From Dire Straits to More Dire Straits

Montserrat used to be an idyllic tropical island where famous bands used to come and record famous albums in Sir George Martin’s famous Air Studios.  Maybe Jimmy Buffett knew something when he recorded Volcano about the then dormant Soufrière Hills volcano on the island.      

Let me say now I don’t know I don’t know
I don’t know where I’m a gonna go
When the volcano blow

The volcano did blow and nowadays the southern part of the island is deserted – and it’s where most of the people used to live and work.

So with Barry and Ramona on board, we set off for Montserrat, 26nm away. It was another nice broad reach doing 8s and 9s under a single reef.

We arrived at 1.30pm to find one engine alarming with the water intake light. So we anchored quickly on one engine and I headed in to check in. There’s an online check-in facility called Sailclear that makes life easier – except when you have people leaving the boat in Montserrat. It took me two return trips back to the boat to complete the process. Finally at 4pm, we were able to walk out the gate and off to the bar.

Check in finally completed, we headed for the bar to give the skipper a well deserved drink. Little Bay isn’t much of a town, just a port. We wandered further afield and found a T20 cricket game happening between all the expats that had returned for the festivities and the locals who had stayed on after the eruptions. It was interesting to see people from Boston playing cricket.

Next day, we hooked up with Joe and did a tour of the island. Wayne and Ali from Blue Heeler also joined us and we headed firstly to the Volcano Observatory where all the scientists work. We saw a great short film on the volcano and the devastation it caused.

Joe himself lost his house in the eruptions and had to start again. A lot of residents took advantage of an offer to relocate to the UK.

The highlight of the tour for me was visiting the now disused Air Studios, set up by Sir George Martin in the mid 70s.

Elton John recorded three albums at the Montserrat studio in the 1980s. Dire Straits recorded their successful Brothers in Arms album between 1984 and 1985. Other artists such as Ultravox, Paul McCartney, The Police (Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity), Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Little River Band, Duran Duran, Sheena Easton and Supertramp have also recorded albums there. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo devastated the island and the Montserrat facility was severely damaged and thus forced to close. We were able to clamber up a wall through a hole in the fence and have a good sticky beak at a piece of music history.

Next day we lucked on St Patrick’s Day in Montserrat. It’s a big thing here and through no planning Montserrat’s Irish heritage dates back to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The island’s first generations of European settlers were predominantly Irish, forced out by religious persecution by Oliver Cromwell and his henchmen.

Since then, the sugar industry started up bringing an influx of African slaves, who In 1768, rebelled again their inhumane treatment. The revolt took place on St Patrick’s Day. It failed, but the association lingered – a cry for freedom.

So here in Montserrat, St Patrick’s Day has a dual purpose in celebrating the freedom both the Irish and African heritage craved.

This legacy of St Patrick’s Day has carried through to present day where St Patrick’s Day became an .officially designated national holiday in 1985. The whole week is one long celebration with many Montserratians that live abroad in NY, Boston and London returning to party.

The place to be for the day was Salem where they had a big parade. Salem gets the gig because its the closest habitable village to the parish of St Patricks, which is in the exclusion zone these days.

After a great tour of the Island and a day spent at St Paddy’s celebrations we still had a few days to kill so we motored south to have a closer look at the devastation of Portsmouth from the sea. We nearly made it before the fumes and the threat of ash that was blowing out over the sea got us to turn back. We anchored for the night at Old Road Bay, technically in the danger zone but only when the volcano is active. It was a lovely anchorage except for the surf beach which we decided was not for our dinghy. Dee and I snorkelled in and checked out the very nice bar with live music that night. Shame we couldn’t get in.

Next day it was back to Little Bay to do a bit of snorkelling before a quick last meal with Ramona and Barry before we waved them goodbye as they caught the ferry back to Antigua.

Next morning we headed North West to Nevis.

 

Birds and Beaches

It took a lot of patience to wait out the high winds all week, waiting for that elusive weather window that would allow us to sail the 30nm over to Barbuda. We ended up taking off a day earlier than most of the rest of the mob, some of which were delayed by some Rugby team who have been doing well lately, probably because they are coached by an Australian.

The sail over was exhilarating, doing 8s and 9s with a single reef in a tricky 2m swell over 30m shallow water. Once we got close to the island, the water shallowed up and it was simply stunning – clear and beautiful. You could see the bottom in 8m of water. We dropped the sails and heading into shore on the recommended approach as per the charts and motored along the coast 100-200m out from shore. As we approached our anchorage at Low Bay, the water turned that cloudy milk colour that we had experienced on Antigua. The locals say it’s because of the ground swell. Disappointing. We SUP’ed into shore and checked out the resort that was closed and Codrington Lagoon that was across a narrow sand spit.

Next day we up’ed anchor and headed off in search of that wonderful clear beautiful water we’d seen on the way in. We found it 11nm around the bottom of the island at Cocoa Point, where we dropped anchor in 3m of stunning water.

We spend the rest of the day snorkelling and walking on the beach. The reef at the point looked interesting but wasn’t that great. The beach has being unofficially renamed Lady Di Beach because she evidently loved it there. As well as Cocoa Point resort, there’s also another one that’s currently closed called the K-Club that De Nero and Packer have purchased – but is currently the subject of a court case surrounding the extra 180 acres of land that got thrown into the deal.

As usual our social calendar was impromptu, depending on who turned up in the anchorage. As we were swimming back to the boat, we saw Venture Lady pull in. Gloria pulled in as well so 8 sailors meant sundowners one 5 o’clock on La Mischief, with a call to reconvene on Venture Lady for the subsequent 5 o’clock somewhere session.

Next day, we organised a tour to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary. We caught a taxi into Codrington and then hopped onto a small boat with Junior as our tour guide and zoomed across the lagoon to the mangroves where the frigate birds were mating and breeding. There were thousands of them hanging out of all the trees. We were able to get up quite close to the cute chicks and their parents who were gliding about on their 7 foot wingspans.

 

After two glorious days in Paradise it was time to up anchor and head back to Jolly Harbour to pick up Ramona and Barry and head off to Monserrat.

Lots and Lots and Lots and Lots of Wind

Cricket over and done with, it was time to plan to see some of the rest of Antigua, even though it was blowing its t–s off. We toyed with the idea of using a small weather window to shoot up to Barbuda and sit out the bad weather up there; but we stuck our nose out into the swell and quickly decided this was not an option. Instead we kept inside the protective reef system to the north of Antigua and made our way around to Long Island.

Long Island was stunningly beautiful – a fact picked up by the up market resort that had taken over the whole island. Landing was forbidden by the resort ( As Chris Doyle says “Security is as tight as a cramped sphincter”) so we stayed on the boat and tried some snorkelling in Jumby Bay. Once again the water was cloudy and not great for snorkelling. It seemed that this was the case everywhere on the sheltered west coast of Antigua, where the fine shell grit was stirred up by the ground swell. Disappointing.

Next day we decided to up anchor and go around to Parham, which has seen better days. The holding was exceptional and the local fishermen sold us 3 huge crays for 80EC, but after that I’ve run out of anything else to say about the place. We had intentions of eating all three crays but they were so large that we were pretty full after the first and the other two were dispatched to the freezer for another day.

The pick of the places on the northern side appears to be Greater Bird Island so we motored out there and checked out the moorings, but just like the cat that got there just before us, we decided it was just to blowy and decided to head back. We checked out the anchorage in Davis Bay on the south coast of Long Island but decided to give it a miss and head back to Deep Bay on the West Coast.

Heading West, all we needed was a genoa and we were soon there. We anchored in 2m of milky water tucked into the bay. We contemplated snorkelling the wreck in the bay but it was just too blowy so we dinghied to the beach and climbed up to the fort instead. Nice views.

Friday Night at the beach bar in Jolly Harbour was beckoning so we only stayed a night in Deep Bay before heading back to anchor outside of Jolly Harbour in Mosquito Bay. Good news is there was no mosquitos in mosquito bay in this wind.

We gathered up Peter and Jenny, Peter from Stormbreaker, Andy, Alison, Fiona and Steve and headed to Castaways for a beach BBQ and a band.   Another great night with the B50 crew, plus some other yachties that we’d met along the way.

With the weather on the improve, it was time to set our sights northwards to Barbuda.

Dreadlock Holiday

I don’t like cricket oh no
I love it – Dreadlock Holiday

We left English Harbour on a windy day and headed downwind towards Jolly Harbour, which was much closer to the cricket stadium. On the way we were passed by Lionheart, a “J” that was on its way to St Martin.

We got to Jolly Harbour and anchored outside near the boat channel. It was a longish dinghy ride into the marina passed all the houses on the various canals. We caught up with a few of the B50 fleet that were there along with Venture Lady who were also going to the cricket.

Its fair to say that some of us were looking forward to the cricket more than others. Dee for one was unimpressed how the shortened form of the game could still go a WHOLE day. Meanwhile the English contingent were pretty confident given the West Indies these days can’t seem to get a lot of their good players to play for them.

Me, I was just excited to get to see a cricket game in the Caribbean. And given I was going with some Pommie friends it was indeed necessary to barrack for the West Indies, my current home for the moment.

Anyway it turned out to be a fun day, despite my adopted team just failing to beat those dastardly Poms. Besides the cricket the highlights included the yummy well priced street food – Ribs, Pork and Chicken all delicious and meeting Ritchie Richardson and Sir Andy Roberts. Even got Sir Andy to smile.

A Very English Harbour

We left Deshaies at first light on Sunday morning bound for English Harbour in Antigua. It took us 40 minutes to clear the wind shadow of Guadeloupe and start some real sailing. At 45 degrees to the wind we could just make the line we needed, whilst doing 5-6 knots. A squall came half way across and we had to put in a reef, but that didn’t slow us down any more.

We got to English Harbour just before 3pm and we were surprised by how small the three different choices of anchorages were. We’d gone to English Harbour in preference to Falmouth because the e-SailClear system only had English Harbour as an option. In reality we could have gone to Falmouth as it’s only a 10 minute walk around to the same Customs and Immigration office at Nelson’s Dockyard.

After checking out all three anchorages in English Harbour we settled on Galleon Beach, where we were just able to sneak in – as there were a lot of yachts in a small space; and to top it all off, the holding was not the greatest with a rubbly bottom. We ended up putting our secondary Fortress anchor out, shackled to our primary Rocna on 7m of its own chain to make sure we stayed put, especially since the wind was picking up during the week.

Shortly after getting our anchor set, Maisie dinghied over and we had a drink or two on the bow. Then they disappeared on a hot date at a local restaurant; and Dee and I headed for the hills. Shirley Heights on a Sunday evening is the place to be. There is a steel band to start with and then when the sun goes down there was another band with lots of dancing to be done. In between there was some great cheap barbecued food. It’s an Antiguan Institution on a Sunday Night and it turned out to be loads of fun. After we’d danced the night away, we caught a $10 taxi down the hill and ended up at The Cheeky Marlin, a beach bar run by Nick from Port Adelaide. Nick’s a great guy and it made a perfect end to a perfect night. Nick is supposed to shut the bar at sunset and he was still trying to do it at 10pm when we arrived. He thought he had finally managed to kick everyone out, but the rain came and we all raced in again for more drinks.

We spend the next day, exploring English Harbour and Falmouth, especially the chanderlies that were quite numerous. Both Falmouth and English Harbour are full of boats…from old classical boats and big new horrible looking motor yachts. The museum at the historic Nelson’s Dockyard was a highlight as was the bakery behind it. Yum!

Then it was off to Maisie for drinks with Martin and Rita, as well as Ken and Jenny from Lady Rebel, who had just arrived. After drinking a few too many red wines, we added the term “Maisied” to our vocabulary.

Where we were “Maisied”!!!

It made getting up early to pick up the hire car a bit more challenging than usual. Hiring a car in Antigua is a bit more expensive than you expect as you need a temporary local license that sets you back another $20. We managed to see most of Antigua driving around in a day. The beautiful beaches were the highlight – just a real pleasant island to drive around.

Antigua had a couple of really good walks. The first we did was up to Shirley Heights for the obligatory photo down to both harbours. From here we checked out the national park with a few other forts and an impressive interpretive centre, complete with a film presentation. From there, it was a short drop down to Galleon Beach, our original starting point.

The next day, we were on foot again across to the other side of the entrance to English Harbour where there is another fort, before trekking across the range to Pigeon Beach at the entrance to Falmouth Harbour. Then it was a short walk back into Falmouth.

Sitting on Maisie, we decided we needed to organise a bit of a mini B50 reunion at the Yacht Club. As well as the usual suspects from the previous drinking session, Thetis joined us from the Catamaran Marina across the bay in Falmouth and Peter, Jenny and Bill taxied down from Jolly Harbour to join in the festivities. A great night catching up with everyone.

Sitting on La Mischief one afternoon, we saw a commotion out in the entrance channel and out came the binoculars. We quickly worked out that it was a couple of competitors from the Talker Whisky Atlantic Challenges, a rowing race across the Atlantic.The idea of the Atlantic Challenge race came to Sir Chay Blyth whilst he was rowing the Atlantic  Ocean in 1966 with John Ridgeway. We met Chay sailing in Turkey in 2015. We took the dinghy out to see them and when we worked out they hadn’t had a beer in 3 months we rushed back to La Mischief to grab a couple for them.

Our last night in Galleon Beach was spent at the Cheeky Marlin eating burgers and watching Captain Ron on an upturned table on the beach with a white table cloth for a screen. The rain was a bit of a problem but a tarp over the projector did the trick. A great last night.

With the cricket fast approaching, it was time to head off to Jolly Harbour on the West Coast to get ourselves a bit closer taxi ride to Sir Viv Richards Stadium to hopefully see the West Indies beat England!

Death in Paradise

It was a short motor sail of 8nm up the coast from Pigeon Island to Deshaies. We got there at 4pm to find a bay full of boats. We managed to find a spot on the northern side of the bay and started our anchoring process, only to be yelled at by another boat saying we were too close. I reckoned we were all good but the guy insisted that’s where his anchor was. So we moved across 100m closer to the coast, the other side of him and he still was having kittens – now saying his anchor went around a rock and it was there too. A few other boats were having a laugh so we decided we couldn’t be bothered with grumpy neighbors and anchored out in 20m of water – deep for us here in the Caribbean. The holding wasn’t that great but we backed up on the anchor and it held okay, so we got in the dingy and explored the cute little town.

These days, its probably best known due to the fact that the entire village is the setting of the popular British TV series Death in Paradise. There’s a lot of yachties call in here because of that. It’s also the logical place to check in or out of Guadeloupe, being on the NW tip of the Island. Our first task was to find the free diving course that Sameera had done previously, where they not only teach you to free dive but also to kill the problematic lionfish that are an introduced species and kill the local fish. Dee’s own version of Death in Paradise!!!!! Unfortunately we got the town wrong, as the course was at Point Noir, 4nm back along the coast. So we rang the guy to see if you could go back and book on it, but it was fully booked out for the next day and we needed to leave the day after because of the weather. Bummer! So we retreated to one of the really nice beach bars right on the water, chatting with one of the other yachts in the “Grumpy” neighborhood. 

Next morning we were up early, waiting for one of the boats on the 10 or so free mooring balls there to leave so we could nab it. We did well and got one right off the shore. Score!

We spent the rest of the day hiking up the hill behind the town and walking around to the magnificent beach in the next bay, before checking out of Guadeloupe at the local gift shop, where they had a PC set up for the task.

Then it was off to bed, for an early morning sail to Antigua.

 

 

 

Jacques Cousteau Top 10 Diving

With the Front passed through it was time to get going – around the bottom of the Butterfly Island and half way up the West Coast to Pigeon Island, where the Jacques Cousteau Nature Reserve was waiting anxiously for Dee and myself to submerge ourselves.

17015953_10207794841701909_5799066313189357348_o For the first time since we hit the Caribbean, we had to spend a large part of the day motor sailing. Yuk.

16836046_10207794784780486_457174748106821026_o

We finally made it to the anchorage opposite Pigeon Island on Guadeloupe and dropped anchor in 5m of water. It was a bit strange to not be able to see the anchor but with the storms from the day before the water had been stirred up a bit. We saw “Slice of Life” and “Laradae” anchored there as well enjoying a bit of kid playtime/birthday fun.We dinghied in and signed up with one of the local dive operators for 32 euro a dive – tanks and weights included.

16904710_10207794775340250_8813257158336107195_o

The Jacques Cousteau Nature Reserve says it all. He brought Pigeon Island to international attention by declaring it to be one of the world’s top dive areas and so the French declared the waters surrounding the island to be an underwater park and named it after the great man.

16996264_10207794583895464_4548691982076416606_nNext day it was off diving. The boat trip out is only 10 minutes and the dive boat pulled up to one of the mooring balls that anyone can use.

Our first dive was on the west end of Pigeon Island – Barracuda Point. The fish were very friendly and there was lots of action, and yes there were some barracudas. The highlight was a moray eel that was out and about. With a short break for lunch it was back in for a drift dive along Japanese Garden. I loved this dive – drifting over fan corals and passed walls full of interesting corals. At the end, we came across a turtle who was chomping away at some sea grass under a coral ledge.

16904722_10207794793740710_2755046527693239230_o

16836341_10207792481202898_4771737826372359594_o

Second dive was to the Japanese Gardens – a drift dive. I loved this one with beautiful fan corals and lots of colour. Plus a turtle at the end. Brilliant.

16992213_10207794835501754_2982728480952599276_o

To top off the day we went over to Blue Heeler to introduce ourselves to Wayne and Ally and drink some red wine. Also on board were Mary and Dave from Leucat, who we had introduced ourselves to earlier in the day – me being a big fan of Dave’s Techno tips on his blog site. Was a great evening talking to some very interesting and experienced cruisers.

17015702_10207794796820787_8900276934502373030_o

16992424_10207794780940390_5143575329400167063_o