Ships Log 9 Feb 2004  

 

Thank you very much for the many kind messages about the theft of Nicky 's rings etc. They have not been recovered, but we are keeping close contact with the Dominican police, and local boating people, and a number of suspects have been questioned and houses searched. If we don't get them back it will not be for want of trying.

A number of people (including at odd intervals the press) have asked for photos of Intrepid and her people and places visited. Since we don't find it easy to send photos by email, we have started a website www.intrepidofdover.co.uk (actually James has very kindly prepared it) and we are just starting to stock it up with some photos, brief description of Intrepid and collected emails and future itinerary. It should be in more or less updated form by end February but if you want to look at it now you will see a smaller selection of photos etc. and we will try to keep it updated thereafter.

In January we tried to visit the islands usually missed by yachties and tourists (we had to visit a few big ones to pick up and drop off friends). We anchored in 3 small islands next to Guadeloupe without ever signing into the country ('France'), which was unintentional but we hope forgiveable (formally we have to 'immigrate' into each island state, and 'emmigrate' when we exit). After Marie Galante to the east of Guadeloupe, we visited Les Saintes about 6 miles south of Guadeloupe, originally inhabited by ex Breton fisherman. The story goes that there was so much inbreeding that the French navy was asked to send a training flotilla to the islands and soon there was a much wider gene pool apparent in the babies born! So training has some effect. Now it still has the air of a Breton fishing port, we walked over to bepalmed (full of palms - not a misprint) Pointpierre Bay past a rural scene worthy of Marie Antoinette - cows, goats, sheep, chickens peacefully grazing a perfect hillside - except here it was for real. The islands still rely on ferries that bring daytrippers out from Guadeloupe, and after they leave the place reverts to tranquillity - we ate that night in Les Amandiers (menu creole at Euro 12), the only restaurant open.

Then onto Pigeon Island on the West coast for beautiful snorkeling, (although the brisk 20 knot wind was less inviting) and next day onto the appropriately named Jolly Harbour in Antigua, an exciting sail doing 7-8 knots most of the way. The entrance to Jolly H is narrow and passes by Mosquito Bay which the developers might have hoped to rename. Jolly Harbour was built in about 1990 by a Dr Erkhart who apparently wanted to keep the price to the lowest possible so whilst the setting is beautiful, the designs of the houses surrounding it do not make the most of it, and large numbers of houses remain unsold ($180,000 for a 3 bed terrace with water front if you are interested). There is now a fairly awful Casino built in the last 2 years, but overall its a friendly and convenient place with good facilities.

Pam and Kate flew in to meet us on Friday, and on Saturday we sailed round to English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard, on the south of Antigua. This has been renovated with money from the EU (quite why I am not sure, since Antigua is an independant island but it's been done nicely), and after a bit of knitting with mooring buoys and ropes in the gathering gloom moored stern to the ancient wall, where Nelson anchored 300 years ago, right below one of the old buildings.

Antigua has a general election coming in about March 2004 and the radio was full of election rallies and the ruling Labour Party had opened the seawall renovation the day before. Antigua has attracted a lot of tourism and investment and is quite well developed but with a population of only 67000 has ambitions bigger than its budget and late pay for government staff is a regular occurence. On Sunday, (after I had taken the forward toilet apart to unblock it - more fun in the sun), we took a EC$20 taxi up to Shirley Heights fortress for an unparalled view and the Sunday evening Steel Band, Reggae Band and BBQ (EC$21 for BBQ chicken - 5 EC$=1).

Monday we sailed round to St Johns, the capital of Antigua, and moored right next to 2 huge cruise liners which happily left soon after we arrived (they always leave at 6pm) leaving St Johns to us. St Johns is a 1 or 2 storey town of painted wood once you get away from the duty free shops and towards the markets. Then on Tuesday we had a romping sail at 7-8 knots to our favourite 'desert' island, Barbuda, which is surrounded by coral reefs so vicious that there are more than 200 shipwrecks. We approached from the south/south-west which is the easiest route (Nicky Tam went in from the south east and Clive said they had an awful time). Arriving early at 1130 we had a chance of spotting the lethal coral heads under water using polarised glasses, and anchored just off a pure white sand beach 5 miles long. Barbuda was leased to the Coddrington family in 1600's for one fat sheep/year, and used to breed sheep and cattle to feed their plantation slaves in Antigua. In 1880's Barbuda was given to the emancipated Barbudan workers who own the island in common - any Barbudan can enclose whatever land they need for a house.

However when Antigua was made independant, Barbuda was pushed into statehood with Antigua, and since then Antiguans have been trying to develop Barbuda, while the Barbudans don't want to be 'developed'. 2 luxury hotels have been built, each providing chalet type accommodation for $1200/day (low season) $3000/day (high season). (The chalets bear an uncanny resemblance to Shell Camp houses, although I don't remember Shell charging $3000/day). Princess Diana loved Barbuda, stayed here 3 times and was about to build her own house here just before she died (the islanders were going to make her the first outsider to receive Barbudan land). According to Thomas, a Barbudan taxi driver and politician/senator who drove us to Coddrington, the Barbudans made money from the Paparazzi by charging them $1000 for accommodation in Coddrington, the capital whilst keeping them away from the $3000/night hotel where Diana was staying. We are anchored 50 metres off the beach opposite this hotel (K Club), and the beach and coral reefs are stunning. The coral reefs off Coco point are about 1 metre deep and no more than 30 metres offshore so even the weakest swimmer can marvel at the teeming exotic fish, blue green yellow striped, translucent, swimming only 2 feet away from our snorkel masks.

Frigate birds are large, black, with a wing span of about 6 feet, and the males attract females by puffing up their throat into a bright red ballon about a foot in diameter, raising their beak and vibrating it against the balloon to create a drumming sound. Barbuda is home to the world's largest colony of frigate birds, and on Tuesday we arranged with George Burton (268-460-0103) to go there. In the event, on Wednesday we were met as arranged at the 'wind-sock by the grass airstrip' by Thomas who drove us into Codrington (US$60 return) from where Peter took us in his boat across the large lagoon to the Frigate bird colony ($50). The air was thick with drumming sounds and there were red balloon throats everywhere as the males were getting frantic, while the females seemed not to notice theirdisplays. The displays are I presume to provide evidence that the male will be a good generous mate, and a reliable provider of fish. Given the alternative is probably males fighting for supremacy, it has something to recommend it. (I guess the human equivalent is wearing a Rolex and driving a BMW).

Peter paddled us to within 10 metres of about 300 of the Frigate birds and we spent an entrancing hour watching red balloons all around and marvelling at the drumming, together with a few early white fluffy chicks, while mature males and females circled overhead. Frigate birds have such large wings and such short legs that they have to nest in mangroves because they cannot take off from land or water as their wings cannot push down far enough to privde upward lift. If a frigate bird inadvertantly ends up in the water, 2 others help it to take off again (Peter said he had seen this a number of times). The colony used to be closer to Coddrington, then 15 years ago 'spontaneously' moved further away - perhaps because the local youth used to steal the eggs and tourists came too close.

As we are trying to visit the less well known islands this time, our next stop was St Kitts, which the British linked with neighbouring island of Nevis and Anguilla when independance came. St Kittians must wonder why no-one loves them because Anguilla 'revolted' and eventually turned back into a British dependancy, and now Nevis all 12000 of them want secession, which would make them the smallest independant state. After independance, St Kitts was ruled by a corrupt bunch of politicians until 1995 when things got so bad that when the prime ministers 2 sons were released from prison by PM decree, (they had been caught in some too obvious corruption), all 150 other prisoners in the jail revolted and escaped and police from Granada etc had to restore order and in the subsequent elections the opposition Labour Party won all the seats.

St Kitts now has a really nice marina right in front of the main town, with 24 hour security, (US$24/night + $7electricity) but only about 12 of the 24 or so berths were full. Basil is the taxi driver specialising in driving for yachties (the rest congregate in front of the cruise ship dock next door). We take his tour of the island (US$80 for 4 of us), very well laid out botanical gardens with palms from everywhere, Brimstone Fort, a huge British built fort (well, mainly slave built actually) that has been restored almost completely to give a very good idea of what British soldiers had to defend in the Caribbean, and tea at Ottleys an old sugar plantation great house that has been restored by a couple from Princeton into a 5* hotel. In the evening we watch the SuperBowl in a crowded St Kitts sports bar - Bambu - really great entertainment as half the St Kittians in the bar support the Patriots, the other half Carolina, and the bar give out free beer whenever 'your' team scores. St Kittians apply for more US visas/person than any other country (1 out of 12) and a number had worked/studied there.

Next day we take Greg Tours (869-465-4121 $40/person) - to the rainforest, a fascinating walk through an old sugar estate up into the rain forest. Greg is a naturalist borne in St Kitts and he seems to know the island natural birds and plants down to the finest detail, we are enthralled as he points out rare humming birds and ferns and later eat fruits from the plantations and forests. He is trying to develop ecotourism, but is appalled at some of the practices allowed - for example a huge $100+ million hotel has been built with a desalination plant to water the golf course (on a rainforest island!!) and the residue from the desalination is deposited in the salt ponds killing all the fish.

Next stop is Statia (St Eustatia) about 20 miles north, another infrequently visited volcanic lump about 5 miles long which is part of the Dutch Antilles. True to Dutch form, this little lump of rock has been trading in slightly dodgy goods almost since it was borne. It was a major transit depot for slaves coming from Africa, then going off to the States, then during the war of USA independance Statia provided much of the goods needed by the Americans, enabling them to avoid the blockade, (incidentally becoming the first state to officially recognise the USA when they returned a salute to an American ship flying the 'rebel' flag) - these were the golden years with masses of ships anchored in the bay; now Statia exists as an oil transit terminal with a large tank farm on the hill and when we arrived 4 large super tankers loading/offloading in the bay. Differences in tax rates, and finding ways round various trade embargoes (probably including Cuba, pre Mandela South Africa etc) continue to provide Statia with a living. It has a number of beautifully laid out hiking trails including the longest which we took up to the top of the 'Quill' volcano (originally Kwill meaning pit in Dutch) through trees, ferns, lizards, land crabs and masses of butterflies to a quite staggering 270 degree view at the top (quite a steep scramble for the last 300 metres, Pam made 200 of them but not the last 100). The trails are prepared by gap year students and equivalent from many countries, who are provided with accommodation, but have to pay for their food and transport to the island. The water park have laid 9 really secure moorings (US$10/night or $30/wk) , which are a bit rolly when the east wind hooks round the bottom of the island, but are very convenient, and there is masses of diving and snorkeling round.

We had to fly Pam off from St Maarten on 6th Feb, so are up early for the 50 mile sail. We rush past startled oil tankers loading, dodge squalls, and arrive by 2pm, anchor in Simpsons Bay while we wait for the bridge into the lagoon to open. St Maarten is also part of Netherlands Antilles, and has always been a duty free port, calls itself the friendly island, has 4 languages and 3 currencies and has recently become a sailing mecca hosting the Heineken trophy. The French and the Dutch have shared the small 37 sq mile island for the last 300 years.

They have opened 2 entrances into the salt ponds, and the resulting lagoon is about 2 miles long and up to 1 mile and about 8 feet deep, a very well protected hurricane hole with about 7 marinas and lots of anchored boats. 2 marinas specialise in super-yachts, and we see more of them than I can remember, except possibly at Cannes. But all the marinas are full, (there is one in the French part of St Martin but we are probably too deep at 6 feet to get there) so we have to anchor in the lagoon, and jolly glad we are to be there as 30 knot winds roar past me as I go up the mast to check rigging and the yachts outside in the bay roll violently. We take Pam to the airport by dinghy (!) (there is a dinghy dock right opposite the departures lounge), and on the way back Kate, Nicky and I get soaked completely with waves thrown up by the gales.

I had noticed a broken strand of wire in our baby stay, and we are taking advantage of being in St Maarten to replace all 3 pieces of our 8 mm rigging (rigging is the steel wires which keep the mast up). The remaining 10mm shrouds and stays seem fine but we are having a complete rig inspection just to be sure. Replacing rigging after 3.5 years is a bit soon but Intrepid has already sailed 20,000 miles, (the 4 year old yacht opposite had their rudder break in mid Atlantic) . St Maartens has become something of a centre for all sorts of nautical engineering, and the expertise and equipment available are extensive and surprisingly competitive.

 

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