Sarah's Windward Isles Journey
Shrewd but kind, firm but fair, Ollie Vaughan, The Skipper/Owner of BooToo and our generous host
Chris, calm and quietly witty First Mate and marine engineering whiz (47)
Fi, melting brown eyed gastronomic temptress (26)
Pete, lithe, sure footed, blue eyed Scot who is a sailor to his toes (25)
Vics, lissom, smiling boat spirit (22)
Humph, stiff-necked (literally) gorgeous old dog
Sarah, that's me
The Carmichaels (Humph and Sarah) join BooToo, Ollie and crew for a two week holiday cruising up the Windward Isles and some of the Leeward Isles from a Barbados start to an Antigua finish. February 12 - 28, 2003
Wednesday, February 12
We find the boat, nestling in the shade of a large cruise liner, in the industrial quarter of Bridgetown harbour. The weather is very non-Caribbean - windy and grey.
We are to sail the 120 miles from Barbados to Union Island overnight and Ollie suggests that we tuck ourselves up and get some sleep when they weigh anchor after supper.
What a good idea. Once out of the harbour we head off down wind (which makes for uncomfortable sailing) into a Force 5. We find ourselves pitching, rolling, yawing, rising and falling whilst every sinew of our bodies tries to maintain a horizontal plane. Sleep? You must be joking. Nobody mentioned a holiday on the 'high' seas.
Thursday, February 13
We rise bleary eyed to a slate coloured, lumpy sea with the black serrated silhouettes of land rising and dipping at the horizon as we sail past the guano covered loneliness of Sail Rock.
Land fall at Clifton Harbour, Union Island where we anchor so that Chris can deal with the charming customs officials, lucky man. Breakfast is a fractured affair as everyone who has been on watch throughout the night needs to catch up on some shut-eye.
From Clifton, it's a hop, skip and a jump south between Punaise and Mopion reeflets to anchor in the lee of Petit Saint Vincent (PSV) and Petite Martinique where we'll stay overnight.
Weather still squally but there's some sunshine in between so there's swimming after lunch. As another squall approaches a fat rainbow arcs over PSV, a pretty privately owned island where we dine that evening in the civilised surroundings of its private resort. Tonight a barely perceptible motion rocks us to happy slumbers.
Friday, February 14
Blue St Valentine's day skies are still punctuated by squalls and after breakfast we sail off anchor (seems a bit hairy and complicated and clearly requires great skill) and head north. Force 6 winds make this sail an exhilarating ride of two short hours with BooToo behaving like the thoroughbred she is, skimming at nine and over knots through Long Bank and the South Mayreau Channel and into Tobago Cays where we are going to anchor up for the next two nights in between the islets of Petit Rameau, Petit Bateau and Baradal.
After lunch the weather closes in again and the young huddle in the galley, Humph grabs his book and Ollie looks depressed. What now? I know, let's go scuba diving! After all, it's only the surface that looks like the Irish Sea in November. It's Pete's first dive but he's safe because he's Ollie's 'buddy' and he later describes his first visit to the murky depths and, in this unusually rough weather they are murky, as "an abundance of pleasure" - Very Scottish, very Sean Connery.
Huge dinner followed by some word games - three girls v four boys. Guess who wins? YES! We are invincible...
Saturday, February 15
Weather improving and I attempt my first morning swim off the boat. The current away from it is so strong that it's all I can do to stay in the same place next to the steps. Still it's good exercise, if a little humiliating. Ollie, Humph and I visit Petit Bateau Island and
Climb up a winding cacti strewn path to the top of the main hill for some stunning 360 degree views of what must be one of the prettiest anchorages in the Windwards. The water a vivid iridescent blue beneath scudding clouds with about twenty five boats clustered and swinging in their azure circle. Pete comes to collect us as another squall sets in.
Ollie visits the next door boat that is flying the red ensign and finds an ex Tory MP and the widow of his recently deceased great friend and boat partner. They are in the process of sailing the world. Ollie, being a sociable animal, invites them to join us for dinner which proves a great success. At their departure we make promises to keep in touch.
Sunday, February 16
Now the weather really is Caribbean! Blue skies and no squalls on the horizon. Time to make the 20-mile trip to Mustique, home to the rich and famous. As we depart the anchorage we wave to our new found friends.
Four days of consistently stiff winds has made the sea very lumpy indeed and the trip is three and a half hours of leaping and pounding the erratic waves, interspersed with healthy showers of spray. It's rather like taking part in a wet rodeo. We don't anchor until 2.30pm by which time we're all famished. A late lunch is followed by a little trip to the island by a party of three - Hump, Ollie and Fi. I understand from the female of the party that a good deal of 'talent' spotting goes on by the old dogs. 'All the sailors like a nice girl'?
We have dinner at the notorious Basil's Bar which is rather quieter than expected (silly us, it is Sunday night) with Sir Mick Jagger notable by his absence. Some friendly Americans get us on to the dance floor where Fi reveals her true hip swaying self much to Humph's delight whilst Ollie earnestly discusses fire drill with Pete. Everyone's happy.
Monday, February 17
Another beautiful day in heaven. After breakfast Ollie decides to put everyone through their First Aid paces. As he attempts (quite successfully) to encase my broken arm in a sling, I notice that his bedside manner leaves something to be desired. I am reassured to know that morphine is available - but only Chris is trained to administer it. So guess who's my new best friend?
A really wonderful sail follows from Mustique to Bequia with perfect conditions. Stiff wind, but the seas - although just as high - are not as uncomfortable, because we are on a beam reach (impressive nautical terminology or what?). It is very special for me as I am allowed to take the wheel and helm the boat - and, wait for it, I actually hit over 10 knots, 2 knots faster than Humph! We are invincible....
Bequia's Port Elizabeth provides a very pretty and well attended anchorage. An afternoon trip ashore shows it to be a thriving busy little port with a picturesque covered fruit vegetable market managed by colourfully hatted laughing Rastafarians. A late swim off Princess Margaret beach with Ollie executing three beach runs with one finishing swim for the final length. He is only mildly puffed. Move over Daley Thompson. An early night after yumptious honeycomb ice cream. Fi is going to make some lucky man very, very happy.
Tuesday, February 18
A whole day at Bequia so, after a latish start, Ollie, Humph and Sarah go off to Port Elizabeth and find Jose's taxi - a four wheel drive van with a open-air rear with padded hot plastic seats. A marvellous two hour trip around the island reveals a place of real charm. Jose is an excellent guide with an articulate knowledge of the history and workings of island life and an innate sense of when to stop to let Ollie and I take the necessary tourist photos. It's fascinating to get a slightly more in-depth idea of the islands we are visiting. This is a peach. Lunch at Mac's Pizzeria - much better than it sounds - and at 2.00pm Ollie drops Hump and I onto Princess Margaret beach for an afternoon's swimming and reading whilst he and Fi go scuba diving.
A sudden heavy squall at 5.00pm requires an instant rescue operation of a shivering us from a sodden beach by our hero Ollie. In the interim Ollie has been boat crawling around anchored neighbours looking for victims and at 6.30pm Gary, who hails from Maine, duly arrives for a look around BooToo - as Chris puts it - a boat owners version of 'kicking tyres'!
Off to The Gingerbread for dinner and three bottles of red wine and a good deal of relatively incoherent conversation later we return to the boat at 11pm for some deep and dreamless sleep.
Wednesday, February 19
It's time to leave Bequia and head for St Vincent and Petit Byahaut which we understand from Chris is not the easiest of anchorages. Our crossing is uneventful until a gusting squall hits us with a 37 knot wind and Ollie achieves a rather spectacular 12.2 knots speed - breaking my rather pathetic record... drat. I'm allowed to do a little helming in the quiet bits. I do love driving!
As we pass Kingstown Bay, we're amused to see masses of billowing smoke enveloping a blackened, smouldering and drifting pirate ship. Walt Disney is making a movie. Unfortunately we're not close enough to take good photos or spot any hunky male movie stars for Fi. Later some dinghies pass us full of piratical characters who've been having fun as extras.
Anchoring at Petit Byahaut takes a bit of doing as it is a small bay subject to a swell. This means, for comfort, that we need a stern anchor as well - an exercise that has not been attempted before on BooToo. The boys are very busy.
Ollie is on the social trail again and has dropped in on the next door boat
- first encountered at Port Elizabeth - and asked the six occupants over for dinner. Six! Fi is in the galley all afternoon. The Team arrive well
dressed up and ready for a good dinner. The talk is wide ranging and fun.
The world gets put to rights! Fi cooks up a storm of roast chicken and
Dauphinoise potatoes followed by Rhubarb and Mascarpone crunch.
Thursday, February 20
A fluffy cloud morning and I decide to concentrate on getting a tan at the bow of the boat whilst Ollie and Fi go snorkelling and diving in Bat Cave. Another movie location? No, but it's quite spooky and very dark with Fish bats and Fruit bats hanging from the crenellated roof and blue green crabs crawling around on the rocks feeding off the droppings. Very David Attenborough. Fi is very brave indeed and sweet enough to pretend not to notice when her beloved leader drives the dinghy all the way back to the boat with the anchor still down and dragging along ten feet under, narrowly missing - we hope - any passing divers and the local marine life.
Ollie and I pop over to the island to book ourselves in for supper. A sweet airforce blue heron on the beach prances and tiptoes in the surf and a vividly coloured caterpillar - at least five inches long - sways from the branch of an oleander. It's a hot and steamy day with much less breeze than previously. After lunch so we're dropped off at the beach for a quiet snorkel and a read in the hammocks. Hummingbirds preen themselves on the branches of the trees and lizards scurry and crackle about.
An evening's supper ashore and Chris and I venture to inspect one of the tented rooms by torchlight up on the hill. The loo is in the open air - all very 'Out of Africa' at Savoy of the Strand prices.
Friday, February 21
An early start at 7am as we have 50 miles to cover to St Lucia and Marigot Bay, a well known Hurricane Hole and scene of the original Dr Dolittle film with Rex Harrison. Fi and I help out with the helming - Fi gets to 11.5 knots! "Watch and learn Sarah" she says. Cheek.
It's a good sail with a couple of squalls. We pass the east side of St Vincent which is partly shrouded in cloud with tentative silhouettes of spindly palm trees waving on the tips of the high sharp ridges. A strange and appealing mix of Swiss alpine and Chinese topography throwing itself down to the sea with isolated shacks clinging to the sides of the hills.
Marigot Bay turns out to be a calm circle of water surrounded by low wooded hills dotted with large houses. A spit of sand at its entrance means it is almost completely enclosed. We go outside the spit of land to the exterior bay for a swim. A hundred yards out and we can all still stand easily - no current to speak of makes this the easiest and jolliest swim yet.
An evening drink at the Soggy Dollar bar sees Ollie tucking reluctantly into a Pina Colada (no tomato juice available, sorry) and I'm feeling very happy after two rum punches. (It's Happy Hour all evening at the Soggy Dollar according to the manager "Weelyum" who spends much of his life dragging smiling punters out of the water they've just fallen into.)
Saturday, February 22
After Chris has done his usual visit to the red roofed Customs House, we leave Marigot Bay and start the forty something mile journey to Martinique and the bustling metropolis of Fort de France. It's another exhilarating ride and I have (for me) the best
hour of the holiday, helming this wonderful boat over a big blue sea at an average speed of 10.3 knots getting up to 11.4. I wish my Mum could see me! Why did nobody take a photo?
Unfortunately for me, a couple of hours out on deck sail has resulted in rather severe sun burning - a warning to all green sailors... it's easy to forget how hot the sun can be when you are racing across the sea in a 30 knot wind.
Fort de France turns out to be very built up - there are even some 'sky scrapers' - and after a brief visit to Customs we make our escape to Saint Pierre on the North West coast. Saint Pierre has benefited from EC subsidies and has wonderful paving, planting and sturdy jetties - all, as Ollie and Humph say, "paid for by us"! Supper is in a small French bistro that could just as easily have been in Brittany or Normandy. French families chatted and ate in equal proportion and it made a nice change from the usual Creole fare.
Sunday, February 23 - LEEWARD HO!
An early start for Dominica, the most southerly of The Leeward Isles planning to arrive at Prince Rupert Bay and Portsmouth for 2.30 to 3.00pm - but with gusts of 44 knots (Force 8) we make rather spectacular progress and Ollie decides to carry on to the Iles des Saintes just south of Guadeloupe - a cluster of islets where we can stay for a couple of nights.
It's an exciting ride and a long one. The sun shines in an uninterrupted blue sky and dolphins appear and swim with us at the bow of the boat which is thrilling.
When we arrive at les Iles des Saintes we haven't predetermined our anchorage but there is a lot of choice and our eyes fall on the south west corner of Terre d'en Haut. It's a small pretty bay, under the shadow of a hill called the Tower and abutted by a perfectly formed round rock called Pain a Sucre. Large red, ochre and green roofed houses edge a rough pastured smallholding sloping down to the sea and populated by black and white goats and piebald chickens and geese.
Janet and Tom, an attractive and genial American couple, pay us a visit in the early evening from a neighbouring yacht and are invited to join us at 8pm for dinner. They hail from New York State and spend from December to May in their boat cruising the Caribbean.
Monday, February 24
We wake to the crowing of distant cockerels from the smallholding. It is a seriously beautiful day and after breakfast we pop around the corner in the dinghy to the next bay and the island's capital Bourg des Saintes. This is a 'toy town' of candy coloured houses with citrus coloured corrugated roofs punctuated by vivid flowering trees - all with a strong French vivacity and charm. Little lanes of pink and blue shuttered cottages with collared doves cooing from the shady courtyards. Boutiques, restaurants and fruit stalls jostle for position with the beach and sapphire sea glimpsed down pink pathed alleyways. Butterfly coloured materials flutter in the salty breeze. Motorbikes and scooters beep their course between the shoppers, with small children clinging to the handlebars loosely held by insouciant parents waving and shouting to their friends.
BooToo is quickly moved to a new anchorage in the Bourg des Saintes bay and then
Ollie treats us to a splendid lunch at a beachside restaurant before he and Fi go scuba diving. Chris spends the afternoon fixing things on the boat whilst Vics and Pete gaze into each others' eyes in a local bar.
When we return to Bourg des Saintes at 8.00pm, what was only this afternoon so full of life is now silent and dark, as though a bomb has dropped. Shutters shut, no lights, no music and no people. We are booked into the Sole Mio for dinner and tiptoe down the main street, whispering. We are the only customers. Why the ghost town? The owner of the restaurant is illuminating. Only last season the bars had been open, bands had been playing and salsa was being danced. The sleep deprived residents of the tiny town were fed up to their French back teeth with it. They complained to the Mayor, he complained to the police and the police shut all the bars and music down after 7.00pm. Quelle domage.
Anyway, the English contingent make up for the general lack of ambience, drink too much wine and giggle and guffaw their way through dinner, back down the street and onto their dinghy.
Tuesday, February 25
8am departure for Guadeloupe's Basse-Terre half way up the western coast to the tip and a little bay and coastal town of Deshaies. The wind is very erratic and after a shortish sail across the channel between Iles des Saintes and Guadeloupe, it drops so completely that we have to resort to the engine. We arrive around lunchtime at our
slightly unprepossessing destination (in comparison to previous anchorages and also partly because of a very dark cloud hanging over the bay).
Dinner on board in the teeth of a Force 8 gale funnelling through the harbour but we stoic British still munch through our delicious lamb tagine up in the cockpit whilst all the other boats batten down their hatches. Afterwards we huddle down to watch Bridget Jones on the plasma. I am in love with Colin Firth. Don't tell Humph.
Wednesday, February 26
Early departure, under thick quiet cloud with no wind, to make the 35 mile crossing to Humph's and my last anchorage, Antigua and Falmouth Harbour where all the big boats and their crews are based. The crossing is a mixed bag but eventually the sky clears and the wind picks up sufficiently for us to have a reasonable sail. The misty volcano of Montserrat passes on our port side whilst Humph and I scan the horizon for dolphin to pass the time.
Our arrival at Antigua is preceded by Pete's frenetic titivating of BooToo - dispensing with the side canopy of the cockpit to present a better profile etc etc - so that the waiting yacht community can be more impressed than ever. As we turn into the harbour hundreds of millions of pounds worth of boats blow their horns. But this is as a farewell to Helios, a large motor sailboat that broke its mast and threw a quay party last night. For a brief second we imagined the din was a fanfare for our immaculate arrival. Dream on.
When darkness falls, Falmouth looks like a Caribbean Manhattan with the bristling star scraping illuminated masts of yachts presenting a dramatic skyline.
Thursday, February 27 - Boo Hoo. It's Bye Bye to BooToo.
So it's an immense and heartfelt thank you to Ollie our host, Chris, Fi, Pete and Vics for their smiling, tolerant accommodation of the large, demanding and greedy Carmichaels and for making this the trip of a lifetime - so much brilliant sailing, exploration, fun, laughter, comfort, good food, wine, sunshine - all amounting to so much HAPPINESS.