Tortola to Virgin Gorda (20 Nm), St. Martin (75 Nm)and Antigua(85 Nm)

We contacted the neighbouring Virgin Gorda to see if the marina at Spanish Town might have a berth available and the answer was YES. It was only a short hop across to Spanish Town and we headed directly for the fuel dock. I have learned that it is best to keep the diesel tank full whenever the opportunity presents as not all ports of call have a fuel dock and on numerous occasions we have had to fill jerry cans at a service station and then transport them back to the yacht for transfer. On one occasion in Greece we grabbed a shopping trolley from the local supermarket and loaded the full jerry cans into it – wheels always make it easier! Long haul is by taxi 🚕

After 8.5 days at sea we had acquired a certain amount of dirty laundry. With local knowledge we found a partly bsunny demolished building with a wash machine and drier and more importantly a bar immediately adjacent – the perfect waiting room with cold Guinness!

The laundry waiting room in Spanish Town

Hurricane Irma had wrecked havoc in the British Virgin Islands. Although essential services had been restored, the vegetation had been shredded and there were wrecked buildings and debris everywhere with not enough resources to clean it up. The people were effectively living on a rubbish dump!

The power of hurricane Irma in September 2017

The Main Street in Spanish Town after the hurricane

We stayed one night only and then made plans to sail for St.Martin/ St. Maarten(half French/half Dutch). It was around 75 Nm and was a convenient stepping stone to Antigua. There was another motivation as my brother Leo and his wife Edie in Spain had a niece who had been living in St. Martin for more than 9 years and he suggested that we should meet her.

We sailed in a southeasterly direction from Spanish Town passed an area known as Fallen Jerusalem with large rocks scattered in a row beyond the headland until we reached Round Rock passage and shot through the gap. We then set a course of 110 degrees True for Marigot Bay, St. Martin as darkness fell. Blair had gone below around 2200hrs and noted some flooding in the bilges and informed me. I immediately put ‘Meg’ into the ‘Hove To’ position to sort the problem – we had been once again hard on the wind.

The water had back flowed through the forward head. We normally close off all hatches and sea cocks before putting to sea but on this occasion the forward head had been missed. There was no permanent damage and the water was soon removed between the bilge pump and some manual bailing. We resumed sailing.

The wind speed was circa 25 knots and although we had the VHF Radio tuned on Channel 16, we could not hear it in the cockpit. Suddenly Blair called out, ” the U.S Coastguard Puerto Rico is trying to contact the Captain of the sailing vessel ‘Roaring Meg’!” I immediately responded on the radio. He asked me to confirm our current position, (which he knew already)and then asked whether we required assistance as our EPIRB( Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon) had activated and was transmitting. Then we noted that the Grab Bag had got wet in the previous incident and the EPIRB in the pocket was flashing! I apologised profusely for the accidental activation and he said it is quite common when they get wet.

Above are two EPIRB’s. The yellow one on the left(ACR) was the one that activated. Its battery expiry date was June 2011. The one on the right was a GME with a battery expiry date of November 2020. The in date GME failed the function test in Bermuda but the yellow ACR model passed the function test!

Please note – the Australian Company GME have since supplied me with a new unit under warranty which has been duly registered with MSA Wellington.

It was later that my daughter Casey told me the whole ‘behind the scenes’ story. U.S. Coastguard had in the first instance tried to call my partner Sharon in New Zealand as she is listed as next of kin. She was driving and suggested that they call Casey who lives in Arlington, Virginia. They had also tried to contact my brother Brian who noted that the call was ‘foreign’ and because of the many scams he decided not to answer the call!! The the Maritime Safety Authority in Wellington called my brother Brian to asked why he didn’t answer the call. Both he and my partner Sharon are in danger of being crossed off the Christmas card list! Nice to know that ‘Big Brother’ is keeping an eye on our little ship.

THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT THE SYSTEM WORKS!

Well that was enough drama for one night. We sailed on through the night reaching Fort St. Louis Marina, Marigot Bay in the late afternoon of 6 May 2018. The marineiros were there on the dock to take the lines – nous sommes arrivé.

We made contact with Tessa and arranged to meet her for brunch on the morning of 8 May. At one stage we were hopeful of making Antigua Regatta Week( 28 April – 4 May) but when we were two days late out of Bermuda and hard on the wind it simply became, ‘a bridge too far’. The next day Chris and Blair went off to explore the island including the Dutch sector.

Dutch sector of St. Maarten. Hurricane rubble in the foreground and a cruise ship in the background.

This Iguana was obviously hiding out when the hurricane passed through – photo by Blair Larkin.

I spent most of the day with the Boat Sparkie , Max,as our battery charger, purchased in Trieste in 2012 had thrown in the sponge and I needed to buy a new one. He also fitted a new controller for the solar panels. On the way to the warehouse we drove through a suburb that had once boasted multi million dollar houses on prime beachfront. After the hurricanes this area had had storm surge waves pass right through the houses wrecking them. Squatters had moved in and because the police had not acted promptly in throwing them out this area had become a ghetto. Max said don’t come here at night as it is too dangerous.

Tessa had lived for many years in Paris and had worked with her father in a law practice. She and her partner had a house and a restaurant in Marigot Bay, St. Martin until hurricane Irma wrecked both. They were in the process of rebuilding their house and their lives when she met with us. Tessa had been traumatised by the hurricanes of 2017 and I can easily understand why. Like the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 as humans we realise that when nature turns furious we are absolutely powerless to control our destiny – we can only pick up the pieces when it is over. Kia Kaha!💪 Stay Strong!

Tessa has a Scottish surname but my impression is that she is more French than the French. A very pleasant young woman and it was a pleasure to meet her, albeit brief.

I told Tessa that I would be wearing a very loud red shirt! Aboard Roaring Meg.

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Above is the bigger picture of the Caribbean.

At 1430 hrs we left the refuelling dock and turned out to sea. It would be the last leg of the voyage for Chris as he was booked to fly out of Antigua on 12 June. The sailing was brisk but again we were hard on the wind.

O God send us wind from another compass rose!

Breakfast on the briny! Chris Lovell and Blair Larkin, crew

We sailed into Falmouth Harbour just as the light was beginning to disappear. There are reefs either side with surf breaking over them but once inside it is very well sheltered. Too late for Customs so we stayed on board until morning. I walked to English Harbour ( 500 metres) on the advice of the lady in the marina office. She also warned that two weeks before a Yacht crew had presented at English Harbour to complete formalities when one of the crew had boasted that he had been ashore the night before in a bar/ restaurant. The Captain was duly fined U.S.2,000 for not following the protocol which is everybody stays on board until the Captain has cleared the ship and the crew into the country. Ouch!

Tom,the marina manager sorted us out with a berth. We were classified as ‘Old Salty Dogs’, which meant very reasonable berthing rates. Sometimes being a ‘good ole boy’ works in your favour. Later he recounted a story of four yachts having be stolen from Guadeloupe the week before. This would be our our next port of call. One of the yachts was an Oyster 46 belonging to his friend and a nice piece of kit. The authorities had spotted the Yacht but then they were diverted on a more urgent matter and the Yacht disappeared.

English Harbour was the ‘lair’ of Lord Horatio Nelson and it was from here that he controlled the Caribbean. It is the perfect harbour with a hidden entrance which is very narrow and easy to defend with canons from Fort Berkeley. The buildings have been restored and there is an excellent maritime museum onsite and boutique shops with a bakery and a pub.

Looking down on English Harbour from Shirley Heights which was the signal station of Lord Nelson. Blair in the foreground.

The museum at Naval Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua

We rented a car and drove to St. John’s the capital and a city of around 40,000. There was not much to recommend it but I did buy a haircut where the barber and his mate spoke for 20 minutes in Patois( Creole dialect) and I didn’t understand one word. My hair was shorter on departure.

Next we visited Church Valley beach for a swim. It was everything that one would expect the Caribbean to be – clear blue/turquoise water and white sand that was so fine it was like talcum powder. Water temperature was perfect and the swim very relaxing. Apart from ourselves there were just 3 people leaving the beach on our arrival.

Church Valley Beach, Antigua

It was time for an oil and filter change on the motor. We try to do this every 100 hours which is part of the reason the Perkins motor purrs. It is always a messy job and usually my old mate Radar( Chief Engineer and Quartermaster and First Mate) handles this task but he was missing in action on this voyage and so the task fell upon the Skipper.

Best advice – don’t dress in your best suit for this job

Regatta week May had been over but there was still a lot of atmosphere around the Yacht clubs of Falmouth and English Harbour.

One surprise was to find a local wine shop called ‘Premier Cru’ stocking one of New Zealand’s favourite Sauvignon Blancs, namely, Astrolabe. I had to send the photo to Hugh and Pip Waghorn who own Akaroa Dolphins, as Hugh’s brother owns the Astrolabe vineyard and winery in Marlborough, New Zealand.

Chris Lovell had run out of time – his 3 1/2 weeks had passed and it was time to fly home. He and I went back to the Customs/ Immigration at English Harbour and we officially took him off the crew list that I had submitted 3 days earlier.

It was 12 May and time to say goodbye. Thank you for your contribution to the voyage Chris. A few man hugs and he was gone. I will catch up with he and Lisa on the way home as they live in Devonport, Auckland.

Blair and I prepared to leave after filling the water tanks – 2 x 200 litres each. Next stop Guadeloupe 🇬🇵 and the arrival of Sharon.

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