Saturday, April 30, 2005

Windward Islands Log, April 2005

April 16-25 – in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Just as the weather seemed to be clearing up for good sailing in our home waters, Deborah and I set off for Los Angeles to join our friends Hilary and Layne Ballard and four other members of southern California’s Marina Sailing Club, Tom and Robin Blake and Pat and Karen Egger, for a weeklong bareboat charter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Our boat was one of a flotilla of seven, which was a bit of a crowd in my mind but worked out well enough.

the Moorings 4500 catamaran, which, with a 34-foot beam, features a sizable main salon, equally large cockpit, and four separate cabins and heads

Tom Blake skippered the boat, and I served as first mate. During the course of the week we sailed about 120 nautical miles and anchored or moored at eight islands. Loads of details about St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as the other island nations to the north, Martinique and St. Lucia, and to the south, Grenada, can be found in Chris Doyle’s Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands - comprehensive information is given on the islands' history, people, and societies, and on harbors, marine facilities, restaurants, shopping, lodging, and general travel information.

April 16 – Arrival on the Island of Canouan and Moorings headquarters at the Tamarind Beach Hotel in Charlestown Bay. Our crew was to go aboard our boat that afternoon, since hotel space had run out, but first the Moorings staff took our personal gear out to our boat, Liseron, which was moored a few hundred yards from the Moorings loading docks, and Cap'n Tom and I followed along to get an orientation to the boat.

the Moorings access dock at Canouan

A bit later, Layne (assigned to the main sail and as navigator, since he had a GPS) and Hilary (in charge of dinghy security, fenders, and leading morning exercises) joined me aboard, and we inventoried galley provisions, particularly discovering that we’d not ordered sufficient beer for the duration. (Our inventory was not very effective, it turns out, because we discovered within a day or so we had been shorted some items and not received others).

a small portion of seven days provisioning

We ended our first day with dinner at the Tamarind Beach Hotel, learning that one could indeed transport eight sailors in a single ten-foot dinghy. High in (and on) spirits, we dinghied back to Liseron for our first night aboard.

April 17 - Canouan to Mayreau - 7 nm

We arose bright and early this morning and loaded ourselves into the dinghy to have a sit-down breakfast at the Tamarind Beach Hotel. Because folks in the rest of the Marina Sailing Club’s flotilla had to get checked out on their boats that morning, we had a lot of time on our hands.

skippers meeting and chart talk

Cap’n Tom and I went to a general information meeting and chart talk for skippers and first mates, while Layne worked on getting his diving tanks filled and others gathered up fins and snorkels and wandered around the area. Hurry up and wait seems a universal trait of large operations, and the problems of getting some twenty boats away that weekend was compounded by the fact that everything had to be dinghied out to the boats since there were no usable docking facilities, and for some inexplicable reason, although we were checked out on Liseron the day before, we ended up being almost the last boat out.

Eventually, we let go the mooring and sailed off on the first leg of our adventure, destination Salt Whistle Gay on Mayreau Island, about seven nautical miles to the south. Cruising under the burgee of our own Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda, we got used to the cat, tweaked the sails, and made six to seven knots over ground on a beam reach. All through the trip, it often seemed to me like sailing on San Francisco Bay on a nice winter day, with the clear exception that it was 85 degrees F. rather than 55-60.

We arrived to a relatively crowded anchorage at Salt Whistle Bay, and had to make several tries at anchoring, with me at the windlass, Cap’n Tom at the helm, and Layne diving the anchor each time to help us get it set. Every sailing day is a learning experience, and we finally discovered the secret of setting the CQR.

Our next order of business: a swim ashore for a couple of fruit-filled rum drinks at the beach bar and shopping for our first souvenirs from a local vendor.

We caught a ride back to the boat with a local “boat boy,” and had great fun cheering (and photographing) a French wedding party on an adjacent cat.

the wedding party

At four bells, we went to a flotilla party on Cool Change, after which we ended the evening with a barbecued steak dinner aboard our own boat, courtesy of Pat and Karen and Robin, highlighted our day. And we enjoyed one of the best sunsets of the trip.

April 18 – Mayreau to Tabago Cays – 3 nm

One of the most touted anchorages in the Grenadines is the Tabago Cays. A group of small uninhabited islands protected from the sea by a Horseshoe Reef, the Cays are treasured for snorkeling, diving, and stargazing at night. Only a three mile journey, we motored over after breakfast. Soon after we got out of Salt Whistle Bay, we discovered that the motor on the dinghy had not been pulled up and that water was fast filling her.

we only hoisted the dinghy onto the stern davits once

We stopped long enough for Layne to get in the dinghy and raise the motor, and proceeded on without further incident. We found a comfortable spot to anchor, and this time set the anchor on the first try. Layne went off for a dive, and the rest of us spent the day swimming, snorkeling, and lying about.

it was Liseron’s turn to host the flotilla party, and our galley team, Pat and Karen, prepared hors d’ouevres and created the best rum punch of the entire cruise. We dinghied ourselves and our punch and hors d’ouevres to one of the small islands where the flotilla had arranged with some locals for a lobster and fish barbecue.

Hilary, Layne, Deborah, Robin, Pat, Karen, and Cap'n Tom await the party goers

April 19 – Tabago Cays to Petit St. Vincent (via Canouan and Union Island) – 30 nm.

We discovered during the afternoon at Tabago Cays that our water tanks were almost empty. Cap’n Tom and I had been told during the boat orientation that they had been filled. We had seen that the fuel gauges registered full and took the Moorings’ staff person’s word on the water – well, live and learn. We should have checked. We decided to return to Canouan for water in the morning as well as for beer, more ice, and the missing provisions that we had overlooked in our first rather careless inventory of provisions.

We weighed anchor, set the sails, and had a brisk sail up to Canouan. We filled up both water tanks (211 gallons) and got provisioned in under two hours, and were on our way south again, this time to Petit St. Vincent, the southern most island of the Grenadines. On the way we decided to stop in Clifton Harbor on Union Island. We anchored easily and dinghied ashore to shop for souvenirs, fresh vegetables, and, of course, a piña colada. Within two hours we were on our way to Petit St. Vincent.

Petit St. Vincent is a private island, as Deborah and I discovered when we snorkeled ashore and decided to walk along the beach. A security guard shooed us back to the landing, the only public part of the island. That night we had dinner aboard,

April 20 – Petit St. Vincent to Bequia (via Chatham Bay) – 35 nm

a lovely sunrise awakened me at Petit St. Vincent. Deborah slept through it, but it buoyed my spirits the whole day through.

We set out around 0900 for our longest single day’s sail. We decided to stop at Chatham Bay, on the lee side of Union Island, on our way up to the Island of Bequia (pronounced Bequa) We had a broad reach past the south end of Union Island, and along the way the lower batten on the mainsail slipped out of its forward holder and began edging out of the sail. This was the second time the batten had slipped out and not the last, but the only time it slipped forward out of the sail rather back. The full batten sails on these Moorings cats are pretty beaten up, and the battens are always getting hung up in the lazy jacks when hoisting sail. Really quite a pain in the neck. In any case, the batten was slipping forward fairly steadily, and Layne and I decided the best solution was to hoist someone aloft (about fifteen feet) and push it back in and secure it. Layne took on the challenge, using an extra halyard in which he fabricated a bosun’s harness (I’m sure I couldn’t do it, even after watching him), and I winched him up with Pat tailing the line. It took only a minute or two, and Layne was back on deck safely, all of us thrilled at the accomplishment.

before the mast...oops, on the mast (apologies to Richard Henry Dana)

After spending a couple of hours anchored in Chatham Bay, we set out for Admirality Bay at Bequia. I took the helm and found a good close reach for the entire 30-mile passage. We averaged about 7 knots over ground, and easily found a safe anchorage off the recommended Princess Margaret Beach at Port Elizabeth.

Port Elizabeth is a lovely setting. We had another gorgeous sunset, which gradually became richer as we dinghied in for dinner at L’Augerge des Grenadines.

Deborah and Hillary paused for a photo with the sunset (as did everybody else), and then we feasted. I was falling asleep by the end of dinner, but when the music started, I was the first to “jump up” and dance. The sad part was that everyone else was so tired, we only did one dance and then headed out to Liseron for the night.

April 21 – Bequia to St. Vincent – 8 nm

With only a short sail over to Young Island Cut on the largest of the Grenadines, the Island of St. Vincent, we decided to while away most of the day in Port Elizabeth. Layne took advantage of the lull to find some other adventurers to go diving, and Deborah and Hilary bought some scrimshaw from Willy, a local craftsman who rowed himself about the anchorage in his little dinghy No Complain.

what a nice little tender

We visited every shop in the village, acquired a souvenir here and there, and eventually had lunch at the Gingerbread.

from the dining porch of the Gingerbread

The sail over to Young Island Cut was short and sweet. We were met by Gringo of Sam Taxi & Tours, who led us to a mooring (the cruising guide recommended him as well as mooring rather than anchoring in Young Island Cut because of currents). Layne and I dinghied over to a nearby dive spot that he wanted to check out, and soon after our return, Hillary and I went over to the night’s party boat for a rum punch, and then we joined the rest of our mates and headed into shore for dinner at Ocean Allegro.

ready for dinner at Young Island Cut

On our return from dinner, we discovered that the mooring we were tied to had drifted, and the skipper of an adjacent 30-foot sloop was very concerned that we were going to run across him. We determined that we had to tie onto another mooring. By the light of the moon, which thankfully was almost full, we sought out another mooring to tie off the stern. The first we found literally broke off its anchoring line in our hands. The second one we found, determined to be a solid one by Layne, who was by this time in the dinghy, was too far away for our mooring line. I took the 100-foot rode off the second anchor, and with Deborah at the helm, keeping Liseron away from the smaller sloop and edging her way toward the second mooring ball, Layne managed to feed the anchor rode through the mooring and back to me. We slowly turned the boat and tied it off securely. It was tense at the time, a bit too much hand-waving and shouting probably, but in the end we were secured. Unfortunately, the boat now lay abeam the wind, so those of us in the port cabins and now on the lee side spent a pretty warm night aboard.

April 22 – St. Vincent to Mustique – 16 nm

At sunrise, both Layne and I were up and we decided to release the original mooring and bring the boat around so the new mooring was at the bow. We did it quietly, and when everyone awoke they hadn’t even realized we’d done it. Ahhh, the pride we had in ourselves.

The change of mooring balls, however, created a bit of an argument between Gringo, who owned the first mooring ball that drifted, and Charlie Tango, who owned the second mooring ball to which we were tied in the morning. Charlie came by to tell us we were on his ball and collect, and Gringo came by to collect for his. We agreed to pay Charlie Tango, got a receipt, and finally Gringo’s boss, Sam, came by and magnanimously agreed we owed him nothing.

We had decided on our arrival at Young Island Cut to top off our water tanks. Gringo said he was arranging a water re-supply for a couple of other boats in the morning, so we arranged to be at the water mooring at 1100 hours, which would give Layne and Hilary a chance to complete their diving and snorkeling. When we finally got over there, and after dropping our boat hook in an ill-fated attempt to grab the water-mooring ball, we discovered that the fellow supplying water had packed up and gone somewhere else a half-hour earlier – since we paid Charlie Tango for a mooring ball and not him, perhaps Gringo told the water supplier he was done before we came over.

In any case, Cap’n Tom radioed over to the Blue Lagoon Marina, just on the other side of Young Island Cut, and they said they’d give us water, so off we went. Blue Lagoon has a very narrow entrance between surrounding reefs, which Cap’n Tom negotiated well. We gradually circled amongst two score moored boats while a marina worker checked on our getting water. At one point we hit the sand bottom, which Cap’n Tom readily got us off, and then we discovered it would be a two to three hour wait to get water. Since it was already noon, we opted to head out to Mustique and do with the water we had left.

The sail to Mustique was lovely. On a close reach with Deborah at the helm, we closed up the distance between another of the flotilla’s cats by at least two miles and had perhaps a half-mile to overtake them. Inexplicably, Cap’n Tom radioed the other cat and told them to be ready when we breezed by, which, of course, alerted them to get all they could out of their sails. We could close no more, and I’m convinced they turned on their engine as well, since they pulled further ahead of us. Always a race somewhere!

passage to Mustique

The anchorage at Britannia Bay on the Island of Mustique is one of the nicest we were in. A bit roily when the wind’s up, it nevertheless faces a really nice little village.

Mustique is legendary for the rich and famous who own second (or third or fourth) homes there, among them (or reputed to be): Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret, Raquel Welch. After the obligatory swim and snorkel, Layne and Hilary agreed to join Deborah and I for dinner at the Firefly.

The description of the Firefly, which pointed out that “regulars gather round the bar in the evening and a piano occasionally inspires one of them to play,” was right up my alley. So, while the others went into Basil’s Bar (home to a growing blues festival in January/February), we feasted at the Firefly, and true to owners Stan and Elizabeth’s promise, I ended up playing the grand piano (last played by Phil Collins or George Michael or Mick Jagger, depending on who you listened to) for almost three hours. The promise of free dinners for Deborah and me if we returned the next night was enticing, but none of us had decided on the next day’s sail, so we just enjoyed the moment!

April 23 – Mustique

local fishermen

The next morning, Cap’n Tom, who had suffered from too much sun the day before, allowed that he’d just as well stayed moored in Mustique for another day and night (we’d had to pay for three days moorage anyway), and we all agreed that a day exploring the island would be worthwhile. So we all set off to see the island. After wandering around the village, Deborah and I had lunch at Basil’s Bar and then took a taxi tour around part of the island, ending up at Macaroni Bay on the windward side.

the white sands at Macaroni Bay

That night, Pat and Robin and Hilary and Layne joined us at the Firefly for dinner again, and true to his word Stan comped dinner for Deborah and me, a dinner for which I gladly played another couple of hours.

April 24 – Mustique to Canouan (via Friendship Bay on Bequia) – 25 nm.

While it was “opening day” on San Francisco Bay today, we set off in the morning for our “closing day” of sailing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Layne and I arose early, finding Pat already up – Pat got up every morning at 5:30 or so and made coffee for all of us, a task which we’ll all forever be grateful. Although Pat wasn’t sure Cap’n Tom would be agreeable (even though we assured him we’d spoken to the Cap’n the night before), he gave us a hand raising the mainsail. Although there wasn’t much wind, we let go the mooring and attempted to catch enough to sail us away. Unfortunately the current was stronger than the wind, and as we drifted toward a nice cruiser to starboard, I had to start engines and we motored away from a collision with just a few feet to spare. An inglorious moment, from which we soon recovered, put out the jib, and sailed off to to Friendship Bay.

in the early morning sun, Layne and I aren't too sure which way to head

Anchoring in Friendship Bay (my first time at the helm whilst anchoring) was done easily, and while Layne and Hilary went for an hour’s snorkeling, the rest of us lollygagged on board. At about 1100 hours, we weighed anchor and headed south for Canouan. Layne took the helm, and I enjoyed sitting out on the port bow seat for almost the entire trip down. We tacked into the northeast corner of the harbor at Canouan, and Layne managed to slowly maneuver Liseron onto the last remaining mooring ball there.

While Cap’n Tom dinghied in to settle affairs with the Moorings, we all packed up. In the midst of it, we were struck by the first real downpour of rain for the entire week. I was caught topside taking down my Encinal Yacht Club burgee and the Marina Sailing Club flag, and got my first complete fresh water shower in a week. Once we cleared the boat with our luggage, however, we all ended up spending our last night ashore and in hotel rooms, where everyone who wanted it got a warm shower.

one last cocktail at the Tamarind Beach Hotel (in the dark, because the electricity had failed)

Cap’n Tom most generously bought all of us in the crew dinner, and Deborah and I cracked open a 2000 Bourdeaux that we’d brought along. A fitting end to a wonderful cruise in the Windward Islands. When do we go again?


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