Smiles all round. Spirit of Oysterhaven, a sail training yacht from Ireland which we’d first met in the Cape Verde’s were short of crew for the final day of racing at Antigua Classics. We were made up when skipper Oliver ask us if we’d like to join the boat.

There were 9 of us in total, eight to help sail the boat and one professional photographer. We had a good mix of nationalities, Irish, Dutch, Swedish, American plus us Brits. No records were broken or placings awarded although that aspect was irrelevant. Being able to participate in such an iconic race with 200 foot leviathan’s such as Adix and Columbia and renowned podium climbers like Wild Horses was a joy.

The weather delivered a constant 20 knots, the sun shone and the long upwind leg kept us busy with many tacks. Spirit does not tack quickly. Her genoa must be rolled away each time and unfurled again after the tack otherwise the sail gets caught. Beverley the photographer took many photos of us hauling on lines and winching hard while arms and lungs permitted. Don’t think Ben Ainslie will be recruiting any of our crew for the Americans Cup in Bermuda this June.

As I’ve mentioned already, it was a real treat to be able to take part. I enjoyed the chats I had with other crew members; Bob, the ex-tennis professional who was entered into men’s singles at Wimbledon one year but was ill so couldn’t participate. And Charlotte a buyer for a fashion retail business in the Netherlands who has also sailed many thousands of miles.

It was one of those days where a group of randomly linked individuals come together, have a fantastic shared experience then go their separate ways again. Long may such days continue.


It has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion that there not much about Sailing on this blog. Today is the day I take some small steps to rectify that.

We’re in Antigua and it’s Classics Week. English Harbour, once Nelson’s lair in the 18th century, is stuffed to the gunnels with Classic Boats racing in high spirits over four days and partying over seven. The marina buildings are a pretty picture of living history, many of them restored to their former glory and now housing a sail loft, port authority offices, a museum plus your usual selection of restaurants and bars. It all feels very British. Nice brick work.

We sailed here from Guadaloupe, a 43 mile passage in classic Caribbean sailing conditions. 15 knots, a flatish sea, sun in the sky, full sail and cracking along at over 7 knots for most of the time. Occasional water poured over the gunwales but the sea is warm so the spray is somewhat different to the North Sea. Suntan cream and shades are derigeur. No full waterproofs and mugs of hot chocolate required here. Grace behaved impeccably and ate the miles greedily. She, like her owners, enjoys the warm easy conditions.

We closed the coast as day one of the racing was finishing and managed to cross the fleet without interfering with anyone’s race to the line. I tried to get decent photos but we were just a bit far away. You’ll have to believe me when I say it was mightily impressive to see boats under full sail bowling along, gybing at the windward mark.

We are anchored in Falmouth Harbour and plan to be here for about a week. Dinghy ashore and it’s a short walk to English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard, now a world heritage site. We spent an hour or so this evening wandering around looking at the boats. There are some massive vessels, dripping cash but also much more modest yachts sitting proudly on the water. The atmosphere is jolly, relaxed and welcoming. Even if you had no interest in sailing, it’s still a great sight. Great varnish, and brickwork.

Time to head north

After 23 nights in various anchorages around Martinique, it was time to head north. It’s a great island and we’d be happy to return.

Our last couple of nights we spent off St Pierre. The village has an interesting history being the first significant port on Martinique where commerce once thrived. Catastrophe struck in 1902 when Mount Pelee erupted and approximately 30,000people died. The soul survivor was a man in prison who can attribute his survival to the thickness of his prison walls and the aspect of his cell door. Not sure if he was pardoned or moved to another prison to celebrate his survival.

A street map guides visitors around the remains of several buildings which must have been great splendours in their day….the theatre, the hospital, the cathedral, the prison, the chief engineers house. The town has never recovered its lost glory post eruption but we both liked it, even if it was a bit tired around the ears.

Mount Pelee dominates the north of the island and it was time for a decent walk. So off we set early one morning to meet a prearranged taxi at 7am to take us to our chosen starting point. Hmmmm. No sign of our taxi. The plan was to start walking early to avoid the heat of the day. After a chat with another taxi driver, who was unfortunately spoken for and a couple of phone calls, our man eventually turned up about 7.25am.

A reasonably steep ascent and we’d gained the Cordillera just as the mist was clearing. We chose not to summit we planed to cross from one side of the hill to the and back down to the sea. The hill itself is lush and green every inch covered in vegetation. The walk down was long. 4,000ft to sea level. Our legs hurt the next day, and the day after.

Since then, we sailed to Dominica, although we didn’t go ashore. And now we’re at the north end of Guadalupe heading to Antigua tomorrow. We had a couple of nights on a group of islands called Les Saintes. Because it’s Easter, the anchorages were busy and with strongish winds and deep water, a bit of boat swinging all round ensued. We ended up having to pick up our anchor at midnight and motor across to another anchorage in the pitch dark. More experience to put in our proverbial locker there.

We have had reoccurring engine misdemeanours so a jobs list is taking shape for Antigua. It’s Classics week in Antigua so we’re looking forward to catching up with the crew from Spirit of Oysterhaven, an Irish boat that we met in the Cape Verde’s.


I have new swimming goggles. They are snazzy, declaring 180 degree vision, an adjustable nose piece allowing minute alteration measured precisely to the space between my eyes, a tool for said adjustment plus a spare rubber strap. My only desire was to have a pair that didn’t leak. Do customers really need all this ‘features and benefits’ malarkey? Is the world a better place for having swimming goggles which allow the purchaser a complete bespoke service? How much research and development, time, money and energy went into designing an adjustable nose feature?

Do I have a case to question this? Probably not. I could in fact just be being hypercritical as I purchased these snazzy googles as opposed to the cheap and cheerful €3.99 pair which may have done the same job. Keeping the water out.

Why am I wittering on about swimming goggles? We are anchored off the small town beach in Fort de France, the capital of Martinique. For the past few days I have been swimming to the shore and back. My swimming is improving, with the help of new goggles, so my challenge before sundowners tonight is to swim front crawl back from the beach to the boat without stopping. I’ll let you know how I get on.

We had a hire car for one day this week and headed out across the island for a Helen Hike around Pointe de Diable on the east coat of the island. It took us around a promontory in an area of national park. Not a massive walk, maybe 3.5 hours through mangroves, along cliff tops and beaches. The sun was pretty intense by the time we’d got back to the car so a cold drink was the order of the day. We headed back towards La Trinite, stopping a small restaurant overlooking the beach and treated ourselves to the menu of the day. Dave had massive prawns, and I had barbecued grilled fish and what with a starter and sweet thrown in, it was very good value.

From there we headed to the rum museum. The St James site is still a functioning factory too. We watched freshly cut sugar cane being picked up and deposited into a machine which chops it up and crushes the raw cane to remove the juice. We learnt about the rum making process and the different between Rhum Agricole and Rhum industriale. The museum was free to wander around, some exhibits indoors, others on the site outside. We ended up in a Colonial Building which housed an exhibition upstairs and a shop, in the style of a bar downstairs. Museums don’t always hold my attention, but this one was thoughtfully put together and fun to wander around. And free too! Guess they know you’ll buy some rum at the end of your stay.

The day was not done. To make best use of the car, we went to Decathlon on an out of town trading estate, for the purchase of swimming goggles then onto Super U for a Peter Kay ‘Big Shop’. By the time we got back to Pointe de Bout where the boat was anchored it was about 8.30pm, the sun long gone, the dinghy tied to a wooden dock adjacent to a posh hotel. Dave reversed the car to where the road ended next to the entrance to the posh hotel. A security guard politely said we couldn’t park there. In my best O‘ level French ( I have two as I failed A ‘ level French and was given another O’ level just for trying) I explained about our big shop and getting it back to the boat. Kind man, he then said, bring your dinghy round here to our dock and load all your shopping up there, saving us several long walks with bags. Thank you.

We saw the same guy and exchanged pleasantries at 6.45am the following morning as he was knocking off work. Last trip before the car went back, we were heading to Marin to the riggers with a large heavy piece of bronze as the track, car and end pieces are being replaced on our main sheet traveller. The car broke as we left Tenerife and we’ve managed with a bit of old abseil rope until now. The abseil rope cost nothing. The new main sail traveller set up, considerably more.

Urchins….sea not small children

I took my book to the beach today. Plan was to read for a while, stash said book in some rocks then swim back to the boat. Dave came ashore for a while too and we walked round the headland at Pointe de Bout on Martinique.

There’s a building in the trees that’s completely overgrown. It’s history is bizarre, Fort to Nightclub. There is still evidence of both. A gun dating from 1897 overlooks the Fort de France bay, the grooves in the barrel still plainly visible. It’s purpose to keep the British away I guess. Yet also spray paint graffiti walls, a bar area and broken plastic tables from the 1980’s. It’s a place that won’t be in any tourist guides but we enjoyed poking round and seeing how nature reclaims any area with the passage of time.

Dave took the dinghy back to the boat and I read my book on the beach for an hour or so before swimming home in readiness for sundowners with Phil and Linda. I was keen to get my book back as I still had 50 pages to finish so we both jumped in the dinghy and headed to shore to collect said item. I said to Dave, I need to be careful getting out as there are big spiky sea urchins on the rocks. In getting out what happened… I bloody well stood on a big beastly urchin. As Gnasher would say in the Beano, “Grrrgh and owwww”.

How and why does that happen? You identify a risk. You prepare your self physically and mentally to avoid the risk then exactly what you’re keen to avoid doing, happens. There’s probably some kind of psychological term for my stupidity / bad luck / poor judgement / unfortunate timing…whatever it maybe. I now have a small collection of sea urchin spines in my left foot. They bloody well hurt. I know they will dissolve and disappear in a few days. In the meantime my foot is covered in iodine…. Not the most stylish of suntans.

Our friend Hugh got a collection of spines in his foot rushing out to go surfing in the Cape Verde’s. I get spines rushing to collect my book. Dave said…. Well it’s an age thing.

We’ve been on Martinique for several days, moving slowly, and I mean slowly, north. It’s French Chic with Caribbean cool and we like it. Yesterday we moved about 1km from one anchorage to another. We checked out car hire companies today with a view to seeing some of the island on Monday. Even though it’s not many miles from St Lucia to Martinique, they present as very different islands. We’re back using the euro, dredging the French language from our memories to converse and planning a big provisioning shop in CarreFour plus a trip to Decathlon. We could be in Brittany but it’s much hotter and the rum is cheaper, so I’m told.

April is here. In three weeks we plan to be in Antigua. Dominica and Guadalupe are the main islands between here and there. The winds seem more established in the east, occasionally the south east. That makes for good sailing heading north.