Kurukulla at Anegada, BVI

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Saba, Statia, St Kitts and Nevis.

Leaving the BVI
We sailed off the anchor and out of Gorda Sound just after lunch on Sunday1st April, passing north of Necker, Sir Richard Branson's retreat, the buildings on which are currently being rebuilt after a devastating fire that was followed by hurricane Irma! From here we sailed south east towards Saba, which was some 85 miles away, intending to sail through the night and arrive in the early morning. All went to plan with only one surprise. Just as the sun was setting I was sitting in the cockpit, relaxing and keeping out of Christoph's way whilst he was busy in the galley cooking supper, when behind me I heard a mighty “wooshing” sound. I turned round to be greeted by a whale breaking surface less than a boats length away. I am not sure who was most surprised by our encounter! I shouted for Christoph to come on deck and he arrived just in time to see it. Fortunately it simply dived again and that was the last we saw of it.
Saba, Wells Bay and Pilot Rock
Flashing through my mind were images of the South African boat who, having gone too close to a school of whales, had their boat all but destroyed when a whale attacked them landing on the boat. Phew!

On arrival in Saba we picked up a mooring in Wells Bay, northern end of the east coast, and spent the rest of the day relaxing and swimming. Nearby were the 800 steps (aka The Ladder) leading from the narrow beach to the inland areas, passing the old Customs House en route, we were not tempted! Until 50 years ago this was the only landing place on the island! The following morning we motored round to Fort Bay and the only harbour, if you can call it that, but to our dismay the weather was such that the moorings outside were untenable and the port does not allow small visiting vessels to enter without prior approval, something which is rarely given, hence we returned to another mooring on the east coast.
Saba, Fort Baai (the only port/landing)
Again we considered using the Customs House steps but came to our senses when we realised we would have to do 800 steps up, followed by a similar descent down to sea level to visit the Immigration and Customs Authorities at Fort Bay in order to get clearance to land on the island and then the same in reverse to get back to Kurukulla. Later in the day we were visited by the Marine Park authorities in their launch but on discovering they did not have the necessary paperwork to charge us they graciously told us we could moor for free, that is unless they returned. They didn't! For anyone intending to visit Saba it should be noted that the number of 'Visiting Yacht' moorings has been dramatically reduced after Irma and it is unlikely they will be replaced following an incident where a mooring parted and the boat owner is pursuing the Saba authorities for compensation!
Departing Saba
On our third day we decided to give it one more try and although the conditions had improved the only two remaining 'Visiting Yacht' moorings were both occupied (one by the Marine Park launch!). The seas were still challenging for a long hike in our dinghy and so we opted to give up on Saba and move on to St Eustatius (aka Statia). The passage is only 18 miles from Saba to the best (and only) anchorage on Statia at Oranjestad.

By 1500 we had sailed onto the anchor at Oranjestad and were contemplating going ashore to clear in with the authorities and for a slightly delayed birthday lunch (my birthday having been the day before) however this involved landing on the beach at Oranjestad by dinghy, a process which did not go as smoothly as planned!
Statia anchorage at Oranjestad
We had chosen the small beach by the diving centre (Statia's economy relies on diving income!) and timed our arrival perfectly to allow us to pluck the dinghy up the beach before the next incoming swell; that was until I put my back out lifting the dinghy! After a few tense moments as the 'blue air' cleared I was able to stagger up the beach and we carried on with the programme but at a very much reduced pace! We were lucky enough to be introduced to Wade (aka Taxi No. 5) who gave us a comfortable and comprehensive windscreen tour of the island before dropping us back at the Old Gin House
Ruins of waterfront warehouses, Oranjestad
where I took a medicinally large measure before trying to get back onboard; and there I stayed for two days, lying on my back, whilst I recovered; it was not the first time I had done this!

By this stage I felt sufficiently recovered to have another foray ashore but this time we went right into the harbour and made a very slow and gentle landing, no rush! All went well for the first half hour by which time we were in the dive centre having a coffee. Their chairs were of the aluminium stool type with high seats and low backs,
The old Anglican Church, Oranjestad
not uncomfortable until you try to get out of them without thinking! Next stop was the local hospital, courtesy of the Diving Centre owner's car, and an injection of muscle relaxant and pain killer! No A&E queue and no wait!

This was followed by a prescription for various other medicines to take over the next few days and an invitation to return the next day, to see the doctor, if required. By now it was 1700 and what time does the pharmacy close..... yes, 1700! This was where Wade and his taxi came into his own, the hospital telephoned him and asked him to pick up the medicines, pay for them,
and we would reimburse him when he arrived to take us back to the port. He was fantastic, as was the hospital. 15 minutes later he was at the hospital, having collected the medicines and helped to get me back into his car.

From here we went to the port where again he did all he could to assist in getting the dinghy afloat and me in it, not easy! Then of course …... the outboard wouldn't start! Poor Christoph, after a frustrating 5 minutes trying to start a flooded 2 stroke, opted to row back out to Kurukulla.
The Old Gin House, Oranjestad
A slow and painful return onboard was followed by another 4 days on my back in my bunk. Thank goodness for crew. The first time I did my back in I was onboard, single handed and in Croatia, fortunately in a very well protected anchorage.

Having intended to leave Statia for St Kitts on the 6th of April we finally got away at 0600 on the 14th! It was a very tentative 18 mile passage, under heavily reefed mainsail, with a forecast of 18kts gusting 44kts from the east.

Fortunately we were ably to lay St Kitts in one tack and the gusts were nothing like as strong as forecast.
Arriving St Kitts

Half of the journey was in the lee of the island of St Kitts making it almost flat sea sailing, almost! By 1030 we were anchored in the bay at Basseterre, St Kitts but unfortunately there was no space available in the marina; it is small and chocked with local fishing boats and large 'trips round the bay' catamarans.

Thus it was at 1500 we weighed anchor, moved into the marina fuelling berth, and contented ourselves with watering and refuelling during which time I set off to get us legally into
Buildings around Independence Square, Basseterre
St Kitts. Authorities available until 1800 said the pilot. The harbour-master and Customs were on site, no problem but Immigration were 100m away and they closed at 1600, i.e.5 minutes before I got there! Apparently, one person covers both port and airport and thus, in the absence of cruise ships, availability times at the port depend on flight arrivals at the airport. Right! Fortunately the next day a berth in the marina became available and all was sorted out.

We cleared in and then enjoyed a walking tour of Basseterre town followed by a quick haircut in a local barbers shop returning onboard for a light supper.
RC Cathedral, Independence Square, Basseterre
Next day it was a visit to the chandlers, Flow shop for yet another data SIM card and a final trip to the supermarket before we said our goodbyes and set off for the anchorage at White House Bay four miles south of Basseterre. Here we passed a pleasant and quiet night, notwithstanding several yachts in company and a live band on the beach, before moving on to Shitten Bay, only a mile further south for the following night. Shitten Bay, with it's wreck at the northern end, we had to ourselves until the arrival of the “Round the Island” tour catamarans the following morning.
Central Street, Basseterre

Rather than be surrounded by swimmers and music over lunch we again moved to Major Bay which is on the southern coast of the island and rather more exposed. Good for lunch but too exposed to spend the night in the prevailing conditions. At 1500 we set off again to cross the straights to Nevis, only some 4 miles away.

Shitten Bay, St Kitts

Almost the entire west coast of Nevis is one long sandy beach; we chose to anchor for the night near Lowland Point and Ashby Fort. Between the two is a spring where Nelson would send ship's companies ashore to fill water barrels from a pure water spring when in the area. I was also here that he married his first and only wife Frances Nisbet, (not to be confused with Lady Hamilton his mistress and mother of his children). 

Approaching Nevis
The following morning we moved the 2 miles south to anchor off Charlestown, the capital of Nevis, where we planned to spend the next 48 hours, day onere laxing (my back is still reminding me of the need to take things slowly!) and day two visiting the island and in particular the Botanical Gardens which were established, by a 2nd cousin of a friend, some 50 years ago. 

The capital, Charlestown, is small but lively and very friendly. We opted to check out with
Lunch in Charlestown
Customs/Immigration before for taking lunch in a local bar/restaurant; this was followed by a taxi ride to the gardens which were spectacular, adorned with trees and plants from all parts of the tropics. 

Charlestown centre
From here it was back to Charlestown and a quick trip into the local produce market to top up supplies before rowing back to Kurukulla for a light supper and preparations for departure early next morning for Montserrat.

More when we arrive ….....

Self in Botanical Gardens, Nevis

Botanical Gardens, Nevis

Botanical Gardens, Nevis

Botanical Gardens, Nevis

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Anguilla to the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Dog Island anchorage, sadly not tenable.
Having enjoyed a final iced coffee at Roy's Bayside Grill, on the beach in Road Bay, Anguilla, we set off to register our departure with the local Customs and Immigration authorities. When asked for our next port of call I offered Tortola (BVI) but mentioned in passing that we might visit the deserted island of Sombrero whilst en route. Wham! I was immediately presented with a bill for another $80 for a cruising permit to allow me to visit a deserted island, with no population or facilities, 30 miles NW of Anguilla;
Virgin Gorda Boatyard
needless to say my enthusiasm for visiting Sombrero declined instantly. Thereafter, for the sake of the authorities, I declared it was to be a “direct passage” to the BVI. That said our actual plan was to anchor overnight in the anchorage on the SW side of Dog Island, 12 miles from Anguilla, and then sail on to Sombrero for a second night at anchor before finally heading to the BVI.

In the event our passage from Anguilla to the BVI went anything other than according to our plan. Our intention to anchor overnight at Dog Island became increasingly unrealistic the further we sailed North West, away from Anguilla. With every mile the swell from the west became bigger and as we arrived off Dog Island it was evident that the only anchorage was completely untenable;
Virgin Gorda marina buildings, all but destroyed
swell from anything between North East and South East is normal in these latitudes but swell from the West! Based on this experience we deduced that the anchorage at Sombrero would be equally untenable and therefore opted for Plan B, the one we had declared to the authorities, and set course for the BVI sailing through the night. By first light we were three miles off the entrance to Round Rock Passage, our chosen entry point to the BVI archipelago.

Virgin Gorda marina
Once through the passage we set course for St Thomas Bay, Virgin Gorda, where Immigration and Customs clearance can be achieved at the ferry docks, just north of the Yacht Harbour.

We picked up a buoy in the bay, (I did not trust the depths in the entrance to the yacht harbour to be sufficient), and used the dinghy to get ashore. The administration was dealt with reasonably quickly and efficiently and thus we were now officially in the BVI; from here we set off to find the “Flow” store to purchase a data SIM card. A brisk 10 minute walk brought us to the remains of the store, still trading but heavily damaged, where for $180US we bought 15Gb, three times the price in Antigua!
Gorda sound at sunset
Flow (aka Lime) have realised that by having one card covering all their islands they were failing to maximise income, they now charge “roaming rates” when the card is not purchased in the island on which it is being used. Our 10Gb purchased before leaving Antigua became 50Mb at roaming rites!

The damage in Virgin Gorda was clear to see, very many houses were completely flattened and those still standing were severely damaged, no windows, no roofs and in many cases walls gone as well. What was amazing was the spirit of the people, having had their lives all but destroyed they were all cheerful and welcoming and this was the same welcome we received in every part of the BVI that we visited. Where-ever we went the situation was more or less the same. Buildings flattened, roofs missing but life returning to normal. Businesses were trading from what they had left of their premises or were busily rebuilding ready for the return of the tourists.
Wickham's Cay, near Village Cay marina

Our first days in Virgin Gorda were spent relaxing, at anchor, in Long Bay and Virgin Gorda Sound. It was from here, two days later, that we sailed across to Road Harbour, on the main island of Tortola to pick up Stephen, a friend from London, who was joining us. We berthed in the remnants of the marina at Village Cay, once a smart marina complex and hotel but now trading from what was left after Irma. The marina was severely damaged with several sunken vessels still obstructing berths, the hotel had a very few rooms to let that were still wind and weather proof ; fortunately the least affected part seemed to be the bar/restaurant.
Wickham's Cay, Village Cay marina
The harbour at Road Harbour and the other yacht harbours in the BVI such as Nanny Cay are overflowing with damaged, dismasted boats.
A ship load already!
They are there in their hundreds. It seems there is a ship, loaded with severely damaged boats, departing Road Harbour every few days taking them who knows where for repair and this has been going on for six months already!
The lucky ones taken home for repair!

A heartbreaking sight! Many other yachts, motor boats and several ships still lie on the beaches where they foundered, awaiting salvage and/or disposal. We spoke to some people who were making a business out of buying wrecks from insurers and “turning them around”, a good profit to be made apparently!

Having successfully picked up Stephen the night before we commenced a tour of the other bays and islands.

I will not take you on a detailed day by day tour of the BVI, suffice to say the in every bay or island that we visited the damage was horrific and the people fantastic.

Pusser's Landing, Soper's Hole, not quite as I remembered it!
We went to all the usual haunts,
Pusser's Landing,
Soper's Hole (Pusser's Landing for a Painkiller Cocktail and supper), to Jost Van Dyke where we anchored overnight in Little Harbour (aka Garner Bay) where Abe's restaurant was gainly carrying on, displaying a notice declaring them open for business;
Little Harbour, Garner Bay, Jost Van Dyke
this was despite half of their premises having been demolished by Irma, most of which was currently in the course of being rebuilt.

White Bay, Guana Island.
From here we sailed to Guana island, for a quiet night at anchor in White Bay, before heading out to the spectacular but totally different island of Anegada.

Anegada is the only low coral island in the BVI, so low in fact that it has 'Tsunami evacuation route' signs along the roads.

We anchored for the night in the anchorage just to the west of Pomato Point and not in the main Setting Point anchorage; the reason for this was that I was unsure what effect Irma had had on the depths in the main anchorage; a large part of it is charted at between 2 & 2.5m; Kurukulla draws 2.1m.
Devastation in Anegada

Here too there was plenty of evidence of the damage Irma did but again the prevailing impression was of rapid reconstruction and evident determination to get back into business.
Anegada - Pomato Point Museum
Some locals we spoke to considered themselves lucky that Irma did them less damage than on the other BVI Islands;
Pomato Beach, Anegada
I am not sure how true this is, it may just be an effect of the low population density.
Kurukulla at anchor, Pomato Beach, Anegada

From Anegada we enjoyed a downwind sail back to Virgin Gorda Sound where we spent the next two nights at anchor. First night in the lee of Prickly Pear Island and the second on a mooring near Saba Rock.
Leverick Bay, Gorda Sound

If we thought the destruction we had seen so far was devastating then Saba Rock bar/restaurant and the Bitter End Yacht Club set new standards. In the case of the latter virtually nothing was left standing!

Bitter End Yacht Club, Gorda Sound

Next morning we sailed off the mooring and set sail for Dog Island where we anchored for lunch followed by a return to Village Cay Marina (aka Wickham's Cay 1) for the night. Our reason for this was twofold, we wanted to top up on fresh victuals and secondly we needed to deliver the No2 Genoa to the sailmaker for a minor repair to the leach. Doyle Sailmakers experience of Irma was also interesting, the building had been stripped to just a frame by the 200mph winds but they had luckily managed to retrieve and store much of their machinery before the storm hit.
Saba Rock, Gorda Sound
That combined with sufficient insurance cover saw them back in business, albeit in an ad hoc way, within three months. Others in the area were not so lucky.
Sand Sharks at Gorda Sound
Very many were under-insured and as a consequence were in an impossible position where they could not afford to rebuild their homes or businesses even if they were able reach agreement on a payout from their insurance companies.

The rescue of "Willie T"
Next morning, with only 48 hours to go before Stephen's return to UK, we quickly completed all of our tasks and then set off for Norman Island, the most southerly of the BVI. In The Bight, a deep, sheltered bay on the western side, was the infamous “Willie T's”; a small topsail schooner moored in the southern end of the bay and lately used as a bar/snack-bar. Reputedly if you were prepared to dive into the sea, from her deck, naked, you were in for free beer! Sadly she is now deeply embedded in the beach with a crane barge on task to try to refloat her, whether they will manage to do so before she breaks her back is anyone's guess but it is good to know there is a chance she will return to her old position.
Norman Island sound
The Pirates Bight bar/restaurant onshore at the eastern end of the bay seemed to be functioning well, that is judging from the disco music echoing across the bay!

Stephens departure day arrived and we decided to drop him as near the airport as possible. With a NE wind the best option was on the south west shore of Beef Island itself (after which the airport is named). Anchored 100m offshore we were able to put him ashore with the dinghy, depositing him at the end of the runway and 250m from the terminal building. Not bad so far.
Sunset over Saint John, USVI
The only problem was that his flight was then delayed by two hours and he arrived for his connection in Antigua in time to see the British Airways 777 taxiing for take-off without him onboard! Fortunately a) his flights were all booked through BA and b) they got him on the following day's flight, otherwise life could have become rather more difficult!

Stephen dispatched, Christoph and I set sail for Peter Island, another of the almost unpopulated southern group of islands, where there are several south facing anchorages. Here we anchored in Key Bay, and settled for the night.
Another casualty awaiting rescue and repair
The next morning we motored across to Road Harbour, to retrieve the No2 genoa and then sailed back to the tranquillity of Peter Island for another night.

Our time in the BVI was drawing to a close and so the following day we opted for a night back in the marina at Road Town; this gave us a chance to dine ashore for a last time, re-victual and do battle with Customs and Immigration to get our departure approved.
Not quite my idea of Bliss.....

Fortunately, although it was Easter Saturday, the offices at the ferry/cruise ship jetty were functioning. By mid day we were ready to depart and set off on a 18 mile beat to windward to reach Gorda Sound again. Our preferred setting off point for a Sunday departure for Saba. Ideally we sailed into the sound and on to the anchor just in time to pour a Pina Colada for sundowners, fantastic!

Just to conclude, I would not wish to dissuade anyone from visiting the BVI at this stage. It is very quiet, probably the least crowded you will ever see it, but that makes it all the more desirable.
Kurukulla alongside one of the pontoons but no services.
Everything is available, fuel, water, food, restaurants, bars; perhaps it is not to the usual standard but the people and the atmosphere are still there. It is a great place to go and needs people to return to help them rebuild their economy, their infrastructure and through that their lives!

Some of the damaged pontoons.
More when we are back in the Dutch Antilles, Saba and Statia .........

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Antigua to Anguilla via Barbuda and St Martin.

Stern to, Jolly Harbour
The speedy crossing of the Atlantic meant that we had more time to enjoy in Antigua than I had allowed for when planning. By the 1st of February the pleasure of being in Jolly Harbour was beginning to wear thin and hence we moved out to spend the following day or two relaxing, at anchor, in Hermitage Bay, part of Five Island Harbour; we were waiting our moment to head north and take a look at Barbuda, the island devastated by last year's hurricane Irma.

With suitable winds forecast we set off the following day at 0900 and by 1530 we were anchored in Low Bay off the west coast of Barbuda, some 200m offshore, and not far from the devastated remains of the Palm House Hotel, half of which looked to have been claimed by the sea.
Sunset, Five Islands Harbour
The sand spit separating Low Bay and the sea from Codrington Lagoon had been breached in at least two places, forming shallow channels into the lagoon, and a large number of the palm trees, previously stabilising the sand spit, had been torn from the ground. We navigated with care given that the chart and the present reality might be somewhat at odds and discovered that the point where we anchored was shown by GPS to be on top of the sand spit (yes I did check the chart and GPS datum settings!)
We spent the night at anchor here and then, next morning, sailed south and round the south western tip of the island, called Palmetto Point (on which there was another dilapidated hotel but this one seemed to date from an earlier era), and into the south facing bay to the east of Palmetto Point. Here we were able to anchor much closer inshore and not far short of the
Hermitage Bay, 5 Islands Harbour
Martello tower half way along the bay. Only Christoph swam ashore for a walk on the beach and in the process he managed to bump into four locals on horseback who appeared to speak very little English, only Leeward Caribbean Creole. (Seen from a distance Malvena and I thought they might be local police on horseback!). They seemed less than phased by his relaxed style of dress (or lack of it), keen to chat and offered large shells for sale; that is until they realised that Christoph had no pockets and therefore no means of paying! They were obviously some of the very few people left on the island, the entire population having been evacuated last year, with most still housed in Antigua. In the event our stay there lasted only 24 hours after which we set sail back to Antigua and a return to Five Island Bay. By 2000 we had effected a night entry under sail and were again anchored in Hermitage Bay, back in our old position with three other yachts to keep us company.

The beat through Goat Head Channel
At 1430 next day, the 4th of Feb, and after enjoying a salad lunch, we sailed off the anchor and set off for a new anchorage in Carlisle Bay on the southern side of Antigua island. To get there we either had to pass north or south of the coral reef paralleling the south coast at the western end; we opted to pass to the north. Thus it was that we enjoyed a beam reach down the west coast and a challenging beat to windward through the Goat Head Channel (between the reef and the mainland shore).
.......and it can rain, Carlisle Bay
By 1700 we had sailed into the bay, anchored amongst the other four boats already there and were preparing for our first G&T. The bay has one large hotel development at the inner end but is otherwise relatively quiet; except when it rains!

Next morning we enjoyed a swim in the bay, a leisurely lunch and then we set sail again, sailing off the anchor and heading for English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard Marina. Our plan was to spend one night in the marina, dine ashore and re-victual from the local supermarket. On arrival we realised that it was also the finishing line for the Talisker Whisky Challenge, the Trans-Atlantic rowing competition.
Stern to in English Harbour, Nelson's Dockyard
At 0700 the next morning one of the British entries finished to a cacophony of ships sirens, whistles and cheers from the crowd. They were helped ashore, on rather wobbly legs, and on completion of formalities, enjoyed a hearty breakfast on dry land. The previous evening we had opted to take our meal ashore in Trappas, a restaurant I knew from my last visit to Antigua, and very good it was too. From here it was a nightcap (Rhum punch) at “The Bar on the Corner” and then a slow walk back to Kurukulla.

Nelson's Dockyard
The dockyard is a Heritage Site and is a splendid example of an 18th century Royal Naval Dockyard, restored in the most part to near original configuration. Notwithstanding its attraction the marina is an expensive place to stay and so we limited ourselves to one night only. By 1200 we had departed the berth and were motoring towards the harbour entrance where we set sail to head back westwards, this time downwind and a very much easier sail. Our original plan had been to spend the next night in Falmouth Harbour which is only one mile to the west of English Harbour but having seen the crowded conditions in the anchorage we opted to go further west and anchor nearer to Jolly Harbour.
Ffryes Bay
For the next anchorage we chose Ffryes Bay, recommended by the pilot as a day anchorage but in fact a very good night anchorage; it is equally well protected as Morris Bay (the next bay north) which is much more crowded and at the entrance to Jolly Harbour.

Malvena was set to depart back to UK in 48 hours time and so we spent her last full day aboard sailing back to Five Islands Bay for a final sail and swim before moving into Jolly Harbour Marina for the night and dinner at Melini's (in our opinion, without doubt, the best restaurant at Jolly Harbour). Next morning it was a trip to the immigration Office to remove Malvena from the ship's papers, lunch on the waterfront, and final goodbyes before her taxi departed for the airport. Very sad to see her depart after such a great crossing.

The next morning Christoph and I made a raid on the local supermarket and then headed for the now traditional anchorage at Hermitage Bay where we stayed for four days, doing the odd bit of maintenance. We were awaiting the arrival of the next crew member, Melvin, due to arrive on the 14th of Feb. On the morning of the 14th we sailed back to Jolly Harbour and re-took our usual berth.

St John's centre, capital of Antigua
Before departing Europe I had omitted to lay in stocks of RNSA burgees for the trip, the consequence of which was that my Blue Ensign was at risk of becoming illegal due to the absence of a burgee to accompany it. A phone call to the RNSA offices, the day after we first arrived in Antigua, had two spare burgees dispatched, by Royal Mail from UK, within hours, but what I had not allowed for was the postal system in Antigua. Each day we were berthed in Jolly Harbour I went to the offices of the marina to enquire whether the package had arrived and each time I was greeted with the same sense of amazement that I should believe it would arrive in anything less than three weeks. In the event the yellow notice announcing that the package had taken root at the main post office in the capital, St John's, arrived on the day we had set for our final departure, I having decided to give up on the burgees ever arriving. The notice was date stamped 14th Feb and arrived on the 21st! Given this news we decided to postpone our planned departure by a day and take a taxi to St John's that afternoon, and so by 1430 we were in the main post office ready to do battle; the only minor problem was that the staff of the parcels office had decided to take an unannounced half day holiday and the counter was empty. The other staff on duty had no access to the parcels section and were unable to assist!
Melini's as I remember it from 2011
We returned to Jolly Harbour empty handed! No to be defeated we decided to delay a further day and that I would take the same taxi, next morning, in the hope of retrieving the package.
Melini's today
In the meantime we settled for another splendid dinner at Melini's where, by this time, we had become established customers; their generosity resulted in us yet again having severe hangovers next morning.

At 0830 the following day I set off for the Post Office in St John's whilst Christoph and Melvin did a victualling run to the supermarket adjacent to the marina. By 0900 I was at the counter doing battle with the parcels clerk who informed me, having checked the yellow notice once and my passport twice, that I should take a seat and wait........and wait........and wait; eventually my name was called and I was invited to go into a back room from where the customs officer operated, my passport was checked a third time and the package was then produced but, before I was allowed to take it and leave, it had to be ceremonially opened and the entire contents displayed for all to see. I appreciate this is to prevent drugs being shipped through Royal Mail but the whole process seemed to be treated as something that had to be endured by all rather than an effort to enforce the law. That said, ultimately we had a fresh (intact) burgee and were set to depart. On my return to Jolly Harbour we had to make a visit to the Harbour, Immigration and Customs offices, to get Melvin on the ships papers and approval for us to depart Antigua; this took only one hour and after paying our dues at the marina office we were set to go..... Phew....

Barbuda waterfront, Cocoa Point
The wind was north easterly and gusting strongly; hence, once we had ventured out of the shelter of Morris Bay, we decided to defer our trip to Barbuda for 24 hours and to anchor on the NW side of Five Island Bay, for the final time, and wait for the improvement in the weather that was forecast for the following day. Sure enough the improvement arrived but even so it was a boisterous close fetch to reach Barbuda the next morning, ending with a beat into Cocoa Bay in 35+ knots of wind. Here we joined four other yachts sheltering from the high winds and surveyed more of the devastation ashore left by hurricane Irma. Not a building was left intact, a few had walls still standing and even fewer had any of their roofs in place. Heartbreaking to see and devastating for the population of the island; you can understand why very few have returned. It was here also that our brand new Rutland wind generator gave up the ghost completely. I had been suspicious from the start that it was not producing the specified outputs but now it refused to produce anything. One to investigate later.

Sad sight in St Bart's anchorage
Next morning the winds had moderated and we set off early, well 0800, for St Bart's some 70 miles away, downwind. The entire trip was a beam/broad reach and was achieved at an average of 7kts plus, despite the moderating wind. By 1900 we were passing Gustavia, the capital, and were headed for our chosen anchorage for the night in Anse du Colombier at the north western end of the island. Our plan was to pick up a mooring for the night, head into Gustavia the next day for clearance and remain one night in the harbour before departing for Sint Maarten. Nature had different plans.
St Bart's, Gustavia harbour
Next morning a quick phone call to the Capitanerie at Gustavia revealed that Gustavia Harbour was untenable due to the send in the harbour caused by the swell outside. All boats, other than those on the permanent moorings in the centre of the harbour, had been required to leave and anchor outside the harbour. We stayed put until early afternoon and then motored the two miles to the entrance to Gustavia Harbour, picked up a mooring (which we were told later by the Capitanerie we were not allowed to do!) launched the dinghy and headed into the harbour to do our clearances, both in and out (available for stays of less than 24 hours), before taking a walking tour of Gustavia. The clear up after hurricane Irma had been rapid and impressive but still many buildings were either missing or damaged. The main street was full of “Duty Free” shops and was more reminiscent of an airport duty free shopping arcade than a real town.
Departing St Bart's, Anse du Colombier
Not my sort of place and I was soon itching to get back onboard and away from the port. After four hours ashore I was already convinced I had been there two hours too long! We dined ashore in a smart but not very welcoming restaurant before heading back to Kurukulla for a night on the mooring and then departed the following day, mid morning, back to Anse du Colombier where we again spent a night.

At 1100 the following morning we set sail for the tiny private island of Isle Fourchue only 5 miles away and by 1200 we had picked up a mooring, under sail, and were ready for a lazy day and leisurely lunch. In the bay were five other yachts/catamarans but the bay was large, well sheltered, and peaceful.
Anchorage at Ile Fourchue
By 1600 it was time to be on the move again as we needed to be in Sint Maarten by dusk and were keen to anchor before sunset in Groot Baai (Great Bay), off Philipsburg in the Dutch part of the Island. We sailed in and dropped anchor just as the sun was setting. The bay is very large but somewhat nerve-wracking as it is mostly only 2.5 – 3.5m deep with an undulating sandy bottom and hence, once you depart the buoyed channel, you need to keep a very close eye on the echo sounder. Nonetheless we found a suitable anchorage point for the night.

Philipsbugh, Sint Maarten, the damage after Irma
Melvin was due to fly back to UK the next day and Bobby's Marina seemed the easiest point to get alongside, do the clearances and get him a taxi to the airport. By 0900 we were alongside and by 1100 all formalities were complete. Yet again there was plenty of evidence of the damage wrought by Irma, even full size shipping containers had been picked up by the wind and thrown around like confetti, the boatyards were full of damaged boats and building repair or demolition was evident everywhere. All of the waterfront hotels were roofless and some verging on demolished. The locals told us that if we thought their part of the island was badly affected the French side was much worse.
Philipsbugh, Sint Maarten. Even modern hotels devastated.
We wait to see....... Certainly there is still much to do to get many of the businesses back up and trading. That said the determination of most of the local businesses to get back up and running, in whatever form, was amazing and the fact that three cruise liners came in on day two of our stay proved that some things are getting back to normal. The down side of the event was revealed by one of the local boatmen who told us in some detail of the looting that had gone on in the wake of Irma, he compared it to the spirit of cooperation that had pervaded in Anguilla, only 10 miles away, where looting had been unheard of and recovery very much more rapid.
More devastation.
It is impossible not to be moved by the predicament of the locals who have lost everything; their homes and, with so many hotels and businesses destroyed, probably jobs as well. Although many expensive looking holiday homes have been badly damaged I suspect for the overseas owners life goes on more or less as normal, not so for the majority of the locals!

Whilst in Bobby's marina I took the opportunity to strip and inspect the wind generator. My suspicions were confirmed, one of the two carbon brushes, conducting the power generated from rotating head to the support post, was seized in it's holder and surrounded by molten plastic. It had obviously been a tight fit and had never made good contact since it was manufactured, hence the disappointing output since installation.
Simpson Bay Lagoon, The end of someone's dream...
A telephone call to Marlec had a new brush assembly en route, by courier this time, but this meant we had to remain local until it arrived, forecast for five days time. Christoph and I decided we had had enough of the tourist-ville elements of Philipsberg and so we moved out into the bay for a quiet afternoon and peaceful night at anchor. The following morning we set sail for Simpson Bay, 3 miles west, with the intention of anchoring there for a day or two. The anchorage was crowded but we managed to find space near the edge of the fairway leading in to the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Our visit coincided with the Sint Maarten, Heineken Race Week, hence we had ringside seats for the race finishes and were located on the approach channel to the lagoon where most of the racing yachts were berthed. It was fun to watch and brought back many happy memories of my racing days.
Simpson Bay Yacht Club and Lagoon Bridge
The down side was that the anchorage was not as protected as hoped and was subject to significant swell, much worse than Groot Bay at Philipsberg.

On day two, whilst the majority of boats were out on the “Round the Island Race” we took the dinghy in to visit the lagoon, call at the chandlers and catch up on e-mail etc. at the Yacht Club; inevitably this led on to a couple of beers and lunch whilst we watched the early finishers jostle for position as they re-entered the lagoon. The yacht club was soon full to bursting and we opted to take our leave rather than be assailed with all the stories of mark roundings and close misses. It would have been too much like old times! That afternoon we sailed off the anchor and headed round to the NW coast of Saint Martin (French part) and anchored off the beach in Baie Rouge. A long low swell was coming in but nothing to prevent a good night's sleep! In fact so peaceful and pleasant was it that we stayed a second night before moving back to the Dutch part of this the smallest divided island in the world.

Red Bay anchorage, Saint Martin
Our move back was prompted by a rock & roll awakening at 0730 when the wind and sea set in from the west, as had been forecast. This was our signal to move back to the shelter of Simpson Bay but this time we anchored at the far western end in the lee of Beacon Hill, along with four other yachts. Although exposed to the slight residual swell from the south east it was much more comfortable than Baie Rouge, the downside was that we were less than 500m from the runway of Princess Juliana airport, the upside was that we were close to the edge of the upwind leg of today's course! Lunch was accompanied by an interesting analysis of the upwind tactics of the competitors!

The following morning was the earliest that our spare parts from Marlec were forecast to arrive and therefore, just before midday we set sail and headed back to Groot Baai and Bobby's Marina in the hope of finding them waiting for us. From UPS's tracing system we discovered they were in Sint Maarten but had not yet arrived at the marina, after our experience with post in Antigua this alone seemed little short of a miracle! The next day looked hopeful! We settled for an extended lunch at an unusually quiet Greenhouse Restaurant (there were no cruise ships in this day) and caught up on our personal administration using their WiFi connection. The rest of the day was declared a maintenance day with me fixing a 'reluctant to light' burner on the stove whilst Christoph stripped the varnish on the gas locker door. Not exciting tasks but they needed addressing, sure enough late that afternoon the wind generator parts arrived but too late to install them... A job for tomorrow. Whilst walking the Philipsberg seafront that evening it was evident that the seas that we had experienced whilst on the north west facing shores of Baie Rouge were nothing compared with those in Groot Baai. Half the beach had been deposited on the promenade and the marina staff testified that they had never seen seas like it outside of the hurricane season, fortunately we were not there to witness them! As if they hadn't got enough to cope with already! Nature can be cruel!

Kurukulla and Charm III, in Road Bay. Another casualty of Irma.
The following day we had a late start, perhaps something to do with the pitcher of rum punch consumed the night before! Well one has to help keep the local economy going! By the time either of us ventured out of our cabins the sun was already high in the sky. The first decision taken was to stay a day longer in Bobby's Marina and install the wind generator parts before going elsewhere. We also needed to do a major shop for food etc and clear outwards from Sint Maarten before heading to Anguilla. Thus the revised plan was to depart mid day of the following day, Thursday, and enjoy a relaxed cruise the 10 miles over to Anguilla ready to clear in on Friday afternoon having anchored over night back in Baie Rouge. The afternoon was verging on windless and thus we were forced to motor the eight miles to Baie Rouge but sadly there was an unanticipated south westerly swell running into the bay rendering it unsuitable for an overnight stay. Not to be defeated we pressed on a mile further east and anchored in the western end of Baie de Marigot, with Pointe des Pierres a Chaux sheltering us from the swell. The buildings on the point looked completely devastated but the more we looked at them the more we were convinced that they had been abandoned well before hurricane Irma hit the island.

Next morning we set off for Anguilla planning to arrive in the early afternoon. By 1300 we were anchored in Road Bay, one of two possible entry points, and by 1430 I was heading ashore in the dinghy to clear in. Surprise one was that the Customs and Immigration offices by the dinghy dock were deserted and closed, as a result of damage by Irma; that was not a problem as they had simply transferred 500m to the commercial jetty further south along the bay. Immigration was easy, they even provided carbon paper to allow you to fill in the quadruplicate forms two at a time; after this it was Customs where they collect the cruising permit payment, surprise two was that it was $60 US per day, midnight to midnight (i.e. one night = $120!). The only free anchorage is in Road Bay (I asked the question “what happens if Road Bay is untenable” to which the answer was “use Crocus Bay”; the fact that it is equally exposed to the same wind/sea direction did not seem to compute!). These charges seemed to explain why there were virtually no boats in Anguillan waters compared with the 'crowds' in Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. I opted for a four day (i.e. three night) permit commencing the next day and thus it was that we set off from Road Bay mid morning the following day heading for the “marine reserve” at the northern end of Crocus Bay.
The anchorage at Road Bay, Anguilla
Anchoring in the marine reserve is not permitted but there are some mooring buoys laid in the area which are free to permit holders. In fact all but two of these buoys were lacking bridles and, as a consequence, were almost useless, despite the charges they had not been repaired following Irma's damage, but as we were the only boat there this was not a problem. In fact we opted to stay there for all three nights, given the wind direction and strength, this being the best protected and most comfortable anchorage that we could identify. Anguilla has a dirth of protected anchorages with several bays where anchoring is forbidden, add this to no marina facilities nor fuel/water facilities and you can easily see why few boats visit. A shame as there is the opportunity to boost the local economy with only minor investment and some relaxation of the rules.

For our last two days we were constrained to remain in Road Bay, free of charge, where we opted to catch up on admin and maintenance. I will not be rushing to revisit Anguilla or not by boat anyway; that said it is a beautiful island!

Tomorrow morning we depart.

More when we are in the British Virgin Islands …............