Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2 year anniversary

Tonight I write this entry on the anniversary of 2 years since we set sail from Port Solent.  We are sharing an expensive bottle of champagne which our kind neighbours (Karen & Neil) gave as a leaving present and told us to drink somewhere amazing although there have been many lovely places along the way we saved this for a special occasion and sitting here anchorage off Stocking island in Exuma Sound, we feel very lucky.

This year we have sailed 6460 miles and visited 24 countries which is hard for us to believe and we are still amazing that we have crossed the Atlantic. We have visited some beautiful places and had some fantastic experiences whilst meeting some great people. Are we used to our new life? We are still not sure, some days we are really living a dream – today we walked along one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever visited (South beach on Stocking Island, Exuma, Bahamas), we then popped into the main settlement of George Town where there is the local sailing regatta with reggae pumping everywhere and lots of friendly locals enjoying themselves and then return to our lovely home to sit in the sunshine and relax.  BUT this time last week we had hardly slept, both physically and mentally exhausted, we were drained by the constant wind and were missing home and family so it was wonderful but funny what some rest and a new place brings.

What does the year ahead hold? We know we are heading north through the Bahamas and to the States for the beginning of June and are looking forward to exploring the east coast during the hurricane season, come November hopefully we can head south and perhaps we will venture to Cuba, Mexico ……………… but who knows as we never plan too far ahead.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Turks and Caicos - What a shame

We had high expectations for Turks and Caicos, everything you read makes the islands sound idyllic and a pleasure (expensive) to visit but for us the weather really tarnished our experience L

On arrival at Malcolm Roadstead, in the dark, on the north west coast of Providenciales which is the largest of the Caicos island, we could not see what was ashore apart from the lights to a resort that was dotted along the shoreline.  In the morning we could see the lovely white sandy beach and the luxury resort, we had been alone overnight but we were joined in the morning Abramavich’s super yacht in the morning, not sure if he was aboard but quite a funky boat.

The next day we moved to the south coast of Provo, this was a bit of a challenge as we had to enter the Caicos Bank. The Caicos Bank is an area of sandbanks covering 10's of square miles which is surrounded by a protecting reef, to reach Provo you have to navigate through a pass in the reef and across miles of shallow water scattered with coral ! When approaching the narrow entrance to the Caicos bank you are in water over 1000m deep but can see the waves breaking on the surrounding reef and the dramatic change in the colour of the water, it is quite scary as the pass is not marked in any way so you have to trust your GPS position, the charts and your eyes. 
The pass is only a few 100m across and as you commit to going through, the water depth changes from 1000m to 10m pretty much instantly as denoted by a change in the water colour deep blue to sandy turquoise. There is no blurring of colour just an instant change like someone has drawn a line in the water.  
These drop offs are what makes Caicos so popular for diving.

Waves breaking on the reef in the distance whilst we were in water which was 100's metres deep

The change in water colour can be seen in the distance

Finally we are in the shallow water and the darker deep water is in the distance
Once on the bank spreads we were mainly in water 3-5 metres deep and navigation was "by eye" as there were numerous coral patches with shallower water which we had to weave around and as Magnum is 2.1m draft we had to be on lookout the whole time.  This was increasingly difficult as the wind was 20 knots on the nose, we thought being shallow water there would not be any waves but the sea was really choppy and made progress very slow!  Occasionally the waves were large and steep enough that they brought our 8 ton boat to a complete standstill ! We travelled under 10 miles to Sapodilla Bay, but were shattered on arrival.  Here we stay for 5 days, with strong winds and rolly conditions it was pretty awful! Although the surrounding sea looked amazing and we were treated to some lovely sunsets.

Sapodilla Bay was surrounded by huge plush houses which was a taste of what was to come around the island.

Beautiful properties lining Sapodilla Bay

Mark on the shore of Sapodilla Bay, Magnum at anchor, you can't see how rolly it is!
We had to hire a car one day as the bay is miles from anywhere, no shops, no bank, nothing! But we enjoyed a day rushing round the island, the down town area of the island and the main road that runs along the island is more developed than expected, with large shops, banks and generally an expensive infrastructure. Grace Bay is the main tourist area and the resorts are the height of luxury but are a bit ?.  The beaches along the north coast are protected by a reef and generally the sea around the island is some of the most beautiful we have seen in all of the Caribbean.

Beautiful resort on south coast

Stunning beach for our picnic lunch

Beach by Turtle Cove marina

Beach on north coast
It was such a shame for us that the weather made us tired, did not allow us to explore the island or go diving which is one of the main reasons we wanted to visit.  This is a difficult place to sail and optimum conditions are really needed to make the most of your time here.  If you want a exclusive beach holiday where you do not leave the resort and want some privacy this may be the place to visit but we will not be planning another trip.

Puerto Rico to Caicos

A 460 mile passage, with good winds we anticipated 3 and a half days at sea.
We departed Sunbay marina late in the day to ensure we had good daylight to clear the reefs off the north coast of PR. The sun was up the wind was blowing from the east and we were looking forward to arriving at our next destination.

The first night was a little bumpy but we were making excellent progress with the wind from behind and a helpful current pushing us in the right direction. We had a bit of a scare when a container ship called Tropic Unity started to catch us from behind, they appeared to be on a direct collision course and were making no signs of altering course. When they were a couple of miles out we called them on the VHF, for some reason we had a bad signal and then they decided to stop talking to us, but it had the desired effect and they moved a couple of degrees and went around us. Overtaking boat keeps clear !

Day 3 the wind dropped a bit so we launched our spinacre and spent the whole day at speeds of 6knts+ in less than 10 knots of wind, great fun!

We made such good progress that it looked like we could arrive early and avoid another night at sea. It then became a race against daylight and we set as much sail as possible and continually fussed over our course to ensure we didnt sail a meter more than was needed.

We almost made it but darkness fell just as our destination was in sight, we crept into Malcolm Roadstead until we were in 7m depths dropped the anchor and slept like babies....ZZZZZZ

Friday, April 19, 2013

Puerto Rico - San Juan

San Juan is the second oldest European founded settlement in the Americas and the old city is fascinating.  The city is surrounded by 15ft thick walls and has 2 amazing forts which are still big tourist attractions.  

Mark with the walls of Old San Juan behind
We knew that we might be sharing the city with the hoards from the cruiseship but we were particularly unlucky that The Independence of the Seas (over 4000 passengers) and the Disney Fantasy (up to 4000 passengers) were both in port plus 3 other smaller ships! There were people everywhere but really enjoyed our visit.

Cruiseliners at the dock in San Juan - view from Fort
Fist stop was Fuerte San Felipe Del Morro, which dates back to 1539 but was occupied up until the second world war.  We spent some time exploring, there were 6 floor and has a working lighthouse.

Fuerte San Felipe Del Morro

Exploring the Fort

Mark appearing from one of the many doorways

Amanda posing whilst getting blown away

Lighthouse on Fort
We followed the city walls along the sea front to Fuerte San Cristobal, again a huge fort which was used up until World War 2 with a maze of interlinking tunnels on different floors.  Both forts were full of children from the cruiseship which was manic, we are not used to so many people.  But both worth a visit and really cheap, $5 for both.

Mark on watch
We finished off our visit to San Juan with a stroll around the old town, some of the buildings have been beautifully maintain and there are also some amazing government buildings, it is all very clean and safe.

Beautiful shady promenade where we sat and enjoyed our lunch with the Iguanas and parakeets

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Puerto Rico - Rain Forest

We had been looking forward to visiting the rain forest, El Yunque which covers 43 square miles of the mountains. Just the drive through the forest is beautiful, there are a number of places you can stop to admire the view and some really lovely waterfalls.

View from watch tower
There are various trails but as it was a clear day we choose to walk to the top of the mountain, the path is well marked and in some places is even concreted, so it is not too muddy.  We were really lucky that it didn’t rain, we walked for about an hour and half to reach the top and we are definitely losing our fitness, it was a struggle but the views were worth it.

Surrounded by palms

Almost at the top

Hurrah we made it and now we are getting blown away!

In need of a rest
Mark on top of Puerto Rico
The clouds are on there way in our direction
Not much wildlife to see in the forest but did see a mongoose and some lovely birds.

Puerto Rico - South coast beaches

We had light winds and almost flat seas for our sail to Puerto Rico, it was very leisurely although we started to get a little impatient and just wanted to arrive at the marina and get busy doing jobs on the boat! As you near the east coast of Puerto Rico, near to Fajardo there are some beautiful off lying islands where the locals we enjoying their Sunday.

Island off Fajardo

Pretty anchorage off the islands
We were staying in the marina for the week to make sure we had time not only to see some of the island but also to spend some time fixing the boat, seems like things are always breaking!

Our first day with the hire car we headed south and west along the coast, we were surprised that we were surrounded by green rolling hills that seems to go on for miles.  We drove along the south coast which was very pretty although funny that every village/town that you enter you then encounter a Burger King, McDonalds, etc and normally not just one but a variety but we found a lovely little beach to sit and have our picnic lunch.

Deserted beach

The palm tree which was our picnic table

We drove on to Salinas which is a port along the south coast where we could have anchored in the mangroves, looked good and sheltered. The day mainly consisted of us driving and hopping out to admire the view, another first on this drive was to see a field of cow and palm trees in the field, just didn’t look right!

Culebra/Spanish Virgin Island/Puerto Rico - What do we call it?

The island of Culebra is around 20 miles east of Puerto Rico and was around 40 miles sail from the BVIs. We had a lovely downwind sail, we hardly had to touch the sails as we whizzed along admiring the US virgins islands which we passed to our North, this area is littered with small islands which we to weave around, shame we never visited the US islands but just don’t have time to do everything.

Amanda relaxing
The entrance to the harbour was a little tricky carefully manoeuvring between the reefs but it is clearly marked and you could see the reef above the water in places.
Approaching Culebra
Mark at the helm

Reef one side
Reef the other side

The majority of visitors on Culebra are Americans who are either staying on the island or taken a day trip from Puerto Rico.  It is a strange mix of locals who are made up of the Spanish speaking locals and the Americans who have decided to make this chilled out island their home.

First stop for us was the airport to check in and our first encounter with US Homelands and they we very nice and helpful.  We also visited the Dingy Dock bar for happy hour, lots of English locals and yachties having a cheap beer or yet another variety of rum punch.

Next day we walked to Flamenco beach, the guide books and locals will tell you this has been voted one of the best beaches in the world, funny some say 2nd some say 5th and it was very pretty with stunning clear water.  We were desperate for a dip after a hot walk!

Flamenco beach

Amanda relaxing

Mark relaxing
Next day we went diving with Dive Culebra and the dive school was as laid back as the rest of the island.  The boat had seen better days and we had a very wet ride out to Isla Culbrita, with the couple who ran the dive school, a couple who were just getting a lift to the island and a couple who were snorkelling off the boat.  There was little in terms of dive briefing or safety checks, we were kitted and in before we knew it.  We did 2 dives from the boat in the same location, what really made the dive for us was seeing a couple of Eagle Rays, one which was no more than 5 foot away from us, we saw a big turtle sleep and a  shark sucker which we had never seen before which took a dislike to Amanda. It was a cheap diving option but not the best!

It would have been nice to have had a few more days to see some more of Culebra as it was very undeveloped and generally the people seemed very friendly but next day we were off to Puerto Rico.

Sunset at Culebra