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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Les Saintes, Guadeloupe.

Off the southern coast of Guadeloupe is a little set of islands known as Les Saintes. After a somewhat rocky three hour trip we dropped anchor in the bay at Bourg Les Saintes, hoping for a change from the disappointing Point a Pitre as previously mentioned. We were very pleasantly surprised.

The main island, Terre en Haut, is about half a mile wide and two long. It appears to depend on regular ferries from the Guadeloupe 'mainland' bringing in day tripping tourists at 9am and taking them away again at 5pm. Which means that the little town is heaving in the daytime, and you jostle for a lunch table, but at other times its a beautiful quiet place disturbed only by the occasional car, scooter, goat or chicken.

On our first day there, the kids and I woke up early so left Gesa to sleep and went in to get the bread, enjoying a gentle explore of the town and a secret pain au chocolat in the park. Later, we all walked all the way across the island to a beautiful bay on the eastern side. It was actually less than a mile, but included a lot of up and down, as this place is far from flat. We swam in the bay before strolling back for tea on board.

The next day, we all got up early and were ashore by 7:30, buying bread and pastries and readying ourselves for a big hike up to the old napoleonic fort. We almost literally dragged the kids up the steep hill and were there at 8:45 to find that it didn't open till nine, so we had the rest of our breakfast before going inside. This turned out to be another little french west indies wonder, for a few euros the fort is now a beautiful museum and botanical garden with amazing views of the surrounding islands and ocean. The gardens are full of palms, cacti and aloe vera plants, and in the trees lurk large iguanas. The british and french navies once fought a huge battle just off this coast, and the progress of the fight is laid out in a series of models inside the fort. It seems like the british sort of won, but in the way of such things, the wind and weather conspired to disperse the fleets before anything decisive had occurred, but I reckon it's England 3- France 1 which would do in any world cup qualifier. We had brought pens and paper with us so used the trip as the day's art lesson, with the kids doing some great drawings of the fort, trees and cannons. Issie impressed me with the speed with which she drew a really good and detailed picture of the fort, but then depressed us all with the way she lost focus a few minutes later and wouldn't colour it in or add any more detail. Bit like her Dad really, a completer/finisher she is not.

We had some fabulous ice cream when we got back down to the waterfront, and later had a good but rather pricey meal out, but it's nice to eat in a restaurant where the view is of your own boat/house.

Later we moved a half mile to a different bay behind Pain de Sucre, a small 'piton' of volcanic basalt columns that shelters a nice anchorage. The snorkeling was fabulous here, crystal clear water ten metres deep with lots of coral and all sorts of fish. Issie has gone from never wanting to use her snorkel to full mask/snorkel/flippers and then she saw a women diving deep then clearing the snorkel when she surfaced, and Issie decided to copy. So I taught her how to clear the snorkel and we have a little mermaid, kicking her way down a few metres to see the fish and drifting back to the surface. I didn't do that till I was almost thirty! Some kids don't know how lucky they are. Even Max has tried mask and snorkel in the shallow water and it won't be long before he's doing it too. He loves to swim with his lifejacket and goggles on, so he can float and look underwater between breaths.

In this bay we met a lovely dutch family, taking a year out to sail on a beautiful boat they built themselves. With kids almost the same ages, everyone got on really well and we enjoyed a nice bar-b-que together. Sadly they are going north whilst we are going south, but it's good for all of us to spend time with people other than the four crew of Ty Dewi.

Onwards today to Dominica, a thoroughly different experience and quite another story, or blog posting.....

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Guadeloupe redeems itself

So after the ups and downs of Point a Pitre, we rented a car and explored some of inland Guadeloupe for a day. It turned out to be a fantastic day. We started nice and early, having a quick pain au chocolat as we sorted out the paperwork for the car, then headed into the interior towards a well publicised waterfall in the middle of the national park rainforest. This was a nice walk through the forest to a small cascade falling into a very pretty pool in the river, where Issie went for a bathe and we all munched on a bit more breakfast.

We headed on across the island, back to the West coast, driving past Pigeon Island where we'd anchored before christmas and on down the coast, scoping out the bays for our northward journey in April and finding a seaside picnic area for our lunch.

After lunch we headed inland to the Maison de Cafe, an old coffee plantation turned museum. I was a little sceptical, jesting that this is about the furthest the Gesa has dragged me for a cup of coffee, and as we drove our little hire car around perilous hairpin bends with hundred metre drops on one side, even Gesa was wondering what she'd led us into. The valley was steep and dramatic, reminiscent of photos we've seen of Peru, although I guess it's even more dramatic there.

At the end of the road was the famed museum. We paid a remarkably cheap entry fee and walked up a beautiful stone path past dilapidated old mill buildings to find a lovingly restored plantation mansion and a fantastic arrangement of buildings making up the museum. A women came out to say hello and told us that a tour would start soon, she would do it in French but translate some if we needed. We milled around for a while, looking at the displays about coffee manufacture and the decline of growing in the island, when suddenly there was a coming together of about twenty visitors and the tour started. We were walked through the coffee process, the plantation gardens, cocoa trees, because they grew that here too, and vanilla to flavour the chocolate. It was fascinating, and even held the kids interest as they attached themselves to the guide and were allowed to do cool things like mash up the green coffee beans and later the cocoa beans too. The tour lasted almost two hours, and ended with a cup of the plantation coffee, very nice. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the magical mountain landscape but time was getting on and the light was starting to fade.

We made our way round the bottom of the island, hunting out some takeaway food but it seems that 6pm is too early for this place, nothing is cooking till later so we ended up back at the marina getting a couple of pizzas and back on the boat a very tired group, but having had a really interesting day.

Next, we go to Les Saintes, a small group of islands just South of Guadeloupe, which are supposed to be beautiful and are also a good jumping off point to Dominica, the next island South.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Words from Issie

Issie wrote a postcard to her friend, so we thought we'd share it with you and add some of our pictures. She dictated the text to Gesa, just in case you thought that our spelling school was working remarkably well...

There's a little white lighthouse in Les Saintes where we went in and looked at the light and I like the little flowerpot inside. We saw a building shaped like a ship. There are always big waves around here from the passing boats. Church bells ring a lot. We swam off the back of the boat in the bluest water I have been in yet. I miss you, love Issie.
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Les Fruits de Mer

Living on the sea, you would think that fish was a big part of our diet. In Antigua, we ate surprisingly little fish. We didn't catch much around the island, as the better fishing is offshore, and we never seemed to run into fishing boats returning at the right time.

In Guadeloupe, it's been a bit different. In Deshaies, there is a little fishing harbour and very close by, a little stall with an ice cabinet where they sell fish in the mornings. Max and I went and they had a piece of tuna tail, it was huge, so we bought a slice - three quarters of a kilo for seven euros. The slice was a good 30cm across and tasted fantastic.

We discovered that the family and I have a difference of opinion regarding the cooking of tuna. Whilst I love it just seared, raw in the middle served with soy and wasabi, the others want it fully cooked, right through. We must agree to differ and leave mine out of the pan for most of the cooking time.

The leftover scraps of tuna, when thrown into the water, produce a litle flurry of activity around us so we get out the fishing line, rig our smallest hooks and try to catch something. After some experimentation, and a lot of lost bait, we catch a small fish, show it to the kids and let it go. Issie then tries, baiting her hook and waiting, sure enough, a tug on the line and she reels in another one. Issie has caught her first fish!

Later that evening, a dinghy motors slowly around the harbour. We watch with interest as he visits a few boats, then as he approaches us, it becomes clear. They have caught a big fish, more than they can possibly eat, and are giving most of it away - do we want some? Sure, that's great. We bake some brownies and I take them over as an exchange. The fish is a kingfish, very meaty white flesh, pretty tasty and very good in a gumbo.

Not to be outdone, I put out the fishing line on the way to the Riviere Salle. Actually, I am still completely outdone, but we do catch a spanish mackerel, a small tuna type fish with lovely dark meat. Small, but very tasty.

Time to buy some more lures and catch a few more dinners.....
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Family photos

Realised that we don't put many pictures of us on here, so here's a few:
- The kids sitting up on the boom
- Max on deck during the night-time trip through the Riviere Salee
- Nick trying to work out where to anchor
- All of us outside Fort Napolean in Les Saintes

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Point a Pitre - Low points

So whilst we've enjoyed some of our stay here, the overall feeling has been pretty negative, I'd better explain why.

The weather. OK, not really related to the town, but we've had a week of windy wet weather and not much sun. I think that's unusual for here, and since we are on the low, windward side of the island, it's been better here than the other side of the mountains where we were in Deshaies. And it's better than January in the UK too, at least it's grey, wet and 27'C. Yet still it's strange how your expectations change and how quickly a week of rain dampens one's spirits.

The rolling. This port should be perfect, very sheltered from the wind and swell and close to the city. However, the city means people and boats - that means fishing boats, ferries, pleasure boats, cruise ships, freighters, pilot boats, other yachts a plenty - and all hours of the day and night. No one slows down much, so there's always wake and wash around. So we sit calmly at our anchor for five to ten minutes with next to no movement then bump bump bump, we get the wash from something or other. It slowly settles down, back to dead calm until the next one. I think this is worse than an anchorage with swell, at least that is rhythmic and predictable.

Costs. This place is expensive. The basic groceries aren't too bad but meat is very pricey, we try to avoid it in preference for fish, but sometimes the kids really want a simple meal of sausages and mash. More costs come from the availability of nice stuff. Good bread and pain chocolat means we are tempted by extra breakfast. French cheese is a bit too good to pass up, as is the wine, not expensive per se but you can buy a litre of good Antiguan rum for the price of two bottles of wine. Somehow each trip to the Supermarché seems to bust the budget. We need more self control really, so that's another thing that's not really the fault of Point a Pitre.

Not getting stuff fixed. I have a simple job needing done. The cooker swings on something called gimbals, basically pivots that allow it to move and stay level as the boat moves. Well, ours are aluminium and not strong enough. I want the same made up in stainless steel. Means cutting a small sheet, bending twice and drilling three holes. Not tough but that's the problem. Small jobs are not of interest when there's big boats a plenty needing big work. I spent a fruitless morning trailing around workshops and the best I got was someone who's mate in the place down the road could probably do it if I could get the raw material - which needs a five mile trip by road in a car I haven't got.

Laundry. Got directed to the nearest laundry by some helpful folks. Struggled with v.large bag of dirty stuff to a laundry about half a mile from the dinghy dock at the marina. Paid for laundry to be washed, dried and folded. Expensive c.f. Antigua, about 50% more. It would be ready at noon next day. 1pm next day, I go to collect, sorry, not ready, come back after three. Three thirty, with tired kids in tow, return to be told, nope, still not ready, tomorrow morning? Grrrrr. On my grumpy walk back to the dinghy, I notice a small sign for a laundry in the marina complex. It's a few yards from where we've tied up, and it's cheaper. Double grrrrr.

Internet. Bar with free internet a good excuse for a drink and get emails and banking done. In Antigua, this is the fabulous Mad Mongoose with drinks for a pound and good connections. Here, drinks are three quid and it, inexplicably, didn't work. Others around us seemed to be online OK but not us. And the kids were tired and grumpy so we quit without success. Very few internet enabled bars etc, but plenty of pay to surf, so we'll have to try that in the end.

The marina. It's huge, geared up to those with plenty of cash to spend, of course, as they have a business to run. We anchored near to some buoys outside, as our guide said we could, but they came out to tell us that we couldn't stay there. OK, the rules have changed so we moved. But we could take a buoy for €10 a night, which would give us showers and water too. A bargain we think, given that filling our water tanks costs about £10 in Antigua. So we agree to do that and pay our money, then go to the fuel dock and ask for the water. Oh no, that's not here, that's over there, the marina and fuel dock might be in the same place but are separate businesses. To get the water, we have to moor at the marina. That involves lots of fenders and a tricky manouvre involving reversing between other boats. Ah. With just Gesa, me and a reluctant thirteen tonnes of Ty Dewi, it's a recipe for bending our boat or other peoples - the very reason we avoid marinas in the first place. No free water for us then. But at least we get a hot shower. Nope. The ladies is OK, hot water if you keep your elbow on the 'switch off in two seconds' push button for the shower. Gents are made of stronger stuff, so only cold water in there. Max was not amused.

No swimming. There's no real beach near here, and the harbour is probably perfectly clean but looks a bit more green than we are used to so no one has had a swim in five days. That's a big deal in our family now.

Tomorrow we go to Les Saintes, a supposedly beautiful group of islands just off the tip of Guadeloupe. We hope they are more restful. We loved Deshaies, and have had a great drive around the island, so Guadelopue will retain fond memories for us, but we'll not be back at Point a Pitre anytime soon if we can help it. Oh the ups and downs of life in paradise.

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Point a Pitre - the good stuff

So, since our somewhat ignomous entry to the Riviere Salee and the mangrove swamps, we've spent five days in Point a Pitre, the biggest town on the island and nearer to a city than a town. It has had it's high points, but some lows too.

High points have been:

The passage through the Riviere Salee. Surprisingly, getting up at 4:30am to follow a shallow, twisting swamp creek beneath two lifting road bridges and past the city rubbish dump was actually a really fun morning. Issie slept, of course, but Max was up as soon as the engine went on and joined us on deck in the darkness, enjoying the fact that the road lifted up to let us past, and we went past the airport and other bright lights. We anchored in the dawn light in a very calm pool upriver of the city and caught a couple more hours of sleep.

The city markets and play areas. Not only is it a real city, but a french one too, supported by lots of municipal money from the homeland and EU. The markets are wonderful, very good fruit, veg and flowers, as well as seafood and spices if you want them. The public spaces are very well done, with nice playgrounds and fountains. The kids spent ages running through a fountain that is a series of jets inlaid in the pavement. We started out trying to keep them dry but eventually, two dripping wet children just had to run around some more in the sun to dry off. The main square, Place Victoire, has been very nicely laid out and makes a very pleasant focus to the town. However, in a corner nearby, hidden away, I found a mural and plaque remembering something not mentioned in any guidebook I've seen. My French isn't good enough, but it looks as if, for three days in 1967, there was a small uprising which resulted in the local troop of french soldiers opening fire on demonstrators in the Place Victoire, killing and injuring an unknown number. Reprisals and round-ups followed, and it seems that the island would generally rather forget the whole thing. I think it was the same time that students in Paris were tearing up cobbled streets to throw them at the riot police. I would google for more but internet is difficult... see later.

The aquarium. Tuesday's science lesson was a trip to the aquarium, which was great. Lots of local coral and fish, turtles, sharks and more. Beautifully done and full of interest. Even though it was a small aquarium by most standards, I'm trying to teach the kids to stop and look deeper at things, so the times we did let us see much more in the tanks than the labels would suggest. Relating it to the snorkeling we've done is great too.

Ile Gozier. A fabulous little island three miles to the east of here, which we went to for a picnic lunch on Saturday, along with most of the floating machinery in Point a Pitre, it seems. Close on fifty yachts were anchored off the island whilst closer to the beach, in fact as close as they could get regardless of swimmers, were a mass of small motor boats and jetskis. The island has a little lighthouse which you can walk right up to, with great views of the atlantic. It also has excellent picnic tables, each with a little shelter and spread throughout the woodland that borders the beach. Bear in mind that this island is less than 500 metres across, so walking from one side to the other isn't strenuous, but it's perfect for the kids. The anchorage, however, was terribly bouncy due to both the waves making their way over the normally protective reefs, and the constant passage of motor boats. This is a recurrent theme... see later.

But Point a Pitre has been very disappointing too. The pilot guide suggests that it is a vibrant yachting centre where you can get great service and anything done. Well, maybe but only if you have a big budget these days, it seems. Since I've already waffled on too long about the good points, the low points will have to be the subject of the next posting.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Day in the Life, 3/3

530pm We are back on the boat, and ready for an evening swim. We all jump off the boat, and Nick and I take turns tackling the weed that has collected around the waterline in her 9 months at sea.

615pm Time for our solar shower. I rig it up on deck to fall through the hatch in the forward heads (bathroom). Water is limited, so we take it in turn: water, off, soap, water to rinse, off, next! Today was hair washing night, so Issie and I did the first part in the sea while hanging off the boat ladder, before doing a fresh water rinse with the shower. Gives new meaning to bathing!!

700pm While we all get ourselves sorted, the kids continue to play while Nick writes some emails (providing technical support to friends and family back home) and I sort a light dinner of baguette and salami. As a special treat, we decided on a TV dinner. Our friends Sean and Char gave us the first series of 'COAST' on DVD. We opened up the saloon couch so that we could all sit together, and thoroughly enjoyed the first episode.

800pm Things are a lot later than normal because of our special TV night. Nick has taken Issie into our room for her story time, while Max and I head to the kids room. There they go over Max's words and read his reading book, before reading his current favourite 'Charlie Brown's Christmas', a story book rescued from my childhood. I sing 'There's a hole in my bucket' while Max slowly fades with the red bicycle light in his hand.

830pm I extricate myself from the kids room. Issie is happily reading to herself, and is disgruntled that it is bedtime so moves reluctantly to her own room. Meanwhile Nick has cleaned the dishes and been doing more emails.

900pm Finally, it is Nick and Gesa time (again, later than normal), but we both find the energy to actually read in our books, and snuggle together on the saloon berth.

930pm We check on the kids. Issie has decided to go to sleep on the landing!! We move her into her bed and finally retire to our own bed.

1000pm It is far too stuffy in our room for two. I seek out the space and coolness of the saloon berth. Peace at last..

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A day in the life, 2/2

1015am Science lesson starts with Nick, while I finally finish getting washed and dressed, clean the stern bathroom, and sit down to read the email Nick downloaded from Corinne. Most of the time we can only do this when we are at a WiFi site, but sometimes Nick can do it via the radio. So, this is a real treat. I am keen to write back, but have two other projects still unfinished, and decide to write a bit more in our Christmas letter.

1045am Max is losing the plot! The science lesson is about light, and linking it to last week's one on the planets, Nick is trying to demonstrate the reflection of sunlight off the moon with a searchlight and volleyball. Max doesn't want to hold the moon and is really disrupting class. He earns his first time out of the day, and I become the moon instead.

1100am After a few more interferences from Max, class is finally over, and they settle to play with trains and drawing just as our visitors arrive. I finish a bit more writing before joining Nick and our guests up on deck. The children have already said their hellos and retreated, but cannot help interrupting all the time. When Max fails to get the attention he desires, all hell breaks loose, and he has earned another time out and the wrath of his mother!

1200pm Utterly embarrassed by our child's behaviour. I have retreated downstairs to try and keep the peace with the children while Nick trades books and boat stories before waving our guests back to their catamaran. It is midday, we are all hot and ready for a change of scene. So, bathing suits on, into the dinghy, and off we zip to the coral garden just around the corner. You don't need to convince Issie to get in the water, although she is annoyed she needs to wear her lifejacket today. We are off shore and the water is choppy (safety first!). Max, who has gained an enormous amount of water confidence in the last week, absolutely, positively does NOT want to go into the water. He prefers starting from land. Nick and Issie swim off to explore, and with some convincing, Max finally goes piggy-back on Nick, but misses the fantastic underwater world that lies beneath us. Antigua has nothing on Guadeloupe, and the colourful fish, sea urchins and underwater plants abound. However, the choppiness is starting to make Issie slightly woozy, so we pack back into the dinghy and head home to the boat.

100pm We hose down on the back of the boat; children snuggle into their swim robes and settle in front of a DVD. Nick prepares lunch while I rinse out all the swimsuits in fresh water and hangs them to dry. She also washes and bleaches some tea towels before returning to her writing.

130pm Lunch is served up on deck. Nick is keen to get Max to try sushimi (raw tuna). The brave boy actually does try, but is quick to spit it out. Unfortunately, the cooked version doesn't go down very well either with the kids, shame. So, Nick and I enjoy the tuna, while Max and Issie stick to their favourites: bread and marmite (for Issie) and Nutella (for Max), with some token carrot and cucumber!!! We watch as boats arrive into the harbour, probably those arriving from Antigua. Unfortunately, Issie and Max are not on their best behaviour and lose DVD watching after lunch.

200pm The kids retire back down below and are exceptionally quiet for about 15 minutes!!! Nick decides to take the left over bits of tuna to try and catch a fish, while I am so hot that I grab a brief moment to sit under the kids hatch to cool down and chill out. How nice not to have questions bombarded at you every minute, or how to spell something, or to intervene in a sibling squabble (it happens a lot).

230pm The peace is broken, the kids are asking a million questions again and making concentration difficult. Eureka, Nick has caught a fish! OK, a teeny tiny one, but it gets us all up on deck. This is enough to get Issie interested in catching her own fish and sure enough, within a few minutes, a lovely small yellow fish is in the bucket. Nick contemplates using it to catch a real big fish, but Issie is already calling it 'my fishy', so I strongly advise against this plan. A few minutes later, as I continue to write down below, Issie lets out a piercing scream. It appears Max wanted to hold the fish, but of course, it slipped out of his hands and bounced onto Issie foot. She was beside herself. The fish meanwhile was happily back in the Atlantic but Issie had real tears and said her foot hurt. Upon closer inspection, sure enough, there was blood! One of the fish's spikes must have pierced her skin. Some antiseptic and a bandage and we were sorted.

310pm Max keeps asking about his ice-cream, or 'can you play with me', or Issie keeps saying 'How do you spell this? How do you spell that?' It is doing my head in. Actually, it is my turn to wash up.

400pm At last, time to head into shore. In Guadeloupe, at least in Deshaies, stores are closed from 2-430pm. We find a shop already open at 415, purchase our Floups (ice cream sticks) and head towards the rubbish dump near the forest to dispose of today's bag (and recycling – another nice thing about Guadeloupe). We carry on up the road for a stroll along the river and then down to the fishing harbour where we get a good view of Ty Dewi in her anchorage.

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A Day in the Life (1/3)

Following on from the popular series of posts about life mid-Ocean, Gesa has written about one day in our life together here on board. There's not a 'typical' day, really, but this one is as close as it gets, as we try to maintain some semblance of daily life with shopping, school and other activities. We're not sailing on this day, which is fairly typical - we spend more time staying put than sailing places. Anyway, here's part the first - up till 10am

A Day in the Life of Ty Dewi and her crew. Location, Deshaies, Guadeloupe, French West Indies.

5am I wake up to the sound of rain and do my usual rounds of closing hatches and checking on kids before falling back into bed

6am The church bell at Deshaies tolls!!!! And the cockerel crows. A few minutes later, Max crawls into bed with Mummy and Daddy.

7am Nick and Max wake up, dress, and go on a morning adventure. Issie is still fast asleep and I am too exhausted from a very vivid dream to get up just yet!

730am Nick and Max return from their trip ashore to dispose of the rubbish and visit the bakery for fresh baguette and pain au chocolat (we are back in French territory!!) Issie is busy drawing mermaids while I have started to plan for today's 'Reading' lesson, having been too tired to prepare it last night.

8pm Breakfast on deck, which included our French finds as well as fresh pineapple and coffee (mocha for me, with proper foamed milk, although UHT!). Max shouts 'Look turtle!' Nick immediately dismisses his sighting, Issie follows suit, while I quickly scan the water, and sure enough, there is a turtle out making his rounds of the bay!! We also watch as all the boats slowly disappear from the bay and head off to their next destination. We expect the early departures are heading back to Antigua.

830am I escape back down below to finish preparing my lesson, while Nick tidies breakfast, does the dishes and the children clean their face, hands and brush their teeth (note: I have yet to accomplish any of this!!)

900am, only half an hour behind schedule, Nick takes the kids to the foredeck to do today's register. This records the date (day, month and year) along with the weather and attendance (Issie and Max write their names). Just as they do this, a dinghy approaches us and they suggest a book swap. 'Sure, but can you come back in a couple of hours, we just started school?' This gives me the chance to set up the treasure hunt for the kids, which will be the final part of their reading lesson. I manage to wash my face and brush my teeth before the kids return to start their lesson.

910am Reading lesson starts. Max is introduced to some more new words while Issie finds anything that starts with 'B' for the alphabet book. We stick these in and write them down, Issie reads two more pages of her phonics words and we sing the alphabet. We move on to a rhyming phonics game. A little bit like the card game, 'Fish', but with words. The idea is to match up and make a column of rhyming words like: dad, had, bad, mad or cat, sat, mat, rat. Now, understandably, these are easy for Issie, but she has fun doing it, and it helps Max to learn the words. As the hour draws to a close, Max is starting to fidget, a good time to finish with our treasure hunt. Issie and Max make a great team. Issie reads out the clues, while Max is very clever and figures out where the next clue is. Their reward is some Oreo cookies hidden in the games cupboard.

10am It is now officially snack and play time. Nick in the meantime has prepared his science lesson, and managed a quick trip back to shore to the fish man to purchase an ENORMOUS Tuna steak for today's lunch.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Adventure in Guadeloupe

There are times when it seems that I spend a couple of weeks building up brownie points with Gesa then go sailing and blow them all on one trip. It's usually big seas (like Nonsuch Bay) or excessively long trips (Montserrat-Guadeloupe) or some other miscalculation or misrepresentation on my part.

Today had it all, although thankfully a good first couple of hours and a very interesting final destination, but it has not gone to plan. We were attracted by the pilot guide's description of the 'north-middle' of the island (Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly, we are now at the head, between the two wings). This area has beautiful reefs, excellent areas to explore by dinghy and then, after a couple of days, a fascinating journey between the two 'wings of the butterfly' to Point a Pitre.

So the first bits are good, we get out of Deshaies, into sheltered water and make ten miles fairly comfortably before we have to break into open water and motor into the wind and sea. We expected this, but even so, Gesa has to give up and lie down. We originally plan to go to Port Louis, a little fishing village, but this is another four miles of hard travelling so we bottle out and head for a little anchorage shown on the chart as beside an island and behind a reef. The entrance to the channel is a bit scary, big breakers on either side of a hundred metre gap, but the buoys are big and look reliable, and we are soon inside the reef in calmer water.

Sadly, the anchorage is far from sheltered - it might be OK in a gentle breeze but it's blowing 20 knots out here and choppy. We might be safe, but we won't be comfortable. We realise that this whole bay, the promised area of splendid exploring, is going to be a no-no in the current weather conditions, and it's forecast to blow harder over the next few days. The only choice is to go on to the Riviere Salle, the narrow gap between the two islands.

But now, the buoys that have been guiding us are suddenly missing. Looking for the next one in the chain, supposedly green, all we can see is a small yellow buoy. We know the channel is narrow, but deep and we carefully head towards the buoy with 16 metres of water beneath us. Suddenly, very suddenly at the marker it goes to 2 metres and as we spin round to get out of there, we touch the reef. Thankfully, applying a lot of throttle and a little help from the bounce of the waves and we break back over the reef into deep water leaving a trail of sandy churned up water. It's a heartstopping moment.

We were being careful before, but now we are creeping onwards, carefully looking for changes in the water colour which are fairly easy in bright sunshine, but much harder with cloud cover. Fortunately it's one of those days when you get some cloud, as we had when we hit the reef, then clear sky, then more cloud. By using the bright periods to spot the water colours together with the pilot book and the electronic charts, we manage to feel our way into the relative safety of the Riviere Salle. This is still nerve-wracking, as it is only deep enough in most places to give us a couple of feet beneath the boat, but it's enough and we know it's mud that we can get out of easily.

The river is blocked by two bridges, joining the two halves of the island. The good news is that they open to let yachts through. The less good news is that they do so at 4:30am. We'd expected to have a couple of days gentle exploring before being here, but now we have to follow a hard and tense day of sailing with a very early start.

Which is how we happen to be sat in the middle of a mangrove swamp, with all the mosquito screens in place, and alarms set for 3:55am. Ah, another day in paradise.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

School's In !!

One of the most frequent questions we were asked before we left was about schooling the kids. Well, now we've started - school began on Mon 6 Jan and we've now done a week and a bit. So how does it work?

Since we have a teacher pupil ratio of exactly 1.0 (see, we can do maths), the lessons are pretty intense, and because we know what was taught, we can easily continue the same themes in daily life too. So school is just two fifty minute lessons a day, 8:30 and 9:30 with a ten minute break between for snack and playtime. We do have a five day week, but our days off are Wednesday and Saturday, since those are days when the shops are open and we can make full use of the day if we need. We also move things around - today the weather is good for the passage to Guadeloupe so no school today but Wednesday instead.

We've set a timetable of subjects, it's like this:

Mon: Writing, maths
Tues: Reading, science
Weds: No school
Thurs: Art/drama, maths
Fri: Writing, science
Sat: No school
Sun: Reading, geography

Gesa and I tend to lead on the lessons we're most comfortable with, so I usually do maths, science and geography, but both of us are usually around so the 'assistant' can help out if the topic needs a split between Issie and Max's levels, or if one of them starts to lose interest.

We only have three school rules, two for the kids and one for us.
1) Always listen to the teachers (Mr or Mrs Ward) and do as they ask
2) Put your hand up if you want to do or say anything
3) The first rum punch cannot be poured until school is over

We've got a lot of materials on board, but no long term structured courses, so we try to develop concepts through the lessons, and build on those. We also take items of interest where we can. So the kids had been asking about clouds and rain, so the first science lesson talked about the water cycle, weather, fresh and salty water, and we went into the galley and boiled some sea water to make clouds in the saucepan, rain on the lid and collect the fresh water in a cereal bowl 'lake'. Geography was about maps, the chart of our ocean crossing, finding the Canaries and Antigua, tracing a map of the island and finding our way by road and sea between the places we have been.

As the teachers, it's good fun, but challenging. Planning a lesson and maintaining the interest of two kids is no doddle, as any parent will know, and my respect for our teacher friends continues to develop as we try to do some of their job - but shh, don't tell them I said that.

As time goes on we'll doubtless get more used to the routine and better at it, and school has already helped bring some structure to their days, and to ours. It's also tremendously rewarding to find stuff you've taught being brought out a few days later, it clearly does sink in!

I think we're going to really enjoy the home schooling, but I also get a feeling that we'll be perfectly ready to hand them over to the Canadian school system in a couple of years time....

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Sunday, January 13, 2008


One of the great things about being on the beach is the variety of new sea-life for the kids to explore. They are surprisingly un-squeamish about these, unlike Gesa who hates to even get her toes in the sea-weed.

Here, Issie has found a sea cucumber (or 'big turd' as we call them) which are very squishy and a little wriggly.

Max has found a sea-star, very like starfish but actually different, sea-stars are a bit of a curse around here as they eat coral killing the reefs, but the kids love them. Some beaches have so many that you can pick them up every few feet. The kids often build a home for a couple from rocks and sand, and 'look after' the poor creatures. They usually make a break for freedom, it's amazing how fast they move on their little suckers, but the kids tend to 'rescue' them pretty quick and put them back into their home.

The other day, Max was up pretty early as usual, so he and I went on an explore. Being a flat calm morning, we took the dinghy over a reef that was only a couple of feet deep, so he coul see the coral and other creatures beneath. Since he doesn't yet swim well enough to see these normally, he loved the chance to look down from the dinghy through the crystal clear water.

We found a little sea urchin and picked it up using an oar, it waved all it's little spines at us until we let it go again. They can be nasty, some have very long spines and they hurt a lot if they get stuck in you, so it's not usual to see one this close.

We really enjoy our little adventures, and the Daddy+Max trips are becoming a bit of a regular routine.

Recent sunsets

One of the great things about this living aboard life is the chance to watch a different sunset every night. Here is a recent selection from Antigua, being

- Long Island
- Parham
- Looking over Antigua from Bird Island, with the moon rising
- View from Jolly Harbour, with Montserrat in the distance

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Sailing for the rich and maybe famous

When you've got a lot of money, yachting has a different flavour to it. Here's some of our recent observations.
At the exclusive Jumby Bay resort on Antigua's Long Island, a large motor yacht arrived, called Carpe Diem. I've seen lots of yachts called this (Seize the Day) but they didn't seem quite as decisive as the name suggests. After the anchor was down, three crew zipped ashore in a large motor tender. They carefully set up nine deckchairs, with nice stripey cushions, a couple of umbrellas and it all looks like preparations for a lovely beach trip for their guests. Fifteen minutes later, they take it all down again and return to the boat. Either someone changed their mind on a whim, or the crew have to do the all important deckchair drill one a month and the captain assesses their performance through his binoculars.

Sailing south down the Antiguan coast, we come across a large yacht sailing up and down with a helicopter close behind. Clearly shooting a more upmarket verison of our little holiday videos.

Of course, if you have a big enough yacht, you don't have to hire a helicopter to take your videos, you just buy one and keep it on the back - look closely, there it is.
Sometimes, all you need is some style and a superb piece of engineering. Maltese Falcon left harbour today, she's pretty impressive. Check out this link to see the interior too.
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Friday, January 11, 2008

Creepy Crawlies

We spent New Year in Nonsuch Bay, quite an out of the way place with no easy way to get things like food, water, or to dispose of rubbish. This taught us a useful lesson, but I'd better tell it in Gesa's words, from an email to one of our friends. Not for the squeemish.
The good news, I finished a book! Wow, the second one this year (2007)! I have not really managed to read more than articles since having the kids (no time and too tired). Actually finding time on the boat has its challenges too. We are up quite early, of course have a whole day outdoors (usually on the beach or some other expedition), and by the time we have finished with dinner and clean up and kids finally get to sleep (which has been difficult), we just collapse into bed as well, and it is only 8pm. So, it was rather unusual for Nick and myself to up after 10pm last night as we decided to watch a movie. That in itself would have made us quite tired anyway, unfortunately at 5am something wet and solid hit my face. It turned out to be a maggot!!!!!!!! Needless to say I freaked out. I could only guess it came from the rubbish on deck waiting to be taken ashore. Unfortunately, we have not dealt with rubbish since the 29th and have a little collection. Of course it is warm here...well, I leave it to your imagination. I refused to go back into our bed. (What happened, is one of the little guys managed to squirm his way across the deck and into one of the side hatches (hence his free fall onto my face). Nick secured the bags into large bags, sprayed bleach and washed the deck with salt water I still had trouble sleeping and so have woken up a little worse for wear.
Oops. We are now a little more careful.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Year etc.

So after Christmas, it was time to say goodbye to Mum and Dad, so we went back to Deep Bay for a relaxing morning and lunchtime. Dad, Gesa and Max climbed up to an old lookout / fort above the bay, whilst the rest of us swam and relaxed on the beach. Gesa and I zipped round the corner in the dinghy and found that we could get a 'day pass' to the all inclusive resort at Hawksbill Bay, so that was her birthday sorted out. We said a sad goodbye to my parents as they caught a taxi to the airport - Dad has been on board for seven weeks since we left the Canaries and Mum was with us for three weeks - I haven't spent that much time with them since I left home, and it was great to be together all this time.

The next day, we caught an early taxi round to the resort and played tourists for a day. For a rather surprising price of ninety pounds, total, the four of us got breakfast, lunch, snacks, all the drinks we could order and use of the pool, watersports and other stuff at the Hawksbill Bay resort. It was lovely. We did everything we could, including sailing, kayaking, swimming and a lot of cocktail sampling. We left rather full and slightly wobbly, and returned home to the boat for the night very satisfied. That was great value fun - we've spent that much on an ok-ish dinner for two in Cambridge. We actually reckon we could find more regular excuses to do this sort of thing, Issie's birthday in March being the next one.

Over Christmas, we'd met up with some new friends on their boat, Aqua Libra. Paul, Morag and five year old Holly had crossed the Atlantic together recently and the kids really got on well, as did us adults. We hatched a plan to spend new year together, and chose a place called Nonsuch Bay as a suitably out of the way middle of nowhere path less travelled sort of place to go.

It was pretty much that, but the journey there was rather tough. Motoring into big swells for three hours used up pretty much all the sailing brownie points I've accumulated recently and Gesa looked distinctly close to jumping ship for a while. Once in the bay, it was much more sheltered and we found a near perfect Caribbean beach, a little curve of perfect sand with palm trees and fun snorkelling. Our two little boats had this space all to ourselves, whilst elsewhere in the bay were three enormous superyachts, showing that the rich and famous rate this place highly too.

We had a New Year's lunch on the beach, the kids building sandcastles, harbours, dens, and finding big sea-stars which they decided were sick and needed looking after so the poor creatures were placed in the 'harbour' and nursed back to the point where parents could safely release them again. A conch also made it's way to the beach but cleverly snuck off again when it saw what was happening to the sea stars....

We moved across the bay to Green Island, where the anchorage is sheltered but you can walk across a narrow spit of land to the east facing atlantic beach where the surf pounds and throws up all sorts of good beach souvenirs. We have more dead crab claws then we know what to do with. The waves have also exposed fossilised sea urchins in the limestone, so it all makes for a good biology / geology lesson. Back on the calmer side of the island, hermit crabs and foot long lizards wander about pretty much oblivious to the human visitors.

Saying goodbye to our new friends, who are heading south to Guadeloupe soon and then Panama and eventually New Zealand, we returned to Falmouth Harbour to stock up with food, get the laundry done and connect to wifi once more. Ah, the essentials of life. We also made the most of the Mad Mongoose Happy Hour (4pm-7pm, every day, rum punch $5EC = 90p, Gesa had four which is at least one too many)

And that was our new year. A pretty happy one, the odd bout of sea-sickness and child tantrums aside. Welcome 2008, a very different year for us.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Our Christmas

So I realise that our last post was Christmas Eve, and what have we done since then? It's been a very different Christmas for us out here, and lots of fun. The less fun bit was some engine maintenance, which we'd planned to spend a half day or so on and ended up taking a day and a half, with plenty of scraped knuckles and swearing. However, we had the engine running again by Christmas Eve.

We didn't have very fixed plans, but liked the sound of the open air party at Nelson's Dockyard on Christmas Day, so we were back in English Harbour on the 23rd. We heard that our favourite local restaurant, Calabash, was doing full christmas dinner with all the trimmings on Christmas Eve, and that sounded like a good way to avoid the crowded places on the day itself. Pam, who cooks there, did herself proud with a beautiful turkey and ham dinner, all perfectly cooked and very tasted. The best test of all, at the end we were all pleasantly full and very satisfied, but no-one felt over-stuffed, as can happen with the pile-it-high restaurant approach. Sadly the kids weren't on best behaviour so some time and pleasure was distracted by controlling them but on balance, a very nice night out.

So Christmas Day, we all slept in a little, even the children which was really nice. They woke to find that Santa had found us (Max claims that he did send Santa a card to say we'd moved) and there were a few presents around the bottom of the mast. We had a gentle breakfast of Croissants and fruit then headed for the beach. Everyone played on the beach and enjoyed the warm sunshine for the rest of the morning, it's nice to swim in the sea on Christmas Day!

We had a very untraditional lunch of bangers and mash on board, opened the rest of everyone's presents, and then went ashore to the Dockyard to join the party. The steel band actually sounded better from the distance of the boat than up close, but there was a good supply of sparkling wine and quite a few people we recognised from our travels and acquaintances of late. It was a lovely, informal afternoon before we retired to the boat to put the kids to bed and enjoy an evening rum punch.

On Boxing Day we filled up with water and then left English Harbour to head around to the West coast again for Mum and Dad's last few days aboard. We went back to one of our favourites, Hermitage Bay, and enjoyed playing on the beach there but the swell was different and less suited to a night's sleep so we moved to the other side of the bay, which was much more shallow but sheltered. After a slightly stressful running aground on the sandy mud, we found a spot for the night and stayed there till next day.

The next few days include Gesa's birthday then new year, but I'll write about those later - right now Max wants to play so I'd better go!

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Max is asking about water, clouds, rain, fresh water, sea water etc so we explain it...

'And that, Max, is why the sea is salty'

'But does it have any pepper?'

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