRl, Jn & baby on Petit Bateau

IMG_2883_TobagoCays_IguanaIguana, Tobago Cays

A couple of us took the dinghy out to the reef, where small red mooring buoys are provided.  The coral heads were mostly blanched and dead, though a few live corals remained, and colourful fish swam between them. Later we returned to Glossy Bay for the night, and next day headed North again to St Vincent, where we checked into the Blue Lagoon marina (after navigating the narrow entrance with just a few inches over the bar – just like at home on the East Coast).

IMG_2914_StVincent_BlueLagoonBlue Lagoon, St Vincent

The restaurant provided another fine barbecue-buffet. Next day Jn and family caught a plane back to St Lucia where another B&B was booked at Rodney Bay. Ambition II stayed another night in St Vincent then checked out and headed north to join them, anchoring overnight in Souffriere Bay. The B&B came with a garden mooring so Ambition II was tied up alongside!

IMG_2962_StLuc_AdmiralsQuayMoored at Admiral’s Quay

All too soon it was time for Jn and family to return to the UK. Ambition II was stocked up from the local store and moved out to the anchorage. Next morning, there was a slow swell and we were surrounded by weed! The sea weed that had looked so interesting in strings out in the Atlantic turned into a menace when it gathered in huge mats near the coast of islands. One of the beaches on Bequia had to be temporarily closed until the heaps of drying weed could be removed. After we set off from St Lucia, the engine temperature got a little high, and R had to clear the weed out of the intake filter.

IMG_2965_StLuc_RodneyBay_WeedSurrounded by weed in Rodney Bay

We were relaxing in the Caribbean warmth which was a huge contrast to the weather in the UK as it recovered from the aftermath of ‘the Beast from the East’. Once again, our friends from the RSA helped out when problems arose at home in our absence – much appreciated!

Jn, Rl and the baby flew home, leaving us with many happy memories.

OSMH1007_Baby_on_boardBaby on board!

 

Antigua

Mon 15th Feb

Our first attempt at anchoring in Freeman Bay, after the Atlantic crossing, found poor holding and we dragged into the fairway narrowly missing a superyacht. We quickly relocated and found some good sand, but it was rather crowded and caused concern to a Norwegian neighbour. R rowed in to Nelson’s Dockyard to check in with Customs, Immigration and the Port office (an arduous process) leaving J to placate the neighbours. Later we moved again, enlisting the help of the Norwegian and his Corsican crew, to lay bow and stern anchors off the beach. Later that evening our new friends joined us for a few drinks.  The anchorage was popular and there was always some entertainment as new arrivals tried to find a space to anchor, or worried about bumping other boats. There were people diving to inspect their ground tackle, people in dinghies carrying out extra anchors, and any amount of advice given. This anxiety seemed particularly to affect a few boats with German flags, for some reason, and we named the syndrome Anker Angst.

IMG_2363_Antigua_BeachShotAmbition II and Tringa in Freeman Bay

R also paid a visit to Antigua Slipways, the boatyard opposite Nelsons Dockyard, to see about getting Ambition II hauled out so we could draw out the prop shaft and replace the cutlass bearing. This had been arranged in advance by email, and Deon, the yard manager, was most helpful and agreed to haul us out on Wednesday.

In the boatyard

On Wednesday morning the anchors came aboard at 07:00 and we tied up alongside the boatyard to wait our turn on the slip. After only a couple of hours delay R was instructed to bring Ambition II round to the slipway, where a trolley had been let down into the water. Only a platform at the front was showing, with a man conducting the boat in. After positioning the vessel, hydraulic arms were raised to grip the hull (the operator dived round the boat to check the pads were correctly placed). Then the trolley was hauled up by cable, the boat rising out of the water. The trolley was transferred to a tractor and taken to a space in the yard where the boat was stood on blocks and chocked up. Given the pot-holed state of the slipway, the operation was done with great skill!

IMG_3084_Antigua_Launch1On the slipway

So began 5 days of life at the top of a ladder. We could not run the fridge (which needs seawater for cooling) so had to buy ice each day. Otherwise the boat’s systems ran normally, but it was hot and dusty in the yard, with little wind. J had been ill for several days, and was now feeling much worse, so on Saturday we took a taxi to the ABSAR medical station (at Antigua Yacht Club, Falmouth Harbour) where an excellent volunteer practitioner provided effective antibiotics (our medical kit does have antibiotics but not the ones we needed in this case). ABSAR is a volunteer organisation run on a similar basis to the RNLI, so we were glad to make a suitable donation.

An engineer, L, was assigned to us to advise on the prop shaft work. We spent a lot of time waiting for L, but his expertise was useful and we finally fitted the new bearing on Saturday. Meanwhile we scrubbed the hull below the waterline, and R applied two coats of antifoul. We had some remarks from the guys in the yard as we used three remnants of antifouling paint –  two red and one blue!

We had been using Butane gas for cooking since October when our Propane bottles ran out (we could not get them refilled in Europe or Cape Verde). Here in Antigua we could get Propane, and Deon kindly arranged for our bottles to be taken to the local agent, Jane’s Yacht Services. We later picked them up by taxi and craned them aboard. The cooker burns better now and the grill no longer trips the CO alarm!

On Monday morning (22nd) the yard backed the trolley underneath our boat, removed the chocks and slipped us back into the water. We anchored that night in Tank Bay near the dockyard, then returned to our beach anchorage in the morning. Sometimes things happened a little slowly in the yard, but the staff were friendly and helpful. The cost was similar to what we would have paid in the UK.

IMG_2351_Antigua_Launch2Transferring the launch trolley to the cable

 

Provisioning, including a bus ride to St Johns

The never-ending quest for internet access led us on a long hot walk around Falmouth Harbour. It turned out that the local mobile providers had over-sold capacity and had stopped selling SIM cards. It was to be a week before we could obtain one, meanwhile we picked up free WIFI where we could.

Along the way we tried several supermarkets. The best “local” store is Geny’s, but it’s a bit of a hike, so we generally used the Covent Garden store (rumoured to be part of the Jamie Oliver empire) which has its own dinghy landing stage in Tank Bay.

IMG_2443_Antigua_TankBayJettyThe supermarket jetty in Tank Bay

One afternoon we rowed into the harbour and waited for a bus to St Johns, Antigua’s capital. Busses don’t run to a schedule but come along fairly often. It’s a bumpy ride across the island, the whole way a ribbon development of shacks great and small. On arrival at the SW bus station we walked along Market Road, which was bustling with people and traffic, and colourful with shops and stalls. After googling the way to the Epicurean supermarket (of which we’d heard good reports), we headed for the NW bus station, procured tokens from a stall and hopped on a school bus out of town. An epic journey already!

The Epicurean supplied our needs – replenishing our tinned stock after the Atlantic crossing, tea from China and Ceylon, etc. Fruit and veg would have been better from the market, but by that time we had to head back. Luckily the next bus went direct to the SW bus station, where another was leaving shortly for English Harbour. It was almost full, but we crammed in with our bulging rucksacks and two large bags.  More people climbed aboard, and the bus set off.  If someone at the back had to leave, those of us occupying folding seats in the aisle had to get off. Some crazy DJ music played loudly as we hurtled along the pot-holed roads, or waited in the frequent jams. An experience not to be missed – and the fares were really cheap!

Trails and Ruins

One morning we rowed ashore and walked up to the flagstaff at Charlotte Point. This was the first exercise for J since her illness. A diverse mix of vegetation lined the path, at the top a few ruins and the flagstaff still used to start yacht races. There are excellent views here of the coast and harbour, with Monserrat in the distance.

IMG_2378_Antigua_PointCharlotte_View1English Harbour  from Fort Charlotte

On returning to the boat R stripped down and cleaned the heads diverter valve in the workshop (source of a horrible smell), then went for a swim. He was gone some time having spotted a turtle and explored the outer reef which is home to some colourful fish and corals. J became concerned and sent out a search party! We had frequent swims around the boat where turtles graze on the sea-grass. On the beach and underwater are several old anchors and chains that were placed there by the Navy to hold sailing ships. Now they provide a useful base for a variety of marine life.

Later we took the dinghy across to the ruins of Fort Barclay. Just underwater we spotted the remains of a post and tied the dinghy to it to hold it off the ruined steps, while we explored the remains of the rampart, guardhouse and powder store. This fort guarded the entrance to the bay for the 200 years or so during which English Harbour was a Royal Navy base.

IMG_2396_Antigua_FortBerkleyFort Barclay, with Charlotte point opposite and Shirley Heights above

IMG_2407_Antigua_FortBarclay_StepsJ by the ruined steps at Fort Barclay

Next morning during breakfast there was a twang as the stern anchor warp parted where it had chafed on a steel fitting. R let out the broken end and dived to tie it onto the anchor chain, then hauled the boat back into position. With an onshore breeze (rare here) we could have been on the beach!

On 31st Jan we got up early to watch the “Supermoon” set behind the hill. The lunar eclipse was not visible from here, but the large red moon was pretty impressive. Later we landed on the beach near the café and walked up the Lookout Trail to Shirley Heights. This path is described as “easy” and “half a mile”, which does not adequately convey its steep ascent through scrubby trees festooned with bromeliads, then up a rocky ridge with great views over the harbour.

IMG_2382_Antigua_Trail_BromeliadTrees festooned with bromeliads

After a brief rest at the top, we returned via the Jones Valley Trail which was “easy” and “1 mile” but was also not for the faint hearted, with extensive stretches of bouldering down a storm-gulley. Both paths were full of interest, being largely through dry forest with many unfamiliar plants. Shirley Heights has commanding views over the coast and harbour, and there are military ruins and abandoned gravestones along the way.

IMG_2489_Antigua_TrailRavineBouldering (Jones Trail)

Of course, we also walked around Nelsons Dockyard with its historic buildings and remains of carronades and great windlasses, and indulged in a drink at the former officers’ mess. This area is one of Antigua’s main tourist attractions and it was a great place to call home for a couple of weeks, especially since the transatlantic rowing crews were arriving while we were there, with loud blasts from ships’ horns and cheers from the other crews for every boat as they came in. The local wildlife also caught our attention. We saw our first hummingbird while walking back from a swim on Pigeon Beach and R was so entranced by the pelicans fishing off the slipway that he failed to notice his 18 ton yacht coming down behind him!

IMG_2420_Antigua_AdixClassic yachts at Nelsons Dockyard

Mystical

A fellow Roach sailor, SN, keeps his Nicholson ketch Mystical at English Harbour, and had suggested we try Antigua Slipways. We found ourselves parked four boats along from Mystical, and SN himself arrived at the end of the month. We shared several convivial drinks and meals together and hope to meet up again when Mystical is afloat.

 

Further South

On Friday 2nd Feb after breakfast, we packed up the dinghy, awning etc and attached the genoa to the furler, and generally made ready for sea. The day before, R had checked out at Customs, Immigration and the port authority (an even more arduous process than checking in). We raised both anchors at about 8:45 and motored into Antigua Slipways to fill water tanks (90 gallons). SN took our lines and helped with watering.

We sailed for Martinique, intending to meet the crew of Fortino. We first met them in Funchal, then Santa Cruz, and they had crossed to Cape Verde and Barbados.

 

IMG_2501_Antigua_MonsarratMonserrat smoking in the distance

We had a fair wind for the crossing to Guadeloupe, with Monserrat smoking gently to the south of our passage. We passed Guadeloupe in darkness, keeping a wary eye out for the buoys marking the ‘fish aggregation devices’ which were shown on the chart but never seen. There were more ships off this island than we saw in the whole Atlantic, so there was plenty to keep us alert. We emerged from the shelter of the island in the early hours. Still in darkness we passed Les Saintes and crossed the next gap (which was a bit lumpy), into the shelter of Dominica. Dominica is very mountainous and we slowed to 2Kn in its wind – shadow, putting on the engine until we reached the southern end.  There were many yachts making an early start along the coast in the morning and also many rubber dinghies offshore – presumably fishing.

 

IMG_2510_Antigua_Dominica_ShearwaterShearwater in flight off Dominica

After lunch we crossed the next gap, heading for St Pierre, Martinique, where we anchored about 17:00 below the ruins. The first photo of St Pierre shows the notorious volcano, Mont Pelee which killed about 30,000 people (all the residents except one in gaol and one in his cellar), when it exploded in 1902. The town is now small and pleasant, the volcano ‘dormant’ and the harbour still contains the remains of ships that sank during the eruption.

IMG_2521_Antigua_Martinique_StPierre2IMG_2520_Antigua_Martinique_StPierre1St Pierre, Martinique

When we arrived off St Pierre we got an email from Fortino, saying that they were still in St Lucia, so we decided to carry on in the morning to Rodney Bay. We had mostly light winds and  motored all the way, pushing to arrive at Rodney Bay in daylight. In the channel between Martinique and St Lucia, the wind became stronger and the sea got up a bit, but we continued motor-sailing. Rodney Bay is hard to make out from this angle so it was a relief to round the point and come into the shelter of Pigeon Island, where we anchored as the sun set.

Next morning R sailed our dinghy round the bay and found Fortino, so we re-anchored nearby and met to compare our voyages.

IMG_2540_Antigua_StLucia1Fortino (pursued by G the greengrocer) in Rodney Bay, Pigeon Island in the background

Atlantic crossing: Cape Verde to Antigua

The anchorage at Mindelo is more peaceful than the marina, where the constant wind and swell causes the boats and pontoon to strain at their moorings. Here we made final preparations for the crossing – stowing ropes and fenders, fitting the Hydrovane rudder, setting up the running sail booms, stowing all away below. Also importantly, a good meal and night’s sleep to set us up! Ahead was a voyage of 2,100 miles to the West. We would not be able to use the engine for propulsion because of the failed cutlass bearing, but that was not a great worry as the NE Trades blow consistently at this time of year.

We sailed under triple-reefed main and staysail at about 8am on 29th December. Visibility was better at the start than it had been throughout our stay in Cape Verde, but not for long. We headed out of the bay and steered a course to pass a few miles south of the high island of Santo Antao. By midday we were passing its high cliffs and getting 30 knots of wind at times in the inevitable acceleration zone. Suddenly to the SW of the island we ran into its wind shadow and calms – the rig slatting about on the swell. We drifted south for an hour, then picked up a little wind along with some other yachts that had caught us up. By evening we had been subjected to winds from the north through to SE, strengths from 5 knot to 30, and confused seas. Only after dark had we made enough distance from the island to get a steady NE wind, by which time we were down to just the staysail. The yachts were out of sight ahead by this time, and we would not see another vessel for the next thousand miles.

IMG_2144_XA_SaoAntaoCliffs of Sao Antao

Winds continued strong for most of the following week, generally 20-25 knots from the NE with a 3M swell, and waves overtaking us less than 10 seconds apart. We were able to set the twin headsails most of the time, usually well reefed, sometimes with the staysail hauled in for stability. Progress was good, but uncomfortable at times, and it’s tiring to be out surfing 24 hours a day (with 12 hours of darkness). The biggest waves were probably near 5m high; Ambition II would slow to under 4 knots in the troughs, then accelerate to 7 or 8 on the front of each wave (on many occasions exceeding 10 knots which meant it was time to reduce sail some more!). But the boat behaved well and the Hydrovane kept us on-course with only the occasional tweak. In spite of the high waves rolling down behind, there was little cause for concern except for the occasional breaking wave which sent dollops into the cockpit!

Cooking became very difficult in these conditions, but we always managed a decent breakfast (porridge or muesli and maybe eggs or beans with bread or leftover spuds), a salad lunch (that meant a tin of sweetcorn after the fresh stuff was all gone), and a hot dinner. All our bananas took a flying dive out of the fruit net, and some of the ripe ones were ruined, but the green ones survived and gradually ripened. Apples and oranges kept well (but we should have bought more). Green tomatoes from the fridge ripened in the net, root vegetables and onions kept fine under one of the saloon seats. We made 2 successful batches of yogurt in vacuum flasks (sterilise with boiling water, fill with UHT milk and add a spoonful of natural yogurt, seal for 24 hours), but the 3rd generation went off due to fridge problems. Several batches of flat bread were made (mix flour, baking powder and milk, knead and stand, roll and fry), and pancakes made a welcome change.  The smoked waxed curado cheeses from Tenerife kept very well right to the end of the voyage.

And then there was the Tinned Camembert. I think it was Moitissier who wrote of the merits of French cheese in a tin, and our family got the idea of importing a case of it for our Xmas present (in 2016).  Getting near its sell-by date in 2018 it was just maturing nicely for us!

Apart from the cheese and root veg, we lived on tins for the last half of the voyage. We had plenty of vegetables and fish but rather a lot of meals containing beans. There was no shortage of wind this trip! In future, we’ll avoid trying new varieties of beans mid – Atlantic… One morning there was a particularly good haul of flying fish on deck which, after de-scaling and cleaning, went in the frying pan for lunch.

IMG_2151_XA_FlyingFishFlying fish for lunch!

After the first week we had slightly lighter winds (average 18-20 knots) and on the whole calmer seas, though we still had occasional bouts of 25 knots and sizeable waves. We began to have warmer weather, nice blue skies with fluffy cumulus clouds, and a slightly more comfortable ride. Sleeping and tasks below became a little easier! By this time, we had tried sleeping in the fore cabin, pilot berth and saloon, with limited success due to being tossed around. Finally, we lay cockpit cushions on the floor in the passage leading to the aft cabin and slept more securely in this narrow space. (the berth of last resort). We were also getting adept at cat-napping for 10 minute intervals when on-watch, in between checking the horizon for other vessels.

IMG_2182_XA_J_RelaxingTrade wind sailing – 15 knot wind, blue sky, fluffy white clouds

It soon became apparent that the domestic batteries were not holding enough charge. The fridge was a big consumer and was struggling to keep the food cool. The lights were growing dim so on the 3rd evening we had to run the engine for 45 minutes to recharge the batteries.  A piece of wood was lashed to the prop shaft to stop it turning, but still we had to heave-to to prevent the shaft from crashing about in the shattered bearing. So far the shaft seal only leaked slightly when the prop was turning, but we couldn’t risk the damage getting worse. Heaving-to under bare poles worked well, and gave an opportunity to do some jobs below with relatively little motion, or just have dinner! After that we ran the fridge for shorter periods each day, and after most of the fresh food ran out, switched it off altogether and kept the remaining cheese, butter and milk in the bilge. A can of beer had burst in the fridge and drowned a couple of chorizo sausages which had to be jettisoned halfway. Incidentally, they used to say “turn West when the butter melts”, but ours never did, wherever we put it!

IMG_2177_XA_HalfwayAre we nearly there yet?

The Raymarine plotter gave us a great circle route to Antigua (2,100 miles) which followed the curvature of the earth about 50 miles to the north, and then south again (both start and destination were at about the same latitude). Each morning at 10:00 UTC we noted our position and miles-to-go. We changed our wrist watches back an hour four times during the journey, so as to arrive in Antigua’s local time (UTC-4). On 7th January we were halfway, and celebrated with a banana split made with homemade yogurt and chopped nuts and chocolate.

IMG_2175_XA_HalfwayTreatA half-way treat – banana splits!

It was nice to have the moon for company most of each night for the first week. As she began to wane, she rose later and later until our last few nights were dark. Most nights we had a good view of the stars, and a few hours before dawn the Southern Cross could sometimes be seen between the clouds.

IMG_2195_XA_Weed1Curious floating seaweed

We saw few birds or any other wildlife (apart from the flying fish). A few storm petrels made a brief appearance and the occasional shearwater would check us out (no doubt they profit from fishing boats sometimes). With about 750 miles to go we encountered a red-billed tropic bird with its long tail streamers, and a few days later saw an adult and juvenile which flew around us for a while. We passed long mats of a curious floating weed: though apparently composed of many separate plants, the mats often looked 100m long. One night on J’s watch a large flying fish landed in the cockpit and rolled and flapped about until caught and put back in the sea. It was a beautiful blue colour in the torchlight.

The few ships we saw always seemed to pass on J’s watch! The first of these was about 1,000 miles out from Cape Verde and seemed to be coming too close for comfort in the dark. Our AIS was not working due to lack of battery power, so we altered course to go round the back of the ship. The other 2 ships were seen as we neared the Caribbean. They came past us in the day without any problems.

IMG_2239_XA_RedDawnRed sky in the morning

With 500 miles to go, the clouds grew taller and greyer, with the occasional shower and roll of thunder. One particular night was very wet, and there is no shelter in the cockpit with the wind behind, so we both got pretty soggy. After that the full wetties were put to use. The rain came mainly in the evening and overnight, though mostly in short showers. This is the place where hurricanes develop (thankfully not at this time of year), and we could see the process in action – seas progressively warmer as we moved West, evaporation under the hot sun, clouds forming in the rising air and cooling in the evening. When a rain cloud passed over, the wind would change to the south a bit, then return to its ENE course.

IMG_2234_XA_Clouds2 IMG_2225_XA_Clouds1IMG_2218_XA_RainbowCloudscapes in thunder alley

On 14th Jan we estimated our arrival at English Harbour, Antigua, in the early hours next day. To avoid arriving in darkness we elected to heave-to at midnight, some 25 miles short of the island, and wait 3 hours. This also gave us more rest, and an opportunity to charge the batteries so we could have full power for the approach. The loom of the lights of Antigua shone on the clouds ahead, and of Guadeloupe to the SW (though these faded at midnight, maybe they are more environment-conscious?). At 03:00 we set off again, and at 07:00 the dawn showed our destination ahead. Again we hove-to, this time to set the main and staysail, which we would need for coming into harbour. Half an hour later we passed the impressive column-like cliffs, topped by the flagpole at fort Charlotte where they start the yacht races, and sailed into Freeman Bay with the engine gently running. The bay was very crowded, and it took 3 attempts to anchor. Finally, we rigged a stern anchor and moored with two anchors off the beach.

IMG_3079_XA_AnchoredEnglishHbrAnchored in Freeman Bay, English Harbour, Antigua

Some statistics

  • Distance covered (plotted COG): 2092 nm
  • Time: 17 days of which about 5 hours were hove-to)
  • Average speed: 5.2 knots
  • Best day: 139 nm (av 5.79 knots)
  • Slowest day: 114 nm (av 4.75 knots)

IMG_2256_XA_TwinsFromAboveRunning sails

Christmas in Mindello

We had arrived in Mindello, island of Sao Vicente, Cape Verde, on Friday 22nd. Christmas was on Monday so we had a busy day checking in, changing some local currency and shopping for food and internet data. First we paid up for the marina, which worked out at €28/day including electricity and a100 litre water ration. Then we had to check in with the immigration office and port police (who hung on to our ships registration).  Then we went in search of a bank. They were all crammed with queues in the street – probably the Christmas rush we thought. An ATM worked but there was a big charge on withdrawal, so we gave up. In practice the supermarkets accepted Euros and gave change in CV Escudos, so we got local currency enough for the markets that way. R had trouble getting a data card for internet access (roaming rates were extortionate). Buying one was easy (€18 for 6Gb) but it took 3 visits to get it to work, each with a long wait. This was alleviated by local Xmas singers who came into the shop to entertain the queue!

IMG_2059_CV_CarolSingers

Xmas singers in the phone shop

Next we paid a visit to the fish market, which even late in the day had a good range of produce. It quickly became apparent that we were lambs to the slaughter, the prices asked for seemed high and you had to pay both the stallholder and the person who cleaned the fish, plus a few cents for a bag. The produce spilled onto the street where vendors with bowls or wheelbarrows of fish hawked them to passers-by, joining others selling salads and vegetables. Both the supermarkets and the street vendors continued trading all weekend, so we need not have worried about getting enough supplies!

The town near the waterfront was full of mostly cheerful people buying or selling, queuing, or just hanging out. Traffic was busy with cars and trucks often bulging with people and goods on the move. Some of the vehicles looked a little worse for wear, but were driven with consideration. The ferry port too was crowded, people waiting with boxes and bags full of produce. We wanted to take the ferry to one of the neighbouring islands, but did not fit this into our schedule. North of the town is a fine beach, but with the harmattan blowing all week it felt too cold for swimming!

IMG_2057_CV_Mindelo_BeachMindello anchorage from the beach

 

On the passage SW from the Canaries, when using the engine in any sort of swell, there had been a lot of noise from the prop shaft and worse than usual water ingress from the lip seal. There was clearly too much play in the cutlass bearing, which needed to be replaced. This can only be done with the boat out of the water, so we approached the local charter and boat servicing company, BoatCV. The answer was not encouraging, no space on the local boatyard and prohibitive cost at the shipyard. We postponed further enquiries until after Christmas, but also emailed some yards in the Caribbean.

Back at the boat, another UK yacht, Bella Vista, was mooring next to us, and others were on the same pontoon. The Bella Vista crew had the idea of reserving a section of the marina bar for Christmas day, and we booked a place at the party. We also met up with Aland Islander S (whom we had met at Pasito Blanco). We had brought two little boxes of tinsel and baubles, and some early cards brought from home, so the cabin and cockpit were duly decorated on Christmas Eve. A long strip of LED lights was installed under the hood, making a bright cockpit in the evening. A shout from Bella Vista gathered the crews together for an evening at the bar.

IMG_20171225_Mo_XmasPartyXmas lunch at the floating bar

Christmas morning was enlivened by an exchange of Whatsapp messages and photos from the family. Then we all gathered at a long table in the floating bar, bought our drinks and laid out the food we had all brought along. The BVs were joined by crews from German yacht Zanzibar, Contessa 32 Jingo from Falmouth, and at least three other boats. The food was excellent and we had a most convivial lunch together. In the late afternoon some of the others joined us aboard Ambition II for tea and some Christmas cake from Jenny at home (which went down very well). After everyone had departed there was time for a Whatsapp voice chat with the family in London, to complete the day.

Next day the shops were open and street sellers in business as usual. There was one more possibility to get Ambition II hauled out to see to the noisy prop shaft, so we walked around the bay North of the city to the Cabnave shipyard. However they were still closed so we walked out again next day, and succeeded in getting an interview with the manager. He was very helpful but said we would have to hire a crane for the lift out, and book space on the quay when it was free. This was all feasible but expensive and likely to delay us. In the meantime, we had made enquiries with yards in the Caribbean, and although we would be unable to use the engine at sea, we decided to postpone the job until we could get a conventional haul-out.

The Atlantic Islands Bird book recommended a visit to the Mindello Sewage Works (yummy) – or rather the surrounding marshes – as a site for many rare birds. This was a 3km walk along the bay to the south, past the smaller boatyard full of rusting hulks, and along the beach where another sunken ship lies. There were some curlew on the beach, and several egrets searching the few damp puddles in the saltmarsh. But the area was very dry at this time, and encrusted with salt. All we found were some probable locusts and some big spiders! On the walk back, a possible Egyptian Vulture flew over the suburbs, and at the marina, a young Greenshank took up residence along the shore.

IMG_2099_CV_Mindelo_WreckOne of several wrecks in the bay

Our journey Westward beckoned. R went up the mast to check the rig, and found a split pin missing from the jumper shroud (so had to climb again to replace it)! Visits to the supermarket, butcher, vegetable market and street vendors stocked up our fresh food supplies, and 4 meat meals were cooked to store in the fridge for the start of the voyage (after that it would be tins!). Tomatoes, peppers, oranges, apples and bananas (green and yellow) went in the fruit net, salads in the fridge. Potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and carrots (wrapped in tissue) were under a seat. On 28th December we exchanged contact details with our new friends and visited the police, immigration and marina offices to check out. Having carefully un-moored the boat in the usual strong wind, we motored out to the anchorage for final preparations…

IMG_2086_CV_Masthead1Mindello marina and town (masthead view)

Canaries to Cape Verde passage

Thurs 14th December

We had waited out the last week for a calm weather window, and it seemed to be looking better. Today was still a bit blustery with residual swell from the north, but we decided to get going at least as far as the south of Tenerife. We had farewell drinks the night before aboard neighbouring boat, SV Liloe, and said goodbye (for now). R cooked up a kilo of goat meat (€4.50) from the Dino supermarket. After topping up a gas bottle and checking out from the marina and from Spanish territory (half an hour of form filling at the maritime police office), we motored down the coast from Santa Cruz with just the staysail set as it was still blowing 15-18 knots, and too lumpy to set the running sail booms or the main. We rounded the Red Mountain a little after dark and sought the anchorage – to find Alicea there before us! Her crew G & A  had bad news – the autopilot arm had sheared off the steering quadrant (an alloy casting), which would be a challenge to replace. There was too much swell for boat-visiting so we settled down to some leftover takeway curry, and turned in. We gave Alisea a wave as they motored into San Miguel early next morning.

IMG_2015_RedMountainThe Red Mountain, Tenerife

Fri 15th

So we sailed on a Friday about 8:15, a little after dawn, having set up the running sail booms. Distance to go: 802 miles. Mount Teide on Tenerife casts a big wind shadow, so it was some time before we picked up the northerly breeze and could set the twin headsails, making 5-6 knots. But soon it had faded, leaving us rolling heavily in the swell, so the engine came on to keep speed up. The wind picked up I the afternoon, then blew light overnight. We started on the goat casserole for dinner. Two yachts kept pace but gradually went ahead, and we were passed by just two ships on this day. We were also joined by a group of dolphins swimming round the boat – seemed to be hunting more than playing.

IMG_2022_Canaries_CV_TeideFarewell Tenerife

Sat 16th

111 NM sailed in the first 24 hours. After a very slow night, the engine went on at 05:00, but we still only made 4 knots in the lumpy sea, and must have had some unfavourable current. A freighter trundled across our path – CPA too close for comfort so R took avoiding action. In the afternoon the sea calmed more but wind was still too weak to sail. Dinner was Spag Bol, then we settled again to 3-hour night watches: J 8-11pm & 2-5 am; R 11 -2am & 5-8 am. This pattern gave us enough rest and worked well. R set up twin head sails for motor sailing.

Sun 17th

573 miles to go (128 in 24 hours). Wind still light but from NE, making 6 knots under engine and headsails. The wind gradually increased until finally we could turn off the engine at 12:30, sailing about 4.5- 5 knots, wind 7-9 k behind. We were in touch (using the Inreach device) with SV Fortino, already in Cape Verde, and got a message to expect 25 knot winds ahead. But for a while the wind speed decreased and our speed with it. R put up the main with a single reef. We had some rain showers (some torrential), then the wind increased as predicted. 2nd and 3rd reefs were taken in, and the twin headsails were furled. Goat curry for dinner.

It was a wild night sail with wind mostly 20-25 knots behind us but the Hydrovane just about coped with keeping her on course. On J’s watch 2-5 am saw red light to westward – probably another yacht.  The light crept closer so J adjusted the Hydrovane to avoid it. Eventually the other yacht speeded up and went off ahead to the West, showing a white light.

Mon 18th

456 miles to go (117 sailed). The sea was still lumpy with some larger waves, and despite the decreasing latitude it was cloudy and cold – we needed coats! Ambition II was making 4.5 – 5 knots all day, and we rested when possible, being tired from the night before. A lone Shearwater was seen (generally there were no birds around, except very occasionally a storm petrel). We had the last of the Goat That Keeps Giving for lunch! We ploughed on to the SW with winds varying 17- 25 knots. Another wild ride night but with stars showing through some gaps, and some calmer periods. Phosphorescence was spectacular in our wake! R had tried sleeping in the pilot berth and propped up in the saloon, to avoid getting thrown about, but in the end we both slept better in front cabin in spite of the noise and plunging motion!

Tue 19th

340 miles to go (116 sailed). Quite big waves and swell from the NE. R got a weather forecast from the Inreach: wind ENE 14-18k. It was sunny for a change. Groups of flying fish (shoals or flocks?) were seen in the air around us, flying upwind to escape some predator, but none landed on deck. All day sailing trade wind – style about 5k with blue skies and small white fluffy clouds. R had a go at fishing but of course, no luck! Other spare time was spent reading up on the Cape Verdes and checking tidal streams for Mindelo. Last of the mince with a can of red beans for dinner. Cans from now on! It was a fairly smooth start to the night, with stars visible through thin cloud (we saw little of the moon this trip, it rose at dawn and set with the sun for most of the passage). The Plough at this latitude is below the horizon for much of the time, and we were beginning to see unfamiliar constellations in the South. R heard dolphins round the boat in the darkness.

IMG_3044_Canaries_CV_HandSteeringGiving the Hydrovane a helping hand

Wed 20th

220 miles to go (120 sailed).  The wind increased in the early hours to 20-25 knots. The sky was hazy with dust from the Sahara. The swell built too, but largely from behind, with only a few waves tipping the boat over. We had a weather message from Jon W – wind due to increase Thurs – Fri.

At noon the Hydrovane was struggling to cope, gradually sending us off course to the south. R hand-steered for 20 mins, adjusting wheel and vane until the motion became more comfortable and the boat was back on course, with the wheel lashed at about 45 degees. Max speed so far – 11 knots down the face of a wave (18 ton surf board?). J lost her best Tilley hat overboard when trying to look over the hood – gusts very strong at 30 knots or more. But the wind moderated about 4.30pm to 16-19 knots NE, boat speed 5-7 knots.  Some waves were still high but well spaced apart, so the boat was generally steady. The sky ahead had a greyish yellowish appearance with the sun veiled in faint mist- like Sahara sand. During the evening, the sea gradually reduced. Overnight we had a variable amount of wind so we were constantly adjusting the Hydrovane. Just one distant light was seen – a yacht or fishing boat, which gradually got ahead, then our courses diverged.

IMG_2047_Canaries_CV_DustDawnA welcome, if dusty, dawn at sea

Thurs 21st

79 miles to go (131 sailed). Wind and waves moderate but overhead a hazy sun with cumulous clouds. Later the sun was brighter between clouds but with a dust haze low down. We ran the engine out of gear for half an hour to charge batteries (solar panels not keeping up due to cloud cover). Wind generally around 20 knots, boat speed 4-5 knots, Two cargo vessels seen late in the day, one heading for Mindelo, the other NE. With a strong NE wind, which can funnel between the islands, we were not happy about going into Mindelo while the opposing NE going spring tide was running. At our current rate of progress we would be entering the strait before midnight, too soon for comfort. So we hove – to about 25 miles from our destination, and let the boat drift at 1-2 knots to the south for about 90 minutes.  Actually  the wind moderated and when we resumed our course the mainsail banged about in the swell – so we dropped the main and set the running sails again, which was more comfortable. The island lights gradually loomed out of the murk on either side, then we spotted the Ilheu dos Passaros lighthouse, our guide into Mindelo harbour. After passing between this rocky islet and the shore, the running sails were furled and we worked through the anchored ships by staysail alone, and just started the engine to come into the yacht anchorage at about 03:00.

IMG_2052_MindeloAnchorageHarmattenMindelo anchorage in a harmattan

Fri 22nd

We slept well after a celebratory glass of wine, and rose next day to prepare for going into the marina, only to find a full Harmattan blowing, and the town hardly visible through the sandy haze! With the running booms lowered, courtesy and Q flags raised, and ropes and fenders prepared, R called up the marina on VHF to request a dinghy to assist. A dinghy appeared, and we followed it in, one of the Marineros coming aboard to help get our bow ropes onto a buoy. The stern was swung round to the pontoon and made fast, all the lines under high tension with rubber snubbers at the stern, because the pontoon and all the boats were heaving in the swell! Now all we had to do was check into the marina, immigration and police departments, before settling into this African city for Christmas…