Monday, 2 March 2009

The Caribbean ...and beyond

The Caribbean….and Beyond

Its been 2 months since our last blog entry…, time flies. I'm writing
this from Piscaderabaai in Curacao, the Dutch Antilles, some 400 miles west
of Grenada. Yup, were committed west and any thoughts of going back across
the Atlantic are history as we just cant get back there comfortably from
here. Its west my friends into difficult seas and different cultures.

We've had a pretty busy time. The days have been filled with the usual
domestic necessities and servicing the boys, along with some interesting
sailing and at last some fish.

In brief the Caribbean was not as we expected. It just wasn't settled
weather, rained far more than expected and the sailing just wasn't as good
as I remembered. I suspect that was because Pegasus is just not the boat for
short passages, or close hauled sailing. We can point, but not like a
monohull, and frankly putting up the main is quite an exercise…57Ft of sail
to hoist manually takes some 5 minutes, then you need full sail in the lea
of the islands and reefed main in the passages between, so really quite a
bit of work for one.

Basically if its less than 35 miles I'm not unpacking it, putting it up,
reefing it and stowing it again. My little monohull was perfect for the
Carib, but Pegasus is designed for different sailing, fast ocean passages,
and subsequently we sailed north motor sailing, and south on the Genoa.
After Carriacou we spent some time in Petit St Vincent, Union Island and
then up to Bequia. We left Bequia and in settled weather spent a lovely
night in Baliceaux, a non frequented deserted island….reminded us of the
Bahamas. Then down to Mustique…Beautiful. We found our first play park in
pristine Mustique and the boys loved it.

WE sort of got the Caribbean wrong . Arriving in Grenada, one of the
cheapest places in the Carib was not appreciated, as we were not used to the
currency. 1 Eastern Carib Dollar was worth some 20-25 pence,(depending which
day you exchanged!!) so when offered a pizza for 40 dollars we thought that
was expensive. However, a Pizza in Bequia was 65 dollars!!

My advice would be to go to Mustique first (200 dollars for 3 days mooring)
where I took the boys to the Firefly for morning coffee and Guava juice for
a cool 50 dollars. Everywhere seems cheap after that and it's just a
pleasure heading south as it gets cheaper and cheaper.

While in Mustique we heard that some friends, James and Nic on Lost Horizon
were in Bequia, so having missed them in N Spain decided to head the 15
miles back to Bequia to see them. Nic had her sister and Niece on board and
James had assembled a small flotilla of 3 boats all heading to Grenada for
the Sailing Festival. We all sailed to Petit Nevis for the evening and had
James on board for drinks. As he said they were all having dinner with Hans
and Cathy on Summertime, but as we had our "Balls and chains", we weren't
invited. I always liked James for his direct approach. There's something
very honest about it.

We all headed south and met up again after a few nights in Chatham Bay,
Union Island, then headed back to Grenada where James and his crew were
sailing in the Sailing Festival.

Well, Amanda kindly allowed me to sail and we all had a great time. Lost
Horizon won the races, we went to regatta parties and after a week James won
the Regatta. This is basically how he spends his winter…Racing and winning,
and has been doing that for 20 odd years. There were many prizes which were
generously given away to the crew. Lost Horizon kindly gave us a new 2hp
outboard engine which was on our shopping list. Much appreciated and the
boys now have an engine they can learn on….Thanks James.

Lost Horizon and Summertime headed north for the round Martinique race and
Alex and Fran on Chao Lay stayed with us in Grenada. We had a few dinners
together and really enjoyed ourselves. They were both very good with the
boys and we all had a good time.

We were preparing to leave Grenada when we noticed a lump on Louis. Well,
that was a shock. We went to the doctor who referred us to the hospital
where we has some tests done. The prognosis was, to our relief, a hernia and
a week later Louis was on the operating table having it removed. We decided
to stay in Grenada for another week for recovery, which happened smoothly
with no secondary infection.
Whilst travelling to and from Hospital we got to see a different side of
Grenada, which we really quite liked…except for all the rain. We travelled
by bus, which was just great. Private minivans with operator's licences, a
scout and pumping stereo. For 2.50 per person you can travel anywhere and
each operator is so keen for business you rarely wait more than 5 minutes
for a ride. It's a system that works really well and I'm sure there's much
to learn from the success of the Caribbean public transport system.

While were on it…images of Grenada….the incredibly smart Police uniform,
peaked cap, navy with red striped trousers / skirt, crisp light blue shirt,
and highly polished shoes…it just commands respect. The polite and courteous
nature of the locals….everyone says good morning, good afternoon etc and
people reply, good afternoon, good morning etc The lush nature of the
island, wherever you look there's food hanging from the trees bananas, paw
paw, mangoes, nutmeg, sapodilla, star fruit, avocados, tamarind, passion
fruit, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, sour sop, jackfruit etc,

I took Louis up to the hospital for the last time and his stitches looked
good. It was time to Leave and head West.

We left Grand Anse Grenada at 4pm on 19/2. The forecast was for building
winds with a large 4m northly swell due within 12 hours. We headed NW to
give us room to bear away if the swell became untenable. As it happened I
think we were far enough west to avoid the swell when it came and made a
fast passage headed for Bonaire with a possible stop in Los Roques, a
beautiful group of coral islands on route, but in Venezuelan waters. Having
read the entry procedures it looked like we would have to go down to
mainland Venezuela to clear out, so decided to head straight to Bonaire. We
had great fishing with our new hand lines. A double strike of Wahoo, 15 and
10kg, a small Barracuda , and while we were eating that a massive 50KG

We arrived in Bonaire at close to midnight on 21/2 having made daily runs of
186miles, 178 miles and 51 miles in the last 6 hours.

Bonaire was really beautiful and we arrived at Carnival…which seemed a good
excuse for the population to enjoy a few jars and all were merry. The water
was crystal clear and we all enjoyed swimming off the boat and swimming to
the beach a 100 yards away. We used our new engine and broke it in slowly
with the boys driving. JJ now calls this his engine…I'm not sure about that!

Curacao was just a 35 mile hop so we had a sedate sail with just the Genoa
up heading downwind. As we arrived we were buzzed by the Customs helicopter,
a reminder of the dangerous waters we were now approaching.

While in the Caribbean we had started to read in earnest about the pacific
and the passages to Panama through the western Caribbean sea. It looked like
we would have to modify our initial plans.

The first major concern is Piracy. Although people have a romantic image of
pirates, there's nothing romantic about a poor drugged up fisherman touting
a weapon threatening your families existence. The Piracy in Venezuela is
real and armed robbery happens on a lottery basis. Most travel through the
area with no trouble, but some loose all. For me it is too much of a risk
with the boys on board. We will go there another time. There are plenty of
islands in the Pacific.

Columbia has its own security issues although if you travel well offshore
Piracy should not be an issue. Cartagena is relatively secure and is well
policed. The only obstacle with the offshore passage plan is the weather. It
is known as one of the worlds 5 windiest passages with large confused seas,
and so choosing the right weather window for this is critical, but I think
we will plan on an offshore passage to Cartagena.

It is now apparent, having read about anchoring in the Pacific, that we can
expect the average anchoring depth to be 20 meters…although that was written
by a monohull sailor and hopefully we can reduce that to say 15 meters with
our shallow draft…..and as such our ground tackle is not sufficient.

I have sourced a new anchor, chain and shackles and need to place the order
for delivery in Panama. Our problem is that we have no Windlass, so hauling
up 200 ft chain and a 25kg anchor is going to be tough, but I have a plan.
Just for the technically minded we have elected to run with 5/16th high test
chain with a working load of 3900lbs. That is equivalent to 8mm but is
strong enough. We have selected a technical anchor called a Rochna, which
seems to rate highly in testing and everyone I've met who has one swears by
them. Our plan is 50 ft chain in 5 meters water, 100ft in 10 meters etc. The
point of the chain is just to stop seabed abrasion on the nylon rode. Nylon
will last 5 minutes on a coral head, its got to be chain. We will place our
order while here in Curacao and hope it will be in Panama by the time we get
there towards the end of March.

So were sitting here in Piscaderabaai waiting for the weather to clear to
give us a clear 4 day passage to Cartagena and our first visit to South
America. We have to spend a morning clearing customs, immigration and file
our float plan with the harbour authority, then we are clear to leave. On
arriving in Cartagena we will use an agent to clear in as the paperwork
starts to get pretty daunting, but were all looking forward to seeing what
is reputed to be a most beautiful city.

We enjoyed our stay in the Carib and for the first time really started
cruising. We met the same boats in different locations and had many good
evenings with extraordinary people. The Boys met, played and said goodbye to
new friends and we all moved on in different ways. We were lucky enough to
meet a few club members who gave advise and recommendations and we hope to
see some again our travels west. We are in a new zone now, committed to
Panama and the Pacific, and the people we are meeting are in the same zone
with the same level of dedication and the same challenges ahead. We are
entering a difficult phase and I for one will be glad when we are through
the canal and into the Pacific….

We plan to update our blog more regularly from now on, so if there are any
readers out there bear with us, its should get pretty exciting from here on

All aboard Pegasus