When Gc (almost) sued Pope… and our stay in Grenada & Carriacou

Getting back to the Caribbeans after our summer break in Europe was no cup of tea. When Covid started to spread, all Caribbean islands shut their borders to avoid contamination. Health infrastructures in most Caribbean islands are very poor, or sometimes non-existent, so governments have been trying to protect islanders first by isolating them, and then by imposing very strict measures to people visiting their countries.

By September, most of the Caribbean islands had reopened, but procedures to enter the country were still very strict: not only you needed a negative PCR test to board the plane, but once landed, you were also requested to quarantine in a designated hotel for at least 4 days, until you’d get the results of a second PCR test. If they came back negative, you’d be free to move around.

Gc’s case was a bit more complicated……because he didn’t get the right test before flying back to the Caribbeans (he got a serologic test instead of the requested PCR test), and he got himself in trouble and was then requested to quarantine for the full 14 days. Luckily (at least for his pockets), he managed to quarantine on board his beloved Gladan, at Canouan Marina.

Sea view from Canouan Marina

The experience is not one he recalls with pleasure…instead of being able to enjoy the facilities of the 5 star marina he was paying to stay at, he was locked inside the boat, with 30+ degrees, 80% humidity level and tons of mozzies. One night the mosquitos were bothering him so much that, frustrated, he decided to challenge them. He shut himself in the bathroom, turned the lights on and offered himself as bait, waiting for them to attack. Fully armed with towels, our Italian Stallion of the Caribbeans, tried to kill as many as he could, shouting in a frenzy of rage. Luckily, there was no one around to hear him…

To buy food, he needed to text the marina staff, who’d come to pick up the list of food he wanted as well as the money, both conveniently placed inside a plastic box left outside, to avoid any direct contact.

Paradise Beach – Carriacou. Gladan is now part of the wall of fame!
Paradise Beach Club was a great place to spend an afternoon with plenty of other sailors and fun activities organised weekly!

After 4 days of initial lockdown, Gc was administered a PCR test by the Doctor of the marina, Dr. Pope, a very friendly and chilled out guy, whom we had previously met as he’s the one going around and taking sailors’ temperature upon arrival at the marina.

The day after, the results came back negative, which should have meant that he was free to go… Gc phoned Dr. Pope to ask for confirmation.

Pope said he’d check with the health authorities and get back to him. Few days went by, and no news from the Dr…..so Gc decided to get in touch with the health authorities directly. The person answering the phone that day was adamant he’d still need to complete the 14 days of quarantine even though he’d tested negative.

Ten days down quarantine lane, Gc was struggling to sleep and function normally due to the unbearable heat and the unforgiving mosquitos…

By then, with the quarantine almost over, it was time to get another PCR test as that was the requirement to enter the island of Grenada, the next destination.

GC got again in touch with Dr. Pope to schedule an appointment. “Good morning Dr. Pope, it’s Giancarlo here from Gladan” – GC said. “Ah, Giancarlo…..” – Dr. Pope’s voice sounded strangely apologetic. “Giancarlo, I’m so sorry…”

Sorry for what? Gc thought. He had just called him! “I was meant to call you back….wasn’t I?” – The Dr. continued. “To tell you that you were free to go… You’re not still in quarantine, are you?”

Gc couldn’t understand what Pope was trying to say…”Giancarlo please don’t sue me, I’m very sorry. You were free to leave when your test came back negative, but I forgot to tell you!” – Pope further explained.

Gc was on the verge of collapsing! Did that mean he’d spent 8 extra days in hell for nothing? He could have gone to the beach, the restaurant, the pool….instead of being confined inside Gladan. Gc couldn’t believe his ears!

Several G&Ts and a few days later, Gc was on his way to Grenada, leaving Canouan Marina, Dr. Pope, and the unhappy memory of his lockdown behind.

Gladan was wounded after a steel boat hit us in Guadaloupe….unfortunately we were not onboard when it happened, and neither were the owners of the steel boat when it started dragging towards us.

Gladan needed to undergo a bit of aesthetic work since another boat had crushed into us a few months before, while we were at anchor in Deshaies, Guadaloupe, a bay with notoriously bad holding.

Gladan at Clarkes Court Yard

Once in Grenada, Gladan was hauled out at Clarkes Court shipyard and spent 2 weeks on the hard.

By the time Gladan was splashed in, I was also back in the Caribbean’s, after quarantining in Barbados for 2 weeks, and – one might think – conveniently avoiding the joy of being stranded in a hot and dusty shipyard while the works were carried out!

My quarantine at the Hilton in Barbados…not so bad after all!

Once reunited with Gladan and my better half, it was time to discover the island!

Grenada is quite a big island, famous for its spices and chocolate.

We spent 3 weeks anchored in Gand Anse, a huge bay with a 3km long sandy beach. It was a great anchorage as it was quite sheltered from the prevailing winds, and located close to Spiceland Mall shopping centre as well as several good restaurants and bars.

View from 61° West restaurant & Bar, Grand Anse. Great food and drinks!
Walking around Carriacou

We rented a car so that we could move around easily: the island is big and not well connected by minibuses.

For us, digital nomads, finding a good spot to work from, whenever we move around, is rather vital. And such place needs to meet certain requirements; fast wi-fi, good coffee, air con (possibly not set to freezing temperatures..) and decent food.

As you can imagine, these things are not so easy to find in one place, but this time we were in luck! We managed to find two places that offered the perfect working conditions: “Knife and fork“, inside Spiceland shopping centre, and Bella Milano, not far away form the mall. The first had great smoothies and decent coffee, the latter real Italian coffee and pastries.

Office with a view…! Paradise Beach Club, Carriacou.

We also found one of the best pizzas in the Caribbeans at Antonio’s. After months in the Caribbean’s, a delicious pizza is always a treat and their pizza was really good even for Italian standards!

For drinks and live music Aziz was the place to be!

Grenada is famous for its HASH. Every Saturday, locals organise hikes in a different part of the island and everyone can join in by paying a small participation fee. There is a path to be discovered and clues along the way. Food, drinks and music await the “runners with a drinking problem” that find the right way back!

Grand Anse was also close to Port Louis Marina, easily reachable by dinghy. Every Friday morning, we’d visit the local fruits and veg market, inside the marina, where we’d get our organic provisioning and delicious homemade guava juices.

Carriacou is only 15 miles away from Grenada and is part of the same administration, together with Petit Martinique.

It is a small and rather wild island with basic (expensive) provisioning and beautiful natural beauties.

Sandy Island – Carriacou – Thanksgiving day’s Party

We spent most of our time between Tyrell Bay, the main (and rather crowded) anchorage, and Sandy Island, the most charming place on the island, where you can only stay at a mooring buoy by paying a daily fee.

A visit to Anse la Roche it’s also a must, and the lobsters served by Tim the King at his restaurant on the beach are to die for!

Pasta with lobster by chef GC!

While in Carriacou, we made a lot of friends and spent an incredible couple of weeks, eating loads of really cheap lobsters, snorkelling and walking around to explore the island!

Thanksgiving party on Sandy island – Carriacou
Sandy Island – Carriacou
Our friend Alex, he made us discover The Paradise Beach Club in Carriacou and kept us company during our stay on the island!
Alex, Karen and Hugo with their beautiful little one!
It’s always difficult to leave behind the friends you’ve made along the way…

When we (almost) faced hurricane Gonzalo!

Seventy two hours before Gonzalo was meant to hit the leeward islands, we were on our way to Bequia from Union island (Grenadines). 

Pelicans social distancing at Frigate Island – Union
Pelicans….so beautiful and powerful, even while at rest

We had found out about ‘it’ only a few hours before, when all of a sudden there was a commotion in Frigate island and everyone had started talking about this perturbation forming in the Atlantic. 

Within an hour, Frigate Island had quickly turned from buzzing place for kite surfers to open air consultation room, with sailors moving from one boat to the other, small groups assembling and dissipating, people exchanging calls on the VHF…

Frigate Island is THE place to be for kitesurfing!

When we got to the Caribbeans, one year ago, everyone would tell us that hurricanes could be predicted up to 2 weeks before, and that there would be plenty of time to move far away from their eye, in one direction or another.

Gonzalo on its way towards us…!

“Don’t worry!” – They’d say. “You’ll be sipping your rum punch in a safe place by the time the hurricane hits!” Well, it wasn’t exactly like that with Gonzalo!

Now, we all knew 2020 was going to be a very busy seasons for hurricanes, the signs were all there… it was the end of July and we had already made our way to the letter ‘G’ of the alphabet!

We also knew that 2020 hadn’t been herald of great news till then…with a global pandemic and our nostrils being closely inspected twice monthly, on average…

So it should not have come as a surprise when our friend Gonzalo started heading towards us and no one knew, up to 24 hours before, where it would end up!

You know it’s bad when the colour changes from blue to dark red….

I’ve very quickly learned that perturbations forming off the African coast, can either dissipate while travelling through the Atlantic, or acquire strength, become bigger and start heading north where they normally encounter more favourable conditions.

Our Gonzalo did not dissipate, did not get bigger, and wasn’t heading north but was acquiring strength nevertheless – so much so that 48 hours before its arrival it was forecasted as a category 1, possibly 2, hurricane. See, the issue with Gonzalo was that it was small and therefore unpredictable! 

The two main weather forecast systems, the European one and the American one were in total disagreement, with one forecasting Gonzalo heading north and the other south.

Now, considering that I’m not particularly fond of the idea of witnessing a ‘simple’ tropical storm, you could imagine how thrilled I was at the idea of finding myself in the middle of a category one (or possibly 2) hurricane. 

When we (almost) faced hurricane Gonzalo!

Panic started to take over!

Within 2 hours from Gonzalo appearing on all forecasting models, I was lifting the anchor and we were on our way north to Bequia, with the possibility of travelling further north once it would become clearer which way Gonzalo would head. 

Sundowner with other sailors, where should we go? North or South?

Once in Bequia, more “consultations” took place with sailors amicably discussing which way to go over a beer or two. 

All this discussing and drinking, though, didn’t bring us any closer to making a decision. So 30 hours before Gonzalo was meant to arrive, all options were still on the table: 

  • Heading all the way South to Trinidad and Tobago (150 miles, which equals one full day of navigation). Some experienced sailors were adamant this was the best choice as hurricanes heading south tend to lose strength;
  • Heading south to Grenada, (65 miles which equals roughly 12 hours of sailing) and try and find space in the mangroves. Some friends of ours were heading there, so that made this option quite appealing; 
  • Staying in Bequia – no hurricane had hit Bequia since 1955 and the locals were assuring us there is something about Bequia that just keeps them away. Do we believe them?
  • Going to Canouan Marina (25 miles which equals 4 hours of navigation). Our friends Tom and Laurie were there, and they assured us the marina was very sheltered and the staff friendly and helpful.
  • Heading North to St. Lucia (50 miles, which means roughly 9 hours of navigation) or all the way up to Martinique (90 miles, 15/16 hours of navigation).

The more we’d talk to people about it, the more confused we’d get. We kept changing our minds and the uncertainty didn’t make it easy to sleep at night. 

Finally, Gc and I decided that on Friday – Gonzalo was meant to hit us on Saturday afternoon – we would wake up early in the morning, check the latest weather forecast, and decide what to do. 

On our way to Canouan….hoping for the best!
We even caught a barracuda on the way to Canouan!

What did we decide then?

Friday morning at 6 am, we checked the forecast again and decided that the best option for us was heading south to Canouan Marina (only 25 miles away) for several reasons;

  • We didn’t want to travel too far and find ourselves out at sea in rough weather conditions hours before the hurricane-to-be would hit;
  • Being inside a marina, we would be able to prepare the boat, removing all sails, the Bimini, and anything that could blow away, and tie up the boat with as many lines as possible;
  • Worse comes to worst, we would abandon ship and take refuge in a nice 5 star hotel, drink a glass of red wine and take a hot shower praying for the worst to get over soon. 
When a big squall comes the sky becomes white, and within few minutes, you don’t see anything around you.

I knew Gc’s heart would be badly scarred for life, should something happen to Gladan, but it was a risk I was ready to take!

And so, 20 hours before Gonzalo would hit us, we entered Canouan Marina hoping our choice had been the right one. 

Gladan ready to face Gonzalo. She looked so naked without her sails up!

During our sail down to Canouan, we met several boats sailing south and several others motoring north as fast as possible. Clearly, no one had any idea of what was going on!!

Taking the main sail down is a tough job!

Inside the marina, we spent the afternoon and evening ‘undressing’ Gladan; removing all sails, deflating our paddle board and kayak, dismantling the Bimini, and creating a spiderweb of lines that would keep us in place. After many hours of hard work we took a nice, long, hot shower in the amazing bathrooms of the luxurious marina and went out for dinner at the gourmet restaurant.

The last supper! Better enjoy till you can, right?!

We checked the weather forecast once more, and with great relief, saw that Gonzalo had been downgraded to tropical storm and was headed south to Grenada! Great news for us, perhaps less for the ones that headed south….! 

The sky is getting darker and darker…something is coming!

The morning after, around 7 am, Gonzalo arrived – its eye deep south on Trinidad and Tobago. For us, that meant winds of up to 30 knots, with gusts of 40 kt, and torrential rain which only lasted couple of hours. Then it was over! 

Gusts of 40 knots and a lot of rain

I was still half asleep and I would have probably missed Gonzalo hadn’t it been for the noise Gc was making while giving a good scrub to Gladan. Who else would have thought of using a tropical storm to do some spring cleaning?!

This is real love!!!

We want to go home!!…Travelling in corona virus times!

Leaving the Caribbeans to head back home was no easy task!

After 8 months in the Caribbeans amid a global pandemic, lockdowns, PCR tests, and last but not least, hurricane season, home was looking more and more like a mirage. Would we ever be able to make it back?

The nurse told Gc off because his nostrils are too narrow for their rather enormous cotton buds!

After loads of research and negotiating, we finally found a safe place where to leave Gladan during the hurricane season so that we could fly back to Europe and see our families and friends.

The place was Canouan marina, which is brand new and has been built for luxurious superyachts, slightly bigger than Gladan…

It was built by Italian architects and it looks like a small version of Porto Fino or Porto Rotondo, with the addition of an airpot right next to it, so that yacht owners can fly in and out with their private jets in no time.

The Promenade with the reception, supermarket, bakery and gourmet restaurant.

We found out about this marina thanks to our friends who decided to take refuge inside it when Gonzalo, one of the first hurricanes-to-be of the season, decided to give us all a good scare coming right towards the Grenadines….but that’s another story!

Laurie on Imiloa, their beautiful Leopard 400!

Because of Covid, and thanks to the special hurricane rates, we managed to get a mooring in the marina for the whole month of August at a reasonable price, without having to sell any of our beloved limbs 🙂

The marina consists of a channel, almost a mile long, and once you’re deep inside, you’re so sheltered and the boat is so stable that you feel like being on land – which means you’ll sleep like a queen! And possibly sweat like a pig :)! It can indeed get a little hot if you, like us, don’t have air con on board. The moorings at the very end of the channel are so sheltered that no breeze will ever reach you! Only mozzies will!

Walking around the marina.

Yes, there is a little suffering involved, but it’s all worth it when you enter the marina’s bathrooms…which are literally to die for. I thought that Lymington marinas’ in the UK were great…until I actually saw these ones! Suffice it to say, Gc managed to do yoga inside the shower bed and neither of us had ever taken so many unnecessary showers before!

Shenanighans, restaurant and beach bar.

Not to mention that you’re escorted around the marina on golf carts and given lifts to and from the well assorted and very convenient supermarket inside the marina. (P.S. Prices are in EC not dollars, in case you were wondering!). The staff seem to take offence every time you venture out for a walk; wherever you are.. they spot you, chase you, and take you on board their golf carts or dinghies. There is no escaping from them…they’ll intercept you even by sea 🙂

Canouan Marina’s facilities are top notch! This is me enjoying the beautiful sunbathing area by the pool at ‘Shenanighans’, restaurant and beach bar, and the view of the Grenadines!

The staff is so friendly that it all looks rather unreal. But we were there and experienced it…it’s all true!

When we planned our trip back to Europe, we thought we had it all figured out. We would need to get a ferry from Canouan to St. Vincent (SVG), then a flight from SVG to Barbados and then finally a direct one to London. Easy! And of course, we would need a PCR test, taken 72 hours before travelling. 

On the ferry to Saint Vincent.

After phoning the ministry of health of all the islands involved in our journey several times (my advice is always double check the information you’re given as you might find yourself in troubles if you don’t…), as well as the various ferry companies (a reduced service runs between the Grenadines due to Covid 19), I found out very last minute (Friday morning and our departure from Canouan by ferry was meant to be on Monday..) that the SVG government had decided to postpone the bank holidays that would normally take place in May to…. August! And not just any time in August…. but the Monday and Tuesday before our Wednesday’s flights to Barbados and London. Sweet!

This had two types of consequences;

  1. the ferry we were meant to catch from Canouan to SVG was not running anymore…and
  2. we couldn’t get tested 72 hours before travelling to Barbados because even if we did, the lab wouldn’t be able to give us the results in time for our departure.. due to the bank holidays.

So what to do now?

Thanks to our friends Laurie and Tom, we got a lift on their sailing yacht from Canouan to Bequia where we spent 1 night before taking an early ferry to SVG where our first flight would take off from. We got to the airport way in advance and right when I thought I could finally sip the first coffee of the day (it was an early start so no time for breakfast…) two things happened;

  1. the airline staff didn’t want to let us board the plane because we didn’t have a negative PCR test…
  2. and, cover up your ears, all coffee places at the airport were shut!
Saint Vincent airport the day we flew back home…no one there except us!

Clearly, I was more concerned about the latter…this piece of news was truly devastating. 

What happened next? I forgot to mention that during one of my many conversations with the ministry of health officials, they had told me that it was ok to fly to Barbados without a negative PCR test because we could get tested at the airport upon arrival. “Yes, but we’d only spend a few hours at the airport while waiting for our connecting flight to London” – I had mentioned to them. “No worries”- they had replied- “we’ll email you the results and you’ll see them once in London”.

The logic of that totally escaped me, but I was not going to question something that for once worked in our favour, was I? Basically, the UK didn’t require a negative test for passengers to board the plane and we wouldn’t stay in Barbados longer than couple of hours. What would be Barbados’ government’s interest in testing us then? Apparently, they dig up your nose for statical reasons only…

Go figure!!

After putting Barbados’ ministry of health’s officials on the phone with SVG’s airport authorities – which was even more complicated than usual since, because of Covid, the staff were wearing masks so their voices were muffled and they couldn’t understand each other….then again because of Covid, they couldn’t hold my phone themselves and we had to hold it close to their mouth which was quite a job considering that there was PPE in between us! A Caribbean’s version of Shakespear’s comedy of errors was taking place in front of my eyes!

At some point during this whole shenanigan, Gc started to lose his temper and while listening to him explaining to the staff how common sense had gone down the drain and how this was the end of a civilised world…..all I could think of was: “if we finally manage to board the plane, will they serve coffee ☕️ during the flight?”

First coffee of the day!! At the airport in Barbados waiting for our flight to London.

In the end, we did manage to board the plane, and NO coffee was served during the flight because of Covid…

Few Covid forms and passport stamps later, around 2 pm, I had my first coffee of the day, in Barbados’ airport, while waiting to board the plane back to London. Life was great again!

Finally on the plane!!! Time to go home!

The best of the Caribbean’s: Saint Vincent & the Grenadines!

We spent almost a month in Martinique waiting for borders to open up so that we could head south. As soon as we heard that SVG – Saint Vincent & the Grenadines – were opening up again we contacted the authorities to enquire about the new Covid formalities to enter their country. 

Within 24 hours they’d got back to us with all the details. We would have to;

  • sail directly to the quarantine area in Young Island – without stopping along the way;
  • get tested upon arrival;
  • wait for the results onboard – it could take up to 48 hours.

In Covid times, rules can change literally any minute, so we decided to seize the moment and go!

We took off from St. Anne around 6pm, accompanied by our friends on board of Living Daylights, Luca and Leyla with their 3 beautiful children. It was a great overnight sail across to St. Lucia and along its coast.

Around 5 am we spotted the majestic Pitons in the first lights of the day. I was sitting on the little bench on the port side of the bow, taking in the warm breeze, feeling part of the night, and really connected to the universe, when I heard splashes around me; it was a school of dolphins which ended up escorting us all the way to the end of the island. Magical!

By 8 am we were still a few miles away from the North side of Saint Vincent. The wind had picked up and it was now blowing at 35 knots. The sea was very flat and Gladan was doing 9 knots with only the jib on! Considering that at 9.30 am we were expected in Young Island to be tested for Covid 19, there was no time to waste and we were glad for the extra push the wind gave us!

We got to Young Island 15 minutes before our appointment, just in time to take a quick shower after a sleepless night. At 9.30 o’clock we were on the dinghy dock with the others.

The organisation was great and within 30 minutes we were done with the test and ready to go to sleep after our long night of sail. The nasal swab was not particularly pleasant – unless you enjoy when someone’s trying to reach your brain through your nostrils, you’re not going to like it!

The swab lasts just a few seconds – the runny nose will stay with you for much longer though! Ouch!

Twenty-four hours later, we received an email with the results: negative! We were free to go. We wasted no time..we went out to celebrate with a few drinks and a delicious dinner!

The morning after, before heading south to Bequia, we found the time to climb the 255 steps up to the top of Fort Duvernette, a tall outcrop from which to enjoy an incredible view. The English built this fort to defend the colonial hub where ships were loaded with sugar before sailing off to England.

After only a few hours of navigation, we got to Bequia – which we had shortly visited over New Year’s Eve, when the only Corona we all knew about was to be served very chilled! Good old days….

Our friends in Bequia invited us over for dinner in their beautiful house. What a fun night and what a view from the terrace!!

Be careful when you go to Bequia…It’s got that Hotel California kind of vibes…once you’re there, you never want to leave! All the people we know agree with us; it’s one of the friendliest islands in the Caribbean’s and attracts only the nicest and most interesting people.

View of Admiral Bay – Bequia

Which is why it reminds us of Leros, in Greece, the island where our sailing adventures (almost never) started from….we liked it so much there that we stayed one and half years before finally setting sails to explore the world!

A quick list of things to do in Bequia;

  1. The Rum Shop Tour, to mingle with locals and support small businesses;
  2. Try one or… all the beautiful hikes of the island;
  3. Have freshly made, incredibly tasty cocktails at the floating bar;
  4. Try breakfast at The Plantation House: you’ll get the best pastries and full English breakfast of the island, in very sophisticated surroundings;
  5. Eat pizza and more at Mac’s Pizza & Kitchen;
  6. Enjoy sundowners at Jack’s beach bar – Princess Margaret Beach.

To avoid being sucked up by the island, after 10 days in Bequia, we made our way to the Tobago Cays.

Definitely one of the best places in the Caribbean’s – although I’m sure I’ve said that before… :). Tobago Cays is a group of 5 uninhabited islands (Petit Rameau, Petit Bateau, Baradal, Petit Tabac and Jamesby) surrounded by a 4 km Horseshoe Reef, with wildlife and pristine waters.

Definitely the best place for snorkelling and diving, with thousands of different fishes, turtles and a few nurse sharks. Paradise on earth!!

Baradal – The Turtles sanctuary

In high season you can eat bbqed food on Petit Rameau’s beach. There are tables and benches under the trees and 3 to 5 different stalls selling drinks and food. At the beginning of January 2020, we had lobsters served with rice and salad. Really tasty and so popular you need to book in advance to make sure to find space!

This time round, at the beginning of July, we had the Cays almost to ourselves and really made the most of them. The islands are totally wild and you need to get provisioning beforehand as there are no shops or bars. Some fishermen will stop by daily to sell fish or bread and pastries though.

When exploring the little island of Petit Tabac, we bumped into some volunteers taking care of the marine park. They told us the island had been a filming location for the first Pirates of the Caribbeans’ movie and mentioned we could walk around the whole perimeter. After the first few minutes of our walk, we started running as quickly as we could… trying to escape from the thousands of mozzies feeding on us! Wild stuff!

View from the top of Petit Bateau
Walk on the beach
Ready for our snorkelling expedition!
A nurse shark shying away from us

The Best of Martinique, even during lockdown!

We sailed to Martinique for the first time in January and arrived in the beautiful and crowded bay of St. Anne, in the southern part of the island, after a short but quite choppy passage from Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.

Sunset in St. Anne

Back then our friends Salvo and Patti were still on board of Gladan with us, our Australian friends Steve and Deb would shortly join us to explore the island together and none of us had any idea of what would happen to the entire world a few weeks later….

Balata Botanical Gardens

After four months, we are back in the same bay, St. Anne. While still very crowded, the atmosphere in the bay has entirely changed. Sailors keen to head north to explore the Leeward islands have now been replaced by weary skippers waiting for borders to open up and quarantines to be lifted to be able to head south, away from the hurricane belt. The Club Med resort on the beach is closed, most restaurants and bars are yet to reopen after the lockdown, and the cute little village has got a sleepy and somber look. The virus has brought silence where music and dancing were before, emptiness has replaced people’s buzzing around, face masks are now covering bright smiles and filtering laughter.

Water lilies. Balata Gardens

Despite all, combining our two visits we’ve managed to see quite a lot of this beautiful French island.

Here is a list of my favourite places to visit and things to do in Martinique!

  • Pay a visit to the Balata Botanical Gardens. They are close to Fort-de-France, and high up on the hills so getting there by car is not the easiest task! Once you’ll see the gardens though, you’ll realise it was worth the hassle. Jean-Philippe Thoze’s creation is a real celebration of nature’s beauty. The horticulturist, landscape designer and poet who designed the gardens, mixed together a hundred varieties of palm trees, tropical flowers, giant bamboo, and delicate water lilies – a real blaze of colours and perfumes!

A feeding station by the Creole house at the entrance attracts several hummingbirds, who seem to be welcoming you to this tropical paradise!

Steve and I admiring the gardens!
I was left speechless in front of such delicate beauty..
Tree top walk

Hike from St. Anne to Grande Anse des Salines. Follow the footpath that takes you along the coast through the woods.

Walking through the woods St. Anne to Les Salines

It took us more than an hour to get to Les Salines beach and I would advise anyone willing to embark on such a beautiful adventure to bring a lot of water and wear plenty of sunscreen. Along the way, there are several bays where to stop for a quick dip when it gets too hot! Once we reached our destination, we stopped in one of the bars on the beach (the one selling fresh local fruits) and had a tasty smoothy and a few accras (codfish fritters) to gain some strength back! Beware of their Capirinha though if you want to get back in one piece!

Grande Anse des Salines

Stop in Anse d’Arlet and breathe in the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere of this very picturesque village, with its cute church and long promenade. And don’t forget to do some snorkeling in the area marked by the buoys, on the left-hand side of the dinghy dock. We spent a few nights in this bay and saw beautiful trumpets fish and angelfish amongst many others.

Anse d’Arlet

On our second visit to Martinique, we finally managed to eat at L’Escale which is a gastro bistrot in Grand d’Anse. The place is normally very popular and therefore busy. In these special after-lockdown/Covid-19 times, it was half empty and the food was good but not as special as we expected it to be. Gc’s tuna tataki was definitely tastier than my dorado fillet and I started to fear Gc’s comments might not be so kind. Having insisted on trying this restaurant, I was the one to blame…. Luckily, I was saved by the dessert; a chocolate and toasted hazelnuts core fondant, served with coconut ice cream, which we shared and found rather delicious. Phew!! Gc was in a good mood again!

Grand Anse

The best restaurant in Martinique, in our opinion, remains Zanzibar, in Le Marin. The atmosphere is sophisticated without being pretentious, the service is excellent and the food is top quality. I think Gc said the sea bass he tried there was one of the best he’s ever tasted in his life! Big words :)!

Lunch at l’Escale
  • Visit Habitacion Clement Distillery in Francois. Definitely a must go! The distillery is set in a beautiful parkland with botanical gardens, open air exhibitions, indoor art galleries, an ancient mill, the old distillery, and the Creole house were the doctor and former mayor of Francois, Homare Clement, used to live. We were told the visit would last roughly 2 hours, but we would have spent many more wandering around this incredible mansion if it hadn’t been for the rum calling us! The boutique where the rum tasting takes place closes at 5 and it was 4.45 when we rushed through the doors ready for our shots!
  • Discover a totally unexpected pottery village in the heart of Martinique! We spent one night in Trois islets, a sleepy village around the corner from the much more popular and touristy Anse Mitan. The village itself doesn’t have much to offer and once you’ve visited the mangroves either by dinghy or canoe, you’re left wondering what to do next…that’s when we discovered this village literally in the middle of nowhere!
Trois Islets – Mangroves

We left the dinghy at the floating pontoon hoping to find it again when back and went out exploring. The village is massive with plenty of little shops selling ceramics and a gigantic brick factory. There are also a few restaurants in the village and we ended up having dinner in a very fascinating Thai restaurant, La Case Thai, totally booked up for the night. Our waitress was the kindest and funniest young lady you can possibly meet and the food was not bad! What an interesting discovery!

A random statue in the middle of the brick factory!!

From Saint Martin to Martinique; sailing in times of Corona virus…

Three months and a pandemic later, Gladan was finally able to move again! I have to admit leaving Saint Martin was tough….After spending so long in the same bay (Grand Case), we knew and loved every inch of it, became friendly with the locals and had our pet barracuda “Barry”, hiding under our hulls and making a daily appearance to say hi.

Dandi and James towed by us on their canoe. They showed us the best places where to catch fish in Grand Case…. !!

Before leaving for good, we managed to move from Grand Case to Orient Bay, a wonderful place and number 1 destination for kite surfers.

Simon and GC having a “friendly” race on their hobby cats

Now, Orient Bay is completely different from Grand Case. It is an upmarket touristy resorts with residences, bars, shops and restaurants. The scenery changes completely and the people around do too. Orient Bay has one of the longest beaches in Saint Martin and is quite exposed to the wind as it is on the East side of the island. Approaching the bay could be quite challenging if the weather is not settled as there are breakers forming at the entrance.

My favourite spot in the bay was the yellow beach by Îlet de Pinel. Waters are quite shallow here and anchoring might prove challenging, but if you find the courage to venture in, you’ll be highly rewarded. It is a very sheltered spot, the sea is flat as a lake and you’ll be met by hundreds of conchs when you land on the beach!

Yellow Beach

Because of the Covid 19 virus there were no tourists on the islet; we had it all to ourselves…except for a few iguanas and these friendly and funny looking mollusks!

A conch 🙂

Orient bay was great fun, especially for Gc and Simon who, after patiently waiting for the right weather window, managed to take kitesurfing lessons with Fred from http://www.gokitesurfing.com/ .

By the time Gc managed to stand on the board and actually surf on it for almost 1 minute, it was time to move southward :)!

With the hurricane season having officially started on 1st June, we were constantly on the lookout for islands whose borders would open soon. Towards the end of May, a post appeared on Saint Martin Facebook group saying that the French prefecture had approved a new decree that would allow boats to move freely between French islands, without having to quarantine.

We visited the beautiful little island of Tintamarre, only a few miles away from Orient Bay.

The news of the decree was out there but the authorities of the French islands didn’t seem to be aware of it. It took us some time and many phone calls to get assurance that moving from Saint Martin (French side) to Martinique, another French island, without stopping on the way we wouldn’t need to quarantine upon arrival.

Once we got confirmation from at least two different sources, we checked out of Saint Martin and prepared to sail 237 miles to Martinique.

We left Orient Bay on a Saturday at 4 am with a beautiful full moon and very confused waters. The first half day of sailing was very uncomfortable with steep waves coming from different directions and winds stronger than expected. Things started to improve once we passed St. Kitts and Nevis and Redonda island.

Once in the shadow of Monserrat the sea was much flatter, the wind a perfect 18/20 knots and the sun had just left space to a wonderful full moon fighting with the clouds to show its luminous face.

We could smell the sulphur from Monserrat’s active volcano and tried to keep away from the shore as much as possible not to be covered by its dust. Few squalls formed in the sky and travelled in our direction, but then, last minute, decided to spare us, leaving us to enjoy the beauty of the night with its silver coloured sea and the warm sea breeze.

Sailing with a full moon

Gc and I slept on the flybridge doing short shifts of 30 minutes each at first, then 1 hour, then 2 hours once daylight made its appearance around 5am. By then we had sailed to the southern tip of Guadaloupe.

The second day of navigation saw us sailing from Guadaloupe to Dominica, which being quite mountainous, was engulfed in clouds and difficult to spot. The weather was nice and we kept on sailing with two reefs on our main and the jib fully open. The highlight of the day was the to-date unknown fish we caught and unsuccessfully tried to identify.

This poor soul…whatever its kind… was delicious, thanks for feeding us!

The weather conditions started to deteriorate just before sunset, 30 miles from St. Pierre, Martinique; our final destination. We had the wind on the nose and the waves giving us a good, constant shake.

30 miles away from St. Pierre, Martinique..

We had to roll the sails in and motor all the way to St. Pierre where we got at 10.30 pm, tired and hungry. With only one great regret….We didn’t have any red wine onboard! We anchored in the dark, cooked some dinner and went to sleep.

Mount Pelee – St. Pierre. The volcano exploded in 1902 destroying the entire town and killing most of its inhabitants.

The day after we got in touch with Cross Ag (the coast guard) to inform them of our arrival and to ask permission to go ashore to check in. When they finally answered us, they said they’d send us an email with the health questionnaire to fill in and the instructions to follow re. quarantine.

St. Pierre, town centre

Quarantine? Quarantine?! What quarantine? The following 30 minutes were a whirlpool of thoughts and blame game.

My first thought, believe it or not, was that we didn’t have any red wine onboard!!! How would we survive 14 days without any?! Then I realised we didn’t have that much provisioning either… I quickly went to check the cupboards and found enough pasta for us to last more than a fortnight! Gc’s theory being “if you have pasta and rice in storage you won’t die of starvation”….which he happily remind me of every time we go to the supermarket and I complain about the content of our shopping baskets!

St Pierre, with Gladan resting peacefully after 2 long days of sailing!

Before losing hope, we explained to the authorities that we were told we wouldn’t need to quarantine and that’s why we had travelled 237 miles without ever stopping, and that we were very disappointed to find out the opposite. It took some convincing, but eventually we were given some good news; we wouldn’t need to quarantine and we could go ashore to check in!

After a big sigh of relief, we quickly went ashore, checked in and bought some Bordeaux! You never know what to expect in these difficult times…

Why do people sail the Atlantic? Interview with Gladan’s skipper!

Every year roughly 1500 boats cross the Atlantic from East to West and 1000 from West to East. Why do people do it? I mean why undergo a stressful and potentially very dangerous passage that can take up to a month when you can catch a plane and spend 8 hours eating, drinking and watching films?

So why do people cross the Atlantic?

I always ask this question when meeting people that have done the crossing. An accomplished lawyer from England who was about to embark on his second crossing told me:” What would you like for people to read on your tombstone? “She sailed the Atlantic twice” or… “She worked in an office 9 to 5, Monday to Friday?”.

A retired CEO from Switzerland and skipper of a steel boat whom we met in Greece told me that, many years before, she had decided to do the crossing because she wanted to study her own reaction when confronted with limitless waters. “I thought the big blue might frighten me. The idea that we wouldn’t be able to see land for weeks, that there would be so much empty space around…. Well, I did not get scared. I did not panic. I was too busy carrying out my daily tasks and enjoying the feeling of complete freedom”.

This time, I had my chance to ask Gc the same question…and much more!

Patti and Gc testing the media equipment during the crossing

Why did you want to cross the Atlantic?  I’ve always thought that crossing the Atlantic was a massive challenge, and doing it would bring me a sense of achievement. I remember many years ago, I was in Sardinia taking sailing lessons and my instructor mentioned he had crossed the Atlantic. I looked up to him in awe and wondered whether one day I’d be able to do it myself.

What was the best part of the crossing? Overcoming problems. Problems that seemed fairly important and almost with no solution at first. And then we, I mean the crew and myself, we would put our heads together and think of a way to resolve them. Upon succeeding, a great sense of achievement would follow; we were back on track, feeling safe again and making progress on our journey.

What was the worst part? I guess the worst part was the unknown. Not knowing what to expect. That’s rather challenging and scary at the same time. Also…the big waves at night! The first few nights, when surfing down 4/5 metres waves…..you’re not used to it. You see them growing at the back, reaching the height of the boat….you’re always expecting for them to break in and flood the boat! And each time, to your surprise, they don’t!

Another thing I struggled with at first was delegating responsibility. As much as I trusted the crew…it was hard to let go. The crew were all experienced sailors yes, but mono, not catamaran, sailors. The idea that they didn’t really know how the boat behaved with big waves…What if there was an accidental jibe? All these thoughts would keep me awake at night…especially the first week or so.

Do you think that crossing the atlantic has changed you? I don’t think it has changed me per se, but it has definitely given me more confidence in sailing. Everyone is full of insecurities and knowing that you can achieve something as big as this…it’s definitely a confidence booster! It has also been very useful in terms of understanding how to make the team work together. It’s not so easy to make sure that different people who barely know each other get on and live together in harmony….for 3 weeks! We heard stories of boats stopping in Cape Verde (the only possible place where to stop along the way) to drop unhappy members of the crew…or skippers constantly fighting with their crew. We managed to keep everyone happy on board…I guess the good food took a great part in that!

What would be the normal sails setting during the crossing?

Well, we had a long debate about that during the crossing. The crew was convinced that it would be better to have the main fully up most of the time. Personally, I was of the opinion that we needed to reef it. I didn’t want to be constantly on the lookout, I preferred a more relaxed way of sailing.

The ocean!

So we would normally have one reef on the main and the jib fully open. When spotting a squall approaching, we would reduce both sails, by putting 2 reefs on the main and one on the jib. With wind coming from 160 degrees, we would have to be very careful not to jibe; Gladan has got a big main and with the big waves we could accidentally jibe. 

Did you break any sails during the crossing? The sea through window of the jib was torn apart. Luckily we had a second new jib that I had made in the UK before the crossing, so we were able to substitute the damaged one. I bought the second jib with the idea of sailing with two headsails, wing on wing, having them furling and unfurling on the same roller…. although I never managed to do so! A couple of the mainsail’s battens dislodged themselves…the topping lift broke and the code zero was beginning to show signs of being overworked. Overall, nothing too major though.

Gc checking the mast and mainsail…is everything ok?

If there is one lesson you learn by sailing across the Atlantic is that, in most cases, there is a solution to problems, you just need to find it!

What was a typical day like? During the crossing days actually last 24 hours! Our shifts were organised in pairs, so each pair would have 3 hours on and 6 hours off to sleep, relax but also carry out daily tasks such as cooking and boat maintenance. At midday we would all gather around the table in the kitchen for the daily weather forecast and general updates, and then decide on the best meals ideas for the day. Shortly after everyone would go on with their tasks. The most popular place onboard was the flybridge where people ‘on duty’ and ‘off duty’ would gather and often have long discussions about life, philosophy, macroeconomics, and, of course, sailing!

There is someone else out there!!

How eco-friendly was the crossing? We tried to have a zero impact crossing. We were almost completely self-sufficient thanks to the solar panels. Occasionally, we had to turn the generator on to make water and recharge the batteries, but overall we used just under 30 litres of diesel during the 3,700 miles crossing. We only used the engine for 8 hours when there was zero wind and Gladan was drifting! All the organic waste was thrown into the ocean and at the end of the trip we only had 3 large bin bags of plastic, glass and tin. It made us realise that it is not that difficult to be energy efficient and eco-friendly at the same time which gave us a great sense of satisfaction and independence from ‘civilization’.

You can cut that umbilical cord and be pretty much self sufficient for months, living completely off the grid.

Finally, what advice would you give to people wanting to cross the Atlantic? Don’t be afraid! Just be prepared. Don’t underestimate problems, even little issues if not tackled straight away can escalate and become nightmares. Make sure you have spare parts onboard, run daily checks for chafing, make sure you have a fully equipped first aid kit with plenty of strong antibiotics…sadly, there was one fatality this year. A young father sailing with his family died after contracting an infection in Cape Verde. Without the necessary antibiotics, he passed away in the middle of the ocean and the wife couldn’t even use the satellite phone and computer to raise the alarm because she didn’t know the password. It is very important to think things through and be prepared.

When Gladan crossed the Atlantic (Chapter 2)

Gc rushed up the flybridge visibly in distress, his hair standing straight on his head, his face still bearing the marks of the pillow.” – It’s Patti recounting this time. “He looked disoriented. It was 2 am and Salvo and I were on night watch. Gc, with a strange look on his face, finally managed to utter a few words: ‘We’re sinking! We’re sinking! Is everything ok? Aren’t we sinking?!… Salvo and I looked at each other not knowing what to think. Then Salvo barely had the time to ask: ‘Captain are you all right? Are you not feeling well?’, when Gc quickly disappeared leaving us wondering… ..had the captain lost it?”

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“Look at the rainbow, guys!”

Gc chipped in feeling the need to explain: “In my defense, I hadn’t slept in a few nights....It must have been the sound of the bilge pump going off that night while I was asleep that triggered my dream of Gladan sinking… The dream felt so real that it took a while for me to calm down. I jumped out of bed, run upstairs, asked Salvo and Patti whether we were sinking or not, and then found myself alone downstairs in the saloon. Only then it finally hit me; it had just been a dream and everything was actually ok….At that point, I made my way upstairs once again, this time to explain things and apologize to Salvo and Patti, who couldn’t stop laughing!! What a night!”

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One of the sunsets on the way!

Now everyone was laughing, wihle taking another sip of dark, sweet, aged rum. I started picturing Gc in his pants, half asleep, running upstairs ready for action…and I realised how much pressure every captain is constantly under…

And then, of course, the generator broke down!” – Gc started sharing another critical moment of the crossing.

“I think it was exactly a day and a half after we fixed the water maker. I was on night shift and, while doing my routine checks, I noticed that the freezer temperature was -14 instead of -18. The batteries were running low and needed topping up so I went to turn the generator on. At first, it started but, after a few seconds, it went off! The error code on the generator signaled ‘no cooling water flowing’.

Gc cleaning
Always a good time to do some cleaning in style!

That usually means that the impeller is not working.

We just needed to replace it, which was not a big deal as I always carry spare parts, including old impellers….easy job! When opening the cupboard where the spare impellers were meant to be I couldn’t believe my eyes…. it wasn’t there! I emptied the cupboard, checked everywhere inside, but …  nothing, it just wasn’t there! I mean…. there were loads of other impellers but not the one I needed for the generator. 

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Salvo working on the generator, with Patti’s assistance.

I did not know how to tell the crew! Less than 2 days before it was the water maker and now this!!

This was a major issue, much worse than the water maker breaking down! If clouds persisted, the solar panels would not produce enough energy to recharge the batteries which would mean no freshwater AGAIN, no freezer, no bread maker, no autopilot, ultimately no navigation instruments….no nothing!” 

OK, maybe the captain slightly exaggerated there….with 1,100 Watts of solar panels -even at reduced capacity due to the overcast sky-  surely they could still use some of those things. But they would have certainly needed to say goodbye to freshwater (as they could have not used the water maker without generator) and the freezer…with all its content!

Gc assembled the crew around the table and broke the news about the generator. While Edward went to count the energy bars left in his grab bag ;), the others started to analyse the situation. What options were there?

  1. modifying one of the spare impellers to fit the one that needed replacing – very difficult to achieve as in order for it to work it has to be a very precise fit.
  2. fitting an alternative pump to cool down the engine – hoping it lasts for the next 3 weeks!

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The new cooling system!!

We decided the second was definitely our best chance”. Said Salvo. “While Gc listed all the various pumps onboard of Gladan, my attention was caught by the washdown pump, (this is a pump that can suck water either from the sea or from the water tanks). I came up with this idea…what if we use the washdown pump, set on seawater, and attach a long hose that would reach the generator (from the front to the back of the boat)? That way we could bypass the impeller and feed saltwater straight into the cooling system….That might actually work!” Salvo recalled.

Everyone agreed that this could be a solution, providing the pump had enough flow to cool the engine down. Definitely worth a try though!

After an entire afternoon of trials, manufacturing the right hose adaptor to avoid any leaks, it was time to test it. In an atmosphere of absolute silence, buttons were pressed, the pump was on, the flow of seawater started and the generator came to life. Now the moment of truth. The silence became deafening, everyone’s focus was on the generator: would it stop within the first ten seconds or would it stay on? Would the flow be enough to cool the engine down or would the temperature sensor stop the engine once more?

A few more moments of suspense were followed by an explosion of happiness and high fives! It worked!! All crew went back to their stations, making water, baking bread, recharging batteries… Once again the super crew had saved the day!

fish and fish
Mahi mahi chuncks ready to be frozen and jamon shoulder covered by a greasy kitchen cloth…!!

In between crisis, the entire shoulder of Jamon that was bought in Las Palmas was ‘being reshaped’, mahi-mahi was cooked and eaten in all possible ways; as sushi and sashimi, grilled, panfried….

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Will it last until the end of the crossing?!

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Everyone’s favourite activity, jamon cutting!

Lasagne, risotti, fish soups and more pizza were cooked and consumed daily.  Blame it on the constant crisis on board or on the sea air, the crew always had a healthy appetite and the best moment of the day was when the chef on duty would say ” food’s ready, let’s sit down and eat!”

dinner
Dinner’s ready everyone!!

When Gladan crossed the Atlantic! (Chapter 1)

What an adventure! 19 days at sea surrounded only by water, an endless cape of grey sea reflecting the cloudy sky that accompanied the crew throughout most of the crossing.

Onboard of Gladan 6 people: Gc and his son Edward – who trusted his dad so much that came prepared with his own personal flairs and a grab bag full of enough food to survive a minimum of 6 months at sea ;)!! Salvo and Patti from Happy Island – our dear friends and experienced sailors who had already sailed with us from Sicily to Sardinia the previous year. Enzo and Andrea – two other good friends and experienced sailors.

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Departure day in Las Palmas

After 19 days and a few hours, Gladan crossed the arrival line in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, on 13th December 2019, a few minutes before midnight.

Twenty minutes later, the crew was already drinking profusely. To celebrate the end of a big adventure, or to forget the fact that such a great adventure was over. They say the big blue is very addictive!

The ARC’s representatives (the so-called yellow t-shirts) were on Rodney Bay’s marina’s pier, pontoon G, waiting for Gc and the crew, ready to hand over a rum punch each, a basket full of local produce and, most importantly, a bottle of aged rum which was quickly opened and eagerly tasted.

Cigars were lit and memories of the best moments shared.

ed= salvo
Edward & Salvo, during the crossing they became best fishing pals!

“Do you remember Gc’s face when he realised that the water maker had stopped working? It was only ‘day 2’ of the crossing and he couldn’t find the words to tell us. His face spoke more than a thousand words… We immediately knew something was not right…

We were prepared for such an event to happen and had bottles of water on board, but we were not expecting it to happen so soon!!!”  – one of the crew recalled.

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When you’re in the middle of the ocean and you realise your water maker has stopped working!

That day, things were looking quite gloomy on board, a moment of general panic was followed by a powerful brainstorming exercise that convinced the crew that they could fix the water maker.

Gc immediately thought the problem might be the new high-pressure pump that he had recently replaced…perhaps he hadn’t done such a good job after all!

With the precious help of Salvo and Enzo, Gc dismantled the pump and soon realised that it was actually ok…! The problem was somewhere else.

Next on the list, the electric motor.  It was running very slowly. One of two things could have happened:

1) one of the windings had burnt, which would have equaled game over for the water maker, as there was no replacement on board…

2) one of the windings’ wire had short-circuited.

Further investigation revealed that the latter was the case. That was still a big problem to solve but, thanks to the highly skilled crew on board – which luckily hadn’t been selected only for their pizza-making and fishing skills, within 24 hours the copper wire had been reconstructed with a soldering kit…and Salvo’s magic touch!Voila! The water maker was working again!! 

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A war field… mahi-mahi and blood everywhere 😉

“I think the best part of the day was when we would all gather around the table at 12 noon. My dad and Enzo would download the weather forecast and the info regarding Gladan’s and the other boats’ position, the ARC team would send us daily. Armed with pen and paper we would all take notes and then start a lengthy discussion about strategy.” – It’s Edward talking this time.

Before departure, the captain, Gc, had made it clear that the main objective of the crossing was to have fun while being safe. He didn’t want to overstrain the boat and start breaking things – probably thinking of his pockets and how much it would cost him to replace broken sails and other parts :)!!

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What’s going on? Always something to fix onboard!

As soon as they’d receive the info about their position in the race though, the crew’s conservative approach would soon be forgotten and replaced by a ‘let’s -beat -the -hell -out of-the-other -boats’ mode!!! So much for a safe crossing!!

The competitive spirit of the crew was reflected on the results; the first few days Gladan was pushing hard and was in front of all the other cruising catamarans in her category, including bigger and sportier Catanas and Outremers.

After three days of pushing and slamming and squeaking, and after hearing of other boats retiring and breaking their sails, the crew released the accelerator and decided to take it easy, focusing on winning the fishing competition instead.

“We caught so much fish! The crazy thing was that as soon as one fishing rod would go off, within minutes the second one on the other side would start whizzing too! We wouldn’t even bother to slow the boat down, we’d set in place, and slowly start reeling the fish in, fighting with it for 15, sometimes 20 minutes” Salvo said. “It was like a party, the line would go off, the adrenaline would kick in, and Salvo would show up from nowhere, sometimes in his pants, ready to bring another one home!” – Patti added.

tales
War trophies!! The tales of the fish caught during the crossing.

Before leaving Las Palmas, Gladan’s crew placed two bets with Steve and Deb and their crew from Bijoux: two bottles of 12 years old rum (the good stuff!) would go to whom would catch the first fish and whom would get the most. Gladan was the first to catch a 5 Kg mahi mahi! And that was only the beginning…!

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A moment of peace – even the captain can relax at times!

Planning the Great Escape!

As all sailors cruising in the Caribbean are very aware of, hurricane season officially starts on 1st June and runs through November 30th – with August and September being the worst months.

This is such a recurrent topic amongst boaters that when meeting new fellow sailors we’d normally end up sharing ‘hurricane plans’ before even getting to know their names!

Now that June is just around the corner this topic is more and more on our minds -especially because according to recent weather forecasts, this year is going to be a particularly bad one for hurricanes – not that it’s been any good in other fields so far…!!

Judging from the sea surface temperature, which is a few degrees higher than average, and other meaningful signs, forecasters have come to the conclusion that this year there might be up to 20 named storms which would make 2020 the second most active season on record in terms of the number of storms! How lucky!! Out of this 20 named storms, 3 to 5  might become really scary hurricanes, as in category 5 scary hurricanes, the likes of Irma and Kathrina just to be clear… !

Which is why we need to rush out of here before the end of the month…

rese
Doing research for the great escape!

Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but in the current situation with all borders closed and islands trying to protect their inhabitants from new comers potentially spreading the virus, things have become rather complicated.

At the moment we are considering 4 possibilities, although I should mention that we are not particularly picky right now and would be more than happy to go anywhere…as long as it’s far away from hurricanes :)! :

1. Grenada. This would be the easiest option for us. It’s only 365 nautical miles from here which means less than 3 days of non stop sailing to get there. Easy! A lot of sailors take their boats to Grenada, which is considered quite safe, especially if you haul out and leave the boat on the hard in a marina. Some insurance companies don’t cover boats in Grenada as it’s not south enough to be out of the hurricane belt. In the past 100 years, though, only four hurricanes have hit Grenada, which makes it safe enough compared to islands like Saint Martin which has been hit 16 times. The last hurricane to hit Grenada was Emily, in 2005, only one year after Ivan which in 2004 caused a lot of damage to the island and killed 39 people.

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Saint Martin to Grenada

2. ABC. The ABC are the Dutch islands opposite the Venezuelan coast. They’re Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, often referred to as the ABC islands. Despite their position – so close to Venezuela which is a total NO GO – they appear to be safe islands with very friendly people and a quiet lifestyle. They are roughly 500 nautical miles away from us, which means less than 4 days of non stop navigation. Not too bad!

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Saint Martin to ABC Islands

3. Colombia, Santa Marta. That’s 760 nautical miles from us which translates into 5 and half days of non stop sailing. Still quite good! Santa Marta is a new marina with excellent facilities to accommodate yachtsmen. It is reported to be a safe town to visit and a great place from which to explore the wonderful hinterland of Colombia with its snow-capped mountains, natural parks and beautiful white sand beaches. Amazing restaurants, street performers and the cheapest diesel in the Caribbean are other good reasons to go there!

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Saint Martin to Santa Marta – Colombia

4. Guatemala – Rio Dulce. 1500 miles away from us which means 10 days of non stop navigation, if we’re not allowed to stop anywhere else on the way. So…quite far! But it might be very well worth it. Our neighbours here in Saint Martin mentioned that they’ve spent the past 10 years in a place called Ram Marina, which they highly recommend. The river is situated on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, just south of the second-largest reef in the world off Belize (I would love to snorkel there!!) and has earned a reputation as a number one refuge in the western Caribbean, with 1000 yachts staying there for hurricane season from June to December. Magical scenery, low cost of life, fresh fruits and vegetables and an intense social life (at least in ‘normal times’) with regular boat jumbles, film nights and organised outings to hot springs, jungle treks and local Maya ruins might make Rio Dulce the best hurricane hole!

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Saint Martin to Rio Dulce – Guatemala

We’ve sent out emails to all of these places and are now waiting for answers, hoping they’ll come soon! The only alternative to a safe haven would be constantly checking the weather forecast and move away from any hurricanes heading towards us… To be honest, playing cat and mouse with a category 5 hurricane isn’t exatcly my idea of fun sailing in the Caribbean’s! Fingers crossed!