After being at St. Martins for over a week, it was finally time to get the bikes on to land and do some exploring. As always it was a bit of a logistical jigsaw puzzle with bikes, dinghy, rucsacs, outboard motor, locks, pontoons and tools but well worth the effort.
The first day we cycled anticlockwise round a huge lagoon and in the course of a few hours left the Republic of France, entered the Kingdom of the Netherlands and then returned to France. On the way we stopped off to buy ice cream in the Netherlands, a rope in France, a USB charger in the Netherlands and then some beer in France. The language changed, the currency changed but it remained very hot and the drivers very considerate everywhere.
We were really lucky that Mr Bhirwani allowed us to leave our bikes in his shop overnight so on the second day we just needed to get ourselves on land and pick them up. Pure luxury!
After the flat, seaside tour yesterday we decided to do our traditional “ride to the top of the island” tour today. We found a great MTB route but it started on the other side of the hills so we started by cycling up a very steep road to Pic Pleasant which is the highest point and offered great views. That meant that we had three hundred meters of climbing to “get warm” – which is a joke when the temperature is 27°C in the shade.
Once we had made the obligatory pictures, we followed a single trail down through the woods to the far side of the island. Heidi was chasing an Iguana at one point but we didn’t find the native monkeys. The trail was difficult but mostly “bikeable”. Once at the bottom we turned in to the first cafe to refuel with water and juice.
The route back up the mountain was “interesting”. Once we passed the “Passage Interdit” sign and climbed over the barbed wire fences the path became less steep but rocky. A little later it was full of rock steps. A really great workout pushing our bikes uphill through the sun drenched, windless “jungle”. Adventure pure!
And then it was just a quick roll back downhill in to town where we treated ourselves to beer and baguette burger.
Last week we arrived at St. Martin. Another tiny Caribbean island – this one is only 90km² and strangely it is divided roughly 60/40 between France and the Netherlands. We are currently anchored in “France” so cheap wine, cheap cheese and cheap bread. This is the way France should be – everyone speaks English, it is always warm and there is no tax.
This is the island where we have finally accepted that what we are really doing is completely refitting our boat and just finding nice places to do it. In the last week we have been working on the boat every day.
We removed the hundred kilograms of rust that used to be our anchor chain and replaced it with a shiny new 50 meter long version. We also added some nice little colored markers to show how much chain is out. The chain is no longer dirty, no longer jams and you can see the markers. Anchoring is suddenly much more fun.
We also rewired the battery box. The perfect combination for such a job is an electrician and a nurse. The electrician curls up so he can get at the bits and the nurse hands him the tools as required. After the third crimp, she knows the process as well as he does and the right tools appear magically uncalled for.
We also managed to finally dig the corroded plastic out of the towed generator that should allow us to now convert it to a wind generator. That was fun as we did it in a “metal container workshop” under the Caribbean sun. We used to pay to use the sauna in Allgäu – now we just work on the boat.
Our fridge is Swedish and strange. It sort of did what we wanted sometimes but we never understood it. The only manual we had was in Swedish and for a different model. Luckily we met a dutch guy who sailed round the world as a young man and met a Swedish girl who took him home with her. He had a manual in English but still for another fridge. But he had similar problems so suggested we change the wires that feed the fridge. We did that and it is now less strange.
And today? Today is Sunday so we planned on doing nothing and sleeping all morning. Great plan. Unfortunately the Swiss neighbor was leaving to cross the Atlantic at sunrise and realized he was missing the “vital part” so swam across to our boat – his dinghy was stowed in the locker – and knocked us up to help him find it.
But this afternoon we finally managed an afternoon of “being tourists”. Visit fort, wander streets, drink beer, video chat with friends, read and sleep.
Last week we wrote about how often we used our Rocna anchor and relied on it. Maybe just as important is an anchor watch program or App that lets you know when the anchor is not holding.
When we anchor we set our position in the Android app “Anchor Pro” We tell it where the anchor is and how much chain we have out. It immediately starts to monitor our position relative to the anchor. If we move outside the radius we have defined, the batteries on the tablet run low or it loses GPS signal, it lets out a very loud alarm.
The app is very easy to use but loaded with clever options. Really useful is the ability to define only a segment of a circle as being “OK”. Here in the Caribbean the wind comes from the east so you can anchor “a little bit closer” to an object to your east and then input a larger radius to the west than to the east.
Also nice is that when you leave the boat with the tablet you can switch the app off and, on your return, tell it to use the old position. You can also switch on the “heatmap” view and see all the positions that have been logged. A nice tidy grouping (as shown here) suggests that you are holding well and can enjoy a run ashore.
A well set anchor, a good mattress and this app are our secrets to a good nights sleep.
It is now over three weeks since we arrived in the country of Antigua & Barbuda and we didn’t leave until yesterday. Some countries only get three days so Antigua must have something going for it. We sailed once round the island of Antigua with a short diversion to Barbuda.
The anchorages are definitely beautiful. In English Harbour you anchor off a restored georgian boat yard where you expect to see Nelson coming round the next corner. It is very scenic but at the same time a working yard with sail makers and chandlers. We were there for the start of Antigua week so also experienced it as an outdoor disco with unbelievably loud music. Even in bed on board we could “feel that bass” until four thirty in the morning.
We sailed anticlockwise visiting the bays reefs and islands on the way. There are an awful lot of reefs so we were very proud on the days when we sailed from or on to anchor navigating round them We visited Great Bird Island which is home to the rarest snake in the world. We didn’t see the snakes but snorkelled on the absolutely stunning coral reefs and swam in clear warm water with the turtles.
After returning from Barbuda we stopped off to visit Jolly Harbour and then completed the circumnavigation just in time for the new motor’s fifty hour service in Falmouth Harbour.
We saw a lot of places but it was the people who made Antigua fun. We met cruisers we already knew from elsewhere and met new fun people. We learned not to drink rum with Australians and barbequed with British and Dutch.
Cycling uphill past a market stall, we sang along with the reggae music and the stall keeper joined in – “… cos every little t’ings gonna be alright.” Customs and immigration were friendly and efficient and the customs ladies enjoyed Neill “strutting” to the same song.
Raglan and Roxann designed and printed us T-shirts, explained the islands culture and gave us beer. Pierre serviced the motor and Alison chased Yanmar for us. All the local SIM card sellers were super friendly and all fell for the “I’m old. Can you set it up?” trick.
Neill told the kids on the dock he wasn’t afraid of sharks because they don’t like the taste of white people. Pistol quick came the reply “you better be careful. You’re brown not white!”.
Today we explored the Barbuda beyond the stunning beaches and found an unhappy island with smiling people.
We paddled across to the sand bar and walked the fifty meters from the ocean to the lagoon where George Jeffrey collected us in his boat and ferried us the two miles against the wind in to town. George was born on the island and seems to have done every job here.
We landed in Codrington, the only settlement on the island and named after the English family who used to own this island. We knew that Barbuda had been hit by Hurricane Irma in autumn 2017 but were still shocked by the damage. Every building had been damaged and maybe only a quarter have been rebuilt or repaired. We were overcome by a feeling of helplessness as we walked through the devastation. Even today on Easter Sunday people were rebuilding various buildings but it still reminded us of an ex war zone we cycled through in Croatia.
We walked the twelve kilometers to the highest point on the island (38 meters above sea level) and the ruins of Highland House where the Codringtons lived during the slave times. The whole way we saw no signs of agriculture, just the bush. We learned that root crops used to grow well but no one plants them now. On the way back two Italian holiday makers offered us a lift and were surprised that we preferred to walk. Once we explained that we live on a small boat they were understanding.
Back in town we found the bank which is still closed except for an ATM, the closed post office and a supermarket. The restaurants are mostly closed and the bike shop no longer exists. It is a very depressing place and it is not hard to believe the local theory that the inertia is designed to get the people off the island so that the land can be used for luxury hotels. But the people still smile and wave as they do where ever we go.
George took us out to visit the Frigate Bird colony. He has a small light boat and a 60hp outboard motor. We flew across the lagoon, looked at a container in the mangroves that “flew” five kilometers in the storm and at thousands and thousands of Frigate Birds. From George we learned not just about the wildlife but about the history of Barbuda and his life on this abandoned island.
A graveyard for boats of all sizes! Surrounded by coral reefs and coral heads! Be sure to go round the shoals. Only approach during daylight! All charts are out of date since Hurricane Irma last year. The pilot books want to keep you away from Barbuda but we went there. And why?
We were floating off Great Bird Island in Antigua, enjoying the sun and exploring the coral reefs when Heidi mentioned that she would enjoy trying a lobster. The Internet said that Uncle Roddy on Barbuda did the best lobster so we knew where to sail to. The pilot books really list a lot of great reaons not to go near the island but also say that it is great when (if) you get there.
We sailed the twenty five miles carefully avoiding Horseshoe Reef, Diamond Shoals, Codrington Shoals and Palaster Reef. A few tacks saw us anchored off Cocoa Beach which is “Wow!” The sand is white, the sky is blue and the sea is unbelievable. No color can describe the transluscent water we were foating on. And the beach is empty. Off to the right a few guests enjoy their luxury tents and get flown in and out by seaplane but the rest of the beach was just for us. At sundown some wild horses galloped past just to add movement.
We asked a local about Uncle Roddy’s but it didn’t survive Hurricane Irma. There are other restaurants in town but that is 12km away and no way can we land our bikes on this steep beach. So we tried Plan B.
Next day we sailed round the island avoiding all the reefs and shoals and anchored off the huge sand bar that blocks access to the town. Irma ripped a huge hole in it so the plan was to take the dinghy through that. Once we were in the dinghy and saw the swell and waves thrashing at the break we returned to the boat and worked out Plan C.
Sails up again and round to “Boat Harbour” where the ferry docks. The pilot book did mention that there is a lot of coral but the reality was frightening. Coral heads ahead and to the left with a reef to the right on the first attempt and a reef behind us when we finally found a place to anchor. We checked the anchor and the surrounding coral and then we took the dinghy to the beach and towards the music. Today is Easter Saturday so there was a party on the beach with extremely loud music, ice cold beer and …
… lobster. Absolutely amazing, tasty, mouth watering lobster. Great food at local prices served by smiling ladies.
When we bought the boat we knew we were going to be spending as much time as we could at anchor. The most beautiful places in the world don’t have marinas or pontoons. Real freedom relies on a solid dependable anchor.
Before we left Scotland we installed a new 20kg Rocna anchor. Rocna recommended a 15kg anchor for our size and weight of boat but the extra 5kg is nice to have on board. The anchor is attached to the chain with a Kong connector.
In the last year we have spent 240 days at anchor. Often the pilot book has written that an anchorage has bad holding or that the anchor may need to be set a few times. Once – in Spain – we had problems setting the anchor because the bottom was a mass of weed. And only once it has not held when set and that was very strange. We anchored in Friendship Bay, Bequia and the anchor held perfectly all night. The next morning we started to drift and didn’t stop. Unfortunately we didn’t dive on the anchor when we set it to check if it was really set and in to what. We just pulled back and checked the chain tensioned.
So the numbers are: – set 239 times from 240 – held 239 times from 240
In Spain, in a thunderstorm we once had 30 knot winds blowing us in all directions. We only had 20 meters of chain out as we were in a protected fishing port and the weather forecast was 5 knot winds from the west. We were being blown in circles and the anchor held us through it all. As you can see on the anchor watch, we swung within a 30 meter radius and the tablet was in the middle of the boat so the anchor was turning over and resetting within about five meters. Impressive!
Having watched a lot of people anchoring over the last year, it is obvious that a lot of badly set anchors are more a “crew problem” than an “anchor problem”. We regularly see big white charter catamarans sail to a point, stop and dump twenty or thirty meters of chain on top of their anchor. I am not sure that even a Rocna would help much if set in this way.
Today it is a year since we first cast off the lines and sailed away from the pontoon in West Scotland. Back then Neill had two weeks experience of skippering his own boat and Heidi had spent one day sailing on a lake. Stuart MacDonald – just back from sailing around the world – told us that if we avoided Black Rock on the way out, the rest would be easy.
We have now avoided many Black Rocks – every port or channel seems to have one. We have sailed to 58° North to visit the standing stones of Callanish and to Prickly Bay in Grenada at 12°N. We have visited about twelve countries and about forty islands, crossed five time zones and sailed about eight thousand miles. The numbers don’t really matter. The experiences are what are important.
Everywhere we go there are friendly, helpful, interesting and sometimes mildly eccentric people to meet and enjoy life with. It really doesn’t matter if we meet “bushmen” in the rain forest or doctors at the yacht club – we enjoy everyone. Luckily English is the Lingua Franca of the sailing world so we get by. Heidi is now fluent in English conversation so we are learning Spanish ready for Panama.
It is amazing how busy we are. You would think that gently sailing round the world with a few bike trips shouldn’t be too much work. However only last week Neill commented that he doesn’t have time to blog because he is too busy living. Heidi, quite rightly, pointed out that the other way round would be much worse. When you collect all your supplies and water with a dinghy, cook everything yourself, generate your own electricity and use the wind to move, boredom is not an option. And there are the non stop repairs and improvements that also keep us occupied.
Our living space is about twenty square meters and from England to the Canary Islands there were three of us on board. Amazingly it is space enough and we even have empty lockers. The view through the windows changes permanently and since the Caribbean (and our new swimming masks) we have had a huge warm salt water world to play in – complete with coral reefs and interesting fish.
So after one year “at sea” we finally feel like sailors and both know far more about sailing than we did then. We even sound like sailors with our lines, tacks, genoa, pushpit and who knows what else. And we now know the most important rules:
make a plan but don’t expect it to happen as you plan. It will probably turn out better.
We are anchored in English Harbour, Antigua. This used to be the base for the British Navy in these parts. There are dockyards named the Nelson Dockyards as Horatio Nelson was at one time the boss here. The area is surrounded by hillocks and hills and each was fortified by the British.
From the beach we cycled right round the bay and past the dockyard before turning up hill to the ruins of the Middle Ground Fort and enjoying the view down to Fort Berkeley. A nice downhill trail followed and then we headed north. On the way we passed a T-Shirt shop and stopped off to get an offer. The owner was from Guyana and a little surprised that Neill had visited parts of his country that he had only read about. We enjoyed a philosophical discussion on economic and political empowerment, fixed a puncture and continued on our way.
A quick sprint eighty meters uphill took us to an unnamed viewpoint and a view across Falmouth Harbour. Back downhill and then another one hundred and fifty uphill took us through the middle of nowhere on tracks that were just bedrock or loose stones. Great that we have mountain bikes. At the top we reached the ruins of Great Fort George and enjoyed a panoramic view in all directions. Falmouth and English Harbours were laid out below us like a map.
Back down in to town, bought an orange from a fruit seller and then up to Shirley Heights where the Artillery had a lookout. This is now a national park so there were buses full of air conditioned tourists. We bought two ice cold beers and sat looking down on to Artemis and talking to three American sailors.
Then it was all downhill, a long swim in the bay and a shower. It’s a tough life.
Just the names are the stuff of sailing dreams. How many sailors sit hunched in a rainy, cold cockpit and dream themselves to “the Islands”. After almost a year of sailing, we have finally reached this bewitched sailing area where the sun always shines, the wind always blows in the correct direction and rum punch is on tap – we thought!
We were anchored off a beach in south Guadeloupe and had a good plan. Leave about midday, cruise to the last bay on the island, wait until about midnight and then leave to reach Antigua at sunrise.
Leave about midday worked and for the first hour the wind took us north as hoped. Then it turned round, turned again and stopped. We sailed in circles for over an hour until a breeze came up and we could head north again. But we sailed. We didn’t use the motor – unlike all those around us.
The breeze became a wind and then a strong wind. We reached the end of the island under second reef and jib and were on our second tack upwind when the lazy jack broke. The deck was a mess of lines and the stack-pack was flogging horribly. We put in to the next bay and almost as soon as we had anchored the “mast monkey” was climbing her mast and repairing things. We decided to sleep at anchor and enjoy the sail to Antigua in daylight.
Up in the dark and off at first light. Immediately outside the bay we found wind but it was varying in direction and strength. More sail, less sail, different sails. And “Chiara” the windvane was not happy and wouldn’t hold the course so we were helping her. Then we came out from behind the island and took the Atlantic swell on the beam.
We were jumping the waves and heading hard on the wind with twenty to thirty degrees of heel. Occasionally Artemis would go through a wave instead of over it just to be sure everything stayed nicely wet. And what does Heidi do? Goes in to the galley, jams herself in and makes bread.
At least the crossing was fast and in the afternoon we saw Antigua ahead and the sun was still shining when we sailed in to English Harbour and anchored in the promised land.