February 2013

Wednesday 6th

Road Bay, Anguilla

Sorry about the lack of updates recently, since we left Antigua we haven’t had a good internet connection until now.

Over the last couple of weeks we have visited four different islands and are in our third different country.  St Kitt’s and Nevis was the first country and after a day sail from Antigua we arrived in Nevis (the locals pronounce it either Nevis as in Ben Nevis or, more commonly Kneevis).  This is perhaps our favourite island to date being quite small, about eight miles long and six wide, with a population of around 11,000 very laid back people.

The first thing any cruiser has to do on arriving in a new country is go through the customs and immigration clearance process.  We have yet to have a really bad experience and Nevis proved to be better than most with all the necessary authorities co-located…Check-in-NevisThere is, inevitably, a cost involved and the fees vary widely from place to place.  I think Nevis customs took $30EC (about £7) and the port authority a further $149EC (about £30) – EC is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, currently about 4.3/£.  The process usually involves filling in several different forms with largely the same information on each.  It is a complete mystery to me what anyone does with information regarding the boats engine type or horsepower.

Once the formalities are done you are free to do what you like and on Nevis we decided to take a tour of the island in a taxi ($75US for about two and a half hours).  We got slightly hustled by a lovely local as we tied up our dinghy and commissioned him for the tour.  Watusi turned out to be a charming, informative and very tall guide!  He was also a musician so we listened to his reggae CDs as we travelled and at one point were entertained by his lovely singing.  I was impressed enough to buy the CD!

Nevis, in common with most of the islands we have seen, was once a major producer of sugar.  There is still plenty of evidence of the old plantations on Nevis and some of the old buildings have been converted into hotels and B&Bs.  Sugar production continued well into the middle of the nineteenth century, long after Britain had abolished slavery and I am uncertain as to what terms labour was performed under – presumably paid employment?

Here is a shot of a steam driven sugar milll that was apparently still in use as late as 1954.  The machinery was, of course, made in Britain…Old-Sugar-mill,-NevisThe Caribbean is stiff with yachts of all shapes and sizes, both motor and sail.  Many of the world’s super yachts spend the winter here and most are fairly conventional.  This one, however, is quite unusual and worth a photograph here…AlphaShe has the letter “A” on the back and I’m not sure if that is her name or “Alpha”.  We call her the stealth boat and first saw her in Jolly Harbour, Antigua and most recently yesterday, here in Anguilla, she seems to be following us!King-MackeralI have been trying to learn a bit about fishing and have, at last, had more success than simply picking up flying fish from the deck…

We aren’t sure quite what it was, possibly a King Mackerel.  Whatever, it was delicious and fed us generously for two meals.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to repeat the feat and have lost a couple of expensive lures trying to, apparently I should try steel leaders as some of the fish here have very effective teeth.

After Nevis we made the short crossing to St Kitt’s (St Christopher) and spent a couple of days at anchor off its southern tip before heading up the coast to the capital, Basseterre.  This, in common with many other larger towns in the Caribbean, has a cruise ship dock and associated herds of cruise ship tourists (I have to be careful what I say as a couple of my regular readers take cruises!).  They do bring one major benefit and thats duty free shopping.  We just bought a six months supply of Gordon’s gin for the equivalent of about £8 per bottle.

Fresh water is something of an issue for most of the islands and you typically have to pay for it. Basseterre was rather expensive at $15US for a fill, we can last for about two weeks on full tanks.

Basseterre is a typical, charming, run down, old British colonial town with some lovely buildings and a relaxed feel about it, despite the cruise ship denizens.Bassterre-clockLeaving Basseterre behind we continued our way north and last Wednesday, 30 January, sailed the forty or so miles to the dual nationality island of St Martin’s. The northern part is French and like Guadeloupe is, to all intents and purposes, part of France (we didn’t visit) whilst the southern part, Sint Maarten, is Dutch, a dependency, I think.  Despite being Dutch, English is the common working language and so very easy for us to spend time here.  There is an air of industry about Sint Maartens that we hadn’t encountered on the other islands with lots of work being done on infrastructure such as the docks and marinas.  Apparently it is the smallest island in the world to have dual nationality.

Here is a shot of the beach in Phillipsburg, the Dutch capital and also the cruise ship port….Phillipsburg-beachWe spent the best part of a week in Sint Maarten and whilst there took a short sail along the coast to Simpson Bay, the yachting centre of the island.  There are two large chandleries there and I was able to buy some spares to continue the never ending maintenance of our floating home.

However much we like a place we are once again on a timetable and heading for the Turks and Caicos islands for the end of the month so Sint Maartens was left behind yesterday and we are now in Anguilla…..Road-Bay,-AnguillaThis isn’t a particularly cruiser friendly island as a weeks cruising permit is the best part of $300US. Fortunately you are allowed to anchor in Road Bay, our current location, for nothing.

Friday 8th – Thursday 21st

British Virgin Islands

I am pleased to record that the crossing from Anguilla to Virgin Gorda overnight 7/8th was uneventful. We arrived in Gun Creek, our chosen port of entry, around 0830 and quickly got through the formalities. Unlike Anguilla the BVI are very cruiser friendly and charges for privately owned boats are very modest, $16US in our case.

We spent the best part of two weeks here re-visiting some of the places we went to in 2007, when we were on holiday celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in a chartered yacht.  The BVI are a sailing paradise and many consider Anegada to be the jewel.  It has a very “edge of the world feel” and we spent three nights there. Here is a shot of Cow Wreck Bay on the north coast of Anegada…Cow-Wreck-BayThe only real downside to the BVI is its popularity.  Home to the largest bare boat charter fleet in the world it is virtually impossible to find an unoccupied anchorage at this peak time of the year. Nevertheless we enjoyed the return visit and were sorry to be on our way once again on the 21st.

Thursday 21st – Sunday 24th

At Sea

The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) are around 420 nautical miles north west of the BVI.  We left Jost van Dyke around 0900 on 21st and had a slow and once again, uneventful passage to Salt Cay, TCI.  The highlight of the trip was an encounter with a killer whale on Sunday morning.  A large, solitary animal which I assume was a male swam with us for about an hour.  The water visibility was excellent and you could see it go under the boat on numerous occasions, a truly wonderful experience!  For good measure we were joined by three dolphins later in the day.

Monday 25th

Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI)

According to our cruising guide Salt Cay is a port of entry to the TCI where the police have delegated powers.  However, this was news to the young female constable we spoke to!  It didn’t matter as she was quite happy for us to stay on the island without formal clearance, excellent.

A few years ago I got a copy of a book entitled “Salt, A World History” by Mark Kurlansky (ISBN 0-099-28199-6, in case you want a copy!).  My kids have never understood why I got it and to be honest I have never read it completely.  Today it came into its own!  It has several pages devoted to Salt Cay which in its heyday in the 1800s had a population of over 900 people engaged in salt production.  Slave labour was used to start with but production continued after abolition as the freed slaves had nowhere else to go and the salt barons could get labour at very low wages.  Much of the produce went straight to the cod fishery on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland where it was used to produce salt cod which was then shipped to feed the slaves in the sugar plantations. This shot is of the old salinas or salt ponds…Salinas-Salt-CayThe salt barons built substantial houses right on the coast with their own private wharves to load onto the ships they traded with.  Salt was stored on the ground floor and the living accommodations were above.  There are now only a couple left on the island…Salt-House-Salt-CayWhen salt production ceased in the 1970s there were still around 400 people living on the cay.  Today there are 63 and tourism is the only source of income (except, of course, government jobs).  The island is unviable without modern technology, fresh water is produced by a desalination plant, in common with the other islands of the TCI.

One of the artefacts we saw on the island is allegedly a pirates grave…Pirate-coffinThe beach at the north end of the island is fabulous….North-Beach-Salt-Cay

Tuesday & Wednesday 26th/27th

Caicos Bank

Leaving Salt Cay behind on Tuesday morning we set off on the trip to Providenciales where we would meet our friends Sue and Aus Dancey.  There are two possible routes.  One is to stay in deep water and leave the TCIs largely to port as you head first north and then west around them.  The other choice is to cross the Caicos Bank, a vast area of very shallow (<5m) water to the south of the Caicos Islands.  We chose this route and are very glad we did. The first 20 miles from Salt Cay is across the Turks Passage and is in very deep water.  It is on the migration route for Humpback whales and they are very common at this time of year, so we are told, we didn’t see any!

The deep water of the passage shoals rapidly first to around 10m and then to five or less.  There are small banks of coral to be avoided and it is only safe to move during good daylight, so from around 0900 – 1700.  It is over 40 miles across the bank and as we arrived on it around 1230 couldn’t complete the transit that afternoon.  We sailed downwind at a modest 4 knots over a sublime aquamarine sea, the coral is easily spotted from about 500m or so and we quickly got used to the echo sounder reading three or four metres at times.Caicos-BankAround 1730 we stopped for the night.  How do you stop in a sail boat?  Well in only 3.5m of water its easy, you anchor and we did, over 12 Nm from the nearest land and completely out of sight of it.  As luck would have it we spent a magical evening watching a full moon rise into a cloudless sky.

There is always a downside though and ours was a broken anchor windlass as we were getting ready to go in the morning.  The studs securing it to its mount in the anchor locker sheared and bingo, no electric windlass to pull in the anchor in 20 Kts of headwind!  I managed to drag it in by hand and fortunately the windlass is very repairable.  As we have an electric windlass and anchor at the stern we can still park where we want to.

The last 20 miles was completed by early afternoon.  We then spent a frustrating couple of hours trying to find an anchorage on the south side of Providenciales but couldn’t find anywhere with good shelter and deep enough water – the charts we had weren’t very good.  Plan B was to head west and we eventually tied up to a dive boat mooring off the west coast.

Thursday 28th

Turtle Cove Marina, Providenciales, TCI

For the first time since English Harbour, Antigua in December we went into a marina.  This was to facilitate embarking our guests, allow the anchor windlass to be removed and do some serious grocery shopping.  Aus and Sue arrived early at the airport, the windlass was left in a machine shop and we repaired on board for a couple of bottles of “welcome to our boat” bubbly!

Continued in March.

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