… a greeting that is somewhat belated, due to lack of wifi.
It is late in the evening, and I’m in sore need of some shuteye after being kept awake until 2.00 am last night by frenetic music (far too kindly a term, calling that miserable cacophony music) – that was blasted out from the shoreside into the bay here at the otherwise, gorgeously pretty Terre de Haut. And you’re right – yes, I’m being a grump. Forgive me, but I get homicidal urges when subjected to insanely loud noise that you can’t escape or sleep through, hour after wretched hour. But that’s a beef for another day. So before I drop off my perch to restore some much needed sweetness, a quick update.
Just over a week ago, we filed out of the Simpson Bay bridge about 9.00 am, Monday morning. A bright, breezy, bonny day. Following behind the little tug, there, we stopped only briefly in the bay beyond, to raise the main, and then with our course set hard on the wind, we unfurled the jib and waved a cheery goodbye to Sint Maarten.
For the first few hours, it looked as if we might be able to make Antigua on one tack which was fine by us – Antigua is always a welcome destination. The wind and sky looked encouraging, too.
A little scrappy – but nothing really amiss there. And if the swell was uncomfortable being plum on the bows and of short period – only 6-7 secs between waves – then at least it was fairly modest in height, just 5-6 foot or so.
But here in the Caribbean, summer is approaching and, as the heat builds, so too the frequency of unstable weather. By midday, the skies were looking a little less jolly and a suggestion of a squall line began to form ahead. As usual, it was a subtle change in the light that first alerted to trouble brewing, and that indefinable sense of latent energy in the air. Not long then, before the indications were very obvious, not subtle at all, and the squall line began to look like this …
Odd thing with squalls, however, is you can’t always predict how severe they will be. This one, despite having a decent mass, was a wuss – all bark and no bite. A few drops of rain, a little gusty wind that promptly ran out of puff in a few short minutes. But it was the start of a pattern that lasted pretty much the whole day and for some of the night, too. For as the wind backed then veered as each squall passed, our course for Antigua went slowly up in smoke. Even sailing as tight on the wind as we could, we were now heading too far south. We decided therefore to carry on still making as much easting as we could, keeping the windward coast of Montserrat to starboard if possible, then to bear away a little to make Deshaies, on the north-western coast of Guadeloupe. And once there, well we’d review the situation. Ha! I do so love this free-wheeling cruising!
For much of the day, between squalls, great banks of cumulus roiled across the sky – and despite the wind which was a light breezy 15-20 knots much of the time – the humidity was ripe and drippingly tangible. One squall, however, threatened to bring us a refreshing rinsing; but although it brought gusts of 30-32 knots, even that passed so soon that within seconds its cooling shower was nothing but a memory.
Very little traffic did we see, and it was one of the quietest sails we’ve experienced this season. But one strange event did occur as the sun began to sink that first day, and Butterfly was some distance off Nevis and St Kitts. The radio burst into life with a call on Channel 16 from a boat called Blue Voyage. A female voice urgently hailing the Nevis Coast Guard. For several minutes she filled the frequency with repeated callings, each calling being repeated many times. Then a break. After ten minutes or so, a male voice – same boat name, same request for the Nevis Coast Guard. Neither he, nor she, despite their dogged hailings, seemed to elicit a response. Then the female began again. So distressed did she sound, we were about to respond ourselves, and ask if they required help, when she began using the dreaded word ‘Mayday, Mayday’ in her callings. Then the guy came on frequency and followed suit. Neither used a formal Mayday distress script, but just the word itself yelled now and then as they hailed the Coast Guard. Well, that did it, we grabbed the radio to respond, but before we could speak, it became clear the crew of Blue Voyage now had the Coast Guard’s attention and were in conversation with them. We could only hear their side of the chatter, but – phew! – that was more than enough to reassure.
It transpired they were a couple on a charter boat, who had been sailing off the windward shore of Nevis when they’d fouled their prop with a fishing line. They were, it also transpired, now amid several other lobster pot buoys. In order to untangle or cut the line free, they had dropped their hook to stop the boat travelling on. The line removed, they were now unable to retrieve their anchor. They were panicking, that much was clear, since they now found themselves on a lee shore, surrounded by lobster pot lines, and daylight beginning to fade. We gathered, by their comments, the Coast Guard were advising them to detach their anchor chain from the boat, and leave the hook in the sea bed. Then make for a suitable mooring for the night – not too difficult since Nevis is mooring ball central! Minutes later, a very much happier gent from Blue Voyage radio’ed the Coast Guard once again to report he was now free of his anchor and was making for safe waters.
It is very easy to criticise, and one shouldn’t be uncharitable, for these were clearly charterers who were very novice in several senses – but to use the Mayday call for such a trivial incident, and not to have the nous yourself to abandon anchor if all else has failed is – well, rather scary. Anyway, after that little diversion, we continued sailing into the choppy-watered night, happy at least they were safe and no doubt enjoying a nerve-calming sundowner or several, being now firmly attached to a nice safe mooring ball well away from lobster pot lines and contrary anchors.
When on watch at night, we keep a proper watch. No playing on computers or watching DVDs. Watch means watch. But sometimes there’s time and peace enough to read or do puzzles between keeping a regular check on what is going on around …
This was not the case that night. With the weather so fickle and the uncomfortably choppy action of short-period waves breaking first on the bows, then the hull, there was no scope for either. Nor much scope for sleep either when not on watch. Far too bumpy and noisy!
By morning we had Guadeloupe in our sights – and as the sun rose, so too the huge bank of cumulus towers that invariably crown Guadeloupe’s rainforested mountains and hills.
Deshaies, we decided, as we sailed by, looked too full (of yachts) to find comfortable swinging room. So on we sailed, our sights now firmly set on a group of islands that lie just off Guadeloupe’s south coast – Les Saintes. We have learned to love these French-owned bijou islets – imbued as they are with delightful Gallic charm and, as a bonus, providing some of the prettiest walking territory in the Caribbean. But before we arrived at Les Saintes, we first had to run the gauntlet of Guadeloupe’s lee shore, ducking and dodging the repeated squalls and deluges that quite whited out great sections of land and sea before they swept away to the west.
Somewhere along the way, however, I found the opportunity to take these two shots below – though I’m jinxed if I can remember exactly when – but both showing how Caribbean weather can turn on a sixpence within seconds.
We’ve spent the past few days enjoying the unspoiled rurality of Terre de Haut, practising our French, and cursing the invention of the PA system. A little way ahead of us, Moonshine, with friends Mike, Christie and Shane, and just round the corner at anchor off Pain du Sucre, pals, Rosie and Sim on Wandering Star. Come tomorrow, all three boats and crew will be making our way to Dominica for a few days.
Hopefully, we should have wifi available on the boat while there, so will update a little sooner if possible. Time, then, dearest chums, for me to cease rambling and bugger offski to bed - and wish you a very peaceful, and restorative good night. (I’m certainly wishing me one, while I’m at it. Though the ghastly, grossly amplified ruckus ashore is still raging tonight and its just gone midnight … )
À bientôt, mes amies …