Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon, the largest sailing yacht in the world in full flight in Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda, on Saturday 21st March.

A few weeks ago, in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua we had walked along her length, craning up, at her shining masts. The children skittered around her equipment on the dock. From Shirley Heights during the Jump Up the crowd saw her motoring into the sunset.

On Saturday afternoon as we dinghied passed her at anchor, I had a hopeful muse, not quite a wish, to see the Falcon in her full glory.
It came true. She passed us, at sunset, her sails unfurled.

Scores of cruisers stood on their decks awed by the rare and magnificent sight.
And on our VHF radio, we heard Sir Richard Branson wishing them a safe voyage. His island, Necker, is around the corner from the tip of Virgin Gorda.

It had been a busy day what with our walk from the Bitter End Yacht Club, pretty damn good resort, round and along to the Biras Creek Resort, described as a place of “understated wealth” where we were refreshed with lime juices in preparation for a crazy dinghy race home. And, a jaunt on Charlotte’s ski-bob for Jack. Charlotte (5) is his new friend sailing on Heatwave, a Leopard 42, more of them next time.

Plans changed on Sunday as the winds were coming from the south. Anegada beckoned. Fourteen miles to the north of Virgin Gorda, a taste of the Bahamas in the Virgins, it is an eleven mile long island of white, tranquil powder beaches oh, and sumptuous lobsters.

Anegada means the drowned island. After the Great Barrier Reef, and Belize, it is the third largest reef in the world. The island is only twenty eight feet high making landmarks hard to distinguish from the sea. Also, coral heads, the surrounding reef and over 300 sunken vessels along with hazardous currents make this a destination only for experienced yachts.

In March 2003 we sailed here competing in the Annual Dark and Stormy regatta from Tortola to Anagada and back with a one day break for snorkelling, or strategising ...

2009 our journey is of course children focussed. For Mothering Sunday, the boys collected shells “for Mummy” on coral strewn beaches, drew a card on the sand and treated me to a lobster dinner at Potters, which I did not think could be beaten until, I tasted John’s luncheon lobster at the Big Bambo on Loblolly Beach, in the north of the island.

Here John and my sons joined me in yoga on Pomato Beach, more powder sand which stretched on and on and on.

Anegada has a special, potent energy, unspoilt and not yet trampled too much. Old magic still exists here. I wanted to stay much longer than our two days but time as ever is pushing us north.

Coming soon, the updates promised in the previous blog entry!

Friday, March 13, 2009

St Martin 12th March 2009. The family Rodriguez flew into Martinique on November 28th. The next morning Seraphim sailed in on Super Servant 4, a Dockwise yacht transporter. Since our arrival we sailed south to St Lucia, back to Martinique for a better wind angle then sailed south east to Barbados before returning to Martinique. In early January the Seraphims headed north to Dominica, the Saints, Guadeloupe, Antigua (our favourite) St Barts and now St Martin.

A synopsis of the catch-up since our arrival? Birthdays, Christmas, New Year, John and the boys winning the ARC costume party, several volcanoes, deep caves, rainforests, several waterfalls, an orchid garden, two tropical gardens, a monkey sanctuary, exquisite beaches, the Jump Up at Shirley Heights, John’s Birthday at the Admirals Inn English Harbour, the thrilling start to the RORC 600 race, and a collapsing cricket pitch and banking system are some of our experiences and discoveries.

Over the next few weeks I shall be keeping up to date (ish) with our present explorations with the odd extra catch up thrown in.

Our departure for the Caribbean from Palma Mallorca was bitter-sweet. We underestimated how difficult it would be to say fare well to so many friends. Jack and James had a delightful Birthday Party in their favourite park on the edge of the historic district. Sadness at leaving Palma, and Mallorca which we had come to love merged with excitement at the upcoming adventure.

Whilst Seraphim crossed the Atlantic on Dockwise, we fitted in a high stress trip to the UK. To add a spin to an already hectic visit I organised (another) Birthday Boys party for 25 munchkins. They loved it. Magician, tractor cake, games with pals and more pressies to squeeze into Seraphim. For several days before our departure to Martinique I found myself humming “Leavin’ on A Jet Plane”.

John and I felt a surreal high on arriving back in the Caribbean. Maybe it was jet-lag, but, I think it was remembering our experiences during the 02-04 trip with hopes for this. Nevertheless, re-entry onto the boat in Martinique was extremely difficult. The heat, humidity, the jet-lag, the loads of stuff to be stowed, all compounded by filthy Echinacea resistance colds picked up on the plane, plus, as ever the needs of two small boys.

Having partially organised ourselves we headed south to St Lucia to meet the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, wave the Ocean Cruising Club flag, and particularly meet our Dutch friends SEAWALK whom we had last seen in Alcudia, Mallorca with a promise to take their lines after their crossing.

In St Lucia. Rodney Bay Marina was a sea of mud and industry. Anticipation for the arrival of scores of competing yachts on the ARC mixed with panic that the marina would not be completed. Jack and James were in Bob The Builder heaven.

On the morning of my Birthday John arranged Rasta Adrian to serenade me on his steel drum. Post sunset, various ocean crossing folk toasted me with rum punch.

The following night 15th December we celebrated the arrival of our friends the SEAWALKERS, Sergej, Isabelle, Alec, Katie and their crew, Yannick.

We knew their estimated time of arrival and listened to them crossing the finishing line on the VHF radio. Waiting eagerly on the dock, watching for their mast light in the dark we could barely contain ourselves but we kept radio silence, they did not know we were there. Their thrill on seeing us grinning on the dock, and our delight at taking their lines, just as we had promised in Alcudia, was a special moment. Bubbles of excitement all around.

Crossing an ocean is a massive achievement. It does not sink in immediately but re-living it was a highly charged experience. I found Seawalks’ midnight arrival very emotional. It reminded me of Moonshine’s arrival in Antigua in December 02.

As part of the numerous celebrations, the ARC ran a Costume Party which attracted many hot entries. However, it was won by non-Arc-ers. John, Jack and James (although the latter was asleep for the prize giving). John also gyrated his way to winning the best limbo dancer against equally athletic but not such skilled (!) competition.

Tracking Father Christmas on the NORAD website, hoisting Father Christmas up the mast and decorating Seraphim culminated in a cracking Christmas for the boys in a smart beach hotel where we joined twelve other families at a chaotic lunch, playing in a Jacuzzi in the middle of a circular swimming pool and on the white beach.

New friends living on the island, Nick and Jasmine, gave us an excellent private tour of their plantation house and garden, the Tropica Gardens. Nick cut the boys sugar cane, their first taste … chew and sugar juice dribbled down their chin. Literally heaven on a stick.

We have been surprised by how many boats with children we have come across. Since December a floating village of up to twelve yachts from American, Australia, Germany, Holland and Norway and UK has gathered in St Lucia, Martinique, Antigua, and St Martin. Some heading north to the USA, some to the Pacific via the Panama Canal.

After Christmas most of the ARC boats headed south to explore Bequia and the Grenadines. Seawalk and Seraphim headed north for five hours to Martinique for New Year in the pretty anchorage of St Annes which provided a glorious sunset to end 2008. The two boats were rafted together so we could leave the boys sleeping on Seraphim five feet away, and celebrate on Seawalk.

Woo We’re Goin’ To Barbados

Barbados is the best place for cruisers to pick up visas for the USA. It was an awful sail south east from St Anne’s to Port St Charles. But, the island is beautiful as was the Kennedy-eque young man who gave us ten years worth of US Visas, ensuring entry to Disney Land’s Mickey Mouse Club House and the space shuttle launch. Amongst other Barbados tourist-musts are the Harrisons Caves, a spectacular underground network of Cathedral size caves through which we were trundled in a large rolling train, slightly Disney-esque but awe inspiring. The touristing also took in the Barbados Wildlife Sanctuary, mostly monkeys and tortoises with one enormous boa constrictor and dinosaurs, well, iguanas, (with rabbits) in ornate cages ! One viewed the aviary, from above. A day waiting for weather was filled with a trip to the Orchid Garden full of exquisite blooms.

The sail along the south coast of Barbados, past the Cloudy Bay hotel, was glorious. As we scoped out an anchor spot in the Bridgetown anchorage two little girls ran out and jumped on the trapezes of their catamaran, our first impression of DOUBLE HELIX who had just crossed the Atlantic from the Cape Verde islands.

Seraphim and Seawalk rolled and rolled and rolled however, not DOUBLE HELIX. John, Lizzie, Ellen and Ana, became our next set of new friends. Trampolines, space and calm for those of us on monohulls weary of gunwale to gunwale rolling. DOUBLE HELIX became the “platform” for Katie Seawalks Birthday party and many other social occasions from Barbados, to Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe and Antigua.

Although Barbados is not a really cruiser friendly island, it is a friendly island where the customs officials were helpful, a rarity, and the Bajans, a delight. Everyone was courteous and welcoming. Bridgetown seemed like 1950s England.

The two official anchorages are open to swell. Bridgetown’s anchorage also has a nightclub which thuds until four every morning. One band sang the worst ever covers of Earth Wind and Fire, the lead was flat. By the time we left I was half mad with sleep deprivation. I felt like Van Gogh with the mistral.

We were sad to leave Barbados, but, time and wind dictated that we head north.

Coming soon ........

John in a waterfall........the Double Helix gang.......the French islands …. Dominica …… Antigua … our return to Nelsons Dockyard plus more from St Martin, and a preview of the British and US Virgin Islands.