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Sunsets, sailing and sheer loveliness.

4th April 2008

Sorry folks, this is a long one, not been able to get online much lately, all the sailing and drinking and seeing beautiful things kinda gets in the way.... Hehehehe!!

Day 7/ TA2 Day 2
St Lucia to the sea

This morning was mostly taken up by bunkering- a re-fuelling barge came alongside, nearly taking out a bit of the foc’sle with it’s anchor, and getting a bit of a dent on its starboard poop rail on our brace jib, but otherwise quite safely, well, until Keith fell off the foredeck onto Jon, who cushioned his fall, but wasn’t too impressed. It took longer than expected because they managed to break some bit of their equipment, so we had to wait for a while they sorted it. Meanwhile, LJohn and James got sent ashore for some sand (in case of diesel spillage), they found a lovely little beach but were chased off buy a cow (ravenous cow according to LJohn) and a pack of dogs. They weren’t deterred though and returned with sacks of sand for Mike, such brave boys! My heat rash saga continues but has been greatly improved today, probably a combination of the Fullers Earth and lashings of factor 30 sun cream!

After happy hour and the bunkering Francis took us over the ropes we had learnt yesterday and then after lunch Keith took us through putting up the foresail, outer jib and staysail. Then it was time to make sure everything was tidied away and clean down the deck before getting underway. We weighed anchor at 16.30, Anthony and I went aloft and loosed the topsail, stayed up there to overhaul it, and then moved down to the coarse to loose the gaskets off and overhaul when it was sheeted out. While we were climbing and loosing gaskets the rest of the voyage crew got the outer jib and staysail up, and then sheeted out the square sails. The spanker was the last sail to put up, with plenty of the old “2, 6, HEAVE!” as we hauled in the clewline. By then St Lucia was becoming a distant shape on the horizon, and as the sun set Martinique’s lights drew closer. We’ve been at sea for a few hours now, supper was interesting as we’re heeling to port a fair bit. I learned a useful trick from Pip- putting a spoon under your plate puts it back on a level plane, a very useful trick when eating stew! We’re sailing overnight to Dominica, expecting to arrive early morning. I’m on dead watch (00:00 – 04:00) so am off for an early night.

TA2 Days 3-7
Dominica to Les Saintes

Dead watch on our first night at sea was fun, when we came up it was beautifully clear, the stars were shinning and the moon was out, there were a few clouds about but generally they were of the light and fluffy variety, all was calm. Then blob on the radar started showing where no land was, looking at the horizon we could see a dark miasma of grey, a squall was approaching. Ben wanted to use the wind it was producing to power us along as we were sitting behind the high point of Martinique at that point, and going nowhere fast. As it hit, the wind picked up and we started heeling to port once more, the rain lashed down, big fat drops that came from the side rather than above, soaking me to the skin as I helmed, trying to keep a straightish course. As we moved thought the main part of the storm the rain died away but the wind continued and we needed to get the outer jib down. Ben sent Pip, Anthony and me up to the foredeck to try and haul it down but all three of us on the rope had no effect so we woke Keith, LJohn and Oli to give us a hand. The downhaul was jammed so LJohn had to go scrambling up the bowsprit to get it unstuck before we could get it away. The morning watch had an even more exhausting time of it as Francis was frigging with the rigging (his favourite pastime) for the whole 4 hours trying to get the most power out of the sails.

Arriving in Dominica in the afternoon felt little bit hairy as there was a strong wind blowing us over onto the jetty, but we made it safely thanks to the skill of our captain and some judicious placing of fenders. The fenders on the pontoon were huge tyres which we rubbed up against the whole time we were there, making some horrible squeaking noises, not fun when you’re trying to sleep. We made sure the ship looked immaculate and then chilled out for a while, watching Oli and LJohn out on the dinghys and taking bets on how far they’d get and whether we’d have to get the RIB out to rescue them. In the evening we wandered over to the local bar, and then further into town for more. Dave, Tom, Jesse and James went on to Big Pappas to dance the night away, while the rest of us wandered back home for watches and sleep.

The next morning a few of us went on a tour of the north end of the island, a mini bus took us up steep winding roads through lush rainforest. We saw lemongrass growing wild, coca pods and nutmeg trees, huge tree ferns and mango trees and the odd coconut too. Just above us were the tops of the really high mountains wreathed in cloud and far down below the coast and the sea stretched away. Our first stop off was in the middle of an old volcano, down a small footpath to a sulphur spring, it was absolutely beautiful, with verdant green grass growing to one side and little calderas of bubbling water surrounded by yellow stones dotted about, but the fragrance left something to be desired so we didn’t hang about too long. We continued on in our little bus, rising to heights that gave us amazing panoramic views and then right back down to the coastline where the waves pounded the shore. The final highlight of the trip was a waterfall, we parked at the top of a hill where a sign pointed along a path saying ’Chaudiere Falls - 2634 ft’, what it failed to note was that that was straight down! We scrambled and slid our way down an incredibly steep path to the river below. Polly and I were wearing flip-flops which weren’t the most practical choice of footwear so we ended up going barefoot and getting squidgy tropical mud between our toes. The climb was worth it, we found at the bottom a picture perfect scene, the plunge pool beneath the falls was deep and round with little fish swimming in it, rocks were perfectly placed, and the lush green canopy leaned over it all. Anthony braved the jump from the top and used the falls as a waterslide, he felt the full power of the water as he got pushed right down to the bottom by the current, and punched the air in triumph as he surfaced. Polly and I went for the easy option, playing in the rapids, which was lovely, until we discovered the only way to get out was to go down them, an option that involved getting several bruises! We clambered back up the hill to get back to the ship in time for the afternoon river trip along Indian River. 13 of the crew crammed into a row boat, with our oarsman, Macaroni at the back. It was a slow meandering ride up-river, along the bank there were huge sprawling tree roots, creeper vines and wild hibiscus. Macaroni showed us were they filmed the swamp scene in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and then we made our way up, spotting iguanas as we went, to a beautiful garden and bar where we stopped for a barbeque feast, complete with large quantities garlic dressing and volumes of beer. When it was dark I and a few others went and sat away from the light, listening to the forest, insects and goodness knows what else all singing their individual parts, making a full orchestra of chirruping and croaks. The ride back down river in the dark was magical, the trees above silhouetted against a bright starry sky. Back on the ship I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bunk.

We left Dominica in the morning and sailed the 20 miles to Les Saintes, which are just below Guadeloupe. We attempted tacking several times but Tall Ships don’t like going through the wind, and as we weren’t getting blown onto the island as much as had been initially thought we were eventually able to wear instead. We anchored in the middle of this tiny archipelago. There’s one main island, and a few smaller ones around it. The main town is called Terre-de-Haut, it’s so picturesque – very French colonial in style but all in bright Caribbean colours. A few people popped ashore for drinks that evening, the local cocktails are huge and extremely potent, but we generally had a fairly quiet evening, the highlight of which was the inauguration of the Grumpy Old Men Corner in the mess, Keith takes pride of place there of course!

Before we could go ashore the next day we had some cleaning to do, the bottom of the ship has accumulated a fair amount of weed and barnacles, and the fenders on the jetty in Dominica had left some nasty big black marks on the port side. Trying to get rid of the barnacles and weed proved to be a fairly fruitless task, we tried scraping them off with a sharp ended plank and brushing too, but had little effect. I went over the side with a snorkel to have a look at it properly, we have some interesting little things growing on us at the moment! Getting the side of the ship clean was a slightly easier job, some bods leaned over the side, scrubbing with Cif and we had Virginia, our dive boat, rigged on a sliding rope along the ship so as to get all the way along. Ray went hard at it, along with Jess, and I relieved Ray after a while. It was a little choppy and hard work but it was satisfying to see our ship looking all spick and span again.

After lunch we were given leave to go ashore to explore the town and island, the older lads had a wander round the town and found some good drinking spots and did a spot of shopping. Jess, Polly and I decided to walk across the island to find the north beach, it’s a lovely spot, a big wide palm fringed beach looking out across the bay which is sheltered from the brunt of the sea by rocky islands with gaps on each side that let the tide in. I went for a snorkel but was sadly disappointed, it obviously used to have a beautiful reef, but all that is left is broken coral and a few weeds. There were a few pretty fish, but it was mainly just a sad reminder of the damage we are causing this planet. We got back to the main town in time for a cocktail before getting the RIB back to the ship, they were huge, and tasted stronger than the ones we had the night before, I think we broke Jesse a bit! Back on board it was party time, the barbeque was brought out and Pip made Pelican punch (made of pretty much anything she could lay her hands on I think!). Everyone had a great time eating, drinking and dancing, Dave dragged me out onto the dance floor for a boogie, he may look skinny but he threw me about like a ballroom pro!

We’re now heading up to Montseratt, expecting to arrive in the wee small hours. We’ll anchor for a day there before heading on to Antigua, a leg that promises to be interesting as we’ll be beating into the wind.

TA2 Days 8-11
Montserat to Antigua

We were sailing through the sulphurous stench of the volcano as we changed watch, after taking in some sail the previous watch were allowed to go below and Mizzen watch were left to watch the dawn over Montserat. Towering clouds mixed with smoke from the mountain and we got snap happy as the sun sent rays under the clouds and around the hills of the island. We arrived into Little Bay on the north end at about breakfast time. Jules popped ashore and found a couple of taxi drivers offering to take us on a day’s tour of the island, which almost all of the crew decided to go on. We had to leave a few souls behind to look after the ship but the rest of us piled into two mini-vans (a tight fit with some of the larger chaps) and set off for the Montserat Volcano Observatory where we had a stunning view of the still smoking beast. Half the island is now a restricted zone as pyroclastic flows have swept down to the sea, obliterating the main town of Plymouth and extending the shore line. After watching a short video about the phases of eruptions that have occurred over the last 10 years we drove down to a valley where one of the flows has left a boulder strewn lunar landscape, with a couple of top storeys and roofs poking out of the grey sand. Up the other side we went through what had been the richest area of the island, known as Beverly Hills, the houses have been mostly abandoned now, though some people still go back occasionally to maintain the beautiful homes they had to leave in the hopes that they will be able to return. We got to a point where even 4 wheel drives couldn’t go any further and we climbed up the rest of the impossibly steep road to the top where we had another fantastic view of the land, including what was once Plymouth, now a modern Pompei. After all that, beers were needed to refresh the troops so we found a bar before returning to the shore to meet the RIB. Keith and Mike were in a shack bar there having their end of the day refreshment. The bar was owned by a fellow by the name of Moose and instead of serving us he told me I could just go behind the bar and serve the gang myself, Ben came with me and he ended up living his dream of running a Caribbean bar for an hour or so! Moose was a wonderful host and provided us with bar snacks of freshly fried jerk chicken and gar fish. The only annoyance was the midges which ate my legs with as much gusto as I ate the fish!

Next morning we set off on the slog to get to Antigua, the wind was against us and as soon as we got away from the shelter of the island we found ourselves in some very lumpy seas. We tried a tack after lunch but were too soon in doing so and ended up going back along the line we had come along, so we made a quick about face again and sailed on. In the end it took us 3 more tacks to get there, we sailed 98 miles to get across a 20 mile gap and arrived in Falmouth Harbour at about 4 in the morning. I was on mess duty that day which is always made much more interesting when you’re heeling at what feels like 35 degrees (but is probably only really 10 to 15). The freezer had packed up because the water intake was above the water line when we were on a starboard tack and when Tom went below to get ice cream for pudding after dinner he found something more like soup. Poor boy wasn’t very happy at that point and went up to the foredeck to vent his frustration by shouting abuse at Neptune!

We got a lie in that morning thank heavens, in the afternoon some of the crew went ashore and had a look at English Harbour which is not very far away from here, I decided to go back to bed instead as I’d got no sleep the night before until we’d anchored. The ship had been going up and down a lot and my bunk is thwart ship (lying across it rather than along the length) so when the ship heels I slide down the bunk and my feet hit the end, I have to change ends when we tack so I’m not lying upside-down! After some kip and shower I felt like a much nicer person. Graham, who’s the creator of the ship, joined us that afternoon and we had a lovely steak dinner to welcome him on board before heading off into town to celebrate our arrival in Antigua properly. Many rum punches and tequilas later we staggered home. I fell over and scraped my knee on the way, and in the middle of the night found myself shut in a small dark room that I was convinced was the sail locker of a pirate ship. After banging on walls and what I thought was the hatch above me for a while in anger and frustration, I ripped the shower curtain down and realised I was in my bathroom!

I didn’t feel very well yesterday, but was dragged out for a marginally more sedate night out anyway. A couple of rum punches acted as hair of the dog and I was soon dancing like a loon once more. We were a little late back, (OK, about three hours) but as we had Ben, who was Officer On Watch, with us, we pretty much got away with it. We had a lesson on knots this morning, with Graham filming us for his promotional video, and have had the rest of the day free. Most of the crew have gone ashore so I’ve taken advantage of the peace and quiet to catch up on emails etc. Now I’m off to Shirley Heights to watch the sunset.

Later, back on the ship feeling pleasantly full after another deck barbeque. The sunset was stunning, we had an awesome view of both Falmouh Harbour and English Harbour. God I love this life!

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