ship's log

Wednesday 1 December to Thursday 16 December 1999 - End of the ARC race


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Wednesday 1 December - Noon position: Lat: N 17. 51, Lon: W 37.18 , Wind E 5-10, rising a lot in squalls, daily run – 167 miles – same as yesterday..

We had a clear night with some excellent stargazing. We are now very familiar with all the main constellations, and are starting to pick out individual stars, and the tiny but distinctive constellations like little Pleidaes, which looks like a mini – Plough, currently up near Jupiter and Saturn.

By around eleven in the morning, things had turned for the worse. The wind had come up to 25 – 30 knots, which was great, but there were some nasty grey clouds around, clearly swollen with rain. The sea also got up, and became very awkward as we had two swells running in different directions, making it very uncomfortable to steer, and quite unpleasant below. We heard on the radio that a boat to the North and behind had just been through a low pressure with some big gusts, so we strapped everything down and kept a good look out. Then the front edge of the trough hit us, and for the next three hours we had 30 knots of wind and driving rain. We were into the second reef in the main and had about half the jib up, and were still surfing at 10 knots. Exhilarating stuff! Sal was up with the video camera getting footage. As I have mentioned before, we are one of the boats that the ARC organisers have asked to do some filming for the official video. As we are the only ones with a waterproof cover for the camera (thanks to Colin Simonds for lending it to us) they are particularly looking to us for the footage of blowier, rainy conditions.

By the afternoon, the wind had all gone, but the big sea remained, so we had a torrid time in the cross swell. The boat lolloped and rolled around all over the place, unable to settle into a rhythm without any wind or steerage. No fun for anyone.

At about dusk, a patch of blue sky appeared ahead in the distance, and the wind came up a bit. We headed straight for it, racing against a squall that was tracking to the South of us, and got there in time to enjoy a lovely sunset. The squall slipped behind us and disappeared North, to dump it’s rain over someone else. We got away with it.

We had decided to postpone the concert and half way party to tomorrow, as the conditions today had demanded the full attention of the crew.

Thursday 2 December -Noon position: Lat 17 59 N, Lon 39 27 S, wind light E 5 knots. Daily run – 138 miles

A day in complete contrast to yesterday. No wind, bright, hot sun, and virtually flat sea. More comfortable, but a bit frustrating as we can’t make much progress.

We had an excellent lunch in the cockpit, washed down with some champagne brought specially for the occasion. We had been cooling it assiduously in buckets of water, and it slipped down very easily. The toast of the crew, by unanimous vote was Caroline. She has produced quite superb food, day in day out, whatever the conditions, and definitely won over the crew. No question, the star performer on board.

In the evening we do the musical concert. Everyone has been issued with a hand-written invitation (illustrated in colour!), and we all dressed up in best bib and tucker for the occasion. The girls looked sparkly in their glitter and painted toenails. It went down well with the audience, who asked for repeated encores until they were told that dinner was on the way.

Andy was on watch at about midnight when we were hit by our first serious night squall. These vicious little weather systems come up very quickly in Mid Atlantic, bringing rain and high winds. They are relatively easy to sea in the day time, with black clouds and dark shadows underneath. At night however, when the cold gives them a sharper sting, it’s a different matter. They are much harder to track, and therefore we have less time to react. Andy called me up as soon as he realised there was one headed our way. I just managed to get the hatches shut and was starting to get the headsail furled, when the wind shot up from 10 knots to 42 knots in the space of about 2 minutes! By this time Charlie was also up, and we completed the furling of the headsail and ran with it, surfing at 10 knots under just mainsail. I put the radar on, and we tracked its progress, as the rain is dense enough to give an echo. Eerie feeling being in the cockpit, pelting with rain, a flat sea, and only the loud sound of rushing water made by Lazy Duck’s quarter wave as we surfed along, otherwise in silence. The darkness is broken at sea level by the phosphorescence. In about twenty minutes it was gone almost as quickly as it arrived. We kept a vigilant eye out for the rest of the night. There were few more squalls, but none with the same intensity.

Friday 3 December - Noon position: Lat: N 17 15 Lon: W 41 06, Wind E 10 knots, daily run, 114 miles

A quiet day with lots of reading and sleeping. Caroline baked a carrot cake which disappeared in a flash.

A bit more wind today. We need at least 10 knots to get moving, and we got this for most of the day, but there are still to many calm patches for our comfort. The noon sched reveals that a lot of yachts are now motoring over 10 hours of the day, so they are starting to get away from us. They will incur a penalty for doing so, based on their declared engine hours and declared distance travelled. We have decided not to motor, as we want to feel we have sailed all the way. There is no question, however, that when the wind drops and the sails are slatting against the stays, the temptation to engage gear and go is great.

Saturday 4 December -Noon position: Lat N 17 37, Lon W 43 20, Wind, E 5 knots, Daily run 133 miles.

Day starts with little wind again, and the sched reveals more motoring. We are also quite a bit North of many of the boats in our class, as we have been told by Herb that the winds should be stronger in the North when the trade winds finally arrive, as they are forecast to do tomorrow.

At night there is an ominous look to the clouds. It is a new moon, so it is pitch black up on deck, and there is 100% cloud cover.

At about midnight, Andy calls me up on deck urgently. Very dark black shape has come up behind us out of nowhere. I put on my harness quickly and shout to Charlie and Sal to come and help on my way up. We quickly reef in the headsail completely, just in time before the squall hits us. I am at the wheel as this happens, and because we have not got the main down in time, we just have to run with it. The four of us are crouched in the cockpit, as we turn and speed downwind. The wind really howls, and driving rain reduces the visibility to zero. My eyes are locked onto the windspeed meter, making sure the wind is kept just to port of dead aft, to avoid any chance of broaching. We are creaming along at 12 knots, and the windspeed peaks at 52.6 knots, Force 10 on the Beaufort scale. The wind suddenly falls away very fast, giving way to torrential rain. No-one says anything for a while, as we quickly reef in the main, and strap down ready for the next one. And sure enough they kept coming, all night long. I sent Charlie and Sal down to try and sleep for a couple of hours, and Andy and I spent a very busy night up on deck, attempting to dodge the squalls as best we could in the lousy visibility. There were no more like that first one, but one got us back up to 38 knots of wind again. The worst thing about all this was that there was another yacht less than a mile away. We could see his lights when the squalls lifted , then we would both be enveloped. This was terrifying because, the one thing we need to be sure of when running off was that there was no risk of collision, and with this other yacht around we could not be absolutely sure. And when the squalls lifted the wind disappeared completely, so we were unable initially to sail away from him. Eventually we got some distance between us and could relax and concentrate on the job of keeping the Duck moving West as best we could. What a bizarre situation to be worried about colliding with another yacht in the middle of a vast ocean like the Atlantic!

Sunday 5 December - Noon position: Lat N 17 13, Lon W 45 28, Wind E 15-20 knots (at last, the Trades!), daily run 136 miles.

Andy and I crash out at dawn, exhausted. Charlie and Sal take over, and to our relief, the Trade winds kick in at last. They build from the East, and we are soon trucking at over 8 knots in the right direction. This is more like it. Caroline bakes chocolate brownies to celebrate.

What we need now is for these winds to hold out for the next four or five days, and that will see us in to St. Lucia. The forecast we have suggests that we will get at least two or three days of this, but there may be a Low pressure building right in our path, so we have to keep a close eye on this, as that would give us head winds! We need to check the ARC weather briefing e-mails, and also listen in to Herb.

We use the water maker to make what I hope will be the last lot of fresh water. I want to continue making the boat lighter by draining the tanks, but with possibly up to a week to go we have to make sure that we don’t run out until we can see St. Lucia.

Monday 6 December - Noon position: Lat: N 16 18 Lon: W 48 00, Wind E 15-20, daily run 170 miles

The Trades are still blowing, and we are having a lovely sail, with full main and the jib slightly furled and poled out to port. The daily run is starting to look a bit more respectable for a Swan 47, now that we have some wind.

Caroline discovers a disaster in the vittling department. All the vacuum packed meat, which should last upwards of a month un-refrigerated if the vacuum packing is done correctly, have gone off. The culprits are El Corte Ingles, the supermarket in Las Palmas, who had promised us faithfully that their machine would work perfectly. On inspection however, all the chickens and beef and sausages were clearly going off. We have plenty of tinned food, but Caroline is understandably livid at this discovery. Not much we can do about it out here though, apart from put another line out and hope for some more fish….!

We now have less that 750 miles to go. The yachts around us are all starting to converge on St. Lucia, so we see at least one yacht on average every day. We are reasonably well placed, despite not motoring, but our ultimate position will depend on whether we can make the most of the Trades now that they have kicked in, and also what the penalty is for the majority of yachts who have motored for a substantial number of hours.

It's going to be an exciting final week at sea, with that low pressure system to worry about, and the daily sched giving us updates on the boats we are watching. We are about to start a sweepstake, betting on arrival time. If the wind holds, it should be some time on Friday. Watch this space….

Tuesday 7 December - Noon position: Lat N 15 deg 23, Lon W 50 deg 09, Wind very light now, but daily run 168 miles

We had a reasonable daily run over the last 24 hours, but the wind has now eased down to virtually nothing. There are still squalls about, and the combination of limited wind and squalls is most unpleasant. The squalls are very visible during the day, but if there is no wind, all we can do is sit and wallow as they come towards us or track away from us. Despite the rain, we are happiest when they come towards us, as then we have some wind to hook into, and can alter the trim to whatever that particular squall has brought us It helps us to keep pushing westwards.

An unfolding drama reached its conclusion, thankfully with a happy ending. I had downloaded an e-mail yesterday afternoon, just after sending the log, which had some chilling news from ARC control. A Norwegian yacht called Llega Meister which was not in the ARC race, but was about 100 miles to the North of us had reported a Man Overboard at 0300 hours in the morning. We were requested to stand by on the radio, and help in whatever way we could. The crew, now of three, were co-ordinating the rescue with the help of the Norwegian rescue services, and a US navy vessel with a helicopter search team proceeding to the area.

We looked at the chart, and realised that we would not be able to reach the area before nightfall, or possibly even by the nightfall the following day, as we have limited diesel after our charging hours at this point, and there is no wind. So we stand by on the radio, and wait to see if we can possibly help in any other way.

A gloom descends on the boat. Our thoughts are with both the person bobbing around in the dark ocean, and also with the three remaining crew. We speculate about survival times and hope that, if he is not found, death comes quickly.

At 2030 UTC, we check in to Herb, the weather Ham, and are overjoyed that one of the yachts also on frequency can report that the man overboard was found in reasonable shape at 1900 after 16 hours in the water. Must be a really tough cookie! No details are given as to how he was recovered, but we suspect that it was probably the helicopter. The visibility must be better up there, as where we are it is less than 1 mile, with rain and squalls everywhere.

This is such a relief to us all, and a sobering reminder to redouble diligence on harnesses and being careful around the yacht, especially in the big swell.

We have christened the area we are in ‘Squall city’, which is the square bounded by Lon 40 West and 50 West, and Lat 10 N and 20 N.

Sarah and Hannah catch rain in used mineral water bottles, with will save us precious the diesel needed to run the watermaker. It runs off the boom in a river in the rainsqualls, and tastes wonderfully sweet compared to tank tap water.

Our only consolation is that the area of convection we are in would almost certainly have turned into a hurricane if it was August and we were in the season where upper level (stratospheric) conditions would support it, rather than damp it down as they do now.

Wednesday 8 December - Noon position: Lat N 15 14, Lon W 51 16, NO WIND (Outside squalls) Daily run 70 miles

A difficult day at the office. There are still squalls about, although they are diminishing, and but we have very little wind indeed. The reduction in squalls means that we can’t even spend time working our way from squall to squall to get the occasional injection of wind, and motion Westward. Very depressing as we spend hour after hour with the sails slatting limply against the stays. We have drifted out of Squall city and into an area christened the ‘Shadowfax Parking lot’ , after the American Swan 59 which was first in here, and has just emerged on the other side. We have been following the progress of the ‘Parking Lot’, an area of very little wind, and have been unable to sail around it as it is about 200 square miles, and we simply did not have the wind to skirt around it. Andy and I have been concentrating on minimising the time spent in it by careful weather tracking, but it has moved over us and we are now stuck.

This is the first time when I am tempted to out the engine in gear for the two hours we spend running it to charge the batteries, If we could only edge our way West, we would clear it quicker and be into a different weather pattern. Two problems though. One, we are still out of range of St. Lucia if we were to stick the engine on and go for it, as we have comparatively smaller tanks than the other boats and did not load on much spare, as I was not planning to motor. If we motor now, and the wind stays light, we will run out of diesel for charging the batteries to run the lights and the radio, etc. Second, we are determined to sail across the whole way if we possibly can. Anyone can stick a motor on and point it Westwards. We want to arrive there totally under our own steam. So we resist the temptation and try to be patient.

The crew are being brilliant in the circumstances. Lots of baking going on (carrot cake, fresh bread), some singing, and endless backgammon and chess.

Bird’s Eye View – 8 December

As I sit and write this we are facing in the wrong direction back towards Las Palmas, bobbing on a mill pond with flapping sails and no steerage. We’ve been doing this all night. We really have had all sorts of weather on this crossing, and looking back, the traditionally difficult part of the journey – the first week out of Gran Canaria – was in fact the best for us. We had been confident that the NE trade winds would then set in, but we’ve barely seen them, and on a couple of occasions we’ve even had wind on the nose!

All of us are used to sailing in the Mediterranean with its gut wrenching steep seas and solid storms which last at least 24 hours (usually with a force 8 wind coming from the direction we want to go in!). So we have been somewhat bemused by the wind patterns in the mid Atlantic, where we often find ourselves stranded without a breath in the huge rolling swell, surrounded by ominous black rain storms on all sides. We desperately try to eke out as much speed as possible from what wind we have, while still tracking the squalls’ progress as they roar across the water around us. Some miss us but others sweep us up in their path, causing havoc as the crew dashes to shorten sail with barely minutes’ notice. Then it’s heads down, white knuckles on the wheel, as the rain lashes down horizontally and Lazy Duck picks up her skirts with a whoop and takes off down wind at breakneck speed. Everybody has their eyes glued to the wind speed dial and holds their breath as the wind gets up and up and up, before it just as suddenly passes over, barely 10 minutes later, leaving us bobbing about without a breath again! We’ve given up commenting on the weather now, because every time we’ve rejoiced that the trades have finally arrived, we’ve been proved emphatically wrong only hours later. We have instead developed a sailor’s healthy superstition against tempting fate.

So what do the children think of all this? Most of the really exciting activity seems to happen at night when the crew are up till dawn and the noise of wind, rain and sails going up and down makes sleep down below impossible. Sarah and Hannah sleep in the forepeak which is the most boisterous part of the boat – definitely to be avoided by anyone with a sensitive stomach. Without fail, both of them have slept soundly every night, regardless of what has been going on around them. They wake as usual at 7am and read quietly or listen to their tapes while they wait for everyone else to get up, seemingly blissfully unaware that there’s a hurricane whistling about their ears. They never seem to understand why everybody, including Danny, looks so haggard on these mornings, and spend the rest of the day feeling rather miffed that no-one wants to play!

We have had some truly wonderful days’ sailing though, with 15-20 knots of breeze in the right direction under a perfect blue sky on a gentle rolling sea. This is when we bring all the wet gear up on deck to dry in the hot sun, whip on the shades and settle down to catch up on our tans, to the strains of Crowded House or the Kings College Choir. There have been some pretty spectacular sunsets to sail into. However, as yet another squall hits us the talk turns increasingly to that delicious Mount Gay rum that’s waiting for us just over the horizon – that and those steaming fresh water showers. So roll on St Lucia!

Thursday 9 December - Noon position: Lat N 15 14 Lon W 52 30 , NO WIND,and no squalls, daily run 68 miles

The worst day at the office so far. Not a breath, and this is getting very frustrating. It is made worse when we hear that the yachts South and West of us have more wind, and that most of the other yachts had motored extensively, moving them out of the windless zone in Shadowfax’s parking lot, and are offering ETA’s to St. Lucia.

No-one says very much and there is a real effort on everyone’s part to stay cheerful. Nonetheless, we are sailors and we need wind to be happy, so we’re not happy.

We focus hard all day, as we have done all the while, to squeezing every last ounce of push out of the odd zephyr that we can find, and scan the horizon hopefully. The sails are trimmed and re-trimmed endlessly.

We spend some time practising using the sextant. We have not done as much as we would have liked in the last few days (no sun, few stars), so we plan to make up for it. Every one takes a sunsight including Dan.

At last, when I take the helm for my watch, the sails start to flutter, and some wind starts to fill. To everyone’s massive relief, within half an hour we are cruising along at 7 knots, and it looks reasonably structural, i.e. should stay for the duration of the night.


Friday 10 December - Noon position: Lat N 14 54, Lon W 54 15, Wind NW 12 knots, daily run 102 miles

At last some progress to report! It’s amazing how our spirits have been lifted by the wind. After so long fighting for every puff, partying hard when the speed hit one knot, we are now romping along to St. Lucia at over eight knots!

St. Lucia is about 360 miles away, so we will be in some time on Sunday if this wind holds. We are all very excited about this, and start planning the luxuries we will indulge in on arrival. A long walk is on everyone’s list, snorkelling on the coral reef, a large vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce (Sal!) and a huge Pina Colada with as much rum as his dad will allow (Dan).

Keep your fingers crossed for us that this wind holds….

Saturday 11 December

The Trades are still blowing, and we have made good progress through the night, so things are looking good for a Sunday afternoon finish. Attention is now focussed on when exactly on Sunday we are likely to finish. I have run a sweepstake, for which everyone had to submit an entry yesterday afternoon. Andy and I are fairly close at 1400 and 1330 respectively. Sal and Charlie are more conservative at 2200 and 2230. Caroline is somewhere in the middle at 1700.

Those bidding for later times are looking good at this point, as the winds have moderated (against the forecast) to give us a speed of around 7 knots, rather than the 8.5 we were seeing for most of night.

Much of the time over these last two days is given over to our entry in the ‘Stokie’ awards. This is a competition in which we have to submit a plot of our position worked out using some of the emergency navigation techniques we have been taught. There are a number of these. For example, down here in the tropics, The Constellation Orion rises in the East and sets in the West, with the centre star, Mintaka almost dead West. North can be found using Polaris, and South using Crux, the Southern Cross, which I was surprised to discover is visible at this Northern latitude. Our latitude is calculated by measuring as accurately as possible the angle of elevation of Polaris. Our Longitude is a little trickier. We need to compute the exact time of sunrise, and then of sunset, taking lower limb of the sun when it just kisses the horizon. Then we bisect the time to find the local meridian passage time, i.e. sun at its zenith, expressed in GMT. Then we simply subtract from it the time of Greenwich meridian passage, and we have the number of minutes of time West of Greenwich. We then convert to a longitude using the formula – 1 hour of time equals fifteen degrees of longitude.

Finally we are using a couple of really old mariners’ tricks. To calculate speed travelled, we throw a piece of paper over the side at the bow and time its passage down the length of the boat (47 feet long) with Dan’s stopwatch. This is all the data we need to work out our speed. To work out the time of day, we use the Plough and Polaris. Assume an upside down clock on the sky with Polaris at the centre, 6 o’clock is uppermost, twelve o clock is lower. The two bottom stars in the plough form the hour hand. Now just read the time, double it, double the month you are in, add the two together, subtract from 41.5 and the result is the time accurate to within half an hour. It works really well, as we have been testing it every night.

As a further check, we use my Sony handheld radio to identify the direction of Barbados (due South of us) with St. Lucia (in front of us, we hope!) The ferrite rod aerial inside gives best reception when we are pointing at the target. Soon we have identified Barbados radio on which there is a cricket match commentary, and St. Lucia radio, with an ecumenical Church service.

The intersection is a good approximation of where we are and confirmation of our position. This is poignant for the girls, as we tell them about their grandfather arriving in the UK having crossed the Atlantic in ‘Sitra’. Faced with thick fog, he had to use this technique for real to navigate into the Solent safely.

The challenge is to produce a creative fix using these techniques. The children are putting together the joint entry, and it’s turned into a ten page document, complete with Illustrations by Sarah and Hannah and calculations by Dan. We will submit on arrival and await the prize giving with great interest.

Sunday 12 December

After a really good night of progress, its clear that we will arrive some time in the evening, so Skipper and navigator are out of the running in the sweepstake. Its going to be between Sal, Charlie and Caroline.

We are now in reasonably steady Trade Winds, for only the second time in the whole voyage. The only other sniff of steady Trades we have had was on the first three days. It’s clear that this has been a very unusual year for the Trade winds. Apparently this is due to a combination of Lenny, the late season hurricane, and La Nina in the Pacific. The result has been a very slow crossing for all of us, with over three days of almost flat calm weather.

At about 3 in the afternoon I am on watch, and Sal is also up on deck. Squinting into the distance, I can just about make out a conical shape poking up over the far horizon. I shout ‘Land Ahoy’ which brings everyone scuttling up on deck for a view. We have sighted St. Lucia, and everyone is delighted. A really happy mood develops, as everyone starts to look forward to green grass and a firm footing. Before long a fishing boat comes alongside us with two St. Lucians on board, asking for some water, so we lob them a bottle of mineral water.

By 8 pm we are rounding the Northern tip of St. Lucia and making ready to turn down into Rodney bay. It is a very black night, and its hard to make out all the lights we need to pick up to pilot our way safely into the finish line, especially with all the brightly lit shore lights behind them. Andy and I take our time, confer on the best route in, then swing into action, reefing in the headsail and gybeing the boat to turn upwind and beat across the finish line. Its strange having to deal with dazzling nav lights, and lots of other boats around after three weeks of having the ocean virtually to ourselves.

We cross at 20 44 to loud cheers from the finish line and all of us on the Duck. So Sal has won the sweepstake. Great excitement on board, but we can’t really relax until we are safely tied up to our mooring in Rodney Bay.

It’s a narrow, rather tricky entrance, but we are soon inside and we purr into our mooring under engine. Andy and Caroline at the bow throw the dock-lines to willing helpers. We are greeted by a welcoming party equipped with rum cocktails which slip down without touching the sides. We’ve made it across the Atlantic safe and sound, and the excitement and relief bubbles over in everyone. We take the obligatory crew photo, and plough through the rest of the rum. By about midnight everyone is ready to crash, and soon the Duck is reverberating to the gentle snores of a very contented crew indeed.

Monday 13 to Thursday 16 December

The next day we were up early, and set to work getting the Duck into shape. We all felt invigorated by the novelty of a full eight hours of sleep, so it was easy to get going. There was a long list of things to do. We had to scrub the decks and all the standing and running rigging, dig out all tins and emergency food from the bilges and clean down below, and complete a few small maintenance jobs. Considering that we have just covered 3000 miles of ocean, she is in great condition, and shines up very well. Dan polishes all the chrome just to give it that extra sparkle, and by evening we can sit back and admire her looking absolutely at her best.

Now its time to get down to some serious fun. We soon make friends with the Stefania from Milan who runs the local tour agency. She seems to know everything about the islands. We all take off together on a Land rover safari into the rainforest, where our Rasta guide, Shaba, escorts us up to a wonderful waterfall and rock pool where we all had an invigorating fresh water swim in crystal clear water. A good day out.

We have also done some sunfish sailing out to Pigeon island nearby, and Caroline, Sal and Charlie have climbed Grand Pitons, a significant peak in the South which offers magnificent views as a reward for the hard climb up to the top. We have also been partying with our friends Martin and Anna Cross who are also taking a year out with their three boys on ‘Brandamajo’ They are a lovely family and very much kindred spirits. We are glad to hear that they are also heading South from here so we may well be able to meet up again over the next few weeks.

The people making a TV programme and video about the ARC came along and interviewed us all. They were particularly interested in the children's point of view, so conducted an extensive interview in the cockpit.

It's Sarah’s birthday tomorrow. Today one of her favourite ex-teachers at Newton Prep, Biba Parry, called on the Satellite phone to wish her a happy birthday. Sarah was stunned and delighted to discover that Biba is coming out to join us with her boyfriend in Antigua for a week. We have been plotting this secretly with Biba for weeks now and had decided to tell Sarah on her birthday as an additional treat. She was speechless with excitement, and it has definitely made her day, so we are well pleased.

On Saturday we will find out how we out on in the race. There are still quite a few yachts that have not finished, and every hour or so we hear the hooting of horns and ringing of bells as yet another yacht pitches up, eager to get stuck in to their rum ration. It's now clear that we are one of a small handful of yachts that did not motor in the cruising division, so we will do OK. How well exactly depends on the penalty factor for motoring, which they will not compute until all the yachts are in. Time will tell.

Tonight John John and Emma will arrive with their family, and we will start to prepare for Christmas and New Year in the Grenadines, followed by a fortnight up North in the Anguilla and St. Barts area. Then we will settle down to explore Antigua for a month before heading down to Panama in mid-February.

Bird’s Eye View – 15 December

As we bobbed slowly towards St Lucia, by now abandoned even by the squalls, we had an eerie feeling of being totally alone on the huge sea. Most of the other boats had motored away through the doldrums and we began to hear fewer voices at each daily radio roll call as more and more boats crossed the finish line. What was particularly galling was that many of them were boats that we should be beating, and as we had no idea of what the penalty would be for motoring, it was difficult for us to gauge how we were faring. Nevertheless, by this time the winds finally turned up and Lazy Duck was swishing through the water again at 8 knots – lifting our gloom immediately. Jonathan had been doing some direction finding with his portable radio, and it was exciting to hear the voice of St Lucia emanating from the empty horizon. We could hardly believe that we were almost there.

It soon became clear that we could expect to see land at around lunch time on Sunday and when Jonathan finally shouted ‘land ahoy’ we all had to come up on deck to check for ourselves. It was a proud moment – St Lucia was bang on the nose.

By the time we’d got through the finish line and tied up, it was dark and the party on shore was already in full swing. A band was playing head-throbbing music to the heaving mass of humanity and there were delicious barbecue smells swirling about with the smoke. There was no doubt that we had arrived in the Caribbean. After a rum celebration courtesy of ARC, and a few test jogs up and down the pontoon to make sure our legs were in working order, we crashed into bed, totally oblivious of the commotion around us. When we woke at seven the next morning we found the party was still in full swing – it was apparently St Lucia’s Independence Day.

Since then it hasn’t really stopped. Life on St Lucia seems to be one long party and not surprisingly the ARC crews are soaking it all up with great enthusiasm. The children are just fascinated by all the dreadlocks. We’ve enjoyed meeting up again with the crew of ‘Brandamajo’ who we met in Gran Canaria. They’re also taking a year out to have a sailing adventure with their three children, and we’ve enjoyed comparing notes and discovering how much in common we have with them. They plan to cruise many of the same islands as us in the Caribbean so we’re looking forward to bumping into them every so often over the next two months.

The next major event on our social calendar is Sarah’s birthday on Friday and we’re planning a tea time beach party in Rodney Bay, complete with cake. There are decent sized waves to play in and the water is deliciously warm so it won’t matter if it rains. Either way, we’ll be able to wear our new palm leaf hats which were so expertly woven for us yesterday by a rasta man in his dinghy. He finished each one off with a little bird of paradise knotted out of a palm frond, which was an excellent marketing ploy because he sold five hats instead of just one!

It’s difficult to get into the Christmas gear at the moment, but right now we’re relishing not having to rush around. Lessons have taken a back seat and we are hugely looking forward to the next two months exploring the islands to the south and to the north. If St Lucia is anything to go by, we’ve a great time in store!

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