Ahoy! For those who’ve followed my blog with interest over the past few years (thank you!), and for those who’ve just joined in the last few months (welcome!), you may be wondering why the sailing posts ended so abruptly mid last year, somewhere in the beautiful British Virgin Islands.
The adventures of finally my darling the sailing catamaran have not ended; in fact, it has just moved into the third chapter. But my time personally, as a live aboard sailor, has drawn to a close. After close to three years of sailing and freedom, I could no longer escape the claws of reality dragging me back into the real world of responsibility. That said, this insanely intense and uplifting experience has ensured “retiring and sailing around the world” is now a dream hubby Mike and I will devoutly work towards in our future.
I’m delighted to say that, after an unanticipated return of f*cking cancer, Dad is fighting fit and back aboard currently sailing around the BVI. Albeit a few months late after radiation treatment, but a true testament to his fighting spirit and zest for life. Mum has recently rejoined the boat in St Maarten.
Captain Col’s new crew, Kelly and Darren (a lovely couple from BC, Canada) have set up a new Facebook page and blog, NautiKel Adventures, so jump on over and throw them a thumbs up to follow their wind-driven escapades through the Caribbean.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll stick around to follow my personal travel journeys here, even if they’re more sporadic now real life has gotten in the way. Thanks to the fire inspired inside me by penning this blog—writing, photography and managing digital content is my fulltime job these days – neat huh? So I’ll spare too many words in this final post, or it may be another six months until I get around to sharing my last leg of the journey with you.
Without further ado, here’s a photographic chronicle of my final months aboard our dear lady, finally my darling. PS: you’d better make yourself a cuppa… it’s a long one!
SAILING SOUTH FOR HURRICANE SEASON
For us, hurricane season was a new phenomenon.
The Mediterranean did not suffer from the turbulence of hurricane-force storm cells (if anything, intense weather arrives in the dead of winter, not the primetime summer months), and we’d not cruised a sailboat in the cyclone-prone northern half of Australia.
Majority of sailors schedule their year and itinerary around the arrival of the Caribbean hurricane season, with insurance policies generally requiring boats to be outside a certain “high risk” longitude and latitude zone. We’d made the decision a few months prior that the glorious BVI would be our turnaround point. Lingering there for six magical weeks, with short distances between anchorages and plenty of diving. Though with the start of hurricane season looming, time came to dust off the cobwebs for a long mission south sailing the relentless easterly trade winds.
First though, we’d need to punch directly into the trade wind and swell (not so fun in a poorly-pointing catamaran) to round the curve leading into the southern half of the Caribbean archipelago. With Sydney friends on board, Jasmin and Scotty, and with the first spell of lighter easterlies, we bid adieu to the bountiful BVI heading off on a weary overnight motor to the impossible island of Saba.
Noble Saba juts defiantly from the ocean and appears impenetrable with fortress-like granite cliffs exposed to the froth and fury of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1493, on this second expedition to the New World, finding nowhere to land it’s little wonder Christopher Columbus sailed right past.
Saba is somewhat illustrious and captivating to the cruising sailor. With limited options for mooring – comfortable only in certain conditions, downright untenable in others, added with the difficulty of landing a dinghy ashore – few cruisers make the detour. We’d missed Saba on the way north in favour of a route to stunning St Barts. Fortunately, conditions were favourable on the return south allowing us to pick up a mooring for two days in deep and dramatic Wells Bay. Rounding the point in the dingy to make landfall at the tiny port was wet, bumpy and another story in itself.
Essentially the top of a dormant volcano that protrudes from the Atlantic Ocean, Saba is one of the few Dutch-owned islands in the Caribbean. Surrounded by a spectacular protected marine park below the waterline, and above dominated by the lushly rugged topography of Mount Scenery, Saba’s population is less than 1,500 and locals have a quirky Dutch-Caribbean accent with surnames tracing back to the motherland. Despite naysayers warning it was “impossible”, a masterful engineer took two decades to construct a single road linking the island and an insane airport was built with the shortest commercial runway in the world!
Together with the jovial crew off buddy boat Bueller, Lars and Jackie, we spent a day exploring the sights of Saba, including a sweaty hike to the top of Mount Scenery (with a socked-in view of the clouds!), some 900 metres above sea level.
You beauty! While we didn’t catch as many as we’d have liked (Free food? Yes please!), fishing in the Caribbean trumped any woeful attempt at fishing in the dead Med. Unfortunately our visiting mate Scotty didn’t have as much luck.
Also missed on the trip north, we called into the island of Montserrat to witness first-hand the destructive story of its still-active volcano, Soufriere Hills. The southern half of Montserrat is an abandoned ash-covered wasteland. After the most recent eruption in 1995 that completely buried the capital of Plymouth and forced two thirds of the population to flee, today the entire bottom end of the island is off limits, including a surrounding “no sail” exclusion zone.
With views over Plymouth, we were escorted through the ghostly shell of the once-grand Springs Hotel, which had been destroyed by ash and deserted. Overall, Montserrat was intriguing and a mellow somewhat forgotten kind of place, but a fun stopover for rasta bars and fresh-from-the-tree green coconut drinks.
Still smoking – Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills volcano.
Final days with guests Jasmin and Scotty touring the lush landscapes and waterfalls of French overseas territory, Guadeloupe.
Disillusioned by the Caribbean’s overpriced and underwhelming waterfront restaurants targeting cruisers, this roadside BBQ was a welcome find on our round island road trip. Hearty jerk chicken and salad lunch with cold Carib, only A$10. Bargain!
Waterfall adventures on our second visit to Guadeloupe.
With a short gap between visitors, a lazy week was spent anchored off Guadeloupe’s Pointe-a-Pitre; days occupied with sightseeing, provisioning, boat maintenance, boat scrub downs when Mother Nature called and sewing projects with Dad’s new heavy duty Sailrite sewing machine.
After hopping the pond in February 2015, we’d the privilege of hosting a steady stream of family and friends. And who can blame them when the dangling carrot is sailing the alluring Caribbean Islands? Fifteen people across six different groups kept the finally my darling crew in entertainment mode for months at a time. With much anticipation we welcomed final guests for the season, our dearest family, The Folleys, including brother (son) Stew, sister-in-law Jo and gorgeous nieces (granddaughters), Jordan and Danielle who’d made the long trek from Port Macquarie, Australia.
Any sailor worth their salt knows the Caribbean is renowned for reliable trade wind sailing (a pleasant change from the Motor-terranean), granted you are going in the “right” direction!
While we barely had an opportunity to raise a sail with Jasmin and Scotty on board, after rounding the corner from Montserrat to Guadeloupe the stiff breeze finally moved from the nose to the beam. In the weeks to follow, and with the Folleys as part of the crew, the easterly wind was relentless and the engines rarely needed a run, except when in the ghostly calm lee of each island or manoeuvring in and out of anchorages.
When passaging between islands, many hours were spent sailing in 20 – 25-knot winds hard on the beam and lumpy seas. Fortunately the Folleys were an adventurous lot, with the youngest Danielle proclaiming a few days in that she’d prefer to be home schooled on a boat. Gosh I just love that girl’s spirit!
My brother Stewart will tell you that he’d long dreamt of attending a raucous cricket match in the West Indies, so with Australia set to play the local side in Dominica, plans were made to take the route south, to catch the action first-hand while fulfilling a bucket list item for Stew. No arguments here! Dominica’s lushness and raw energy had put us under a spell on our first trip through, so we were ecstatic to return and share the island with the Folleys.
Moored alongside a dozen other Aussie-flagged vessels, our commute to the cricket consisted of a short dinghy ride to shore and a 10-minute walk through the ramshackle capital of Roseau. It was surprisingly impressive how many Australians flew into the tiny island and who follow the cricketers around the world – it was the most familiar Aussie accents we’d encountered in well over a year! Drinking alongside the players at their hotel and a chinwag with gracious captain Michael Clarke after they’d crushed the West Indies in just three and a half days, was a fitting end to a cool experience.
It was also in Dominica that we first caught up with young Aussies Elyana and Riley on La Vagabonde. They are pretty much the global sailing poster couple these days; totally deserving, sweetest pair ever! Their vlogs are seriously entertaining and pulls in an income that now sustains their onward sailing adventures. Jealous is an understatement.
Paired with pre and post-cricket touring of some crazy dense rainforest (Dominica’s topography is dominated by a whopping nine dormant volcanoes), waterfalls, mineral-rich hot pools, a paddle up a Pirates of the Caribbean-famous river scene, and some shoulder rubbing with the resident rastas, it was an all ’round epic stopover.
Now, before we move on, let’s make it clear… I’m referencing Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-eeka) here, not the Dominican Republic (I’ve not yet been to the latter). If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to visit, it was one of our absolute faves of the trip.
It was in Martinique we lost our starboard-side engine. Heavy line caught in the prop busted the seal allowing saltwater to emulsify in the oil destroying the gearbox (near impossible-to-see fishing floats in the southern Caribbean, sometimes no more than a clear milk bottle, are a death trap for boat props!). With the travel lift and boatyard out of action in Le Marin, we had no option but to improvise as we sailed for Grenada.
We spent the next two weeks limping into anchorages against the easterly winds, with Mike acting as a tugboat in the dinghy to manoeuvre us out again. It was comical, but most of all, pretty stressful.
Departing south from Martinique (where five months prior we’d initially made landfall following our Atlantic crossing) was entering unchartered waters for finally my darling. Next stop, Saint Lucia!
Perhaps somewhat unfairly, Saint Lucia has a bad rep among the transient yachtie crowd. Theft and bullying from some locals was not unheard of, and our guard went up upon entering the southern region a sailor friend once described as the “real Caribbean”. It was a long way from those first eight months cruising the eastern Mediterranean where we didn’t even have so much as a lock for our dinghy (all that changed the second summer when after two days in Sicily our dinghy got stolen, and luckily retrieved again!).
We spent a few nights between Rodney Bay and the rustically-throbbing town of Soufriere, tried to anchor directly under the famed Pitons while beating into 25 knots with one engine; before another hard sail for Saint Vincent.
A full house aboard finally my darling!
A gorgeously lush and mountainous island, and a gateway to the idyllic Grenadines, on first appearances Saint Vincent seemed to be stuck in somewhat of a time-warp maintaining its rustic roots and simple way of life as the rest of the Caribbean was bending for the tourism industry. Making another speedy beam reach south from Saint Lucia and into the ghostly lee of Saint Vincent, we motored straight past the deserted bay at Wallibou which had recently been condoned after rogue locals boarded a yacht and “roughed up” the crew before making off with their dinghy. (Update: sadly in March 2016 a German yachtsman was murdered aboard a yacht by masked intruders in the very same bay.)
We were losing light fast, yet found a safe harbour with two other yachts further down the coast; the scene that ensued was nothing short of comical. Desperate locals trying to salvage what was left of their island’s reputation among the sailing community came rushing to our assistance, offering directions and to take lines ashore. A friendly Rastafarian in a boat splashed with the trademark colours of reggae followed us in from the entrance, another one-legged fellow rowed around after us in little more than a bathtub for a boat. Mike put the dinghy in the water to act as our tugboat, all whilst we tried to make it clear to the eager boat boys we were down an engine and manoeuvring in the small bay would be a challenge.
Dropping anchor and taking lines ashore failed on first attempt with windage and one engine, so we were forced to anchor in the deep end of the bay, with the boat boys all yelling various well-intentioned instructions and next tying a long line to a rickety jetty to stop us from swinging into their fish farm. It was a mass of chaos and confusion for 15 minutes or so, and ended with three small boats with boat boys (men) hanging off the back of finally my darling, with many smiles and conversation shared, invites ashore, the spruiking of fruit and beads, and with us handing over a few cold beers, cans of coke, and (random request) a cabbage. I wish someone caught the whole episode on camera, ‘cause it must’ve been hilarious for a fly on the wall and restored our faith in the gentle people of Saint Vincent.
On arrival to Bequia Island, our first stop in the beautiful Grenadines, a local celebrity-like sailing photographer came bounding through the chop, spray and 25-knot winds in his dinghy to capture a few shots of finally my darling under full sail.
We were back in charter boat territory and a favourite hangout for live aboard cruisers—the laid-back island of Bequia, The Grenadines.
Canouan’s Charlestown Bay was a memorable anchorage, yet for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps being the only boat in the bay should’ve been the first red flag, but we stayed regardless and spent the afternoon snorkelling and hanging at the private beach of a grand yet ageing and empty resort. Later, at 4am I was abruptly woken, with brother Stewart raising the alarm that someone had just been on the boat. Within seconds, eight of us on board were awake, wide-eyed and with all the lights on. Indeed a trouble-making local had swum some 150 metres out to finally my darling and climbed aboard. Judging by the wet footprints, he’d wandered around the main saloon and over to the nav station where he’d stood above Stew and young Danielle’s heads while they slept on the fold-down bed. Stew woke to find him sitting in the stairs leading down to the port side cabins; he’d startled the intruder who ran to the stern and dived in, disappearing into the darkness. Dad called VHF Ch 16, which was immediately answered by a marine company owner on nightly patrols ashore; he alerted police and dinghy’ed out to see us shortly afterwards, apologetic and taking a report.
Before going to bed, I’d felt uneasy and suggested everyone put their belongings below deck; as often the saloon was littered with iPads, iPhones, wallets, and sunnies. I’m not sure how he would’ve carried anything, as he was swimming and appeared to have been close to naked. It was a shake up, but could’ve been a lot worse as sadly armed and aggressive boardings are not unheard of in the southern Caribbean. On daylight, we swiftly upped anchor and moved south. Almost a year later, we read the repeat culprit was finally caught and arrested; giving the local tourist-related businesses on Canouan the chance to re-build their industry, encouraging yachts to return to a now-safe anchorage.
By this point the stiff trade breezes had not let up for weeks. Forcing us to give the area’s famed Tobago Cays a miss, as attempting to steam head first into 20-knot winds with one engine while navigating reefs through to a lumpy exposed anchorage, only protected by a coral atoll, was not a sensible option.
Yet we made up for it, spending the night nearby in Mayreau Island’s stunning Salt Whistle Bay, where a dozen or so yachts snuggled into a crystal clear semi-enclosed cove. Exploring the wind-swept island that was dotted with rustic villages and where simple life was king, was made entertaining by the menagerie of animals appearing at every turn. From bleating goats, to toy-like lambs, inquisitive cats, and mini tortoises that were stoked to have attention showered on them by us animal-lovers.
Union Island was a major hub for conch farming; there were literally mini mountains of discarded shells everywhere. Plus, with a protected flat-water lagoon inside a long reef, paired with consistent trade winds, it was a hotspot for kite boarding. Knowing we were nearing the end of our trip, Mike finally acted on something he’d regretted not doing when we first set out a few years back. He took kite boarding lessons and was to his feet within the first two hours, while Jo, the girls and myself kicked back and sent our encouragement over cold Caribs.
After a solid month and few hundred miles under sail, Stew and the girls departed us in Grenada. Sadly I seem to have lost photos from Grenada, The Spice Island, famed for its nutmeg and green produce. Grenada, like much of the southern Caribbean, was another gorgeously lush island, where we took break-neck-speed mini bus rides with the laid-back locals, hiked steamy rainforests to waterfalls, and loitered at street festivals where at times we were the only whities in sight.
On rounding the south western tip of Grenada, we were forced to motor head first into 25-knot trade winds with one engine, sometimes slowed to as little as three knots forward speed over ground. The six nautical mile trip to Grenada Marine’s hardstand took close to two uncomfortable hours. Given it would be the last two hours Mike and I would spend travelling aboard our faithful floating home, finally my darling, it was a bittersweet farewell.
Our majestic lady heading into hurricane hibernation.
To claim the past few years was all sunshine and cocktails would not be honest. And as anyone can understand (and many have asked) living 24-7 aboard a 13m x 7m floating home with your immediate family can be a pressure cooker. Through those years I experienced some of the highest and lowest moments of my life: times when I was an emotional wreck and didn’t recognise the person I’d become, to times of immense pride (like the accomplishment of sailing three weeks across the Atlantic Ocean), to ultimate personal challenges (SCUBA diving to 50 metres for example); from times of utter euphoria, to moments when I feared for my life (like that first lightning storm in Greece). To say an existence afloat is a character-building rollercoaster is an absolute understatement.
In June 2015, Mike and I finally accepted the time had come to end our two and a half year-long journey as live aboard sailors — after several accumulated events, combined with our dwindling bank account, hurricane season approaching, and major engine repairs requiring time out of the water. Down two hands, Dad took the opportunity to head home to Australia and regroup for a few months. Alarmingly, through routine health checks it was found his prostate cancer had returned in the surrounding lymph nodes (15 years AFTER the prostate had been removed). Had all this not taken the path it did, he would not have returned home and they would not have found the cancer in time. So, it’s highly likely the adventure would have been over for everyone. Everything happens for a reason, don’t they say?
Sending heart-felt thanks to Dad for having us along to share his dream, props for living life to maximum capacity (even when pushing a fighting-fit 70 years) and exemplifying his motto that “Life is not a practise run”. Fair winds, Captain Col (and my darling Mum)!
Now jump over to NautiKelAdventures.com to follow the ongoing journey of FMD through the Caribbean, as well as checking back here for the future travel chronicles of Brooke and Mike.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking around.
Cheers! Brooke x