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Monday, December 24, 2007

Three more pictures

A Barracuda we caught (and threw back, not good eating)
Two pictures of the ruined town of Plymouth, Montserrat

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More pictures

Issie - all she wants for Christmas is her two front teeth
The crew at anchor
Ty Dewi sunset at Pidgeon Island, Guadaloupe
Max on the beach

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Some recent pictures #1

Not often we get on wi-fi so here's some pictures:

  • Max has learnt to drive the dinghy
  • Gesa and Max in Deshaies, Guadaloupe
  • Why did the chicken cross the road? Because this is the Caribbean, Man.
  • Turtle swimming around our boat

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Back in Antigua

After a splendid six hour sail in perfect conditions, we are back in English Harbour, Antigua for Christmas. We left Deshaies at 8am this morning and rode a glorious 15 knot breeze all the way here. On the way we caught a pretty big barracuda, but his fearsome teeth and stories of possible ciggatura posioning from these fish led us to throw him back. Sadly, the fishing line stayed slack for the rest of the trip.

Here in English Harbour the anchorages and docks are pretty packed in preparation for Christmas, but we managed to drop the anchor in almost the same spot and are close but not too close to the dock and all the late night parties. We share this place with some famous names in yachting circles - a few hundred yards away is Mirabella, the largest single masted sailing vessel in the world, built for and owned by Joe Vittori, head of Avis car rental. She's an amazing piece of 21st century engineering and right next to her is Altair, a wooden schooner gleaming with varnish and acres of teak deck, the image of classic perfection.

We expect to stay here until boxing day, joining in the Christmas party and playing on the beach for a bit. Beats work.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Fresh bread and Pain au Chocolat

Deshaies, Guadaloupe. 18'18N 061'48W

We've always enjoyed our visits to France. Now imagine that relaxed gallic charm, good food, fairly efficient infrastructure and all the other good things about France, transported to the Caribbean, surrounded by palm trees and sparkling ocean and bathed in sunshine. Suddenly you can overlook all the other things about France, like crazy drivers, the inconsiderate use of another language and so on.

Deshaies is a beautiful little village in a sheltered bay, and is a popular spot for sailors, being one of the closest sheltered harbours to Antigua so there are lots of arrivals and departures, and a few of us staying a bit longer. We've got used to nipping ashore to the bakery at 6:30am for the morning crop of baguette and pain au chocolat. The little supermarket is well stocked and the local traders have good fresh bread. Returning to Antigua will be a little disappointing on the food front.

A couple of days ago we looked at the chart and the settled weather and went for a trip out. We motored down the coast for twenty minutes to a beach called Plage Leroux. It's not on the chart or in the pilot book, but in the age old traditions of Columbus, Cook et al, we used our exploratory skills - we spotted a postcard in the local shop showing a beautiful beach and realised it how close it was. Anchoring off, we had a beautiful few hours on the beach in the morning, whilst the family played and swam, I brought the tools ashore and did some much needed repairs to the dinghy. Hard to imagine a nicer workshop than that. The beach ended with a rocky outcrop, and we persuaded Issie to come swim over the rocks to see the coral and fish. Unsure at first, suddenly she was drifting around amazed, occasionally lifting her head to take a breath and then looking down again. One more little fear overcome, she's on her way to proper snorkelling.

We continued down the coast for an hour to a little bay near Pigeon Island, an underwater nature reserve. After staying there overnight, we all wanted to see the coral and other subsea delights, so Mum, Dad and Max went out on a glass bottomed boat, whilst Gesa, Issie and I put flippers and snorkels into the dinghy and zipped across to the island on our own. Although Issie still doesn't like the mask and snorkel, she loved the view, swimming over the reefs with their huge variety of corals, urchins and fish, some of which were swimming all around and below us, as were the divers, brought out in large numbers by the many dive shops on the shore. We don't do diving right now, the kids are a bit young and it's one more complication, but one day I'd love to learn.

Now we're back in Deshaies, off to a botanical garden on land this time and maybe some more snorkelling this afternoon. Tomorrow we head back to English Harbour, Antigua to spend Christmas and let Mum and Dad catch their plane on the 28th, then our life aboard as a family begins for real in the New Year.

Oh, and we will write a Christmas letter / photocard before the 25th, honest. It'll be an email one this year as real post is not really feasible from here. At home we would have been doing two and a half thousand christmas cards right now, but of course, out here, we're so busy we don't have time....

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reflections on Montserrat

We've left Montserrat now, and are in Guadeloupe, anchored in a delightful bay called Deshaies, which is home to an extremely civilised little french village - fresh baguette and patiserie every morning.

The contrast with Montserrat is made sharper by this little bustling community. The volcano sprang back into life back in 1995 and is still dangerous, making it one of the longest continuously active volcanos in the world. Our tour with Sam the taxi driver had been interesting and enlightening, but what really brought it home to us was sailing south along the western side of the island. This took us past the exclusion zone and the devastated ruins of Plymouth. This was once a lively town, at the centre of a pretty little Caribbean island. George Martin had a recording studio here, and many famous names came out to cut albums in the tropical sunshine. The hills are lined with pretty, and expensive looking, homes but through the zoom lens of the camera, you realise that they are abandoned, delapidated shells. The bulk of the town has been engulfed in an ash flow, and the remains of buildings and storage tanks protrude from a grey-brown desert. The sulpherous fumes roll down the hillside and out over the water so that even a mile offshore we wondered if we were a bit too close.

Sam was telling us about the buildings there, those that are above the ash flows and obvious devastation. They look OK from a distance but get up close and everything is a mess, nature is taking over whilst rust and decay destroys what man has built. The carefully accumulated trappings of civilisation have been rendered useless in just twelve short years. It is a fragile construct that we inhabit these days.

And if you owned some of this, the insurance companies paid out twenty-five percent as a gesture, given that a volcano is outside the normal range of cover.

The closed and ruined southern half of the island creates some interesting situations. When we arrived, I couldn't find an immigration officer to stamp our passports, so hung around a bit. After about an hour, we met a couple of policemen arriving at the quayside in a rather smart little police launch. Oh sure, he says, just wait for me to put the boat back on the mooring and I'll be with you. Off they go, taking a little longer as one of the guys slips and falls in - being the Caribbean this merely means a change of boots and a chance for your fellow officers to have a good laugh. As we walk up to the office, Dad comments on the smart little boat, and asks if they have much to do around here. Oh yeah, he says. Yesterday, we caught fifty-four Haitians trying to land on the island. Apparently the deserted buildings are an attractive place to sneak into but on an island of about five thousand people, it's pretty hard to stay hidden, new faces tend to be noticed at the grocery store!

It's clear that money is flowing to the island from the UK, rebuilding key infrastructure like the airport and the cricket ground, but in a place that is little bigger than your average Hampshire village it's hard to start almost from scratch and have a self-sufficient economy. Tourism is almost non-existent, we saw a hostel and maybe there's a hotel or two but the island is still off the map as far as all but the most adventurous tourists are concerned. We found it a little expensive and uncomfortable but it was good to put a small injection of cash into the place. It's worth a visit.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007


We made it here to Montserrat yesterday after a fabulous four hour sail from Antigua. We even broke our fishing jinx, with a skipjack tuna and a kingfish providing more than enough food for dinner. We anchored with the cats and the pelicans...

Montserrat is somewhere I've always wanted to come and visit, and it is ceratinly off the beaten track, despite being just 25 miles from Antigua.

The reason for that, off course, is the volcano in the Soufiere Hills that, since 1995, has been violently active, causeing the destuction of the southern half of the island and widespread evacuations. We hired Sam, a local taxi driver, to show us round. After winding our way through the new and continuing contstruction on the north of the island, we soon came to one of the main mudflows leading down to Old Road Bay, once the best anchorage in the island.

Here, the outpouring of volcanic mud had buried houses and filled in the bay so that the sea now lapped at a new beach some half a mile further out than the original dock and waterfront.

Climbing away from that valley, the road twists and turns past many large expensive looking houses. Some are slowly being reclaimed by their returning owners, but others still have ash caked balconies and mud filled swimming pools.

Parking the taxi, we get out and walk up a very steep road, and Sam explains that the vegetation has only just returned to this area. Cresting the hill, you see why - as the volcano smokes and fumes menacingly across the valley. There is still regular activity, although right now it is very quiet and rather hard to explain to the kids just how destructive this has been.

From this hill, you can see the old town of Plymouth, now abandoned and inaccessible. Carcasses of buildings stick out of the barren ashen landscape where baking hot pyroclastic flows raced down the hillside, wiping out everything in their path. The power of this is literally awe-inspiring.

I've got to go as they are kicking me out of the bar with wi-fi, but we'll post more soon.
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Thursday, December 13, 2007


So, here we are almost a week into our new liveaboard life, and what have we done with ourselves? Well, quite a bit really. Having finally arrived at English Harbour, we spent a couple of days there settling in and introducing the kids to beach life. They made instant friends, including another Issie (but my full name is Isselda John dot com, she says)

We then listened to the forecast, which said strong winds from the NE, and went out for a superb sail half way around Antigua to Deep Bay, a nice anchorage on the North West coast. There we said goodbye to Ian, heading home to Edmonton Canada and freezing winter conditions. We popped round to the capital, St Johns, for provisions and the interesting contrast of the mega-cruise ships and their lumbering, pushy passengers on one side, and the local fish and vegetable market on the other side of the harbour. You can guess where we preferred, and bought some fantastic fish for dinner. I had a fun local experience buying ice, being directed to a backstreet rum bar where I was the only white guy for a long way around. 'You off the boats, mon?' 'Nope, on my own boat' was the right answer, made a friend, chatted about the cricket (always refer to how poor England are these days) and came away with a huge bag of ice for a few dollars (about 50p). I get the feeling that whilst the cruise ship money is popular in town, their human cargo is not.

Yesterday we woke up to even stronger wind, and decided that Deep Bay was a little too exposed for us, unless you like the nutmeg blown off the top of your rum punch. We motored a half hour around the corner and found a delightful little place called Hermitage Bay. There's a new resort there, only £5k per couple for a week all inclusive and flights. Well, we anchored a hundred metres off their beach which, like all in Antigua, is public, and enjoyed their view and the guest WiFi connection. Issie is loving the chance to swim every day, as is Gesa and even I have been seen jumping in from time to time. Max will come in and play, but he'd rather be building sandcastles.

Right now we are at anchor just outside Jolly Harbour, a posh marina and condo development for Americans who can put down $750k for a glorified beach hut. We've cleared out of immigration and customs and plan to sail to Montserrat tomorrow - volcano hunting. This is fun.


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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Together Again

Just a quick post to say that Gesa, Issie and Max arrived, with my Mum, in Antigua. Their flight was 2 hours late, and it was a tired and stressed group that we met at St John's airport, but now everyone is here safe and well and beginning to relax into the Antiguan lifestyle. Rum punches all round.

Good thing they weren't flying out of Antigua though. Their plane, a Virgin Atlantic 747 got ready to go back to Gatwick, loaded up with 450 passengers, taxied along the runway, started to turn round for take off and got it slightly wrong, slipping off the runway and ending up with one set of wheels stuck in the mud. Apparently the airport was closed for hours and all the passengers had to stay another night. Our crew, Ed, was on the BA flight leaving just after, so he must have been pretty badly delayed - hope you got home OK in the end Ed.

Well, time to go back to the beach. Sigh.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Some photos

Just quickly, before my laptop runs out of power. Here's a few photos:

- Calm sunset
- Café Atlantique - moored alongside a french yacht mid-atlantic!
- Rolling down the waves
- Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua

More to come. Cheers, N.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

At Anchor

12:00UTC 06/12/07 17'00N 61'46W

At anchor in English Harbour, Antigua. 2772 miles sailed.

All's very well. N et al.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Last few miles

21:30UTC 05/12/07 17'04N 60'27W Wind ENE3

If you want to cheer up this crew, the recipe is simple. Turn off the engine and reveal the existence of a reserve wine supply. We did both last night, and the difference in crew morale is remarkable.

At dinner time, I revealed that, like an aircraft with reserve fuel tanks, we had a reserve of three bottles of wine. To resounding cheers, we opened the Wolf Blass Cab-Sauvignon and thoroughly enjoyed our dinner. A couple of hours later, Dad realised that we had enough breeze to sail so we cut the engine and unfurled the jib. The wind held through the night, and by daybreak we were only 120 miles from Antigua. We've been able to continue sailing during perhaps one of the best days of the trip so far, perfect wind, not rolling much, beautiful sunshine and the knowledge that we'll be in harbour tomorrow.

The forecast has the wind strengthening overnight, so we'll go a bit faster and probably arrive outside English Harbour at daybreak. We'll wait until the light is good before entering the anchorage, it would be a shame to hurry in during darkness and mess up our arrival after 2750 miles of travel!

This beautiful day, and being under sail, has made for a much happier crew, we have spent the day chatting, doing maintenance tasks, making lists for things to attend to once in harbour, and generally enjoying life. Tonight's cocktail, the 'Leading lights' refers to the lights that bring a ship home safe into harbour, and was expresso, evaporated milk, baileys and vodka.

There's a bottle of Beaujolais in the locker for tonight, and a small christmas pudding for dessert, it being December and we've not missed the Christmas hype one little bit, but perhaps we can allow ourselves a taste of the forthcoming season.

All's very well.


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A brief respite

04:00 UTC 04/12/07 16'56N 059'13W Wind E2

There's just enough wind right now to make it worth sailing, so the engine is off and the off-watch crew are fast asleep. We're only doing 3kt so the engine will have to go back on at 8am but at least it's a bit quieter now.

We're 145 miles away from Antigua, so we'll probably arrive early Thursday morning.

All's well. N.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A beautiful day - to be on a beach

22:00UTC 03/12/07 16'45N 056'32W Wind Var1

It's been another quiet and windless day. The sun has shone brightly and the sky is full of small clouds, in fact it has been a quite gorgeous day if we weren't wanting to go sailing. To add insult to that particular injury, the forecast predicts that it will stay light until Wednesday night, then a 15-20 knot breeze will come in from the north east on Thursday, perfect for us if we weren't expecting to drop anchor at exactly that time.

The crew, sensing my frustration, managed to liven up the day considerably by blocking the loo. When the pump didn't work, it wasn't because the vandals had taken the handle, but because on of them had tried to dispose of a cleaning wipe (but it says flushable on the packet, skipper) Now the rule is, he who blocks it fixes it, so this crewmember soon had the whole pipework assembly in pieces, and we narrowed down the blockage to just before the pipe goes through the hull. This is not a bit that is easily reached from inside.

The obvious solution, really, was to take a wire or thin pipe and prod the blockage back up the pipe from the outside. Easily said, but that is 6 inches below the waterline. However, at least the water is warm so we stopped the boat, put out the bathing ladder and I took a swim. Despite a good ten minutes pushing a piece of wire into the outlet as the boat rocked and rolled above me, we weren't much further along. This needed more thought. In a moment of inspiration, I found the air pump for inflating the dinghy. Opening a porthole, we could operate the pump from inside the boat and the hose would reach to the outlet. Swimming again, I held the hose in the toilet outlet whilst pressure was applied. It worked! A resolutely intact cleaning wipe, plus an amount of unpleasant debris, popped back out of the pipe. Fortunately, the crew weren't looking down said pipe at the time, although that might have been a deserving reward for those who had blocked it in the first place.....

That done, we put the engine back on, set the autopilot, cleaned up and had a much needed beer.

This evening, nature treated us to a sunset of indescribable beauty. The range and intensity of colour, changing every minute, defies words and I suspect even the pictures will not do it justice. A real treat and something unique to voyages like this. The photographers were in seventh heaven.

We made 106 miles yesterday, and expect to do about the same today. We motor for about 80 miles then have quiet time and let the boat ghost along at 2-3 knots at best. Less than 300 miles to Antigua.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

If I'd wanted to motor I'd have bought a powerboat

21:30UTC 02/12/07 16'39N 054'52W Wind SE3

It's been a bit frustrating last night and today, after a superb day yesterday, top speed all day and making 75 miles in 12 hours - that would be a 150 mile day. Then the wind disappeared. A slapping, flapping, drifting night and engine on at 6am, so by 9am we'd done our 117 miles in the 24 hours but the engine stayed on for 10 hours today and we've only just turned it off. Coupled with a pretty grey and occasionally rainy day, it's been fairly subdued on board and I've spent most of the day with my nose in my book.

The wind is back at last, fairly steady right now but who knows. The forecast is unhelpfully vague, lightish airs all the way through Wednesday when we would hope to arrive. I sense we may burn some more diesel and read a few more books before then.

But all's well. Cocktails recently have been: Final Ginger Peach (rum, vodka, peach juice, ginger), Antiguan Honey (rum, pineapple juice and chunks, honey, white wine)

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Leaving 'home'

23:00 UTC 01/12/07 16'15N 053'11W Wind SE4

It's been almost three weeks now since we set off from La Gomera, three weeks since I left England. Unlike Dad and Ed, my departure isn't a short holiday, but a more permanent emigration. I don't even know when I'll next visit the UK, and certainly don't know when, or even if, I'll live there again. So what does that feel like?

Surprisingly uneventful appears to be the answer. I've searched for strong feelings and emotions, the call of the verdant English landscape to a background of the rousing tones of Vera Lynn and 'We'll meet again'. But it's just not there. Perhaps it takes time, a growing longing or nostalgia for Old Blighty and all that it means, and I'll have to wait a while to report on that. Yet I did expect departure to be something of a momentous event, moving me somehow, so why not?

I'll always be Nick Ward, the boy born in Durham, brought (dragged?) up in Northumberland and for fifteen years a resident of Cambridge. The UK holds an enormous amount of memories and experiences for me and has clearly helped to shape who I am today. But that's just the place, the physical geography and structures of the British Isles. I can easily look forward to enjoying different geography and places, and so it is the people that really matter, the thousands of people who have helped to form me and my life over the years, many of whom continue to feature strongly in my unwritten list of what matters most.

In today's world, it is very easy to remain 'connected' to others, as I have discussed earlier in this trip. Those connections help but there is something deeper that hints at why I am so unconcerned to be leaving the UK. If you'll forgive me, I'm going to quote another writer, this time Paul Theroux the novelist and travel writer. In his introduction to 'Fresh-Air Fiend', he talks about staying with some villagers in the Trobriand Islands off Papua New Guinea. After staying for two weeks, he leaves and six months later, paddles ashore again in his kayak, unannounced. A woman on the beach smiles and says 'We were just talking about you'. Of this he concludes: 'The friendship of people who come and go is not diminished by their absence. What matters is your existence in the consciousness of the village. If someone talks about you, or you appear in their dreams, you are present, you have reality.'

And that is how it feels. As long as our friends remember us, and we them, we talk about and to each other, we are as good as there. With the best of friends, and we are lucky to count many people in this category, I feel that we can return after a week, a month, a year or a decade away and slip into a chair around the kitchen table, take the proffered glass of wine, beer or juice, and chat as if we just left yesterday. When you have those privileges in life, distance is irrelevant.

It is also important that we are going to, not running from. We are not leaving the UK because of some dissatisfaction or problem. There are those who leave because of the government, or the 'wave of immigrants' or the many other reasons that the country is clearly going to the dogs. I fear that they will settle elsewhere and find that once the sheen of novelty has started to wear off their new life, similar discontent will rise around some other topic. Happiness is internal and relies on a state of mind rather than a place to live.

We are very lucky that we are not chased out of the UK by financial difficulty, political concerns or other pressures and persecutions. We have the freedom and the wealth to live pretty much anywhere we choose, and to return to Britain whenever we wish. That underlying security and stability surely does much to dispel the fears and concerns that might traditionally arise from leaving one's home nation.

So in short, I think I have to be thankful for the amazing set of people that we can count as family and friends around the world, and for the fortunate circumstances that give us the security and freedom to choose so much of our path through this life. Long may these continue, and I wish them to all of you too.


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