Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Guadaloupe, the beautiful Archipelago of Les Îles Saintes and a friendly dolphin

We leave Deshaies and have our first decent daylight sail towards the Islands of Les Saintes.  En route, we stop at Pigeon Island for a bit of snorkelling  where the water is crystal clear and we feel the historical presence of the legendary Jack Cousteau - intrepid explorer and pioneer diver.  

As we approach Les Îles Saintes, we are astounded by the beauty of this little Archipelago, with the SugarLoaf mountain peering down at us and a vibrant little bay to anchor in.  We are impatient to go ashore and explore Terre de Haut Island.  We are slowly adjusting to boat life but its always exciting to go ashore and see what awaits… the town is colourful - every house painted a different bright colour yet again there is such a remarkable French vibe and my rusty French is being put to good use.  Here we discover the the joys of coconut ice-cream that is out of this world and the most idyllic beach which couldn’t be more heavenly even if you dreamed it, in fact i keep having to pinch myself every now and then..  Getting back to this ice-cream though….made the traditional way of churning the coconut cream within stainless steel drums within a wooden barrel which they fill with ice blocks and add copious amounts of salt which dramatically lowers the freezing point.. sorry for the science but i find it fascinating! Anyway, this ice-cream is ladled out into little cups and topped with nutmeg, utterly divine and  quite possibly now mine and Lottie’s new favourite thing.

Another anchorage in a sheltered secluded bay of an even smaller Island called Basse Terre where we snorkelled off the boat - quite hard to beat my first snorkel and wow factor of the spotted eagle rays but still in awe of the magical underwater world…interrupted by the occasional niece trying to drown me : )  but I’m regarded briefly as a bit of a hero when Ruthie drops her underwater camera to the bottom and Aunty Em valiantly dives 5m down to retrieve (with ears hurting a little as i haven’t managed to equalise successfully -  out of practice!)  I also bring up a beautiful conch shell for Lottie which makes her sad in the end as she can’t take it back to Dorset with her.

There has been a special bond between Greatest Uncle Mark and particularly Bethie and she is often seen on the aft deck dancing and twirling to Uncle Mark’s wonderfully tuneful Ukele playing - another skill which I’m yet to turn my attention too.  Anyway, Bethie is ridiculously adorable and is tremendously funny without even  knowing it! The pure joy of a three year old!

After a few days in Les Saintes, we wave goodbye to the turtles and they wave a fin, and we reluctantly up anchor back to Guadaloupe mainland and leave these gorgeous Islands.  We contemplate making a trip over to Dominica but Papa can’t face another day in customs office  -  quite understandably not worth it for a short stay. On our brisk sail back, we keep our eye out for Sperm Whales which supposedly frequent these waters, every wave and a splash brings great excitement but sadly to no avail…not today.  We dock Tin Tin in a very uninspiring marina in Riviere Sens. Their showers were delightful though, i hasten to add…its amazing the appreciation one gets after being on the boat for a while and having to limit the amount of water used - a shampoo and condition are a rare thing! So here i delight in a more lengthy soak.  

The next day we venture into the rainforest, Kate hires a car and after a few wrong turns, we make it up to the volcanic mountain, La Soufriere.  The ascent into the luscious green giant leaved wonderland leaves us breathless in both senses as the humidity is stifling!  It is quite a hike for the little ones and with totally unsuitable footwear - we underestimate how muddy it would be, we split up so Daddy Shim and Ruthie can climb to the waterfall and Kate and I take the smaller ones on a more gentle route and listen to the sounds of the tropical birds and frogs hiding in the canopy.  

When we return we realise that Gerry has been left behind at the lunch spot we stopped at along the way…absolute catastrophe - Bethie, as you may have already figured out cannot live without him and so Kate goes on a rescue mission to find him while I take the girls for a sunset swim off the black sand beach and we’re joined by Papa Paul.

Gerry the giraffe arrives safely back in Bethie’s arms incase you were worrying! Mummy Kate saves the day.

We sail back to Deshaies and on arrival we are greeted by a very friendly dolphin dancing in the wake of the bow, playing up to our squeals of joy.  I want to jump in and swim with this beautiful animal but i’m too slow and he has already swam off into the sunset.  And wow what a sunset it was!

We set sail back to Antigua at midnight, we’re lucky again with a beautifully moonlit passage and this time my watch is 3-6am with Papa.  The wind is very light but it is so peaceful sailing through the calm that we resist putting on the motor to make us go faster. I fabricate a ‘grass skirt’ for Lottie made from undone threads from an old rope. i took unexpected enjoyment from this tedious task (I had promised Lottie a “Moana” grass skirt from day one but didn’t have the suitable material to do so until the bit of rope caught my eye)  I created, and i’m very proud of this, not only a grass skirt but a magical one at that as it had been touched by the moonlight.  Its the little things… that are beginning to give me a lot of pleasure. Im aware that this may be boring you all immensely but I’m on a roll and therefore must not stop writing - its a rare occasion.  I stay up to watch the sunrise - again i don’t think i can store all of this beauty in my mind… i mean, really? Can this earth get anymore stunning?  TOO MUCH <3

More giant turtles!! Loads of them swimming under our bow. Hi again, Antigua! We briefly anchor in mosquito bay and then think again -perhaps not the most pleasant place considering the name.  Although here we do spot a load of Ospreys and Brown -Footed Boobies - the girls find this very funny.  Now i’m not much of a bird buff but even i recognise their glory!  We move on around the corner to Crab Hill and swim ashore to the white coral sand beach, which Papa informed me was the result of the blue parrot fish nibbling away at thousands of tonnes of coral a year.  Amazing.  Here we meet the owner, Oliver Joseph, OJ, a funny old Antiguan man with round rimmed glasses who jestfully (i Hope) asks Papa if he could marry me!  Papa and Uncle Mark have had a few Pina Coladas by this point and probably are striking a deal as i speak!

We stay anchored off here for a couple of nights with more ridiculous sunsets with Montserrat Silhouetted in the background, its volcano smoking steadily away. Ha, what a view! We all luxuriate in the crystal blue waters, the girls make rafts with wooden pallets and fenders and another Spotted Eagle Ray comes to say hello with a big splash whilst I’m dangling my legs astern… I’m beginning to think i’m a Ray Whisperer now…. extraordinary.  

There's some drama as I get a fish bone stuck in my throat whist eating a red snapper at OJ's  (First time ever in my 30 years, i'd like to add) I quietly whisper to Surgeon Shim, not to make a scene, that i may be slowly dying and find it hard to breathe.  He tells me not to worry and drink CocaCola to dissolve the fish bone.  Although i feel like its a little too large for that so later he attempts minor surgery on Tin Tin and manages to tweezer out the fish bone from the back of my throat, wedged in my left tonsil.  The offending fish bone is in fact quite a beast... about an inch long! Thanks Shim for your skilled surgery and Kate for your reassuring words.  Phewf..what a relief! Has not put me off eating more fish, however, just must be more careful, silly Em!

We sadly say goodbye to the Shim’s and my little munchkin nieces who have made the first part of my adventure such a joy. I’m going to miss the entertainment and atmosphere that only children can create, and seeing all of this paradise through their new little eyes! Thank you.

Now Tin Tin feels strangely quiet but we sail to Falmouth Harbour to pick up our newest crew member, Justin, from The Antigua Yacht Club,, thank goodness!  Freshly caught Dorado line the dock and i ask to buy one but all are reserved for the restaurants and super yachts - oh my i forgot about those bad boys!  How many billions of dollars nestles in this harbour, again ridics!

We have a lovely morning sail to Jolly Harbour and we manage to launch the Parasailor - what a beauty! Uncle Mark goes for a surprise splash as he steps onto the guy sheet, luckily we can laugh about it now but it was touch and go!  Jolly Harbour is very American with large condominiums and not much character but it has everything we need and we have the day getting the boat ready for our next passage  - a four day sail to the Dutch Islands of Aruba, Bonair and Curaçao (ABC). Fuel, water and gas topped up. The chaps do chandlery and tackle shopping for new lines and lures and I’m on supermarket duty to stock up on provisions for another week. This air-conditioned place is full of over- sunned Brits and Americans and to my surprise stocks Essential Waitrose items…what?!  I would have much preferred to go to a local market in St. John’s but time didn’t allow. I sit writing this feeling chilly for the first time since my arrival in the Caribbean (yes, I’ve actually put a jumper on)  I can’t work out if I’ve just acclimatised or I’ve got a fever which comes from the lurgy i may have caught from Lottie, making me feel rather rotten - i hope i’ll be rid of it before we set off tomorrow, i don’t much fancy feeling like this for the coming days all at sea.  And before you say anything - I’m drinking gallons of water so not dehydration ickiness.

Next time i write, it will be off the coast of Columbia, wahooo... so excited for the next leg en route to Panama! 

Frustratingly, internet not behaving so won't let me upload any photos onto blog.  Will try and solve this but for now i hope my descriptions been enough to take you here....

Thank you for following me on my journey my lovelies.


Panda xoxo

Ps Can i just mention that I’m missing all my dearest ones dreadfully…you know who you are.. Not to mention, my gorgeous and courageous sister Alice (Crumpet) is about to have her Baby any day now and i’m really sad I won’t be there to welcome the little one into this world.  I love the little bubba already though, Crumps and its still in your tummy! Be strong and I love youuuu. I’ll be holding your hand in spirit… and yes you may bite it!

Oh and my Monty Dog, how i miss you and your cuddles…I wish I could explain that I haven’t gone forever.  Sending my love across the Ocean.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Another day in Antigua as generator guy was running on “island time” and was to be there in the afternoon.  Started off brilliantly (i’m rather proud of this) with a 6am long swim to the beach and a 5km run around the island (which almost killed me ; hills+heat!) followed by glorious yoga on the beach with the sun rising and swim back to Tin Tin. Now if that’s not achieving before breakfast, i don’t know what is? I’ve surprised myself and probably surprised you. Also, has given me licence to have an ice-cream later! 

I have now become familiar with Snowy and her outboard motor and take great delight in ferrying crew ashore and then planing her back.. Yeeha! 

Lazing back on Tin Tin, Turtles keep popping their heads up around her and I’m finding myself becoming very fond of their friendly presence.  I feel like they are wise and come in peace.

Generator is finally fixed! Papa Paul has sorted out formalities with customs and we are good to go. We end the day with a family swim relishing in these tropical waters. Guadeloupe here we come! 

We figure it is better to do this crossing as a night sail so the girls can be put to bed and hopefully sleep all the way until we arrive for breakfast, as 7 hours may have been a bit hellish with vomiting children. We leave at midnight so as to get there when its light for an easier anchorage.

Uncle Mark and I are on first watch for three hours and i feel like an excited child waiting up to go on a midnight adventure.  It starts to rain hard when we leave harbour for Deshaies, but soon the clouds disperse and the full moon makes its grand appearance to light our way.  Just magical!  Me, Tin Tin and the Ocean (oh and Uncle Mark)!  We clock only two other ships on our watch - Lady Luck,a luxury cruiser, with the same destination as us and Hong Dai, a container ship on its way to Brindisi, Italy.  I’m slightly worried about the latter but Uncle Mark and Mr GPS are pretty certain that they will pass behind us. I guess i should trust them?   I helm for the fist hour and then put George (autopilot) on and find rather frustratingly that he does a better job than i do with getting the maximum efficiency out of the sail.  With me helming we go at an average of 6.5 knots but with George he  takes us unto 7.5-8 knots.  Im putting that down to wind speed increasing out of the lee of the island, not my lack of skill ; )

My watch is almost over and I’m tempted to stay up until we reach the luscious shores at dawn but the persistent rolling of the swell has made me dozy and i know i will have plenty more of these to come…

Bethie’s little head pops up on deck clutching her blankey and Gerry half asleep and wondering what dream world she has entered.  We put her in Mummy Kate's bed and wake her Daddy up for his watch.  I fall into bed next to Lottie and wake with the light gleaming through the hatch, pop my head out and breath in the rich air of Guadaloupe -  Bonjour La Belle Monde, s’il vous plait un pain au chocolat!

Gerry the Giraffe finding his sea legs and Uncle Mark and Bethie enjoying french patisserie
We go ashore to a very rickety old pontoon which is being pounded by the Atlantic waves not ideal but adds to the excitement!  The bay is not sheltered and anchorage is very roly-poly due to the northerly winds . Guadaloupe is so French it takes me a while to remember that we are actually in the tropics. We breakfast in the Boulangerie,  walk past La Post and Hotel du Ville and everything is in Euros! But Palm Trees, Conch shells and coconuts line the streets. And the french here are super chilled out, I love it!  
Papa sorts out customs.  We venture over to the other side of the island where there is the most beautiful yellow sand beach, Plage de Petite-Anse, that stretches for miles and is totally wild with the Atlantic waves crashing up the beach with impressive spray.  It is more of a hike than we anticipated and girls start to flag but its totally worth it as is breathtaking! Sadly no chance of a swim here as we would be dragged out but the spray is refreshing and there is a perfect ice-cream spot.  A wave almost takes me out as i have settled down in my bikini to read my book, much to the amusement of the girls!

Lovely meal out watching the sun set in the bay and eating delicious Marlin caught that day in a perfect quaint little local restaurant.  A choppy ride in the dark on Snowy who takes us safely back to Tin Tin who is starting to feel more and more like home. 

  Lottie's sketch of view ashore from Tin Tin

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Hello Antigua!

So it has taken me a while to start writing this blog. It has been three days since we flew out to Antigua to join Tin Tin in Falmouth Harbour but these days have flown by and distraction levels have been high and the sheer beauty of this place has stopped me focusing.  Ruth (9) my wonderfully bright young niece is currently asking me complex questions about the 5th Harry Potter book she is reading so i am trying to answer them as I write - you can now imagine the  level of distractions.  Perhaps now is not the time to be starting my blog but i suddenly felt inspired to.  Stopping now to answer important HP questions!

                                     Lottie looking the part in Falmouth Marina, Antigua

       Looking out over English harbour and Falmouth Harbour from Shirley Heights 

Ridiculous  superyachts making Tin Tin look small!

We joined TinTin in Falmouth Harbour where she felt comparatively tiny compared to the Super Yachts she was dwarfed by.  Who owns these beasts? They are ridiculous but wow!!  Papa Paul and Uncle Mark were there to welcome us aboard after an impressive sail across the Atlantic form Cape Verde only taking them  a meer 13 days 11hr - 2252 nautical miles at an average of 7knots!  Their other crew , brother-in-law Kyle and friend Niall, had departed back to England that morning and we sadly missed crossing paths. Sounds like they had quite the adventure!                                                                                   

Kate has gone off with her other two girls, Lottie (7) and Beth (3), for a little row to the beautiful deserted beach ashore.  Lottie has really mastered her rowing and Bethie is being a great navigator.  Currently Papa Paul (Skipper) and Uncle Mark (First Mate) are pulling apart the generator to decipher why there is diesel leaking out into the crystal clear waters!! Its been leaking diesel into the bilges and when we pumped the bilges this morning we saw the slick shiny stream polluting the water NOT ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY  as we so intend to be!  So we’ve got a local dude coming this afternoon to fix the problem. We should be able to set sail to Guadaloupe once the generator is fixed - fingers crossed!

Its a different pace of life here on board, especially with lots of little nieces to get organised ( i fully comend mummy Kate). Tin Tin is is most certainly not a small boat but she feels pretty tiny with this  loveable crowd!  Not complaining one bit, however, as it is so special to be sharing this adventure with them.  Also, only two weeks of wonderful madness with this bunch of little people as the Szym family leave the boat in two weeks and head home.   Beth has just come aboard and wants to contribute to the blog - “we didn’t see anything just a wreck and bluuuuue water” she’s  also worried about Gerry her toy Giraffe because he got wet and so we’ve put him in the sun to dry.  We’re setting sail now so i must go - all hands on deck!

So wonderful to be sailing finally, after being anchored for a couple of nights off Galleons Beach in Freemans Bay, suddenly i remembered why i was here …yes sailing!!  We hadn’t been sailing long until i saw green faces appearing on the girls.  Poor Lottie was the first to go, then Ruthie and i think Bethie just got the sleepy sickness and collapsed on a seasick mummy Kate.  I was waiting to be caught too but survived, I’m very lucky.  It’s rare that i get seasick  - touch wood.. I remember that feeling though, sailing when i was the girls age and feeling so icky that i wanted to jump off the boat… anything was better than feeling like that! Poor little green munchkins - hopefully they will find their sea legs soon.

We decided to anchor in Willoughby Bay which had a precarious entrance as there was only a narrow channel with reefs either side, evident as the telltale white surf crashed over the shallow coral.  Perfect spot for snorkelling!  Slightly sheltered as the reef took most of the power out of the waves and endless reef to explore.  The water couldn’t be any more turquoise even if you put a filter on.  i was in heaven and the girls too once we got some lunch down them and ickiness had subsided.  We took Snowy (Tender to TinTin) out to the centre of the reef and chucked over the small grappling anchor so she wouldn’t drift away whilst we explored. I had forgotten this magical underwater world that made me feel instanlty tranquil and totally in awe.  I swam up towards the breaking waves over the reef which was a struggle as the current was quite strong and one of my
Bethie getting ready for
       a snorkel
arms was taken up by the go pro stick which i was trying to get some good footage with.. the coral was sadly disappointing as quite a lot was no longer alive, it maybe that it had been battered by the crashing waves or/and more likely and distressingly global warming.  So so Sad. 

I ventured further away from the break and to a calmer part of the reef where there was more life.  I was playing with my new toy (go pro) and filming small fish life swimming around the more vibrant coral, when a large Spotted Eagle Ray swooshed past me much to my surprise.  i mean it was huge- bigger than me with a tail twice the length of its body and it almost touched me.  Not just one but two and they were circling around me so gracefully, not menacingly (I don’t think) although i have to admit i was a little intimidated but perhaps more because i was so in awe of their beauty such magnificent graceful giants flying through the water with their huge  wingspan (roughly 2m). I tried to follow them but my flippers couldn’t keep up and they disappeared into the hazy blue.. I hauled myself up in a ladylike manner back onto snowy in such a daze as if it had all been a dream.  How lucky am I!?! An experience i won’t  be forgetting in a hurry, thats for sure. Thanks Kate for my awesome snorkelling gear!

Back on board, I wanted to see if my go pro had caught them and it certainly had,  I can’t believe I captured them on video, just amazing! Am now National Geographic official camerawomen taking on the wonders of the ocean- perhaps this is my destiny.  Watch this space.  (Camera skill may need a little improvement!!)  GoPro footage to follow and moire photos too.  Struggling to upload photos onto here with very limited Wifi!

A beautiful sail back to a new anchorage in the setting sun, I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on earth right now.  Oh and did i mention a turtle popped up to say hello and welcome us.

With the moon full i was inspired to practice yoga on the front deck, so peaceful yet a lovely powerful energy almost enhanced by the water which surrounds me.  Could this get any better? Rain stopped yoga but bed awaits. I shall sleep well tonight (if Lottie who I’m sharing my cabin with doesn’t wake me up at 3 in the morning saying its time to get up and embrace the day… No Lottie it’s still nighttime and even princesses and Ariel need their sleep)  

Now sitting up on deck as I write this, I can hear the crickets singing in the trees ashore Pigeon Beach and the gentle lapping of water around the hull of TinTin.  The moon is almost full and is lighting up the almost still surface of the water.  It is so clear and light from the moon that you can see the bottom and our anchor chain resting upon the sand. A few little mozzies have just nibbled me so I must adjourn.  Must eat more garlic.

Oh goodnight paradise, I can’t wait to spend another day with you. 

Panda, over and out.