Atlantic to Pacific: Sept 97 - Sept 99

 

'Sunstone' left the Hamble, its home for nine years on 16 September, after the usual flurry of last minute preparations and stowing of supplies which left her boot-top barely visible. The extremely slow passage of the Bay of Biscay was made worse by the seizure of the engine in fog and calm off Ushant.

In Corunna, the engine proved serviceable. We then had a delightful cruise among the lovely rias of Galicia. The weather broke at Bayona and the only way to get clear for our passage to Porto Santo, near Madeira, was to take a day's windward work in force 6-7. The medicine worked and was followed by a fast passage. Porto Santo was delightful, if arid, and we met other cruisers with whom we have stayed in touch.

 

At Las Palmas, Gran Canaria we stocked up for the Atlantic crossing. We were lucky to meet Hal and Margaret Roth, whose remarkable cruises have earned them many cruising awards. Hal is writing a book about Ulysess' wanderings. We spent the rest of October and much of November cruising Tenerife and Gomera. The latter is a spectacular and relatively unvisited island.

Doug Ritherdon, an East Coast friend, joined us for the Atlantic crossing. We set out from Puerto de Mogan on 23 November. Coincidently, our departure coincided with the ARC start. Thus, for the first week we saw two or three larger yachts a day overtaking us. With the exception of the daytime heat, our passage was very comfortable. The winds were force 3-4 from almost dead astern, with two mild squalls only on the last two days. We gybed often, despite getting well south fairly early. In light spells we set the spinnaker, but generally kept up good speed with main and poled genoa. We arrived in Scarborough, Tobago on 13 December - just over 20 days for 2800 miles. 

Doug left us at Tobago, after kindly dining us out on our 25th wedding anniversary. We cruised gently along the NW coast of this beautiful and unspoiled island, where it is still possible to find anchorages, with not a single other yacht. Tobago remains our favorite among Carribean islands. After a Christmas dinner barbecue at Pirates Cove, Man o' War Bay, we moved on to Trinidad. The Atlantic crossing had badly damaged the hull varnish, so we hauled out at Chaguaramas Bay, Trindad. Throughout the two weeks, we bit our nails, wondering if the heat would dry the boat so much that all the splines would pop. Only a few did. Back in the water 'Sunstone' was OK and ready for her cruise through the Caribbean.

The following two months were a classic Caribbean cruise. The sun was almost always shining, the waters a deep blue offshore and azure over the sandy shallows; flying fish leapt in shoals; the trade wind blew steadily and the water was the same temperature as the air; the sun set vertically with an occasional "green flash" - really more of a glow. At night, you could see both the Southern Cross and the North Star; shooting stars competed with phosphorescence on night passages. That was the good side - and to be fair, it was very good. On the down side, the best known anchorages were very crowded - over 50 boats at Clifton, Union Island - reportedly over 100 at Christmas - in a very small harbour with inadequate facilities. Admiralty Bay, Bequia, must have had over 200 yachts. We hadn't realised how cheap air travel has expanded chartering. In some harbours the majority of boats are on charter. Unfortunately, many, though by no means all of these are poorly or even irresponsibly handled; also a minority are noisy and unpleasant. But it is possible to find quiet anchorages. They are away from towns and/or are relatively difficult to get into or less comfortable because of swell. We particularly enjoyed Chatham Bay, Union Island, St. Pierre, Martinique and Anse de Colombier, St. Barts.

 

We met many people who've spent years in the Caribbean. From what they say, we saw the highlights, with the possible exception of Grenada and Nevis. In summary, our travels from Trinidad took us to Union Island, Mayreux, the Tobago Cays, Bequia, Martinique, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barts, Anguilla, Antigua and St. Kitts.

Some highlights of the Caribbean -

Watching shoals of silvery fish cast shadows by moonlight on the sandy bottom of Chatham Bay

Climbing Mt. Pelee on Martinique in tropical sunshine - and downpour

Watching horrified as 'Yellowdrama', a large, well known yacht from the UK, ground her keel for two hours on the reef at Saltwhistle Bay, Mayreux, having misjudged her entrance in the dark

Experiencing the eerie and impressive phenomenon of a total solar eclipse while sailing within sight of the active volcano on Monserrat

Walking across the island of Antigua from Parham to Falmouth.

Learning about pilotage and navigation among coral reefs

And we met lots of interesting people, both on yachts and on the islands

At St. Maarten/St. Martin, we did our first racing since the Fastnet. Despite removing about 1000 pounds of cruising gear, the boat was still overweight. Richard Glen, Simon Tonks and Chris St. Genies were able to join us from England. Jonny Smallridge, skipper of 'Scoundrel' and Dick Lane, both based in St. Maarten at the time filled out the crew. The racing in Cruiser/Racer Class 2 was excellent fun. In mixed conditions, we were 4th in what was probably, apart from the maxis, the most competitive class in the regatta; our class winner was also the overall winner.

 

We sailed on to Antigua, where we threaded the coral reefs of the north coast for 10 days at the quiet backwater of Parham beautifying the boat followed by five days at the beautiful Green Island reef anchorage.

 

The Antigua Classic Regatta rated high on elegance, low on serious racing, but it was a pleasure to be part of such an event, bringing together older classics and totally reconstructed yachts like 'Valsheda' and 'Endeavour', or completely new 'classics'. With the help of Jonny Smallridge, Roger Guy and Lisa Hoyland, we had no difficulty winning our class, but we were surprised to be the runners up in the Concours d'Elegance for privately maintained yachts.

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