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