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  • Writer's picturePeter

Island Hopping - The Windward Isles

After receiving the necessary spare parts for the engine – the Alternator Belts – we were again ready to leave the safety of the marina and follow our adventure up through the Islands of the Caribbean. After all, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean and had limited problems, what else could go wrong as the boat was well maintained, and we were well organised ?

Our journey up through the Windward Islands was a discovery of blue bays, turquoise waters, turtles and coral reefs to snorkel around. We were beginning to realise the benefits of our dream life on a sailing boat in the Caribbean.

The islands are so called because they were the first islands that the ships from West Africa came across as they followed the trade winds across the Atlantic Ocean. They include the Island Nations of Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and also Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados. The Leeward Isles are the islands behind the Windward Islands, which is where we would be heading for later – but one step at a time for us.

Our Viking Explorer friends who had set off before us were mapping the way by giving comments on their activities & experiences in different bays and islands. Of course, everyone has their own opinion and it was for us to sift through the information we received, compare this to the guide books & charts of the area and this also has to be balanced with our own interests and objectives.

Working our way up through the islands we stopped at Carriacou, Bequia, Mayreau, Canouan, Mustique, St Vincent and St Lucia. I don’t want to write a tour guide or for this or propose a travel itinerary, but the trip has been great fun and filled with amazing beauty. I think it is not possible to say which is the best or most beautiful as it depends a little on your own state of mind and what you are looking for. We found beauty in every place and it is just a matter of how much time

we wanted to spend discovering each island. I think we could easily have spent many weeks everywhere but we had to balance this with our desire to sail and also discover new locations where we have never been.

Our plan was to stay in a bay when the weather was a little rough and then hop to the next island when the weather was favourable for our sailing. We found that 3-5 days per island was great to keep things relaxed and if we liked a place sufficiently, there was no reason not to stay longer.

In addition to our “touring schedule” there was also an unexpected spare parts schedule for the delivery of items that became urgent needs, but more on this later. (Can you spot the failure ?)

It is difficult to narrow down any of the islands for a special mention as they all have their charm and beauty. However, there are a few islands that have the best memories for us:

The first is Sandy Island, just beside Canouan, which is still a part of Grenada. Sandy island is just that, a narrow strip of sand with a few palm trees, maybe with a highest point of 2m above sea level. The waters are crystal clear with a white sandy bottom, giving the magnificent turquoise colours. A coral reef at each end was filled with multi coloured reef fish and turtles were commonly seen.

Across from Sandy Island, on Canouan, the Paradise Beach Club would pick us up in the evening for dinner and bring us back to the boat after we had eaten and drank our fill. The restaurant was managed to give a blend of simplicity, so you could walk barefoot in the sand between the tables, but with a sophistication of comfortable seating, quality table dressing and soft lighting. Gentle live music for the evenings was perfect to meet the ambiance and entertainment needed to match the food and drinks. With fresh fish and lobster on the menu, rum punches and an amazing view of the sunset, we were really in paradise and finally beginning to relax and enjoy our sailing life. We found imprints from acquaintances past like S/Y Papaki and had the opportunity of dinner with current Viking friends like Marie and Dietmar from S/Y Greyhound.

Mustique also needs a special mention as we really did not know what to expect. We knew it was the retreat of royalty, the very successful and British rock stars from the 70’s fame. We had heard that you could not go anywhere except by taxi and it was all private – so what to expect ? Rumour had it, that some drunken sailors had broken into Mick Jagger’s house, used his pool and drank his whisky. It seems that nobody on the island had heard about this so we are not sure where this story came from.

The bay where we stayed, opposite the famous “Basil’s Bar” was well equipped with mooring buoys and this is where we were welcomed, along with up to 20 other boats. With a coral reef between us and the sandy beach there was ample space for snorkelling and swimming. The sandy bottom as a great attraction for various rays and many turtles that were so abundant that it was possible to go snorkelling and meet several turtles and a ray or two on each occasion. The shallow, clear waters over the reefs were full of a myriad of colourful fish – it was some of the best snorkelling so far.

We ventured “inland” to find everyone very friendly and there were no gates or barriers to restrict movement, only the occasional discreet “Private Roadd” sign at the start of a driveway that hid a mansion around the corner of a leafy road.

One evening we ate at The Cotton House, a most beautiful traditional style wooden building with a restaurant and bar. It was so cosy to sit in a wicker swing chair, sipping delicious cocktails in such a simple but exquisitely, tastefully decorated environment. The views across the gardens to the sea and setting sun, were just sublime. Without needing to comment, the quality of our dinner was excellent and the evening will remain in our memories for a very long time.

The following day we decided to take a walk around the south of the island on an official trail. We were almost lost before we started as we were not exactly sure where the trail started. Fortunately, we were rescued by a lady in a white buggy who kindly took us to the start of the trail, which we probably would not have found otherwise. “And when you are finished” she said, “come and join me for coffee, I am in the house just over there” as she pointed to some trees. We looked at each other and said thank you for her kind help as we trotted off along the “Commonwealth Trail” (Royal crown and all to show the path.)

The walk was exceedingly beautiful and very well kept up as we walked the 5 km around the coastline, not meeting another person. Just fresh air, beautiful beaches, a wild and rugged windward side to the island.

On our way back to the starting point, we debated whether to bother or not to bother the kind lady who showed us the way. The invitation for coffee was tempting, but maybe it was just a polite gesture that she hoped we would not follow up on. Well, a coffee that was offered under no pressure was too tempting to ignore, so we decided to try our luck. Walking up the steep drive way without any gate to stop us we came across the daughter of the lady of the house – we explained our invitation and were instantly welcomed in.

Coffee was served by the butler in an open living room with probably one of the most outstanding views of the sea (and the island of Petit Mustique) that I have ever seen. After coffee we were given a little tour of the garden and pool area - yes, just breath taking.

We were also invited to join the lady of the house for a walk the following day at the north of the island – well we could hardly refuse a guided tour by a “local”.

The following day we were picked up outside Basil’s Bar by Melissa and two of her current house guests who also joined us for the walk. This was another fantastic “Commonwealth Trail” along a rugged and rocky shore line with intermittent sandy bays – just beautiful. At the end of the walk we were invited to join them back at the house for a late breakfast, served by Selwyn the butler.

Canouan, the neighbour of Mustique was great for its simplicity. We ate well on the street food with the local inhabitants and extremely well on the local caught lobster and blue marlin. John, the mooring buoy man organised the sale of game fish from a visiting fishing boat. We were treated to a slice of blue marling for EC 50 that we shared half with Marie and Dietmar from SY Greyhound and the remaining half lasted us for 4 meals.

Unfortunately, half of Canouan is gated and we were not allowed to walk around and enjoy the island in the way we enjoyed Mustique. Though what we saw was lovely and we enjoyed walking where we could.

We met some fantastic and friendly people on this island and it will always remain in our hearts. The "Local" marina is managed by Sandra - a near neighbour from our days in Abu Dhabi. Her marina supermarket is full of essentials such as Dom Pérignon - any sized bottle, a great selection of French cheeses and bottles of red wine that should not be stored upright. We were not so short of our essentials, so we ended up not buying anything ! Her showers and toilets are also renowned to be the best in the Caribbean.

Our journey also brought back many memories of our original trip from Grenada to St Lucia 5 years before when we were on the S/Y Skylark with Dan and Em. Visiting the islands brought back a flood of memories , some more deeply buried more than others. We would walk along a path and suddenly exclaim, "Yes, we have been here before !, I remember the bar/restaurant/ jetty/beach......"

Mayreau and Canouan were such islands where we mixed our past memories with more new friends and Viking friends. It is a lovely benefit of our nomadic lives to cross paths and keep crossing paths with friends, new and old. We have photos of the boats we sailed with in 2018 and we are meeting some of them again 5 years later! The big difference is that this time we were doing this on our own, with our own sailing yacht, skills and courage. However, we will never forget the holiday we had with Skylark, Dan and Em, as it is the reason why we are here in the Caribbean and sailing today.

St Vincent was also beautiful for its simplicity and we had a great day out to the “Dark Falls” where we could bathe and take a body massage with almost nobody around to spoil our peace.

Our personal driver, Gary, took good care of us, driving slowly are carefully along tortuous and narrow roads. He gave us a summary of St Vincent history and the things that could be grown. He runs a farm to supplement his taxi driving income and gave us plantains and ginger to keep our food stocks up.

For an alternative experience we took public transport to the capital Kingstown and to visit the botanic gardens . We were told that there was no bus time table and the busses would come looking for you ! Well, in each direction we were picked up, unexpectedly, within a few minutes of arriving at a "bus stop" The first was a comfortable school mini bus with space inside and going to Kingstown school. The journey along the cliff edges were similar to our Amalfi public transport experience. Break neck speeds, a sheer drop to the ocean and not sure when the breaks were serviced last. Our return home was on a slightly older bus, built for 12 passengers, but stuffed with more than 20 people + shopping. The speeds were not so great due to the quantity of passengers and the age of the bus, but we were even less sure of the state of the breaks ! Fortunate to have survived the experience. It reminds me of the joke about the priest and the bus driver (from Madeira) when they get to the Pearly Gates. The "benefit" was not to the faithful priest, where his congregation fell asleep in the church but to the bus driver who makes the passengers pray like crazy for the duration of their journey.

The boat maintenance schedule started at the beginning of our sailing from Grenada, but we were also surprised by the number of additional “problems” that manifested themselves – always at awkward moments.

The backflow on the toilet was easily fixed with a change of the joker valve – it is just that it is not a very nice job to do. Lots of pre-flushing helped to minimise the unpleasantness of the activity.

One of the biggest shocks occurred when we were dropping our anchor for the first time. Our previous use was in Madeira where we were at anchor for 5 days without any issues. We arrived in Chatham Bay of Union Island and saw a catamaran depart – leaving us the ideal spot to drop our anchor. Ingrid was ready and the anchor dropped into the 6 metre deep water. Unfortunately, there was no control on the chain and the chain kept running until Ingrid put her foot onto the top nut to stop the chain. A rapid examination showed that the brass clutch cone was cracked, out of shape and unable to function correctly. Suddenly anchoring was no longer possible and we needed to move onto a bay where we could find a mooring buoy to hook up to.

We ordered our spare parts with delivery by DHL and within a week the repair kit had arrived in St Vincent – delivered to the Blue Lagoon. We were still in Canouan, not expecting such a quick delivery. As anchoring was not possible and moorings were in too shallow bays for us in St Vincent, we decided to stop in Bequia and take the ferry to St Vincent, which is just an hour away. Andrew from DHL in Bequia was fantastic and said not to bother to go to St. Vincent with the ferry as he would reroute the package to Bequia. Within three days the kind officer of the customs department gave us our package, but only after we paid import duties and admin costs.

We used the time to do some dinghy improvements by ordering a set of chaps for its protection. Nice and red so we could easily recognise our dinghy from a distance.

One of the reasons for making our nice red dinghy chaps was also to make a protection cover for the battery/motor.

Due to intense UV from the sun and the damage that can cause to simple things like plastic, the housing for our battery and electronics broke in the area of an electric connector. Super engineer did find a short term repair solution (Which is actually very good and colour coordinated before our red chaps were chosen). The manufacturer took no responsibility for our damage - they said they could not control our environment or conditions - but they did kindly offer a replacement cover, at no cost, as long as we fitted it ourselves.

Thanks to Rozenboom Watersport and Evo for their kind gesture and support.

The anchor spares were quickly fitted, when we got to Mustique and allowed us once again to try and anchor – should we wish to do so. Although the comfort of mooring buoys with a lesser environmental impact is frequently our preference.

Back in business, only to find that the auto pilot “suddenly failed” during our following sail. Although concerning, in my master plan I did have a spare and was not so worried. The old was removed and the new fitted with only a few hours of work

The old was set aside for repairs at the next Raymarine workshop and we were good to go. All seemed to be working well for about a week, when again the auto pilot failed with the same symptoms as previously – except that I did not have another backup to replace it.

Contact with Raymarine (the manufacturer) was excellent and I was given a number of items to check to help with the troubleshooting.

The analysis led to discovery that the clutch which had failed was being supplied 24v rather than the required 12v. In fact, the original autopilot which failed, had worked with the wrong voltage since we had bought the boat. It was of no surprise to the technician that we had these failures, the only surprise was that failure did not occur earlier – like for example during the Atlantic Crossing.

We have about 5 hours to sail from our present location of Rodney Bay in St Lucia to Martinique where the clutch is available in stock with the supplier’s agent. We will be heading there soon for the repairs and to be fully operational again.

It is surprising how much we depend on this item as it is like an additional crew member for us (that we don’t have to feed or be nice to). Helming a boat is a full-time job and when doing this there is nothing else you can do at the same time, so the auto pilot gives us an additional spare pair of hands. Another good lesson learnt and I am now an auto pilot expert.

We have not had any other major problems though some electrical problems are manifesting themselves – I just need to buy a new soldering iron as the old one is no longer working before I can get started. It is not always easy to buy what you want, when you want it as the local shops do not have everything.

We have recently had a lot of rain and Ingrid’s fantastic rain protection system is working great. We can still have our windows open while it is raining and get the flow of air to keep things cool. The sun is also very hot, between the showers, so the shade helps to keep the boat cool during the day. The sunshine is great for the batteries as they are almost fully charged from our solar panels. Life is not so bad for us, even without the auto pilot, as long as we have cold beer and cold rum punches at the end of a busy working day.

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