Are we there yet?

Yes! We’re here.

Loki and her crew arrived safely in New Zealand earlier this week. The final leg of our journey across the Pacific was the least comfortable and the slowest that we’ve had over the past year, but we still had fun. Just as well we had “the hard men of the sea” with us for the last passage. A huge thank you to Martin & Maudie for doing the hard yards with us and helping us to get here in one piece. Greatly appreciated!

We’ve had an amazing experience, covering over 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 kms), visiting some really unique and interesting places, and we’ve met all sorts of characters along the way. Wouldn’t be dead for quids!

But after being away for such a long time we are REALLY looking forward to being home next week. Hope to catch up with you soon.



The Exceptional South Pacific

So what on earth are 34 people doing living on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the huge Pacific ocean? This whole island is only about half a nautical mile wide by two-thirds of a nautical mile long and is one of a number of sandy cays within an atoll about halfway between Bora Bora and Tonga. I thought the Marquesas were remote, but this place really takes the cake. But it gets weirder, these people are all related to each other and are descended from one Englishman who settled there about 150 years ago. Palmerston Island was first discovered in 1774 by Captain James Cook during his second voyage. Then in 1864, William Marsters, previous occupation, whaler, seeks land to call his own. He’s previously visited this uninhabited atoll and rather fancies the idea of having the place for his own purposes. He arrives with two wives & assorted children. Then procures a third wife who has been abandoned by her spouse. He sets up zones on the island for his three different families (which, to this day, are still adhered to). Using shipwreck timber and driftwood, Marsters builds a house for his family, which is still standing today. He writes to the Queen of England and asks to lease said island paradise (which she grants) and bingo! you have Palmerston Island. Today, there are three extended families living on Palmerston Island, each being descended from Marsters and one of his three wives and 26 children. You could also call this place “Screensaver Island” with numerous opportunities for stunning images. 

Apparently part of the Marsters philosophy handed down by the patriarch is that hospitality should always be extended to passing vessels. Even today this tradition is proudly maintained. On the afternoon of our arrival we were greeted by two men in a dingy who advised us we could pick up a mooring. They subsequently introduced themselves as part of the family that would host us during our stay. The next day we were visited by Cook Islands officials to complete Customs, Immigration & Health (mostly the same guys), after which we were invited to come ashore for lunch with our hosts. The locals are very friendly and incredibly generous, providing lunch for all the yachts (of which there were up to ten whilst we were there) every day. After a tour of their small island we were free to walk around and chat to anyone we liked. I couldn’t help but notice what was left of the upturned hull of a yacht wrecked on the reef here in 2011. As always, there’s a story behind that one. 

Palmerston has a treacherous fringing reef, which is not for the uninitiated to negotiate (especially in a soft-bottomed dingy like ours!) so the host family ferries visiting yachties to and fro on a daily basis. Have a look here:

The current island residents seem completely untroubled by (if not proud of) their ancestral history. Their founding father’s grave is in the middle of the village. The locals lead a fairly uncomplicated life which focuses on fishing. They make a living supplying parrot fish to the resorts in Rarotonga, whose own parrot fish are affected by ciguatera and can’t be eaten. But paradise comes with its own set of problems, such as how to keep their young people interested in staying. There are currently nine children at the school ranging from 5 to 18 years. Also, this place is really isolated and the supply vessel only comes about every three months or so. But if the weather’s bad, it may not come at all. We had a good chat with the local missionary (as far as we could ascertain only he and the nurse from PNG weren’t related to each other). It would seem that for those who have stayed, there are many more who have left and are now living on other Cook Islands or in New Zealand. So how much does it cost to maintain an island inhabited by just 34 people? Well, there’s the newly built double-story cyclone shelter at a cost of $1.5 million, funded by the Japanese. (At the risk of sounding a little cynical, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an International Whaling Commission vote or some fishing rights in there somewhere). Then there’s the solar energy plant, which will be more environmentally friendly than running diesel generators long term. But I guess if the Cook Islands government doesn’t maintain this place then goodness only knows who else might just move in and set up shop.

During our stay our host family decided to treat us to an excursion to one of the outer motus. Some of the yachties elected to go on a fishing expedition with the locals and came back with loads of parrot fish, fresh out of the lagoon which was then cooked on an open fire on the beach. Meanwhile the rest of us enjoyed the superb snorkeling in the crystal clear aquamarine waters of the lagoon where there were turtles, stingrays, reef sharks and heaps of fish. Before the afternoon was over the yachties had pitched in and helped scrub the hull of Edward’s tinnie. Many hands made for fast work. It really was a remarkable day and we greatly appreciated the generosity of the islanders – it will be well remembered by all. But after four days, with a sou’ westerly swell on the way, it was time to move on.

If Palmerston Island has the smallest number of inhabitants then is Niue the world’s smallest country? The resident population is somewhere between 1300-1500 people, depending upon who you ask. Apparently there’s about another 5,000 of them living in Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands, many of whom come home at Census time to ensure that Niue doesn’t lose their “country” status. Upon arrival you must first negotiate the slightly inhospitable dock where every dingy, and all small vessels including the police rescue boat need to be hoisted ashore by crane. You are then met by Customs & Immigration officials and all the form-filling-in is conducted by multiple skippers in the back of a minivan. It’s all very low key and chilled out here.

But it’s the spectacular natural beauty that supports their growing tourism industry, with caves, chasms, canyons and rock pools aplenty to explore. Yet again we were very lucky to have the right weather for our visit. Another yacht we spoke with who arrived a few days earlier than us had two days where they couldn’t get off their vessel because it was unsafe to attempt getting ashore. A reminder that at times this is a wild and woolly part of the world. We enjoyed our time here, but we were conscious of picking a good weather pattern to get us to Tonga. So all too soon it was time to say farewell to Helmy who had joined us in Bora Bora.

The Kingdom of Tonga is a quite lovely, underdeveloped part of the world, with lots of good natural anchorages. After so much time either at sea or on anchor it was nice to be able to pick up a mooring buoy in a protected harbour and not have to think about wind, waves or swell. We also enjoyed the novelty of the floating “bar” in the harbour. It’s been great to catch up with various people and yachts that we’ve seen on and off as we’ve made our way across the Pacific over the last 7-8 months. Some we hadn’t seen since Panama, so it was good to know that they had arrived safely. A lot of the bays are well protected and there is some good snorkeling in places. We’ve also enjoyed the local hospitality, including a couple of Tongan feasts, which usually involve a suckling pig or two.

One of the most wonderful things about travelling is the people you meet along the way. Whether it be fellow yachties or locals, people are fascinating. The other day I met some Dutch yachties, one of which is an engineer. He has invented a solar oven that can be used to recycle plastic. He has a small version of it on his yacht. He and his crew have been crossing the Pacific, engaging with schools, getting kids involved with cleaning up plastic in their local environment, then showing them how to turn the plastic rubbish they’ve collected into flower pots! You can check out their website: Unfortunately its all in Dutch, but you’ll get the general idea!

And if you know any marine biologists then you’ll know that they get really excited about things like krill and plankton. A lot of yachties, us included, are mostly oblivious to the invisible stuff at the bottom of the food chain that we’re sailing along with all the time. At night you’ll often see “phosphorescence” in the waves alongside your boat. But what is that stuff? At the local Buy, Sell, Swap meet one of the yachties decided to set up a stand complete with microscopes and water samples taken straight out of the bay. It was amazing and very informative to see all the really little critters that are floating around down there. But seeing the reaction on the local kids faces as they were getting up close and personal with what’s in their own bay was awesome.

So we’re now at the business end of the season and the passage to New Zealand is our final leg for the year. We’ve pulled the storm sails out from under the bunk and hoisted them to refresh our memories on how to put them up. (Lordy that trysail is a VERY small sail. Let’s hope we don’t see that one out of the bag!!!) We’ve been studying the weather in readiness for our departure. Conventional wisdom has it that after leaving Tonga it’s best to steer a course that makes sufficient westing so as to counteract any possible strong sou’ westerlies on approach to New Zealand. Martin & Maudie have joined us today and we will soon be setting off for the 1300nm voyage to NZ.

Not long now until we will be heading back to Australia. We’ve had a great experience with some awesome adventures along the way but are both very much looking forward to heading home and seeing friends and family soon!



Stingrays, Sharks & Squash Zones

If there’s one thing I particularly like about our sailing adventures it’s that there’s always something new to experience. Not just new places and people, but new knowledge and skills at times also. We’ve done some sailing around reefs before but negotiating atoll passes was new territory for us. The Tuamotus are all low lying atolls which were formed out of inactive volcanic islands. The process takes about 6 million years or so and begins with the formation of a fringing coral reef. Over time the volcanic mountain is constantly eroded by torrential tropical rain and slowly sinks under its own weight. Many of the atolls have one or two breaks in the reef which may or may not be suitable for a yacht to pass through. But just because you can get through doesn’t mean you will. We saw the very unfortunate sight of a six month old 56′ yacht sitting high and dry on the reef at one of the passes. Because the entrances are fairly narrow the tide rips through (at 6-8 knots at times!) so you need to time your entry and exit to coincide with the minimum amount of current. Strong wind and/or wave conditions can really ramp up the dangers. When inside you have relatively flat water, but eyeball navigation is essential to avoid the coral “bommies” that are everywhere, many of which are not marked on charts. Once you’re anchored you can enjoy the stunning aquamarine waters of the lagoon. When we first arrived we were blessed with calm seas and sunny skies for a few days.

At times this can be a very windy part of the world, as evidenced by how a number of the houses are tied down, in some cases with engine blocks or large truck tyres holding the roof on. During our time in Fakarava we experienced a weather “squash zone” which is what happens when a big fat high pressure system which is 1030hpa or above travels east from New Zealand at around 20 – 25 degrees South and squeezes the isobars in the trade wind zone closer together making for enhanced winds and rough seas which can last for several days. But even whilst we were hunkered down and it was raining, blowing dogs off chains, it was still warm so we can’t really complain. Dean & Sue joined us here and we managed to find a few things with which to amuse ourselves including enjoying a spit roast dinner cooked by Liza, one of the village women. We passed our time with a few swims, walks and watching the kite surfers. We discovered the locals are quite a religious lot – the church seemed very appropriate with its shell-draped light fittings. We were also intrigued by the “sleeping sharks” which seemed to behave more like pet puppies waiting at the waters edge to be fed. We subsequently saw more of these sharks in Moorea where the woman who was feeding them was actually patting them! (photo credit to Fitzy)

If there’s two things that are plentiful in the Tuamotus it is pearls and coconuts. Many of the famous Tahitian black pearls are in fact farmed in the Tuamotus or the Gambier archipelago, so we felt obliged to visit a pearl farm, along with a group of other cruising yachties, to see the process of farming and seeding the pearls. It was fascinating visiting the pearl grafter’s “laboratory” built on piles at the edge of the lagoon and looking over their shoulder as they worked their magic with the oysters. It was a very low key affair with the retail section of the business basically set up in the owner’s lounge room. 

For me, the highlight of our time in Fakarava was scuba diving the south pass, which is famous for diving with sharks – black & white tip reef sharks and grey sharks. The visibility was fabulous and it was absolutely awesome to be down there with them in their natural environment, and have them swimming all around us. They weren’t the least bit interested in us, thank goodness! Our dive was timed close to slack water and it was amazing to see all the small fish rocketing into the lagoon when the the tide turned to incoming. It was definitely one of those pinch yourself “am I really doing this?” moments.

Next stop was Tahiti, where we were joined by David & Karen. We were there in time for the annual Heiva Festival which includes Polynesian sports such as team coconut chopping & husking events, stone-lifting (clean and jerk 140kgs if you don’t mind!) and throwing spears at a coconut on top of a 7 metre pole from a distance of 20 metres, etc. There were also some very spectacular and vibrant displays of traditional Polynesian singing and dancing demonstrating that their culture is very much a thriving one. I never tired of seeing the floral crowns so often worn by the local women – whether it be the local fishmonger or a bride-to-be and her hens. Also loved their quirky phone towers which are disguised as palm trees. We hired a car to visit neighbouring Moorea which often evokes images of bungalows over turquoise water, but for the most part is surprisingly low key. 

For me Moorea was most memorable for “Stingray City”, which is a spot inside the lagoon where local tour operators have been feeding stingrays for years. Of course they are now almost tame and show up whenever humans arrive. Needless to say this is not responsible tourism as it disrupts natural behaviour patterns, so we didn’t feed them, but were curious enough to have a look. As soon as you get in the water the stingrays are there swimming all around you. Up close they are fascinating creatures. Going eyeball to eyeball with a stingray is certainly something I haven’t done before. I felt a very healthy respect for the barbs on their tails!

Pete & Sallie then joined us before we headed across the Huahine, Raiatea & Taha’a. We absolutely loved the quirky, island-style house boats we saw floating around the lagoon and enjoyed some fabulous snorkeling during our time there. I think we found the only bay in French Polynesia that is home to not one, but two rum distilleries. One of these was also a vanilla producer. Apparently the bee that used to fertilise the vanilla flowers is now extinct, so the process only happens with human intervention. Vanilla pods take about nine months to grow, are only able to be harvested between around 4-6am, then need about three months of drying. We were told that apart from a few places in Asia, vanilla is only grown in Taha’a and Madagascar, so I guess that’s why it’s so expensive. Needless to say, we also felt compelled to avail ourselves of the rum tastings. 

We are now in Bora Bora and Helmy has just joined us for the 1300nm passage to Tonga, so we are focusing on what the weather’s doing from here. If the weather Gods smile upon us we may be able to make a couple of stops along the way. We shall see.

We love hearing news from family and friends, so please don’t forget to drop us a line and let us know what’s happening in your world. But please forgive us if we don’t reply right away, as we’ll most likely be in the wilderness for a while from tomorrow.



Exploring the Magnificent Marquesas


The Marquesas Islands would have to be one of the most remote locations I’ve ever visited. Not too many tourists here! And being untouristed is surely one of the most appealing aspects of the area. When I visit far flung places I can’t help but wonder how people ever came to be living in such a remote location. These islands were settled by Polynesians who most likely came from Samoa and Tonga. Depending upon what you read, it’s thought that the great Polynesian migration happened between 900-1200AD, but it may have been much earlier than that. Boy, those people must have been exceptional seafarers, travelling vast distances in their outrigger canoes along with crop plants, pigs and chickens! Las Marquesas were named by a Spanish sailor in 1595, in honour of his patron, the viceroy of Peru. Captain Cook dropped by in 1774, but it was the French that claimed them after becoming concerned about the growing English presence in the Pacific. The more regular European contact unfortunately led to a massive devastation of the local population due to various diseases. It is estimated that the population was once ten times greater than it is today. The natural beauty of these islands is quite astounding. The islands’ coastlines are often dramatically punctuated by magnificent jagged peaks topping spectacularly soaring mountains, covered in lush vegetation. These islands are largely untamed and undeveloped, which in many respects makes them all the more attractive. There are few roads, and for some people the main mode of transport from village to village is on horseback.

The remoteness has preserved a fairly simple way of life with many people making a living from copra production. Everywhere we go we see copra drying. This is an important part of the local economy. The white coconut meat is hacked out of the husk by hand then spread out to dry in the sun before it is shipped off to Tahiti and thence on to whichever food, pharmaceutical or cosmetic company turns it into one of the everyday products that so many of us use (skin lotions, shampoo & conditioner, soaps and detergents, cooking oil, and medicinal creams). Another island fruit that is cultivated is the noni (Morinda citrifolia), which is easy to grow, abundantly available, and doesn’t require much care and produces fruit all year round. This knobbly fruit about the size of a potato, apparently contains antioxidants and is rich in vitamin C. The juice from the noni has been widely used by the Polynesians as a traditional medicine since ancient times and is said to contain assorted health benefits including: improving skin quality, lowering risk of gout, reducing arthritis pain, boosting immunity, reducing stress, etc. I read that some fermented noni ends up being shipped to Salt Lake City, and turned into Morinda health elixir.

The locals are very friendly and hospitable and we were made to feel very welcome, even with our almost non existent French and complete lack of Marquesan language. At a number of locations we found the locals are very used to having cruising yachties in their bay and a few enterprising ones will put on a meal in their home for a local food experience including “poisson cru” (lime-marinated fresh fish in freshly squeezed coconut milk) and goat curry. The architecture is an interesting mix of Polynesian and European influence, with most locals’ homes being very humble. Everywhere you go, the islanders have a great civic pride. Each village is as neat as a pin, with a complete lack of rubbish in the streets. Not a chocolate wrapper, plastic bottle or chip packet in sight.  We noticed that the tattoo is a very visible part of the Polynesian culture often drawing inspiration from creatures such as sharks, manta rays, fish and birds that have probably had significance since first settlement, but unlike a few of the other yachties we weren’t tempted to get a souvenir.

The southern-most island, Fatu Hiva, is famous for the “Bay of Virgins”. Rumour has it that this bay was originally named by the locals as “Baie des Verges” (Bay of Dicks), due to the large phallic shaped rock formations thrusting skyward on either side. Apparently the missionaries didn’t approve so added an “i” to make the word “Vierges” (Virgins), which they deemed more acceptable. A walk to the top of the hill provided a good view down over the anchorage and along the coast and showed us how lush and green the inland area is. Another lovely anchorage we spent some time in was Baie Hanatefau on the island of Tahuata. It seemed to be a dolphin nursery as every morning tens of dozens of dolphins would turn up, with the little ones leaping out of the water with great exuberance, as if they were learning new tricks. One of the French cruisers, Sil, was very good at getting us all organised. Having someone who spoke one of the local languages was very helpful. During a long walk over to the next village he was able to arrange for the local beekeeper to give us a lift back to the anchorage.

It seems that various adventurers, artists and writers have been drawn to this part of the world and been captivated by the Marquesas over the last couple of centuries. Well before Herman Melville wrote “Moby Dick” he jumped off a whaling ship in 1842, and spent some weeks living with the natives on Nuku Hiva, later writing the book “Typee”, which drew on his experiences during this time. Paul Gaugin was influenced by the tropical colour palette of the landscape and, having made these islands his home, is buried on Hiva Oa. Robert Louis Stevenson also spent time here (perhaps some inspiration for Treasure Island?) and Thor Heyerdahl, famous for the Kon Tiki raft voyage also paid a visit. Baie Hakatea (Daniels Bay) hosted the fourth season of “Survivor” some years ago, but happily it doesn’t seem to have suffered as a result and still looks largely unspoilt. Modern day tourism is very limited, but we did come across the “National Geographic Ocean”, a small eco-friendly cruise ship that has the dual task of monitoring both plastics and plankton in the water. Also the Aranui 5, which is a hybrid cruise ship/supply vessel and a fairly cost-effective way to visit the region.

You don’t have to wander far out of a village to find one of the numerous archeological sites, with large carved stone tikis and ruins of sacred sites, or maybe some petroglyphs. In ancient times Marquesans built their houses on stone platforms called pae pae. You can still see the stone ruins strewn about when walking through the jungle, suggesting the much larger population that once inhabited these  islands. Near such ruins there will usually also be the remains of a tohua, which was an open air public meeting place and centre of community life, social events, etc and perhaps a marae, an open-air temple made from huge stone blocks, used in times gone by for religious ceremonies, burials and occasional human sacrifices.

At Taiohae, Nuku Hiva we welcomed Alan W & Paul H aboard. This port is most memorable for the precarious negotiation required at the dingy dock. Each morning the local fishermen would clean their catch, throwing fish scraps into the harbour, right next to the steps where dingys come in. The ensuing shark frenzy going on right beside the dingy as we were disembarking was just a little nerve-racking to say the least! Having seen a lot of the coastline, we hired a car to be to appreciate the wonderful scenery from the interior.

At Taiohae we finally retired the old mainsail and the #2 jib. We knew that the main wouldn’t get us all the way to New Zealand, but we were pleased that we managed to get an extra 4,000nm out of it. As we were consigning the sails to the dump bin one of the locals very enthusiastically indicated he’d like to have them. The guy looked a bit fierce with his half tattooed face and was very animated. No problem, fine by us. Off he went with the sails to his kayak! Five days later we were a few bays around at Baie Hakatea, chatting with Koa and Taeke, a couple who had an immaculately maintained organic market garden. They were happy to sell us some of their wonderful produce, which we later picked straight from their plants, including fresh mint, basil and turmeric, amongst other things. Paul & I arranged to have a delicious lunch of langoustine (local lobster) prepared by them for us when we came back from our four hour walk to the Vaipo waterfall (which unfortunately wasn’t flowing – but the walk was really lovely, complete with river crossings).  Well, blow me down if Taeke didn’t turn out to be the same guy who’d taken our sails! Great to know that Loki’s old sails are being repurposed to help grow organic fruit and vegetables. Perhaps we should have left him our solar panels also? But that’s another story you’ll need to ask Fitzy about.

We are now back in civilisation again (Tahiti), so enjoying some real wifi at last! We’d love to hear what’s been happening at your end and will be able to respond to any emails you might feel inclined to send. Hope all is good with you.



Every island has something different to offer…

Chillin’ in Anguilla is easy to do with it’s white sandy beaches and stunning turquoise waters. This small British overseas territory is very laid-back and has a nice, friendly feel to it. We hired a car to drive around the island and couldn’t help but notice that it appeared more orderly than some of her Caribbean cousins. Generally speaking this island seems more prosperous than many we’ve visited so far. There are some very flash, upmarket resorts and luxury villas scattered along the coastline, some of which would give St Bart’s a run for their money. Not all are back to being operational yet. These days the coconut palms are not so much swaying in the breeze, but rather bent over backwards. Trees are still being straightened and propped up. Thankfully things are not nearly as hurricane ravaged here, including the wildlife. It was great to have turtles swimming around the boat whilst we were at anchor. The fishermen are back out there doing their stuff. The beach bars are mostly back up and running too. They sustained some serious hurricane winds on this island, but the houses are more substantial and solidly built, many with concrete roofs, so even though Anguilla is low-lying it faired better than the neighbouring islands. They still had their problems with looting and lawlessness in the immediate aftermath of Irma, but nowhere near as bad as other islands by the sounds of it. This place has a great reputation for SCUBA diving with a number of old ships sunk to create new dive sites that attract plenty of fish. I was unsure how good they’d be after the hurricane season, but need not have worried. The diving was fabulous. I have never seen so many lobsters in one place before! Plenty were hiding in the wreck I dived on, including one just hangin’ out, then scurrying across the ocean floor. Being in a marine park meant catching lobster for dinner wasn’t an option.

You’ve just gotta love a country that has a capital called “The Bottom” and when you’re driven there they actually say: “Welcome to The Bottom”. (Which is weird because you’ve just gone steeply uphill from the harbour, which is at the bottom of the island.) As you approach Saba her rugged, craggy peaks soar from the horizon. We both fell in love with Saba. Only five square miles in size, her beauty is found in both her 2,800 ft majestic peak and her treasures under the sea. This is an island (country) full of very friendly people, and almost non-existent crime. But then, if there are only 2,000 of you everyone’s probably going to know what’s going on. This tiny island was settled by hardy Dutch and a few Scots who apparently worked side by side with their slaves. When I first read the cruising guide I doubted we’d ever actually take Loki here, as the island is often subject to major boat-breaking swells (two moored yachts were lost on her coastline a year ago), but as luck would have it we had a good weather window and perfect conditions for our stay. We picked up a mooring off Ladder Bay, which until the 1940s was the only access point to the island. Here some 800 steps are hewn into an almost sheer rock face by which, for a long time, everything was transported to and from the island. In the image of “Loki” on her mooring you can just see the steps going up the cliff behind her stern. The anchorage is OK, so long as there isn’t a big swell. Needless to say we kept a very vigilant eye on the forecasts. (Photo credit for the aerial shot:

We were very fortunate to have a clear, blue sky day for our climb to the top of Mt Scenery, with not a cloud in sight and enjoyed walking through the lush tropical forest that is so often shrouded in cloud. The views from the top were breathtaking. Saba is a “special municipality” of the Netherlands, and you can have any colour house you like, so long as it’s white, with green trim and a red roof. The whole place is picture postcard perfect. It is spotlessly clean. Not even so much as a cigarette butt on the ground. (Are we still in the Caribbean?) One of the things I most enjoy about traveling is noticing how the small things differ. Here it was public transport, or the lack thereof. There are no buses, but everyone said: “just put your thumb out, most people will give you a lift” which was true. We even managed to hitch a lift with a garbage truck from the capital, back down to the harbour! And yes, the cabin was very clean.

We’d heard the SCUBA diving here was some of the best in the Caribbean and we noticed dive boats near a rocky outcrop as we approached the handful of moorings that are available. The first dive we did was awesome, diving on and around two rocky pinnacles that started in 5 metres of water then plunged 20 metres vertically down to a sandy bottom. The many colourful fish and coral we saw would rival anything I’ve enjoyed on the Great Barrier Reef. (Photo credit: SportDiver. The photo’s not mine, but is similar to what we saw.) They call Saba “the unspoilt queen”. She’s certainly an unforgettable gem. So glad we got to visit.

We had a few more days hanging out around St Kitts waiting for the right weather pattern before we headed south, then we were off to Montserrat. We’d last visited here in 1998, which was not long after the volcano ended 400 years of dormancy. Having seen what it was like in the aftermath we were keen to revisit and see how the small island nation had faired since then. The island has an immensely strong Irish heritage, so much so that they take a week to celebrate St Patrick’s Day! Many Monserratians who left the island after the volcano became active come back for the festivities. We met people from New York, London and Atlanta who had all come home to party. Just love the way the girls do their hair!

The other thing that Montserrat is famous for is its musical legacy. Sir George Martin (“the fifth Beatle”, who produced every record they ever made) set up his famous AIR recording studio here in the ‘70s. The roll call of who recorded here is a long list of rock & roll royalty: Paul McCartney, Sting & The Police, Elton John, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, to name just a few. Local filmmaker David Lea has set up a cafe which is like a shrine to the local musical past filled with photos, memorabilia and also found objects salvaged from the now ash-buried capital of Plymouth. There is even a photo of Little River Band with Glenn Shorrock sporting a pair of budgie smugglers! Had to go back to the boat and dust off the “Diamantina Cocktail” album after that. When we were last here in 1998 we managed to sneak into the exclusion zone of Plymouth, (only a year after the volcano blew). I have a photo at home of the clock tower, very similar to the one with David Lea standing in front of it, possibly taken around the same time. But after further eruptions it’s now it’s all completely buried. Nothing to see here. Considering these people have to put up with volcanic eruptions as well as hurricanes I think they are amazingly laid back!

So, think back to the last time you were standing in a Customs & Immigration queue at an airport, waiting to enter a country, passport in hand, surrounded by equally jaded travellers, with jack-booted, gun-toting officials everywhere. Instead, why not just go to the local clothing boutique and sit at a computer for 5 minutes to check in? Voila! You’re all done, welcome to Deshaies, Guadeloupe! We like to take the piss out of the French for their laissez-faire attitude, but every now and again it’s nice to be reminded that there once was a simpler time where officialdom didn’t permeate every aspect of our lives. Guadeloupe is an island shaped a bit like a lopsided butterfly. We toured around parts of the left-hand wing, taking in some lovely walks and watching locals enjoying the beautiful waterfalls in the well looked after national park.

But the part we enjoyed the most was Les Saintes, the small group of islands to the south of Guadeloupe, which is just like a small slice of France dropped into the Caribbean. Terre de Haut is a quaint fishing village, which has nice walks with terrific views and a great selection of well-priced restaurants. Just love the brightly painted Creole houses, many sitting right on the beach.

You can saunter along the waterfront and see the daily game of fisherman versus iguana (the fisherman has to distract the iguana with lettuce so he can chop up his catch in peace).

There’s a great hike up to the top of the island for stupendous views. After enjoying a week here we eventually dragged ourselves away.

As you sail towards Dominica you can see the outline of the spindly trees running along the ridges of the mountains. What you’d normally describe as green and lush, now looks green and shredded. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is still very evident, even from a distance. When you round the headland into Prince Rupert Bay there’s a guy in a small boat who calls out: “Welcome to Dominica! I’m Lawrence of Arabia. I can help you with a mooring.” He’s a member of P.A.Y.S, the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, a group of river guides who formed an organisation to provide services to cruising yachties, including: mooring buoys, boat taxis, organising tours, dingy security, etc. (formed out of necessity after a “bad incident” a number of years ago). These guys are really friendly and helpful. Titus directed us to our mooring and organised a tour of the island for us the following day.

Boy, if we thought St Martin was badly hit, these people really copped it. It’s now six months after the event, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was a few weeks ago, the devastation is still massive. Parts of the island reminded me of the Australian bush after a bushfire. Lots of trees stripped of limbs and leaves, with fuzzy new growth appearing along their trunks. All their crops were wiped out, so there are no bananas, mangos, papaya, cacao beans, etc. which is not only bad for the farmers, but also the local bird life as there is so little for them to eat. But a local will happily climb up a bay tree to get some fresh bay leaves for you. We visited a chocolate maker, who could only show us his empty bean drying shed and how his equipment normally worked. Happily he still had some product to sell us.

So how many different kinds of rum flavours are there? Well, apparently if you can grow it, you can soak it in rum. We stopped at a rustic cafe for lunch where they had an enormous variety of rum flavours each with special “medicinal” purposes. Passionfruit, nutmeg, lemongrass, basil, etc. I couldn’t get excited about the garlic flavoured rum, but the ginger rum punch was OK. Like everywhere else in the West Indies, once you finish talking about the rum just mention Sir Viv Richards or Joel Garner and you have an instant conversation. They’re all still made about cricket. (Max D, you’d be in your element!)

No point in going on a tour of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film sites here. None of the locations look like they used to. But despite the massive destruction that has affected so much of the island we enjoyed some of the natural attractions, taking a dip at the Emerald Pool (you get a terrific neck massage when you sit just underneath the falls) and the Wooten Waven hot springs. You can only imagine what this place used to look like, as much of the landscaping was destroyed, but the hot springs still felt good!

In the final stages of our tour I spied a young teenage boy perched on top of the remnants of a palm tree in the middle of a river. He’s old enough to remember Hurricane Erica (2015) & Hurricane Maria (2017). I wonder, how many more will he see in his lifetime? This is not a wealthy place and unlike some other Caribbean nations it doesn’t have a rich parent country to assist with aid. The bigger question is: “How will these people ever get ahead?”

We’ve had some great sailing between the islands and have worked out the weather patterns. There are usually wind shadows in the lee of the islands, but the forecast is often a bit underdone once you get out into open water. So 15-20 knots between the islands, gusting a bit more, has been the norm. Just need to keep a lookout for the occasional swells that come down from the north Atlantic. There are no land masses to stop them, so when you get a good blow up north they just head south and wrap around the islands. Choice of anchorage becomes very important!

I hope you’re all enjoying a well-deserved Easter break and all is good at your end.

Thinking of you!