Tag Archives: Almost There

Bula, Fiji!

The sailing grounds of Fiji are huge and we will have the delight of exploring them for about two months. The Lau Group alone is over 200 miles long or half the length of the Caribbean. Then you have the Yasawa Group, two huge main islands and lots of other individual islands to explore. We decided we would explore as much as we could but with the primary goal of visiting the Lau Group, difficult to do unless the weather plays nice for you. These islands, very much off the beaten track and very definitely off grid, have only been opened up for cruisers to visit in the last five years. The Fijian Government stopped issuing permission in the mid 90s as it was felt that the island communities were being corrupted by the few visitors they were getting. Cruising licences were granted again in 2012. Last year around 100 yachts visited the chain.

On our passage from Tonga, we came through the Oneata Pass during the night and then turned N for the 170miles run up to Savusavu. Our first sight of land in daylight was the island of Taveuni, a huge old volcano lying to the SE of our destination, Vanua Levu island.

Bula, Fiji!

We booked in at Savusavu on Fri 9th Jun. Savusavu is the northern and most eastern of the available booking in ports of Fiji. The Customs and Immigration Staff were pleasant and we had no problems. Charges are made for the Biosecurity and the Health inspectors (a total of about $230 – about £85 – exchange in Jun 17 was $2.70 to £1 – all pricing given in Fijian $). Don’t book in at a weekend as you get hit for automatic fees for the Customs and Immigration with a minimum charge of three hours staff costs, another $200 or so. The only issue we had was as we had no Fijian money on us, we needed to find their offices on the following Monday to pay. We had a few attempts where the staff were nowhere to be seen, presumably busy with duties but it did mean we explored the town well!

The other embuggerance we found is that until you gain your sailing licence you aren’t allowed to tour Fiji. Stupidly, it requires another application to the Customs staff after you have booked in. We did it through the Marina office and it took a further three days to be organised and for us to be called into the Customs office to finish the paperwork off, a total of a week after we arrived. Why it isn’t done automatically with the information you supply with your advance notice C2 paperwork, I don’t know. Once you have the licence, there is a second requirement to phone in to Customs with your plans once a week so they can track you as you go through the islands.

Bula, Fiji!

We had a fantastic week at the Copra Shed Marina, sitting properly still for the first time after all the fast jumps we had had since Tahiti and met some good people. It took a few days to work out that we knew Ding from Opua when he had been parked beside ZigZag and we had mutual friends in Gill and Alastair of Starcharger. We had a good day watching Scotland beat the Aussies and then the Lions match afterwards.  There are three marinas in Savusavu. You have the Yacht Club, a mile or so up E outside the town. This is home to the long term liveaboards that have decided not to leave Fiji. We were invited down one evening for a pot luck supper which was great fun. They are a nice crowd. It was great to meet Jimmy, a 15yr vet of Fiji who has now qualified for residence. His story of building a platform on his newly gained land with an ISO container and putting a yurt up on top to live in until the house is finished is inspirational!

Next you have the Copra Shed. With some dock space and plenty of balls, it is the most swept up and commercialised of the marinas. It has an excellent bar and restaurant, laundry, shops and a couple of chandleries with a surprisingly good selection. Their electronics were better priced than NZ. The marina will also organise, free of charge, your booking in and out, calling the Customs and Immigration staff in as you arrive. Well organised and with a secure dinghy dock, it is run by Geoff Taylor (the OCC PO in these parts) and his staff and is a good place to be. To point out a star, Pretty, the lady who runs the marina office is superb at sorting out your questions and problems. Our week on the ball cost us $15 a night and our evening view was fantastic.

Bula, Fiji!

Lastly you have the Waitui Marina. These days it is pretty run down but its balls are even cheaper than the Copra Shed. If you really need to save cash go here, but don’t expect frills. It has a small dinghy dock, a bar and the evening restaurant is a BBQ stand at the front of the building. Saying that they are the best of the marinas at listening out on the radio and are excellent at sorting out taxis. Bula, Fiji!

Turning right out of the marina, there are several restaurants along the sea front. The Chinese is excellent (portion sizes are massive) and the Indian is pretty good too. You really need to ask for hot here as if you don’t you will get a bland offering. When they do heat it up, it is excellent.

In regard to services, the Copra shed is excellent.

Laundry is cheap at $8 a load and generally done within the day. Water and fuel are available (water from the dock at a small charge – fuel from the local Total petrol station – not tax free but easily organised).

We wouldn’t recommend Shabnam, the lady who sits outside the Copra Shed and says she is a seamstress/sail repairer. She did some inside cushions for us on the basis we could check her work before we gave her our sail cover,  parasail and bimini for repair. What came back didn’t impress and I certainly wasn’t going to hand anything more valuable to her to do given her standard of work.

Internet is always a thorny problem in the Pacific. FP was stupidly expensive but we were impressed with Tonga. Fiji is even better. Fiji has an good 3G phone coverage and data cards for your phone cost $50 for 50Gb download, valid for a month from Vodaphone, the provider we were advised to use by locals. We bought a card and then a dongle to allow us both phone and data access. Full service and good internet about $140? And $50 credit for calls throw in for free? Excellent! Bizarrely international calls are $0.15 a minute, local calls are $0.42. Go figure……..

We explored Savusavu thoroughly. It is a small town with one main street running maybe half a mile long with a bus station and a large indoor market for fruit, veg and the all important dried kava roots, used to make the local tropical beverage of choice. The majority of the shops are cheap, a bit chaotic but great fun to explore and the people are uniformly helpful and pleasant. It has been great to get back to better prices than FP. My Keen sandals were starting to fall apart. Fixed by the shoemaker for $6.  Could have bought new flip flops for $5 but hey! It isn’t a population with much money and the pricing in shops (and you have to say the quality of goods in the shops) reflect this.

Bula, Fiji!

Our first of four sets of Fiji guests arrived. We last saw Shena and Kinsley from Almost There in Puerto Rico for Christmas ‘15 just before they moved off their boat and back to North Carolina. Kinsley has shot up and now is as tall as me at the grand old age of 13…. It was lovely to see both of them although the long flight out here had taken its toll. The goodies they brought out with them (new handheld, the new Delorme, new cable for the VHF and some god awfully sour sweets called Warheads for the girls) were gratefully received. The Moonshine that came too will be appreciated at a later date!Bula, Fiji!

We had a couple of days exploring the local area with them.We visited a tropical rain forest, run by locals. We spent more time looking for kava to present them and then getting stuck on the v small road to the village (thank you to the bloke who took pity on us and took us the rest of the way in his 4×4 – no way would our hire care have made it) than we did actually looking around the trail.

Bula, Fiji!

It is well worth a visit if for nothing more than the fresh water crayfish and the bugs we found. I enjoyed being surrounded by that slightly off rotten smell you get from true rain forest, very much a land smell. My legs didn’t really enjoy having to climb up and down hills for the first time in a long time.

Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!

We visited a village that looks after a waterfall. After our sevusevu ceremony where our $20 stick of kava root was formally accepted, we were given permission to look around the village, buy some trinkets made in the village and then visit their waterfall. I’m afraid I succumbed to the charms of an enormous shell and the ladies had fun buying bracelets. I had some fun with two very small boys wanting to throw a rugby ball around and we toured the neat, small village, proudly being show the church and the Fijian equivalent of the church bell, a hollowed out tree, used as a drum. Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!DSCF1719DSCF1712Bula, Fiji!

We headed back into town and Lou got very excited about a sign she saw. Apparently her Dad went to St Bedes when he was growing up………..

Bula, Fiji!

We met up with another couple of kid boats, Mrs Goodnight from GE with Katrina on board and most impressively Lil’ Explorers from USA with 6 kids on board!

We had a good night at the Savusavu Yacht club with a pot luck supper and visited the old plantation club in town too. It had extracts of A to Z of White immigrants in Fiji where the detailed views of the planters on the intractability of the “natives” in the late 19C was a horrifying non-PC but very interesting. I’d have to say the current internal problems with the take over of administrative and management roles within Fiji by Indian émigrés (now 4 and 5th gen Fijians themselves) started a long time ago and seems to me to be very much down to British colonials  bringing in more “tractable” staff……

We loaded up with fresh from the excellent market as there is a very limited ability to pick up anything in the islands beyond the local’s hospitality.

Bula, Fiji!

We moved from Savusavu SE to the end of the point beside the Jacque Cousteau Resort to meet up with Mrs Goodnight and Lil’ Explorers and to wait for a weather window to move to Taveuni, a large island 40miles W but well placed to give us a decent sailing angle down into the Lau Group, hopefully our next destination. Whilst we waited we had great fun with a movie night on board Lil’ Explorers and then an education for all of us in the delights of Halyarding. Great fun, a little scary and with the potential to go wrong if you mistime it, it was an adrenaline buzz loved by all.

Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!

Shena and I got up to a fair height but the wee ones got to the full stretch of rope. Hannah went one better and launched just as the rope went taut, firing above the line like an arrow. It took us all by surprise. I think she reached well beyond 10m in height and took a long time to reach apex and fall back into the water!

Bula, Fiji!

The passage to the Lau Islands is not an easy one. The prevailing winds of Fiji are the SE trades. To get back into the Lau Islands from either Savusavu or Suva, the two booking in ports means a either a long beat upwind or waiting around for weeks to get a window of 36hrs or so when the Trades collapse as a system goes through. There had been one just as we arrived in Fiji and one looked likely as we moved around to the Jacque Cousteau Resort. To position ourselves, we beat a further 40Nm E around to the island of Taveuni. It was not a pleasant sail and we had big seas until we got into the lee of Taveuni. We stopped at the Paradise Resort near the S corner of the island and met back up with Stop Work Order.


The resort is owned by two Aussies,Terri and Alan . Deemed too old to do so in Aus,  they moved to Fiji to be able to adopt kids and now have four happy smalls. Good people, they have decided the resort will be a cruiser friendly place and have put in 6 buoys in place for visiting boats. The buoys are free as is the use of the showers and pool. The food is excellent and the evening ambience, helped along by being serenaded by a guitar playing local was very pleasant. Internet is v expensive ($50 a day against $50 for 50Gb lasting a month via Vodaphone data card) as is laundry (more than 5x the price of getting it done at the Copra Shed) but we required neither service.

I did get an education in wearing my “man skirt”. In FP, men wear the sulu with the front cover going to the right, just as I would wear a kilt. In Fiji, men wear the front cover to the left; ladies to the right. I was a little surprised to be wolf whistled at by the grinning guitar player but he explained why and we laughed. He did offer to exchange his own more formally correct Fiji suvu for mine but I rather like my Bora Bora flowery one…… I did change the wrap around before anyone else took advantage of me and got another knowing smile and a nod when he saw me correctly dressed!

The kids had a wonderful time and Hannah enjoyed a couple of nights being invited to dinner with the Resort owner’s kids. Much laughter, great fun and we thank Terri for the invitations.

We had two great days at Paradise before leaving on the tide N to make more easting in the shadow of Taveuni. Two days of sailing stretched in front of us, most of it on a best course to windward.


Makemo–pt 2

Ok, so we decided to stay. We were all ready to push off to Kaeuhi having finished the filial duties and been in comms with the old dears for their Golden Wedding Anniversary but then……. There was internet, it was great to be able to talk to families again,  Lou wanted to do some more booking of bits and pieces for New Zealand, the kids needed to do some serious school, Lou wanted to download more books for the kids to read and there was that internet thing……..

Typically, Skylark demanded some TLC as well. The large plate holding the taps on at the sinks disintegrated and with no hope of spares and the taps sitting loose, I fabricated from scratch a replacement. I was glad that the yard of aluminium plate I have carried for the last two years finally found a use as I cut a blank from it then shaped and cut it using my wonderful Dremel – a  bit of equipment that I would heartily suggest any long term sailor should carry. I am ever thankful that Robert from Almost There gifted his well stocked Dremel box to us in Puerto Rico when it was decided they were heading back to the USA. I’ve made jewellery, engraved Skylark’s name and number on items (including the dinghy), polished rudder posts, cut wood, metal, sharpened machete, shaped lots of bits and pieces and now some outright fabrication with it too. A marvellous bit of kit – as long as you have the right attachments! You need a small portable vice to use it properly –  $30 in Grenada.


Just to take advantage of our our weak will and help us justify our decision, along came the rubbish weather with 20+kts every day, little blue sky and lots of rain. Although we collected a lot of water for showers in our jugs, the daily temperature averaged low 80Fs and the night time temperatures fell as low as the 72F. We missed the sun.

In the end we stayed along side for another week with another three French boats that came in, waiting for decent weather as we were. Sadly they were not exactly hospitable types. We had great difficulty engaging any of them in meaningful conversation. The two boys on one of the boats went to play with the French doctor’s kids at the other end of the village. The local kids were a bit put out being made into pariahs too. None of the grown ups wanted to visit us either (“perhaps later….”), not a single invitation to come on board so in the end, I was less than impressed with our fellow pier guests. The most unfriendly and insular group of boaters we have come across. Just rude. Our kids ended up playing with an ever increasing number of local kids most afternoons after they had finished school, Skylark being a convenient jumping in spot with the added attraction of a kayak, and having great fun. I occasionally apologised loudly, insincerely smiling  to the glaring bloke on the boat next door about the noise the kids were making. Before anyone says anything, this was some days after we had tried and failed to get along. By this point, I was at the “stuff it” phase. I certainly wasn’t going to stop the kids’ fun.


Enough of the rant.

We explored more of the N side of the atoll and had a few long walks up towards the airport although we never managed to get to the airport itself, being five miles or so up the road. We also found another store a mile or so out of the main village, one that we hadn’t read anything about in any of the Guides or Compendium.  It is called “Bienvenue – Chez Tupana” and can be called on 980 333.  Two interesting facts about it for those that come after us


1. It sells fuel. Not cheap but diesel and petrol are available for those that really need it at $1.70 a l for petrol and $1.67 for diesel (Sep 16 prices). That works out to be about $6.70 a US Gal. I’m jealous of the 25c a US gallon price that Greg in Trinidad and Tobago on So What is paying at the moment. Fill up, mate! It doesn’t get any better than that!

2. Far more importantly, it sells Cadbury’s chocolate, plain, almond and fruit and nut, in big bars. Lou thought she had died and gone to heaven and I suspect at least one of her 500 days died a death because of it. The fact that they had stock allowed us to justify walking back up to the store a couple of times.

The atoll, being wonderfully flat and with perfect roads, was just the place for roller blades and scooters. Lou and I occasionally got to have fun with them but it was on sufferance and never for long! I did find out that it was impossible to carry baguettes in our made to measure waterproof bag whilst riding a scooter, much to the amusement of a couple of good natured laughing locals who, having seen me whizz past on the way there, watched me slowly walking back carrying the scooter in one hand and the baguettes in the other.


Well outside the village on one of our walks, we were chased down by one of the wee girls who had taken us under her wing. She needed to make sure that we were back in time for a outdoor cinema that she excitedly told us would be held down by the pier that night. Cakes and ice creams would be for sale. She had decided early on that Lou’s French was good enough to follow her conversation so she talked at us in great long speeches. We couldn’t quite understand the references to a “discoteque”, but later worked it out that night after the kids came back having watched one of the Ice Age films in French to tell us about an second film for the adults, set in a disco. “They were wearing very short skirts and it had noisy music so we didn’t want to stay….” Oh, how that sentiment will change all too soon.


On the way up to the store, there is a narrow cut that has been made into a small boats mooring field. You cross it by bridge and we watched as some of the local kids had a swimming lesson in its beautifully sheltered water.  Not a bad “baby pool”.  Every time we passed it, there were kids playing there, jumping off the bridge or just cooling off, chatting whilst sitting in the shallows.


There finally seemed to be a couple of days gap in the weather and on the 6th Sep, we headed out having had one last stop at the excellent boulangerie. With about 100 miles to get to our next pass at Kaeuhi, we left having waited for bread, at 0930hrs on a falling tide, two hours after high slack. Perhaps not the best of choices. With wind over tide we had fairly significant standing waves as we exited and I was thankful we are a cat with an engine on both hulls giving us far more manoeuvrability than a monohull has. We got thumped with side waves and big eddies tried to spin us, requiring some fast work on the wheel and throttle variation. It wasn’t particularly bad (we had much worse coming out of Farmers Cay in the Bahamas) and was over in a couple of minutes as we got flushed out at over 10kts but for peace of mind, I think we will try closer to slack in the future.  The race continued about half a mile out from the pass but we turned out of it quickly and were soon in normal seas again. With the wind on our stern, 20kts blowing and with 1.5m waves, we set jib only, running WNW to clear the NE corner of the atoll.

It was an easy sail and we slowed down with a couple of turns in the jib during the night. Dawn saw us 10 miles short of the Kaeuhi pass at the SW corner of the island.


Galapagos–Santa Cruz

We left after a week in San Christobal to travel across to Santa Cruz. It is about 40 miles between the two anchorages so we left at dawn with our new friends, Jade and headed out with no wind and a calm sea to get across in the daylight hours.  It was a pretty tedious crossing other than seeing the breakers on the small uninhabited island of Santa Fe.  We got a little close and got a good amount of reflected wave from the island.



It turned the water into a bit of a washing machine which wasn’t that pleasant.  Lesson learned. Next time, go into the lee of the island and get a flat sea……

Santa Cruz is the main tourist island of the Galapagos and Academy Bay is the main anchorage. it is the home of the majority of big tour boats and the largest town in the whole of the island chain. Unfortunately the anchorage is exposed to the swell which predominately runs from the SW and the first few days here were unpleasant. Imaging sitting just outside the point where the waves break on a beach and you will understand the swell type. It caused lots of problems with a huge surge and roll for the monohulls and even the cats were bucking about. Taranga, our Danish friends were extraordinary lucky. In the middle of the night, they woke to a bang but finding they weren’t moving, they headed back to sleep. The next morning, the dived on the anchor only to find it wasn’t there anymore and their chain was jammed between two rocks. The surge had broken their anchor swivel and only sheer dumb luck had kept them from going onto the reef 50m behind them.

Thankfully the waters calmed after a few days but it is still the worst anchorage we have been in for a long time.

The first big plus of the anchorage is no sea-lions and the daily assault of guano on the nose has gone! There are, however, a large population of sharks with baby Hammerheads and Blacktips in the bay. The largest we saw around us was about 4’ long.

The town is the normal tourist trap with the bars offering happy hour cocktails, lots of poor t-shirt shops and a huge number of the “best Galapagos tour – ever!” signs. We have heard mixed results from those having gone on tours. Some are good but most have been a quick whip round and a charge of $100-160 per person per day. Not cheap and often disappointing. We, of course don’t have the kind of money that will allow us to go on lots of these trips but we have found the fantastic Tortuga beach about 40 mins walk away where we can see both plenty of wildlife and as a bonus, learn to surf. As you might see, the kids did somewhat better than their parents. Hannah has got it! We had a good crowd there with kids from Tika, Quatra, Jade and ourselves. Our thanks to Rusty from Tika for the lessons.

P1010995   P1010994  P1020029  P1020017  P1020022DSC_3196DSC_3384 (2)


Tortuga Beach is lovely. The red flag flies there due to the rip which builds in heavy seas but we found that it was perfectly safe at the S end.


We did one small trip to the sink holes, tunnels and tortoise sanctuary. Well worth the value of $40 a head for the day. The sinkholes are particularly impressive.






We did find one very quiet beach. Nick from Jade had a wonderful time near drowning the kids. They loved it.





The wildlife was great too. A great collection of birds, land crabs and Marine Iguana, an animal we have decided must be in the running for the laziest in the world. Watching the Storm Petrol’s seemingly walk on the water as they feed is a special sight. See below for a collection of exotic birds (sorry Jane and Gill!).


P1020006  P1020012  P1020013   P1020005DSCF3994_thumb[1]DSCF4005DSCF4081DSCF4191DSCF4197DSCF4198DSCF4224DSCF4329


I’ve also been enjoying the diving. Whilst the dives I did in San Christobal were just about ok, we didn’t really get to see a huge amount. Here through? Wow, just wow. We were lucky that as the sea calmed down on the anchorage, so did the visibility improve generally around at the dive sites. I dived at Gordon’s Rock, just off the NE corner of the island and rated as one of the two best dive sites in the Galapagos chain. We dived twice to no more than 60’ and saw so much wildlife. Galapagos, Black Tip and White Tip sharks, sea lions coming to play, rays, turtles and so many pelagic fish.  The highlight was the sudden appearance of a school of Hammerhead, sodding huge things, which had us racing for the safety of the rock face. Glorious, if a bit nervy! I came up after the 2nd dive with just 200psi left in the tank. Guess I was breathing heavily!

Sadly most of my photos didn’t come out well but we pooled our photos once we got back to the shop. These are some of the best. Mia from Taranga was my dive buddy who provided more than half of the photos below. It was great to be back diving with an expert, something I’ve missed since we left Almost There and Robert’s kind tuition. Mia will be joining Skylark for a month in the Marquesas so I’m hoping we will be able to get some more diving in then too.

IMG_2252  IMG_2261 P4240032 IMG_2279 G0059034  IMG_2281  GOPR8983  GOPR8988  GOPR9020  P4240007  P4240009P4240016  P4240017  P4240019  P4240027


We have spent a little more time than we were intending here due to our wait for replacement rudder parts from France. Not that we are complaining. There are worse places in the world to get stuck in!

Whilst I’d love to point the finger purely at Ecuadorian Customs administration,  the inefficiencies of FEDEX have been exposed here too. Our parcel left France on the 20th Apr and arrived in Ecuador on the 24th and we got a mail to say the parcel was in Customs. We found out on the 29th that FEDEX had raised the customs paperwork for the parcel on the 22nd but never got around to sending us a copy with the amount or who to pay. They are impossible to talk to here in Ecuador.  It took a week of badgering and help from a local to get a bank account number to pay the 70% odd duty. We may get the parcel on 3 May, fingers crossed.


On the basis that we were going to spend time later in the trip in the other French island of Martinique, we had initially decided to cut short our time in Guadeloupe.  Perhaps this sounds a bit judgemental but we are running out of time to see all the places we’d really like to and still get S enough to be safe as the Hurricane Season (and wet season) nominally arrives at the start of Jun. So prioritising where we spend time is sadly necessary.

No plan survives contact with the enemy and unfortunately the enemy here proved to be Skylark’s port engine.

Our engines don’t get a lot of use. We have them on for anchoring and getting underway (must haves as our windlass needs engine power to power it – frankly a design flaw but nothing we can do about without replacing the damn thing) and little else. As we left Monserrat, we heard the scream of the engine alarm showing us overheating. We switched off and failed to find anything markedly wrong. Oil ok, coolant level seemingly ok, nothing gumming up the seawater intake and the filter was fine.

Coming in to Deshaies at the NW end of Guadeloupe we had 5 mins of engine before the engine alarm screamed again. We managed to anchor and on checking the engine again, this time it was obvious the coolant level was painfully low. We refilled and with Robert from Almost There acting as the engine guru tracked the leak to an outflow pipe from the coolant tank to the engine. The tank had slipped, allowing the pipe to touch the belt (another rubbish design) and the belt had eaten through the pipe, just enough for a very slow drain of the coolant.

One advantage of being in Guadeloupe is it is the home of Volvo for the Caribbean. We decided to stay and make the most of the island for the day, hired a car and then drove across to the capital, Pointe-a- Pitre. I got to go and be frustrated by the lack of correct part and Robert at the cost of some dive equipment. I had a conversation in my pigeon French with the Volvo engineer, mainly drawing pictures of possible solutions with a lot of questioning raised eyebrows which led me to take another pipe part with a cutting suggestion. Not the perfect solution but one that will do us (hopefully) until I can get the right part ordered from Europe.

On the way back across, we failed miserably to find a field that we could surreptitiously nick some more sugar cane but did find the Rum Museum which combined its attractions with a fantastic collection of dead bugs and model boats through the ages.  Have to admit although the mix sounds pretty messed up it was an excellent afternoon’s entertainment and the kids loved it.  The grown ups enjoyed a selection of straight and flavoured rums. The model boats allowed a reaffirmation of the explorer work we had been doing with the girls; Sir Francis Drake and Columbus’s ships both in the collection.

After managing to cut the replacement tube to size and refill the coolant tank, we moved on to the one place we did want to stop at in Guadeloupe which was Pigeon or Jack Cousteau Island. This island, half way down the W side of the island is a famous dive sight. We anchored on the Guadeloupe shore, about a mile from the island and dinghied out. Having been protected for a long time the wildlife around it is fantastic. Although it is better dived rather than snorkelled as it is all pretty deep , the coral where we swam in 20-40’ of water was excellent with plenty of fish. Friends that have dived it down to about 70′ say that whilst you need to be careful in the currents that run up the side of the island, it is one of the best sites they have dived in the whole of the Caribbean – no mean praise. My thanks go to the young French couple who saw my dive knife fall out of its holster and recovered it for me.

Having had a great day at the island, we left Guadeloupe in the dark for an overnight sail down to our next port of call, Dominica.

We didn’t do Guadeloupe justice at all, I fear. It looked good, the French influence was very obvious and we enjoyed the short time we were here. If we had more time it would have been good to have a proper explore of the island. As it was we missed completely the islands of the S coast, which were on our really want to see list.

The island is definitely somewhere to revisit when we next pass through this way. In a few more years……


Sailing down to Montserrat proved to be slightly annoying. Having announced that we should have at the worst a close reach, we ended up being close hauled all the way down as the wind wandered into the ESE for our crossing. The saving grace were the seas running in from the ENE so we made pretty good time and went over the waves rather than into them.

We realised that we were downwind of the volcano only after a typical Henderson argument on who hadn’t owned up to dropping one. We were 15 miles offshore and the sulphurous stink was strong!

Sailing up the island, the damage caused by the latest round of volcanic eruptions which started in 1997 is painfully obvious. Plymouth the old capital city was laid waste and is largely covered by the ash.  A few buildings poke out here and there. The only part of the city which is still in operation is the jetty at the port which, ironically is used to load the ships taking away the island only export, the ash, for building and agricultural use.

We anchored at Little Bay at the N end of the island. This is where the new capital city is planned although there is little evidence of it other than a posh new administration building sitting by itself up a one way street. Having booked in, an easy process, we met a wonderful lady acting as the security guard for the port. We asked her about car hire on the island (yet again taxi prices here being very expensive) and she spent an hour phoning around before finding us a car. Great service!

We drove down to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and lucked out. It was both open and one of resident volcanologist’s was there. Small world moment – he turned out to be from Haddington – a whole 5 miles from where my folks live now – which led to us getting a longer chat from him than I think most would get. The 40mins video they show at the MVO was informative but could do with a refresh. A bit washed out.

We left the MVO with directions to hill top sites which gets you closest to the volcano. Montserrat still has a large exclusion zone with a line dividing the island about 1/2 of the way down, the southern half being out of bounds. Montserrat’s saving grace is the trade winds run SE-NW and it is very rare that any fallout would ever hit the N end of the island.

With no road signs, we had a bit of an explore to find our first hill top and drove aimlessly around, occasionally coming up to signs with “Forbidden Zone” on them. Thankfully a local felt sorry for us and kindly led us to the start of the hill across what was an 8m deep ash river – not surprised our map was inaccurate.

Garibaldi Hill gave us a good view over Plymouth. The size of some of the boulders thrown miles from the crater were staggering. They were bigger than good sized houses. We drove around to the other side of the island to where the old airport had been and on to Jack Boy Hill. We had a wander up the nature trail there but quickly realised that we didn’t have the time or water to do even a small part of it.

We kept the van and revisited the route we did on day one with Almost There who arrived 24hrs after us. We also stopped at the road side café recommended to make the best Goat Water, the Montserrat national dish. We ate in front of a colourful building. Kingsley’s look of horror when she read exactly what the building was for was priceless.

We also enlivened our trip by finding what we thought was a posh hotel (shown on the map as a historic building) which turned out to be a private house of a very annoyed  and gobby American who threatened to turn the dogs lose on us. We departed swiftly.

On Jack Boy Hill, we met a very tired looking Matthew Paris finishing the trail we had looked at the day before. We had a quick chat in passing. He was there to recover from the election campaign. Not sure if had envisioned hacking up and down parts of a volcano in 90 degrees of heat as part of his recovery plan!

Two days in Montserrat was enough for us. There is little to do there other than the activities around the volcano and for all of them you need a car which, even at the knock down rate of $40 a day soon adds up. Saying that, remembering what the volcanologist told us, whilst the traditional markers for an eruption aren’t been seen although the top of the current volcano is larger than the 1995 height, perhaps soon someone will work out why the SO2 output of the volcano is currently running at 200 times its normal…..

On to Guadeloupe.

St Kitts and Nevis (and a surprising UTR’s moment)

This point on our travels marks the change from upwind sailing to being able to get for much of the time a wind on the beam, making life far more pleasant on board.  Although we still have to get out to Guadalupe via Monserrat, there should be enough S in our course to hopefully give us a close reach rather than the tight on the wind thump we have sadly been used to.

Although we thought about going across to St Eustatius, we decided that putting a couple of days into the timetable when we knew we were cutting things fine to get down in reasonable order to St Lucia to pick up the Thomas’s (our next boatload of friends visiting from the UK), might cause us dramas later on down on our travels.

The sail down to St Kitts from St Barths on a course of about 190 Magnetic  was wonderful. Not being thumped by the waves meant that we left a little too much sail up but rather than lumping along at 5knts, we touched double digits at times. Exhilarating, fun and we even saw a slightly smug smile on Lou’s face as we went past a 60ft ketch going the same way as us.

We screamed down to the gap between the N end of St Kitts and St Eustatius before we got into the wind shadow of St Kitts. We had a slow sail down the side of the island to Basseterre, the capital. The island had far more obvious organised agriculture than anywhere else we had seen so far with large numbers of old chimneys sticking up. These we found out, marked different sugar plantations processing plants, dating back to the 1700s, the plantations covering a large proportion of the island for a long, long time.

We parked up, the only yacht in a very rolly bay, to allow us to book in. After wandering around to find the immigration office (tucked away at the awful cruise ship terminal with its obligatory “genuine” island product shops), we had a quick stop in town, finding a very good museum covering the history of the island. School done we headed back to the boat and were pleasantly surprised to get a call from our friends on Almost There.

We found ourselves parked up beside them in a partly built marina in the Great Salt Pond at the S end of the island, part of a huge complex being built there. It was obvious yachties were not the normal clientele. Used to having only superyachts, they let Almost There in on the basis that Robert gave them his @ Youngblood aviation.com address (yes, he did own his own sizable airport…). I think they were hopeful he might buy one of the lots! We got to tie up on the basis of being his special friends. Saying that, they didn’t bother giving me the glossy brochure he received once they had seen Skylark. Not quite superyacht status…….

Whilst the facilities at the marina were minimal, the clubhouse that we got free use of was pretty special. At only $400k membership fee, it is probably out of our price range when we finish sailing but we thoroughly enjoyed it whilst we were there. I think that the staff rather enjoyed the kids being around as well.  As the club was pretty quiet, they may have just been a bit bored but it meant the kids and ladies got looked after royally.

Almost There had hired a car but we upgraded it to a van to allow us all to tour the island. The three things we really fancied seeing were a zip line course, the Botanic Gardens  and the fort that looked so impressive as we had sailed down the coast to Basseterre.   Sadly the zip line course, much to the kids disappointment, was closed and it was the wrong time of year to see the Botanics (wet season the best time). However from the zip line camp, we followed the road up the hill on a pretty rough track (hire care= someone else’s problem….) getting some great views looking N up the coast before being attacked by a couple of dogs guarding a small field of cannabis plants. After going a bit higher, we turned round when we thought that we would pull out the suspension.

Fort George (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brimstone_Hill_Fortress_National_Park )  was a bit special and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Having had several years at Fort George just outside Inverness, I was surprised at the amount of similarities I could see in the design. I was even more surprised to find the Royal Scots (the Royal Regiment) crest up in the military part of the small museum that the Fort had.   It turns out that the Regiment formed the infantry contingent of the Fort’s population when the French invaded the island in 1792 and having fought the French to a standstill although hugely outnumbered, were allowed to march out bearing arms. The island still marks the occasion as the most significant battle the island saw. Up the Royals!

We went right round the island, stopping for some great and cheap food at the street cafés which are common here. We also stopped on a farm track and cut a few sugar cane. Cue sounds of crunching and quiet children!

After being joined briefly by Taia who had caught up with us from St Barths, we decided to move on quickly to Nevis.   Nevis is very different to St Kitts. Whilst St Kitts has embraced the arrival of the big cruise ships, Nevis voted against their arrival. The island is far quieter and is reliant on one big Four Seasons hotel for a large part of its islands tourist income and island employment. It employs up to 2000 staff during the high season, a sixth of the island’s total population and maintains, by agreement with the island a minimum staff of 800 during the off season.

The island is volcanic. We had heard about the hot spring baths in the main town of Charlestown and we went up mob handed to try them. After we minced around (lots of expressions of “damn, it’s hot) we were shown by a local how you should get in which is to man up, get in quick then not move! Once you were in, it did feel good. In the end, even the kids managed a dip.

We went on to the Nelson Museum, just up the hill from the Baths. Lord Nelson’s wife, Fanny (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Nelson )was from Nevis. They met whilst he was stationed in the Caribbean early in his career and the island commemorates this by having a good exhibition on him. It is worth a look.

Almost There, having climbed the volcano at St Eustatius, was keen to try the same thing at Nevis. We got a bus around to what we suspected was a starting point and walked up a reasonably well defined path towards the major water source coming off the mountain. Further on, it got a bit cheeky and as we got up the hill, the vegetation turned into proper jungle. Spectacular, sweaty and quite hard going for the really smalls, Hannah and Matias, who both scrambled very well. In the end, we stopped just under the river source about 2/3 up the mountain, had a bit of fun roping down into the river bed with the rope Robert had carried up and padded in some rather nice and cooling pools.  We invaded a very nice resort on our way down and illicitly used their pool to cool of in. A nice way to finish a good walk.

Back in Charlestown, we found another museum, a tiny affair devoted to sports (read cricket) personalities of the island. We had great fun taking Ernesto and Natalia in and trying to educate them in the rules of cricket. I fear we failed to impress them!

After another day anchored off Charlestown and a last dip at the baths, we decided that we needed to see an active volcano, that of Monserrat the next island down and so planned the move on. Whilst St Kitts had been impressive for Fort George, I’d have to say that I enjoyed the hospitality and friendliness of the Nevis locals more. I’d have loved to have been able to spend more time here.   Next time…….

Gucci Kit… Or how to burn your credit card…..

I’d had a shopping list whirling around in my head for quite some time.

So when we planned to visit St Maartin, a wonderful tax free port, it seemed like a good idea to really look hard at what we should equip Skylark with for the rest of our journey. With 6 months under our belt, we had a fair idea on what items were vital, what were necessary at some point and then, the nice to have.

Before we left the USA, I bought 280W of solar panels, thinking that this would go a long way to help us to be self sufficient in energy. I wish I’d bought more ( the most I’ve found on one boat is 1200W!) but saying that, I’m not sure where I’d actually have been able to mount them without some fairly serious remodelling of the stern fittings of the boat. As we progressed down island, we realised that the energy bill was adding up and with no power generation at night, we were coming up short, needing to run the generator every day.

It wasn’t helped that out single 8D AGM battery was knackered after years of misuse. We were often getting up to find the battery saying 10.8V. Less than 12.3 is regarded as near flat……..

First things first, I knew that the battery had to be replaced.

Having failed to get cheap Lithium Ion batteries from fellow RHYC member, Highland Fling who had imported a number and sold them on to other boaters in St Maartin (we arrived too late), the choice was then either to stick with AGM or go for cheaper lead acid. In the end, I choose four T105 6V in series and parallel to give me near double the Ahs I had previously or would have available with a like for like AGM. I’d seen another FP Lavezzi with this set up in BVI whose owner was v happy with T105s. Unlike the AGM, I will need to make sure I carry out proper battery maintenance on them. A new addition to the monthly checks.  After a few schoolboy diagrams the system was wired in without any other issues than a too short lead, quickly fixed.

An easy add on, which I originally reserved judgement on, was wind power generation. I had had a long chat with the company rep for the D400 and the Silentwind systems in the BVI who was parked a couple of boats down from us in Nanny Cay. Whilst the D400 is (maybe) the best around for power generation, it is also one of the heaviest at 20+kg. Fine if you have a big frame to hang it on but I didn’t. The next choice and his recommendation was the Silentwind, manufactured with blades designed by an infuriated German engineer sick of the noise of his own system. These blades are now used by several firms due to their efficiency and quietness. For all those who have had to put up with the noise of some sods howling generator in an otherwise quiet anchorage, that word is crucial. The system only weighed about 7kg which sounded a lot more manageable too.

After deciding that for ease of access and wiring into the house battery, it needed to be on the starboard hull it was an easy matter to drill holes and wire it in. Less easy was the balancing act to get the damn pole vertical and the final tightening of the blade hub. My thanks to Ernesto on Taia for balancing on a stack of beer cans and a small step ladder. Handy having a tall(er) friend to call on!

Silentwind 400 at work

Silentwind 400 at work

Since we fitted it, although we have been running the water maker every couple of days, we had had to only once switch the generator on in the last week. The infamous incident involving Lou, the inverter and the toaster will need to wait for another time.

You may also remember I wrote an article a while back on “Dinghy Envy”. Well, we succumbed on our very first day here. We arrived to be told that the next day was the last day of a sale at Budget Marine, the main chandlery on the island. Can you smell the credit card burning yet?

Although the Apex dinghy we had had a plastic body, it weighed a lot. Too much frankly, especially with the 100kg limit on my davits. Budget conveniently had some aluminium ribs for sale. I knew I did not want more than 100 lb as the dinghy weight budget and the 9.5 foot aluminium AB dinghy for sale came in at 95lbs. Perfect and lighter by 10lbs than the 8’ Apex I had. Unfortunately I then got a bit carried away with the engine. I was looking at either a 9.8HP or a 15HP but was persuaded to take an 18HP 2 stroke Tohatsu at sale price…. and then with a bit more off as well – lesson for all – always, always bargin.   The 18HP is the same weight as a 15HP after all. Damn engine weighed nearly the same as the dinghy…….


Keeping the bottom clean
Keeping the bottom clean
The new speedy runabout
The new speedy runabout

So, I have a big cheesy smile, a shiny new dinghy that when I opened up the engine with Lou on board, her response was to grab a handle and say, in surprise, an unprintable word. Fast, or certainly when compared to our little 5HP Mercury on the old dinghy. But a complete inability to put the dinghy up on the davits as is. Oops.

The last couple of weeks has been taken up with finding someone who could build a hoist and make some new rails to take the engine mounted on board Skylark whilst we travel. We lucked out finding Jean Pierre (arrived in his boat in 1995 and hasn’t left since) in one of the yards on the French side who quoted us a fantastic figure for the work he did. Having been quoted $850 just for the hoist and pulley before more than double that again for rails and fittings from the very good but fiercely expensive FKG, he was very very competitive. I’ll happily pass on details to anyone that needs similar work done.

The new pulley, engine mount and rail

The new hoist, pulley, engine mount and rail

So, we leave St Maartin with a greatly upgraded boat with only one boat system that I’m still unhappy with which is the foresail furler which remains a lot stiffer than I like. But I think I can manage that until the bank balance stabilises a bit.  Maybe once we get to Columbia though…