Antigua to USVI

I returned to Antigua, from the UK on June 9th to what was to turn out to be a good social few months. There were many boats in who we knew, including many we hadn't seen for years. These included: Mike and Jill on Altair; Simon and Hilda on Calisto; Ken and Judith on Badgers Sett (just returned fron the USA, with their crew Pete and Ann ex Muskrat); Jason, Kirsty, Rosie (now aged five) and their new baby Maisie (a real sweetie four months old) on Ciao and living in Antigua; David and Sue on Barnstormer; Mike and Christine on Reverie; Geoff and Jo on Sutton Hoo.

The first event was Easter egg painting on Galleon Beach. While Jason and Kirsty looked after Maisie we took Rosie to the painting. Mike painted one egg and Rosie painted about a dozen most of which she put glitter on. Since we were downwind of Rosie we got covered in glitter. We were finding glitter on the boat for the next week and on ourselves for a few days even after showering!

Next up was Antigua Classics Week that started on the 16th of April. Barnstormer invited us to go out on their boat to watch the racing. We went out to the first windward mark, taking pictures of the boats rounding it. Then David decided we'd get some good pictures by weaving between the boats coming back upwind. This turned out to be quite hairy with monster yachts powering upwind and us trying to keep out of the way. David of course did a great job of keeping us out of trouble.

After Classics Week came Sailing Week, a time when English Harbour fills up with boats. One of the problems is that the (anchor) holding in English is not good and some boats invariably drag. We had three boats drag down on us (two French, what a surprise, and one Irish). One French boat kept us up until 01.30 one night when the crew eventually came back to reanchor the boat.

From then on it was drinks/meals onshore, on our boat, on many of the other boats. In the meantime we had started basic preparations for an Atlantic crossing. This included checking everything and we found our SSB radio only worked on the 8 meg frequency, we had problems with our satphone and our laptop computer and wi-fi aerial packed up. Since we couldn't fix the SSB, satphone or wi-fi aerial ourselves we had to hunt around to find a man who could. On the computer front we reckoned the screen had failed and Paulo (Mike's old company CST) kindly sent a new one from the UK. We fitted it (so proud of our achievement!) and it didn't work, so again we needed to find a man. It took us about three weeks to get everything fixed which meant we coudn't go anywhere - we had to chase things up, answer questions, approve costs etc. However that wasn't a hardship because English Harbour is a wonderful place to be.

We then started shopping for the Atlantic crossing - four weeks worth of everything you need from tea bags, to toilet paper, to toothpaste, to fruit and veg. I think I mentioned this before, but make a list of what you buy over the next month, the amount is staggering. We could hardly move on the boat for the crates of food and fruit and veg and the boat smelt like a greengrocer's shop.

We were slightly delayed leaving when I had a tooth filling fall out and needed to visit a dentist. However we got away on Friday 22nd of May around 11.30 heading for the Azores. We passed the west side of Barbuda at night and turned out into the Atlantic. Early the next morning, one hundred miles out from Antigua, Mike noticed that the foil on our roller furling gear (it reefs the big genoa at the front of the boat) had separated from the furling drum and about eight inches of foil was missing. We have no idea when or how it happened. This was seriously bad news, if you can't reef the foresail when the wind picks up (a gale is only a matter of time) then you are in deep poo. The only good news was that it didn't happen one thousand miles out.

We decided to turn back to St Martin for repairs and arrived early the following morning in time to catch the lifting bridge to get into the lagoon. As it was Sunday we couldn't get things moving but the following day we went to see FKG Rigging to get a quote for new furling gear. They were extremely efficient, they visited the boat the same day to measure up, gave us a quote and fitted the furler the next day. However one problem generally leads to another and the groove in the new foil was smaller than the old one and the furling drum was higher. That meant our sails wouldn't fit, needed new luff ropes and twelve inches chopped off the bottom of our big genoa. We went to get a quote from St Martin Sails and Canvas and they did the necessary work. Needless to say all this took time and we had a decision to make, June was upon us and it's the official start of hurricane season.

We had three choices. Set off again, knowing that any early season hurricanes could cross our track as that is the tendancy at that time of year. Stay another year in the Caribbean. Ship the boat back. Messing with hurricanes is not a good idea and we didn't want to stay another year so we decided to ship the boat. It wasn't an easy decision - we really wanted to see the Azores, everybody raves about them, never mind the fact that shipping the boat costs money. Plus, we had shaped our last season in the Caribbean with the crossing in mind. We would have entered Classics Week and gone to a few places we've never beenhad we not been planning or preparing for the Atlantic. I called two companies that ship boats and, since it was a late booking, got a good price from one of them. In hindsight we could have gone on with the crossing as the 2009 hurricane season has been pretty benign, but at the time we felt it was the wisest thing to do. The ship we booked her on was due to pick up boats in St Thomas, USVI in the second week of June.

We set off from St Martin and had a slow, rolly overnight sail (a bit soul destroying also given what hard work it was to go east from the Virgins earlier in the year!)to St John where we spent two nights. Then we sailed the short distance to St Thomas, giving ourselves five days to prepare the boat for shipping. Preparations included removing all sails, canvas work and safety kit and getting rid of all petrol and any diesel in containers (we had ten full diesel containers on deck). Then the ship was delayed a week, it had to go to Canada first. We received daily updates from the shipping company and began to dread opening them. Every one seemed to be yet another delay. In spite of never knowing from one day to the next when the ship would actually arrive we did manage to explore Charlotte Amalie the capital of St Thomas, which is pretty and well preserved. It's just a shame so many of the old buildings are now shops tailored for the many cruise ship passengers each year, all very similar in their offerings! We also took a small ferry over to Water Island to spend a few hours on a beach and cooling off in the sea. St Thomas was HOT! We eventually loaded the boat on June 29th, destination Palma, Mallorca.

The first flights to the UK were two days away so we stayed in a hotel for two nights, with swimming off a lovely beach. Then we flew St Thomas to Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico to Antigua and Antigua to Gatwick, arriving around 09.15 on July 1st. The Antigua flight was interesting, the fastest we've ever flown - six hundred and seven miles an hour at thirty nine thousand feet. We stayed 7 days with Simon (Jane's brother) in Emsworth and had a great time. Mike went off to visit his parents, sister and brother in law (I'm amazed they recognised him!) and I went off to see my mother. We also visited the military aviation museum at Tangmere - if you are in the area it's definitely worth a visit. One extraordinary thing they have is the signatures of all the pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain. Mike met up with Paulo and we had tea with Paul and Sarah Brown. Other excursions, of course, included visits to chandlers to get spare parts and also some charts so we could find our way around the Mediterranean when the boat arrived (it always helps....).

We were sad to say goodbye to the Caribbean. It's been an interesting and enjoyable nearly 5 years there and whatever some people say the Eastern Caribbean islands and their people are NOT all the same, each island has it's own different character. Having said that, if anyone is contemplating spending time in the area, don't just think of the Caribbean as the USVI to Grenada. We wish we'd discoverd how nice Puerto Rico is before the end of last year. Trinidad is fascinating, as is Venezuela. The ABC islands are some of our favourites of all time. Lots of our friends have carried on west to Columbia, Panama and Central America and several have been to Cuba and Jamaica. So much to see, so little time!

Odds and Ends
An honourable mention and praise is due to Trevor of Marionics in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua for his sterling work on our SSB, it was quick and nothing seemed too much trouble (makes a change). Also we would recommend FKG Rigging in St Martin and St Martin Sales and Canvas for their work and advice.

This update's Name and Shame award has to go to CarbIT in English Harbour. They have no idea of customer service, didn't keep us informed about ANYTHING - we always had to chase them. They never rang when they said they would, always sounded like it was all just too much trouble. We asked them to order an item and kept being given the run around as to when it might arrive, we still don't have it. DO NOT USE THEM!

Apologies for updating the website so late this time. The trip to Mallorca via the UK was one reason and the other was that he who shall remain nameless managed somehow to copy over what had been written for this update so it has had to be redone from scratch. Better late than never!