(Chartering in the Caribbean in February 2008)
Woke up in : Harpenden
He opened his presents in bed (a large book of ocean photographs from around the world roughly the size and weight of a small cow, two Eric Clapton CDs (well, one Eric Clapton and one ‘Derek and the Dominos’ which sounds like a crappy children’s TV programme with people jumping around dressed in fluffy space creature outfits ) and a bottle of wine from the year he was born, which was a great idea suggested by Ed Slingsby who obviously didn’t realise John was born in pre-historic times so a bottle of wine that was still intact and not costing more than the income of an African nation was quite hard to come by.
After breakfast, we headed to the airport and I spent most of the time on the train wondering why London attracts so many odd people and why they always sit or stand next to me, and hoping that by the time we got back John would have forgotten about the Eric Clapton CDs and I wouldn’t be made to suffer them.
At the airport, we headed straight for the Dixons Tax Free store to get John’s last present, a Nintendo DS, which I had called in a big bucket of favours to get and a couple of games to keep him quiet.
During the flight I embarked on a near impossible task – to keep John awake (John is one of those people who could fall asleep leaning against a wall). The reason for keeping him awake was not that I couldn’t manage the seven-hour flight without his stimulating conversation, but because I had pre-ordered a birthday cake (well, a cake with a Virgin plane on it that failed to declare the nature of the celebration, so could just as easily be used for an anniversary, honeymoon, or if saved until after a LIAT connecting flight, a thanksgiving that you reached your destination while you still have your own teeth and that your bags made it to the same country as you) and also a half-bottle of champagne. A full bottle would have been far too much to drink at altitude obviously. And too expensive.
John played with his Nintendo, read a while, ate his surprisingly edible meal and half-way through the flight I was running out of good reasons for him not to go to sleep, so I just told him not to in a tone that hinted I would be deeply offended if he did. Being a girl, obviously I don’t need to justify being unreasonable and John accepted my request, no doubt for a quiet life.
When the cabin crew chappy finally brought the order to his seat and said he had ‘an order for Mr Thorp’, John did his best ‘look sonny, I’ve ordered diddly-squat and if you think for a second I’m paying a penny for your incompetent mistake you’ve got another thing coming’ look, when I stepped in (to save him from making an arse of himself) and said I’d ordered it for him.
He laughed at the cake, sighed at the champagne and seemed genuinely touched. It was a magical moment and worth every penny.
We landed in Barbados a little early and were mini-bussed to the hotel. We hadn’t planned to stay in Barbados for a night but Virgin changed our flight times meaning we would have missed our LIAT connection (ho ho, as if) and so they flew us out the day before and put us up in an all-inclusive hotel for a night at their expense.
There was something familiar about the hotel, not the hotel itself but the look, feel and ambience. It took me a few moments to put my finger on it, but the flowery bed-covers brought it all back to me, I was in Majorca and a place loosely resembling hell that epitomised all I despise about naff Spanish resorts and the kind of Brits who holiday there (I did once, not my choice and I was too young to know better).
Majorca is a beautiful island that has been completely wrecked by British tourism and is one of those things the government will have to apologise for in years to come, like slavery, the treatment of Aboriginies in Australia and all Geri Halliwell’s solo records.
Everything about the hotel was awful, the decor, the food and the people who would be just as happy in Majorca but had saved up all their money and restricted their children to just the one Burberry baseball cap just so they could tell their friends they went to Barbados.
The only redeeming feature (almost) was the small and utterly beautiful beach and view out into the ocean.
We nibbled around the edges of some food that looked as if not only it could ruin our holiday but lead to a limb amputation and retired just as the eager Brits started fighting for the best seats closest to the karaoke.
I’m not sure what saddened me more, that there were people who had saved a lot of money for their stay in the hotel from hell, or that they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it. I felt I had been ripped off and it was free, so I sent some telepathic messages to Richard Branson, telling him off for stealing a day of my life and looked forward to the real start of our holiday the following day.
Woke up in : Barbados
John went off to speak to the taxi driver and after half an hour of worrying that he had been driven off into the wilderness to be shot, I went to find him. He was on the phone to the local agent who was looking after our trip, trying to re-arrange the taxi he had sent away. I felt the need to point out that I would happily have dropped everything to escape from Majorca-ville a couple of hours early to sit in the airport but alas the taxi had gone and I was left wondering if I’d missed my only chance to escape. Thankfully the taxi returned at the correct time and we travelled to the surprisingly good airport (apart from the lack of departure board – they like to keep you guessing). We were flying to St Vincent so obviously the flight was hideously late, which the airline only chose to tell us half an hour after we should have left.
We spent the time wandering round the airport shops. In the bookshop we were accosted by a local gent who was trying to peddle signed copies of his own joke books. He thrust a book each in our hands and directed us to the ‘best joke’. When we failed to laugh (on account of the fact his ‘joke’ was as funny as malaria) he then changed his mind and redirected us to another seemingly random page and another ‘joke’ that would have been rejected by Cannon and Ball. Luckily his mobile phone rang and we escaped to the magazine section where we read the imported American magazines we were too tight to buy.
We sat in the lounge, looked round the shops, went to the loo (for a change of scenery) and sat in the lounge again. I picked up a copy of a local newspaper, which was exceptionally good. It was a bit like the Grantham Journal (recent headline ‘Cat Run Over on St Peter’s Hill’ – I kid you not, included was a feature with locals speculating on what the cat was doing in the middle of town. I expect it was heading for the bookies next to the Isaac Newton shopping centre for a crafty bet on the footy) and I soaked up stories about an impending strike by local workers and the court case of a man accused of stealing 10,000 EC$ of pig tails. I even read the adverts which were wonderful. I particularly liked one for fruit juice which advises the reader to drink their fresh juice and not anyone else’s ‘belly-wash’ and an ad for a car dealer which had comments like ‘Twist my arm and you can have it for 50,000 EC$’, ‘Price – you decide!’ and ‘Buy all the other cars in this ad and this one is free.’ They all claimed their product was the best, the cheapest, the best for your health the one that would change your life. It occurred to me that British ads are tied up in so much red tape to ensure consumers are protected, the ads are utterly dull compared with these. I never even cast an eye over newspaper adverts at home, but these were better than the news. I was planning to keep the newspaper but a lady who’s LIAT flight can been delayed from sometime in the early 1980s asked if she could have it and I could hardly refuse.
When our flight was called we headed to the gate and found that everyone else either knew the flight would leave from this gate or had found the invisible departure board and we were at the back of the queue to board. We chatted to a charming and very well-spoken chap from St Vincent who was returning home from a trip to Los Angeles and was very weary from an extremely long trip. The queue started to move as the plane boarded and then stopped abruptly. There was much hurried and stressed conversation amongst the airline staff and whispers filtered down the line to inform us that the flight was over-booked. One of the airline staff called everyone’s attention and announced there were only six seats left on the flight. Charming well-spoken shrugged off his weariness and just a three of the twenty or so people claimed seats and John did his best English gent “now look here old fellow, this really is terribly bad form” (or words to that effect), he shot to the front of the queue, elbowing people out of the way and claimed the forth ticket. For a moment we were horrified by his rudeness at jumping the queue, but then the realisation that we could be stuck in the airport overnight dawned on us and John and I surged forward in unison, kicking children in the shins, tipping over buggies and shoving grannies out of the way (almost) and claimed the final two seats while the rest of the passengers were still arguing.
The last two seats were at the very back of the plane, next to two young lads who had claimed the window seats. I was walking in front of John and had the choice of seats, so I chose the best looking young lad to next to. They were both from St Lucia (the plane was flying on to St Lucia after stopping in St Vincent) and they were both completely bonkers and utterly adorable. They leant back to ensure we could see out of the windows, offered us their in-flight magazines (as ours had been pinched) and told us we would miss the best island if we didn’t visit St Lucia. This made me chuckle as I always say something similar to foreigners I meet who have only been to London. If you have only been to London you have certainly missed the best parts of Britain as almost anywhere else is considerably better than London. Except Slough. And Luton.
It was a short flight followed by a long wait at Customs. There were several hundred different forms and we had no idea which ones to fill in, so we amused ourselves in the queue by filling them all in. Those who finally made it through shouted instructions back to their friends such as “If your favourite colour is blue and you like Take That you have to fill the pink one in, unless you think Jonathan Ross should stop dressing in the dark in which case you need the purple one.”
We eventually made it through and were met by Desmond, our taxi driver, who had been waiting for us since the plane should have arrived, 2 hours earlier. Regularly picking people up from LIAT flights, he was used to this and was cheerful and welcoming. I suspected he had several months of food and water supplies in his cab to cope with such delays.
We shared the ride with a couple who were heading for the same Marina as us, Teresa and Francois. It turned out we were chartering boats moored next to each other in the Marina and we shared a table in the restaurant by the Marina for dinner. They were holidaying without their grown-up children (who prefer skiing) and were waiting for friends who were delayed in Geneva due to their flight being cancelled by British Airways. I felt compelled to apologise for this on behalf of the British nation. They were lovely people who seemed impossibly young to have grown up children and we had a really enjoyable night, the highlight being how Francois kept his composure and showed great kindness to the waitress when she explained that the house red was a fine Sauvignon Blanc.
We retired to spend our first night on the boat that was to be our home for the next two weeks.
Woke up in : St Vincent
We woke up early, made the most of the last shower we would have for two weeks and had breakfast with the nice couple we met the day before, who had still not heard from their friends in Geneva. There was a chart briefing at 10am run by a German lady called Petra who gave us details of the best anchorages, the best places to eat, where we could buy provisions, water and fuel should we need it, what we should try not to crash into, where we were most likely to get murdered and where the most vicious sabre-toothed sea monsters hang out. Ok, so I made up the last bit. In the briefing with us were Francois (who had sensibly sent to Teresa to the local supermarket instead of spending £50 on a bag of ice, some bottles of water, some beer and a lump of cheese at the Marina shop. Like we did ) and three Canadians, one of whom was a lady determined to behave like a very convincing American Although not offensive in any way, she was very loud and brash and said ‘Oh my gaaaaaard’ a lot. I made sure I gave the name of her boat to the sabre-tooth sea monsters later on. About10 minutes into the briefing, two American chaps joined us and even though Petra said she would go through what they missed at the end, Stupid and Stupider kept asking about the parts she had already covered. It soon became apparent that it would have made no bloody difference if they had been there from the start as they continued asking dumb questions throughout the briefing, including if the GPS on the boat would be pre-programmed with the waypoints they wanted. When Petra explained that it wouldn’t (cos it’s not bloody psychic) one the Americans replied that was ok because he had already programmed them into a handheld GPS he had brought with him. At this point John, Francois, Petra and one of the Canadians told him not to rely on GPS in the Caribbean because the islands are not always where the charts say they should be. I had no idea if this was true but thought it was a damn good wheeze if it wasn’t, so I joined in. The American spent the rest of the briefing looking bewildered and I realised I was lining up a lot of work / meals for the sabre-toothed sea monsters.
After a briefing on the ins and outs of our boat from Andy, a thoroughly pleasant chap who was a little late as he had to drain the fuel tank from the Canadian’s boat after they filled it with water (an easy mistake as the tanks are labelled ‘fuel’ and ‘water’. If you’re an idiot) we finally set off for Bequia.
I spent the sail to Bequia in the usual state of bafflement I have spent all of my limited sailing adventures so far. I am starting to understand how to put the sails up and down but haven’t the foggiest idea why or when to do so.
We were piloted out of the Marina by a local chap as the charter company don’t trust people to be able to navigate between the reefs at the entrance and judging by the display of American muppetry earlier, I can understand why. There is something about Caribbean men that makes them want to tell you, in detail, something completely random from the personal lives. The taxi driver who took us to the airport in Barbados told us in great (and repeated) detail how a woman had backed into his 5-series BMW (he never referred to it as his car or his BMW, always his 5-series series BMW, with the occasional additional feature thrown in such as leather seats or turbo diesel). The pilot chose to tell us all about how he needed to have all his teeth removed due to diabetes. I could now give you a detailed description of the history of diabetes in his family and all the horrid things that happened to each family member as a result of it but I won’t, because it is very very dull.
We enjoyed the sail to Bequia and when we arrived we enjoyed a gourmet cheese sandwich on the boat. To the honest there was nothing gourmet about it. And the ‘cheese’ element is debateable, but it calmed my nerves after anchoring which I find on par with trying to cross roads in Paris or trying to have fun in Spain in terms of difficulty and resuIting stress. It usually consists of John standing on the bow flailing his arms around and shouting instructions into the wind, while I am at the helm and after giving up trying to work out if he wants the boat in neutral, forwards or backwards, i decide to do all three at random until he stops shouting and flailing which eventually works.
We took the dinghy into Bequia to stock up on provisions for the week. We went to the fruit market first and got completely ripped off by a chap who charged us £6 for a pineapple, two mangoes and a star fruit we didn’t want, but we let him off because he said Alan Shearer was his favourite footballer. We then headed to the supermarket and stocked up on everything we needed to keep us going for a week. John excitedly filled the basket with small boxes of ‘Mac and Cheese’ which I thought looked awful and like something you’d be fed in hospital or on an Airtours flight (but turned out to be a revelation not far off Marmite). It was then back to the market and there the inevitable happened. John bought some fruit and veg from a lady stall-holder who asked the question I have been anticipating for the past 10 months, “Is this your daughter?” When John explained that I was in fact his girlfriend she told him very sternly that he was very lucky and must take care of his young girlfriend and treat her good. I have reminded him of her wise words ever since.
Back at the boat, John snorkelled down to check the anchor and I decided to be brave and have a swim. As we were drying off we were approached by a dinghy with three Americans from two of the live-aboard boats close to where we were anchored. I think they were horrified that a charter boat had dared to invade their territory. They asked John how much anchor chain he had out and I’m sure if John had said we’d dropped the anchor in Australia it wouldn’t have been enough. They insisted we hadn’t anchored properly and the boat would drag in the night and no amount of John’s reassurance and explanation of his sailing experience and knowledge was going to convince them he knew what he was doing. One of the men then, bizarrely, asked John if he had a passport at which point we decided to ignore them until they disappeared shouting ‘Oh my gaaaaard’ to each other.
We left in the dinghy to go snorkelling over a nearby reef as one of the Americans, back on his boat, started taking video footage of us and our boat, no doubt planning no doubt to use it when he sued us, just as soon as he could think of something to sue us for.
There were frigate birds all round the bay as we pootled over to the reef. It’s quite a harsh name, ‘frigate’ bird. It’s not friendly sounding name like ‘Robin’ or ‘Owl’ or Greater Crested Weeb-Warbler’ but as Frigate birds look closely related to Pterodactyls (they quite possibly are Pterodactyls but no-one has noticed) they don’t deserve a nice cuddly name. One dived down quite near us in a very dramatic fashion but after a few failed attempts at catching a fish it obviously felt stupid and went to hide in a tree until we had gone.
We snorkelled for nearly an hour over the reef. I find snorkelling equally amazing and terrifying, Just as I start to feel confident and like I am getting the hang of it, either my mask or my snorkel fill up with water and I go blind, choke or both and panic, flailing my arms around wildly, causing nearby boats to go into neutral, forwards or backwards randomly until John saves me. I sometimes grab any protruding part of his body and have a good attempt at snapping it off, at which he only saves my life so he can swear at me. But all the trauma was worth it when I saw box fish, blue puffa fish, pipe fish and the entire cast of Finding Nemo (minus the turtles. And Nemo).
We retired to the boat exhausted and cold and John rustled up a fantastic dinner. We watched the sun go down on deck and had an early night.
Having read this back I have just realised that I have somehow managed to merge Sunday and Monday into one day, which really is rather dim, but I am writing this several days in arrears for reasons that will soon become clear.
Ok, so, what Have I missed out...............?
Sunday night was very windy and noisy and neither of us slept well, partly due to worrying that the unthinkable might happen, the Americans would be proved right and the anchor would drag in the night, which of course it didn’t.
We ate on the boat on Monday night but on Sunday night we ate ashore at a local restaurant, which was fantastic. I had a chicken stir fry which was as good stir fry as I have ever had (errrrr, except John’s of course.......) and John had a Conch Roti which was superb and ridiculously cheap. The whole meal came to £16 including beers and I don’t think we could’ve eaten better in the Caribbean.
I will move on to Tuesday now and really try to make more sense, and keep up with the days!
Woke up in : Bequia
It was an incredibly rough and windy night and we both slept badly. The wind could’ve blown islands around so I was worried the anchor was going to drag and lay awake anticipating the crunch followed by “oh my gaaaaaards”.
In the light of the morning we checked our bearings and found (as John promised all along) that we hadn’t moved an inch.
We set sail for Mustique and I resisted the urge to stick my fingers up or moon the horrible Americans on the way past. On leaving Bequia we passed a fantastic super-yacht flying a red ensign and Seacloud II which were both heading for Bequia. The sail to Mustique was very rough, the only redeeming part of it were the flying fish which we saw frequently. They are like something from a children’s storybook and had I not seen them for myself I wouldn’t have believed they existed. When we arrived it took a couple of attempts to pick up a mooring buoy (only boats over a certain length are allowed to anchor off Mustique) with John in the dinghy and me looking on stupidly while trying to steer the boat in the vague direction of the buoy.
We took the dinghy ashore and arrived just after three American chaps who took our line and tied the dinghy to the pontoon for us. They were very friendly and one in particular was quite chatty. He reminded me of Dustin Hoffman but I have no idea why as he looked nothing like him.
We walked a little way on the island and watched small crabs and fish in the water near the shore. We carried on up a hill but we found the only roads that continued in any direction were private so we headed back down towards the beach on a quiet path in between bushes and trees with lizards scurrying out of our way a few paces ahead of us.
We meandered past a couple of shops which were painted pink and purple and looked they had come out of a fairytale but they were closed for lunch so we retired to Basil’s Bar. The three Americans were there so we sat on the next table and exchanged pleasantries. We both ordered a fantastic fruit smoothie and browsed in the shop at Basil’s Bar. It sold mainly t-shirts and I saw one I quite liked but it only came in Large, Extra Large, Extra Extra Large and Resident of Florida sizes, so I gave up and we retired back to the boat, planning to return to the bar later for dinner.
There was a reef not too far from where we had anchored so we donned our snorkelling gear and swam across to it where we found some stunning blue fish that I spotted several times in between my usual attempts at drowning myself.
Back on the boat I started feeling queasy and recognised the symptoms of sun-stroke which I seem to be able to get from sitting too close to a bright light bulb. My body decided to expel the contents in dramatic fashion by every available means and I retired to bed a shivering wreck at 4pm. John went ashore to take the rubbish and buy a few essentials we needed and had to settle for watching the sun go down alone with a beer and a cheese sandwich. It was a shame we never made it back to Basil’s Bar for dinner, maybe next time. I stayed in bed and fell behind writing my diary, which is my excuse for getting the days mixed up previously!
Woke up in : Mustique
The boat rolled around a huge amount in the night but there was less wind and I felt more secure knowing we were tied to a mooring buoy, so I slept better than the previous nights. We decided to head for Tobago Cays with a lunch stop at Canouan.
The sail was even rougher than the previous day and when we anchored off Canouan I was too queasy to eat. I really hoped this was from the sun-stroke and not sea sickness, as this wouldn’t bode well for a few days into a two week sailing trip.
We pressed on through more rough seas to Tobago Cays and I had to lie down below as I was feeling awful. I spent half the trip thinking I might die and the other half wondering what I could do to speed it up.
Tobago Cays was quite crowded when we arrived but utterly stunning. We anchored and after drinking enough water to irrigate Kew Gardens for a week I started to feel partially human again and spent the day sitting in the shade and made sure I kept covered up. I put on some long cargo shorts but found all my t-shirts were very short in the sleeves and didn’t cover my burned shoulders so I raided John’s clothes and pinched a short-sleeved linen shirt which was perfect as the sleeves reached my elbows. I then discovered that if I took the belt off my shorts and tied it round my waist I made a very convincing pirate, although I don’t expect proper pirate’s shorts fell down to reveal pants with penguins on. Like mine did. But I persevered and added a big floppy hat which John said made me look Australian.
John snorkelled down to check the anchor and saw a ray swimming next to the boat. I was tempted to join him but thought it best to keep out of the sun.
We sat on deck to watch the sunset, which was stunning. John had a beer but I stuck to water and John made sweetcorn fritters which thankfully my body allowed to stay inside me. As we ate I spotted a chap on a nearby boat wearing a spotty bandana and another boat was flying a Skull and Crossbones and I gave serious consideration to making a cardboard cutlass and forming a band of Australian pirates to raid the big posh boats of biscuits and Marmite.
Woke up in : Tobago Cays
It was windy during the night (as usual) and a rain squall came through in the early hours with buckets of rain (and the occasional bucket) but the boat didn’t roll around much so we slept quite well.
There were a few showers in the morning so we tidied up the boat. Somehow all the clothes I put away so neatly in wardrobes (suitable only for the clothes of particularly small pixies) before we set off had escaped and thrown themselves all around the boat. We read for a while, had some breakfast and John explained in detail how and why the grey cloud on the horizon was going to drench us in a particularly heaver shower in about 20 minutes. This got him very excited as he quite fancied a cooling fresh water shower so he donned his swimming gear and sat on deck with soap and shampoo at the ready. Right on cue 20 minutes later the rain came, and went, in just enough time for John to completely lather himself up but not enough time for him to rinse off and he appeared at the top of the stairs looking gutted and like he might just sob, if it wouldn’t have resulted in him getting soap in his eyes. He looked like he had been squirted with Fairy Liquid and pelted with soggy sponges, Giving up on the rain he jumped into the sea to rinse off.
Whenever you anchor in these parts you are approached by locals known as ‘Boat Boys’, who tour the yachts (particularly the chartered ones) selling fish, ice and even t-shirts. Some also offer moorings for the boats but these are known to be of dubious quality. We were sitting on deck when we were approached by a dinghy with a chap who introduced himself as a French artist called Robert Martin. He said he lived on a yacht nearby (and had done for the last seven years) and funded his lifestyle by selling watercolour paintings of local scenery, boats and sealife. We were both quite taken with him and his story so we invited him aboard to show us some of his pictures. I particularly liked a picture of a turtle but not only was it very expensive but I thought it would serve as a constant reminder that we hadn’t seen any, but I really wanted to buy a picture as I admired the fact that he was following his dream and wanted to support that, so we settled for a smaller picture of a boat and a catamaran off a sandy beach for £25.
After lunch on the boat we went snorkelling over the reef. We took the dinghy out and tied up to one of the small buoys provided. The water was crystal clear and the coral and sealife were stunning but it was quite choppy and I kept getting water in my snorkel. On one occasion when my snorkel filled up and I did my usual flailing and drowning I surfaced and just as I tried to take a deep breath, a wave splashed into my face and I swallowed a whole aquarium (probably including a couple of turtles). This happened twice and I went into the most severe ‘I’m drowning’ panic yet. John spotted this (probably as he sensed the water level had dropped and seen all the surrounding sealife hoovered past him) and swam over to assist. He grabbed hold of me and said the only words that could possibly have made me panic more, “it’s ok, it’s a friendly shark, it’s not going to hurt you”. My (I think understandable) response was.....”Shark??? SHARK??? What shark? There’s a f***ing shark??? Aaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!!!” and all of a sudden the prospect of drowning didn’t seem so bad. Apparently a 10ft nurse shark had ambled by and this is what John assumed had sent me into a panic. Which of course it would had I seen it. John somehow persuaded me to look under the water to prove it had gone, which it had (I probably sucked it in along with the turtles) and this seemed like a good time to swim, like my life (or at least my lower legs) depended on it back to the dinghy. Which leads on to one of the many challenging things I have faced this week, getting back into a dinghy in snorkelling gear. This consists of me kicking hard while John pushed me up and I kind of flop into the dinghy, not able to right myself due to wearing enormous flippers and I just kind of flop around in the dinghy like a drunken sealion until more by luck than judgement I eventually end up the right way up. I’m sure at least a dozen of the several hundred bruises I have acquired from this holiday were gained at this point.
We took the dinghy around the area looking for somewhere else to snorkel but everywhere looked too choppy (and shark-infested) so we returned to the boat.
We relaxed back on board and I counted my fingers, just to be sure, then we watched a kite surfer as the yachts gradually reduced in number. We had a beer in the cockpit as we watched the sun go down and having re-discovered my appetite I ate half a bag of crisps. This is much worse than it sounds as when my hand was at the bottom of the bag, the top reached my elbow. Just as the sun had gone down another shower came through and we went into our usual routine of running around the boat shutting hatches and gathering in any clothes and towels hung out to dry. I grabbed some towels and rushed to close the hatch above the bed in the forepeak (the pointy bit at the front of the boat where we slept) which I can only reach by standing on the bed, putting my head through the hatch and grabbing the handles. I had gone past the point of no return (i.e. when I headbutted it) to find that John had already shut this hatch. I nursed my injuries while John made a pasta dinner and we turned in for the night.
Woke up in : Tobago Cays
Today is John’s actual birthday and he decided he would like to sail to Union Island, which I thought was a splendid idea as it might have less sharks.
It was only three miles and didn’t take long. We needed to fill the water tanks so we headed for the small yacht club pontoon in Clifton. To moor here you have to anchor and then drop back to the pontoon so you can tie up the stern of the boat. I thought just anchoring was stressful enough but I would rather re-sit my driving test than do this again. And all my GCSEs, my YTS Certificate in Retail, my 25m swimming badge, my Cycling Proficiency Test and my Brownie Housekeeping badge (the first badge you got and the only one I ever got as the second badge was ‘Agility’ and unfortunately I am as agile as a woolly mammoth and whilst attempting handstands the only thing I managed was concussion.) Not only is mooring like this incredibly difficult to do, but the entire population comes to watch, rub their chins and shake their heads. Even the fish bob up and laugh at you.
Once we had filled up with water, we walked into Clifton which is a tiny but beautiful town with a green in the middles and brightly coloured benches. There are boards dotted around that tell the history of the island along with a few relics of days gone by such as a canon and a slavery memorial. Next to the green are a row of wooden huts, beautifully painted in bright colours, selling local fruit and veg.
We wandered around the shops, which are mostly touristy but didn’t sell the usual tourist tat. There were a lot of t-shirts but also locally made jewellery, wood carvings and batik.
We ventured into a ‘gourmet’ food store, which obviously targets visiting boat people. It sells mainly French food and (very excitingly) Marmite, but unfortunately they had added the price of a plane ticket to each item so you might as well nip home and fetch it yourself.
We stocked up on local and much more reasonably priced provisions and headed back to the yacht club for lunch, stopping briefly to watch a plane taking off from the tiny runway that is the island’s airport.
We each had a chicken roti for lunch and listened to some great reggae music playing on the radio, until the barman decided (I assume as we were the only customers and he thought we would appreciate it) to change it for a Bonnie Tyler CD, so we ate quickly and headed back to the boat.
As we had approached the pontoon earlier, the boat’s Autopilot had decided it was bored with working and it would be much more fun to drop dead, so while John did what blokes do (took it apart and wiggled a screwdriver in it) I investigated the showers that were advertised at the yacht club for a mere £2 a go. I found they don’t actually have separate showers for this, they just give you a key to one of the guest rooms they rent out, so I had a lovely hot steamy shower in a beautifully air-conditioned room and felt quite refreshed.
I got back to the boat to find it in pieces. John put it back together and threw all the bit left over overboard and we decided to move to an anchorage (with no Autopilot), pausing only to rub our chins and shake our heads as another boat attempted to moor next to us.
We found a spot in the bay nearby and after we anchored John snorkelled down and found the anchor was caught on a concrete block with a manky bit of rope attached to it that was obviously once a mooring. The anchor wasn’t very secure, so we re-anchored close by.
Shortly afterwards, a local chap in a red boat appeared and started diving down next to us. He asked us to move back as he had a catamaran coming in to moor there. There are no official moorings here so locals bodge them and try to sell them to unsuspecting visitors (which Petra had warned us about). We knew there was no chain attached to this mooring, just the manky rope which the local chap tied to a longer piece of rope, which he tied to the catamaran, and which immediately (and unsurprisingly) snapped. We shouted a warning to the catamaran to be wary of this mooring and they asked the local chap for a ‘better one’. After a few minutes (after obviously experiencing a similar issue with the ‘better’ mooring) the catamaran was back having decided to anchor next to us. It became clear very quickly that nobody on the boat had the faintest idea how to anchor and there a few fraught moments of it nearly hitting most other boats in the vicinity before John shouted to them that maybe they should go and anchor somewhere with more space, like the Pacific. They pootled off and we noticed they eventually tied up to another dodgy mooring, so they’re probably drifting halfway to Panama by now.
We went ashore for dinner and ate at ‘Lambi’s’ restaurant. I ordered grilled chicken (which was superb) and John ordered Conch. Both meals came with mashed potato, chips, two dishes of vegetables, rice and salad. We consumed our own body weights and washed it down with a couple of beers each, which in total cost less than £30, a complete bargain.
After the meal, a steel band performed and I noticed an American couple come in. They were one of those strange couples where the man is overly cheerful and his wife is a miserable old bag and while he spent the evening being jolly and friendly, she spent it looking like a slapped halibut. I’ve come across these kind of couples before and I’ve never understood how they got together. The man decided to get people dancing, quite successfully seeing as he didn’t know anyone (I politely declined his offer to dance as I am the world’s second worst dancer, my godfather Nigel being the worst). I noticed after a while that the man wasn’t actually dancing himself, just running around get other people onto their feet, A lot of people had a lot of fun thanks to his efforts and I thought he was lovely, but all the while his wife looked blank and miserable and didn’t move from her chair or pay any attention to him. I wanted to tip her out of her chair and give her a good kick, but I thought this might get us thrown out, especially as John had already taken several swipes at the restaurant cat, who obviously took this as John wanting to play and kept coming back for more.
We took the dinghy back to the boat (via at least half a dozen other boats that looked remarkably like ours in the dark) and called it a night.
Woke up in : Clifton Harbour (Union Isalnd)
It was a noisy windy night (for a change) but I slept quite well.
A very bizarre thing occurred this morning. John had a dream last night that when we took the fenders out of the locker to more in Clifton, one of the fenders knocked some wiring out which had stopped the Autopilot working. He had no recollection of ever seeing any wiring in the locker but he checked it anyway, and lo and behold there was the wiring with one hanging loose. He replaced this and the Autopilot sprung to life.
We took the dinghy into town in the morning and had a walk along the road towards Ashton, the other town on Union Island. There were small goats wandering loose at the sides of the road and we passed a small school and two small churches before we came across a spectacular view down to the sea.
We carried on and passed a large house that look neglected and un-lived in but must have been spectacular in its day, and could so easily be again. It had stone pelicans all around the house, an overgrown grassy garden and a round pagoda with stunning views out to sea. I would have given all my worldly objects to live in that house, but unfortunately they would probably only cover the much needed lawnmower. If I win the lottery I swear I am going to return and buy it.
Next door to the pelican house a new house was being built and we stopped again to admire the view and check out a potential anchorage near Ashton which we could see from this spot. A local man pushing a homemade wooden wheelbarrow with a sack in it ambled past and stopped to point out the best snorkelling points on the reef below. John asked him about a 300 berth marina that he had heard had started to be built over 10 years ago but he didn’t seem to know any more than John, that the company had gone bust and work had stopped not long after it had started. He then wandered off saying he was looking for pumpkins and we headed back to Clifton.
We walked back via the shops and I bought a few gifts for friends and a silver bracelet for myself, stopping only to kick a stone on the beach very hard, making my big toe swell up and bleed. John walked and I hobbled to the West India Hotel for lunch, which came highly recommended for their paninis, and quite rightly so as they were superb. We munched them as we watched local fishermen bring their catches in and prepare the fish on the dock.
On the way back to the boat, we stopped at a stall tucked away behind a hut selling fresh bread, owned by a local man who made jewellery from string, shells, shark and whale teeth, wood and beads. He explained what each piece was and the significance of the colours of beads he had used (different colours for different islands and of course the rasta colours of ‘peace and love’). He was quite possibly one of the nicest people I have ever met. One of things I love about the people here is that they never hassle you to buy anything. In the shops and stalls such as this one and with the boat boys, they will happily chat and show you what they have and if there is nothing you want it is no problem and they tell you to enjoy your day, and mean it. But I liked this chap so much I wanted to buy something from him, so I bought a bracelet for £4 which he tied round my wrist and cut to size.
I hobbled back to the boat and we decide to move to the anchorage we spotted on our walk, next to Frigate Island. It turned out to be a great plan as the water was much calmer and it was much quieter with only a handful of other boats – two yachts, a catamaran, a huge powerboat and a strange boat that looked like a fishing boat but had white plastic glued all around it.
We anchored and snorkelled around the boat. The water was deep and not as clear as in Tobago Cays, there was no coral but lots of fish and some enormous starfish. John dived down and picked up a white sea urchin shell which we are going to attempt to get home in one piece. He then spotted a Conch shell but it was empty apart from a couple of startled orange fish who had made it their home,
Back on the boat I nursed my insect bites. I acquired some on the first night and word seems to have got round that my legs provide a bally good meal and they now resemble how I would expect Black Death to look, if it were Pink Splodgy Death. Each bite splodge is spreading out at an alarming rate and they’re now starting to merge into each other.
The sun set over an open ocean and it was by far the most stunning yet. We watched it while we munched on peanuts that are bottled in recycled bottles in St Vincent. We lay on the foredeck for a while looking up at the stars, there were so many more than I have ever seen due to light pollution at home. We pondered the meaning of life, if there is alien life and if so do they have big ears like most aliens in Star Trek (in which case I’ll fit right in). We pondered space travel and whether in years to come it will be as normal as sea travel is to us today. It may sound far-fetched but so would what we are doing now a few hundred years ago, when the planet was not yet charted and sailing was just for brave adventurers. John pointed out a satellite and we followed it across the sky before retiring to bed.
Woke up in : Frigate Island (off Union Island)
We fell asleep very quickly last night, no doubt helped by the amount of rum in John’s rum punches, but I woke up at 2am with my legs itching terribly from the insect bites. I smothered them with Boots cream that claimed to stop swelling and reduce itching from insect bites but actually achieved neither. I counted the bites and found bizarrely I had nine on left leg and 26 on my right leg, so either my right leg is tastier than my left or they had a quick nibble on my left leg, weren’t too impressed, hopped over to the right and although it was no better they realised that was as good as it was going to get and stuck with it. Word had obviously then got round the Caribbean biting bug community that my legs were worth a chomp.
When we woke later, we decided to stay where we were for another day and explore the snorkelling around the other side of Frigate Island (as recommended by the local pumpkin hunter).We took the dinghy round and anchored near a reef.
There were all kinds of fish but we found one particular large rock that must have had at least 10 different kinds of fish living under and around it. John dived down to look under the rock and very excitedly said there were five or six lobsters under the rock. He wanted me to see them but I don’t dive down when snorkelling as I am quite capable of drowning on the surface without assisting the process by voluntarily filling my snorkel with water, so John decided to try and scare one out by pulling faces into the hole and shouting ‘Boo’, but when this failed he decided it would be a splendid plan to just reach in and grab one. After a couple of attempts, he returned to the surface with two spiny sea urchin wounds, a sting on his elbow from fire coral and no lobsters, which popped out briefly to stick their spines up at him, blow raspberries and laugh. We swam back to the dinghy to assess his wounds and decided to return to the boat. Still no turtles by the way.
On the way back, John decided he’d like to have a quick snorkel over some rocks near the edge of the island. We stopped the dinghy, but as John was looking for a good spot to anchor from the front of the dinghy, he noticed that we were drifting a bit too close to the rocks and made haste to the back of the dinghy, bouncing with his full weight on my foot along the way, which unsurprisingly made me squeal somewhat. He got the engine going and told me to hold onto the anchor in case it rolled and landed on my other foot, when he looked down at my right foot which was swelling up and going a nice shade of purple and said ‘Oh, have I just done that?’. I resisted the urge to say, ‘No, after you gently tip-toed across it, a stampede of antelope came through and one hoofed me square on’ and instead whimpered a ‘yes’ between sobs. We dashed back to the boat as I made sure my toes still wiggled (on command obviously, not just randomly) and John got some ice to put on my foot to take the swelling down and stop bruising, which I was not happy about, partly because the ice hurt like hell and partly because I wanted the kind of dramatic bright purple/black/blue bruise that I felt I was entitled to.
We had lunch on the boat while I tended my mangled right lower limb (26 bites and still counting, cut big toe and now the kind of foot injury that could end my chances of playing football for England).
In the afternoon, some boat boys came round with some fish and we bought a red snapper which John prepared on deck while me and my mangled leg kept clear. We snorkelled briefly around the boat and saw a beautiful leopard ray which circled below us a couple of times. It was so beautiful that I decided i didn’t care if I didn’t see any turtles as they couldn’t possibly be any better than that.
I returned to the boat happy and John snorkelled a while longer and found a Conch which he brought back to the boat. I made the mistake of looking into the shell, expecting at best to see an ugly slimy lump, but instead there were two of the cutest eyes on stalks looking up at me longingly, saying ‘please don’t eat me, let me go, pleeeeeeeaaaaaaase’. It was so adorable and I felt really guilty. John offered to throw it back, but with puppy dog eyes that said, ‘please don’t make me throw it back, I spent sooo long looking for one, pleeeeeeeaaaaaaase’, so I said he could keep it and he spent a long happy hour wrestling it out of its shell with enough tools to install a central heating system.
We watched the sun go down with a beer and Conch fritters and then had red snapper and rice for dinner.
Woke up in : Frigate Island (off Union Island)
After breakfast on the boat we headed for Chattham bay, just round the corner on Union Island. It was fairly quiet and after anchoring, John snorkelled down to check all was well as usual. He dived down and brought up what he generously described as a ‘sea cucumber’. It was a huge lump of what looked like a cross between a giant slug and a caterpillar, with ‘feelers’ protruding out of its head....or maybe its bum, I wasn’t sure. It was so ugly it was cute and like most creatures we have encountered on this holiday (except for the shark) I wanted to take it home in a bag of seawater and keep it in the bath, but as usual I was not I wasn’t allowed to and John put it back.
We took the dinghy up onto the beach for a walk along it (us obviously, not the dinghy) and were met by a local chap who called himself Mr Shark Attack. We had heard of him as he is mentioned in our guide book and by Petra as he has a good reputation for organising beach barbeques. We asked him about this and he said he would be holding a barbeque that night, so we booked our places!
We had a brief walk along the beach and then headed back to the boat and got chatting to a British couple called Brian and Jane as we passed their boat. They were extremely friendly and invited us aboard. They offered us a drink and we chatted with them about cruising life and John swapped tales with them about previous adventures. They had been cruising for the past 18 years but at the ages of 68 and 74 were planning to give it up soon and tour the canals of southern France on a barge for while instead. They gave us a tour of their boat, which had been badly damaged in a hurricane and seemed to be leaking in far too many places it shouldn’t. They also recommended Shark Attack’s barbeque and revealed that his real name is James. We were also brought up to speed on the local politics, which involved the three bars on the beach. Apparently, Shark Attack (who owns one of the bars on the beach) is chums with the chap who owns one of the others, but neither of them get on with the chap who owns the third bar/restaurant, which is in the middle. We were advised that it’s good form to patronise either the outside two or the one in the middle but not to mix! I have no idea what the consequences of this faux pas would be, but seeing as I was trusting Mr Attack to feed me in the dark i thought it best to observe their advice.
We had lunch back on the boat and then took the dinghy over to the rocky edge of the island, near an overhanging rock, almost like a cave, which was recommended to us by Brian and Jane as a good snorkelling spot and it turned out to be the most spectacular so far. There were huge shoals of thousands, if not millions of fish. Each shoal was made up of identical fish of identical size and they swarmed as if they had a single intelligence, kind of like The Borg or Cyberman, but friendlier and less robotic. And not in spaceships, obviously. It was breathtaking and like nothing I have ever seen, not even on a TV programme. We saw a huge range of fish including some electric blue ones and a jack which took a swipe at one of the shoals, making it twist and turn and change direction, still in perfect unison and at great speed, it was absolutely stunning.
Brian and Jane had also told us that the fish got bigger the further round the island you go towards Rapid Point and at the point you can sometimes see nurse sharks. Oh goody. John decided he’d like to see them so we took the dinghy near to the point, but I stayed put and watched the pelicans which are abundant in Chattham Bay while he snorkelled, There were no sharks to be seen (oh what a shame) so we returned to the boat for a cup of tea and a piece of birthday cake.
In the evening, we had our usual drinks in the cockpit as the sun set and then went ashore for the barbeque.
We were seated with a group of six Canadians from Calgary who drank lots of wine and were great company. We talked about where we had been, we advised them on good snorkelling points in the bay and had long discussions about Eddie the Eagle and Cheddar Cheese. We had a wonderful time and the food was fantastic. We had chicken, fish, baked potatoes, rice and salad.
We headed back to the boat just ahead of the Canadians and lay on deck for a while watching the stars. It was a perfect day and I realised I would be leaving Union Island tomorrow with a heavy heart as I had quite possibly found the best place on earth.
Woke up in : Chattham Bay (Union Island)
We ate our breakfast in the cockpit and were joined (at last!!!) by some turtles, which kept bobbing up above the water near the boat to take a breath before diving down again. I really wanted to try and see one close up so I went for a snorkel around the boat. John wasn’t feeling too good, so I snorkelled alone on the condition that John kept an eye on me from the boat in case I started drowning, got nibbled by a shark or carried away by a giant octopus. After swimming for a few minutes I saw a small turtle on the seabed. I snorkelled over it and it circled below me before swimming away. I followed it for a few yards but didn’t want to swim too far from the boat so headed back and spotted three conch on the way.
John was more excited by the conch (strange fellow that he is) than the turtle and snorkelled with me briefly to where they were. He dived down and picked one up but it was too small to eat so we put it back (much to the enormous relief of the conch I’m sure). We found the other two but they were also too small so John headed back to the boat while I carried on looking for turtles and shortly saw another one which was much bigger than the first. I swam above it but it looked up and saw me and reacted in a similar way to I’m sure I would have, had I seen the shark in Tobago Cays, swimming round in random directions and shouting ‘Eeeeeeeeeek’.
I decided I had scared the local sealife enough for one day and headed back to the boat, passing the sea cucumber-caterpillar-slug on the way which had spent the best part of the last 24 hours moving about two feet.
We set off for Mayreau in very choppy waters and sadly said goodbye to Union Isalnd.
As we left we spotted a huge turtle on the surface. I think finally being caught out after trying to hide from us for the last 10 days, the local turtle population had just given up and today was turning into a turtle-fest.
We anchored in Saline Bay at Mayreau and after lunch we took the dinghy ashore. There was a very steep concrete road which led through the small town and to the top of the island. The heat was intense but for some bizarre reason we thought it would be a hoot to walk to the top.
We had read in our guide book that the town and beach get crowded on the occasions a cruise ship anchors off the island, but there was, thankfully for us, no cruise ship today and the town was deserted along with the shops and restaurants that lined the streets. Despite there being a lot of yachts anchored in the bay, it appeared that very few of the occupants had ventured into the town. We walked to the top where we found a grassy area surrounded by a few trees, the ruins of a building, abundant cacti and some very welcome wooden benches. The views down to Saltwhistle Bay (which was packed full of yachts) and across to Tobago Cays were spectacular. We sat on a bench in the shade and enjoyed the views and peace and quiet, being the only people there.
We walked back down through the town and stopped at a bar for a cool soft drink. I didn’t take to the town at all. The businesses must depend on the cruise ships for custom and there was an air of desperation I haven’t felt anywhere else. It was the only place where people shouted out to us to enter their shops or restaurants as we walked past and as we sat down with our drinks and old lady approached us to beg. It saddened me as it was such a contrast to the other, much friendlier islands and unfortunately that will only encourage the people and trade they so desperately need to visit the other islands instead. I suspected this was already the case judging by the number of yachts in the island’s anchorages and the lack of people ashore. Personally I would recommend a visit for the views form the top of the island alone, but if it wasn’t for that, I couldn’t recommend it as there are so many much nicer places nearby.
In the afternoon we took the dinghy to Grand Col Point to snorkel. There was a fantastic reef with shallow and deep parts, each housing different kinds of fish, some of which we hadn’t seen anywhere else. We snorkelled over large circular caverns and sandy patches in between and at one point a shoal of small fish swam around us, so we joined them for a while.
After watching the sun set with a couple of beers, we had dinner on the boat and an early night, ahead of the long sail we had planned for the following morning.
Woke up in : Saline Bay (Mayreau)
We got up early as we needed to set off for Bequia at 7.30am. We had breakfast and tidied up the boat. I’m not entirely sure why we bother doing this as the boat tends to re-arrange itself as whe are sailing,
As we left, a cruise ship which had anchored overnight was dropping people into small boats to visit the island. I was glad we had missed the crowds the day before but pleased that the businesses would be getting some custom.
The sail to Bequia took just over five hours and was rough at times with a couple of rain showers, and I spent most of it clinging on for dear life and trying to take my mind off feeling queasy, which I achieved by playing music very loud (a little too loud at times for John’s delicate ears).
We picked up a mooring in Bequia as we thought this would give us a quieter and less stressful night than last time we were here and chose one close to the town. We pootled ashore in the dinghy and had a short walk up the hill to see the view down to the bay, which was beautiful. As we walked back down the road towards the town we noticed that the locals don’t seem to have a preference for which side of the road they drive on (I believe they’re supposed to drive on the left) and on seeing us I’m sure a couple of the cars actually swerved towards us, so I was quite relieved to reach the town in one piece. We had a brief look around the shops and bought a few food items to keep us going for the last few days but it was extremely hot and we were soon flagging, so we took refuge in an ice-cream shop, which turned out to be a splendid plan. After consuming a bucket of ice-cream each, we headed back to the boat where I thrashed John at rummy, which wasn’t hard as we were playing with James Bond playing cards and he seemed more interested in collecting the cards with semi-naked Bond girls or Aston Martins on them than trying to win the game.
For dinner, I threw everything we had left in the cupboards into a saucepan and we dined on a big bowl of pasta, tuna, tomatoes, onions, sweetcorn , washing up liquid, suncream and digestive biscuits and then slept like logs.
Woke up in : Admiralty Bay (Bequia)
After breakfast on the boat, we ventured back to the shops in town. We bought a hand-painted metal turtle and a batik for us. There is a running competition at work to see who can buy the tackiest holiday souvenirs (Tim is currently winning this with a model banana from Madeira) so I bought a woolly rasta hat (with woolly dreadlocks) for Tim and a generic mug with pictures of fish on and ‘Bequia’ handwritten on it for Jane.
The town and shops were busy due to another cruise ship and there were stereotypical American tourists everywhere. These are easily spotted by the polo shirts tucked into shorts, sock/sandal combinations, pensioners in baseball caps and renditions of ‘Oh my gaaaaaard’.
We thought it would be considered rude not to visit the ice-cream shop again before heading back to the boat for lunch and to relax in the sun for the afternoon where I spent a disproportionate amount of time squeezing the juice from the remaining oranges, only to trip and throw it all over the boat, which will remain forever slightly sticky.
In the evening, we went to Frangipani for dinner and I ordered a ‘Frangi Special’ cocktail, which is obviously Bequian for vinegar. The meal was a barbeque, which took the form of a buffet. Much to our amusement, every time more food was brought out, there was a scrum of enormous Americans, some of which were filling two plates each and one I noticed was just going round and round the queue, eating food in the queue as well as filling his plate, and when he got to the end of the buffet, he joined to back of the queue and ate of his plate until he got to the food again. It was truly astounding.
We both had steak and watched a steel band, who were playing very non-steel bandy pop songs (including, I kid you not, one by James Blunt) and John washed his meal down with a revolting looking lime meringue goo and enough wine to fell a small rhinosaurus.
We walked, (well, I walked and John wobbled) back to boat and we sat on deck for our last night.
Woke up in : Admiralty Bay (Bequia)
After anchoring in a crowded area the previous day, we were surprised to wake up with no boats around us, until we remembered how long it was since we’d had a freshwater shower.
The sail back to St Vincent was very rough and windy and after a couple of hours of being thrown around with John shouting ‘weeeeeeeeeee’ every time we went over a wave and ‘woooooooooo’ every time we got soaked, I was very tempted to push him overboard and try my luck at driving the thing.
The only redeeming part of the sail was the shoals of flying fish that accompanied us most of the way.
A pilot came out to meet us to take the boat back in, and when we got back to the marina we noticed he had trodden on our sea urchin and squashed it into hundreds of pieces. I rescued a couple of the larger pieces (which by the time they got home were themselves in hundreds of pieces) and we went to the shop to spend the last of our holiday money on cheese, crisps and bourbon biscuits.
We had a final lunch of Mac and Cheese, cheese sandwiches and cheese and saved the crisps and biccies for the trip home.
We had a last walk along the small beach next to the marina and then set off home.