Sunday, May 29, 2011

Meg arrives and lifes a beach...

Last Tuesday we moved back around to Jolly Harbour to wait for Meg, Sims mum to arrive on Wednesday. We re-fueled and filled our water tanks in preparation and cleaned and scrubbed the boat. Even the flies that were driving us to distraction seemed to have abated for the grand arrival. By Wednesday afternoon we were ready to go and pick Meg up. First we had to walk to the post office (where Bushman sells his homemade rum) to buy some stamps. The sun was blaring down and the walk hot and exhausting, by the time we arrived at the post office we looked like we had passed through a shower of rain. Two busses later through the winding countryside past chattel houses and open fields, through the grubby but colourful capital of St Johns and past more buildings and fields with winding roads to the airport, we arrived to meet Sims mum. Meg came bounding out of the airport far more sprightly then you would imagine after a 10hr journey. Back on the boat we caught up on each others lives then the following day after a spot of provisioning we moved around to Five Islands Bay again for a walk on the beach littered with more shells where Meg and I found a couple of special ones and a swim in the sea.

The days have been hot and muggy with barely a trace of wind but by Friday we were ready to move on so we heaved anchor and hoisted the sails with just a zephyr of breeze we inched our way slowly out of the bay. As we cleared land the sails finally filled and we were cruising along, albeit in the wrong direction! The sky was blue and cloudless, the breeze steady. It was a lovely sail and for once I didn’t mind the tacking and enjoyed being out for the ride. That afternoon we pulled into Falmouth Harbour on the south coast. Turtles that like to feed on the grassy seabed popped up for air and said hello. We took the dinghy to Pigeon Beach and had a lovely swim and snorkel in the clear water around the headland with Sergeant Majors and Butterfly fish minding their own business around us.

Saturday morning the sails were hoisted again, this time we were heading to Green Island on the east coast. Being away from the mainland the small island has nothing on it but green shrub, sandy beaches and tropical sea birds. It’s the perfect place to chill out and have some lazy days swimming in the sea. It would be that is, if there weren’t thousands of jellyfish swimming around the boat and waters around us. The disappointment is huge as the cooling relief of the sea is taken away from us. Meg and I swelter on board while Sim has kindly gone over to help a French charter boat whose water maker is on the blink. He comes back an hour or so later with a bottle of champagne in hand in lieu of a thank you and we dash off to the beach to find a bit of sea that’s not swarming with jellyfish to get some rest bite from the day’s heat.

Sunday morning we went for a dinghy exploration into the neighboring Tenpound Bay. As Sim navigated our way through the reef the water turned from deep blue into an array of aquamarines sparkling and shimmering in the suns light. The first sandy bay we arrived at was picture perfect and the essence of the caribbean with two tall palm trees standing like the leaning tower of Pisa in the middle of the small sandy beach. Two picnic tables had been put in for that perfect lunch time spot. Shrubby green plants covered the low rocky island and century plants with their wide leaves, tall stems and bright yellow flowers dotted the scrubby outcrop. But it is not what was above the water that makes this place special. Below the surface of the sea, small coral gardens open up with grooved brain coral and elkhorn coral playing home to multihued fish scurrying about in the crystal clear water. Much of the damaged coral is now showing signs of revival with fair sized lobsters lurking beneath the coral shelves. Banded damsel fish, squirrel fish, sergeant majors and fairy bassets add splashes of colour to the underwater world. It takes something special to make a bay stand out from all the others; how lucky we were to have this one to ourselves. Now if only the jellyfish would go away!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cabin Fever

What’s it like to live on a boat? For me it is fantastic. I get to sail from one fabulous location to another. I get to move my entire home when we have stayed somewhere too long. I get to travel. I get huge satisfaction from generating our own electricity from a wind generator and solar panels. From filling our water tanks with rain water from the sky, catching the occasional fish for dinner and I am happy that our footprint on the world is small. I get to meet great people from all walks of life. I love sitting in that perfect anchorage watching the sunset on another day with a cold beer in my hand. I feel hugely satisfied living the simple life where everything is elementary and back to basics; it is challenging to live this way. To some, the way we live is just glorified camping. In America we would be boat trash. But I choose to be here and feel very privileged to be so.

However sometimes the elements we like to live so close to, chose not to run in harmony with us. Sometimes the wind turns a safe anchorage into a dangerous one, sometimes the sea swells are so large and fast that the boat pitches and rolls and at night all you want to is to sleep but you are constantly turned on your head. Some nights are so stormy you can’t wait for daylight to arrive. Sometimes you get boat bound for days on end. And then sometimes there are flies. Common household flies. I don’t know what it is about Jolly Harbour and Five Islands Bay in Antigua but over the years whenever we have stayed here for any amount of time – it’s always the same thing – huge amounts of flies. We are not the only boat suffering from this problem; all boats anchored here are the same – that is why there is hardly anyone here. Our boat is on constant lock down. Netting is over every window and our companion way hatch is covered up. We are either shut inside our boat or shut outside it. The cockpit is awash with flies, every time we open the netting half a dozen fly in and out. Its not like the cockpit is dirty – it’s been refurnished (in places) and scrubbed with a toothbrush!! Now add to this fact for various reasons that we have been stuck on board for days. Cabin fever is setting in. The days are either hot and muggy with no wind or the wind is howling through the rigging. We go for more walks on beaches to break up the days but monotony is setting in. We move the boat from Five Bays to Jolly Harbour and from Jolly Harbour to Five Bays, we go for more walks on beaches. To get a change of scene we take a bus ride into the capital St Johns. It’s raining so we take the ½ mile dinghy journey in our swimwear and change into clothes at the marina. Then we wait for the bus in the rain. The bus winds its way through the small town of Bolans past the football field and the post office where a guy known as Bushman sells his homemade family rum. Past small colorful houses in pastel pinks and greens with peeling paint and corrugated roofs, past cars without tires jacked up on bricks. Past schools and churches and fields with horses and cows and littered with trash until we arrive at the bus depot and get off in the rain. The streets are pack with people and stalls selling music and dvd’s, fruit and vegetables, one has a bottle of shampoo with tape around it and a pair of socks. You wonder if these are just their own unwanted items. Corn is barbequed on grills and crabs are pilled high on a table. They are being eaten straight out of their shell with fingers, slimy crabmeat dribbling down chins. The smell in the air is pungent and dirty rainwater is swamping the pavements. Sim and I carefully navigate our way though the puddles aimlessly walking though the streets. It’s nearing lunch time so we try and find somewhere reasonable to eat. But lots of these places are geared towards cruise ship passengers with fat wallets. We settle on a local cafĂ© with plastic chairs and tablecloths painted in gaudy reds and yellows – perhaps they heard that McDonald colours sell. We both order shwarma kebabs, which are not as unhealthy as you would imagine – I even had lettuce in mine! With our spirits lifted we had one last stop at a supermarket before getting the bus back. The supermarket is behind the bus station. As we neared the entrance to the shop the pungent smell that arose was a mix of mothballs and camphor. I felt I could hardly breathe. The supermarket was swarming with local people, the isles where full with hustle and bustle. A kid slobbered on his hand and then wiped it grinning down my arm. This was too much, I needed to leave. We hurried out of the supermarket and back to the bus where we wound through the roads with the palms trees and battered looking houses with hurricane shutters hanging on by a thread and stray dogs lying limply at the roadside and I wondered what it is that I see in this place that to me is usually so bright and vibrant. Perhaps I am just having a bad day.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On our own again

It rained and rained and then it rained some more; a light drizzle pitter-pattering our decks. We collected the rain into our water tanks and did all the laundry by hand. There is no wind and humidity is high, the days are overcast and hazy, everything is feeling hot and damp.

Sim and I are back on our own again, just the two of us. We have not spoken to anybody else in over a week except to the check-out girl at the supermarket. So far so good, we seem quite content. Every couple of days we move anchorage to have a new beach to walk on and a change of scene. From Five Islands harbour where there is nothing except mangroves and a couple of beaches to Deep Bay where in the middle the eerie wreak of the 3 masted bark, the Andes has laid for more than 100 years and Fort Barrington on the hill from Nelsons time over looks the Bay. Jolly Harbour is a huge waterfront housing development and marina. The sea has a milky hue to it and the colours are pretty amazing. On a clear day you can see all the way across to the smoldering Montserrat. The beach at Morris Bay is pretty spectacular with over a mile of golden sand and gently lapping seas. After stocking up at the supermarket in Jolly Harbour we made our way to Antigua’s north coast which is strewn with reefs. You need settled weather to navigate this coast with good light. As there had been no wind for days and settled weather forecsated we decided it was a good opportunity to go and explore a new place.

The first stop was Maiden Island. I was drawn by the allure of shells washed up on the beaches as described in the guide book. It sounded exotic and exciting to me. What we actually found was tiny little scrub island about half a mile long and spitting distance wide. We anchored ‘Alianna’ and took a tour in our dinghy ‘Li Lo Lil’. The water had a strange greenish brown tinge to it and the island was spookily derelict despite there being two houses hidden somewhere in the shrub. Having circumnavigated the island in ½ an hour, we decided we didn’t like the place. It had a remoteness about it that felt uncomfortable. So we picked up anchor and moved to the island to the north of us – Long Island. Long Island is a large exclusive resort, with well manicured beaches and perfectly aligned palm trees. We liked it here so dropped the anchor again being careful not hit one of the hundreds of starfish lying on the seabed and settled into a couple of days of just hanging out on the boat and swimming in the sea. By Thursday we were ready to do some more exploring and ventured further into the reef protected area to explore some of the barrier islands. Bird Island, aptly named with a chorus of sea birds squawking morning, noon and night is a marine park. The snorkeling here is supposed to be superb but sadly it actually looked like a war zone, with dead and broken coral lying everywhere. Later swimming around the boat we saw about 20 squid just doing their thang, squiding about the place. Sim and I approached from different directions and then Sim smacked the water and the squid all shot their inky load. Quite amusing! that was until I turned around and saw a 5 Baracuda lurking behind me. I have never made such a quick dash out of the water. I know they are not supposed to be threatening but a 5ft one with sharp teeth and a menacing face is enough to scare the jeepers out of me. Everyday a day charter arrives bringing a boatload of tourists to swim and have a BBQ on the beach. Sim and I decided to go and explore before they all arrived. We climbed the small hill for fabulous views and then walked over the small strip of land to the beach on the other side of the island. It was perfectly protected and gorgeous. Sim being the naturalist that he is immediately strips off and frolics in the sea. I am a bit little more coy but nobody is here so go for it as well – we walk up and down the beach working on our all over tans. What a sight! Just as we are leaving the island (clothed again) the day charter arrives with its boat load of people. Back on the boat we lift anchor and head back to Five Islands bay on the west coast and the promise of some much needed wind in the next few days.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Time to say goodbye...

And so it was time for us to think about leaving St Martin. The winds were light but looking favourable to go on Thursday to Antigua, where we have plans to meet Sims mum towards the end of May. Monday was a bank holiday so we had two days of running around doing last minute shopping, filling up with water, refilling cooking gas bottles and clearing out with customs and immigration. The boat having been at anchor for 6 weeks was not in a state to go to sea, as we were in ‘house’ mode. Now everything needed to be stowed away and made shipshape. Wednesday evening arrived and we were almost ready. Our Gas bottle hadn’t been returned and as with everything else on the island, it was on Caribbean time. The guy promised he would deliver it to us himself as soon as it was back from the depot on Thursday morning. Our plan was to leave around lunch time. So fingers crossed. All we had to do now was say goodbye to our friends – the hardest part of all. We weren’t the only people leaving. Axel and Liz on Gudrun, were leaving to go to Puerto Rico and Matt and Denise and their crew on Mojomo were leaving to head back to the Azores. We all arranged to meet at Barnacles with Irie, Imagine and Stingo. Happy Hour as usual, with $1 beers ensured we were suitably merry to move on to Lals, the curry house next door with their famous curry in half a loaf of bread! There were 17 of us in all, all tightly crowded around a group tables. Matt from Mojomo, generously paid for the whole meal and Axel from Gudrun bought a round of Tequila. I took a sip and then quietly poured mine into the plant beside me. (sorry Axel :-))

All was well the next day, we planned to leave the lagoon through the 9.30 bridge and anchor out in the bay and wait for the guy to deliver our gas bottle. The dinghy was on deck and we were all ready to go. But at 9.30 the bridge didn’t open. We called the bridge control only to find out we had missed the opening as they hadn’t started their new opening times that they had printed in the papers. We anchored near the bridge for the next opening at 11am. The guy with the gas bottle called to say the bottle still wasn’t back. Nothing was going to plan this morning, but again this is the Caribbean so what did we expect. We got through the 11am bridge and anchored outside to wait for the gas bottle. Axel and Liz popped over to say goodbye and so did John from Stingo. Finally the gas bottle arrived, we lifted anchor and got underway.

This is the first over night sail we have had in two years. There are always mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety over the following night to come. Thank goodness this turned out to be one of those wonderful sails; A clear starry night with a gentle breeze from the right direction and calm seas. Just after sunset when the sky was turning dusky pink and orange a whale surfaced on the water not 80 meters from the boat. It scared the %@!! out of me. I got one more glimpse of the whale before he disappeared for the night. As darkness drew in there was a small slither of moon lighting the sky with its Cheshire cat grin and the phosphorescence sparkled in our wake. All around you could see the ambient glow from the islands of St Barts, Saba, Kitts and Nevis and finally Antigua. We made great time arriving just after 7am in the morning. Sometimes I can honestly say that I love sailing

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Wedding and other weddings

After all the craziness of Mexican night last Saturday, I was looking forward to a quiet night in on Sunday. But at 6 ‘o’ clock just as we were lifting the dinghy out of the water for the night, John from “Stingo” dinghied over and told us of a beach party with live music and a bar. Quietly confident that Sim would decide to stay in, especially with the lure of beef tenderloin in the fridge, I told him to make the decision to go out or not. More fool me, as he decided to go out! The dinghy goes back in the water, a quick scramble to change into something decent and 10 minutes later we are strolling down the beach watching the last glimmer of sun disappear below the horizon. Soon enough we can hear the rhythms of music from the other end of the beach. We bring our own beer and plonk ourselves down. The usual crowd joins us and we have a chilled evening chatting and listening to the music on the beach. Monday night we were definitely staying in!!

And stay in we needed to for while the rest of Britain is celebrating the Royal wedding we have another wedding to celebrate ourselves at the end of the week, Mark and Liesbet on “Irie” are tying the nautical knot. But first we need to have the Stag and Hen parties (bachelor and bachelorette) on Wednesday night. We meet at the yacht club with the crews of “Irie”, “Imagine”, “Gudrun”, “Mojomo”, “Stingo” and ourselves. The girls and boys separate and whisk the respective partners away for their night out. While I would like to divulge where we went and what we did, I can only say that we had a great evening and managed to arrive at the agreed time to La Bamba, to meet up with the boys (so that we could all get home easily). La Bamba is one of those great little open air bars with a corrugated roof, picnic bench tables and sandy floor with a small dance area. We carried on partying until the small hours, the bar had shut and we were the only people left.

After a couple of quiet days on board and a trip aloft (up the mast) to inspect the rigging, Saturday arrived. The wedding wasn’t until 5.15pm but “Imagine”, “Gudrun” and ourselves had arrived early to the villa to help set up at the beach for the ceremony and guard the rum punch until the party arrived. I was Liesbets’ bridesmaid and helped her get ready which took all of 5 minutes including time to take a shower!! The Speediest bride I have ever met. But Liesbet looked lovely and the ceremony on the beach was beautiful. We had laughter and tears. The rings were blessed in the sea and Woody a friend of ours who couldn’t be there had written a song that was played during the ceremony. After photos by professional photographer Axel, we moved back to the villa and started the festivities, which mainly involved a lot of eating, especially on my part, but I guess there is no surprise there. The food was scrummy and excessive amounts of alcohol had been laid on. Luckily for me I am either an eater or a drinker but rarely ever both. Tonight I was an eater. The dinner tables were cleared away and a dance floor was created….. right next to the pool. The inevitable happened when Denise and Matt from “Mojomo” danced their way into the water. The whole evening was a success and Mark and Liesbet where very generous sharing their evening with us in such a sumptuous manner. The next day Axel and Liz picked us up again with Jon and Sam so we could have a relaxing afternoon hanging out by the pool at Mark and Liesbets villa and help eat all the left over food.

It’s a bank holiday weekend here in St Maarten, not that that really makes a difference to us, as most of the time we barely know what day it is. But all the shops are shut. We are now looking for a weather window to leave St Maarten and head back to Antigua to meet Sims mum at the end of May. This coming Thursday is looking good so we have a lot of running around to do to buy all the last minute marine spars at great duty free prices, provisioning for the coming week and saying goodbye to all our friends.