Shaken……not stirred

I do like a modern day James Bond film. Not too sure about Roger Moore and his smug quips and glances to camera from yesteryear. I guess that stuff is of an era now. But Daniel Craig has stamped his own interpretation into the character and the scripts and story lines have improved. Big action, great locations with Judy Dench and Ben Wishart giving the cast-list more credibility.

We have found ourselves experiencing James Bond vibes here. The Bond DNA oozes throughout Jamaica. We made landfall in Port Antonio. An lush island sits in the bay which incidentally was once owned by Errol Flynn. Hollywood stars apparently used to party big time there back in the day.

The bay has been ‘booked’ by the production company making the next instalment of James Bond. In fact we just missed the auditions for extras by a few days when we arrived. Although whether middle aged white people dressed in worn out shorts and T-shirt’s were the demographic needed in shot is up for debate. Locals were abuzz with this news and we understood the filming was due to start in the next couple of weeks. Port Antonio is a town which tourism hasn’t really touched. We crews from visiting boats in the marina stood as the anomaly. I hope the community enjoys the Bond interlude.

Ocho Rios was our next stop. A posh resort called Goldeneye sits on the headland. It’s here that Mr Fleming chilled out and wrote 13 Bond novels so I believe. He built the property and named it after a navy operation in World War ll and apparently used to rent it to Noël Coward too. From our selfish perspective, a posh resort has the wherewithal to install good WiFi and we could pick it up on the boat. Always a bonus not to have to go tramping around town for comms. The podcast collection got a boost and we also made use of our Netflix subscription to download some telly.

This morning Dave is making Saturday morning pancakes as we sit in Discovery Bay. We had a brisk sail here yesterday, the wind occasionally touching 30 knots. It was from behind and with just the yankee up (that’s the triangular sail at the front of the boat if you’re not au fait with such boaty terminology) Grace performed just fine taking it all in her stride.

Dave has his pancakes rolled up and lined up on his plate, all lemoned and sugared. “Nice piece of linear work” I said. “You mean I’ve lined them up’ he replied. “Helps with the shovelling” with that he’s disappeared into the cockpit to watch a large boat navigate out of the bay and to commence shovelling.

Old Habits

Old habits die hard. A gang of 11 of us hiked up to the top of Blue Mountain Peak. More later but the headline is it was a two day excursion to just over 7,400 feet, the highest point in Jamaica. Indeed the highest point in the Caribbean.

While demolishing well earned food back on the outskirts of Kingston, I asked Dave if he’d had a good time. Yes he said. It was great, lots of fun, especially watching you get into ‘group organisation mode 😀’ Well, like I said, old habits.

Jamaica is a complete contrast to the Bahamas. A 48 hour sail and we could smell the land and hear the music from far out. Jamaican music is “LOUD” with unforgiving bass meaning your chest vibrates. Volume controls seem to start at 10 and have no upper limit. There’s always a few more decibels to be had.

The country is “GREEN”, the landscape lush, vibrant and parts of it pretty mountainous. The culture is most welcoming, big smiles and fist touches. Nothing is a problem. Especially in the smaller towns and villages. Everyone seems to on the make. A few Jamaican dollars here and there. Whether you’re being charged a fair price when bartering can be hard to tell. It’s generally all done with pretty good humour. The marina however does feel like a bit of a sanctuary from the mad hustle and bustle of the street.

Then there’s the driving, the most useful accessory in the car being the horn. Driving is not for the timid or faint hearted. We hired a couple of 7 seater vehicles as transport for our gang. Dave drove one, I drove the other. Traffic allegedly, but not always, is supposed to stay on the left, so being the two Brits in our multicultural gang, it was more familiar for us than our Americans or Canadian friends.

One day, we took the main road to Kingston to get visas from the Cuban Embassy. It’s a two and a half hour trip across the mountain. We came back in the dark. In hindsight not such a great idea. Getting out of Kingston was, well, mental. Cars, buses and motorbikes piling in from all angles, a cacophony of horns, people hanging out of buses, some random, almost certainly stoned individual directing the traffic made it a full on sensory experience. My passengers occasional screamed, put their arms over their heads, yelled it’s the yellow bus again and winced as cars passed us with molecules between vehicles. This was the A road experience.

So much fun, we took the B road the following day across to the start of our hike. Twists, switchbacks, narrow bridges, over hanging rocks, the road just kept giving. We stopped at a family run coffee plantation on the way which had amazing views across the hills. Then onto the police station in Mavis Bank, the meeting place for the 4×4 which would take us the 5 miles to the start of the hike.

The gang was made up of Dave and I, the family from S/V Piper, Mum, Dad and two kids aged 8 and 10, the family from `S/V Andromede exactly the same makeup as Piper and a lass from a boat called Barefoot Two. Her bloke doesn’t do walking so he stayed home.

A really good time was had by all. We hiked up to the basic hut, cooked food, hung out, chatted then summited the following day, retracing our steps back to the drop off spot. Some slept. Some didn’t. Some were cold. Some worried about bugs. Dave and I were just fine.

There were lilies, fuchsias, wild strawberry plants, red headed woodpeckers, yellow berries, cigar plants, humming birds and inevitably a bit of rain and cloud. Well it is a rainforest. And a hike.

Jumentos, Ragged Islands and Great Inagua

We’re setting off in about 3 hours to look at green hills, listen to reggae music and eat green vegatables. Jamaica. This country wasn’t on the original shopping list. But then neither was Canada. It’ll take us about 2 days to get there, departing from Great Inagua in the Bahamas then nipping round the east of Cuba and heading to Errol Flynn Marina.

We’ve just threaded our way carefully though an uncharted area of coral heads, me on the bow shouting and pointing while, dave did the driving. It’s quite an unnerving experience but with good visibility and the sun high in the sky, the task is achievable. Popping through narrow gaps with rock awash on either side is in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, ‘squeaky bum time”.

The last three weeks or so have seen us visit many of the quieter bits of the Bahamas. We’ve travelled in the company of a few “kid” boats. There a website named Kids for Sail but of course when it’s spoken out loud, it could be Kids for Sale. Which often raises a llttle snigger. Boats with kids on, seem to actively seek out other boats with kids. Kids are happy, parents are happy. Simple formula.

So there have been many snorkelling expeditions, fires on the beach, adult social evenings while the kids watch a movie on another boat, fishing trips and assorted fun and games. The parents generally do school in the morning for a couple of hours then it would appear to be playtime the rest of the day. Unless there’s been naughtiness and said kid / Dave is confined to their cabin or banned from snorkelling that day. Kids on boats are no different to kids on land wanting their own way or trying to stamp their authority.

One of the highlights of being on Great Inagua was randomly meeting a school teacher from the local school. We visited class the following day and I pretended to be a teacher for about an hour, talking about travel and geography and comparing England to the Bahamas. It was fun. I got bit confused about the Queen and the Commonwealth, not really my top subject,  so moved on quickly!

As we left all the kids (there were 10 in the class) came up and gave me hugs. Just like in England I’m lead to believe 😀

 

What’s in a name?

Slo Desire and First Love were chatting to each other on the radio as we arrived into Water Cay on the Jumentos. I thought I was arriving into a 1970’s soft porn boat movie. Probably not the picture either owner wanted to create when they proudly named their boats. It set me thinking that there are some farcical boat names out there. Trust me. The name Wet Dream might be endlessly sniggeringly funny to 13 and 14 year old boys. Picture me rolling my eyes with tedium imbued when meeting a rotund bloke in his late 60’s who thinks it’s top notch humour. Sorry sir, your credibility is shot even before open your mouth.

How your boat is perceived through its name is one thing. Another, more practical consideration is how a name comes across on the vhf, which isn’t always audibly crystal clear and is the number one way for asking for help. This summer we heard a boat called Layday. Well we worked out it was Layday, at first thinking it was a mayday call. Get my point here. I hold my hands up to being a dullard and stickler. If I need help, and I very much hope I don’t, unnecessary confusion is the last thing I want in such a situation.

Calico Skies. Of all the boat names we’ve come across, that’s my favourite. Apparently it’s the name of a love song by Paul McCartney. I really must look this up. I don’t know what a Calico Sky is but to me the name suggests space, possibilities, smiles and adventures. It’s actually the name of an American boat that belongs to a friend of ours, Bill who we spent time with in Bermuda. Good name choice my man. Your boat name has stuck with me.

Time has ticked by a few days and today finds us off Raccoon Cay in the Ragged Islands. No raccoons have been spotted but there are many feral goats and a salt pond that was once worked for the production of well, you’ve guessed it, salt. There’s little else man-made here. We are tucked up close to shore as the winds are a bit stronger today and won’t move until they’ve abated.

We have had a few more varied animal encounters. The first quite a gastronomic feast. Our table was filled with food collected from the sea. Conch salad for starter, followed by lobster tail and fish. Sound like a high end restaurant. Not the usual fare of a boy from a pit village and a girl from a remote part of the countryside.

Then from the security of a neighbouring boat, we watched as two massive bull sharks circled around one night. The four young kids on board screamed with excitement shining torches as the beasts cruised about under the 3 dinghies tied off at the back of the boat. These powerful creatures were in touching distance. We witnessed no evidence of any aggression, which Dave and I were quite happy about when it came time to get in our small dinghy and motor the 150m back to our boat in the dark.

The final encounter was sailing into a pod of maybe 10 or 12 resting pilot whales. Dad of two of the kids is a marine biologist so he filled us in on the behaviour we were witnessing and how to distinguish the males and the females. Ghosting along under sail, the whales unthreatened by any engines were resting. Apparently they chill out during the day as they feed at night. We watched for maybe an hour then the big male breached, which seemed to be a signal for the pod to move on as they disappeared under water.

Time for me to move on and contemplate the washing up.

My perfect cousin

Conception Island delivered us a pet. We named him Fergal. He had undertones of menace but like most pets, was allegedly pretty chilled as long as you didn’t try to poke him or upset him.

Fergal arrived as soon as dropped anchor in the bay. He had 3 friends with him and they cruised slowly underneath the boat for maybe twenty minutes before heading off into the blue. He came back the next day about the same time, a couple of hours before sunset. Guess he has a watch or a sun dial. Or evening munchies.

Nurse sharks are supposedly just like big fish and won’t bother humans as long as you don’t bother them. I have to report we didn’t check that out in person. Something longer than me mooching about under your boat is not conducive to a spur of the moment swim. And I didn’t particularly fancy sharing the same space.

We did swim, but close to shore. And had several rounds of bat and ball over the two days we were here. Can’t imagine it does much for your tennis with many randomly improvised shots but we had some fun and it’s surprisingly knackering exercise.

The interior of Conception Island is mostly a lagoon surrounded by mangroves. We took the dinghy over the breaking sand bar, navigating the dog leg and anchored it up in a small bay just inside. Then we continued on the paddle boards till the route became too shallow even for them. The tide was honking out so it was quite hard work. We saw a few turtles and fish although not as many as in other places. Which was surprising as it’s a National Park here and we thought there’d be loads.

We’d done a circular trip a few days earlier on the boards on Cat Island. Up an inlet, through the flats then back along the ocean shore. It was well over 4 miles according to the route finding on navionics. Not bad for us novices.

Cat Island was amusing and included afternoon drinks with a mad friendly family who had a beautiful house on the beach. I first thought that passing boats gave them an excuse to have a social drink in the afternoon. Then it dawned on me, they didn’t need any excuse whatsoever to have a drink in the afternoon. (I had to battle to get a straight ginger beer without rum). The two women of advancing years seems to enjoy embarrassing their sons who were about our age by going skinny dipping in the evening. Another property along the beach was called Two Moons.

It felt like a community which had a backstory. Maybe 15 houses on the beach. A mix of 2 week holiday makers and long-termers who spend several months each winter there. The long-termers all knew each other and on the surface everything was jolly. But like a 6 week drama series on tv, there were stories to be told about each character and maybe secrets to be shared.

I will never know if this was just my mind working overtime. But I could be pitching the idea to some tv producers in the near future!

Spider wrestling

 

Dave has been making friends with the wildlife. You may have heard him from afar. This quiet man can up his decibel count remarkably on occasion.

We’d headed off for a walk to the wild Atlantic Coast on Elutheta from our anchorage in Rock Sound. Up the road for a mile or so, onto the beach and turn left. All good. A couple of miles later, we reached a big inland salt pond and an aerial picture of google maps (yes the cell phone reception is pretty good here) suggested a faint trail so we could make a loop back, a circular walk being much better than retracing our steps.

It started all fine and dandy. The trail obviously hadn’t been walked in a very longtime but we were making progress with the odd bit of thrashing. We were chatting away, dave walking in front. That’s when the decibel count peaked and a wild dance with windmill arms commenced. He’d walked into a rather large web and big boy/ girl arachnid 🕷 was now on his t shirt. Well they weren’t for long as windy miller did his thing and heart rates gradually abated. He or she was a large bugger,  and now faced quite an afternoon of work to rebuild their home. Dave made me walk in front for a while after that.

The trail eventually petered out and we end up wading around the edge of salt pond, sometimes in deep sand, sometimes on stoney limestone. Progress was slow but we emerged in a small quarry with a track heading out so all was tickety boo. Things got better when we spied a small restaurant, Rosie’s, up a hill so we headed there for a well deserved medicinal beer and an account of Rosie’s life. Lovely lady then gave us a lift back to town.

Liking a life of contrasts, we then headed to Little San Salvador, a small island owned by a cruise ship company. It’s like Disneyland for cruise ship passengers. We were the only boat anchored off the beach when a monster cruise ship pulled in. It disgorged its couple of thousand passengers onto the pristine beach for a few hours of entertainment and by 3.00pm they were all gone, leaving us alone again. It was fascinating to watch, we felt like were looking  in from the outside to the inside of a goldfish bowl. All in all, it was an impressively slick operation, although the taunting smell of bbq from the beach was most cruel.

To bring you upto date, we’re now on Cat Island and will depart likely tomorrow towards  Conception Island when the SE winds drop a little. It’ll be a bit of a bash to wind but when it’s warm, a few hours of relative discomfort don’t seem so bad.

 

The relaxation spectrum

Well.....it was Valentine’s Day.

Sailing can reward both end of the relaxation spectrum and the change from one polar to the other can be swift. This morning we are at the smiley end.

Anchored off a quiet sandy Eleuthera beach, we are the only boat in the anchorage. There’s zero wind so little point in moving as we’d be motoring. The sun beats, we had a morning ‘naughty but nice’ skinny dip, not done that for a while but it felt good. Dinner cooks in the pressure cooker for this evening, the fridge raw water intake strainer has been cleaned, l have a new book on the go and the larger part of day lies ahead. More swimming, perhaps a snorkel around the rocks, some paddle boarding, a bit of work and all of a sudden it will be 6pm. The second coat of paint required on the boat ceiling will be ignored till a later day. Forget any ‘top up’ varnishing.

It’s not always this seemingly idyllic painted picture, the other end of the spectrum can arrive swiftly. We were anchored in Governors Harbour, a place where the holding has a reputation for being poor, meaning anchors don’t set too well. It took us a couple of attempts to get ours to behave. We have an anchoring routine. Dull but methodical! It can take some time rather just lobbing the anchor out and retiring for tea and medals. Dave did a quick snorkel to check it had dug in okay and wasn’t just teasing us. As this can happen. To any boaters.

Later the same evening, we went across to another boat for chats and beverages. Beverages is a word I have picked up through spending time in the States and Canada. It’s not in my usual speech quiver but I quite like it. Beverages.

The sun had long gone, the wind picked up and a squall came through. Their boat was no longer in the same place, it was drifting rapidly downwind towards the shore, thankfully dancing smoothly around the bow of another boat. It was close(ish). In what seemed like the time it takes a for the british parliament to reject a Theresa May Brexit proposal, the boat was hard aground. No amount of engine power was shifting that baby. The best anchor of all, the hull, was stopping that boat going anywhere. And inevitably the tide was on its way down.

Soaked to the skin by now and quite cold, Dave and I hopped in our dinghy and went back to Grace, changed and gathered some resources……kedge anchor, 100m of line, large knife, head torches, the BIG torch, VHF radio, think that’s the complete list.

Over the next two hours, we play a few rounds of the anchoring winching game. The boat wasn’t shifting much but when the game ended, two anchors were laid out in deeper water. It was then a case of letting the moon and earth do their thing and wait for the tide to rise. We went to bed about midnight and grounded crew were able to winch in a bit on each anchor line until around 2.30am the boat broke free and was able to do what boats do best, float.

We were happy to help. That relaxation spectrum can change quickly. So stay away from too many beverages.

….and an unrelated picture. Well it was Valentine’s Day. 😀

Eleuthera

One of our clients in the UK is Skanska. They know a thing or two about civil engineering, tunnels, buildings and bridges being part of their portfolio. They cropped up in our conversation as walked to a bridge in northern Eleuthera. The road bridge sits on a particularly narrow piece of land, the wild indigo Atlantic on one side, the protected translucent sea of Eleuthera on the other, the sea flowing under the bridge from blue to green. It’s a remarkable place. Said bridge connects the north of the island to the south along the regally named Queen’s Highway. And to be strictly accurate it also connects the south to the north for you pedants out there.

The reason we went to look at the bridge is a little while ago, a rogue wave hit it and the construction shunted in a south westerly direction around seven feet. The bridge now appears to be in a constant state of repair but it is in use, single file only. In an age where you don’t get much for nothing, its a road that comes with free jeopardy. Serves you right if you’re driving along looking aimlessly at your phone wondering if anyone has sent you a photo or message or a cute photo of a dancing polar bear in spotty dotty pink lycra and then oops, there’s no bridge, or road, only gravity.

I imagined the conversation between the civil engineer who did the sums based on the potential forces involved and his or her line manager. “Well the computer modelling said this. We didn’t account for a massive storm up near Hatteras sending pounding waves south or the explosion of internet polar bear photos.”

We’ve had some great sailing of late, mostly short distances and even our brief forays to windward have been enjoyable. The bays have almost exclusively delivered deep grabby sand and the anchor comes up pleasingly clean. It’s a small thing but it makes for a good start to the day when moving from one place to the next. No anchor cleaning.

Yesterday we went and found a cave near Hatchet Bay. Dave was able to return to his previous student life and scuttle off along side passages and down rickety ladders to a lower watery level. The cave was more substantial than we had expected, with what once would have been an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites, sadly some now vandalised. It turned into a through trip. The exit was 15 or 20 feet up an old rope ships ladder. It was actually fine but climbing up it, I had no idea how substantial or immovable the rocks or trees or rope that provided the belay were going to be until I got to the top.

Still here so that was all okay.

Double F’s

There are two things on my mind. One lovely and to be cherished, the second incredibly irritating.
1. Friends
2. Flies

Once again, paths have crossed, friendships have grown, good times have been had then it’s time to say goodbye. This phenomenon appears to be one of the inevitable downsides of being sailing transients. Boating lives run parallel for a while then plans no longer align and divergence is inevitable.

It’s happened to us on several occasions in our two and a half years afloat. Paul, Barbara and Julian, Brian and Steph, Phil and Linda, Hugh and Miranda, Danny and Emily and more recently Ali, Karl and the boys.

We first met Betty Ann and Rob in Halifax, Nova Scotia back in July. Grace and Beyond, their boat, departed south on the same day in October and we’ve hopscotched our way to the Bahamas. This week we’ve headed south to Eleuthera, a cracking sail, while they will stay in the Abacos, awaiting visits from family and friends.

In 6 months, they have become good friends and they come with a bundle of fine positive qualities. Rob and Dave both have a penchant for real ale and so that relationship was established in no time!
There will hopefully be other ‘fresh friend collisions’ and new beginnings as we move on but there’s always a bit of sadness as a particular friendship chapter comes to an end.

So that’s the friends bit, now onto number two, flies.

I don’t believe we have any rotting carcasses on board. So where do the blighters come from? We’re anchored maybe 150m from the beach. There’s 20 knots of wind so it’s reasonably breezy. There are no slaughter houses, butchers shops, municipal tips or piles of unpleasantness within site. Or any buildings or people for that matter. We’re anchored off the west of Little Egg Island. All alone.

Yet for the last 30 minutes I’ve been on fly killing patrol in the cabin with a rolled up newspaper and a spirit of vengefulness. Dave says what we need is a good hard frost to kill them off. Not too sure about that one as I am currently enjoying sun and warmth. Although I do like a hearty walk on a cold frosty day in the UK.

I have dispatched close to 30. I know, that’s hideous. It’s good training to keep your reactions swift. That’s me trying to see a positive in the situation. But I’d rather be chilling out post lunch, reading my book travelling down the Volga river in Russia. Before a trip ashore for a walk and explore.

I still have no answer as to where these flies come from and why they are here. We will sail round to Spanish Wells tomorrow and hopefully any remaining irritants will self-destruct before then.

As a quick footnote. The Bahamas are lovely. Much much nicer than the Caribbean. IMHO.

Take a bow, sir.

Poor Dave. He was casually pulling away from a group of about 16 dinghies, most carrying two people when he unexpectedly  became “the turn”.

It was early evening. The group were participating in what is known in boating circles as a dinghy drift. It wasn’t really my scene. A staged get together, albeit in dinghies tied together, mostly with people you don’t know. I’ve done years of chatting to random people at dinner as part of work so I’m a bit more selective these days. Or maybe the word is anti-social!

The group had drifted by us as we mooring up and several people tried hard to cajole us to get in our dinghy and join them. We politely declined to be part of the main event but about 15 minutes later hopped on our paddle boards to cruise by so as not to be wholly antisocial but to do it on our terms. We could easily escape and I wouldn’t feel hemmed in. Helen doesn’t like being hemmed!

We’d had a belter of a day prior to the dinghy thing. Dave landed us our first two lobsters. We’d caught up with our friends Thomas and Gabrielle who we originally met in the boatyard in North Carolina a year previous. We shared dinner and stories aboard their boat then the following morning, Thomas pointed out a good area to snorkel. So wetsuits on and armed with our spear off we set. 30 minutes later we had two of these bizarre fine tasting creatures. Thomas got a brace too so happy crews all round as we upped anchors after lunch and sailed our seperate ways .

In fact we’ve had a lovely few days. Some great short sails, travelling in company with our Halifax friends Rob and Betty Ann, a blue hole, lots of turtles, spotted rays, a great beach bar and several different anchorages. The paddle boards make for great journeying and as you’re high up looking down into the water,  it’s easy to spot creatures in the water. We can get to places too shallow even for the dinghy and outboard so they are proving their worth.

The paddleboards were the cause of Dave being “the turn”. Or he may argue it was me but he’s not writing this. In departing the dinghies, I’d set off and was rounding the group and to contour round the circle made a bit of turn to the right. Dave chose that moment to put a few powerful strokes in behind me and oops, collision, splash. Well actually SPLASH. In front of everyone. There was no hiding. Other than when he was under the water.

He hauled himself up, delivered a theatrical bow to the audience and we paddled off. 25m apart.