March 2012 - Antigua to Puerto Rico

1 March 2012   Jolly Harbour to Charlestown, Nevis
The alarm went off at six o’clock; we had a quick breakfast, checked the engine again, made sure that everything was secure and left at half past six.  On the way out, I put up the main sail with 1½ reefs, expecting 20-25 knots winds.  For the first hour, we had very light winds – less than 15 knots, so we continued to motor.  Thankfully the wind picked up to the forecast strength as we moved away from the island.

Sailing to Nevis

The wind was more or less directly behind us, so I rigged up our spinnaker pole to starboard, rolled out the genoa and let the main out to port with a preventer.  We rocked and rolled downwind in the 2-3 metre waves.

Unfortunately the wind direction wasn’t very consistent and kept changing direction by 30 degrees as cloud systems passed overhead.  This meant that we couldn’t relax and we had to gybe the mainsail six or seven times in the eight hour trip.  At one point, we had an unintentional gybe which was fortunately slowed down by the preventer. 

I hooked a very nice big Dorado, which I fought for ten minutes.  I managed to get it alongside and had just started to pull it in with my hands when it gave a final big thrash and broke lose – gutted…

The anchorage in Charlestown is now covered with moorings, which are compulsory.  These moorings are a long way from the beach, so it feels a bit like we are in a car park.  Fifteen years ago, there were hundreds of coconut palm trees stretching as far as the eye could see, but now there are only a few spread about because most have died from some virus. However, it is still a nice place to be, with the volcanic mountain stretching upwards ahead of us.

2 March 2012   Charlestown, Nevis
We were woken up at half past twelve by outrageously loud music coming from beach bar directly opposite where we’re moored – the locals obviously can’t buy speakers any smaller than a wardrobe.  We had to close our hatches and turn on our fans to try to get back to sleep.

Bleary-eyed the next morning, we went into town to clear in.  It wasn’t too painful until we got to the Port Authority and had to pay £40.00 for various port fees.  We walked to the tourist office, picked up some maps & brochures and booked a horse ride for tomorrow morning.

The anchorage is very rolly, so we motored along the coast to see if we could find somewhere closer to the riding stables.  We found that the moorings further up the coast are even more exposed, so we picked one up for lunch in Tamarind Bay and went snorkelling on Cades Point which was rubbish.

We sailed back to Charlestown and, in a startling show of seamanship, we picked up mooring under sail – must be fifteen years since we last did that. 

We attempted to go to a beach bar for dinner, but there was a big swell breaking on the beach.  As I stepped out of the dinghy, a wave caught the back of the dinghy and sent me sprawling full length into the water.  We went back to the boat so that I could change into dry clothes where we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and stayed in for the night.

3 March 2012   Charlestown, Nevis
Our horse riding was booked for ten o’clock and we weren’t sure how long it would take to get there, so we dinghied into Charlestown at half past eight.  We were in town very early, so we decided to walk to the riding stables thinking that it would loosen up our legs nicely.  We didn’t have a map, but I thought that it was only a couple of miles.  It turned out to be more like four miles, so the last half an hour was a bit of a route march.  We arrived, hot and sweaty with five minutes to spare.

Glenys riding along the beach, Nevis

The ride was pleasant - along trails and the beach for the first half. Then the return leg was on quiet roads and through a local village - the guide was very informative about the history and plants of the island.  I managed to cope with the thoroughbred horse that I’d been given, but we were both disappointed that there was no cantering.  Our horses were ex-race horses and we could feel the pent up energy waiting to be released.  It was a big group of seven people and the guide felt that some people wouldn’t be able to control their horses if they took off.

We had lunch in a bar on the beach and caught a bus back into town.  Glenys wanted to walk to the old fort on the headland, which was a little difficult to find.  There were no signs, but we eventually found it inside a compound hidden behind some derelict apartment buildings.  It's an old British fort that is now in ruins, complete with cannons half buried in the long grass.  Not a tourist attraction at all.

We walked back along the beach to the dinghy dock and collapsed onto our boat for a quiet afternoon and evening – a good day out.

4 March 2012   Charlestown, Nevis
The damn beach bar was booming out loud music again after midnight – unfortunately there’s nowhere else to go.  We decided to chill out today, go walking tomorrow and leave on Tuesday.

Glenys just mooched about all day, while I was a little more productive, sorting out some admin in the morning. I finally managed to sort out our various bank accounts and get money moved to the correct places – it’s only taken a month.  

The bottom of the boat was last anti-fouled just before we bought the Alba nearly a year ago, so the chemicals are wearing off and we’re starting to get a significant amount of growth.  I’m hoping to last until we get hauled out in the USA in October, so in the afternoon, I donned my scuba gear and spent an hour or so scraping the barnacles and weed from the bottom of the boat.  I only managed to do half the hull – I’m scraping it with a plastic scraper hoping that I don’t remove too much of the soft, ablative anti-fouling.  I’m trying to remove the growth and expose new antifouling.  It’s a nasty job because I spend most of the time on my back with water trickling down my nose.

5 March 2012   Charlestown, Nevis
We were up early and caught a bus from Charlestown just after eight o’clock, which took us up to Gingerland which is the location of many of the old plantations.  We walked up to the Golden Rock hotel where we picked up a hiking map showing the route up to “The Source”.  

We had a very pleasant four hour hike taking us through some lovely rain forest to a small waterfall which is the source of water supplied to the Golden Rock Estate. The route follows the centuries-old iron pipe which brings water down the mountain. The first half is a gentle hike along easy paths, but the route then becomes a little more challenging with steep paths, old concrete steps and finally a 120 foot iron ladder up to a small pool under a waterfall.

Glenys on the 120 foot old iron ladder up to The Source, Nevis

On the way back down, we spotted a Green Vervet monkey, which looked very guilty as it ran away from a banana tree in someone’s garden.  The locals tie big seed bags around the ripening bunches of bananas to try to keep the pesky monkeys at bay.  We arrived back at the hotel at lunch time, but we took one look at the very stylish patio restaurant and decided it was too up market for us.  Instead we cadged a lift off a taxi to the supermarket at Gingerland and then caught a bus back into Charlestown.  We ended up in the Café Des Art which has a very nice shaded courtyard and serves great sandwiches.  It seems to be the place where all the local ex-pats congregate, which made the place feel very colonial. 

We cleared out of customs and went back to the boat to get ready to sail tomorrow.  I tried to run the dive compressor to fill the scuba tank that I emptied yesterday, but the electric motor wouldn’t start.  I’ve been having trouble starting it for a few weeks now and after some investigation I think that there’s something wrong with the power being produced by our generator.  This is not good news - it’s bad enough not being able to fill dive tanks, but if it gets any worse we’ll not be able to run our watermaker.  This is another thing to be sorted out when we get to St Martin.

6 March 2012   Charlestown to Simpson Bay Lagoon, St Maarten
We were up early and left at half past six.  We motor-sailed between St Kitts and Nevis, which was hard work in the big, confused seas.  Once we had negotiated the rocks and shallows, we set a course for St Barts on a fast reach.  The seas settled down a little, but we still had large waves which would occasionally break over the cockpit.

After a few hours, I went to check the fishing lines and noticed that we were trailing a thick, blue polypropylene rope.  It appeared to be caught on our stern gear and must have been floating in the water, probably from a fishing boat.  My “birds” fishing line had snagged the rope, so I tried to drag the rope on board using the fishing line, but the force was too strong and the 60lb steel trace broke – I lost a lure and broke some of my beloved birds.  We hove-to to reduce the boat speed with the intention of trying to snag the rope with a boat hook. Fortunately the act of heaving-to dislodged the rope and it had disappeared without me having to do any messing about.  

We carried on towards St Barts and hooked a big fish.  I started to increase the friction on the reel clutch, but it broke the fishing line.  I’m a bit cross with myself because the fishing line has small nicks and twists and I’ve been meaning to replace it for a month now – I’ve lost another lure because of worn out kit.

At midday, we were only twelve miles from St Barts, so we decided to carry onto St Maarten.  We arrived in Simpson Bay at half past four and anchored under sail because we didn’t know whether there was still some rope attached to the propeller.  I donned my snorkelling gear and found that the stern gear was free of any rope and there’s no noticeable damage.

The anchorage was very crowded and extremely rolly, so we went through into the lagoon.  It’s an interesting process - the bridge opens three times a day and boats jostle for position in a loose queue waiting for the opening.  Once the bridge was open, we motored through the narrow channel passing the bar at the Yacht Club where a small crowd watched and waved at the procession.

Approaching the lifting bridge, St Maarten

We anchored next to “Notre Vie” and cracked open a nice cold beer as the sun went down.

7 March 2012   Simpson Bay Lagoon, St Maarten
I was up at seven o’clock on a mission to leave here in seven days’ time.  St Maarten is a very dangerous place because it’s easy to get sucked into waiting to get work done on the boat and start to party every night.  If we want to get the most from the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, we need to leave as soon as possible.  On the other side, as we move further west, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to get anything technical done on the boat without paying an absolute fortune.

We had a day of running around.  We listened to the local cruisers net and then I shot off to drop off one of our cooking gas bottles to get it filled. I came back, picked up Glenys and went to clear in.  This was fairly painless apart from paying $61US and getting five mosquito bites on my legs while filling in the interminable forms – Why, Oh Why don’t I learn to take mosquito repellent with me when I go ashore?

Once cleared in, we walked around the local area, picked up a package that my mum had sent out by FedEx, took some money out of a cash point and bought a case of beer.  We dropped the beer off at the boat and then went to a chandlers, where we spent $300US on parts so that I can make a pump out point for our holding tank and do some other jobs.

We went back to the boat for lunch and I had a look at the generator.  I’ve received an email from the Panda Fischer technical support in the UK, which says that there’s a Voltage Control System which is supposed to maintain the voltage at 230V - when there’s more electrical load the generator is supposed to run faster.  The system operates a small dc motor that turns a worm gear attached to the generator throttle.  I found that the dc motor has been disconnected and the worm gear has been locked off in one position.  The generator is producing 237 Volts with no load and 217 Volts when the water maker is running.  I connected the dc motor and tried it again, but the worm gear doesn’t move.  It’s obviously been like this for nearly a year now.

I scooted around trying to buy other parts and arranging for an engineer to come and look at our generator, which may not be until next week – I can feel myself being sucked into the vortex and not leaving here for three weeks…

I opened the package from the UK and found that I’ve been sent the wrong gasket for the exhaust elbow – bummer.  I’ve been waiting for this for over a month now and they’ve sent me the wrong one.  I went to the local Volvo mechanic and they haven’t got one so I’ll have to go over to the French side and try to get one there.  Again, we will probably have to wait a week to get it shipped in.

We went to the Yacht Club to drown our sorrows with John & Sunny from “Notre Vie” and met Kent and Dawn from “Kristy”.