Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Scuba diving in Carriacou

We've stopped for a few days in the anchorage in Tyrrel Bay so that Graham can complete his PADI Open Water diving certificate with a local dive school, run by two wonderful German instructors Georg and Connie. The plan started with an 'Introduction to Scuba' session Saturday which consisted of some training in shallow water and then a one-to-one dive to about 6m on a coral reef - the fish were amazing and the Nurse Shark didn't seem bothered!

Since then it's been a mixture of studying the theory and doing more shallow-water skills (such as removing the mask under water, refitting and clearing it). All being well it'll take 4 days of so to complete and then Graham can go to accredited dive shops and hire kit and join local dives - places such as Bonnaire are apparently fantastic dive locations so this, will add a new dimension to the sailing trip! Di's enjoying snorkeling but moving to Scuba felt like too much of a jump just now.

Yesterday we met up with fellow ARC sailors Graham and Wendy on Oystermist who arrived in the anchorage heading north - we first met them in January 2012 at the London Boat Show when we all attended a presentation on the ARC. They have spent the past few weeks in Grenada and have really discovered lots of the island - their blog has some great photos.

We had a fun meal at the Lazy Turtle and it was really good to catch up with them; we're looking forward to visiting Grenada having heard their stories.

More photos to follow soon!  

Friday, 22 February 2013

Another day, another country - Grenada

The pages of our and passports are filling up quickly with the stamps of customs and immigration and we're still in the Caribbean. Luckily we both renewed our passports before we left and we opted for the ones with extra pages in them.

Yesterday we cleared out of Saint Vincent in Union Island and cleared into Grenada in Carriacou all of 6 miles away. Grenada actually consists of three islands: Grenada is the southern most island in the Windwards and is 120 sq.miles; Carriacou is just to the north of it and is just 13 sq. miles whilst tiny Petit Martinique is just 586 acres (and most of that a steep hill). Carriacou is pretty much overlooked by the tourist business so we have discovered that it's friendly and just nicely scruffy in parts. Clearing in at the main town of Hillsborough was a slow process and the anchorage there was very rolly so we moved on to Tyrrell Bay in the SW corner where there's a sheltered anchorage full of live-aboards in some sturdy cruising yachts, with just a few charter boats as well.

We found a well-recommended (thanks to Christine & Peter on Oojah- it's good to stay in e mail contact with our ARC friends!) restaurant for supper last night (and lunch today!) called The Slipway which has converted the old woodworking shop of a now-defunct boat-builders in the corner of the bay. They have retained some of the old machines and converted them into interesting tables and bars whilst outside the old launching trolley and its associated winches slowly rust. The food was good and well priced and the setting lovely.

At least there s still some traditional boat-building going on here - we found a workshop with a beautiful little clinker-built dinghy nearing completion:

Today has been a public holiday here following this week's elections. The party in opposition for the past 5 years won a landslide victory and we heard a post-election 'thank you rally' breeze past the anchorage with the local minister shouting his thanks to the voters via a megaphone. They take their politics seriously here but, then, the relatively recent history of coups, revolution and US-led invasion makes you understand why.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Divers needed! and photos of Union Island

We're still in Union Island after an unscheduled delay. Yesterday, we had to have a diver search under our boat as one of us managed to drop the full set of keys attached to a dinghy lock overboard. Oops! The keys have floats on them but attached to the lock meant they sat on the bottom. It was just too deep for Graham to swim down to and search- hence the need for the diver. Luckily, he found them in less than 15 mins and charged us about £15 for the service.

We mentioned in the blog the man made island called Happy Island. We went for a drink there last night and got talking to Janti, who built the island. Having built it, Graham asked him if he’d had to buy the land. The answer was that it’s his now and the problem of the build up of Conch shells left by the fishermen required drastic action (there were threats of malaria and other disease as a result of the mosquitoes around them). Janti’s was the most imaginative solution and he got full support. The result is a really fun place to go for a drink. It can be dangerous though as after your second drink, the next is on the house....!!

Here are a few photos of Union Island:

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Swimming with turtles and Sundowners on Happy Island

We treated ourselves to one more day at Tobago Cays. Friday is normally 'changeover day' for charter yachts so many had dashed back to their home ports leaving the islands a little less busy. Whether this also had an effect on the turtles, we don't know but the turtle count shot up as we motored over to the reef when we spotted two or three heads pop up. As we snorkelled out from the beach, it wasn't long before we spotted two turtles below us. They were grazing on the sea grass and seemed totally unaware of our presence. We stayed mesmerised by this magical picture until occasionally one of them would decide to surface, pop his (or her) head up and then dive back down for more grazing. As we snorkelled on, we came across others and so we watched them for a while. Only one other snorkeler was lucky enough to spot them and we were careful not to crowd these beautiful creatures. We eventually left them to it and began to make our way back to the beach. On the way, Dianne came across two more turtles so stopped to watch them before tearing herself away but with a big smile on her face when she got to the beach. The whole experience was made extra special after there had been no turtles the previous day.
Next stop was Union Island, only 4 miles away. We anchored in Clifton Harbour which is perfectly protected by another reef which cuts out the swell and the rolling. We headed into the town of Clifton to have a look around (we'll post some photos on a later blog) and stock up on some provisions. Unfortunately we were limited as the one cash machine had run out of EC dollars and wouldn't be restocked until some time on Monday morning.
The destination for our sundowner on Saturday evening was Janti's Happy Island. Janti built the island by hand on the shallowest part of the reef, using the discarded conch shells left by the fisherman. The result is Happy Island- about 45 feet in diameter, roughly round, solar- and wind-powered and a unique place to watch the sun go down. As well as the entertainment from Janti behind the bar, kite surfers whizzed by and launched into the air as they turned, skimming our dinghies tied up right outside the bar.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Tobago Cays - reef fish and turtles

'Gallinago' at anchor in Tobago Cays, the horseshoe reef in the distance
Well Tobago Cays have certainly lived up to their reputation. We've had crystal clear water, protected from the Atlantic swell by the Horseshoe Reef which surround them. The snorkelling has been fantastic – proper coral reefs that are teeming with brightly-coloured fish. It's a protected marine park so there's no fishing allowed which means that the wildlife is abundant and very tame. When we dived down to the reef (to maybe 3-4 metres depth) we could glide past shoals without them appearing in the slightest perturbed. Sadly there were no turtles in the prescribed spot this morning but this was more than made up for when a large turtle surfaced about 15 feet from the boat this afternoon.
Last night we had drinks aboard Gallinago with Matt and Charlotte and so, in recompense for drinking too much of their red wine, Graham climbed the mast today to take the photo of them at anchor.
We'll perhaps spend another day here before heading south to Union Island – a return to a bit more in the way of civilisation.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A walk around Mayreau

Today we walked around most of the island's coastline, heading first to the windward beach. A few miles to the east lie Tobago Cays, protected by a huge coral reef, and we'll be heading there tomorrow to join the many yachts anchored there to enjoy the strictly-protected marine park.

We walked along spectacular beaches and met not a soul on the 2-hour walk. Mind you, the population is only 350 strong and the hotel trade is pretty well non-existent so maybe that's not a surprise.

 Beautiful rock colours

 Tobago Cays

Unfortunately the place isn't completely unspoiled: the blight of plastic bottles and other man-made detritus is such a shame. Plastics are a global problem and all yachties get angry about the amount of rubbish littering the beaches. Unfortunately these islands have no recycling facilities and, in some islands, the local culture doesn't seem to worry about discarding rubbish in the streets. A few are making strenuous efforts to change this culture but actually the visiting yachts impose a huge impact on the fragile waste systems of the islands. We work hard to minimise our impact and our on-board watermaker means that we don't buy bottled water (some yachts crossing the Atlantic had hundreds of bottles aboard, it seemed). 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Bagging more islands - Canouan and Mayreau

After a very rolly night in the quiet anchorage of Friendship Bay at the southern end of Bequia, we sailed south to Canouan - a brilliant sail. 

 Windswept trees on the island
Oops! He so nearly made it!

Canouan? No, we had never heard of it either. We anchored in Charlestown Bay and met a (younger than us!) English couple in a Westerly Oceanlord (a 43 footer) who have the same plans as us. pretty much. They joined us for drinks aboard and left us at about 10.00pm; four hours later they were rudely awakened when a French yacht to windward came off its mooring (missing us by inches probably) and clattered into them. The sailing guide we use warns of taking a mooring (at every anchorage a guy comes out to ask if we want a .mooring ball) as often they aren't maintained properly. Luckily Matt & Charlotte didn't suffer any damage but we now always watch out for potential problems in every anchorage.

This morning we dinghied ashore and hiked up the hills above the anchorage. On the windward side of the island there's an amazing reef-fringed lagoon.

 Our anchorage

The lagoon

Walk completed we were hot and hungry and found a brilliant local's bar where 2 rounds of drinks and 2 rotis ( curried beef and chicken with potato in a wrap) came to $EC 49 (about £12). Really friendly people so it was a good lunchtime break and we got in just before rush hour - regular clientele included road-menders, a uniformed official of some sort and the owners' two children on their lunch break.

This afternoon we set off another 10 miles south to Mayreau and we are sitting in Dennis' Hideaway Bar enjoying some particularly good rum punches, so we'd better stop typing soon! This island is the smallest inhabited Grenadine island and seems really friendly - it has a completely different feel from the slightly-chaotic Canouan. We'll probably stay here another day before going to explore Tobago Cays; from what we've seen so far, they need a new green-keeper at the recreation ground!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Celebrity- and turtle-spotting in Bequia

We had a great day yesterday, after a not-so-comfortable night at anchor (we had some rolly swells in the anchorage), starting with a swim around the boat. We went ashore with a plan to hike up over the hills and down to the north-east coast of the island.

Having tied the dinghy up at the town dock, we spotted Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood with a group of friends taking photos of an interestingly dilapidated building on the edge of town. You'll have to take our word for it; we didn't do any embarrassing paparazzi moments and, anyway, don't you just hate name-droppers? We're both sure it was him. Last time we met Ronnie (clang) was at a reception at Clarence House (clang) hosted by  Prince Charles and Camilla (clang, clang); we chatted about fine art, of which Ronnie is quite a connoisseur.  Rather delightfully, he attempted to walk out with the beautifully-illustrated book describing the pictures hanging in the Clarence House drawing room; when apprehended by the security man, he claimed, all innocently, that "Prince Charles said I could 'ave it".

The 2-mile walk was lovely - a steep climb then a gentle descent to the sea at Spring Bay where we stopped for a nice lunch at Sugar Reef, a restaurant with an amazing view.

The dining room also had some rather beautiful lights made of driftwood - our friend Barbara, who makes some very special mobiles from driftwood herself, would approve:

The American owner, Emmit, greeted us and explained that he's owned the building since 1985 but has now taken over the running of the restaurant and its rooms and re-opened at the beginning of the year. He cheerfully admitted no experience in the hotel trade so had a couple of American consultants still on hand but the place deserves to succeed, based on our experience.

The short post-lunch walk took us a little further along the coast to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. Founded in 1995 by Orton King, a diving fisherman who was appalled by the near extinction of the Hawksbill Turtle, it takes turtle eggs from nearby beaches and hatches them, rearing the turtles until they are 4 years old and then releasing them to the wild. Only one in a thousand newly-hatched turtles will survive to 4 years in the wild whereas the sanctuary has 25% success rate with the eggs it collects and has already released over a thousand of these wonderful creatures to where they belong. 

 Baby turtles (about 4 months old) learn to deal with a fish

 A Hawksbill fights off the attentions of the sole Green Turtle in the pool

We were shown around by King's grand-son Justin (above), still a teenager (his strong black-Caribbean accent at odds with his white skin, goatee and shades look) but sharing his grandfather's love of turtles; he will ensure that the sanctuary continues to work, in spite of the lack of funding apart from the donations of visitors. Our visit coincided with feeding day (the turtles are fed with small fish every other day) so they followed Justin's every move with concentration and fell upon the fish with enthusiasm. We spent an hour there, spellbound by these amazing animals.

On the walk back we passed some cattle-farming, Bequia-style:

We're not sure if the beef steak we had aboard that evening (bought frozen from the famous Doris' food store in town, which sells almost everything, at a price) came from here but it was delicious.

Today will probably be our last in Admiralty Bay - we'll plan our route through the Grenadines this afternoon and set off tomorrow but not before we've sampled the famous lobster dinner at a local beach-side restaurant L'Auberge des Grenadines. It's a tough life.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Farewell to Jacaranda

From time to time we mention other boats and crews that we have met on out travels; many of them we've met either on the ARC or out here in the Caribbean but one or two are from back in England.

One such boat is Jacaranda. Sally and Mike are taking her around the world but in only two years so, whilst they left Falmouth only a week before we did and set off across the Atlantic a couple of days after the ARC, they now have a pretty tight timescale ahead of them.

Dianne met Sally when they were both on the Ship's Medical Officer's training course 12 months ago and, a month before we left, the four of us met in a Somerset pub for a meal and to compare notes on how stressed we were about emptying our respective houses and preparing our boats for the voyage ahead. Mike is ex-RN and was Chief Engineer on a submarine so is incredibly practical and has huge deep-sea (sorry) experience. They were joined for the Atlantic crossing by their sons Tom and James and had a good voyge, apart from the Whale Incident. They think they hit one at speed during the night and there was a significant whale imprint in the leading edge of the keel when they lifted the boat out for antifouling in Rodney Bay. Luckily Jacaranda is a steel yacht so there was no significant damage; not sure how the whale fared though.

Anyway we bade farewell to them on Monday as they set sail, non-stop, for Panama. They hope to get through the canal in mid to late February so we'll be following their progress with interest; Sally has already shared lots of information about the various agents that you have to use in Panama and the Galapagos and they will kindly let us know of their experiences. It'll be invaluable to have some really up to date information. So we wish Sally, Mike, James and Rhi a very safe and speedy passage to Panama.

Downwind for 1200 miles to Panama

Saint Lucia to Bequia

Yesterday's 75 mile passage started with a night-time departure so the alarm went off at 02.15 and we left Rodney bay at 3.00am; at least we were treated to the dawn light over the Pitons as we sailed down the coast (with some motoring when the wind shadow of the island saw our speed drop below 3 knots). Once into the channel between Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent, the next island in the chain, the wind increased had a steady Force 5 and we enjoyed a good reach down the windward side of Saint Vincent, though with the Caribbean current against us for most of the way.
Bequia is part of Saint Vincent from a legislative point of view but geographically is one of the Grenadines and it's a really popular sailing destination. The only town, Port Elizabeth,  sits at the head of a large, beach fringed bay called Admiralty Bay (you get the feeling that the Royal Navy has been here before) and, yes, the water in the anchorage really is as blue as it looks in the photo. As we anchored a large manta ray slowly circled around us, the white underside tips of its wing showing above the water every now and then, and this morning Graham snorkelled around the boat and could see that the anchor was firmly dug into the sandy seabed. The only downside is that it's a slightly rolly anchorage so we have deployed our sea anchor anti-roll device, last used off the Vigo Ria.
We are looking forward to exploring ashore (Graham had a quick look around town after clearing in with Customs and Immigration and reported back that it's a bit touristy but fun); the hills are densely wooded and this morning a brightly coloured parrot flew out over the anchorage. We'll probably spend a few days here – our anchor spot is about 300m off the lovely white sand beach known as Princess Margaret Beach and Jack's Bar will need investigating. It's a bit of a long dinghy ride into town but we're in no hurry and there's always the splendidly-named Phat Shag water taxi if we need it. The work done on the boat certainly is proving successful – in the bright sunshine we have fully-charged batteries and are running the watermaker with amps to spare, whilst the fridge is running far better for its water-cooling; before we'd have been thinking about firing up diesel generator every day.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Heading south, and future plans

We're leaving Saint Lucia this evening (probably about midnight) for 12 hour or so sail down to Bequia, south of St Vincent - its one of the bigger Grenadine islands and is said to be lovely (and a bit less expensive than the neighbouring private island of Mustique). There is big group of tiny islands around it, some of them uninhabited and Tobago Cays (not in Tobago at all, confusingly) sound particularly lovely with a protective reef providing shelter for turtles and some great snorkelling.

We'll spend the next month or so down in the islands before moving further south to Grenada and then there's a thousand miles or so to travel further west to Panama (via the ABC islands - Arruba, Bonnaire, Curacao). Lots of Google Earth opportunities if you have a slow day in the office..

We are hoping to pass through the Panama Canal at the beginning of April so have been studying various websites with care - it sounds like a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare (and it isn't cheap) so we are pleased that our friends Sally & Mike on Jaccaranda are going through about a month ahead of us and will update us with the latest news. The Canal is obviously a major shipping route so they tolerate rather than welcome yachts and the timing of our passage will very much depend on the amount of commercial traffic going through.

Anyway, that's all ahead of us; we'll update some photos when we get to Bequia.