Sunday, 13 January 2019

Latest Post Update

Don't miss the 'The Frigatebird Colony on Barbuda' post on 19 December 2018.  A fabulous experience for us and some nice photos to rember it by.

Friday, 11 January 2019

A brief update from Saint Martin

Well, clearly I’ve not been very good at keeping the blog up to date and normally that’s an indication that we have been quite busy.  This time the usual excuse is reasonably accurate but if I’m honest we did chill out a bit over Christmas.  But then I think that’s allowed during the festive season.
Where we are now anchored off Marigot in Saint Martin

If you look back to November and early December 2018 you will see that we have now posted all of the blog entries for getting from the Chesapeake Bay down through the Intracoastal Waterway to Beaufort NC, as well as a couple of entries for our time in Beaufort getting ready for the 10-day passage down to the Caribbean.  So, we have not been completely ignoring the Blog.  The big gap now is from just before Christmas to round about now.  Some blog entries are nearly ready to go but we are conscious that we are about to set off again so this is a fill in to whet your appetite for the full blog entries which we will come shortly.
Our Mismuster Tot on Christmas Day in the Copper and Lumber, Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua

Christmas Party in
Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua
We spent Christmas in English Harbour in Antigua and, as well as enjoying the Christmas festivities there, we fell in with a lovely group of people who make up the core of the Royal Naval Antigua and Barbuda Tot Club.  We bumped into this crowd when we visited Antigua in April and this time around we enjoyed their company so much that we guzzled enough rum with them to sink a battleship and swotted up on sufficient Nelsonian history for us both to pass the 1 hour viva to join the club.

After Christmas in Antigua we sailed to the split island of Sint Maarten and St Martin.  We arrived on the Dutch side, Sint Maarten on 27 December, saw in the New Year there and then moved to the French side, St Martin.  Along the way Santa Claus delivered our somewhat delayed Christmas presents which added to our collection of diving gear.
Creole Rock, Grande Case Bay, St Martin

A different perspective on Creole Rock




So, since then we have been checking out our new diving gear in a variety of locations around St Martin as well as just enjoying the beautiful anchorages. 
Tintemarre, St Martin

We have actually spent far longer on Sint Maarten/St Martin than we had expected but, as always, there have been a few hiccups to overcome.  Initially, by staying a few days, we got to set up a stall at a boat jumble sale here. The jumble sale took place with perfect timing for us because we were acutely aware that we had [Ed: have!] collected an awful lot of stuff on BV and our Christmas presents were not going to help her waterline or our space management.  We managed to offload quite a lot of gear but inevitably have almost immediately filled the space generated, not least of which because we have been making serious preparations for the next 2 months of our sailing adventure. We are intending to sail from here, via the Turks and Caicos Islands, to Cuba and spend some time exploring the south coast of that island which is, for us, very much an unknown.  However, we understand that food availability can be an issue and so, since we will be working to quite a tight timeline, we have taken the opportunity whilst we are in St Martin to ensure that our lockers are full of store cupboard essentials.
Not what you want to see when you pull apart the anchor windlass!

There have also been some technical issues to overcome.  Our anchor windlass was more than a little sluggish over the last few days and so when we moved back to Marigot on 9 January it was time to strip it down to see what the problem was.  I was expecting there to be an electrical issue, perhaps with the carbon brushes, but actually the alloy housing had corroded through in one place and let in some seawater. It was not a pretty sight inside the gearbox and the water had tracked down into the motor, hence the symptoms of there being an electrical problem.  Fortunately, we had a complete electric motor and alloy gearbox housing on board in our spares, plus we had liberally coated all of the gears with grease when we last serviced the windlass, so the damage inside looked worse than it actually was. All of the cogs cleaned up well and could be fitted into the new housing and, with the windlass rebuilt, it seems to work perfectly again.  A result, but at some stage we will need to order some more spares.
Fort Louis overlooking Marigot Bay

Tomorrow we intend to head off towards Culebra as the first step in our passage towards Cuba, hence this update. Typically, with the various maintenance and provisioning tasks, we haven’t seen everything here that we want to but the weather has opened up an opportunity to move on. Over the past few days it has been unusually calm and will be again in a couple of days’ time, so we will have to forgo climbing up to see the views from Fort Louis, which overlooks the harbour and anchorage here at Marigot, and instead take the favourable wind to head west whilst we can.
Marigot Bay, Saint Martin 

Friday, 21 December 2018

Gravenor Bay Barbuda

A great sail, just what the Caribbean is all about
After 3 nights off Low Bay, on Thursday 20 December we decided to move around to Gravenor Bay on the south coast of Barbuda.  We motored south along the west coast – cautious again in case we should meet any uncharted shallows (though again there was no need) – and then hoisted the sails for a couple of hours’ beat to Cocoa Point, about half way along the south coast.  It was a great sail – a good breeze, blue skies, little puffy cumulus clouds and lovely turquoise seas.
Motoring in towards Cocoa Point

Our chartplotter chart showed an apparently clear sector leading in towards Cocoa Point from the south, marked by a couple of transits on the point, so we were sailing hard on the wind up into this sector when Nicky, keeping a sharp lookout using polarised sunglasses, saw a shallow reef fairly close ahead of our track (shallow reefs show green and brown through the water).  Time to get the sails down and start motoring slowly through the coral heads!  We moved to the eastern side of the ‘clear’ area and followed the transit in on 035ºM.  Happily, we saw no more unexpected heads though we knew that we were quite close to Palaster Reef out to the east of us.
Cocoa Point

Once we were inshore of Palaster Reef and close enough (but not too close) to Cocoa Point we turned due east towards Spanish Reef, the southeastern tip of Barbuda.
Eyeball navigation amongst the reefs. Use polarised glasses and go in down sun, or with the sun overhead.  The turquoise water is safe – about 6m deep.  As the water gets shallower it becomes paler and paler.  The dark patch to the right of BV is an area of reef. Though most of it is probably quite deep, this one is charted as having some dangerously shallow points.  Areas of very shallow reef show up as green/brown

We were in about 6m of water and with the sun high on our starboard side (it was about 1230) so we could see the safe water as a beautiful turquoise.  The route across Gravenor Bay is generally quite easy in good light and though we took it very slowly, looking carefully for the reef areas, we had no particular problems.  The most difficult bit was the last half mile or so working our way into White Bay, the most easterly part of Gravenor Bay.  There was a yacht in the inlet in the reefs just before White Bay, but the latter had been recommended to us by fellow OCC members, Alastair and Ester on Cranstackieso we wanted to try to get there if we could.  In the entrance area there are a few coral heads which we threaded our way between and we also saw several areas where the water looked somewhat shallow with, possibly, coral or rock as well.  Cranstackieis a catamaran with a much shallower draft than BV so Nicky was rather concerned that we might end up in too shallow an area.  In the end, however, it became clear that the bottom there is sand with a light covering of seagrass and it is the colour change caused by the weed that was deceiving us, making the water look somewhat shallower than it actually is.
Anchored off White Bay.  BV’s anchored in about 3.5m here so the water’s a pale turquoise.  The very pale coloured water off the beach will be too shallow for us (but perfect for Alastair and Ester’s catamaran).  To the left of the bow is the beach on Spanish Point and ahead and to the right is Spanish Point Reef


The dark shadow between BV and the very pale water off the beach is an area with a light covering of sea-grass
We made it in and anchored in about 3.5m of water a surprisingly long way off the beach.  It’s a beautiful spot, right on the edge of the ocean but protected from the swell by the reef.  It reminded us rather of Clifton on Union Island, which we had visited at the beginning of the year just without the people and the myriad kitesurfers. And the reef, whilst a fair distance off, was quite close enough to swim to, so no need to go through the faff of inflating the dinghy either!

We’d not really appreciated it in BV but we found a surprisingly strong current flowing through the anchorage – perhaps wind-blown perhaps part of the East Caribbean Current.  Either way, it made for a good work-out getting to the reef. We spent a good couple of hours exploring.  Before we got to the main body of the reef we came across a number of large coral outcrops with some lovely arrays of sea rods, sea fans and corky sea fingers.
We found about 6 spiny lobsters hiding under this overhang

Looking under one overhang we found half a dozen spiny lobsters hiding from us….
Reef views.  Bottom: to the left of this picture is a Doctorfish (brownish with apparently blue fins) and a French grunt (yellow with wavy blue lines). Near the centre is a Blue tang. The juveniles of Blue tang are yellow, so there may be a few young towards the right of the picture

…..and in other places there were myriad reef fish – lots of colourful blues and yellows.


Nurse shark – a rather grainy photo as the shark
decided not to stay around to pose for a better shot!
We swam out to the main body of the reef but it was shallow and there was little to see ……… right up until Nicky spotted a Nurse shark snoozing under a ledge.  I swam over as quickly as I could but the shark moved on before I could get into a good position for a picture.
Top: more sea rod and what we think might be leaf coral (looking like leaves on small bushes).  Bottom:  A couple of French grunts (yellow with wavy blue lines), a Blue Tang (bright blue, close to the rock), a juvenile Beaugregory or Cocoa damselfish (part blue, part yellow) and, presumably, an adult Beaugregory or Cocoa damselfish (far right of picture, dusky brown)
We returned to the coral heads to enjoy the reef fish……
We saw several stingrays.  We even saw one buried in the sand with only its eyes exposed

…..and over the sand between them saw several different sting rays swimming around and even one buried, waiting for something interesting to go past, with just its goggling eyes sticking up above the sand.
Reef views.  Bottom left: hermit crab in a Conch shell (though by the time I got the picture the crab had gone into hiding).  Bottom right: Spiny lobster


Reef fish and spiny lobsters
We swam back to the first outcrop where we had found the lobsters.  A few had moved on but there were still 4 or so waiting there for us. 
BV floating in a swimming pool – and look who who’s sharing that swimming pool with her!












And then, with a whoosh and a zoom we returned down current back to BV, spotting yet another stingray en route.  Remember the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad meets all the turtles in the East Australian Current?  That’s how I felt playing on the current in and around the outcrops and swimming back to BV!


Lobster linguini – thanks George!
For dinner we pigged out on the last 3 of our lobsters from George and made a delicious lobster linguini.  We should probably have kept some for lunch the next day but it was just too tasty and with a glass of white wine was the perfect way to round off a perfect day.
Gravenor Bay, Barbuda

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Frigatebird Colony on Barbuda


Tracking down George Jeffery, the tour guide recommended by our guidebook and some friends of ours had proven quite difficult the previous day.  His mobile telephone was not working and the other number we had for him put us through to a lady in Antigua.  She had said that she would contact George via her nephew (in Barbuda) and that we would get a reply via a different WhatsApp number.  All very convoluted!  With no messages received during our walk, we had asked Claire at the Art Café and she had directed us to his house – he wasn’t in.  In the end we had asked around at the harbour and had been directed to him, waiting for someone outside one of the grocery stores. We’d arranged that he would collect us from BV at 1000 on Wednesday 19 December; he arrived a little early because (quote) “I look at the sun for the time.  I have no timepiece.”  Nicky was tickled by the use of the word timepiece but whilst George’s word for a watch was quaint, his means of propulsion was totally 21stcentury. And, boy, did it shift his boat! Just look at that wake and Nicky’s grin!
Channelling our inner David Bellamy – ‘Here, in the mangroves…..’

To our surprise, since we had expected to enter the mangroves and the frigatebird colony from the north, George took us back into the lagoon through the breach in the wall, explaining en routethat the beach off the Lighthouse Hotel (the wrecked hotel close to our anchorage) used to extend a further 20ft out in front of the hotel.  Now the sea is pretty much at the hotel’s foundations and wearing away the sand and ground below it all the time.  George also explained that the lagoon wall had been breached after several previous hurricanes.  None was as large as the current breach, and the sea rebuilt the wall on each occasion in about 14-18 months.  This breach is clearly going to take a lot longer to repair but George pointed out where the sandbanks are building.
40 foot ISO container which was picked up by Hurricane Irma from
outside the hotel near our anchorage and deposited here, about a mile away
Amongst the mangroves George pointed out another casualty of Hurricane Irma, a 40ft ISO container, which could only have reached its current position, a mile from where it originated, by having spent at least a little time airborne.
Though the mangroves suffered badly at the hands of Hurricane Irma, they are still alive (note the areas of green) and the frigatebird colony has continued to roost here.  Frigatebird numbers are, apparently, much as they were before the 2017 hurricane










The mangroves where the frigatebirds have their colony had suffered much more hurricane damage than those close to where the ISO container had ended up.  Nevertheless, they are still alive and the frigatebirds have continued to roost in them.  Indeed, the Canadian researchers who study the frigatebird colony say that bird numbers are very similar to pre-Irma, at around 30,000 individuals.  George told us of a previous hurricane which had destroyed the mangroves in which the frigatebirds then roosted.  Happily, the birds survived by just migrated a few hundred metres to their current colony but the mangroves in which they had previously nested all died and all that we saw of that old colony location was a few twigs and stumps sticking up into the lagoon.

The birds in this colony are Magnificant Frigatebirds, one of 5 types of frigatebird found globally.  The Magnificant Frigatebird is widespread in the tropicalAtlantic, breeding in colonies in trees in Florida, the Caribbean and the Cape Verde Islands, as well as along the Pacific coast of the Americas from Mexico to Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands.  We spent quite some time, motoring gently around the colony, observing the birds from surprisingly close up.  Clearly they realised that we posed them no threat as they seemed quite unconcerned by our presence.  We were surprised at how quiet the colony was – had this been a colony of gulls or penguins the noise would have been nearly unbearable.  As it was it seemed virtually silent.  There was also a distinct lack of the dreaded smell of guano. We’re not quite sure why that should have been the case, but it made for a far more pleasant experience!

During the mating season the adult males display their red throat bladders (correctly termed ‘gular pouch’) puffing them up when they see a particularly attractive female.  For further attention-grabbing good measure, the male might also beat his gular pouch with his bill, making a sound like a drum. One male we watched was clearly getting rather chummy with a female he was perched next to.  But he was also eyeing up one of her competition circling overhead and every now and then drummed his throat to try to attract the flying female’s attention too.  Soap opera-like, we were left on tenterhooks and never actually found out which of the female birds (if either) graced the male with her charms.
Male frigate birds are black with a red gular pouch displayed in the mating season.  Females have white chests


Juveniles have white heads and the very young are cute downy bundles of fluff.  It takes so long to rear a chick to maturity that female frigatebirds breed only once every 2 years

Frigate birds are ace aerial acrobats but do not have well oiled feathers and so cannot land on the sea. They hunt fish, notably flying fish, that are chased to the surface by other predators, catching them whilst the fish are airborne or just at the surface.  They also steal fish from other birds, including other frigate birds.
Upside-down jellyfish





But not everything that George wanted to show us was in the mangroves or in the air.  In the shallow, still waters among the mangroves, he pointed out more of the upside-down jellyfish that we had seen in such profusion in the Beef Island lagoon in April.  Here the jellyfish were nothing like as numerous but there was still a good sized colony of them.
Feeling rather like David Attenborough, it was with some reluctance that we agreed with George that we had probably spent enough time in and around the frigatebirds and that we should move on.
Hauling the lobster traps

George’s plan for ‘moving on’ was to find some of his lobster pots and see how much success he had had.  The conditions were not good for locating the pots. George doesn’t buoy them, rather he depends on dropping them into the lagoon (only a meter or two deep at this point) on a known transit and then running along that transit looking down into the water for the trap.  When he sees the trap he hauls it out using a grapnel anchor on a line or, if the water is very shallow, a boathook.

With plenty of scudding clouds and a brisk wind blowing, locating the traps was difficult.  But Nicky was wearing polarised glasses which helped her to see through the rippled water.  We hauled up 3 or 4 traps on as many different transits and recovered a good number of spiny lobsters, though each trap was left with a couple of small ones still inside as bait for further lobsters.
Lunch and dinner, and dinner…. thank you George

And George very kindly gave us a good number of his catch, more than enough for several meals.  He refused additional payment but, as a result of his generosity, lunch was exceedingly good!
Low Bay beach at sunset.  And yes, it is pink, thanks to the myriad small pink shells washed up on it.  The sand is also talcum powder soft….and there’s no-one else around

That evening we had sundowners ashore on the perfectly soft, virtually pink beach off which BV was anchored. The sand was like talcum powder and our feet sank deeply into it, even into the dry sand, not just the sand at the water’s edge.  We’ve never experienced sand like it before.  The pink colour is due to the shells washed up on the beach.  It’s truly beautiful – and the only people there to experience it that evening were the two of us.  Fabulous.  Sadly, if Gaston Brown, the Premier of Antigua and Barbuda has his way and the beachfront areas here are sold off to the developers of hotels and condos, this beautiful beach will be lost, if only because every day ‘the management’ will require the beach to be ‘pisted’, raked over by hand or by machine, so that it looks clean and ready for the new day.  In doing so, the shells that give the beach its lovely pink colour, will be buried under the sand and, whilst the beach may remain soft, it will not remain pink. Everyone’s loss.

Low Bay, Barbuda

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Barbuda

It’s a surprisingly long way to Codrington, the principal town on Barbuda, from the anchorage off Low Bay but, with the current breach in the lagoon wall, it takes a lot less time to get to the town than it did only 2 years ago

We didn’t head ashore on the evening of 17 December as it’s a long way to Codrington from the Low Bay anchorage and we didn’t fancy returning after dark.  But the following morning we whizzed ashore in the dinghy, though the ‘whizz’ took 15-20 min.  The lagoon and the breach in the lagoon’s wall are both deep for a dinghy and are quite probably deep enough for BV as well.  But the charting of the lagoon isn’t great and of the breach made by Hurricane Irma hasn’t been charted at all (and, in any case, is steadily being refilled with sand) so taking a yacht into the lagoon without a prior recce in something with less draught would be foolhardy.  As it was, we hit something floating just below the surface with the outboard’s propeller not far off the town quay.  Happily, given that it would have been a very long row back to BV, the damage wasn’t sufficient to stop the outboard working totally but the prop was damaged and the engine did kick up and stop so it was a pretty impressive ‘something’ that we hit.
Codrington.  Some buildings are pretty much fully repaired, others are still in the early stages of repair but many are still too damaged for habitation/use

The quay was quite busy and there were a number of people working and waiting in and around the buildings and aid agency tents (now only partially used?) around the harbour.  We headed into the town and then out along the main road towards the northeast coast and the former Codrington Estate.  We found the town very quiet. Many of the buildings are still in a state of total disrepair and appear not to have been touched since the hurricane and enforced evacuation in September 2017.  But repairs have been made to a good number of homes and, encouragingly, the school was partly operational when we visited, which means that families with school-aged children can return to the island if they wish.  Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go in terms of returning the island to a functioning state.  Of those buildings that had undergone repairs, the majority still had aid agency supplied tents in their gardens and, in most cases these tents appeared to be in daily use.  Repairs were generally haphazard and most frequently made with items supplied by aid agencies.  Little looked as if it would survive another gale, let alone another hurricane.
Outskirts of Codrington.  Most of Barbuda is very low lying and covered in low scrub

We walked out along the main road towards Two Foot Bay, about 3 miles from Codrington on Barbuda’s northeast coast and, as we left the town, we passed a number of buildings where people were working on repairs – an encouraging sign.  The road out from Codrington is very straight, with a line of telegraph poles running along one side.  The electrical cables ran a short distance out from the town and then stopped but there was no obvious sign of any continuing work to connect the remaining poles (and properties) to the electricity network.
Close to ‘The Highlands’ (max elevation 125ft above sea level!), the scrub is more wooded and wild donkeys and semi-wild horses roam freely

It was a long walk out to The Highlands and Two Foot Bay but it was good to stretch our legs and to enjoy the scenery (albeit rather flat).  Once we were clear of the town we also saw a large number of goats, wild donkeys and semi-wild horses, the latter 2 increasing in numbers the closer we got to The Highlands.

In colonial days, Barbuda was leased from the Crown by the Codrington family for the princely sum of a sheep a year. Being so low-lying, Barbuda did not, and still does not, have sufficient rainfall to make it a viable location for growing sugar cane so the island was used to grow crops to provide food for the workers on the Codringtons’ sugar cane estates on Antigua and other islands. The family also visited the island to hunt and, to enable this, deer and boar were introduced to the island; the local population still hunts the descendants of both imported populations. Hunting isn’t the only hang-over from colonial days.  When the island was granted its independence along with Antigua, the land was given to the local population to be held communally.  Thus a local-born Barbudan is permitted to apply to hold (not own) 3 pieces of land; one for his/her home, one for his/her business and one to farm. Companies and non-locals may lease land from the islanders and, say, build a hotel, but they cannot be freeholders of the land.
The Highlands, close to the ruined Codrington Estate

When we reached the end of the road, close to The Highlands, we were somewhat surprised to see that the area had been neatly landscaped.  But this is one of those places where tour guides bring tourists so I guess it behoves someone to make the effort of making the place look pretty.
Two Foot Bay

We continued along on to Two Foot Bay, described in our various guidebooks as a ‘must see’ location. It’s certainly very attractive, a lovely sand beach on the windward side of the island, with the worst of the swell reduced by the off-lying reef.
The Cave to the Highlands

We walked along the beach for half an hour or so before retracing our steps to the ‘Cave to The Highlands’ which we scrambled up through, coming out at the top of the high ground with a fabulous view down along the coast.
View down on Two Foot Bay from The Highlands.  The off-lying reef which protects the beach is clearly visible as the line of white breakers






Somewhere out in this lot there’s a sink hole worthy of a visit!  But after about a kilometre the path was overgrown from disuse and we didn’t really want to get lost in the wooded scrub.  Bottom left: camera-shy land hermit crab

Our guide book talks about a sinkhole, about a 45min walk across The Highlands from the ruined Codrington Estate, that is well-worth the visit.  Well, we found the path and managed to follow it for about 20min but at that point the clearance team had obviously run out of time/stamina/daylight/enthusiasm as it ended abruptly in the scrub.  From our work helping to clear one of the trails at English Harbour only a couple of days before, we knew that there was no way we would be able to fight our way through the scrub to the sinkhole without some decent cutting tools and the knowledge of exactly where we should be heading, so we admitted defeat and headed back towards the road.  But we did see a couple of land hermit crabs on our way which helped to alleviate the disappointment of failing to reach the sinkhole.
We stopped at the Art Café for a beer and a sit down on our way back to Codrington and the dinghy

Hot and footsore, about half way back to Codrington we stopped at the Art Café for a restorative beer and a sit-down. Claire owns and runs the place and has been on the island for about 25 years since she married her Barbudan husband. She frequently spends time in the summer months back in the UK and was in London when Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017.  However, her husband and daughters were still on the island and she said that she spent a very worried day wondering whether or not they had survived the onslaught. Happily, they had.  But she was scathing about the Antiguan Government’s forced evacuation of Barbuda and the slow rate of work to restore services such as water and electricity.  Like many people we have spoken to, Claire believes that the Antiguan Government tried to take advantage of the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma to force Barbuda’s population to move permanently to Antigua, thus potentially allowing a sell-off of the prime real estate to developers.  Similarly, Claire sees the incredibly slow restoration of services – water, electricity, the school – as other levers being used by the Government to keep the population from returning.  And she points out that whilst the Government says that restoring such services takes time and is expensive, it is putting its weight behind building an international sized airport on the island, one that few of the islanders want but which potential developers say is essential……  One could argue that the Barbudans need to make a greater effort to sympathetically develop areas of their island in order to provide jobs and a modicum of economic development such that they are not entirely dependent on Antigua for things such as health services, schooling, transport links.  But a Barbudan might counter that argument by saying that development efforts they make are most often stalled and/or prevented by the Antiguan Government. There’s truth in both sides of the argument, that’s for sure but exactly where the line between the two arguments really sits is a little difficult to tell.
BV in the evening light

After a very interesting talk with Claire, we realised with some shock just how late it was.  We made a hurried departure and, happily, made it back to the harbour in just enough time to return to BV before the sun set.
A fabulous sunset with the nearby islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis visible

And it was a fabulous sunset, and all the better for our still being the only boat in the anchorage.
Low Bay, Barbuda