Sunday 2 January to Friday 15 January - St Maarten
Sunday 2 January
We set off for Admiralty bay on Bequia which is about ten miles away, round the corner. We motor for the first bit which is in the lee of the island, then, as soon as we round the corner and turn Northwards, we feel the full force of the Trades. They are blowing strongly at the moment, and there are frequent squalls passing over which bring rain from time to time.
We moor up in Bequia, not far from Brandamajo. Admiralty Bay is full of boats, and but it is big enough to absorb them without losing its charm. We head ashore for an explore, and discover some interesting restaurants, quirky little shops, and some very friendly people. Best of all from my point of view is the Bequia book shop. It has, amongst other treasures, the complete works of Patrick O’Brian. What a pleasure! A credit card swipe later, I am off to lunch with a bundle of books, all set for reading material at least until Tahiti.
Yesterday I had been walking along the beach at Friendship bay and I had bumped into Ulf Maiertobens and Peter from Monitor Companies’ Munich office. What a co-incidence. They have chartered a Bavaria 51, ‘Sunny Nicola’ for the holiday period, and are cruising around the Grenadines. They have had some rotten luck as their engine has failed and they are waiting for a spare starter motor, hard to come by in the West Indies over the holiday period. They seemed cheerful enough however, and were exploring Bequia.
This is the second encounter with colleagues from Monitor, the first being Alex Petrie, who had turned up in St. Lucia briefly having done the crossing at the same time as us.
We spend the evening having drinks and Pizza on board ‘Brandamajo’, followed by some great singing. We traded song for song, and learned some great new ones from Martin, who seems to have a never-ending repertoire of sea-shanties, including their own composition – "Blue Water cruising on the Brandamajo"
Monday 3 January
Lunch at the Frangipani restaurant, followed by a wander round town. In the evening, Simon and Nicky Barker organised a BBQ on the beach, to which we and Brandamajo were invited. A good football match worked up an appetite.
We started building a big bonfire, using driftwood from the huge piles that had been created by the devastation of ‘Hurricane Lenny’. We were rescued from a potentially dangerous situation by a very friendly local guy called William. He spotted us building our big bonfire, and came over to tell us that a couple of the logs we had pulled out of the huge pile of driftwood were from a tree called Machineel, and when it is burned it gives off poisonous gas! Whilst not fatal, the effects can be very unpleasant, including skin irritation and severe nausea. A close shave.
Tuesday 4 January – Friday 8 January
On Tuesday morning we set sail from Admiralty bay on Bequia, planning to head North in day-long hops. We set off at about 10 am, did a quick twirl past Brandamajo to say goodbye, and headed North. Once we got going, we decided to change our plans and keep going through the night to Les Saintes, which are a tiny group of islands off Guadeloupe. The reason for this was that the weather forecast is indicating much stronger winds later in the week, and we want to take advantage of the relatively lighter winds to make as much Northing as we can.
It's still a very bouncy ride however, heading North in ENE winds with quite a big swell. We pass St. Vincent, then St. Lucia, then most of Martinique during the night. By about midday on Wednesday we arrive in Les Saintes. As we come in we get hit by a really strong squall, with rain which lashes down washing the decks thoroughly.
We are soon anchored up off the main town, and head ashore for lunch and exploring. Les Saintes is part of Guadeloupe, and therefore part of France. A very pretty town, and some fabulous views from the high ground of the whole archipelago.
But we are not here to hang around. We need to make progress North as we have an appointment with the Swan engineers in Anse Marcel, St. Martin. The reason is that we have perceived a minor wobble in the lower part of the rudder, which we want to have checked out by the experts. Swan have a charter base in St. Martin which I know well. We chartered a Swan 53 there three years ago at Christmas, and had a fabulous cruise around the Leeward islands. Now we are heading back to say hello, and also get them to take a peek at ‘Lazy Duck’ and her rudder.
On Thursday morning, JJ and I get up at 4.30 and we slip anchor soon afterwards and continue our journey North. We spend the morning in the lee of Guadeloupe, which looks lush, green and lovely. In the afternoon, we emerge from the lee into a very large sea and quite strong wind (25 knots + , virtually on the nose) to complete our passage to Five Island Bay on the West of Antigua. This is a lovely quiet bay on the West of Antigua. For the first time we are back in familiar territory. We spent New Years eve 1996 having a bonfire on a beach in the Southern corner of this bay. It's good to be back here and it looks as beautiful as it did then. Everyone is quite relieved when we are safely anchored up and the rocking and rolling has stopped. The seas had given the yacht quite a pounding, so we needed a break.
On Friday morning, we set off again at 4.30 for the final leg to St. Martin. Big seas and big winds again, so the hatches are battened down. We are slightly off the wind, and make good speed, averaging over 8.5 knots with two reefs in the main and half the jib. By mid-afternoon we have passed St. Barts, and we are reaching down into the channel between St. Martin and Anguilla. At sundown we are safely moored up in Anse Marcel, and can relax for a few days. We meet up again with our old friends, Ina Peterman, Alexis, Olivier, and Patrice.
Saturday 9 January
Got a newspaper today for the first time in about a month. Seems that the world has survived the Y2K transition with hardly a glitch, but Liverpool have just been beaten by Spurs, so mixed news from the outside world really.
Today is designated a Duck Day, ie we give a day to the Duck, administering TLC to the deck (Full wash and scrub), the Rudder problem (Olivier and Patrice detailed investigation), and generally sort out the boat after the pounding it has had over the last few days. Various small jobs like the faulty nav light and the Monitor wind vane get fixed, and everything is dried and aired.
At the end of the day we all breathe a sigh of relief and repair to the Meridien a very plush hotel in the marina, for a great Italian supper and more Pina Coladas. An old school and family friend, Nicky Camilleri is staying at the Meridien in with his girlfriend Nathalie. Great to see them and we have a couple of evenings reminiscing about times gone by in Malta.
Sunday 10 January
We slip early, bound for Anguilla. We do not yet have full resolution of the rudder problem. We have established that there is small amount of play, say 2mm, in the lower hinge. This is probably due to wear on the brass bearing, which has created the play, and therefore the minute amount of wobble we have noticed when at anchor. We studied the detailed engineering drawings that we have on board, which JJ was sent by Nautor (the Swan manufacturers) when he refitted the yacht. Olivier recommended that we put a call through to Nautor in Finland on Monday and speak to the Chief engineer there to get his opinion. The likelihood is that the wear is of no immediate concern, but rather something which will get worse only very slowly, and will need attending to when we get to Australia. But Olivier quite rightly wants to be sure before he lets us go. So we are going to cruise Anguilla for a couple of days, and wait for the verdict on Monday.
We set off round the Western edge of Anguilla to Road Bay, where we check in with customs. After an afternoon snorkelling at little bay, we settle down in next door Crocus bay for the evening. The BBQ on the transom, which saw such great service in the Mediterreanan, is fired up for the first time since Ibiza.
Monday 11 January
Spend the day anchored at Prickly Pear Cays, an island with a long coral reef ideal for good snorkelling. Its quite windy, which gives the place a wild and remote feel. Its also full of pelicans which circle over the lagoon and occasionally tuck their wings in, dive, and plunge in to the water with a dramatic splash, usually to emerge with a fish wriggling in their beaks and a smile on their faces.
The verdict on the Rudder from Finland is initially that we probably have nothing to worry about. We decide to sleep on it and speak to them tomorrow.
In the evening we headed back to Grand Case on St. Martin, and took Ina, Olivier, and Patrice from Swan Charters out to dinner at a superb Italian restaurant.
Wednesday 13 January
We are up early in Anse Marcel, and slip out of the marina by 9 am. We have the novelty of needing to stow our smart new dinghy, a Caribe 9 foot hard bottomed RIB. We had made the decision to purchase this new toy having spoken to our friends Mike and Amy Smith on ‘Madjk’ They are from Michigan, USA, and are on their way home after circumnavigating over the last three years. Their advice was that our soft-bottomed dinghy, which was fine in the Med, would not last very long in the Pacific. The reason is that you often need to land the dinghy on coral-fringed beaches, and feel your way through narrow coral-strewn passages to get there. Sharp coral and rock would make short work of our soft inflatable dinghy bottom, so we decided to make the investment here, as little RIBs are good value. The Zodiac will be stowed away for use in emergencies.
We arrived at Bobby’s marina in Philippsburg, on the South of St. Maarten (Dutch side), at the appointed hour for our haul-out, 11 am. We are greeted by a cheery cockney voice, John the yard haul-out boss, who quickly sets up the lines and organises the for and aft straps. Within a few minutes of arriving we are ready to lift. The Duck sits in a sort of cradle, suspended in two straps, which are hauled upwards. Soon the whole yacht is out of the water and starts moving into the yard, over the hard standing, so that we can have a good look at the rudder and complete our diagnosis.
Olivier from Swan has come down from Anse Marcel on his bike, so he can help us decide what to do. It quickly becomes clear, on close inspection, that we were right to haul her out. When we waggle the rudder, the shaft is not moving with it immediately; there is definitely some play. This means that there is some wear and tear in the steel key and key-way that is supposed to bind the rudder stock to the rudder. If this small amount of play were to increase significantly, it could eventually lead to failure of the rudder stock.
Our big decision is whether we go to the time and expense of sorting the problem out now, or whether we leave it until we get to Australia. Whilst it is highly unlikely to cause rudder failure before we complete our trip, we decide that it would be prudent to fix it now, to guarantee the safety of the yacht.
Now things start to move very quickly. The Duck is moved to a new home in the boatyard, where she is supported on chocks. John and I meet up with Sherman, the yard manager, and start negotiating the work schedule. First, we need to grind down the rudder until we can see the hinges, unscrew them, take the rudder off, inspect the shaft and decide what needs replacing and what can stay. Then we need to put the whole thing back together again, which involves building a new fibreglass cover, some filling and fairing, and then finally, anti-fouling. We have decided that, as we are out of the water, we will put some new anti-fouling paint on the bottom, which will help keep it barnacle-free all the way across the Pacific.
The girls head into town to find a hotel, and are soon checked into the Pasanggrahan, a lovely colonial style hotel overlooking the beach.
Before long we have a clear workplan, and the yard set to work. JJ and I help them to start taking the rudder to pieces, intrigued to know what we will find when we have exposed the rudder stock and the hinges. Olivier has to go back to Anse Marcel, but will be coming down daily to supervise the work and help with the decision making at each stage.
We have dinner on board, as we have lots of food in the fridge that needs eating fast. We cannot use the fridge when out of the water, as it relies on sea-water circulating through it for cooling.
Tuesday 12 January - Anse Marcel, St. Martin, Lat 18 deg 06, Lon 63 deg 03
In the morning John and I both dive and look at the rudder together. We conclude that we want Olivier t look at it again. We head round the corner to Anse Marcel. Olivier comes out with dive gear to look at it again. We agree that, whilst it may be a minor problem, it needs looking at properly, given our plans to cross the Pacific. We arrange a haul out in Philippsburg on the South of St. Martin tomorrow at 1130. If there is work to be doen it will be a few days before we can get back in. This is a blow. It will cut short JJ and Ems holiday, and also mean some big boatyard bills. Nevertheless, its essential that we are absolutely sure that our rudder is sound, so no qualms about the decision. It also means that we can give the hull a really good clean while the boat is out.
The girls go off to the beach and have their hair beaded, rasta style.
BIRD'S EYE VIEW
We’ve slipped into the routine of beach life very easily since arriving in St Lucia.
Once we’ve conquered our newly discovered white arc of sand, explored it from end to end and picked up all the shells, the children spend a bit of time pitting themselves against the waves crashing onto the beach before we all wander the 10 yards to the beach restaurant for a pina colada and lunch. Much later in the afternoon we’ll take a gentle swim out to the reef to ogle at the teeming life there before flopping back on board for a hard earned supper and game of ‘Oh Hell’. It’s a tough life. I can see getting back to the London rat race is going to be difficult.
However, one thing we’ll have to look forward to by then will be getting back in touch with the friends that we’ve made from the ARC fleet. Although the ARC is often dismissed as a nannying exercise across the Atlantic, what it has done is bring together 250 boats full of like-minded people who are off adventuring. There were about 20 children in all who crossed from Gran Canaria, and the organisers took care to recognise their achievement at the prize giving with a certificate and ARC t-shirt each. Of course all the family boats tended to gravitate together, their respective children dying to make new acquaintances, and the parents keen to check out whether their own schooling efforts were up to scratch. One thing we’ve discovered is how similar our experiences and concerns are to other family boats.
John Wollacombe was an army skiing colleague of Jonathan’s in the early 1980s and we met him and his wife Fiona in Las Palmas, making ready to cross with the ARC as part of their year sailing in the Caribbean. Their situation was somewhat complicated by little India who was too young to do the long passages, but she and Fiona would meet John at each port of call so they didn’t miss out on the fun bits. I welcomed having a fellow provisioner in Las Palmas with whom to swap information and advice on where to buy the necessary things, and the girls loved having a tiny baby to play with in the club swimming pool. When we got to St Lucia Fiona and India were one of our first welcome parties, armed with large balloons and ribbons for the girls.
Amy and Mike and their three children on board ‘Madjk’ had set off two or three years previously from Michigan, sailing across the Great Lakes to get to the sea, before working their way south to the Caribbean and across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Their trip across the Atlantic was the final leg before working their way northwards back home. Amy had never set foot in a boat before they left and Mike had never before sailed on the wide ocean. However, they took it all in their stride and learnt the ropes on the way around the world, dealing with whatever the weather threw at them with a happy-go-lucky trust that everything would work out. I wasn’t sure whether their virtually horizontal laid back manner was a result of their journey, or was there before they left. Either way I hope I’m as relaxed as that by the end of the year – I don’t think there was a thing in the world that could have fazed them. Their second daughter Jaye was exactly Sarah’s age and they bonded immediately. It was sad that we had to say goodbye to them so soon with no prospect of bumping into them again.
Simon and Nicky Barker had spent 15 years in the Middle East working as surgeon and physiotherapist respectively, before saving enough to buy ‘Alice Ambler’ and sail into the sunset for as long as the money lasted. They had reckoned on a two year trip, spending the whole season in the Caribbean before following in our wake into the Pacific next year. Hannah found a firm friend in their five year old daughter Lauren, a relationship which was cemented during a memorable evening barbeque on Princess Margaret Beach in Bequia. Despite the occasional downpour the horde of 10 children played football and cops and robbers in the light of the roaring fire while we grown ups cemented our own relationships as we compared notes on the various issues we’d faced on our respective trips. With so much in common it was well into the night before we could tear ourselves away to get the children to bed.
Our favourite boat, however, was ‘Brandamajo’. Martin and Anna Cross had sold their house in Cheshire to buy their Bavaria 47 in order to spend a year with their three children David (12), Brinsley (9) and John (7) sailing to and from the Caribbean. Martin is a successful dinghy racer which endeared him to Jonathan immediately and during the Atlantic crossing it was ‘Brandamajo’s’ progress that we compared with our own. They too were determined not to use their engine and were ultimately rewarded with second place in their class. Their first memorable contact with Lazy Duck was making Sarah’s day waving a banner and singing ‘happy birthday’ as she sat having breakfast in a St Lucian restaurant. We met up with them again for lunch on the beach on New Year’s Day in Friendship Bay on Bequia, where the children spent hours body surfing on the waves. Their boys were particularly delighted that we had the Ripards as well on board as they had been missing the company of other children. The best evening of all was a sing song on ‘Brandamajo’ in Admiralty Bay. They’re an equally musical family and have an excellent repertoire of sea shanties which they performed for us with high spirits, alternating with our rather more sedate hippy songs.
The children have been keeping up a radio net every morning at 8.40 with some of their new friends to swap notes about the places they’ve visited. Recently they’ve taken to setting each other riddles, which has been a fun diversion for the parents. We’ve now left ‘Brandamajo’ cruising the Grenadines while we’ve headed northwards to St Martin and St Barths, promising to stay in contact on the radio for as long as possible as we move further into the Pacific. Their own adventure is set to finish at about the same time as ours and we’re looking forward to meeting them again in England at the end of the year to see how they fared.
One thing that Amy and Mike from ‘Madjk’ told us was that the friendships they made in the Pacific were really special, particularly as the boats were moving from island to island more or less in unison and they had much more contact with each other. Crossing the Panama Canal into the Pacific will mark a new phase in our trip, where familiar luxuries like supermarkets and diesel pumps are few and far between and we’ll need to be much more resourceful and self sufficient over the huge distances that we’ll be covering. This is where help and advice from fellow sailors will really come into its own. Poor Lazy Duck is being laden down even more with spare diesel jerry cans and gas cylinders, as well as an unfoldable hard bottomed dinghy.
I can see another confrontation about stowage brewing on the horizon!
Thursday 14 January
We spend the day working to remove the rudder so that we can start to work on it. This is easier said then done.
First we need to grind away the surface filler to expose the two hinges and also the bronze shoe that sits at the bottom of the skeg. The lower hinge and the shoe are the first to be exposed.
Then we need to remove the bronze shoe by tapping out the large stainless steel screws, and heating up the bronze. The shoe proves quite stubborn, and we still have not removed it by the end of the day, despite lots of heating and banging. We will have another go tomorrow.
The work on the boat is being done by the yard under the able supervision of Sherman, the yard manager. He is a Dutch engineer who really seems to know his stuff, which is good for our confidence given the difficulty of the job. He is appropriately named after an American Tank, as he is huge and stands no nonsense from the people working in the yard, who appear to treat him with the utmost respect. Olivier will come down daily just to check on progress and provide input where needed at each stage of the job.
We have our last game of cards together with the Ripards in the evening, and dinner on board, finishing the last of the food from our rapidly warming fridge and freezer.
Friday 15 January - Bobby’s Marina, Philippsburg, St. Maarten Lat : 18 deg 1 min N, Lon 63 deg 2 min W
JJ and Em and family leave us this morning to fly down to Antigua. They will spend a couple of days there, before flying back to Malta on Sunday evening. It has been a really wonderful Christmas and New Year cruise with them. We have had good snorkelling, some great music, and as ever, some memorable meals. The children have loved having their cousins as company, and will miss them terribly. We will see JJ and Sebastian quite soon however. They are coming out to Panama around March 7th, and will be with us for six weeks, coming to the Galapagos and across the Pacific as far as the Marquesas in French Polynesia.
Work continues on the rudder. After a concerted effort with the oxy-acetylene torch, the bronze shoe finally comes off. It had been quite a fight to get remove it, as it had been fitted tightly onto the skeg, and bound with fibreglass resin.
So now we are left with no rudder. The shaft and the rudder disappear into the workshop. The plan is to open up the hinges in the workshop to allow us to examine the state of the key and key-way. Then we can figure out how to secure it anew.
In parallel with this, John and his team set to work sanding the bottom and putting on the first coat of primer, which is a fetching Canary yellow.
Olivier comes down in the afternoon, and we take a look at the hinges once they are separated from the stock. Here the source of the problem reveals itself. There is some wear on the shaft where it bears on the lower hinge. This could be due to mild corrosion, or some other factor, unknown at this point. This wear has resulted in some minor degeneration of the key, which has exacerbated the play. Its hard to establish cause and effect precisely, but it is clear that there is work to be done.
The plan is to skim the rudder stock, which is long piece of solid stainless steel, on the lathe, thus removing the worn area. Then we plan to build new hinges of the correct diameter to fit tightly on the newly reduced shaft. Suki in the lathe shop sets to work, and plans to work tomorrow as well, in order that we have a chance to get the job completed by early next week.
In the meantime, we have been in touch with Gail and John Egan, who are coming out to join us this weekend in Antigua. Fortunately, we had months ago arranged that they would spend the first week staying in a hotel ashore, whilst their son Thomas (18 months) got his sea-legs on short day sails. They are staying at the Inn at English harbour, which is a lovely resort hotel, so they are well set up to wait for us there in comfort.