The Islands of the Haves and the Have Nots

Thanks everyone! It was great to get your responses to my last post. I’d thought describing 17 days at sea might have been a bit boring. But it seems you were there with us all along! After spending a few days in Antigua and enjoying being back on dry land, it was time for the pod to start breaking up. We farewelled Maudie as he commenced the long trek back to Oz. Meanwhile the O’Donohue family took possession of their charter vessel and we all set off for the dual island nation of St Kitts and Nevis. The day we arrived at Basseterre Harbour the port was not accepting incoming yachts due to too much traffic from the (five!) cruise ships. With more than two million cruise line passengers sailing these waters annually the Caribbean is the world’s largest cruise ship destination. Because the BVIs & Dominica had their cruise ship docks destroyed during last year’s hurricanes the remaining islands are now inundated. There can be as many as 8,000-10,000 extra people in a town in one day! Whilst I recognise that tourism is the lifeblood of the local economy for many of these islands, it does actually change the character of the place you’re trying to visit and not necessarily for the better. When you go back one or two streets it’s very evident from the modest homes of the local people that there’s a vast difference between the locals and us visitors. They do need tourists. A real case of haves and have nots.

The Lonely Planet raises some interesting points about sustainable cruising. Apparently most cruise ships burn low grade bunker fuel and emit more carbon per passenger than aeroplanes (not including the flights to/from the ship). There are new cleaner fuel regulations being phased in, however smaller Caribbean nations are being pressured into not adopting these (I hope this is not the case!) Cruise ships also generate an enormous amount of sewerage, solid waste and grey water. Whilst some countries have regulations on sewerage treatment (in 2016 Princess Cruises was fined US$40 million for illegal sewerage dumping) there’s little regulation in the Caribbean. They suggest if you’re planning a cruise it’s worth doing some research about the cruise lines’ environmental policies, recycling initiatives and energy sources. Knowing that customers care about these things will eventually have an impact.

So they say “there’s an adventure in every bus ride”. This is definitely true in St. Kitts. If you’re looking for some local colour & flavour you’ll find it here. The mini-buses all have slogans and/or religious psalms plastered across their windows. There is no timetable. When they’re full they go. And they’re all driven by young men who think they’re Fangio! What better way to visit the local sites?

For many years the sugar produced by wealthy colonial masters fuelled the economy. You can catch a local bus up to one of the old sugar plantations (we loved the stunning gardens at Romney Manor) or circumnavigate the island. The massive Brimstone Hill Fortress is also worth a look. The British started constructing the bastions and fort in 1690 using slave labour and it was the site of a month-long siege in 1782, which ended in surrender to the French. The other grim reminder of the island’s heritage are the stone warehouses where slaves were once sold. They still stand on one side of what is now “Independence Square”. Dotted all around St Kitts & Nevis are roadside food stalls (shacks) where you can get anything from freshly cooked kingfish or lobster to fried chicken. Who needs Western fast food?

Our next stop was St Bart’s, playground of the rich and famous. It’s always interesting to take a look in the local real estate office window to get an idea of the lay of the land. Want to rent an apartment “from US$23,000 per week”? Not likely! Little old Loki is very much dwarfed by many of the vessels in these waters. We shared a bay one evening with “Limitless”. At 316 feet she’s one of the world’s largest privately-owned yachts built for the billionaire who owns Victoria’s Secret. Gawd, there must be an enormous amount of money to be made from bras & knickers! But the one that really blew us away was “Le Grand Bleu”, built for a US telco baron. Included amongst her range of onboard water toys is a 22 metre yacht sitting on the deck. OMG! Loki’s 15m long, yet this yacht looked “small” compared to the overall size of the mothership. It seems there are the “haves”, the “have nots” and the “have absolutely anything you could ever wish for”.

From there we headed up to the hurricane-ravaged island of St Martin after being advised that they were indeed ready for visitors. It’s incredibly sad seeing the devastation post Irma and Maria; damaged and sunken yachts still litter the lagoon, many are neatly packaged together, patiently awaiting removal. In some areas where once there were pleasant beachside eateries, there’s now just a heap of mangled buildings. However the people here are very resilient, many have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and some places are open for business again. But for others it’s now been five months with no home, no job and no income. And it’s less than four months to the start of the next hurricane season. I couldn’t live here. By accident of birth I’ve been fortunate enough to be born in a lucky country.

Since we’ve arrived in the Caribbean the weather has been unseasonably and incessantly windy. We’ve been under the influence of a high pressure system bringing what the locals call the “Christmas winds”, with blustery 20-30kt nor’ east to easterly winds, gusting quite a bit more at times. Usually they’re finished by the end of December, but not this winter. The forecast predicts lighter winds over the next few days, so we’re hoping for some pleasant sailing conditions to take us up to Anguilla tomorrow. Hope everything is going well at your end. Please drop us a line and tell us your news.

Ciao for now,


Welcome to the West Indies!

So, picking up from where I left off with my last post, after a week’s worth of long days in Tazacorte getting everything prepared we were well and truly ready to head off into the wild blue yonder. It was really nice to finally be on the water and underway. The adventure of our Atlantic crossing had begun! We settled into a routine fairly quickly, running watches of 2 hours on, 6 hours off during the night (luxury!), then a loose hourly watch system during the day. Day 2 the breeze picked up to around 20-25 knots and for a couple of days we had a very lumpy and uncomfortable seaway with the boat lurching and slewing around. I was very glad that I’d prepared a couple of dinners in advance because the conditions weren’t very conducive to cooking. Not much sleep was had by anyone. Martin & Maudie sighted a whale on each of the first two days, but apart from that there really wasn’t much to see other than acres of blue ocean.

Time passed uneventfully until the evening of day 3 when we managed to break the top two battens in the mainsail. The following morning we dropped the sail so the lads could very deftly effect an innovative repair, (using a batten poker and bit a teak from the old nav station), which slowed us down for a bit. But three hours later we rehoisted the main with one reef and were back to full pace. Needless to say, we now have two beefed up new battens. When doing long distance ocean miles, everything is a scarce resource to be managed, whether it’s spare sail equipment, water, food, diesel or gas. Every picture tells a story and by the time we got to day 5 we still had two full water tanks and we hadn’t even run the water maker yet! We’d fallen into a regular routine: Eat, sleep, sail, repeat. Whilst feeling very virtuous about our frugal water consumption the reality was that daily showering had been just a bit too hard up until then. The only thing nicer than a hot meal at sea is a hot shower. Player comfort level started to improve.

It was day 7 before we sighted another vessel. We’d begun to think we were the only ones out on the high seas, but the cargo ship “Barbara” crossed our bow, bound for Amsterdam. The next afternoon found us in a breeze that was beginning to fade, so we kept heading sou’ sou’ west to keep in the pressure. With 13-16 knots it was perfect weather for the asymmetric spinnaker. We sighted another couple of yachts off in the distance not flying kites and it wasn’t long before we’d overhauled them. By day 9 the breeze started to crump. At times it seemed like we were headed for Buenos Aires. Not much wind and from the wrong direction, so a good opportunity to do some motor-sailing and make some water. Crew showers all round again.

Amazingly each day passes quite quickly and there’s really no time to be bored. After a few hours steering, a bit of navigation – including downloading & reviewing weather, reading a book, a bit of cooking and next thing you know, the day’s over. Martin and I also amused ourselves with brushing up on our celestial navigation skills. We’ve got good nav systems on board, including satellite phone and wireless, but in this totally electronic device-connected world that we live in today it’s quite nice to know that if all else fails you can still work out where you are on the planet with just the sun and a sextant – note to self, I need to do lots more practice of this!

So what’s it like living on board a yacht at sea for more than two weeks? A bit strange at times because you’re whole house is moving every moment of the day & night. Whether you’re on deck sailing the boat, in the galley cooking a meal, getting a weather report, doing the dishes, or brushing your teeth, the boat is constantly moving. Lying in your bunk, especially on the weather side, it feels like there’s a giant, maniacal, sadistic puppeteer overhead, randomly lifting the corners of your bunk whilst it’s being rolled from side to side. But the sound of the water rushing past the outside of the hull is quite soothing. You actually do get some sleep. You also feel quite disconnected from almost everyone else on the planet. Has Kim Jong Un started World War III? Has the stock market crashed? Who would know? And of course there’s never a dull moment with the Maudie & Martin show on board. Lots of philosophical discussions. I’m sure we’ll have all the problems of the world solved in no time.

We ate very well during the crossing. In fact we ate a lot. (I’m pleased to report that Martin’s tapeworm was well catered for). But because you’re up at weird hours of the day and night and because you’re always moving (even in bed), you seem to need more fuel. Martin was particularly handy in the galley, turning out dough for focaccia and homemade pizza, amongst other things. Maudie’s signature dish was the pumpkin and goat’s cheese risotto, whilst Fitzy’s Moroccan tagine went down a treat. I was also quite chuffed that the bread I made turned out to be quite edible. Margherita (the pressure cooker) was a terrific 5th crew member.

The breeze was up and down over the second week. We enjoyed some very pleasant sailing with a full main and goose-winged jib, romping along and making miles in the right direction. There were also a few frustrating times when the pressure dropped and had us heading away from our end goal. But most of the time we made the best of the breeze we had and kept our boat speed above 5 knots. All in all, we pretty much sailed most of the way from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean with very little motoring. I’ve got some video footage of us sailing, but the internet is so slow here, I don’t believe I’ll have the opportunity to upload it anytime soon. It’s funny how the waves never look as big on camera as they are in real life.

After 17 days at sea we finally sighted land and arrived safely in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua. Not sure which I enjoyed more, the journey or arriving at our destination. I loved every minute of our Atlantic crossing, especially the last day, (even though it seemed to take forever), which was good fun steering down waves with rolling Atlantic swells. A big thanks to Fitzy for all his pre departure planning and preparation which got us here without a big butcher’s bill. And a huge vote of thanks goes to Maudie & Martin for helping make our Atlantic crossing a safe, memorable and pleasurable one. As you can imagine the social experiment of having four people in a confined 48 foot space without alcohol for over two weeks ended abruptly on the night of our arrival. We celebrated our successful voyage with much gusto!

Fitzy & I haven’t been here for almost twenty years, so it’s nice to be back. I love the sense of history in English Harbour, with it’s collection of old naval dockyard buildings, complete with sail loft pillars. Some of the yachts here are simply amazing. So how many crew does it take to load the provisions onto a super yacht anyway? I counted 12 on deck on one yacht. There were probably more below. I couldn’t decide between the yacht with the swimming pool or the helicopter. It’s definitely another planet over here!

We’re now looking forward to spending some time exploring the region again. Hope all is good at your end.



P.S.Thanks Martin for sharing some of your images.