Saturday, 18 March 2017

Martinique to Bonaire

Belated Birthday Lunch

A very strange thing happened on the way to Martinique. The dinghy was hauled up on the roof as usual. It has two retractable wheels on its stern so that it can be hauled up slipways or beaches. The last time the wheels had been used was on the River Deben in Suffolk but one of them had a puncture. We had bought a new inner tube in Spain and found the valve had snapped off, while we were crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The hunt for a dinghy wheel began. We must have visited every chandler, hardware shop and tyre centre in Marin with no luck. However, persistence paid off and Jeremy bought a new small wheel complete with inner tube for 9.99 euros. He fitted the new tube in the old tyre.

Checks are in, but what a view
Then there was the strange incident of the French Orange data SIM card. We took our dongle and laptop to the shop and bought a 1gb card. Everything worked in the shop and on board SD that night. The next day, it didn’t work. So, back to the shop we went and the man said we had to top up. We topped up, which took a long time because the Orange shop has the worst signal anywhere in Martinique! Now we had paid 29.99 euros and….you’ve guessed…… still didn’t work. All we could do was connect the laptop to my mobile phone and, bingo, we had internet on the boat, and it only took two days to get it!

Anse Noire with Sal Darago
We moved from Marin to Anse Noire and the rain began. Dodging squalls, we anchored in the bay and went ashore to a lovely restaurant just a short climb up steps set into the cliff. Here, we belatedly celebrated Jeremy’s birthday while watching sheets of rain obliterate the fine view over the bay.

Caribbean hitchhiker at night
The next day we dodged more squalls on the short motor to Fort de France – directly into the wind. It was Saturday, so we checked out at the chandlery as we were leaving for Bonaire the next day. Then we looked for somewhere for lunch and everywhere was closed. The main town of Martinique was like a ghost town and a wet one at that. Most of the shops were closed and the choices for food were expensive hotels with long waits for service, Macdonalds or KFC. We opted for Macdonalds.
Dreadful weather on arrival in Bonaire

Leader Price supermarket was open and packed. Jeremy had to beg a trolley from the check-out queue. We bought what we needed for our 5 day passage and added 2 bottles of Bordeaux wine. After queueing for ages, we packed our bags and I paid the bill. Then I noticed a trail of red liquid dripping from my rucksack. One bottle of wine had broken. The bottom had sliced off cleanly and 70cl of Bordeaux was sloshing around in my rucksack where I had a beige raincoat and other bits and pieces along with some shopping.

Looks like 5000 visitors got here before us
How do you get red wine out of a jacket and a rucksack? Easy. First you dip the rucksack in the nearest puddle. Then you look for a public toilet only they’re locked on Saturdays. So, you return to your waterlogged dinghy and it is just what you need to rinse the jacket and the rucksack, while passers-by give you strange looks and keep on walking.

Fortunately the sun shone on Sunday 12th March and we were able to dry everything before setting off for Bonaire. We had a good passage with our usual downwind rig of twin poles with the furling genoa on one side and the no.2 jib hanked on the other side. Mostly, we flew full sails in moderate winds and a low swell.

Fish under Sal Darago, Bonaire
As we approached the south end of Bonaire at 0500 the fair winds increased to 25-31 knots and heavy rain fell. We needed to change course and Jeremy took down the poles and lines getting soaked to the skin in the process. More squalls followed as black night turned into grey dawn. Our destination of Kralendijk disappeared behind sheets of heavy rain. Our cruising guide told us we were in the dry season. That was good to know.

We picked up a mooring managed by Harbour Village Marina, as yachts are not allowed to anchor, and were told by the marina office to check in with Customs and Immigration first and then go to the marina to pay for the mooring. This we did, and arrived by dinghy at the marina with three empty cooking gas bottles and four water containers. Two men were locking the office door as we arrived at midday and we were told to return at 1.30pm. Jeremy asked if our gas bottles could be filled and one man became angry and gave Jeremy a tirade about respect. Then he walked off complaining that we were interfering with his time and told us to go back to our own country. He turned out to be the duty marina manager. We thought this was probably the worst welcome we’d had to any country we’d visited. We returned in the afternoon to pay for the mooring.

What can I say? Beautiful motion
Today has been much better and we have found the people to be very helpful and friendly. I have been able to buy prescription medicine from the hospital pharmacy, our washing has been done in the best laundry we’ve been in and soon we shall snorkel from the boat and see all kinds of colourful tropical fish.

Okay - Find the fish. First correct answer is invited to work the Panama locks.
We leave for Aruba on Sunday  19th March.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Mindelo, Cape Verdes to Martinique, Caribbean

Belem Castle Mindelo style

 Our intended short stay in Mindelo had to be extended to a week as Jeremy went down with diarrhoea. Whether it was something he’d eaten, the water he’d drunk or a virus, we’ll never know. Anyway, he sensibly confined himself to SD for two or three days, while I went ashore and caught up with emails etcetera in the marina bar. While he was poorly the cold tap washer on the galley sink disintegrated. Jeremy hauled himself out of his sick bed to replace the washer. There were none of the same size in our stores, so he had to cut down a larger one. Later, we were able to buy new tap washers ashore. We met several British crews and all showed concern. It was such a shame that we could not socialise with them. We first met Graham from Zephyr at Marina Lanzarote and we still owe him a beer from then. Perhaps we’ll meet again in the Caribbean.

View over Mindelo anchorage
Mindelo was a good place to stock up on food, water and diesel. There were various cafes for eating out, but the one we liked best was called La Pergola in the French Cultural Centre. While some people in Mindelo were obviously very wealthy, there were beggars on the streets and warnings about thefts from yachts. The marina had a secure dinghy dock but you had to pay 4 euros each day for this. In the past, local guys earned a living “watching” dinghies for less than 1 euro per dinghy per day.

Eating out again at La Pergola
We weighed anchor at 0700 on Saturday 18th February, catching the last of the SW going stream of the tide, which runs quite strongly between the islands of Sao Vicente and Sao Antao. We had two reefs in the main sail and a very small genoa on a beam reach, making 8 knots on the GPS. Once clear of the islands two pods of dolphins came to play in the bow wave. We wondered if they were warning us of bad weather ahead, but all was OK for the first week, except for the rivets holding the staple for one of the lazy jacks disintegrating. Jeremy managed to replace the staple using self-tapping screws and secure the lazy jack. By the evening, the mainsail was down and secured to the boom, two poles were up on each side of the mast, the full genoa was flying to port and the hanked on no.2 jib was flying to starboard. We had the same rig for the whole crossing, merely furling or unfurling the genoa as the wind conditions changed.

Mindelo sunset
 It was my turn for the diarrhoea, which started the next morning. So much for thinking I’d escaped! Fortunately, I wasn’t as bad as Jeremy had been and still did my watches. Our trusty Hydrovane steered SD; the wind was generally 10-14 knots and the swell was small.  Venus led the way in the evening followed by a spectacular display of stars. We saw the Southern Cross to port and the Great Bear to starboard. Gradually, we became used to our watches of two hours each during the day and three hours each at night.

After four days at sea we saw our first ship, which passed safely 1.7 miles away. We only saw three more ships and one yacht during the whole passage. The swell began to build and came from the NW, so it hit us on the starboard side, while the wind and waves came from astern. Each morning and evening I heard Zephyr and Miles report their positions on the SSB radio. We can only receive on ours, but it was comforting to know that other vessels were out there. Our courses widened after a few days as they were bound for Barbados.

Massive amounts of seaweed which were not there in 2008
 During the second week of the passage we had stronger winds and bigger swells. I felt like I was on a swing boat as we rocked and rolled. In order to sleep, I used cushions and a pillow down the sides of the pilot berth to stop me rolling around. Jeremy tried to do likewise in the stern cabin. The cooker gimballed like a mad thing, bashing to its full extent and back again. One day I noticed that one of its supports was coming loose. Jeremy managed to mend it by removing the cooker and tightening up the nut and bolt fixing, which was inside the adjacent food cupboard.

Two delicious loaves a la Kathy
 We had many squalls with varying amounts of wind on them. After they passed, they often took the wind with them and we seemed to be forever reefing down or shaking out reefs. We were both thrown off our feet at different times. I was catapulted across the cockpit and saved from injury by Jeremy sitting opposite, hitting his chest was preferable to slamming into the winches. I have a pulled muscle in my buttock, but otherwise I’m OK. At times we had winds approaching gale force and 4 metre swells with breaking waves on top that thundered past like roaring waterfalls.

Rocking across the Atlantic
All our fresh food came to an end but we had plenty of tins and dried goods. We made bread every other day, so we didn’t go hungry. It was great to see Martinique in the mist ahead on our last day and to pick up mobile phone signals. We anchored in Marin harbour at the second attempt after 15 and a half days at sea.

The beach at Le Marin, Martinique

We checked in on 6th March and a day later Jeremy had a broken tooth repaired at a local dentist’s surgery. It had been broken for nearly a month. It was good to be back in France with delicious bread and lashings of Camembert washed down with vin de table. Cheers.

Believe it or not - the entrance to the chandlery!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Cape Verde Islands

It was not easy anchoring in the harbour at Palmeira, Sal in the dark. On the first attempt the anchor chain jammed in the locker with about 5 metres of chain and the anchor hanging over the bow. I could not free it. Jeremy managed to free it and we tried again. This time we were too close to the ship quay and had to weigh anchor. Third time lucky is the expression and fortunately it was for us.

Sunrise over Palmeira Harbour
The next morning we launched the dinghy and motored ashore to a busy fishermen’s quay, where I had to climb up the wall as there were no steps. Friendly people met us and no-one asked for money. We were directed to the Policia Frontera but the officer was not there and we were to return later. We started walking towards the main town of Espargo, about 7 kilometres away. The landscape was totally barren. Dust and volcanic ash stung our legs in the wind. We flagged down an aluguer, a local minibus, and we were able to pay in euros as we had no local currency, Escudos or CVE.

The second ATM worked and we were both able to withdraw CVE. This was a relief because there were over 100 people in front of us in the queue for the bank counter. Jeremy spoke to a local man who had good English and we found out where to eat and where to buy groceries. Back at Palmeira, we checked in with Policia Maritima and our boat papers were kept until 24 hours before our departure.

Kathy at Salina
The next day we saw Policia Frontera and had our passports stamped. Policia Maritima returned our boat papers. We caught an aluguer to Espargos and Jeremy asked where we should catch a bus to Salina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The driver said, “Stay on this bus,” which we did, getting a bit worried when we were the only passengers. We realised we’d accidentally made a private hire and there was no way we could avoid paying the fare of 1000CVE (approx. 10 euros). At Salina we walked around a volcano crater where acres of sea water were drying in massive salt pans. Some tourists float in the water, which is said to be saltier than the Dead Sea.

Catholic church at Santa Maria
From Salina we wanted to see the tourist resort of Santa Maria. There were no buses, so we hitched and were picked up within minutes by a Portugese couple who were going to the same place. After lunch and a wander round the pleasant beach resort, we caught an aluguer back to Espargo for 100CVE each, then another to Palmeira.

Porto do Tarrafel
The following day, Wednesday 8th February, we weighed anchor at 0350, in the dark, and set sail for Sao Nicolau, 90 miles away. The sea was rough and the wind was strong. At first light, I noticed a vessel, Altair, on the AIS, which was on a collision course dead ahead. It took several VHF calls and a DSC alarm call before Altair answered and said he could not see us. Jeremy gave our position and Altair avoided us by 0.3 nautical miles. He did warn us of a ship astern of him on the same course, so Jeremy called Harpa Doris and they gave us 0.2 nautical miles clearance. We were glad it was light.

Looking down from the mountain path
The sun went down as we approached Porto do Tarrafal, Sao Nicolau. We anchored in the dark. Next morning we had to re-anchor as we were too close to another yacht and our chain was stuck on something. Three attempts later, the anchor held and we went ashore. A young “boat watcher” took us to Policia Maritima, where we checked in, causing some amusement as one of the police officers was called Spencer, like us.

Fabulous peaks behind. Getting tired now.
We caught an aluguer to the main town, Ribeira Brava, hidden in the mountains. To our surprise, two English speaking men were on the bus and we were given lots of information about the island. The scenery was completely different from Sal. Up in the mountains there was a fair amount of agriculture taking place with terraces up the hillsides. The views were spectacular as we wound and twisted our way to Ribeira Brava. We had lunch in Banana Secca eating al fresco in a shady courtyard. Feeling refreshed, we walked to Cachaco, which was only 2.5 miles, but most of it was uphill and some was almost vertical. Two worn out sailors arrived at the top and caught an aluguer back to Tarrafal, where we collapsed on SD with a couple of cervejas to celebrate.

Resting on a flat part
We were unable to retrieve our boat papers from Policia Maritma until 1500, so we had lunch ashore in a restaurant recommended by Casa Aquario.

We struggled to weigh anchor the next morning. Fortunately, the wind that rushes furiously down the mountain ravines and into the bay had died down in the small hours. Our anchor chain snubber had snapped and our chain was stuck on the stony bottom in several places. Once free, we reefed our sails and started the 45 mile passage to Mindelo, Sao Vicente. We arrived here on Saturday evening, 11th February. There are a number of international boats here preparing to cross the Atlantic. All being well and assuming we stock up with food, water and diesel, we should leave here on Tuesday or Wednesday for a 2091 mile passage to Martinique in the Caribbean. We’re allowing 20 days, but might be a little faster if we pick up a decent current.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Gran Canaria and El Hierro

Kathy at El Golfo
The first job ashore at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria was to visit a chandlery. This was quickly achieved without leaving the marina. Next was to search for a new pressure cooker and visit a supermarket. We were surprised to find ourselves in Marks and Spencer looking at socks and underwear! Focusing on the task again, we entered the huge department store called El Corte Ingles. Here we found a good choice of pressure cookers and bought a 6 litre one made by BRA.
The long and winding road: eat your heart out Dervaig
On Tuesday 25th January we caught the numero uno bus to the old town and had a look at Christopher Columbus’s house, Casa Colon. After a hearty lunch at El Herreno, we caught a different bus to the old port, where we had to get an exit certificate from the Policia Frontera. Unfortunately, we got off too early and had a 2-3 kilometre walk through the port. We had no problems getting our exit clearance once we found the right office.
Famous sculpted tree
We had a passage of 144 miles ahead of us from Gran Canaria to El Hierro. We left soon after mid-day on 26th January, motoring round the north end of the island in calm, sunny weather. Two hours later a short, uncomfortable swell started and the 5 knot wind accelerated to 22 knots. These acceleration zones are common in the Canary Islands, but not expected on what was such a calm day! We altered our course and sailed towards Tenerife. Five hours later, the wind returned to 5 knots and we motored the rest of the way to El Hierro, arriving at the new marina just before dark on 27th January.
Drove my Chevy to the leve
Jeremy checked in with the harbour master the next morning paying the very reasonable 13 euros a night fee, which included electricity and showers. We were at the bus stop in good time to catch the 1100 bus to Valverde, the main town on El Hierro. We don’t know how we missed the bus, but the harbour master came to our rescue and said one of the port staff would take us in his car. That was how we found ourselves with Jose, who spoke no English, driving to Valverde and trying to explain that we wanted to hire a car. Jose stopped at a petrol filling station and called to a friend, who telephoned someone, who said we would have to go to Frontera for a hire car, a twenty minute drive away. We wondered what we had let ourselves in for and how we would get to Frontera, when Jose said, “No problem,” followed by some Spanish, which we thought meant he was going there anyway. Off we went to Frontera, where we parked in front of a house and waited for Roger and the hire car. The back shelf of the hire was car was Roger’s office and he filled in a form and charged us 46 euros for two days. Jeremy asked about insurance and Roger said it was included. Once again, we have been touched by the generosity of local people towards complete strangers.

We were back in Valverde for lunch, picking up two hitch-hikers on the way. We met up with Bob and Liz, friends from our last visit to El Hierro. They took us to their house, which has a fabulous view out over the sea to La Gomera and Tenerife. We spent the afternoon with them drinking coffee and admiring their house and extensive gardens.
Kathy, Bob and Liz
The next day, with a map borrowed from Bob and Liz, we drove round the whole island in our Chevrolet. El Hierro is a beautiful island of contrasts which include stunning sea views, high mountain passes, pine forests and bleak, lava fields. On our return to Valverde, we stopped at the filling station and filled two large containers of diesel, ready for our next passage to the Cape Verdes.
Our magic carpet in Estaca
Monday 30th January consisted of doing jobs during the day. Jeremy donned his wetsuit and spent an hour and a half scrubbing SD’s bottom. His hard work paid off later, giving us an extra half knot of speed. In the evening, Bob and Liz came to SD to collect us and take us to a restaurant for dinner. We saw the last of the sunset at a miradore, before having a lovely supper in a restaurant nearby. Soon it was time to say goodbye to our friends and thank them for their hospitality. We shall think of you, Bob and Liz, every time we spread homemade plum jam on our bread. Thank you for the gift and for all the information you gave us about El Hierro. We had a lovely time.
OAP birthday boy/old man

Yesterday, Monday 6th February, we arrived safely in Sal, Cape Verde. The five and a half day passage was fast in the strong, trade winds, with SD covering 135 nm on three days. The sea was rough at times and we flew twin headsails – no.2 jib to port and a well-reefed genoa to starboard. Our trusty Hydrovane wind pilot steered the whole way. Jeremy celebrated his 65th birthday at sea and is looking forward to his first state pension cheque in three weeks’ time. We anchored in Palmeira harbour, on the island of Sal, in the dark, at the third attempt. First, the anchor chain jammed in the locker. Then we were too close to the ship quay and finally, the anchor held firm. It was 4.35am.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

On the waves again.

Beautiful flowers
We left Arrecife, Lanzarote on Monday. The winds were light as we passed down the east side of the island and the swell was kind. As we turned west through the passage between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the swell built up and became uncomfortable. We cleared the lee of Lanzarote and the NE wind came on pretty strongly so we could turn the engine off and sail all the way to Gran Canaria, where we arrived by 10am on Tuesday. It took two hours to be berthed in the marina. We will leave on Thursday for El Hierro. Hasta Luego.

Outside Chris Columbus' house