I managed to get completely lost on my early morning run around the wilds of Barbuda, few landmarks in the sandy tracks through the scrub. Nobody around to ask except the wild deer, donkeys and land crabs I met on the way. The sun was getting too high by the time I found my way back to the boat, very hot and in need of a dip before we raised the anchor and navigated through the reef pass and out to sea. Sails up and two fishing lines out. Soon we have a good size Spanish mackerel* on one line, while wrapping the other around a rudder. This was to be the last fish Monty and I landed on his trip, although we continued to troll a lure most of the time. There is a huge amount of Sargasso sea weed in the ocean this year. It is a free-floating weed that grows on the surface and moves with wind and current. we have encountered massive rafts of it, but more usually it seems organised in long strips aligned to the wind direction. We saw it all the way across the Atlantic and around the Caribbean. It is heavy enough to clog the fins of my windsurf board so that I have to stop and remove it. And of course it is disastrous for fishing. The lures don’t look so enticing to fish when festooned with a grass skirt of sargasso weed. Later in the day we sailed through a big floating island of this weed which slowed the boat from 10kts to 3kts and miraculously dragged the fouled fishing line free from the rudder!
*May have been a kingfish?
We enjoyed a great sail down the W coast of Antigua and Monty took the helm as we short-tacked up the Goat’s Head Channel, eyeballing the coral on each side before the final approach to Falmouth Harbour. As we dropped the sails and looked for a spot to anchor we could hear a major party on Pigeon Beach. It was the lay-day in the regatta week and the crews were being entertained.
We head ashore for some wifi and get the update from Team New Zealand. All’s well. We pass by Dawn’s favourite restaurants as Monty wants to have a ‘rootsy’ Antiguan experience. So we start with a beer at the IMPROVE Rasta Shack. It’s Sailing Week so there is street food, music and impromptu bars everywhere. All the race crews seemed to be having an early night but we had a late one with the locals who were all out to enjoy the evening. Charlene’s steam fish washed down with cold Wadadli.
Next morning we sailed out of Falmouth and past the leeward mark of the first race of the day. The fleet came streaking past, including the spectacular foiling G4 Gunboat.
Escapade is headed South again, the volcano on Montserrat is smoking moodily to starboard and the green mountains of Guadeloupe are rising ahead.
We spent the night in the fishing village of Deshais where we cleared customs, ate good French pizza on the beach and sampled an authentic ‘Ti Punch’.
Next day we continued South down the coast of Guadeloupe, past the Cousteau marine reserve and on to the group of small islands ‘Les Saintes’ a few miles S of Guadeloupe. We enjoyed these isles with their goats and guanas, we spent a few days exploring some remote anchorages, windsurfing, snorkelling and eating well in the charming village at Bourg des Saintes.
Then it’s time to go, and the next island twenty miles to the South is Dominica. Twenty miles, but a world away.
It was very windy as we rounded the bluff and sailed in towards the town of Portsmouth in Prince Rupert Bay. A local guy in a small boat came to greet us and direct us to his mooring. He had motored a couple of miles offshore in 30 kts of wind to be the first ‘boat boy’ to contact us and thus enjoy exclusive trading rights with us according to the local code of practice. This starts with him renting us a mooring. It is not the most secure looking arrangement but as Titus takes our lines he assures us the mooring is sound. We have seen gusts of 35kts and there are whitecaps all over the bay. Titus comes aboard for a beer and he is a mine of local information. He would like to arrange jungle hikes and river trips for us. Whatever we need, Titus is our man. There is a brief misunderstanding at the mention of the word ‘weed’. We were referring to the Sargasso, Titus to the local mountain variety.
The moment we stepped ashore we felt at home here. It’s hard to explain the appeal of this island. The funniest, friendliest people who welcomed us into their life and culture. Wild misty mountains covered in jungle. Neither Monty or I were particularly excited about Dominica from what we had read, but now we would both say it would be the first place that we would return to. Monty even has his own bar here.
The next day it was still blowing hard and I was windsurfing around the bay fully powered on my smallest gear when I saw something that I’m sure I will always remember. As I came speeding back towards our mooring, there was Monty standing on the bow of Escapade. She was underway, serenely gliding through the anchorage and across the bay towards a rocky headland. Monty was less serene, aware that he was now single-handing a 51ft boat adrift in a Force 8, dragging the remains of Titus’s mooring down the port side, while the skipper was doing 25kts on a wave board. They were making pretty good speed under bare poles, but I could catch them.
A challenging moment! Monty threw me a line and I scrambled aboard, we ditched the shredded mooring so we could start engines. From past experience I know that towing a windsurfer behind a yacht can easily compound problems so we manhandled board and rig into the shelter of the cockpit and calmly motored back through the howling wind to drop our anchor off the beach. On 50 meters of chain. Having dived to check the anchor was secure, we ran through a few of the ‘what if?s’. It could have happened at any time in the night! I can’t believe I trusted that mooring and I won’t be doing that again. Monty has a few grey hairs but apart from that no damage done.
Aside from that drama the few days we spent in Dominica were a real pleasure. It is another one of those lands that time forgot. We sailed up the coast and anchored in the wilds, chopping green coconuts and diving for conch (we have at last figured out the correct way to get the meat out of the shell!). Our last night was in the capital Roseau where we were invited to a local reggae party in the boatyard. Now that was a rootsy night!
Next morning at first light we said farewell to the enchanted island of Dominica. Thanks to all our new friends for making us so welcome.
A lively morning sail down to Martinique. Fort De France looms like a big city so we anchor in a quiet bay, but Martinique feels like Europe and is such a contrast to Dominica. Our bubble is burst.
We are here for a crew change. Monty is jumping ship after three weeks, but first Dawn is flying in to join us, so we clean the boat.
So good to have Dawn back on board! She is ready for a swim round the boat after a 38hr trip from Auckland. Mission accomplished and Jemima is healing well.
For three weeks Monty and I have been testing the sanity of our decisions with the ‘Dawn Check’ (If she was on board, would she let me do this?) Now we have the real thing back to keep us out of trouble.
We spend a couple of days swapping stories and eating French Creole food, then it’s time for Monty to go.
Thanks for everything Mont, it was great to sail with you again.