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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Aschanti rendezvous


We’ve always kept in touch with Kalle, the skipper of the stunning black classic schooner Aschanti.  It was on Aschanti that we first explored the Caribbean back in 2004 after crossing the Atlantic on her from La Spezia in Italy to Martinique.  The next year we returned as permanent crew (first mate and cook) joining in Brazil and sailing up to the Caribbean.  We left Aschanti in 2006 to buy Bandit and had always hoped for a rendezvous somewhere in the Mediterranean, Caribbean or Pacific but it took five long years!  Finally, we met in the beautiful Tobago Cays.


We had a very windy sail down from Bequia – luckily the wind was behind us.  We unrolled a little headsail and flew along at 8 knots.  Neither of us was feeling that sharp – thanks to the copious amounts of free Mt Gay rum we’d manage to drink the previous night at the opening of the Bequia Music Festival.  Why is it that free rum always tastes so much better than stuff you pay for?

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     Aschanti and Bandit         Under way in 25knots.

Tobago Cays is a group of tiny islands surrounded by several reefs.  The snorkelling used to be fantastic but hurricanes have damaged the coral somewhat.  It’s still okay with lots of fish and it’s wonderful to swim with turtles.  We spent most of our time there socialising with the Aschanti crew and it was wonderful to catch up with Kalle, Lily and their two children Carlitos and Lunar.

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We had a great night on board and sailed out beside Aschanti the next day – just magical!  She was heading upwind to Martinique to collect the owner and we were heading downwind to Mayreau.  As we watched her pitch into the choppy seas with 25knots of wind blowing, we were rather happy we weren’t on board!  They’d had a rough sail up from Trinidad with most of the crew seasick.  How we remember those days.

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From Tobago Cays we sailed to Saltwhistle Bay – one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean with silky soft white sand, crystal clear water and those ubiquitous palm trees.  After a picnic lunch on the beach we headed around to the west of the island to find a more sheltered anchorage.

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      Spectacular Saltwhistle Bay on Mayreau Island

It’s been windy in the Caribbean so far this year which means rolly anchorages!  I hate to moan about the wind because after all it is what sailors want…..but day after day of unrelenting 20knots plus does get a bit tiring.  Our wind generator loves it and it’s great for sailing downwind….but the wind pushes up a swell and it’s hard to find flat anchorages.  Never mind – the locals tell us it will ease soon.


Regardless of the wind, the Grenadines have been spectacularly beautiful and relatively deserted (compared to the northern islands such as Antigua and Martinique).  We’ve found some gorgeous anchorages and explored some very low key villages and towns.


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Blissful Bequia


A mere dot on the Caribbean charts, beautiful Bequia proved to be one of those islands where it was easy to linger.  And linger we did – for a week.  There’s not a lot here – a handful of low key grocery stores (I can’t bring myself to call them supermarkets), some quaint boutiques, loads of gorgeous waterfront cafes and bars and a colourful produce market run by dreadlocked rastafarians.  Friendly and welcoming,they insist you try the produce first and, through glazed eyes, hand you endless samples. 

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              Buying at the market……….or from the boat boys

On one occasion as David was dropping rubbish (the bins are right beside the market) he was beckoned by a guy snoozing in the shade, waving a massive joint in his hand - “hey captain, how are you?  Want some goods?”.  We assumed it was papaya and mango he was referring to!

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Every day Bandit was besieged by boat boys selling everything from papaya and limes to fresh bread and local lobster.  Another boat sold water and diesel, took rubbish and collected dirty laundry returning it washed, dried and folded.  Needless to say for all these services one pays a premium which our cruising budget doesn’t stretch to.  The boat boys soon learnt to avoid the “cruising” boats and head for the “charter” boats!

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Lobster was the one thing on this island that was cheap and we couldn’t resist.  A lobster that fed us for two nights cost $15NZ.

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Bequia is one of the few places in the world where whaling is permitted.  The International Whaling commission allows the island to kill four humpback whales a year because it is considered a true cultural tradition.  In reality, they usually only take one or two and the entire island celebrates the catch and shares the meat.

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Bequia revolves around the sea which is natural given it was boat access only until a few years ago when the tiny airport opened.  Boatbuilding and fishing are main activities and any tourism is low key which results in the island feeling very unspoiled and uncrowded.  Long may it stay that way.  Even with 150 boats in the bay, the town was always quiet.

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We took a three hour open side truck tour around the island with seven other cruisers.  We went to the wild east coast – open to Atlantic swells and trade winds – and the sheltered south winding our way through lush vegetation past some beautiful island homes.

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Beaches on Bequia are stunning – golden sands and the sea is crystal clear with some great snorkelling on reefs.

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With three other Kiwi boats in the anchorage – Tuatara, Cutty Hunk and Balvenie – it proved to be a very social time.  We had pizza out with the Tuataras and Balvenies, a beach party with all four boats and a wonderful night on Cutty Hunk eating the delicious wahoo they caught en route from St Vincent and kindly shared with us.


A great night at the music festival and it was time to move on – we’d stayed much longer than we intended and it would have been very easy to just stay on.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beautiful Barbados


Two weeks anchored in Carlisle Bay gave us ample time to recover from the Atlantic crossing, catch up on much needed sleep and explore this gorgeous island.   And what a beautiful island it is.  Our first trip was to the wild east Atlantic coast with Alex, who had hitched a ride across the Atlantic with Richard on Moonshadow.  It was a pretty wild bus ride there, but the stunning Crane Bay soothed our frayed nerves.  What an amazing spot.  On the cliff above is Crane Bay resort with spectacular views…..and great coffee.


Another time we took a bus to Bathsheba – a surfing beach on the north east coast.  Not a lot there apart from a few ageing hippies, stray surfers and alternative type backpackers but the views were stunning.  We didn’t linger long, catching yet another bus to the west coast town of Speightstown - a very non touristy spot with busy rum bars where patrons spilled out onto the street, friendly street vendors and some beautiful beaches.

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Further down the coast is Holetown, where the rich and famous come to shop.  Yes it’s all here whether it’s a Louis Vuitton handbag or a Rolex watch you need.  The supermarket even stocks Waitrose products – certainly no Tesco items here!  The gated mansions look straight out of Surrey and sit alongside the $4000 a night Sandy Lane resort with its world class golf course.  We took our roti (bought from a roadside shack) and sat on the same beach as the rich and famous, swam in the same waters and enjoyed the same stunning views.  And best of all – it only cost us our $1 bus ride!

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Buses on Barbados are hilarious.  It’s $1 a ride no matter the distance and you get a choice of blue, yellow or white.  The big blue buses are the main buses that ply all the major routes to a schedule while the smaller yellow ones just go when they are full and stop anywhere along the route.  Their downside is they blast out reggae music so loud you can’t think!  But the dreadlocked drivers are often a bit more mellow than the blue bus drivers and hence a little slower.  The white buses are shuttles and don’t seem to have a route and will stop anywhere and cram people in.  They’re less comfortable but a fun way to see how the locals do it.

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With more boats arriving in the anchorage as people made landfall after their Atlantic crossing it was a pretty social time both on boats and on the beautiful white sand beach of Carlisle Bay with several impromptu evening beach parties.  Landing the dinghies proved fun especially with a bit of a swell rolling in and one couple (who shall remain nameless) managed to give their outboard a saltwater swim!  The local cruising club was a great place for a sundowner as well with beautiful views over the bay.

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On Friday night we headed to Oistens…..a fish market on the south coast where small shacks fry up local delights including flying fish, lobster and wahu.  We went for the flying fish and it was fantastic – served with grilled breadfruit and macaroni pie.  The local dancing was a highlight – can those boys move!!

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Another night we headed off to Kensington Oval to watch a 20/20 cricket match – the Windward Isles vs the Leewards.  What atmosphere, what fun…both on and off the field.  David squeezed in a trip to the Mt Gay rum factory (the oldest rum in the world) and we snorkelled on the wrecks in Carlisle Bay which were full of fish – the most we’ve seen for some time.

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With the arrival of the Russians (Roman Abramonavich’s 553ftmotor yacht Eclipse) we decided it was time for us to move on so we headed to Bequia – an overnight sail. 

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