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

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.

crew
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!

 

Quarantined in Saint Martin (Chapter 2)

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Grand Case Beach

Days go by without us realising it. If I still have a rough idea of time is because of one of these reasons:

  1. We need to update our waver daily before going out for shopping or exercising;
  2. My data allowance is automatically renewed the first day of each month so towards the 20th of the month, I enter panic mode and start checking how many days I need to survive without Netflix!

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View from the boat

It seems like only yesterday that we arrived here from St. Barts with the idea of stocking up on food and then moving on to the BVIs (we wanted to go as far north as possible before heading back south to Grenada to spend the hurricane season there) and we have now been in Saint Martin for over a month!

When we first moved to Grand Case from Marigot Bay, we were a bit scared at the idea of the place not being safe – according to Chris Doyle’s guide, the bay has got a bad reputation because of dinghies’ thefts and even some boats being broken into. 

The bay has turned out to be nice and (so far) safe. There are fewer boats around, locals are very friendly and we normally see their faces popping up just before sunset when we all go out to exercise, walking or running, up and down the beach.

 

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Grand Case Bay

Being in lockdown is mentally quite tough and right now we can’t even move from one anchorage to the other. We are stuck in this bay feeling a bit like outlaws with the police questioning your every move ‘on land’, the gendarmerie checking on you ‘at sea’ and rules not always being clear.

Take swimming, for example: here in Grand Case, our neighbour was fined 135 euros for being in the sea scrubbing the hulls of his boat. The gendarmerie themselves told us we were not allowed to swim as the water had not been tested and might not be safe – which to me sounds like one of the things Trump would come up with!!

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Signs of Hurricane Irma still very visible in Grand Case

Few days after we were told we weren’t allowed to swim, the French navy came round and asked us boaters how we were doing (how nice of them!) and when questioned about the ‘swimming issue’ they said that boaters were allowed to swim within a 20 metres radius from their boats. Then we read that in Martinique – another overseas French territory not far from here – people are allowed to swim within a 50 metres radius… Not that we’d go around swimming with a tape measure ;)….we just don’t know who to believe anymore!

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The dinghy dock

The truth is that while feeling super lucky for not being in a small flat in London or Milan, we still find the lockdown quite hard. The worst part is the uncertainty about the hurricane season. If no other island will allow us in (which is the status quo), we’re right in the middle of the hurricane belt.

Saint Martin was very badly hit by Irma only 3 years ago and it’s still showing the wounds.. with dozens of sunken boats all over the lagoon, run-down buildings waiting to be fixed and villages still looking like ghost towns.

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Walking around Grand Case

Restrictions on the French side should start to ease up on 11th May with some shops and small businesses hopefully reopening. The Dutch side has been in total shutdown for over two weeks as they’ve had many more cases of Covid 19. People are not allowed out at all unless it’s an emergency and shopping is delivered straight to their houses.

All we can do right now is hang in here waiting for borders to open up in order to start our great escape Southwards.

Stay strong, keep safe everyone!

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News from the Atlantic, for family and friends!

Gladan’s crew caught 3 mahi-mahi! That’s a really good start, especially considering that there is a bet between Gladan and two other sailing yachts on a) who catches the first fish and b) who gets the biggest one. I heard something about a 12-year-old bottle of rum being up for grab as the bet prize…DSC0950 The crew is in good spirits and making good progress despite the light winds. That’s all for today! 29th November 2019 Gladan has lost a few positions and it’s now 5th in its category. The crew is having a great time: they caught two enormous fishes yesterday and are probably eating more than they should! Temperatures are rising so they’re also getting rid of a few layers 😉 There is little wind at the moment, so they are considering heading a bit more South. DepartDeparture day – Gran Canaria 3rd December Latest news from the middle of the ocean! The crew caught another Mahi Mahi and they now have over 30 kgs of fish onboard!! No chance of them starving, really! Over the past 24 hours the wind has picked up (last night they had a constant wind of 21 knots with gusts of up to 25 knots) and Gladan’s speed has increased to a maximum of 7.5 knots. Gladan is behaving very well and the skipper is heading back North after briefly detouring southward to chase the wind.  1630.9 NM still separate them from St. Lucia… Go Gladan!! Goodbye for now. I’ll leave you with a picture of the skipper’s mum’s kiss on departure day 🙂
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The Kiss!
6th December Over the past week, the wind has picked up and Gladan has been making good progress with an average of 155 nautical miles sailed daily. Unfortunately today the generator broke down – luckily they can still make water. The only problem is that they’ll have to start kneading the bread dough by hand as they won’t certainly be able to use the bread maker for a while! They also have a hole in the genoa and a couple of broken battens from the mainsail. Luckily they have a spare genoa, so they can always replace it if necessary. Some of the boats (the very big ones of course!) already reached St. Lucia. Galdan is now 7th in its category, Multihull B. Go Gladan, we’re waiting for you!!!

Here we are, Portimão!

We set off from Sancti Petri (10 miles East of Cadiz) quite late in the morning as we had to wait for the tide to rise to be able to leave our anchorage without risking to get stranded on a sandbank. The sun was shining and the scenery was gorgeous: white sandy beaches with dunes and desert-like vegetation.

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Sancti Petri anchorage

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Beautiful surroundings

We could have spent the day basking in the sun and exploring the marshes, but we were so close to Portimão now that the ‘home-fever’ took over us. All we could think of was getting there as quickly as possible.

It was past midday when we hit the road again with the idea of stopping somewhere close to Faro for our last night at anchor, before reaching the ‘motherland’.

We arrived at Faro in the middle of the night and anchored off Barra Nova in shallow waters, around 6 metres deep. There was a big swell and we barely managed to close our eyes for a few hours, until daylight, before taking off again.

“Thirty miles and we’ll be home” – this thought kept us going despite the sleep deprivation. During our sail from Faro to Portimão, we were able to admire the beautiful rocky coast which had been levelled out and carved by the elements over the years. The result was an incredible landscape of grottos, sinkholes and secret hideaways, which we couldn’t wait to go explore!

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Marina de Portimão

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Gladan’s home

The other thing we noticed along the way was the incredible amount of fishing boats out at sea – easily spotted due to the grey mass of seagulls hovering over them.

A few more miles and we saw the entrance to the marina: finally we were home! At least for the next 5 months or so…

Portimão’s marina sits on the bank of the river Arade, in a very picturesque and colourful setting; its perimeter is surrounded by ochre and coral semi-detached flats with little wooden topped balconies; on the opposite side of it, Forte de São João dominates the beautiful sandy beach of Praia Grande.

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Forte de São João & Praia Grande

A few minutes away from the marina, there is also the breathtaking beach of Praia da Rocha, considered one of the best in Portugal.

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Praia da Rocha

Our first impression of the marina was very good and we were satisfied with our choice: the location looked great, catamarans pay the same fee as monohulls, winters are supposed to be very mild, and Faro airport, which is only 45 minutes away from the marina, is very well connected to the UK and Italy, with direct flights to both destinations. Considering that it used to take us 2 days to reach our marina in Leros (Greece) and at least half day to get to Capo D’Orlando’s Marina (Sicily), this time it seemed almost too easy!

More about Portimão and our adventures around Portugal in the next post!

Gibraltar & sailing towards our winter destination: Portimão

After almost a week in Malaga it was time to leave. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to our friends; for quite some time Gc’s face was the only one I’d seen on a daily basis and as much as I like it, I have to say that spending time with other familiar souls had been very invigorating!

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Malaga – Port

The weather was getting more and more unpredictable and we were eager to reach our winter destination and get back to having a routine. After a month and a half at sea moving around all the time, we were looking forward to having a ‘stable life’ for a little bit! Things like knowing where to go food shopping, where to have the best espresso and nicest meal, having more than one conversation with the same people, were becoming more and more appealing to us.

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Sailing towards Gibraltar

While sailing towards Gibraltar, we heard several warnings on VHF regarding the presence of tree branches and trunks floating at sea. The previous days Malaga and surroundings (Estepona in particular) had been battered by a storm which had caused devastating floods and left one man dead. The torrential rain had stripped trees and canes which had reached the sea through the overflowing rivers.

It wasn’t long before we started to see the first branches and canes. We slowed down and tried to avoid the big trunks which could have caused serious damage to our propellers and rudders. The extent of vegetation floating was such that the sea had turned brown…we were sailing through the woods!

Couple of hours before reaching the famous Rock of Gibraltar, the fog started to settle in. The sea was dead still, mirror-like, there was zero wind and no one around. It felt like we were sailing inside a sound-proof bubble; such was the silence around us.

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Approaching Gibraltar in the fog

By now we should have been able to see the coast but there was no sign of it: the fog was too thick. I felt a bit uneasy, as it seemed unusually quiet. Couple of dolphins showed up and played with our bow for a few minutes before diving in with a touch of their powerful tale and disappearing into the deep blue.

It was just after sunset when we finally managed to see the Rock of Gibraltar and a few shipping containers, anchored out at sea a few miles away from the coast. The scenery was enticing: the top of the rocky promontory towered over the sea, peeking through the fog.

We spent the night at anchor inside the Bay of Gibraltar in a very protected spot, just outside the Marina of Alcaidesa. The anchorage though is not as safe as it looks; we read that some people got their dinghies stolen overnight…

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Anchorage – Sancti Petri

The morning after, we departed straight after breakfast – our dinghy still with us!-  and made our way to Cadiz. It was while looking for a safe anchorage for the night that it occurred to us that from now on there would be two more elements to factor in; tide and current! We were now on the Atlantic!!

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Sailing at 10.4 knots!

The waves had become longer and we had the current in our favour, Gladan was doing 10.4 knots! After another night at anchor in the beautiful area of Sancti Petri, only 120 miles separated us from our winter destination: Portimão.

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Sunset – Portimão