Big Cat in the Caribbean

Diane Carr

  • The boat: Leopard 47 ‘Local Hero’
  • Based at: TMM, Blue Lagoon, St Vincent
  • The skipper/owner: Phil Lever
  • Crewed by: Neil and Pam Bell, John Westwell, Brian Cordiner and Diane Carr
Local Hero sailing past Bequia en-route for the Tobago Cays

Local Hero sailing past Bequia en-route for the Tobago Cays

Day 1 February 23rd Blue Lagoon

Brian and I finally arrived at St Vincent airport (one shack) about 9pm local time after a long delay at Barbados. The others had already done a weeks cruising in the Grenadines so when we joined them after a short taxi ride the boat was already provisioned and fuelled up for the next cruise. As a luxury welcome the air conditioning had been running and the cabins were relatively cool. Tomorrows plan was to head north to St Lucia.

Day 2 Blue Lagoon to Cumberland Bay 9nm

Woke up early to the sound of barking dogs (boarding kennels nearby) and a demented rooster. This was not to be an early start to our cruise as we had to wait for a part to repair a damaged winch and we had to clear out of customs, which involved a trip to Kingstown with the ships papers. So after an early morning wash (sea temperature 310C) we headed for a leisurely breakfast at the marina and then whilst the TMM boys were fixing the winch John West, the owner of TMM, kindly took us into Kingstown. Finally we slipped away from the pontoon about 1:30pm, aided by the TMM staff, with a fair breeze giving us about 5kn. As we passed by Kingstown what appeared to be a mobile skyscraper put out to sea – it was the P&O Princess cruise liner that we had seen moored up earlier – not the best way to enjoy this beautiful area. The wind died and we motorsailed north as the rugged and lush scenery of the west coast of St Vincent slipped by. As we approached Cumberland Bay, where we had decided to anchor for the night, we were amazed to see a man in a tiny boat rowing like mad towards us and then another on a surfboard racing to get to us first. It was just about a dead heat but we gave the job of taking a line ashore to Cricket (at a cost of 20EC$ or about£4) As we towed him in (and Billy who conceded gracefully) Cricket arranged to bring us fresh bread in the morning and then after we had dropped the anchor he took our line ashore and tied us to a coconut tree. There were 3 other boats already at anchor. Bearers of beads came to sell their wares and we bought a few to help the local economy.  On shore there was a village in the hills and several beach bars competing for our custom. A cow grazed on verdant grass beside a white egret that was fishing in the river that flowed into the bay. We ate on board and only went ashore for one drink – they did not have any gin only beer or rum – and we were the only customers that night.

Day 3 Jalousie Bay, St Lucia 40nm

Pitons, St Lucia

Pitons, St Lucia

Woke early as Cricket delivered our bread and also a live fish to buy, a Kavali, and then cast us off at about 7:15am. Skipper had made porridge for breakfast, which we ate en route.  The excitement of the morning was to see a school of 30/40 dolphins heading steadily south followed by a larger dolphin (or sperm whale). There were plenty of flying fish to watch, the larger ones launched themselves high out of the water and seemed to flap their ‘wings’ to gain extra distance from their predator. We made good progress with reefed jib doing 5-7 knots in wind of 25 knots on a close reach.  We were all learning the capabilities of a catamaran and as we headed into the open channel between St Vincent and St Lucia the sea became more confused and the motion of the boat more unsteady.  The bigger waves would resound twice, once against each hull if they managed to catch us broadside on. In comparison to a monohull, however, we had a very easy ride. As we approached Jalousie Bay between the famous Pitons we were greeted by a local patrol boat manned by the ever helpful Francis who helped us to pick up a mooring buoy (cost 24US$) and then organised to take us on a trip to a waterfall and the volcano. We postponed this until after a late lunch and dined well on the Kavali, which I cooked in the oven and served with rice and salad. Pam and Neil were tired and stayed on the boat whilst Francis then picked Phil, John, Brian and me up and took us by boat to the nearest village of Soufriere where a taxi waited to take us on our trip. By then it was late afternoon and the waterfall was about to close so we carried on to the volcano. Until about 15 years ago you could walk around the volcano past bubbling pools of boiling water but since one of the Rastafarian guides slipped and fell in and was half boiled (but survived) the public can only view from a safe position at the edge. Back at the boat we heard that there was going to be entertainment provided at one of the waterfront restaurants so one of the local boatmen booked a table for us and we had a super al fresco evening meal and floorshow of acrobatics, flame eating and limbo dancing.  The restaurant is owned by the infamous Lord Glenconner, who first bought and developed the island of Mustique, and he did in fact appear in flowing white robes to welcome all his guests but the mystery is that several of our crew remembered reading his obituary…..

Day 4 Jalousie to Rodney Bay 23nm in 4hrs

Woke up about 6:30 with the sun as usual and found that the dinghy had caught a needlefish. Brian and I arranged to go scuba diving at Jalousie Beach where the white imported sand came from Mexico. We did 2 dives: the first at the south end of the bay which was a beautiful coral garden where Donald the dive leader pointed out a large lobster, a slipper lobster and a spider crab; a strong current took us in the second dive around Petit Piton and we saw larger fish including a barracuda and wrasse. We were dropped off at Local Hero and immediately slipped the mooring to sail North arriving at Rodney Bay 4 hours later. I confess to sleeping most of the way! As we watched the sun set into a perfectly clear horizon that evening did we really see the ‘green flash’ or was it just wishful thinking? Later we took the dinghy and a torch into the marina, got completely lost but eventually found the marina office and had dinner at Shuttlebutts.

Day 5 Day of provisioning

Phil visited customs to enter the boat and crew into St Lucia and then to sign us out. We took on fuel, ice and water in the marina and also stocked up on food.  At the supermarket we looked for some decent meat but very little was to be found – the freezers seemed to be full of tripe and hoof and chicken thighs but no breast.  Finally we found the last pack underneath all the poorer cuts of chicken. I suspect that they import all the cuts of meat that the USA discards.  Did we see the green flash again that evening? Dinner was at The Charthouse at the far end of the marina and highly recommended.

Day 6 Rodney Bay to Anse d’Arlet  60nm

HMS Diamond

HMS Diamond

Woke at 6:30am to the sound of the anchor being raised.  Phil had mustered enough crew for an early start to Martinique. As we headed North into the rougher seas between the islands we saw a large school of dolphins again this time headed north. We made good progress on a broad reach with reefed main and jib and had a very comfortable ride making the 47 miles to Fort de France in 7 hours since Phil had decided to enter customs properly.  On the way we passed HMS Diamond (a rock similar to the Bass Rock), which was a stronghold of the British Navy at the time of the Napoleonic wars. This was much to the annoyance of the French since it gave us control for some 18 months of the southern approaches to Martinique. We anchored (several times) beside the fort at Fort de France and went ashore to clear customs only to find that customs was closed for the weekend. What a pain. Fort de France was very hot and the locals seemed non too friendly so we quickly stocked up on French food (currency euros but dollars accepted), upped anchor and sailed 13 nm south to our small bay at Anse d’Arlet.  Dinner on board.

Day 7 Anse d’Arlet to Rodney Bay 33 nm in 3.5 hrs

Clipper

Clipper

Late start.  I went snorkelling before breakfast and found some interesting coral and fish. John decided that he would like to hoist the mainsail before raising the anchor which worked very well and we sailed out of the bay headed south doing 9/10 knots in a gentle breeze from the port quarter – a tremendous sail in Atlantic rollers with a larger wavelength and less confused than the previous day. We rounded up into Rodney Bay and dropped sails beside a 5 masted square-rigger ‘Clipper’ at 2:30pm. Dinner ashore at a pizzeria for Pam and Neil’s last night.

Day 8 Rodney Bay to Vieux Fort 43nm in 6 hrs

Woke up to pouring rain! Brian and I took the dinghy to the supermarket whilst Phil and John sorted out the formalities of clearing customs again and taking Pam and Neil off the crew list. They had managed to change their LIAT flight so that they could fly from St Lucia rather than St Vincent. We all got a good soaking because we had not expected rain and nobody had thought to pack even a light waterproof. Frustrating sailing today starting off with light winds from behind to a fresh breeze bang on the nose. We finally motored into the anchorage at 5:30pm in a heavy rainsquall and spent the evening cooking dinner and then playing cards. It was very windy during the night with gusts varying in direction and the boat snatching at the anchor. We all had a restless night and kept waking up to check the anchor or to close the hatches during the heavy showers.

Day 9 Vieux Fort to Blue Lagoon 56nm in 7 hrs

Phil was up early as usual and I awoke to hear the weather forecast on Radio Barbados. A day of mixed sunshine and showers was forecast so after breakfast we set off, quickly rounded the headland at the southern tip of St Lucia and into the full Atlantic rollers. We made splendid progress doing 9 knots on a port broad reach with a fresh to strong breeze and one reef in the main. Occasional heavy rainsqualls came along and the vista was more like Scottish sailing than the sunny Caribbean.  Local Hero handled the waves well and gave us a relatively smooth ride in comparison to a monohull as long as we controlled the speed by furling the headsail. Speeds in excess of 10/11 knots became a little hairy but we did record up to a maximum of 15 knots on the occasional surf. John decided that it was definitely a yachtsman’s gale when the froth blew off the top of his beer! It was during one of our little surfing spurts off Baleine Point on the north end of St Vincent that John noticed a whale jump completely out of the water – I didn’t see the whale but I saw the splash and then there it was circling around just off the starboard bow – I saw it spout and then a swirl of turquoise water just ahead. Much though I was interested in seeing the whale at close quarters I took the helm onto manual to avoid a collision and then suddenly as the whale dived the echo sounder read 18ft and we realised that it had just swum underneath us. Boobies swooped close to the surface of the water and terns tried to catch flying fish in the air! As we made progress south on the leeward side of the island the wind dropped and we eventually resorted to engines to take us into Blue Lagoon where the TMM boys helped us pick up a mooring.

Day10 Tobago Cays 41nm in 5 hrs

Anchorage at Tobago Cays

Anchorage at Tobago Cays

Another trip to Kingstown for Phil and John to clear customs again. Formalities cleared we set off about midday bound for the Grenadines. True to form according to our cruising guide (Doyle) as we passed Bequia a young local man approached in a rib wearing a special harness and brandishing a camera. His name is Kenmore and he makes a living by taking marine photographs. He arranged to deliver the photographs on our return from the islands. Our passage to the cays was quite rough with Local Hero slamming across a beam sea. As we approached the anchorage navigation was important as there were rocks and reefs to negotiate – the final approach between two small islands was very shallow and then suddenly we saw how crowded it was. Being a catamaran we had the advantage of being able to anchor up in shallow water and found a suitable spot close to a sandbank. Almost immediately the locals arrived in boats selling trinkets and T-shirts, lobsters at some exorbitant price that was negotiated down to half price (about 60US$) and bread for the morning. Sunset was about 6:30 as usual and since it was a rainy night again we occupied ourselves with cards and then cooking dinner as well as our two lobsters (George and Mildred) – a horrible task to watch them die as the pot boiled. The wind never dropped below 20kn all night so it was another restless night waking to check the anchor.

Day 11 Bequia 41nm in 8 hrs

Woke up to the sound of the dinghy being launched and Phil and John abandoning ship. They soon returned to recount their mission to wake up a neighbouring Swiss boat that was fast dragging towards rocks – lucky that we had such early risers on board.  Fresh baguettes and ice arrived as arranged at the exorbitant price of 30US$ – another time we would know to fix the price in advance. Still, the locals do have to make a living. The water was invitingly turquoise despite being choppy so I went for a snorkel and discovered two very strange fish about a foot long with elongated pectoral fins and barbells that made them look as if they were crawling on the sandy bottom. Phil identified them as Flying Gurnards. After breakfast we motored out northwards hoping to get to Mustique and as we passed Catholic rock I spotted an isolated rock just ahead – it turned out to be a large turtle that dived as we approached! We put two reefs in the main and rolled out a small amount of foresail against a force 7 gusting up to 40 knots and heavy swells up to 25ft. Decided to head for Bequia since we couldn’t make Mustique. There were very few other boats in sight and we had a rough passage taking several large dollops of green water over the starboard bow. The wind and sea moderated as we got near to Bequia and a 3 master called the Mandalay drew alongside and slowly crossed our bow. Finally anchored in Admiralty Bay just after sunset and enjoyed our lobsters with tomato salad and potato salad.

Day 12 Day off in Bequia

Brian and I went ashore by water taxi for some retail therapy. Finally found a shop that sold postcards and bought a few presents to take back. Bequia is very well organised to receive visiting yachts and the locals are very friendly and helpful – water taxis are summoned on VHF channel 68, and you can also get topped up with water and fuel at anchor, they will even collect your laundry. After a swim and lunch back at Local Hero the weather turned very showery so we all had an afternoon nap. Then, in the evening, after the by now customary game of rummy we headed off to the Whaleboner for a meal and live music. The bar there is made of a whales’ jawbone and the barstools of vertebrae which reminds one of how large these creatures are. The islanders are allowed to hunt with open boats and harpoons and kill 2 whales a year and the meat is frozen and used locally – whenever a kill is made the whole village will take time off to celebrate. They have not been successful so far this year. Brian and enjoyed the dancing beside the waterfront but the others left earlier.

Day 13 Mustique 12nm in 2hrs

Set off with one reef in the main at 8:45am for Mustique but as we rounded the West Cays of Bequia we got into rough seas and wind gusting up to 40kn. John and Brian valiantly put a second reef in the main but we were still careering along at 10kn on a close reach. The weather looked very bleak ahead and Mustique began to look like an unattractive prospect especially as Britannia bay would not offer much shelter from the north and they would charge us 50US$ to pick up a mooring. Phil decided to return to Bequia – close to the West Cays the seas became very short and steep and we had to use the motor to get through them and hug the shoreline to avoid the waves. Safely anchored up again we spent the afternoon sunbathing, swimming and watching turtles swim past (there is a turtle sanctuary on Bequia). Frigate birds swooped and dived to catch small fish close to the surface. Later on Ian, water-taxi, who had befriended us, arranged for us to dine at Tante Pearls’ a restaurant overlooking the bay, which specialises in home cooked dishes – I had curried conch, which had a strong flavour and rubbery texture. Don’t think I would choose it again. Fortunately a taxi had been arranged otherwise it would have been a very energetic walk up a very steep concrete road that could have been hazardous in icy conditions – except silly me – they don’t have wintry conditions. Afterwards we wandered along the waterfront where live music was at L’Auberge des Grenadines an acclaimed French restaurant famous for its live lobster tank.

Day 14 Blue Lagoon, St Vincent 13 nm in 3hrs

Porridge again for breakfast! Still strong winds and occasionally heavy showers. Kenmore arrived with the photos he had taken and we chose to take them all on a CD. He duly arrived 20 minutes later with the CD. We set out on our final sail to St Vincent still with 2 reefs in the main and a small foresail in 25kn of wind. The advice in Doyle was to cut straight across the channel avoiding rough seas at the North end of Bequia. We encountered very rough seas at first and steered manually with the motor ticking over to help push us through but then we were in flatter water with reduced wind strength, full genoa and engine off doing up to 9kn short tacking eastwards along the southern coast of St Vincent. The boat was sailing well and we were working well as a team. Back at Blue Lagoon we spent the afternoon swimming and playing rummy – I’m never playing that game again! Dined ashore at the marina, which has a very good restaurant.

Day15 8th March End of holiday

Packing and tidying Local Hero didn’t take long. TMM were responsible for a thorough clean and changing all the linen including towels and facecloths. There was time to spend a couple of hours beside the swimming pool and a game of rummy before a last shower and departure for the airport. I really enjoyed my holiday in this area and look forward to returning someday.

Local Hero back in Blue Lagoon

Local Hero back in Blue Lagoon

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