The main outstanding boat issue was the Genoa furling mechanism. Mick had diagnosed a worn out swivel – the bit that the head of the sail attaches to and which swivels around the fore-stay when the sail is furled. On arrival at Antigua I ordered a new one from the helpful people at Saailspar and remarkably they were able to get one shipped out via Parcelforce that arrived on the island within three days. That however was only the beginning of the swivel saga. I had it shipped to the local Rigger who I had engaged to fit it (a screw in the bottom mechanism had corroded in place and we could not remove it). Having established via the ParcelForce web site that the swivel had been “delivered” I set about trying to book the work in with the rigger. After a number of blank stares and references to “Agents”, me walking backwards and forwards to in search of the swivel and conversations with various other locals, I established that the import rules require 'stuff' to be held at customs on arrival and the importers shipping agent then has to clear the stuff through Customs. The good news for us was that because we were a yacht in transit there would be no import duty to pay but it still had to go through the process. After a day of this I thought I had struck gold, the supposed name of the shipping Agent and confirmation from another local business that he did in deed have my swivel. Armed with this information I returned to the Rigger's office who initial behaved as if he had never seen me before. When I explained that I had established that X had the swivel I responded with some satisfaction I thought that X was not his Agent and that furthermore he didn't know who x was. I bit my lip and went into diplomatic mode which resulted in a series of phone calls being made and the news that X (who he clearly did know) was actually the Agent for the other Rigging company with a very similar name. The swivel had been passed to him by mistake! Furthermore he also let slip that he had had a phone call from X's office earlier advising him that they had two packages that should have gone to him! I must have looked totally confused by this point because my guy suddenly went into helpful mode and within a few seconds he had arranged to collect the swivel and booked the job in for the following Tuesday ('today' being Friday). Great relief all round. Richard and Rayelle fly in on Wednesday and we didn't want to spend any of their 10 days with the boat out of action.
On Saturday Mick and I took the boat round the corner to Freeman's bay for the weekend. We spent an enjoyable afternoon in the local beach bar. I spent a few hours on the Sunday snorkel diving to clean the worst of the growth from the boat's bottom and Mick worked on various electrical improvements. Late in the afternoon we hiked up to Shirley Hights overlooking the bay and English and Falmouth Harbours. The views were magnificent and hopefully at some point I will be able to post photographs but at present I have no access to a decent internet connection.
A barbecue and live music provided sustenance and entertainment for the night and we had a very enjoyable evening getting to know Frank and Sandra from Holland who were circumnavigating the globe on their 50 foot Trintella. We also got chatting to one of the Transatlantic rowers whom we had seen arrive a couple of days before.
There were about a dozen crews ranging from single handers to fours including a crew of British women and they spent around 50-60 days at sea rowing from Lagomera in the Canaries to Antigua. A quite amazing achievement.
On Monday afternoon we moved the boat onto a dockside mooring in English Harbour so that the riggers could undertake the work. Another problem became evident soon after mooring up. The Harbour is not accustomed to small yachts and Arctic Smoke is one of the smallest. The edge of her deck was in danger of getting trapped under the dockside as the tide went down. The dock-master assured us this would not happen but after establishing the state of the tide it was clear that the deck would indeed drop below the dock at low tide. We therefore had to set up a spider web of warps and an anchor to keep the boat off the dock.
The next day the riggers did there stuff which included removing the entire fore-stay and furling mechanism in order to be able to work on the offending corroded screw. After all the hassle I had had with the boss man I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the bill. Mind you after the cost of buying the new swivel, shipping it, and the dock fees, I had probably shelled out close to £1000!
On Tuesday afternoon we move the boat back to our previous anchorage at the head of Tank Bay in English Harbour. Wednesday was boat cleaning day to get ready for our new crew and long term friends, Richard and Rayelle. Richard had sailed a lot with Mick and me on various Aegean charter trips over the years and they had both sailed with me previously on Arctic Smoke around the Thames Estuary and across to the Netherlands. They arrived on Wednesday evening and by common consent we opted to eat in the Admirals Inn (the old Pitch and Tar store). The next day Thursday we showed them the local sights and then moved the boat down to Freeman's where we enjoyed rum cocktails on the boat before dinghying over to the nearby Italian restaurant for dinner.
On Thursday morning around 0700 having over slept, we set sail for St Kitts and Nevis where we hoped to get before dark. The portents were good. We set off in a fresh easterly breeze and made good spped for the first couple of hours after which the wind faltered and we had to resort to the engine. We finally picked up a buoy off Charleston, Nevis at around 2000 and after a long debate decided not to go ashore but to eat on the boat and sail on to St Kitts the following morning where we would check in with the authorities.
The next day, Friday we had a great sail over to Basseterre, St Kitts which finally gave Richard and Rayelle a genuine Caribbean sailing experience. We called up Port Zante Marina and were told there was space for us there. On arrival however we found a charter yacht and sneaked in ahead of us and had “stolen” our berth. There appeared to be nowhere else to moor up but whilst taking on fuel and water Richard struck a deal with one of the locals who was happy for us to use his berth whilst he was out and he would then moor alongside on his return. This turned out to have more than the obvious benefits. Our neighbour was Mike, an ex-pat Swede who ran a diving business and he offered to take us on a tour of the island the following day which we accepted.
The check in procedure was something of a Curate's Egg. Step 1 was to navigate past possibly the grumpiest Custom's Officer in the Caribbean. It seemed that disturbing his late lunch and video gaming was a capital offence. I was doing this whilst we were lunching in a nearby eatery and had to stop myself from making sarcastic comments about the affects on my lunch too. Anyway, I survived just, and went over to the Port Authority for step 2. The gentleman there was the complete opposite – as friendly and as helpful as one could wish for. I got back to the others in time to enjoy a cup of remarkably good coffee. Step 3, immigration had to be held over to the following day, but the lady there was lovely too.
Once the formalities were sorted out we explored the town, billed as the loveliest in the Caribbean by our sailing guide. The billing was a little over done but nevertheless we quickly took too the vibrant and friendly people and were reminded very much of Dominica. Dinner was at the local Chinese which was fine. Over dinner we checked the weather forecast only to find an almost complete lack of wind for the next couple of days and realised we would probably need to stick around until Wednesday morning before heading for the BVI.
The next day, Sunday, Mike took us around the island and we had an extremely informative tour including visiting the sites of a couple of the old colonial sugar and rum factories. Our tour also took in Fort George, an extremely well renovated 18th Century Fort build by the British to defend the island's sugar plantations and trade. Like Dominica the island had been fought over by the British and French over the course of the 18th Century but ended up in British hands prior to the island being granted independence. Our tour ended up drinking rum punch on the south end of the island admiring a fabulous view of Nevis across the water as the sun went down. Mike had offered us the use of his mooring further down the coast in Whitehouse Bay and so the next day, Tuesday we took the boat there, arriving in time for an evening swim before dinner ashore at a rather over-priced and over important beach bar. Nevertheless an enjoyable evening was had by all. A quick check on the weather confirmed that the next day would also bring little wind and so we decided to go we would go diving with Mike as our instructor.
It was a fantastic experience. Richard and Rayelle had dived a fair bit in the past and Mick had done a course at University many years ago but it was a completely new experience for me and I was feeling a little apprehensive especially as I new my ears would play up. They did but thanks to Mike's patience I was finally able to get down to the wreck some 14 metres below the surface that we were diving on and was able to enjoy the experience with the others.
Tomorrow, Wednesday the 15th we will head for the British Virgin Islands and plan to leave around 1100. It will be roughly a 24 hour passage and so we should be there around noon on Thursday. We need to get Richard and Rayelle to Beef Island by Friday in order for them to start their journey home. I will also need to decide whether to sail on to Jamaica to meet up with the family who arrive there on 1st March to celebrate my 60th Birthday, or whether to leave the boat and fly there for the 10 days we will have together.