Intrepid Bear out

Monday 8th April. 6,280 Nautical Miles!!!!!!!!!!

I can't believe this is my last post; our adventure has come to an end so quickly. It seems like yesterday that we were packing up the house and about to embark on our trip of a lifetime. I remember the worry, the excitement and the general sense of trepidation clearly. It was so hard to say goodbye to family and friends not knowing what lay ahead of us and now here we are preparing to fly back home tomorrow.

In one way its a relief that our sailing has come to an end as we have been incident free and the longer we were away the more I feared something might happen. But I'm going to miss the simplicity of our new lifestyle so much.

We have little on the boat, few clothes, few possessions and little technology (excluding ipads, computer and phones that is!) and we have become accustomed to this uncomplicated way of living. Gone are the days where I spend choosing what clothes to wear and knowing what the latest designer jeans are; we have escaped the trappings that life in London can bring. 

There are so many things I will miss but in particular it will be the freedom we have experienced. We have lived a life of no routine and I have to say its quite liberating! Although we make tentative plans, if we have liked somewhere we stay and if not we move on. But also Its the freedom the children have had - its been safe for them to run around by themselves and I haven't had to keep my on them all the time as is necessary at home. They have learnt so much from the different countries we have visited - from the culture to the people. They've become more confident, outgoing and its been so good to see them enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as swimming, playing cards to whiling away the day drawing. 

We all have our different highlights from the trip. For Milly its been St Barths (she wants to live there when she's older - I hope she has a good job/wealthy husband). Thea and Harry loved the sun and beaches. For James its been the Caribbean and for me in the end I think it was the European leg of the trip. Our focus had been getting to the Caribbean, so much so we hadn't thought too much about sailing down to Spain, Portugal and the Canaries. But Galicia in particular was such a discovery and a time that I look back on with fond memories. 

Our time away has brought some unforgettable memories such as crossing the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic crossing. I realise I haven't written about the crossing but can honestly say it was one of the most difficult and one of the best experiences of my life.  Coming first in the multihull division was a proud moment and it brought two amazing people into our lives - Gaspar and Rocio - who we admire and respect.

We've met some inspirational people along the way who have bravely taken the step to take time out and realise their dream of sailing around the world. I wonder what they thought of us - a family with no experience who didn't share their lifelong dream but suddenly decided to embark on such a trip.  We all have reasons for doing something like this and after the worst two years of my life I found no reason not to do this.  We both wanted to escape the rat race, even for just a little time. It was lonely at times, I missed friends and family who know me, what we had been through and could sympathise when I felt emotional at times. But equally it was good to be away and gain new perspectives on life.

We have all learnt such a lot. I personally have learnt a lot about myself and its taken this trip for me to realise that I can often be quite scared by life  - I too often think twice about doing something. Be it jumping off the boat or scaling down a rock my natural instinct is to question as to why I should it. But now I'm learning not to ask 'why' but to ask 'why not'. 

We have also learnt a lot about sailing. Well James has and I try. I'm quite proud to say I've crossed the atlantic but still don't know how to do a reef knot. However I can do a bowline. I can confidently say I have mastered that knot - my nemesis for so long. Sailing has been a huge learning curve and every time we sail we learn something else.  Had I known this reality I would never have done this trip - sometimes naivety is a blessing. We also came to realise sailing Is quite a testing ground for a couple - communication is key to a harmonious sailing relationship which is quite difficult to achieve at times. As such I have perfected my fisherwomen's wail and James has perfected his grimace. 

Despite the trials sailing brings I do wish in some ways we were sailing Intrepid Bear back home. It doesn't feel right to be jumping onto a plane and leaving her here. But sailing back is quite a different prospect and perhaps not a challenge we would quite be ready for. I know I will cry when we leave her tomorrow as she has seen us through such a lot and not once let us down.  At the risk of giving anthropomorphism a whole new meaning I feel that although admitedly she is just a boat she/it has been such a big part of our lives and do feel like we're letting her down by having her put onto a ship.  But needs must and its time for us to return to life back home. To reality.

I hope the blog has been entertaining and thank you for following. I know commenting on the site is difficult and more often than not doesn't work - if you would like to get in touch I will be checking this email from time to time - sailintrepidbear@gmail.com

Last few days...

We arrived at the IGY marina in Redhook St Thomas, on Saturday after a final play and sunbathe on Honeymoon beach. Of which I seem to have no photos unfortunately.

The marina is a pleasant surprise after Charlotte Amalie - its not too big and we are moored on a hammerhead next to boats at anchor so we don't feel too hemmed which can often be the case.

When we were safetly moored up I dropped our load of washing off at the laundry - after exactly one month of no washing we certainly had quite a lot and I wasn't exactly welcomed by the lady at the laundrette who was sitting out in the sun and made it quite clear that she really didn't want to have to get up from her chair to attend to my washing. But with a boat with many jobs to do I didn't exactly want to spend my afternoon in the laundrette either. She relented with a grimace on her face and made it clear I had ruined her afternoon. 

With one task less to do thanks to the less than loquacious laundrette lady I began clearing out under the beds, lockers and a general declutter of the boat whilst James worked on the outside of the boat. I couldn't help but note how many times he was interrupted as someone would stop to talk to him and another boat conversation would commence. There's always someone to talk to in a marina it seems but whilst he was distracted I considered rinsing the boat with the fresh water which we haven't had use of for so long. As soon as we arrive at a marina, try as I might, I cannot resist the allure of rinsing the boat down. However when paying by the gallon I have to leave my favourite of boat chores until the last day which is really quite frustrating indeed. 

After more cleaning, clearing, taking the sails down, packing and shouting at the children who are too hot on the boat and too hot off the boat we find our last day has arrived. We leave Intrepid Bear here for another month before she goes on the ship home. Not a bad place to spend a month...

Intrepid Bear at sunset 

Intrepid Bear at sunset 

The children cursing their Mother for not allowing them on the boat

The children cursing their Mother for not allowing them on the boat

Redhook marnina

Redhook marnina

Up before the sun as usual

Up before the sun as usual

Tacking to St Thomas

We set sail to St Thomas the next day, only 18 miles away "as the crow flies".  Unlike our downwind sailing getting to Culebra we were now sailing upwind with the swell on the nose. It made for a tougher sail back and we tacked our way across to the American island taking 30 miles instead of the mere 18 miles we had expected. Tacking to a destination is always a little mentally draining for us...not being natural sailors we always have an inbuilt desire to head straight to our destination rather than zig-zagging our way there. Okay it's just me that feels that way and I was reminded on several occassions that we have a sailboat and not a motorboat. 

We finally reached our destination and as we motored into the anchorage we watched the seaplanes landing overhead. Unfortunately in my hurry I switched the camera setting to black and white so not quite the clear pictures I had hoped!

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After the unspoilt calm of Culebra, the main town of St Thomas came as a shock. Charlotte Amalie is geared towards cruise ships and after a walk to one of the shopping malls also proves to have quite a disparity in terms of the locals and the tourists - for the first time since leaving home I didn't feel quite comfortable walking through the local area.

The next morning we visited the main shopping district which is a duty free haven but after walking around alone with the children whilst James was visiting camera, electronic and luggage (we only have one bag to bring back our belongings on the plane!) shops I had enough of being accosted at every shop entrance, the shop keepers trying to entice us in with the promise of free gifts.  

Emptied handed we waited by the dinghy for James expecting him to have had the same terrible experience but he in fact had had a great time walking around the shops hassle free and wanted to return to continue his joyful duty free shopping. Convincing him that we really should make the most of our time before we headed into the marina at Redhook the next day we dinghied back to the boat and headed to Honeymoon beach at St Johns for our very last night at anchor.

Isla Culebra - Spanish Virgin Islands

The Spanish Virgin islands lie between the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The two biggest islands, Culebra and Viqeues are particluarly unspoilt by development because the US Navy mostly owned them until the early 1970s and tourists/cruisers were forbidden to visit the islands.  Vieques was infact still used for bombing practice until 2003. 

During weekdays most anchorages will mostly be empty but at weekends its a different story as the Puerto Ricans and their powerboats come out to play - a typically empty anchorage will fill up with 50 to a 100 more boats. Quite a different prospect. Knowing this snippet of information beforehand yet deciding to visit the islands not only on a Saturday but over the Easter weekend - the most celebrated time of year for Puerto Ricans - was perhaps not the most igneous of timings.

We arrived at Ensenda Honda the main anchorage after a fast sail using the spinnaker, the first time we had used this sail since the atlantic crossing. It certainly brought back memories with the boat lurching forward reaching top speeds of 12 knots.  The spinnaker is a sail that I still don't feel entirely comfortable with, it's one thing when there's four of us (as in the atlantic crossing) to bring it down quickly in strong winds but not so easy to do when its just the two of us. And of course the wind picked up considerably and my fears of bringing down this huge sail woefully undermanned were realised. But we did it.  Much to our relief.  After gutting two 'little tunny' fish we caught on the way we approached the island. 

As we neared we saw so many fishing powerboats that we naturally assumed that we had arrived in the middle some sort of fishing competition as the anchorages were crowded with exactly the same type of boat.  We entered the huge bay and anchored near the main town of Dewey (so called after the US general) and after waiting for a downpour of rain (not all sunshine here - well mostly it is) to finish we dinghied into town to explore. The town is a mixture of hispanic and caribbean shanty with several bars and restaurants which are opened or closed at their owner's whim. The centrepiece of the town is the red and white lifting bridge which spans the narrow boat canal. The bridge is rumoured to have lifted just once on the day of its inauguration over thirty years ago. It became stuck and remained in the open position for several day trapping cars on either side. The engineers finally managed to return the bridge to its closed position where it has remained ever since!

We walked around and found few people on the streets but instead several armed policemen dotted along every other street corner, which came as quite a surprise.  We called it a day after a having a quick drink at the local bar where we marvelled at the cheaper prices - $7 for 2 beers, 2 sprites and a juice not bad!

It wasn't until the next day that we began to get more of an idea of exactly how busy these islands were - we explored the lagoon behind the infamous bridge to find it crowded with the fishing powerboats all of which have at least four engines with a minimum speed of 225 horsepower each. Needless to say this has been the highlight of the trip for Harry.  Every boat had a huge group of Puerto Ricans with a drink in hand, cigarette in mouth and something on their boat barbecue. It was only just midday but they were getting reading to party, it was Easter Sunday after all. 

We found a restaurant for lunch and bumped into another couple who we met in the BVIs. They too had been quite surprised by the police presence in the town which was apparently even more pronounced today and had asked a police officer as to what was happening. The policeman had explained that there were 5,000 Puerto Ricans here for the Easter weekend and their job was not only too keep the peace but to ensure they all leave again the next day. They were expecting a mass exodus by Monday lunchtime!

We all enjoyed our local lunch with a menu ranging from burritos to mahi mahi and were kept entertained by the Puerto Ricans whose family set seems to consist of a glamourous lady, a large man with attired with a cigar and gold necklace with several children running around. An hispanic version of Miami Vice was unravelling in front of us. 

Whilst having wifi we checked the weather forecast again and made plans to sail around to Flamenco beach the next day which is listed as the second most beautiful beach in the world (unsure as to what the first one is supposed to be!). The winds were still around 20 knots but the northerly swell was changing to an easterly direction which should make the anchorage tenable. 

We left early the next morning and blasted our way around to the north of the island into Flamenco Bay which was looking quite formidable with the atlantic rollers crashing onto the reefs. With no other boats in the bay it wasn't looking quite like the appealing prospect it had seemed from the guide book, but with the one mile long beach temptingly stretching out in front of us we decided to make our way in. Dropping anchor near the beach we surveyed our surroundings with Intrepid Bear tilting from one side to the other. James, as ever the optimist, concluded that the swell would definitely get better during the course of the day and really wasn't too bad at all.  I cast him one of my particularly good "seriously are you kidding me with this" looks as I felt the swell was actuallly quite bad as water was practically coming through the hatches we were rolling so much and thought we should make a plan as to where to anchor the night.  We agreed to disagree and then turned our attention as to how best to get ashore as the rollers were pounding onto the beach quite ferociously. We identified a calm part of the shoreline protected by reefs and after donning lifejackets canoed our way ashore bouncing along with the waves. Breathing once more, I hadn't realised I was holding my breath all the way, we explored this second most beautiful beach in the world.

Flamenco Bay

Flamenco Bay

This betrays just how rolly it was!

This betrays just how rolly it was!

Easter Monday and not busy here at all

Easter Monday and not busy here at all

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Remanants of the US army

Remanants of the US army

A big man and a big fish...cooking lunch on the beach

A big man and a big fish...cooking lunch on the beach

Despite it being Easter Monday it wasn't busy apart from a few buff Puerto Ricans who share the same enthusiasm as their European Spanish counterparts for speed walking along the beach and playing ping pong. It was like being back in Spain again, apart from the 34 degree heat.  After exploring the entire beach we set up camp and the children played in the sea riding the waves like budding surfers. I couldn't quite relax as I was finding the swell at the entrance of the bay combined with the rolling antics of Intrepid Bear too much of a distraction. The swell hadn't lessened as James had anticipated so we decided to prepare to leave and find a sheltered anchorage for the night.

Once back on the boat after another 'exhilarating' canoe trip and a lunch of potato salad (still using up the tinned potatoes) we bashed headlong into the swell out of the bay. We tacked our way back to Bahia de Almodavar, an anchorage with clear blue water over a white sand bottom protected by a reef ensuring absolute calm in even the 20 plus knots winds we were experiencing. A little like Tobago Cays. As we passed in the morning it had been full with motorboats but now it was just us and three other boats.  Relishing the still waters in the anchorage but seeing the white caps out at sea we made tentative plans to visit another anchorage the next day which again wasn't tenable in northerly swell but we hoped would make a decent enough stop for the day at least. 

Bahia de Almodavar

Bahia de Almodavar

After a fantastic nights sleep we left for Bahia de Tortuga (Turtle beach) on Isla Culebrita after plotting a course through the reefs, this was to me our most difficult navigation of the trip to date. With winds still at 20 knots we sailed the 3 miles using the genoa and eyeballed our way into the anchorage. We were rewarded with truly the most beautiful stretch of beach we have seen so far. We had thought nothing could beat the beaches of Barbuda but we were proved wrong.  As we prepared to drop anchor, the anchorage earnt its name as a throng of turtles milled around the boat, one of which had popped up and then disappeared again with a shocked look on its face after seeing Intrepid Bear moving directly toward him.  At this point the windlass decided to fail which prompted us to pick up a mooring ball next to the beach. This proved to be the perfect spot and we could all easily swim to shore and enjoy the beach which we had all to ourselves. The children played for a solid five hours with only a quick break for lunch. After sundowners on the beach we swam back to the boat; no-one is allowed on the island after sunset as its a breeding ground for the many turtles here. 

Throughout the course of the day we had been joined by more boats who like us took up the 'day only' mooring balls. In the end we all stayed the night, we had planned to move and drop anchor but after watching everyone else stay put we did the same!

Isla Culebrita - Bahia Tortuga

Isla Culebrita - Bahia Tortuga

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The next day James, Milly and Harry took a walk up to the lighthouse built back in 1882 and I stayed onboard with Thea who was feeling the after effects of a bit too much sun the day before. They came back several hours later all desperate to tell us about their ramble up to the top of their hill and showed us their new friend, a baby hermit crab which they wanted to keep. After a few hours of "Hermitie's " company they were finally convinced that they should return him to his natural habitat and we canoed him over to the beach.  We didn't have the beach to ourselves today as there were now a grand total of seven boats in the bay, which is deemed busy for a weekday. After more beach play and swimming with the turtles we packed up and returned back to Bahia Almondovar as the children wanted to explore the mangroves here.

At the top of the lighthouse with the baby hermit crab

At the top of the lighthouse with the baby hermit crab

View from the top

View from the top

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At Bahia Almondovar we joined the two other boats in the anchorage, jumped into the dinghy and rowed around the mangroves, discovering one tiny island which after exploring by foot found was abundant with conch shells and more hermit crabs. After another quiet night we began preparations to set sail for St Thomas.

We had hoped to go down to Vieques after having heard many good things about this island, particularly the bioluminescent bay which glows at night.  However, we were running out of time and didn't want the extra pressure that the added mileage would bring, especially given the forecast of continued easterly wind and swell that would make any return to St Thomas less comfortable. Always best to end on high too, we so enjoyed our time on this stunning and little known island.

Underwater world

We've been quite remiss at taking underwater photographs, its one thing remembering the camera for onshore nevermind below seas but with St Johns providing the most spectacular snorkelling we've seen to date we made it a priority to take the camera with us.

Unfortunately our photos don't quite do the sea life justice!

No matter what it did the stingray couldn't shake off the unwanted attentions of this fish!

No matter what it did the stingray couldn't shake off the unwanted attentions of this fish!

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'Bob' the barracuda who took up residence under the boat

'Bob' the barracuda who took up residence under the boat

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St Johns

We spent a week sailing around St Johns, part of the US Virgin Islands and quickly found ourselves in a routine of an early morning snorkel followed by school and then the afternoon at the beach. Or possibly a walk to keep things interesting. 

Nearly three quarters of St Johns is owned by the National Park and no anchoring is allowed at all within these areas; only the use of mooring balls is permitted.  At $15 a night its half the price of the BVIs, but we had thought the mooring ball restriction was a shame as we much prefer to anchor. However after our first few snorkels we soon realised what a difference the no anchoring policy makes to the seabeds which were abduant with various types of seagrass in turn attracting a wide variety of fish and also turtles which feed on the grass.  Anchoring means this grass is slowly eroded away which we hadn't fully appreciated before coming to this island.

Our first night in St John was spent in the main harbour - Cruz Bay - as after a full afternoon of much needed proviosioning it was getting too dark to make a move around to the next bay. Truth be told we were also slighly sidelined by happy hour at a local bar which included half price pizzas - a bargain meal out! That night we spent  listening to the sounds of country and western music drifing across from ashore. We were truly in America.

The following morning with the sounds of Glen Campell still echoing through our heads we motored across to the next bay - Honeymoon beach - where the children delighted in playing on the beach and making new friends with the local wildlife.

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So many iguanas. Shame the children don't notice them until the last minute!

So many iguanas. Shame the children don't notice them until the last minute!

It was here on Honeymoon beach that we began to realise it was practially impossible to be on a beach without talking to at least three other families or tourists, all American and all very friendly. I do admire the ease with which Americans can strike up a conversation and do so in such interesting way.  Also, although they may not find our stories and conversation of any interest at all, they still respond to you in such a way that you feel you are the most entertaining person that they have ever met!

At our next stop - Maho Bay - we were joined by the family onboard Helia who we met  in Mustique. Rob, Ginny and their three beautiful girls Hannah, Mia and Ellie have sailed from their home state of Massachusetts and took part in the Caribbean 1500 down to the BVIs where they continued down to Grenada. They are currently making their way back home. 

We learnt a lot from our time with Helia - the first being how to turn a conch shell into a magnificient sounding horn which echoes rather fantastically around an anchorage. Perhaps not at 6am in the morning or at 11pm at night but a worthy and engaging skill nonetheless! One that has kept the children constantly entertained and to top it all the children were thrilled to be able to choose one of Helia's spectacular array of conch shells which is now their prize possession. And our best looking conch shell too!

We also discovered  - too late of course - Geocaching. Finding treasure through the use of GPS, even in sites as remote as St Johns is fantastic fun and we'll definitely continue to 'geocache' back home - makes a long walk an appealing prospect for the children at last!

From Maho Bay we sailed with Helia to Leinster Bay where we spent a night which although quite a rolly anchorage proved to have the most amazing variety of fish we have seen to date.  In the afternoon we took a walk amongst the ruins of a sugar mill factory which still had the remains of the windmill and more poignantly the remains of the slave quarters. 

Sailing with Helia to Leinster Bay

Sailing with Helia to Leinster Bay

Intrepid Bear and Helia crews - Harry was in heaven! We now have a great new array of card games to  play thanks to the girls!

Intrepid Bear and Helia crews - Harry was in heaven! We now have a great new array of card games to  play thanks to the girls!

The next day we sailed around to the large anchorage of Coral Bay and this time anchored in Hansen Bay as its out of the no-anchoring zone. 

Mobile bar in Hansen Bay - only in America!

Mobile bar in Hansen Bay - only in America!

Helia in Hansen Bay

Helia in Hansen Bay

There were only a few boat in Hansen Bay but when we dinghied over to Coral Bay we found it busy with local boats. Seemingly many come here and decide not to leave again. Coral Bay has more of a relaxed caribbean feel with a touch of America to it. Walking along by the bay we were asked at the fishing stall if we wanted to buy fish. Our reply was no thank you and then as the children and I were out of earshot he proceeded to ask James if we would want to buy some grass instead. Defintely back in the Caribbean.

We bought a few luxury items of food at Lily's gourmet store and armed with our sausages and steaks returned back to the boat with the idea of coming back again the next day to have lunch at the very popular 'skinny leg's' restaurant. Its strapline of 'beer so much more than a breakfast drink' seemed like it might be quite a fun place to spend the afternoon!

We did indeed have lunch at Skinny legs the next day and we had such a good time I even bought one of their t-shirts! However as it was Good Friday no alcholic beverage of any kind was allowed to be served due to an archaic Virgin Island rule so we supped on our fruit punches and played one of our newly learnt card games.

Later that day we sailed along to join Helia at Lameshur Bay on the south of the island where we only spent one night as we had decided to sail to the Spanish Virgin Islands the next day (courtesy of a couple on the beach the previous day who extolled its virtues). 

We left St Johns at sunrise to visit the rarely visted island of Culebra....or so we thought anyway!

To America and back in a day

We took the ferry to US Virgin Islands yesterday. We haven't abandoned Intrepid Bear but needed to get our visas to be able to bring her into the USVIs and to do so we required to enter on a commerical carrier first. Hence the ferry. To bring the boat in without our visas would have resulted in heavy fines at the very least. 

After a quick 30 minute ride with rather exhilarating speeds of 20 knots (!!) we arrived at at the immigrations department in St Johns where we joined a queue and faced the same formalities of any US airport.  However this was no holiday, this was slightly more nerve-wracking as we had to get our visas - Intrepid Bear is being shipped back from the USVIs so we were rather at the mercy of our immigration officer. However the queues moved quickly, we passed the usual thumb and fingerprint checks, our estas were all in order and we had our visas!

We had planned to return on the next ferry back to Sopers Hole but after having a coffee and then a brunch in a local coffee shop where we received quick but more importantly friendly service (something we haven't experienced so much of in the BVIs) we decided to spend the day here instead.

Although only a few miles away from the BVIs this American Isle proves to be quite different. Like the French islands they had their flags proudly flying from various buildings.  We have yet to spot a Union Jack anywhere here.  Also the people were so friendly and went out of their way to help us which makes such a difference. There really seems to be a general sense of unity and accord here which we don't feel in the BVIS. Also the beer at happy hour which lasts from 3 - 7pm is only $1!

We caught the ferry back in the afternoon after a great few hours in the States. After arriving back at the ferry terminal in the BVIs we were shouted at as we were standing and apparently we had to sit down even though the boat was safely docked.  We weren't allowed to get off the boat until the queue outside had lessened. After waiting quite some time we could then get off but not join the queue - we had to wait in new line before joining the other queue. The efficiency of America was sorely lacking. As was their friendliness! 

The BVIs are no doubt beautiful islands but after our experience yesterday we only intend to spend a few more days here and head for the States. 

Some rules of sailing

Rule 1 - Never comment (me) that the swell isn't as big or as rolly as you thought it might be. This will change instantly and the boat will begin rolling around like a pig in mud.

Rule 2 - Never then remark (me) that at least the wind is at a good angle so you are going fast enough not to bounce around in the waves too much. The wind will then shift immediately, leave you with flapping sails and you will once again continue rolling around like the aforementioned pig in mud.

Rule 3 - Listen. Its often a good idea to take heed if someone (me but thats obvious) implores pleadingly that we shouldn't go into an anchorage as the rollers are sweeping onto the reefs, the reefs look too difficult to navigate in such swell and then points out that as there are no other boats there this must surely be a good indication of its poor tenabilty. Not listening to these pleas mean that we have to turn 360 degrees on full throttle around the reefs to avoid the dangerous rollers.

Rule 4 - Never, no matter how tempting, say "I told you so". This doesn't go down well.

One month today....

In one month's time will be on a plane bound for London.

I may be wrong but in four weeks time I suspect the views will be slightly different.

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Necker Belle

We are moored next to "Necker Belle" which is one of two luxury private charter catamaran yachts belonging to Richard Branson.

You too can charter this 105 ft catamaran for a week for $110,0000. That does include laundry. 

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Another birthday onboard

This time it was my turn.

We are the Bitter End Yacht Club, North Sound.  As we are moored in their marina we can take advantage of their facilities. Including the spa, pool and restaurants!

As James pointed out my birthday wish seemed to be to have time away from the family rather than be with them. 8 months together and yes a little time to myself is a birthday treat indeed. 

A morning at the spa and an afternoon at the pool (with the family) was just what was required and we ended the day with a wonderful dinner. The children behaved really well and were delighted with my birthday key lime pie which had a candle that despite constant blowing would never go out. Infact rather embarrasingly it caused great entertainment for the whole restaurant. 

As the children pointed out I really am old now. And they wonder why I wanted to have time to myself!

Note: I did not have the whole bottle to myself despite how it looks.

Note: I did not have the whole bottle to myself despite how it looks.

Fendergate

I hadn't realised just how long you could bicker/argue about a fender but apparently quite a long time. 

After a three hour sail up to the north of Virgin Gorda where we even tacked (its been a while) we arrived in the large, busy (not as busy as we feared thankfully) harbour of North Sound and headed towards our destination.

We passed Necker Island on the way and saw, with the aid of binoculars that the buildings had not recovered from the fire that had ravaged through the island in 2011.

Necker Island

Necker Island

I prepared the boat with lines and fenders as we were going into a marina for another  night to try and get shore power from them. I had called ahead and the marina staff were waiting for our arrival. I had been told our slip was near the fuel dock next to a red yacht. Easy. But there were two red boats both next to the fuel dock. I had to call again and confirm which red boat we should moor next too. It was Tabasco; the one with naked ladies on it. 

All set. James then pointed out I had put the 'wrong' fender on the starboard scoop. I had put a cylinderical fender there but apparently I need to put the large ball there instead as we 'always' do this. We do not 'always' do this I countered and also argued my point that when the large ball fender is on I can't jump off the side as the gap is to large. And besides I would now have to take the line off, take the fender off and start all over again. We bickered our way into the approach until I had enough and went to the fender locker and dragged said fender out. Storming down to the front I dragged the fender behind me (ruining my clean white deck with its debris) into the cockpit where Milly very kindly took it from me and continued to drag in down onto the scoop. She tied it around the cleat saying that it was only on very loosely. I should have taken more heed and began untying the lines whereon the fender fell off the steps straight into the sea. Oops. 

I rushed down to retrieve the fender but it was bobbing too far away. I swear it was as if it was in cohorts with James and reeking revenge on me for not using it in the first place. James reversed to try and get closer to it.  Then a very bad thing happened indeed. The fender rope wrapped itself around the engine propeller. Disaster. 

James switched the engines off and began to get ready to jump in and cut the fender from the propeller. I dropped the anchor so we wouldn't drift - right in full view of everyone. So horribly embarrasing. I then had to call the marina again to explain what was happening - I'm sure I heard stifled giggles in the background.

It turned out all was fine, the rope had done no damage and we could begin to moor up with the large ball fender on the side. 

Goodbye Saba. Hello BVIs.

Our last day at Saba was quieter and involved no steps.

We went snorkelling off a reef near the boat and experienced the best snorkel trip to date - the variety of fish and the clarity of the water was incredible. It was a shame however that we were only doing this on our last day!

Later that day we parted ways with Morning Haze who set sail for the US Virgin Islands shortly before we left on our sail for the British Virgin Islands. It was so sad to wave goodbye to them knowing that we may not see them again.

They are making their way up to Canada where Jochen and crew will sail the north passage and then once reunited with Petra and family will continue to sail around the world.

Goodbye Morning Haze!

Goodbye Morning Haze!

All feeling rather emotional and we eat our carbohydrate packed meal of pesto pasta (to keep us going through the night)  in silence which was broken now and then by the children asking when we were going to see them again. Followed by the question of when would catch up with Mad Fish who we won't see again until their return to Southampton.

Before we left for our 90 mile sail we watched the sunset and I was determined to see the infamous green flash which has so far eluded both myself and the children. Quite amazingly Milly and I saw a small green flash for a second or two as the sun set. I have no pictures to show as I have always missed it when I have had a camera in front of me!

We left the magical isle of Saba in the dusk and with no winds at all we motored our way north. 

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James took the first shift which was uneventful and I was expecting more of the same for my four hours. You would think I would know by now that this would never be the case. For the first hour I listened to my audio book, stargazed and enjoyed a coffee marvelling at how quiet everything was. We then hit a squall, the swell picked up considerably hitting us from the bow, two cruise ships past, a boat appeared from directly behind which seemed to be on exactly the same course and then a boat which was sailing across our bow tacked and was now also the same course. At least, I thought to myself, despite all of this I have some time to myself.  Harry then appeared with a big pouting lip saying he felt sick. He was sick. Then the girls appeared who donned their lifejackets and sat outside. I sat with Harry and a saucepan keeping an eye out for the two boats, who despite the mass of expanse of sea, where still on exactly the same course.

Finally the squall passed and the swell calmed a little. However once my four hours were up I went to wake up James for a changeover, not staying up for another hour like I had planed to do. Who knew what that extra hour may bring.

We arrived in Virgin Gorda in the BVIs around 8am and two things struck us immediately - it was incredibly busy with boats milling around everywhere, even at this time and also it was raining. We passed "The Baths" an area of unique geologic formations and one of the BVI's major tourist destinations. We were slightly dismayed to see it was so busy, such a packed anchorage.  Never before have we encountered so many boats in such a small area.

We entered the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour marina where we would need to check in and moored up in the pouring rain.  I then sorted out three weeks worth of washing and began cleaning the boat to rid it of all the sand and also flying ants who had invaded us in Saba. Four hours later the washing was done as I had to drop it off at the laundrette as we still have no shore power (not the right adaptor) and the boat was looking remarkably clean. We explore a little of the area to find we were asking ourselves why its called the BVIs when really its so American, nothing to do with Britain at all. Apart from the rain that its. Its also a clear stomping ground for the Americans - we haven't met many on our trip so far which we now realise is because they are all here!

We decided to move on the next day and head towards the north of Virgin Gorda. Let's see what that brings.

How many steps again????

This was a regular question throughout our stay in Saba. 

We left St Barths and had one engine ticking along all the way to Saba as light winds meant we'd probably only push along at 4-5 knots. We also needed to charge our batteries again - we haven't had any shore power since Grenada so we need to constantly manage our electricity supply. Jochen (Morning Haze) scoffed at us as they had determinedly sailed all the way averaging 4.8knots when the winds reached around 10 knots. He is quite right, we should sail. Nevertheless, 6 knots, albeit under motor at low revs with the reacher sail, did seem a lot faster (plus it then means we don't have to run our engine later while enjoying the peaceful anchorage)!  

On the way we caught another fiah. I took the reel, it was a fighter and we'd caught it on our smaller rod which led to some burning muscles. Having pulled it onto the boat it was quite disheartening after all that hard work to see we'd landed a Barracuda and to throw it back in again. Not from the Barracuda's point of view clearly.

Once at the anchorage we found all the mooring buoys had been taken and had to pick up a diving buoy instead. There are now only 4 yacht moorings left not the 10 that we had expected (the park management insisted that this will be rectified but their focus seemed to be on supporting the diving community than yachtsmen). After a late lunch we went to Fort Bay, nearly a 2 mile dinghy ride, to check in. Thank goodness for the calm swell, even in this light surge we were banging into the waves with quite a force. Fine if you are at the back but certainly not if you are perched at the front. A fact that I found myself repeating throughout our time at Saba.

Fort Bay is the only safe area to go onto shore and before this was built all access to the island was via Ladder Bay, some 800 steps, cut in the rock. The steepness of the steps and their elevation can be appreciated from the sea by looking at the old customs house, which is only half way up. Boats could only land their goods when the sea was calm and even then men had to stand waist deep in water to unload the cargo. Everything from the outside had to be carried up, including rumour has it, a bishop and a piano! A road was built to Fort Bay in 1943, but with no port to shelter the bay, the island was still impossible to reach much of the time.

On our first full day we collectively decided to climb Mount Scenery - the highest point at 3,000 ft. On the way our taxi driver told us about some of Saba's history. 

Up until the 1950s, the only way to get between the villages was to walk along a steep mountain track. Engineers came out from Holland and said the steep terrain made it impossible to build any form of road. However Joseph Hassel, a native who knew nothing about road building, took a five year correspondence course in road building and the Saban people hand-built their road. It took them several years and it was finished in 1958. Dutch engineers were similarly dismissive about the idea of an airport. The Sabans called in Remy de Haenen, a pilot from St. Barts. He looked over their one flat-topped rock and decreed that a landing might be possible. The Sabans flattened the area as much as they could by hand, removing big rocks and filling in holes. Remy landed, proving the feasibility of flying in.  Saba now has an airport which has daily flights from St Maarten. 

We reached our drop off point and begun our ascent to the top of the mountain. Not a difficult climb but challenging nonetheless. Once at the top we were rewarded with views of St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat on one side and St Maarten and St Barts at the other. Despite being averse to heights I found myself climbing a rope to reach the highest point of the mountain. That was fine, it was the coming down that I objected too. However the children once again skipped along the perilous paths like little mountain goats. Once back down at the village of Windwardside we explored the town and found a suitable bar to wash down a few beers. 

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Picnic lunch at the top

Picnic lunch at the top

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Don't look down....

Don't look down....

Swinging through the trees

Swinging through the trees

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On the next day we decided to tackle the Ladder. We had all piled into one dinghy and approached a beach near to the stairs. James held onto the dinghy whilst Jochen carried the children to shore through the swell. Once we were all on land Petra reversed out and headed over to Fort Bay with Jasper, their youngest, who at 2 years would perhaps not enjoy climbing 800 steps in one go (or his parents wouldn't appreciate carrying him!). Unfortunately, despite having safely ferrying four children ashore, Jochen was taken out by a huge wave as we made our way ashore. We all watched as he disappeared under the swell. He quickly reappeared, unharmed but minus his sunglasses. Being covered in sand, he decided to take another dip, only to be taken out by a second huge wave. Not necessarily amusing at the time but worth a chuckle later when it was clear no harm was done.

After conquering the Ladder we reached Bottom, the top of the hill. That makes no sense. Bottom is a village at the top of the ladder. That makes no sense either but I think the gist is clear. Some of us were lacking in energy after having climbed Mount Scenery, the 3000ft mountain the day before. 

View from the Ladder

View from the Ladder

Trailing behind...

Trailing behind...

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After having a well-earned coffee in the Saba Coffee House we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Queens Gardens resort on the island.  Admittedly we were slightly nervous about turning up at such a place with 5 young children in tow but they couldn't have been more welcoming. We were greeted at the taxi by three members of staff and ushered to our table which had stunning views of the Caribbean sea, and more temptingly for us, their swimming pool.  We were treated like royalty and the children tucked into their favourite pastas while we chose from their incredibly tempting menu. For an afternoon we thought we were in heaven. Until we had to get back in a taxi and face the dinghy ride back to the boats where the swell had picked up quite considerably. Nothing like coming back to reality.

Queens Garden Resort

Queens Garden Resort

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That evening we had our last dinner together onboard Intrepid Bear and marvelled at the glorious Saban sunset.

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One fat sheep....

We headed to the undeveloped island of Barbuda, north of Antigua.  A fast sail, averaging 10 knots with the swell on the beam made of another white knuckle ride sail.  Despite constantly searching the seas for a glimpse of the island which would herald the last few miles of the sail. It wasn't until we were 5 miles away that we could see the low lying island whose highest point is only 125 feet above the sea. And what a sight it was.

Approaching Barbuda 

Approaching Barbuda 

We anchored south of the island for two nights and then moved to the north to tuck behind a reef and reduce the effects of the increasing swell.  We laid low here until the swell calmed and then we could enjoy the 11 mile stretch of pale pink beach. 

Barbuda beach bar

Barbuda beach bar

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We spent an afternoon at the Barbuda Beach bar relaxing on their sunloungers until we were informed by the owner that he wanted to go and get a haircut. However he said he would leave the bar open for us so that we could help ourselves to cold drinks from the fridge and to leave the money out for him. His only request was that we lock up after we leave. Certainly not something we have ever experienced before!

The next day we took a tour with George Jeffries, a well-known fisherman and tour guide on the island.  We learnt a lot about the island's fascinating history from George. He told us that the island had been leased from King Charles II by Christoper Codrington and his brother John back in 1685 for the price of one fat sheep a year, if demanded. The Codrington Family then imported slaves from across Africa and used the island as a provisioning station, growing crops and providing most of the supplies for the Codrington estates in Antigua and other Caribbean islands.  He also explained to us that the Codringtons were a particularly 'enterprising' family.  By way of an example he told us that they placed leading lights around particulary notorious streches of the islands to draw ships into the reefs.  Subsequently the ships crashed on the reefs where the Codringtons had assembled a waiting team to 'salvage' the ship of everything they had. They then sent the ship's crew on their way. 

It clear the Codringtons were a family motivated by the need for material wealth at whatever cost.  At one point they had 300 slaves working for them on their Antiguan plantation which became the largest plantation in the Caribbean.  This in turn helped them become one of the richest and most polically powerful families both in the Caribbean and back home in England. Despite rumours of their cruelty and their dubious ethics, Barbuda has kept the name of Codrington for its one and only town. I was surprised by this and queried why this should be the case. From George's response It seems that the Codringtons were neverthless a well-respected family on the island. Perhaps rumours of their cruelty and ruthlessness are unfounded, here in Barbuda, at least. 

Interestingly several years later back in England a relation, Henry Codrington, became the centre of a famous scandal following the much publised divorce from his wife in 1864. He accused his wife of conducting an inappropriately close relationship with her female companion Emily Faithfull. This is the subject of the book 'The Sealed Letter' by Emma Donoghue which I was reading at the time. Quite a concidence.

After our historical insight into Barbuda, George then took us to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary which is only accessible by boat. The sanctuary contains over 170 species of birds and is home to over 5,000 frigate birds. The most aerial of waterbirds they possess the largest wingspan (four to five feet) in proportion to its body size of any bird in the world. It is also known as the man o' war bird, and the comparison to warships is a particularly apt one--with its superior size and flight capabilities, the frigate bird harasses less agile flyers like pelicans, egrets, and cormorants until they drop their catch!

The male frigate is marked by its red throat pouch, which it can inflate as part of its courtship behaviour and also as a defensive display. We saw several male birds sporting their inflated red pouches and Milly pointed out that they were really quite lazy, waiting for the ladies to come to them. Fair point. No chat up lines or courtship for these male birds.

George mentioned that he had brought Princess Diana and the boys here during their stay on the island. Apparently they were very taken with the birds and so where we. 

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We left George at the town's dock where he had arranged for us to have a taxi tour of the island. Before we could begin our tour we needed to check out of Antigua and Barbuda at one of the most unoffical customs house we have seen to date.

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We explored caves where people lived at one point, the ruins of the Codrington esate and then had a look around the town of Codrington itself. We had lunch at a local restaruant where the choice was chicken or pork. However Devon, our guide, said they must have lobster on the menu and after another investigation in the kitchen it turned out that indeed we could have lobster. What a magnificent meal it was too.

We meet with George again who took us back to the dinghy and bid him a fond farewell.

What a truly interesting and stunningly beautiful island this is.

Last few days in Antigua

Our stay in Antigua was shortlived as we needed to leave ahead of predicited strong winds, so we left the shelter of St James Club, Mamora Bay, to head for Jolly Harbour.  We watched various impressive yachts preparing for the RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) Caribbean 600 race which was to start two days later and takes them 600 miles (no surprises there) around 14 caribbean islands, starting and finishing at English Harbour. 

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We spent a night at Jolly Harbour provisioning and filling up with fuel and then headed to the north of the island to spend two nights outside the luxury hotel Jolly Harbour. 

Jolly Harbour

Jolly Harbour

Jolly Harbour Hotel

Jolly Harbour Hotel

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As with St James Club we were hoping to be able to use their facilities but in this case they were completely full and told us, very politely, that we could only walk on their beach and that was it. Not even a trip to their boutique was allowed.

Relax? Sorry what?

We are here on the grounds of the resort St James' Club and as we are anchored in their bay, we are allowed to use their facilities! We finally have the chance to do nothing but relax!

Now faced with this wondourous opportunity we literally don't know what to do with it. We chose some loungers on the beach and stood around. Then we went to the pool and decided it was too hot.  We trouped back to the beach and hung around the sun loungers for a bit longer. James then took the children out on a hobie cat and I am in the lobby on the computer.

Hopeless! 

English Harbour

Milly will be writing about the historical side of English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard (can't believe she hasn't started this task already) but in the meantime here are some photographs of our first, and sadly shortlived, stop in Antigua.

View from the boat - Copper and Lumber Hotel. Formely used to store.....copper and lumber for ship building

View from the boat - Copper and Lumber Hotel. Formely used to store.....copper and lumber for ship building

Remains of sail loft built in 1789

Remains of sail loft built in 1789

Quintessential British scene but in Antigua!

Quintessential British scene but in Antigua!