Sunday 19 February 2017

On to the BVI and beyond (again no photos due to poor internet)

We left Whitehouse Bay on St Kitts at around 1130 on Wednesday 15th in light to moderate winds and set sail for Virgin Gorda 130 miles to the North West. The winds remained moderate from the south east for the entire passage requiring us to motor for a couple of hours in the afternoon. After that we had an uneventful sail under goose-winged mainsail and Genoa. 

The only thing to note being that the ships batteries which have been deteriorating over the last few weeks could not get us through the night and we had to run the engine for 30 minutes during the night to re-charge them. It looks as if I will have to replace them in the near future, no doubt at great expense out here. They are only a couple of years old!

We arrived at Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour at 1700 on Thursday evening having had to motor for the last couple of hours. We were treated to an excellent but very expensive meal out on Thursday night by Richard and Rayelle. On Friday morning I spent hours going through the most complex clearing in process yet encountered - rather ironic given we were back on British territory.  Once completed we motored the few miles across the water to Marina Quay, a small island complete with pretty beach palm trees, restaurant and bar. We dropped anchor as near to the beach as we could manage right up against the reef and swam from the boat. Most of the coral was unfortunately dead but there were isolated patches of live coral. Hopefully they were an indication that the reef was recovering rather than the last remnants prior to its complete demise. I found a conch shell too. 

We spent another enjoyable evening eating and drinking with Richard and Rayell on their last night with us. On Saturday morning we had a lovely sail back to Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and after lunch waved good bye to Richard and Rayelle.

We then considered our options for the next couple of weeks. Fickle winds over the next few days followed by more sustained easterlies from Wednesday led us to decide that we would take a few short hops west through the Virgin Islands starting today, Sunday 19th and then depart for Jamaica from St John in the USVI on Wednesday. Prior to then we will have to catch a ferry from BVI Tortola to St John to enter on our ESTAs. Then apparently we will be clear to enter US territories on the boat for the next 90 days. 

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Antigua 2, Swivel, R&R, St Kitts & Nevis Apologies no photos – no decent internet connection!

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.

Thursday 2 February 2017

Antigua - 28/1 - 2/2

After a fairly lively sail from Deshaies, Guadeloupe we anchored in Falmouth Harbour Antigua at around 1530 on 28/1/17.

The sailing guide refers to two marinas, Antigua Yacht Club Marina and Falmouth Harbour Marina that both specialise in Super Yachts. Too true. The amount of wealth afloat in Falmouth Harbour is quite mind-boggling as you can see from the photos.

We passed an old acquaintance from our earlier sailing years at anchor, 'The Malcolm Miller'. She used to be a sail training ship but is now a luxury yacht. She does look very splendid (no photo sorry).

We went ashore to explore the immediate area and walked round to the famous 'Nelson's Dockyard' at English Harbour just round the corner. We were too late to clear customs and immigration but established that despite the next day being a Sunday they would be open then.

We did a quick tour of Nelson's Dockyard. Many of the original buildings have been restored which is goo but unfortunately the price of so doing seems to be that nearly all have been converted to commercial premises. One exception is the Museum which we plan to visit when we have more time to browse. We gazed longingly at the quiet waters and short distances in English Harbour having had to take a 15 minute dinghy ride in from our anchorage to the nearest dinghy dock amongst the big boys and because of the large open space of Falmouth Harbour and the stiff breeze, we had got soaking wet. Our initial assumption was that we wouldn't be allowed in such an iconic place but thankfully as we discovered subsequently that turned out to be wrong.

After a reasonable meal at one of the eateries between English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour we returned to the boat.

The next day Sunday, we braved the long and wet dinghy ride ashore once again and our first task was to check in with the Authorities, of which there were three. Thankfully, but also slightly comically they were all located within the same 18th Century building with much of the original features remaining: Customs, Immigration and the Port Authority. Customs was first, but a short visit only because we had first to fill out forms with details of the boat and crew on the e-Clear computer system. Thankfully a terminal was free and after about 30 minutes we returned to the Customs Window again. The official printed off the forms, gave me two copies and asked me to go to the Immigration Window. There I was asked a number of questions – all of which I had answered on the forms – apart that is from his jokey one - “Is there fire in the Arctic?” His lovely accent threw me at first and I thought he said “is there fire in the attic?!” However, I caught on just in time to avoid embarrassing myself – we had a laugh, he stamped the forms and directed me … back to Customs! Back we went to Customs the chap there was engrossed in what sounded very much like a family conversation with a woman on his side of the counter. He broke off, looked at the forms, stamped them again and informed me I now had to go the 'Port Authority'. I looked a little puzzled and asked where that was, “just there” he said pointing at the women with whom he had been engrossed in conversation, who I then realised was sat behind a separate window. It was here that all the fees were calculated and paid. In all it was 110 EC$ or about £32 which included some one off and some recurring charges for the initial two nights we stipulated. As far as we have been able to work out, the recurring daily charges for our 10 metres are about £8.30. When one considers that muddy Queenborough charges £15 per night that's not at all bad. Even better we established there was nothing to stop us moving round the corner to English Harbour where the same feed apply.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the local area more and during the course of so doing we bumped into a familiar figure – Philip with his dog Maximus. We had last seen Philip in Mindelo Cape Verde. He left the day before us after having experienced a number of problems with locals working on his boat. We bumped into him later at one of the bars and spend a very pleasant evening yarning and swapping stories. It turned out that the workmanship on his engine in Mindelo was less than satisfactory and he got sea water into the engine on his crossing. He therefore arrived at Falmouth Harbour on the 23rd of December with no engine and no headsails which he blew out during the crossing. That made tacking in a little trick but he managed it and was able to get towed to a mooring. His engine is now out of the boat being repaired.

It turned out that Maximus is a big hit with all the girls and that as a consequence Philip has had no problem gate crashing the various parties thrown by the super yacht set here!

The boat's genoa roller reefing gear has continued to be occasionally stiff in operation and I had therefore made contact with the suppliers to order spare parts and had also been in touch with a local rigger (corroded screws had prevented us from being able to dismantle the gear which would be required if the halyard swivel is to be replaced and which is suspected as the cause of our difficulties) – who it turned out was based at English Harbour. The next day – Monday we therefore motored the 2-3 miles to English Harbour. A big swell and strong headwind meant we made only a couple of knots and so the very short trip lasted a couple of hours. Once in we found a sheltered spot and dropped the hook about 50 metres from the poshest restaurant – The Pillars – in the harbour.

On Tuesday we took the “bus” (a similar concept/service to that provided on Dominica) to the Capital St Johns. To us the town seemed a less attractive version of Roseau in Dominica. There were 4 cruise ships in when we were there and we learned that later in the day the number had swelled to 6. 

The whole water-front area was given over to the cruise ship trade and the old dockside areas had lost their original character. The strange thing was that even though the town was dominated by the cruise ships, the extra tourist traffic did not seem to have improved the lot of the locals that much. There was significantly greater poverty in evidence around the island than we saw in Dominica and of course a lot more wealth too.

On Wednesday we took to the buses again, this time to visit Terry and Fiona on Sisu whom we had first met in Mindelo in the Cape Verde and who were now anchored in Jolly Harbour, about 10 miles up the west coast from us. Before getting on the bus we dropped by at the Riggers to complete paperwork for importing the new Genoa swivel. The main man was not there and the subsequent email contact we have had has not yet completely re-assured me that all is in order. Importing seems a complicated business and there may well be some process issues I have missed. We will have to follow up again tomorrow. It's all a bit worrying because Richard and Rayelle join us on the 8th and we want to have the work finished by then. However, until the rigger actually has the parts he can't book us in and the longer the admin takes.....Fingers crossed.

Anyway we met Terry and Fiona and had a most enjoyable lunch catching up and sharing our accounts of the Atlantic crossing. It sounded like they had a tougher time than us. Amongst other things, Terry had to dismantle his wind vane self steering gear, make up new parts from nuts and bolts and re-assemble it all. I'm very glad I did not have to deal with that.

Tomorrow we plan to ascend the local must go to view spot - Shirley Heights, from where apparently there are magnificent views of the two harbours. Some of the Super Yachts are competing in the Super Yacht Challenge and we hope to see some of the action from that too.