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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pictures from Saba

- Enroute from St Martin to Saba
- The island of Saba - rising steeply from the Caribbean Sea
- The village of Windwardside, Saba
- On top of Mt Scenery, the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands!

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Photos from St Barts

Some photos from our stop at St Barts:
- The wild tortoises on the walk from Anse Colombier
- Family snorkel trip, seeing turtles and rays
- Sunset

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pleasently surprised in St Barts

Here we are in St Barts, well known as a playground of the rich and famous. Our days in Statia were great, but the nights weren't so good, as the anchorage was rolly as h**k and we were glad to move on. Sad to leave our friends on Losloper, but the sail north to St Barts was as close to perfect as we could get - four hours with a gentle swell, good breeze and bright sunshine. A fish on the hook would have made it sublime but you can't always get everything!

We cleared in at Gustavia, a picture postcard bit of French caribbean and the place to be and be seen if you are on a multimillion pound megayacht. For us, it was a bit open and rocky so we stocked up on cheese, wine and ice and motored another twenty minutes to Anse Colombier, a gorgeous bay with crystal clear water and only a footpath to get here from the shore side. We are in seven metres of water, but can see the bottom like it is a swimming pool, but a pool with sea stars, turtles, rays and other fish. To dive in at eight in the morning, swim with the turtles and drift awhile in the warm water is just bliss. There's enough sandy beach to please Mr Max, together with wave sculpted rock, cactus lined shore and a feeling of pristine isolation just a mile from the bustle of Gustavia.

Today we walked us the beach path to find a boulangerie for a loaf of bread. The path is steep and winds through a very different landscape of low shrub and cactus, with little lizards scuttling away at every step. Issie strides off in front, followed by Max the mountain goat but suddenly there is a scream and she freezes. We arrive to find her staring at a spotty rock that is slowly moving across the path. It's a tortoise! 'I thought it was a giant spider' she says, ever the drama queen but clearly a little shaken by the encounter. We come across five or six of them meandering through the woodland and it seems that they must have once been domesticated but escaped or set free and now living happily in the woods.

The walk turns out to be longer than expected, and the whinging and whining grows as the road stretches on. Thankfully it is worth it, the boulangerie turns out to be a bakery/cafe with fabulous bread, pastries, salads and coffee, so despite our intention of picking up breakfast it's actually eleven thirty by the time we get there and it becomes a delicious lunch.

We really like it here and would love to stay longer but time marches on and tomorrow we will clear out, sail on to an outlying island of St Barts and spend the night there before proceeding to St Martin to stock up and head of to the British Virgin Islands. It's a major trip for us since it will be overnight - leaving just after midnight to make sure we arrive in daylight. It'll be the first time Gesa has done that and so it will mark a milestone in her sailing experience, we just hope the kids will sleep and the weather stays calm. St Martin means wifi, so pictures soon, we promise!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008


1 - Currents.

We went snorkeling today, it was nice but the tide was strong. I commented that we had to swim hard against the current. What did you see, Max?. 'I saw some fish but ate too many currents so I had to come out'

2 - Monopoly.

Max lands on Chance. 'Drunk in charge, fine £20'. What does that mean, daddy?. Well, you've been caught trying to drive a car after drinking to much alcohol. 'Oh. Why is that fine?'

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Departin Martin

We've finally left St Marten and not a moment too soon, really. The place was driving us crazy despite all it's practical benefits, and we are pleased to be voyaging again.

Which is why we're moored in one of the more out of the way spots in these islands, a place called Saba. We've travelled here with new friends from a boat called Losloper, who we were introduced to because they live in Calgary, Canada and know the Vancouver Island area very well too. Magnus and Ronel are traveling with their two teenage kids, having come down from The Bahamas this spring. They are going south to Trinidad, and were unsure as to whether it was St Barts or Saba next, so when we said we were going to Saba, the choice was made.

The sail here was very pleasant, four easy hours but not a bite on the fishing line. Losloper had left an hour before us and, being a little slower, had just mooring up when we arrived and were in the process of cleaning a big fish. They had caught a 19kg Marlin which put up a tremendous fight before being hauled aboard, almost six feet long. We all had fish last night and their freezer is full! It was superb meat, and as we have the bigger BBQ we hosted an enjoyable evening.

Today we went on an island tour and climbed to the highest point in the Netherlands! Saba is an amazing place, a volcanic cone sticking straight up out of the sea. Most of the coast is steep down to the water and there is almost nowhere to land. We are moored in a bay where the swell, small as it is, crashes into the boulders at the base of the cliffs and none of us want to try to land a dinghy there. Despite that, there are a series of steps cut into the rock to the village a few hundred metres above, and in times past this was the only place to land supplies in anything but the calmest weather.

Since the 1970's, there is a tiny harbour on the South of the island, about fifteen minutes away by dinghy and that is where we all went. Magnus and I had chatted to a taxi driver about a tour when we were there to clear in yesterday, and whilst it sounded great, we're always wary about price so when he said $60US for the eight of us we nearly bit his hand off. Granted, on an island of just five square miles the touring opportunities are limited but we'd taken one look at the road from the dock to the village and that looked worth $60 on its own. As we approached, a small oil tanker was moored about a hundred yards offshore, with a pipeline floating in the water into the harbour. This is the delivery of fuel oil for the islands generators, so we had to motor out around the ship and her pipeline to get into the tiny harbour.

Our driver, whose name escapes me, was there waiting with the minibus taxi and we set off up the steepest road I've seen since the Canary Islands. It's known as the 'Road that couldn't be built' after Dutch engineers said a road was impossible so a Saban took a correspondence course in road engineering in the 1940's and, fifteen years later, the road was built. Our driver is a Saban through and through, his brothers and cousins worked on this road, he's had so many jobs we lost count, from construction, farming, restaurant and bar work and a lot more. As he said, on an island of 1600 people, you are a jack of all trades or nothing gets done. We wind and grind through the village of Bottom on towards Windwardside and the taxi is rarely out of first gear. The views are amazing and the villages beautiful. Looking out across the ocean the air is clear, other islands rise as distant apparitions and the curve of the earth is obvious from the shape of the wide horizon. Looking inward to the beautiful villages, there is not a piece of litter to be seen, people stick to a voluntary code for the style and colour of the houses and the local facilities are first rate. Clearly, being a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has big benefits to this unique place.

After touring most of the roads on the island, we are dropped at the base of a path up Mount Scenery, the 850m high peak of the island. Magnus and family are keen to climb it and so are we but, unsure of the kids endurance, we let them go ahead. No worries, Max and Issie surprise us by springing up the path like a couple of mountain goats. OK, Issie could be a slow, distracted, complaining mountain goat at times, but they did really well. The path leads up through tropical forest, all huge leaves and colourful blooms, into cloud forest where the near permanent cloud over the peak drips a constant supply of moisture onto the mountain. The trees are draped in moss, the path is slippery with algae and the temperature dips dramatically as we enter the mist that shrouds the top. Deprived of what must be outstanding views on a (rare) clear day, we are enveloped in a world of our own as we gain the summit and enjoy a brief explorers treat of cookies and snacks before heading down again for a well deserved lunch.

Back on the boat we swim, shower and wind down after a strenuous day - we don't hike that much right now and I think our legs will hurt tomorrow. I 'fish' with Max, who wants to catch things with a net so we rig up a catch net to stream in the current and see what we get. Our haul of tiny plankton is fabulous, miniature jellyfish, shrimp, and all many of strange translucent creatures that buzz around the bucket or pulse gently up and down. It's a whole different world down there and the kids are fascinated by it. When dark falls, we find, as I suspected, that some of the plankton are bioluminescent and light up blue-green when you tap the side of the bucket. 'Wow' says Issie. I point out that, today, she has seen light-up sea creatures and, on the mountain, a type of lizard that only lives here on Saba. The 'not many kids ever get to see this' lecture is wearing kind of thin so I don't get the strongest response but I can tell she's had a good day.

Tomorrow we sample the Saban snorkeling, supposed to be superb although there's still a slight swell which might make it a bit tricky. The diving here is world class and whilst we don't dive, the crew of Losloper do so they will be out enjoying the underwater delights as well. Tuesday we plan to move on to Statia, just seventeen miles away, and repeat our honeymoon hike into the rainforest volcano crater - something we did eight years ago and have been wanting to repeat with the kids since we started planning this trip. We'd tried to reach Saba all those years ago, but winds were too light so it's only now that we've got here and it's been worth the wait. Photos to follow sometime but it could be a while before we see wifi again!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Rescuing a duckling

We've been amused to note that one of the popular excursions here is the 'Rhino Rider tour and snorkel trip' ( This is a tourist special where you pay to rent a dinghy with outboard, and get led off to nice spots around the area.

We call them the 'ducklings' because there is a lead boat (Mother Duck) followed by a trail of ducklings as they come weaving past us, we often see eight or ten groups a day. Even the kids now shout 'ducklings!' as they head towards us.

Yesterday, they zipped on past and then we noticed that the last boat had stopped and was drifting about twenty yards from us. There was no sign of Mother Duck coming back for him, so I popped over in our dinghy and started his engine again for him. As he was ready to set off again, Mother Duck arrived, gave us the thumbs up and thanks, and off they went. We saw them all coming back safe and sound a couple of hours later so we guess his engine kept on running. All part of the service, you know.
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Floating again!

We went back in the water on Monday, it's very nice to be afloat again but we're tired of being in the lagoon here where, whilst access to services is great, it feels trapped and crowded. We're heading out today to anchor in the bay, then off to Saba in the morning to continue voyaging.

Here's a few photos:
- Ready to lift back in
- Kids watch the sunset back on the water
- Using the new bbq to make garlic bread!
- Max and Nick hoist the Dutch flag

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Scraping, painting and getting by ashore

The boat yard is right next to Sint Maarten's airport, a major destination for the holiday visitors. Planes of all shapes and sizes land and take off all day. The big jets lift off about a hundred yards from us with a deafening roar. When landing, they have already slowed down before they come past then they stop, rev up and turn around to taxi back to the terminal. We now know that the big Air France Airbus arrives at 2:30pm and leaves again two hours later. Today we discovered that a Thomson jumbo comes in on Thursdays, the biggest and noisiest so far. Max, of course, thinks this is fantastic. Since it stops at night, we tend to agree with him; we can stand on the deck of our boat and wave at the planes, probably being the first people these holiday makers see when they arrive in St Maarten!
Apparently, there is a bar called the 'Sunset Beach Bar' which is at the other end of the runway and you can actually feel the jetwash as the planes come and go - we've told Max it's where you can play on the beach and get a haircut from the landing aeroplanes at the same time. We'll go on Saturday and post some photos.

Being out of the water is a pain because the boat depends on the magic liquid for more than just support. Our toilets flush with sea water and whilst we have a tank to hold the output for a bit, we have to bring a bucket of water inside to chuck in as the flush. Fortunately there's a shower and toilet block on site which does for all except the middle of the night calls of nature. Our washing up also draws on seawater for the wash down, and drains to the ocean, so we're in camping style washing in a bucket and taking the waste water to the drain ashore. Last of all the fridge needs water to cool the refrigerant so we can't use it right now and are reliant on bags of ice from the store to keep the beers cold.

Wednesday morning we pack the kids off to the local day care blessing from heaven and get on with the job. It's got a bit bigger since large patches of paint are lifting off with only a gentle touch from the scraper. Flakes as big as my hand are peeling away. The boatyard is a wonderful place for free advice - most free advice being worth what we've paid for it - but there are some very professional and experienced folks here, and the consensus is that when the boat was given a protective coating some five or six years ago it was painted using the wrong primer which hasn't bonded well in some areas. In other areas, it's stuck like glue and will take a lot of work to remove.

The proper, if you have time and money, thing to do is to take it all off and start again. The compromise we decided upon is to take off anything we can find that is loose, leave the hard stuck stuff and cover everything with a top quality primer before we antifoul. Since we are putting on well over a thousand dollars worth of paint, this is an important choice and we hope we've got it right.

We get stuck into the task right away. Both of us are good at this sort of thing, seeing Gesa in her painting clothes and headscarf, chipping away at flakes of paint brings back memories of renovating Akeman Street all those years ago and with the kids out of the way we are keen to get this job over and done with and be back in the water sailing to nice places instead of stuck in a boatyard. Within twenty four hours, we've gone over the hull with the flat scraper (get under all the loose bits), the pulling scraper (remove as much old paint as possible from the stuck tight bits) and an orbital sander (roughen up the surface for the new paint).

The passing boatyard opinion gradually changes tone from 'oooh, that's a big job you've got there, ha ha' through 'ahhh, another couple of weeks and you'll be finished' towards 'you're doing well there'. Later we get a comment about 'putting the rest of us to shame, working overtime' and know that, on some level, others are quietly impressed.

We, however, are disappointed to finish Wednesday with about an hour's sanding work remaining. (we lifted out Tuesday lunchtime) Thursday morning sees us up early so I can take the kids to the day care whilst Gesa finishes the sanding. As I return, we're ready to put the primer on. This needs three hours before we can paint the next layer, so we get stuck in, it goes well and is quickly done. Gesa wields the small brush round all the edges and fittings whilst I follow up with the Brut approach, splash it on all over. (British cultural reference to 80s advertising campaign there, sorry for the 80% of our readers who don't get it. Google 'Brut aftershave Henry Cooper' if you're that sad.)

We're now ready to put on the real paint - called 'antifouling'. The idea is that stuff in the paint stops the little critters attaching themselves to us. As you can imagine, the best answer is to fill the paint with awful poisonous chemicals and bob's yer uncle. Of course, such awful chemicals are now banned for us pleasure sailors (if you're the navy or a big cargo ship, you can use thousands of gallons of the stuff) The nasty stuff (called TBT) is soon to be banned for big ships too but you can still buy it here in the caribbean, although it's not legal for the USA where we are going. No-one would find out but we have a discussion about it and decide that if we're going to hold principles about looking after the environment then we should stick to them here too. Some of the newer paints claim to be as effective without long lasting environmental effects, so we go for that.

It requires a deep breath though, because the paint is $250 a tin and we need four tins plus another two of $100 primer. We could buy the dodgy nasty stuff for about two thirds of the price, and it would probably work a bit better too but at many turns in life you are faced with choices to do what's 'right' or what's cheap and fools that we are, we spend the money. Time will tell.

The primer dries nicely (I've been watching paint dry, folks, and believe me it's still better than a day in the office) and it's on to the antifouling. The active ingredients here are a 'biocide' and lots of copper. Gesa reads the labels carefully and is soon handing me the paper suit, rubber gloves and mask. Which is why I'm here in 28'C, wrapped up like an eskimo and gamely mixing paint for all I'm worth. The copper is heavy and likes to sink to the bottom of the tin as soon as you stop stirring so every pour into the paint tray requires a good thrash with the stirring stick. It's thick, heavy paint and hard to get it to cover, especially as it semi-dries almost instantly so running the roller over again lifts as much as it leaves. After about three hours I've developed an acceptable painting technique, but then I should have done because I'd managed to paint the whole hull.

We've recovered the kids and fed them, put them to bed and now I'm writing this as Gesa strumms on the guitar for the first time in many moons, inspired by a great 'pot luck' supper and singalong at the local bar last night, when a bunch of sailors cooked and got together with one of them playing songs for the rest of us.

Tomorrow sees another coat of antifouling and some other small jobs then we get to relax over the weekend before we get splashed again on Monday. It'll be nice to be floating again, and be connected back up to our plumbing system!

Like a fish out of water

It's time for Ty Dewi to get some 'below the waterline' attention. After more than a year in the water, covering some 6000 miles in seas cold and warm, rough and smooth, she's ready for a good clean and some new paint. We book into a local boatyard for a few days ashore.

Lifting thirteen tonnes of boat is always a careful process, but we were expecially impressed with how carefully Lance and his team at Bobby's Boatyard (a little piece of Saff Efrica in the Caribean!) lifted, moved and propped up our home. The boats before and after us were fairly standard, lightweight production boats and the job was done in twenty minutes. We took well over an hour.

As we motor slowly into the lifting dock, it's clear that the boatlift cannot get far enough along our hull without hitting the forestay - a piece of wire holding up the mast. Fotunately, this is one of two and the inner stay will hold the weight of the mast when ashore, so we disconnect the forestay with some careful work with the pliers and a large hammer.

After a number of adjustments to get the slings in the right position, the crane takes the load and Ty Dewi lifts gently from her natural environment. The water drips away and we can see clearly the amount of aquatic life that has attached itself to us over the past few months. We've snorkeled under the boat plenty of times, so it's no surprise, and we know that there are some patches where the old paint has come away totally, leaving bare fibreglass, something we need to attend to in this time ashore.

The kids play in the boatyard, a heaven for curious young minds and a nightmare for safety conscious parents. 'Don't play under that boat, kids'. 'Er, don't touch any of those supports', 'no, I think those old paint tins are best left alone'. Issie dances around, avoiding the spray of water as the boat is pressure washed and those patches of bare hull get bigger as the powerful washer blasts away the old paint.

Max makes a friend of one of the boatyard workers who has a small bicycle and suddenly they are travelling around the yard together having a great time.

Eventually the boat is safely propped up and ready for us to get to work. That's another story.
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Tuesday, April 08, 2008


We're staying in a boatyard right now to paint the boat. It has showers, which is useful after a hard days scraping old paint. And for Max, a hard day playing in the dirt.

He and I go into the shower block, which is the only one for everyone in the yard. Both shower stall doors are closed, so I tell Max we have to come back later and turn to leave.

'Ouuhou!' says a female voice from one of the showers, and I turn to see Max crouched down, looking up through the louvres in the bottom of the door. 'Yep, he says, there's someone in this one'

We apologise and leave quickly.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Less teeth!

Issie lost another tooth recently, adding to the list of different currencies that the tooth fairy has had to get from the Fairyland bureau d'exchange. Then the other day Max pipes up and says 'I've got a wobbly tooth'. 'Yeh, yeh, Max, just pretending to be like your sister again, eh?'. 'No, Daddy, really, look'. And sure enough, there is a very wobbly front tooth which falls out a couple of days later when he's eating, of all things, an ice cream! He managed to swallow it, so a note is written to the tooth fairy who duly delivered with two US dollars. To be spent on more ice cream, we suspect.

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Recent photos

Some recent photos, being:
St Bart's Sunset
Issie dancing on deck
Kids drying off after having a 'shower' in a rain storm
Max 'fishing' with a handy rope

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Great delight in the Ward family

Yesterday we heard about a kid's club here in St Maarten. Today it was all arranged and the kids got to go and spend six hours in a couple of small rooms filled with toys and a few other children. They were very excited.

But not as much as we were! We have just had our first day without kids in four months and we got so much done, shopping for boat stuff, arranging liftout, having a quiet lunch together and a drink before collecting them again. Ahhhh, so nice.

After we'd dropped them off, we walked along the street hand in hand like happy teenagers. There are usually two small people attached to one of us. We're taking them back there tomorrow, and for a couple of days next week whilst we scrape and paint the boat.

Those of you using UK daycare, look away now. This invaluable service cost us the extortionate fee of $15 per child per day. That's £7.50. What did we pay the babysitter per hour back in England?

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Stress in St Martin!

So this is the get away from it all, carefree cruising lifestyle, hanging out in beautiful places enjoying the tropical sun and testing rum punches up and down the length of the island chain. In which case, why have we been hunkered down on the boat for four days, buffeted by near gale force winds and torrential rain from time to time? Struggling with narrow, shallow channels and incorrect charts and, horror of horrors, running out of milk...

We only stayed a night in St Barts, wanting to beat the weather forecast and get safely to St Martin. We sailed around the top of the island, which is strangely partitioned into the Dutch, southern, half and the French part in the north. In the middle is a shallow lagoon, which is dredged to allow yachts to enter and anchor, and both nationalities have their own lifting bridge to let us in.

Only, the Dutch have got all mercenary recently and started charging a lot of money to be in their side. The French either did a gallic shrug and ignored it, or are being a bit slow to catch up, but the simple fact is that to come into the Dutch side and stay a week would be $100US, with another $40 a week thereafter. Via the French side, we paid $8 to clear customs and that's it. We're now anchored 55ft (according to the chart plotter) north of the border along with most of the boats in the lagoon, strangely enough. Almost all the megayacht berthing is on the Dutch side, and they are paying upwards of $1000 each time they come in or go out, which is where it becomes a big deal for the authorities. You get the feeling that us mere mortal cheapskates are little more than a pain in the butt bunch of paperwork for them in comparision to the big bucks. Given the current state of the US economy, they may have picked a poor time to start being so choosy.

So we sailed an extra five miles and saved ourselves a bunch of money. The twenty-five mile sail from St Barts was lovely, made even more so when the seventy-two foot classic yacht Ticonderoga overtook us, just twenty metres away looking absolutely gorgeous and with a friendly wave too. We can only aspire to such levels of paintwork and shiny varnish. We checked in with French customs, a simple process but it left us too late for the afternoon bridge opening into the lagoon so we sat and bounced up and down in the bay until the evening one. At five pm, we joined a small group milling about in front of the bridge. There is a shallow area on one side of the approach but our electronic chart disagreed with our pilot book about exactly where so I cautiously followed everyone else with a wary eye on the depth sounder whilst Gesa went between the two charts with increasing confusion and concern. Max, meanwhile, has been waiting all day for this event and keeps asking 'but WHEN will the bridge open, Mummy?'. Mummy is a bit stressed so this doesn't really help.

The bridge finally opens, to Max's delight, and we head on through, breathing a sigh of relief as we pass unscathed between the fairly narrow steel and concrete margins of the channel. We relaxed too soon. At the end of this stretch is a sort of T-junction where it meets the main deep water channel into the lagoon. According to the pilot book, you have to look out for the markers and turn at the right time. Except that the markers were not as described and there were lots of boats actually anchored in the deep water making it hard to see where we should be. I followed another boat but others cut a corner. They were right, and the boat I was following must have had a shallow keel because as we took the corner we ran out of water and onto the mud. Thirteen tonnes of boat carves a lovely deep furrow in the mud and sticks in a nice, gloopy sort of way.

Engine full ahead, full reverse, we make little impression. A chap in a big dinghy comes past and without even being asked, offers to help. There are soon two more, all with big outboard engines, and they push together on one side and another as we use our engine and slowly, ever so slowly, we twist free and back into the channel. We thank them profusely and they refuse our offer of beers with a cheery wave. We go on our way, slowly progressing through the channel until we locate our friends on Iceni and anchor near them. We get the anchor to set, although it is notoriously bad holding in here, but we end up very close to an empty mooring buoy. It doesn't look like anyone will be on it tonight so we resolve to stay there and move a little in the morning. The crew of Iceni come over for a beer and chat and we relax a bit after a pretty stressful afternoon.

As forecast, it blows quite hard in the night but we sit tight, thankfully. The forecast is bad for the whole week, meaning that we need to be set in very firmly and the lagoon will fill up with others seeking shelter. We move after breakfast, set the anchor again and reverse against it. We'll stay on board for a couple of hours until we're happy then start off into town and explore. The wind is gusting hard and all the boats are swinging quite wildly, putting a big strain on anchors and chains. Unknown to us, under the water a hundred feet ahead, our anchor is tightly entwined in the ubiquitous lagoon weed, but not dug through into the sand beneath. The weed has immensely strong roots but with each gust a few more strands are parting and after about an hour it gives up the fight. Thankfully, Gesa glances up out of the window and says 'er, aren't we further back than before? Shit, we're dragging.....' We race on deck and start the engine as we are not ten metres from a boat behind. A helpful neighbour has already jumped in his dinghy and come over to warn us, but turns back when he sees that we've noticed too. I thank him later. We manage to set the anchor again and this time I reverse against it for longer and with more revs than we've ever done before. Whilst it holds, we're still not confident and all plans for going ashore fall by the wayside. We set a tighter anchor alarm (the GPS system now squeals if we move sixty feet)

The wind blows harder. The forecast says it's going to increase tomorrow. We discuss it and decide to lay a second anchor, just to feel a little more secure. This is getting silly, in most anchorages I would trust our main anchor up to and beyond forty knots of wind; here we are laying out a second for twenty-five knots gusting thirty. It's a bit of a struggle, but we set out an spare anchor on forty metres of chain and feel a bit better. Through the night we're still up on deck with every big gust or wild swing, but we haven't moved at all. Thirty six hours later and we're still in the same place, so we're a bit more confident now.

Today it has blown a near steady twenty-five with gusts to nearly forty knots in the shelter of the lagoon. There's only, according to the miracle of GPS, 950 feet between us and the shore but this is space enough for waves of over a foot in the big gusts, with spray being blown off the tops and along the surface like pictures from the weather book of 'severe gale force nine'. Despite this, we got on with life more or less as usual today, with Gesa doing some very successful school lessons whilst I went ashore on an internet / email connecting and general fact finding mission. We plan to stay here a bit to lift the boat out to clean her rather dirty bottom and paint it all nice and shiny again, so I need to reconnoitre the local boatyards for the best location and prices, as well as locate all the important things like supermarkets, laundry, fuel and, of course, the preferred bars.

By the afternoon we are happy enough, and stir-crazy enough, to leave the boat and take the kids to McDonalds. This sounds like a dreadful sell-out when in an island paradise, but there's method to our madness. McD's has a playbarn for the kids and free wifi for us to do email and browsing, so we sneak along and buy a milkshake and a couple of large fries for the kids then hang out for two hours. Seems to work well for all concerned.

Now that we're in here and the boat seems content not to go wandering off on her own, we can relax a little and look forward to much calmer weather after the weekend. I think things should go OK in here but we're looking forward to not being on edge so much. It's nice to know your house isn't going to start sliding down the street, taking out other houses on the way and stranding itself on the hillock at the end of the road.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A day in the life - Part II

If you remember, we are nearing St Barts after a long trip from St Kitts, a big fish on board, Max and Gesa a bit sea-sick, Issie still reading her books in the aft cabin......

At one point I can clearly see six islands, Nevis, St Kitts, Statia, Saba, St Barts and Sint Maarten. It's a wonderful day, the sailing is good and we're almost the only boat in sight. We get within five miles of St Barts and I see another boat, coming round the top of the island. That's interesting, who would be sailing from there, there's no more islands out that way.

Then another boat appears, and another, and soon I can see ten of them. Ah, yes, it's the St Barts Bucket - a 'friendly' regatta for superyachts. With the money and egos involved in these boats, I suspect the racing can be a bit less than friendly at times, but this is meant to be a fun regatta by all accounts. Right now I can see nearly thirty boats and it dawns on me that they will be heading for the same place that we are. The smallest one will be twice our size and they won't be best pleased with a little cruising boat crossing their racetrack. By law, I am the right of way boat and can just keep going, forcing them to keep clear of me. I develop a radio conversation in my head, 'yes, you may be racing but I have a seasick wife and kid and if it's a choice between you or my wife being upset with me, well....' But by now Gesa comes on deck and can see the fleet of big boats, spinnakers flying, on a converging course. Common sense takes hold and we heave to (a technique for stopping comfortably mid ocean) about a mile before the line they are all taking. It's a really good vantage point for the race and we get some nice photos. Velsheda, a 130 foot 'J' class yacht, marches through the fleet with all sails flying, steps neatly round a few yachts caught in the wind shadow of the island and takes line honours. Behind her are about ten larger yachts and many more slightly smaller ones. In my mind I consider requesting a bottle of wine from the cellars of all those we gave way to, but in the real world we furl our sails and motor the last two miles into Gustavia Harbour.

The anchorage is crowded with yachts, many here to see or take part in the racing. We thread our way through and find a spot on the edge of the entrance channel for the port. Strictly speaking, we shouldn't anchor here but there are many boats further into the channel so we take our chances. The water is sparkling and clear, the light crystal blue of shallow water over sand. We can see the bottom clearly as we anchor in six metres of water. The race fleet are slowly returning and lining up to wait for their slot in the marina. The thirty or so crew of Windrose line up and applaud as Velsheda passes them. An enormous German yacht turns small circles as the helmsman chats on his mobile this legal or sensible? Who cares, we guess.

Max spots an aeroplane flying overhead. 'Plane, Issie, plane!' and Issie shoots onto deck to look too. It is a small twin engined plane coming in low and descending. It flies right over us, over a low hill on shore and disappears. A couple of minutes later, there's another one. We're on the flight path to the airport; Max is delighted. For the rest of the evening there is a shout of 'Plane, plane!' every few minutes. He's not been this pleased with an anchorage since London's Docklands where we had the DLR trains every couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, a turtle surfaces next to us and swims gently past. Gesa grabs the camera and we get another set of blurry pictures of a half submerged turtle. I open a much needed chilled beer from the fridge. I weigh the fish - ten pounds - and gut it; we are delighted to find that it is a 'she' and has a lot of roe (fish egg sausages, says Issie). This fish is too big for us to eat before it goes off, and it's a tragic waste to kill such a beautiful animal and not eat all of it, so we offer some to a neigbouring catamaran. No thanks, they say. The crew of a charter boat motor past on their way to town and we make the same offer, still no thanks. What is wrong with these people! We guess they are going into town to eat.

We have a swim to cool off and clean the fish smell from my fingernails, Issie loves jumping in from the siderail. After we come out it's a quick freshwater shower and into pyjamas for most of the crew!

I prepare rice, fish and salad for us, it smells fantastic. Just as I'm about to serve up, the charter crew come by. Do we still have that fish? Town is too busy with all the megayachts so they've decided to eat on board. We happily cut enough for three big steaks and they accept gratefully. A few minutes later they are back with a chilled bottle of white wine and, because one of them runs a pharmacy, some make up and cleanser for Gesa. A very pleasant exchange.

Dinner is great and to our surprise Issie loves the 'fish egg sausages' and even insists on stealing most of mine. Gesa and I make a start on the white wine whilst the kids settle down to 'Finding Nemo' on the video player, for the seventeenth time this month. They chant the lines just before they are spoken, for the whole movie. We watch the sunset behind the anchored yachts and finish the bottle of wine. By the time the movie is over, it's way later than we'd hoped and we struggle to get the kids into pyjamas, teeth brushed, stories and bed. I'm much more tired than Max, so as I lie with him in his cabin, it is I who fall asleep first and he keeps trying to nudge me awake again. I get fed up and leave the room but he still won't settle. I'm aware of Gesa going in as I lie down on the saloon berth, but the next thing I know is waking up at 2am, still in my shorts and a little dehydrated, for some reason surely unconnected to half a bottle of wine. Gesa, apparently, fell asleep in the kid's cabin and woke up there some time later. It's been a long day.....