More Fun Times in Martinique
Now that we have a functioning autopilot and 2 new MDIs we can finally leave the Le Marin area and enjoy the rest of Martinique. Keith’s shoulder is still a work on progress and physio is helping. Our spinnaker is awaiting an inspection by the sailmaker so we can get a quote to repair it, so we leave it in their safe hands.
Finally we cut the umbilical cord and leave the south of Martinique after morning coffee. We are heading north on the leeward side of the island. The breeze is coming from behind us as the Easterly trade winds that brought us across the Atlantic are wrapping around the bottom of the Martinique. We goose-winged the Genoa and head away from the coast as the breeze shifts. Eventually gybed back in and reefed as the wind strengthened closer to the shore. Our next stop is only 13nm away and somewhere that we visited when we hired the car - the lovely bay of Petite Anse D'Arlet. We anchored in the south (Anse Chaudiere) and it is a great spot, a little bit away from the busy town. It’s a popular anchorage and one of those where everyone ends up facing opposite directions when the breeze drops and swirls around the bay. Sadly anchoring has since been banned in that spot, to protect the sea grass that the turtles love to feast on.
I went for a snorkel - the bottom is sea grass over sand and there are a lot of sea urchins and starfish as well as some soft corals and small tropical fish closer to shore. There are also a couple of large, diving pelicans here. They are brown and a little smaller than their Australian cousins. In the late afternoon we watch a fisherman in a small wooden boat throw sticks into the water, then cast a large net in a wide circle. Pelicans come out of nowhere seeking a free feed. The fisherman beat the water with an oar as they pull the net in. He seems to be getting quite a few small silvery fish and tossing them into the boat. A couple of times he jumped into the water, fully clothed and with goggles on. Not sure what he was doing but it was interesting to watch. A tough way to earn a living.
The next morning went ashore in search of bread and found a nice little bakery, one of the best things about being in “France”. Of course we had to have a Pain au Raisin as well as a lovely fresh baguette for lunch. Had a wander around town and along the town beach past the pink mangroves swamp (the water is pink not the mangroves, hopefully a natural phenomenon). There are some lovely, brightly coloured buildings here and local fisherman have their colourful boats up on the beach. Looks like there is some sort of swimming carnival happening as there is a DJ setting up and some extra buoys ready to be placed in the water. The town beach is quite popular and lively with lots of cafes and well as a reef for snorkelling off the beach. We will come back later for that.
We took the dinghy around to the next bay to our north, Grand Anse d’Arlet. The town is not as pretty and the bay is full of mooring buoys. On the way back we have to take a detour around a group of swimmers, the carnival is now in full swing and those brave souls are heading out around a buoy and back to shore. After lunch we go for a snorkel on the reef in the bay. It’s quite interesting and the water is reasonably clear. Lots of colourful fish around despite the number of tourists. We have had a few rain squalls today and ITIKI has turned every which way. When we get back from our snorkelling we take a look at the anchor and decide to reset it now that the wind direction has changed.
We move on the next morning after breakfast intending to head into the main harbour of Martinique and anchor opposite Fort de France, but sometimes things just don’t go to plan. We put the main up to first reef and full genoa initially, but ended up reefing it as the breeze kicked in. Quite strong winds and swell coming out of the bay at FdF so we soon go to second reef, we crossed the bay and continued north as we had the water maker on and wanted to top up the tanks. It seems to be a bit slower than normal. Also conditions are a bit rough with strong winds funnelling out of the FdF bay. Maybe we have gotten soft since our Atlantic crossing but we can’t quite face turning right and banging into it. We spotted a few boats anchored to our north in Fond Boucher and decided to take a look, maybe stop for lunch. Well anyway it was quite nice so we decided to stay the night. We are only 12nm from our previous anchorage. Some local fishermen came into the bay and again were tossing sticks in the water to attract the fish to the surface. We had a chat to them in broken French/English and they offered us some of their fish that was floating around in the warm, dirty water in the bottom of their dinghy (we politely declined) but we gave them some beers.
After breakfast we head off and motored all of the 10nm to our next anchorage at Anse Mitan. We are in a wide bay and due south of Fort de France. Having changed the sediment filter in the water maker it is now much quicker so we could finish topping up the tanks.
Anchored near some Aussies - Karen and Neil from Perfect Timing who have been cruising in Europe for quite a few years now and finally took the plunge to head home. Took the dinghy ashore to check out the beach and town. We did swing by here in the rental car but only visited the touristy Creole village, which at least has yummy ice cream! We dinghied to the next bay, Anse l’Ane (=donkey bay). A nice anchorage but a little more developed and crowded but no sign of any donkeys! Went for an afternoon snorkel under and in front of the boat. When we anchored I saw what looked like a big flat squarish rock under the water, we managed to avoid dropping the anchor on it, but it turned out to be a submerged pedalo boat! There are some other small “wrecks” close into the shore and reasonable coral and fish around, but nothing spectacular.
Fort de France
For something different we took the ferry across the bay to Fort de France, which is the capital of Martinique. It is lively and clean with a bit of street art and plenty of shops. We visited the beautiful and unusual cathedral, checked out the covered markets and a number of the old colonial style buildings. The Bibloteque Schoeler is another amazingly decorative building, although not open to the public to go inside. As always we visit the any half decent supermarket we pass by and Keith had an incredibly bad, and very short haircut here as well. This one is going to take a while to grow back! Had lunch in town to commiserate before taking the ferry back to our anchorage.
The following morning we motored across to FdF and anchored under the Fort St Louis in the Baie des Flamands. It’s not a particularly nice anchorage, which is why we visited by ferry. It’s quite crowded and with boats swinging every which way, you get the glare from the incumbents as you arrive and start motoring around with intent, looking for a spot to drop the pick. We went ashore for a few more errands before heading further north to St Pierre, on the north west coast.
We raised the main with 2 reefs and Genoa with 1.5 reefs. Saw gusts of up to 30kts at times, before we came into a wind shadow approaching St Pierre and its down to 2.5kts! Finally put the motors on after we involuntarily tacked a couple of times. The anchorage fairly large and spread out along the beach, but it is packed and difficult to find a space between other boats, many of them on local moorings. It’s also a narrow shelf with a steep drop off to the west. This end of the island is dominated by Mt Pelee, the highest peak on the island and also a volcano. We took our time to make sure we were dug in well and positioned so as not to swing into any other boats. Its uncanny how just as you come to anchor you get the day's strongest gusts. We had repeated, short, sharp squalls come through as we anchored and me on the foredeck got a bit wet!
Sainte Pierre was the first town established in Martinique and was once a thriving shipping hub of great significance in the Caribbean. This all changed in 1902 when a volcanic eruption all but wiped out the town, leaving one lone survivor. This was a prisoner who had the good fortune (!) to be incarcerated in a very thick walled prison cell adjacent to the town’s theatre. I went ashore and checked out the memorial to the “Catastrophe of 1902”. Hundreds of boats were lost in the eruption and wrecks are still strewn around the bay today. I also visited the ruins of the Theatre de Petite Paris and the Cachot Cyparis where the lucky prisoner was held. We spent the afternoon watching boats coming and going and trying to find space and then we are twisting and turning on our anchor as the wind dropped out. We put lots of fenders out just in case things go bump on the night.
Well it is almost time to leave Martinique so in the morning I went ashore to do the check out. It’s such an easy process in the French islands. You find a computer in a café, tourist office or marina and fill in a one page form, get it printed, stamped, pay a couple of Euros and voila! You are ready to go. On the way back to the boat I got some lovely fresh tuna from the fish markets, we still haven’t managed to catch any ourselves, and of course some fresh bread from the bakery.
We left around 11am and headed north, motoring all the way as it was a relatively short distance and the wind was wrapping the north end of the island and coming at us on the nose. The bay we have chosen for our last night is only 9nm from St Pierre, but as we are bypassing Dominica on our way to Guadeloupe it gives us an extra hour and a half of sleep before we set off early morning to arrive in at our destination daylight. Anse Couleurve is a stunning place, a small bay with a little beach surrounded by steep hills and thick jungle. One other cat arrives just as we did, Keith had met them in St Pierre. Went for a snorkel to the north of the bay and it was pretty good. Lots of fish and coral. We are treated to a beautiful sunset over the sea. As advertised in the guide book it is a very rolly place and we swing around on our anchor but we are really well dug into the sand. There is a lot of hull slapping from the waves during the night but we sleep through anything these days. We wake early the next morning to leave at first light. There have been some rain squalls overnight and we make our way towards a lovely rainbow, passing along the west coast of Dominica towards Les Saintes a small archipelago just south of the main island of Guadeloupe. Check out our YouTube video below for more on Martinique.
Our time in Martinique is divided into before and after Le Marin / St Anne, before and after we got Ellie the Autopilot back to her old self again. Having not managed to fix any of our problems in Barbados or St Lucia we were confident that Le Marin, Martinique would be the place. After all it’s a huge yachting hub with all manner of boatyards, workshops, chandleries and where all the major marine equipment suppliers have agents. It has a great reputation for quality work and service. Provisioning here is really good as well with several markets and supermarkets to choose from, and reasonable prices too. We spent close to 3 weeks in and around Le Marin waiting to get things fixed, with a little bit of touring and sightseeing in between. Martinique is part of France so we are flying the French courtesy flag, speaking French (well I am trying to…) and spending Euros (lots of them!).
The morning of our departure for Martinique we go into Rodney Bay in the dinghy to chase our PCR test results and complete our formalities to check out of St Lucia, leaving the anchorage about 9am. Full main and Genoa for the reach across, 15kts windspeed except for a short squall that drove the apparent wind up into the 26kts! Had a large flock of frigate birds flying around and swooping close to us which was lovely except when they started taking aim and crapping all over the bimini! The wind squall also brought some rain, but unfortunately not enough rain to wash off the bird crap. The wind built as we got closer to the island so we reefed the main and genoa. Hand steering the 22nm from St Lucia to Martinique was a piece of cake, relatively speaking, now that we are getting used to it!
As we get in sight of land we are gobsmacked by the number of boats anchored here. Both outside the port area at St Anne’s anchorage and inside the port where the marina and services are. There must be thousands! We head to the inner port area “Le Marin” anchorage which is a huge bay, lined with mangroves on one side, and marinas and boatyards on the other side. There are many boats on mooring balls as well as on anchor. This is also a hurricane hole, although given the number of boats (and wrecks) here, I am not sure how safe I would feel in a blow. Many of the boats here look like they never go anywhere, judging by the growth on their anchor chains and hulls.
We looked for a spot in close to the marina but came aground, mixing the Martinique mud with our prop wash! At least we now know what is on the bottom here when we come to anchor. There are lots of shallow patches throughout the anchorage and we managed to find one! We plough forward through the mud, leaving a huge plume behind us, it just wasn’t feasible to reverse out. A guy in a dinghy saw what had happened and led us out between the moored boats. We ended up anchoring around the middle of the bay, a little too close to a local boat who came and had a chat to us. Went ashore after lunch to check in, nobody looked at our Covid tests - what a waste of money that turned out to be! We found the Ludovic at Inboard Diesel Services (the Volvo guy for our MDIs) and made a plan for him to come over and replace both of them. Volvo have already agreed to extend the warranty, but we will need to pay for the labour costs. Feels good to line up a solution to one of our problems, at least!
All the workshops here are so busy with all of the ARC boats and others like us who crossed the Atlantic and broke stuff. The sailmaker has a 5 week backlog to even look at our kite, so that repair won’t happen for a while. We managed to track down Jacques from DigiNav (the autopilot guru) and as soon as he heard about our issues and error message he felt confident he knew what the problem was - and more importantly how to fix it. He sends us back to the boat on a mission to remove the AP drive motor unit and bring it back to him. He gives us instructions and loans us some tools, it sounds so simple! Needless to say it proved to be a really difficult task – working in a confined space did rather challenge Keith’s yoga skills. Jacques had warned us that that a few drops of hydraulic oil might leak out… Well it seemed like it haemorrhaged several litres and a few choice words leaked out of Keith’s mouth as well!
Notably one of the power wires connected to the unit it did not need cutting - it just slid out of the crimping sleeve!! Hmmm, could that be the source of our woes? Keith got the unit back in to the workshop just on 4pm as it was closing, so we are not sure when we will hear back. (If you want to read the full gorey details of our Autopilot saga, click here)
And now we wait… Well we can’t go anywhere as our hydraulics are in pieces so we have no steering. We are now anchored just to the east Point Le Marin, the spit that separates the Le Marin anchorage from St Anne anchorage. We are to leeward of the entire anchorage (and at the mercy of their holding tanks, or lack thereof…) so swimming is off the activities list! Fortunately we can take the dinghy around to St Anne and visit some of the smaller beaches that line the shore.
We have a few hiccups with the Volvo MDIs and some to-ing and fro-ing with head office around the warranty so that ends up being another week’s delay. When Ludovic (Inboard Diesel Services) finally comes to fit the new MDIs our engine hours on both engines are back to zero! He adjusts the idle speed to 850RPM and recommends fitting temperature gauges to the engines (we didn’t because they were too expensive!). He also recommends replacing the fan belts due to wear and adjusting the tension. He recommends disconnecting the batteries if we are not going anywhere for more than 2 days, or in a marina etc. – I guess that means NOW! He also recommends removing the MDI from the side of the engine and placing it nearby – this could reduce the heat and vibration that contributes to failure. Keith can move the starboard one to the shelf where the batteries used to be but in the port engine bay there is no handy spot nearby. Great to have an expert come and proactively look at your stuff!
We spend the next few days doing boat jobs, soaking lines, cleaning, sika-ing etc and chasing people! Being French, work hours are strictly adhered to and of course all the workshops are closed over the weekend. The good news leading into the weekend was that Jacques had identified the problem with our autopilot and will have the rebuilt component back to us next week!
Although we can’t move ITIKI we spend the weekend getting around in the dinghy. We checked out the anchorage at Sainte Anne. Its calmer around here, a bit more protected and water is probably a bit cleaner as its more open to the sea, however so many boats and beach resorts. We tied up at the crowded dinghy dock at Sainte Anne and walked around the small, quiet but colourful little town. The church dominates the town square and there is some interesting street art. It’s a Saturday so not much is open but there a few tourist shops and bars as well as a fish market and a few fruit vendors. It’s a pretty laid back vibe. We come back on Friday we talk a walk along a trail that follows the shore past several small beaches and bays, its lovely and shaded and we can stop and swim. We find one particular bay that we need to come back to in ITIKI, there is only one boat anchored here today. On the way back we stop at a beach bar for beer and ice-cream.
On Sunday we go for a picnic to one of the tiny beaches around near Sainte Anne and have a swim. On the way back we spot a FP Elba with an Aussie flag and drop by to say hi to Cheng and Ying, from St Ives. They know all the Aussie MHS team of course and are in the process of bringing their boat back from La Rochelle to Australia. They pop around to ITIKI later for a drink as they are off to St Lucia tomorrow.
Off to see the MD
One of “our” problems to try and solve in Martinique is Keith’s shoulder. After a fall in Mindelo and advice from the local Dr there (via Google translate) that he would need an operation, we decide to try and seek a second opinion in a more “advanced” country – we are in France after all! Our travel insurance has recommended we go to the local University hospital (CHU) which is on the outskirts of Fort de France, the capital of Martinique. Its an early start to catch the 7:30am bus to the interchange and then on to a tram and then another bus to get to the hospital 2 hours later. Keith gets a free Covid test and an opportunity to wait in A&E. I get the opportunity to deal with hospital bureaucracy and practice my very rusty French. In the end Keith doesn’t get to see the specialist today, but gets a referral to see an orthopaedic surgeon next week and a request for a MRI. Unfortunately the hospital MRI is unavailable so we take a taxi to a private MRI place but it only takes appointments over the phone and only up until 1pm (and its after that by now!) We grab a quick bite to eat and head back to Le Marin. It’s an epic journey and we are exhausted, getting back just before 4pm. Keith goes to see Jacques at Diginav and he confirms he has rebuilt our autopilot drive unit and will give it to Keith to refit it before he comes back to do final checks. Small steps forward.
Marooned in Le Marin
The days start to run together as we wait for stuff to happen. We run small errands from the disabled mothership, back and forth to chandleries, workshops and markets. It’s a good place to re-provision and we are slowly re-stocking the pantry with those non-perishable items. No one supermarket or shop has everything we need so we end up going back and forth to 3 different ones. If only we could remember where we bought that nice chardy… We are anchored about a mile or so from the action and Keith makes a point of ensuring I get plenty of dinghy driving practice going back and forth. By the end of our stay I can launch and retrieve the dinghy from ITIKI, get along at a reasonable pace, land in the general vicinity of a dock and start the motor after only 14 tries! I must remember to pull the right face when I pull the cord!
As we have spent so much time in the one spot we have had time to observe the comings and goings, as well as those that don’t seem to go anywhere. In particular, the traditional wooden sailing boats catch our eye. At first the single square sail looks like a Bunnings tarp, but on closer inspection they do carry a North’s logo! These boats get along pretty quickly and involve one or more crew hanging precarious over the side on a hiking board. Here is a selection of photos of some of more interesting sights of Le Marin.
Le Marin Boats:
Motoring around Martinique (in a Picanto...)
We are dab hands at public transport now so we caught the bus up to the airport and picked up a hire car for a few days. We headed north up through the mountain area of Martinique. This is an area of high rainfall and thick tropical rainforest. Our first stop was Jardin de Balata, a lovely botanic gardens. After a bit of drama explaining our Covid vaccination status we were able to visit these beautiful, lush gardens with its stunning collection of tropical flowers and some amazing encounters with the local hummingbirds. Next we stopped at a riverside park with a couple of short nature walks through the rainforest, which was living up to its name as it was raining (again). We missed the turn off to a gorge and went in search of a water fall instead but gave up when we had to start walking along a riverbed. Headed down to Basse Pointe for a lovely and very filling 3 course Creole style lunch before driving back along the east coast. There are some anchorages around here that are well protected, and it seems somewhat of a novelty to head down the windward coast, however we decided they did not look that spectacular so we won’t visit them in ITIKI.
The following day we started with a bit of a hiccup as the tyre on the rental car was flat when we arrive. How long since you have had to change a tyre? Keith managed to do it quickly enough though and then spent 5 minutes wandering around the car park trying to find somewhere to wash his hands. We spent the day touring around the peninsula at Trois Islets, between Le Marin and Fort de France. We stop at Anse Diamant and from here we can see the famous Diamond Rock. We visited the Memorial Cap 110, a memorial to the many slaves that have lost their lives in this area. Next we stopped at the view point directly overlooking Diamond Rock – it’s a spectacular and imposing landmark and we will sail past it as we head north. Diamond Rock has an interesting history, having (allegedly) been commissioned as the “sloop” HMS Diamond Rock (a stone frigate…) in 1803. The British were able to hoist two 18 pound cannons to the summit of the rock and for the next 17 months used it as a base from which to harass French ships trying to enter Fort de France, before it was finally recaptured by the French.
Our next stops were at the small bays of Petite Anse and Anse d’Arlet. The latter is a lovely bay, colourful little village and a nice, quiet anchorage - a great spot to come back to in ITIKI.
We drove out to Pointe de Bout which is on the southern side of the bay facing Fort de France and checked out the very artificial “Creole Village”. Its bars and cafes were packed with tourists, so we move on. One of our other tyres needs a bit of air so we stop at a petrol station but the “gonfleur” is en panne (out of order). Fortunately we spot a bakery next door so we stop there for a lovely, simple lunch and pick up some yummy bread.
From there we drop into the pottery village but most of the shops are closed on a Sunday so no pottery today. We backtrack to the Cane Museum to learn a bit about the history of sugar cane production and the relationship to the slave trade in this area. It’s a similar story in many of the islands, where the production of sugar boomed to meet European demand, as well as local rum production, and then declined as Europe turned to other sources of sugar including sugar beets, and the slave trade, which supported production, was abolished. From there its back to ITIKI, via a gas station to inflate the tyres – all this talk of sugar - rum cocktails on the upper deck, a great way to finish the day.
And back to the MD
Our last day with the car is an early start to drive up to CHU (hospital) for Keith’s meeting with the orthopaedic surgeon. Parking at hospitals is the same the world over – packed! And needless to say, lots of bureaucracy to get through, more bad French from me and a fair bit of waiting. Finally we see the specialist and fortunately he speaks good English! After hearing how Keith acquired the injury and without even examining him he seems to know what he is dealing with (a bit like Jacques without autopilot!). He prescribes physiotherapy to manage the pain, improve mobility and potentially mitigate surgery. It’s a common injury in someone of Keith’s age (which he keeps telling me he isn’t). It’s a relief that we don’t have to rush back to Oz for an op. As a reward we have a trip to Mr Bricolage (French Bunnings) and a lovely lunch at the pottery village.
We decide to leave the Parasailor with Incidence sailmakers, here in Le Marin. They have a big loft and are agents for IsTec, the manufacturer. We will be long gone by the time they are even able to give us a quote for the repair, but what else are we going to do? Jacques comes back to the boat to help with the hydraulics and provide further advice. Keith has also had a few physio appointments which have been helpful.
After replacing one more part and doing a final bleed of the hydraulics we are able to cut the umbilical cord, albeit temporarily, and leave the Le Marin anchorage. It’s a welcome relief to be able to hold a course on the AP, although we still have some fine tuning and recalibration to do.
Over the next few days we are “hanging around” the lovely beach anchorages to the south east of St Anne and Le Marin, namely Anse Meurnier and Petite Anse de Salines. This means we can come back and forth into Le Marin in case we need to, and also do our final provisioning. We re-inflate the paddle boards and enjoy time swimming, walking on the beaches and exploring the lovely bays and beaches in the dinghy, trying to get back into cruising mode. We visited Les Salines, the lagoon tucked in behind the beach at Les Salines, sadly no flamingos…
We continue to work on fine tuning the autopilot calibration to the point that we are confident it is working well and set the way it should be. Finally we can settle up all our workshop bills and head north to explore the north of Martinique. Lynda, Keith, ITIKI and Ellie are back in action! Stay tuned for the rest of our Martinique adventures…
Where did it all begin?
Well, that is a very good question. I recall writing in one of my first blog articles, going back to our Biscay crossing, that the AP sounded like a sick hydraulic wildebeest calling its young. It was loud! It was constantly working back and forth and made it difficult to sleep in our starboard bunk (the autopilot motor is just behind our bed head). You could even hear it over the top of the starboard engine and creaky window when lying in bed and it is a sound you really fixate on. We assumed this was normal though, and maybe it was. It’s a brand new boat so there couldn’t be anything wrong with it, right?! Also, we had nothing to compare it to. But looking back now, we wonder if everything really was perfect.
After not missing a beat since we started cruising in August 2018, the first sign of a glitch in our autopilot (AP) was on the way from Gibraltar to the Canaries. In relatively benign conditions, It just quietly, and without any warning or error messages, still displaying “Heading Hold” on the GHC20, the AP stopped holding a course and started wandering off in an alternative direction. This rather surprised the person on watch who quickly hit “Standby” and hand steered back onto course before re-engaging heading hold. Hmmm...
This happened again a couple of times on our trip down from The Canary Islands to Cape Verde – the AP was having to work very hard in the rough conditions, with the confused sea and 3 different wave directions constantly knocking us back and forth, smacking us on one hull and then the other. We blamed the conditions for the issue as we have never been in such bad sea state before. A couple of times we even restarted the instruments (the old “turn it off and turn it on again” trick), which seemed to help but in hindsight was probably coincidence. Then on our Atlantic crossing, about halfway across, it started happening with increasing frequency. Several times during every 3 hour watch was becoming the norm, which did give us all some practice at hand steering. Getting the AP to re-engage was not always straightforward either, hand steering in rough conditions, manually holding a course sometimes without a visual datum and often trying 2-3 times before it would engage in heading hold. Finally on our last day, after one last gasp mid-morning, the autopilot gave up completely and we had to hand steer the final 20 hours to Barbados. Gruesome! But at least it happened on the last day and not earlier!
Once we got to Barbados we spent a lot of time on the phone to Garmin US. They were really good, going through all sorts of trouble shooting, recalibration and eventually agreeing to replace our heading sensor (Reactor 40) under extended warranty (thanks Covid!). Getting it to us would be the difficult part, but as luck would have it Keith’s niece was coming over to St Lucia from the UK and, long story short, we were able to get her to bring a replacement unit with her (thanks to Garmin UK for stepping in). This meant hand steering from Barbados to St Lucia, however this was not too bad in the end as conditions were much smoother and we were prepared for it. Sadly though, replacing the part did not immediately solve our problems. We fitted it and promptly performed all of the calibration wizards but alas, still not holding a course. The course computer was simply not engaging with the AP motor which drives the hydraulics and moves the rudder. The only good news that came out of this exercise is that we finally got an error message – Drive Unit Overload – this (eventually) turned out to be GOLD!
More time on the phone to Garmin and they had agreed to replace the ECU, the computer that drives the hydraulics. Having failed to solve our problem so far though, we were beginning to wonder though whether electronics was indeed the issue, and again we have the hassle of getting a part to us with no fixed address. Garmin US did not even have an agent listed in the Caribbean at all. We decided to head to Le Marin in Martinique where there are a huge range of yachting services available, including a company called DigiNav, that had great reviews on NoForeignLand.
An answer at last!
We made contact with Jacques at DigiNav shortly after arrival and as soon as he saw our error message and heard the background he immediately identified the problem. The drive motor was overworked and had worn out. He told us (well Keith actually) how to remove the drive motor for the autopilot and lent us a couple of tools that we would need to do it. He explained what he expected to find and how he would fix it for us when we brought it in to him. He inspired confidence from the start, although we still had some “homework” to do ourselves. This would probably be a good learning experience.
Keith set to the task of removing the drive motor, which was no easy feat, but he was up for the challenge despite having never touched hydraulics before. In the first place, getting to the motor is very difficult. It is in the starboard engine bay, on a shelf forward of the engine with everything you need to access facing forward (ie away from you) and its surrounded by stiff hydraulic hoses. Oh and it’s up against the bulkhead at the top so you really have limited space to work with. We are wondering if they built the entire boat around this particular part!
The steps for extraction went something like this
1.Disconnect the tiller cross bar, to give you access to the electric motor behind the hydraulic pump, leaving it to swing back and forth as the boat moved at anchor, while you continue working around it.
2.Unbolt the whole drive unit (motor & pump) from the shelf in the engine bay to manipulate it into a position that you can access the 4 bolts holding it the two components together.
3.Unbolt the motor from the hydraulic pump. To do this you need a special ring spanner ground down on one side to fit the narrow space available to access the bolts (Jacques loaned us his). Oh and the hydraulic pump has 4 very stiff hydraulic hoses coming into it restricting access to the bolts.
4.When removing the electric motor, which has the connection to the hydraulic pump’s impeller, you need a plug to stop the all the hydraulic oil draining out of the hydraulic system where you have just removed the motor from. Jacques said to expect a small amount to come out, but it felt like we lost a couple of litres at least! The engine bay resembled an episode of MASH, with the blood soaked surgeon calling for more paper towel!
5.The final step in removing the electric drive motor was to disconnect the two power supply wires. Usually these need to be cut to as they should have been crimped firmly in place, however one of them (the positive) slid cleanly out of its crimping sleeve. It had never been crimped properly. It was a smaller diameter to the wire it was connecting to, and the crimping sleeve was for the larger size wire. By contrast, the negative wire needed to be cut to remove it. Could this “loose” wire have been the source of or at least a contributor to our problems? Intermittent loss of power while it worked its way loose would be consistent with the pattern of behaviour we experienced as it failed.
6. Once the motor had been disconnected it was obvious that there had been a lot of strain on the drive arm as the sleeve that has a cotter pin holding it in was very badly elongated and the pin itself was heavily gouged and nearly sheared through. This would have made the autopilot work even harder, as there would have been a lot of slack between each movement.
Feeling as if he had just extracted a living organ from a reluctant donor, Keith proudly presented the drive motor to Jacques for him to perform further surgery, or some kind of miracle. As soon as Jacques saw the worn sleeve and cotter pin and heard about the lose wire, his suspicions about our problems were confirmed. Of course the brushes on the motor were also shot from working too hard and would also need replacing. With the vital organs now in the workshop we are in Jacques capable hands! He would rebuild our drive motor!
It was a nervous wait over the weekend and although our anchor was well dug in after a week in a very protected and calm anchorage (actually a hurricane hole) it’s unsettling to know that you have no steering and if you dragged anchor, resetting it would be interesting. It would also be difficult to take evasive action should one of the thousands of other boats anchored in the bay, to windward of us, dragged towards us.
A few days later Keith dropped in to pick up our AP motor, duly rebuilt and ready to be re-installed. The photo above shows the old and the new parts for comparison.
To re-install the drive motor, repeating the steps above, but in reverse order, with a slightly different combination of swear words, and haemorrhaging of another couple of litres of hydraulic oil. We refilled the hydraulic reservoir and tried to move the oil through the system but had missed the vital step of opening the bypass lever, so the rudders were stuck on one side. Fortunately Jacques was coming to the boat to rescue us the next day! He showed us the bypass, quickly got the fluid moving and most of the bubbles out, but there was still some air left in that was causing a problem. He explained what we needed to do and later provided the poly tubing we needed after we dropped him back to shore.
We started early the following morning with the tubing leading from either end of the hydraulic pump into a jar half full with hydraulic oil. Keith held this as I moved the steering wheel back and forth so the oil (and air bubbles) flowed out into the jar. We could then refill the reservoir at the helm station with it. We repeated this process 3 times until we were happy that all the air was out.
And now finally the moment of truth… Oh wait no, one more thing
Jacques had noticed a bit too much lateral movement in the ram of the autopilot, 2-3mm is tolerable but we have over 1cm! He suggested that the nylon bearings on the universal joint are probably worn and that these needed replacing, this along with residual air in the hydraulics would be causing the excess movement. He provided the part and instructions. He has a lot of faith in Keith’s mechanical prowess by now!
Needless to say replacing this bearing was not a straightforward task either. Again, access to the part was hampered by the jungle of stiff hydraulic hoses surrounding it. The entire unit had to be removed so that the top half of the flange could be accessed from under the hydraulic hose fitting. The bolts holding the flange were way too long and had to be ratcheted all the way out to undo them (ie could not be hand turned once loosened). Then of course this needed to be reversed to put everything back together. Unfortunately, Keith cross threaded one of the bolts in the aluminium flange in the reinstallation process and had to pause the process, go ashore and drop it into a workshop to get it re-machined before continuing on. In re-fitting it he decided to reverse the direction of the bolts to make them easier to get out if we ever had to do this again (heaven forbid). Now that all of this is done, however, there is absolutely no movement in the arm! Jacques is impressed.
Putting it all together
Finally we take the plunge and lift the anchor, heading out of Le Marin with our refurbished drive unit and a fresh carpet of green growth decorating the hull and the anchor bridle. We go through the now familiar Garmin calibration exercises which involves setting the compass by turning in circles, setting the rudder gain and counter gain by doing a series of zig-zags. Once that is complete we check the AP responsiveness with some course changes to ensure she goes straight to the heading and stays there. A few days latter we reset the rudder sensitivity to lower it, so the rudder is not working too hard.
Root Cause Analysis
So in true “Air crash investigation” style we are keen to know what caused the problem? Was there a single issue/error/mistake that had a series of knock on effects? Or, as is often the case, were multiple factors at play?
A few options to consider
1.The loose wire to the AP motor has to be a prime consideration. Losing power intermittently would have explained the loss of heading hold without error message. It would also lead to the motor working too hard.
2.Air in the hydraulic system – many people have this issue and we may have as well.
3.Rudder settings – we had never adjusted the gain and counter gain or rudder sensitivity/responsiveness from the factory settings. Once we have completed the auto-calibration we set the rudder responsiveness to the lowest level. The difference is noticeable, the autopilot is working a lot less now but still functioning quite well in terms of holding us on course. Was the higher sensitivity setting working the hydraulics too hard? Particularly in the rough, cross current of the ocean crossing.
4. Rough sea conditions on the crossing from Canaries to Cape Verde and on to Barbados making the AP work too hard?
5. Other (intermittent) electronics issues or glitches with the ECU and/or CCU?
What do you think? Leave a comment if you think of any other possible causes.
Its Friday 7th of January and its finally time to leave Barbados. Our transit takes us from Speightstown, Barbados to Vieux Fort anchorage in, St Lucia, a total of 84nm. At this stage we still have no autopilot, but we have a plan to meet Keith’s niece and her husband in St Lucia with an all-important critical component that will hopefully solve our problems.
So today’s challenge: Get up at 4am, hand steer 84nm to St Lucia. Keep speeds above 7kts VMG so we arrive in daylight, do 2 loads of washing and fill the water tanks. Well apart from the 7kts VMG we managed all of the objectives, arriving just on sunset at the anchorage. We upped anchor in Barbados just after 4am, motoring for a short while until the breeze was settled. Took a punt on the trusty 2 headsail goosewing but it proved difficult to steer in the dark and not quite the right angles. Furled the genoa and then continued with the gennaker alone until daylight, and then put the main up (1 reef) and reached with that before goose-winging. Seas were very confused again with 3 different wave patterns and the breeze was shifting through 75-110 degrees and at times we saw a northbound set of 3kts. It felt like we were going sideways to St Lucia. At one stage on the chartplotter ITIKI was pointing at St Vincent. We thought it was because of the issues with the heading sensor, but actually it was probably correct as we were fighting the current.
A cruise ship appeared on the horizon and on the charplotter, Celebrity Reflection. We started monitoring them as we were under sail, hand steering in shifty wind, and they were just on the edge of our 1nm separation tolerance. They called us on the radio and said they were altering course by 5degrees to avoid us and asked us to hold our course. We thanked them as this gave us a 1.5nm separation when we finally did cross them. The breeze was up and down, dropping to as little as 10kts at stages, although fortunately not for long as we completely forgot we had 1 reef in. Finally about 25nm out, we could see land but it was very hazy. As we got closer to St Lucia the breeze started to fill in again and wrap around the bottom of the island. We could gybe the headsail and reach in to our destination, arriving about 2 minutes before sunset. What a relief. Friday night cocktails were in order!
St Lucia is a small island nation said to be first “discovered” by Columbus in 1502. The local Caribs accepted a treaty with the French in 1660, after having massacred an English colony in 1639. The ongoing conflict between the French and English around this era led it to “change hands” between the 2 countries 14 times! The Treaty of Amiens in 1802 saw St Lucia become French for the last time and in 1814. After the Napoleonic Wars, back it went to British again. In 1967 St Lucia became an associated state of the Commonwealth following a slow and steady decline in its agriculture, due in part to the abolition of slavery and declining demand for cane sugar. It finally gained its independence from Britain in 1979.
Our arrival anchorage was a good, safe landing spot however despite its view of the industrial port and proximity to the airport its nothing special, so we upped anchor around 8am and pulled out the genoa to reach up the coast all of 10nm to Soufriere Bay. The Gros and Petit Pitons (pointy mountains) which dominate the horizon here, and also appear on the flag of St Lucia, soon come into view. On the way in we were offered a substantial looking lobster by some likely looking local lads, but didn’t have any local currency so had to pass. As we enter the bay “boat boys” come out in their craft to entice you on to their mooring buoys and charge you for “helping” you pick up the buoy (it’s too deep to anchor). Our boy managed to bang into the port hull in his wooden boat and make a dog’s breakfast of putting our second line on. We didn’t have any local currency so told him to come back later.
We took the dinghy ashore and went to clear in with the Port Authority & Customs. Forgetting that it was a Saturday we got stung with an extra EC$100/A$50 to check in on the weekend - overtime fees! Its not like we got them out of bed or anything, the office was open and fully staffed… We also have to pay another EC$50 for port tax and EC$54 for our mooring buoy) We go in search of the immigration officer, who seems to be on a break. We have a wander around town and check out the supermarket.
An older guy in a wooden boat comes around the moorings later in the day selling fruit and veg, we buy some bananas, mangos, limes and the most amazingly tasty and creamy avocado ever. It was huge and ugly and the pip was the size of a small apple, it would never make the cut at Coles. Just delicious.
The town of Soufriere apparently it gets its name from the sulphur springs that occur nearby. We walked south along the coastal track to Piton falls, which is between the Gros and Petit Pitons. This is a small waterfall with some concrete pools and warm springs. I had a shower under the waterfall and a swim in the hot baths - beautiful. We are surrounded by very lush and dense rainforest which is a feature of the interior of St Lucia. On the way back we pass the entrance to the Petit Piton hiking track which must be undertaken with a guide. We pass on that and head to the Botanical Gardens. These are really beautiful, lush gardens with an incredible array of tropical flowers and small birds. The waterfall was an interesting colour, clearly rich with minerals and I took a swim in the mineral pools which were beautiful and warm, I could have stayed in for hours. Walked back to town and back to the boat for lunch and then left. Our boat boy hadn’t come back for his money but we got chased by one of his mates wanting to collect. He wanted 4 x the going rate, and was behaving a little aggressively. Sorted him out and motored up the coast with some head on gusts of up to 20kts, passed Anse Cochon (crowded and with just a resort ashore) before heading into Anse la Raye, all of 6.6nm for the day! Its only 3m deep so very limited room to anchor. According to the brochure it is a colourful, traditional fishing village. We are the only boat here.
The next morning we went ashore to explore and felt rather conspicuous. A couple of locals approached us trying to offer their services as guides, play us some music etc. there are some colourful houses, a mural and a tiny bakery with a limited selection. Back on the boat we did a little cleaning as we will have VIP guests on board this afternoon. The anchor bridle came off the anchor chain in a very small gust – it had already come off in Mindelo (at midnight in 40kts!) so the shackle is really rather bent now. We upped anchor but it was very difficult to lift and after a bit of back and forth a large piece of old tree truck was lifted by the chain up right next to the port bow which was a bit of a shock for me! I thought I had seen something from the foredeck when we first set the anchor yesterday, although I didn’t spot it when I swam over it. We must have wrapped around it when we turned in the night. After a little more house-keeping we headed into Marigot bay, which is all of 2nm north of Anse La Raye. We were expecting to have to run the gauntlet of boat boys again but there was no one around. We decided to pick up a mooring buoy from the Marina Resort for a couple of nights so we could enjoy the luxurious facilities. Debs and Martin were waiting on the dock and we went ashore for drinks followed by a late and mostly liquid lunch on board ITIKI. The marina end of the bay is quite enclosed and incredibly calm. It is surrounded by mangroves and is the first time we have encountered a designated hurricane hole. There are a couple of sunken and abandoned boats here, a reminder that it’s not perfect protection, although who knows what the story is.
There is not much on offer around the bay itself. We went for a morning walk in search of a supermarket with some fresh produce but no luck. Could not even find a ATM. Found a bakery on the way back but limited selection of food. Spent the rest of the morning chilling by the pool in the Marina Resort, had lunch on the boat and spent the afternoon by the pool. Logged into my very first Zoom wedding - Andy and Julie from SY Cushla were married on the beach in Barbados. A lovely ceremony with lots of friends and family from all over the world joining remotely as well.
The next day we did a round trip to Pigeon Island and back to Marigot via Castries (the Capital of St Lucia). It was an early start to pick up Debs and Martin and call in to Castries markets. On the way we tried to do some calibration of the autopilot but we are still failing the zig zag test. More work to be done there. We anchored in Castries and Keith dropped us ashore to go to the colourful Castries Markets to get some fresh produce and fish. Motored up to Pigeon Island and anchored off the lovely beach, which is overlooked by Fort Rodney. There are quite a few resorts and beach clubs along here as well, no doubt catering to European and American tourists. Its great to see people coming back to the islands, as they have really suffered these last 18 months. We had a few drinks on the cocktail deck before a late lunch of BBQ Mahi Mahi followed by a short walk ashore. Finally we had a quick peek into Rodney Bay marina before heading back to Marigot bay under gennaker. This time we anchored in the outer part of the bay rather than taking a mooring ball again.
The next day we spent the morning on the phone to Garmin (they have been fantastic!) before heading out with some different settings to try and re-calibrate the auto-pilot. Sadly we have still not been successful so there are still other issues at play here.
Debs booked us on a Rum tour at St Lucia Distilleries at 1pm which was not far from the Marina but in a dodgy part village whose streets were lined with seedy looking bars, that somehow must get some of the “leakage” from the factory. The tour was interesting although there was no fermentation going on at the time. The island used to grow a lot of sugar cane, and that is how the rum industry started, but when the British switched to using sugar beets the cane was no longer wanted and so now they grow bananas and import molasses to make rum. The rum tasting was extensive and some of the rums were excellent so we bought a couple of bottles. An afternoon nap was in order after all the excitement, before a farewell dinner ashore in the evening.
We had morning tea aboard with Debs and Martin to say our final farewells before heading back to their pad to spend another couple of hours on the phone to Garmin again. We are all out of ideas so it looks like we will have to go to Martinique to make more progress with our autopilot. Debs and Martin checked out and are heading to another resort at Anse Cochon, just south of Anse La Raye, which we passed along the way from Soufriere. We headed north, dropped into Castries markets again and checked out a bit more of the town. There is a very colourful church here – with a funeral going on at the time. From here we returned to the lovely beach at Pigeon Island where we will stay for the weekend.
After a lazy day yesterday we took the RIB ashore, saying hi to a couple of other boats along the way. One Australian couple have been living at anchor in this bay for 2 years straight! Hmmm! We did the walk up to Fort Rodney and around to the signal peak and ruins before heading back to the boat for lunch. Lovely walk and grounds with great views of the area.
As we are now getting ready to head to Martinique we go ashore for pre-arrival PCR test (US$150 each - ouch!). Moving around here is going to get expensive if this is a requirement every time we change countries. We dropped into the supermarket and visited the marina, which looks quite nice, had a coffee and used the internet, then back to the boat for lunch. Some lads came around in a dinghy selling overpriced tat, and I got sucked into buying a couple of bracelets which they claim were locally made, but I suspect that this was in China... We have a little rain in our anchorage that brings an amazing double rainbow and dramatic skies, as well as a full moon to say farewell to St Lucia.
We arrived in Barbados just before midnight on 22nd of December 2021, from Cape Verde. Our journey to get here started from Leros in Greece on the 29th of July and took us through the Aegean into the Ionian sea, across the boot of Italy, through the Aeolian Islands, to Sardinia and the Madalennas, then to Spain, briefly revisiting the Balearics before schlepping along the Costa Del Sol and the Costa Blanca and into Gibraltar, for some major electrical work. Then it was back to Spain and to The Canary Islands before our unplanned side trip to Cape Verde, and then our Atlantic crossing to Barbados, our 6th country in 2021 and just 5 months! We have travelled over 6,641 nautical miles in that time. And so here we are - ITIKI and crew are a little worse for wear, but we made it and now it’s time to s…l…o…w d…o…w…n……
We are in the Caribbean islands, we are on island time, and even though we have things to do and problems to fix we have to go with the flow and accept that this is going to take time. Also it Christmas and there are public holidays to work around, and unlike Australia everything closes for these and on Sundays. Slow down, breathe, relax, accept the pace…
Barbados lies 80nm to windward of the rest of the Lesser Antilles, and hence missed out on a visit from Columbus & Co. Instead it was “discovered” by the Portugese in 1536, on their way to Brazil – they were impressed by the bearded fig trees on the island and named it Isla de los Barbados (the island of beards!) – and the name has stuck. The English set up a colony in 1627 and the island remains strongly attached to its English traditions, including language, the police uniforms and Anglican churches. Sugar was the main source of income and wealth generation through the 1800s and of course this relied heavily on the slave trade of course - the Islands current inhabitants being descendants of these African slaves.
So here we are in Bridgetown, Barbados, anchored off a long and beautiful white sand beach of Carlisle Bay with the most spectacular turquoise and crystal clear water. Before we can relax completely though, we need to complete some formalities.
There are a couple of cruise ships approaching the port so we head around to the customs dock inside the port at around 9am. As described in the pilot book, the dock is a high concrete one with huge fenders, better suited to cruise ships than small yachts. We do our best to position ITIKI so that she is not banging up against these monsters and end up mooring in front of some fellow Aussies on SV Tuleta, who have been circumnavigating for several years. They have been waiting on the dock since arriving from Madeira the previous evening. We wait on the boat until the officials come to us with paper forms to fill out. One of these forms is required in duplicate so carbon paper is provided – when was the last time you saw that stuff? Of course, I put it around the wrong way so had to fill the 2nd form out by hand! It took about 3.5 hrs to get cleared. We could get free WiFi on the dock and download our Covid PCR test from Mindelo. These along with our time at sea and vaccination status meant that we did not have to undergo further quarantine. We can go back to our anchorage now and continue catching up on sleep.
Bridgetown is a busy and bustling place. People are wearing masks in the street and everyone is militant about temperature checks, hand sanitising and crowd management indoors. It’s very busy in the supermarkets and shops. English is the official language here and everyone seems friendly, happy and helpful. Cruise ships have returned and the tourist hoards are everywhere. Christmas is around the corner and perhaps it’s the festive spirit. There are people wearing santa hats and reindeer horns, which seems so out of place in 30C heat – but then again we do it in Australia! There are some really spectacular hairdos as well, mostly on the women but some of the men too! Braids, dreadlocks and cornrows interlaced with colours and beads, no two styles alike. The hairdressers here must be real artists!
I am inspired to get a haircut while I am here, too short for dreadlocks or braids so I opted for a very short and practical cut! We also found a few street vendors selling some fresh produce and bought a few things, but it’s quite expensive – did I just pay A$14 for 1 pineapple?!
Christmas day was celebrated in the usual way, (well apart from spending a couple of hours cleaning the boat). We had the oven on most of the day making it even hotter! I made bread and then we went ashore and had a walk along the beach and swim in the surf. Did I mention the water colour here is amazing! It’s pretty warm too, about 26C! Christmas lunch is roast chicken, roast potatoes and pumpkin, Moroccan carrot salad. Oh and some French Champagne! The obligatory after lunch nap was followed by swimming off the back of the boat and then Christmas pudding with homemade custard around 5pm - and we are completely stuffed and exhausted – well we are still catching up on sleep after an Atlantic crossing!
Boxing day morning and Team Cushla (that we met in Mindelo) arrived late last night and swung by to say hi! It was lovely to see them.
We are slowly getting ITIKI back in order after the crossing, mainly cleaning and fixing a few small bumps and bruises. We got the spinnaker out to take a look at the damage. It’s fairly extensive but actually not as bad as we thought. Mainly the bottom half. The wing seems fine fortunately, but it will probably have to wait until we get to Martinique, where there are more experienced sailmakers.
With public holidays over Christmas and new year it is difficult to get much done, we spent quite a bit of time on the phone to Garmin, who were fantastic, trying to diagnose our autopilot problems. We would then go out of the anchorage to try to recalibrate according to their suggestions and report back to them on our next call – unfortunately nothing worked though and Garmin kindly agreed to replace the Reactor 40 under extended warranty (thanks Covid!) - so we just need to figure out how to get it to us!
Conscious that it has been 6 months since our last Covid vaccinations, we did a bit of Googling and managed to get a Pfizer booster shot courtesy of the Barbadan government. A very straightforward and easy process and no cost! How good is that.
We also found the local produce markets at Cheapside, which does seem a little cheaper but still expensive compared to Europe. Pretty much everything is imported, and any local produce is also expensive because of the effort and chemicals it takes to grow anything.
We tried to hire a car but it seems everything is booked out over the Christmas period so we mainly explored around Bridgetown. Of course, Barbados is a former British colony so Cricket is a thing here. We tried to visit the Legends of Cricket Museum but it was closed, a victim of Covid. Walking on a little further we were able to visit and do a short tour of Kensington Oval which is the international cricket stadium in Barbados. It has an interesting history as it used to be a sugar plantation. Cricket was segregated along racial lines until the ‘70s. Sir Garfield Sobers and Joel Garner are two of the legends of West Indian cricket and both are from Barbados. The English cricket team are playing here on the 20th of January, but we will definitely not be here for that one.
As we sit in the same spot in our anchorage each day we have been watching the tourist boats coming and going, depositing their clients in the water briefly before moving on to their next stop. We took the RIB over to investigate and found there is a small wreck not far from us, which has a lot of coral growth and plenty of fish. We snorkelled over that for a bit and then moved to an area where there are turtles and swam with them, as well as the hoards from the day tripper boats.
We saw in the New Year with a cocktail and tuna steaks on the BBQ. Didn’t quite make it to midnight but did wake briefly to see the fireworks.
The celebrations just keep on coming as before you can blink, its Keith’s birthday. Its also a Sunday so we weren’t expecting much to be open. We walked along the beach as far as we could, cut through the Yacht club and around past the fort and racecourse and then back down towards to beach. There are reefs and a fair bit of surf on this point. We came across a resort with a beach bar and stopped for a rum punch and Mai Tais and ended up staying for the buffet lunch, which was good value and very nice. They even brought out a cake and sparklers for Keith and sang happy birthday! We had a couple more rum punches just to make sure they were ok, then a swim before a “white knuckle” bus ride back to town. The celebration continued the next day as we had Andy and Julie (from team Cushla) over for dinner for Keith’s birthday. They are a lovely couple and looking at getting married in Barbados. Julie made a chocolate cake for Keith.
Finally our thoughts are turning to leaving Barbados and heading to St Lucia to meet Debs and Martin, who will bring our all important autopilot component. Any movement between countries these days means one thing – yes the dreaded “brain tickle”. We got a taxi to the Covid testing place which we thought opened at 9:30, but there was already a huge crowd. Waited 2.5 hrs to pay for the test with only one person handling payment. Then we wait to register and get a tube, then we wait to get the test. 3 hrs in total and B$100 each for PCR tests. We were exhausted after that and the day is half gone, so we abandoned our plans to head to the east coast by bus. The results will be emailed to us so we head up to Port St Charles in the north of the island. Its only 10nm further north, but as we will be hand steering to St Lucia we want to make the trip as short as possible. We hand steered under gennaker and main and as the boat was well balanced it wasn’t too bad. Went and spoke to the Port Police and organised our check out tomorrow, then walked in to Speightstown which is about 2kms south. It’s much less developed than Bridgetown but quite a few tourists at the beach bars along here. We stopped for a rum punch.
The next morning we checked out of Barbados as we will be leaving at 4am the following day. We upped anchor and moved a couple of miles down the coast to anchor off The “Just Chillin” beach bar in Speightstown. The café is run by a lovely English lady called Linda! After sampling their warm hospitality and yummy rum punches yesterday we decided to take the dinghy ashore and have lunch there - lobster linguine, absolutely delicious! Oh and of course we had a couple of rum punches. We bought some rum from the supermarket and had a lazy afternoon on the boat. A few weeks later we discovered that anchoring is not allowed in this area… Ooops!
Speightsown, Barbados to Vieux Fort, St Lucia; 84nm
Today’s challenge: Get up at 4am, hand steer 84nm to St Lucia. Keep speeds above 7kts VMG so we arrive in daylight, do 2 loads of washing and fill the water tanks. Well apart from the 7kts VMG we managed all of the objectives, arriving just on sunset at the anchorage. Started just after 4am, motoring for a short while until the breeze was settled. We took a punt on a 2 headsail goosewing but it proved difficult to steer in the dark and not quite the right angles. Furled the genoa and then continued with the just the gennaker until daylight, and the put the main up (1 reef) and reached with that before goose-winging. Seas were very confused again with 3 different swells, breeze shifting from 75 to 110 degrees and at times a northbound set of 3kts which felt like we were going sideways to St Lucia. At one stage on the chart-plotter the boat was pointing at St Vincent. We thought it was because of the issues with the heading sensor, but actually it was probably correct as we were fighting the current. We saw a cruise ship on the horizon and on the chartplotter - Celebrity Reflection. We were monitoring them as we were under sail, hand steering to shifty winds and they were just on the edge of our 1nm separation comfort zone. They called us on the radio and said they were altering course by 5degrees to avoid us and asked us to hold our course (?!). We thanked them as this gave us a 1.5nm separation when we finally did cross them. The breeze was up and down, dropping to as little as 10kts at stages, although fortunately not for long as we completely forgot we had 1 reef in the main. We could finally see land about 25nm out, as it was very hazy. As we got closer to St Lucia the breeze started to fill in again and we could gybe the headsail and reach in to our destination – the anchorage at Vieux Fort on the southern tip of the island. We dropped anchor in the middle of the wide bay, opposite the breakwater, about 5 minutes before sunset. We have made it to St Lucia! What a relief. Friday night cocktails were in order!
The Cape Verde islands are a volcanic Archipelago around 400nm off the westernmost point of the Atlantic coast of Africa (which is also called Cap Verte). Colonised in the 15th century by the Portuguese, the islands have played a major part in the slave trade and have also been an important stopover on key Atlantic shipping routes. Cape Verde was incorporated as an overseas department of Portugal, but its inhabitants continued to campaign for independence, which they achieved in 1975. The official language is still Portugese, there is a local Creole, and English and French are also widely spoken.
What we saw of the Sao Vincente island was quite beautiful and the people were incredibly friendly and helpful. The atmosphere was laid back and it seemed reasonably safe in terms of security (of course with the usual travel precautions). We did manage to take a day tour of the island of Sao Vincente, which was really lovely. We skirted around the coast as well as up through the mountains.
We can also verify that the is a reasonable medical centre here, although Google Translate will come in handy if you need their services. The officials at the port were also very helpful and efficient.
Here is a short slide show of our time in Sao Vincent
The second part of our journey takes us to the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, as well as a side trip by ferry and hire car to La Gomera.
From our anchorage at the southern end of Fuertaventura we had to motor all 47nm across to the the capital of the island of Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, as the breeze was too light to sail. The anchorage is a strange one inside the port, between two busy marinas (full of ARC boats). We are overlooking a container terminal and facing a beach. It’s an odd spot, noisy but very sheltered and calm which makes a nice change. It will be a good base for exploring and the ongoing task of provisioning. The marina manages the anchorage so we have to go in, check in and pay a small fee but we are able to use some of the facilities including the dinghy dock.
We spend a couple of days exploring the town of Las Palmas and topping up provisions. We head downtown to the shopping area and have morning tea, then have a hair raising, high speed bus ride Centro Historico (or old town) and end up having lunch there. I visited the Cathedral whilst Keith visited the Columbus museum. Had a lovely 3 course Menu Dia at a small café before a massive supermarket shop to keep filling our pantry and fridges for our crossing and beyond.
The following morning we left early to head 33nm south to Plasito Blanco, on the south coast of the island. We had light conditions at first but the breeze picked up later as we and we could sail under main and gennaker, mostly goose-winged and up to 20kts TWS (that acceleration zone again). As we approached the SE corner of the island we could see the famous sand dunes of Maspalomas. These are quite extensive, over 400 hectares, and quite important ecologically. There is one large peak on the northern end and there are walking trails throughout the dunes. We pass reasonably close to these to take a look before turning the corner and finding a spot for the night. We anchored between the marina entrance and a 1980s beach resort, (reminiscent of Maroubra) and overlooked by a golf course, an oasis of green amongst the lunar volcanic landscape.
The next day Keith and I went for a walk to find some lunch. Made the mistake of walking up to the top of the cliffs and trying to skirt along the edge of the golf course to get to the 80s resort at the beach, but it was all fenced off so we had to double back and walk along the rocks. Saw Martin and Soni in the RIB, they were looking for Martin’s flip flop which fell off the boat. We had tapas at the ‘80s beach resort and wandered along to Maspalomas (near the sand dunes) where there are more restaurants and resorts and had afternoon tea. On the way back we were walking along the beach and amazingly found Martin’s lost flip flop half buried in the sand. Who would have thought! Fortunately he had not thrown the other one out yet!
We managed to organise a car, which is no mean feat with so many boats and people around. Picked up the car at Playa Ingleses and headed into the hills. The scenery is quite spectacular, roads are windy and there are heaps of mad people riding bicycles up hill and down on the narrow winding roads. There is a big event coming up so I guess they are practicing. We had morning tea at Fataga on a terrace overlooking the volcanic hills. It’s still very dry in this area, although there are a few more trees than other islands. We head further north along the winding roads, stopping at a few viewing points for photos of the breathtaking scenery. Next stop is Roque Nublo, the second highest peaks on the island, which is a 20min walk up to a plateau to see these amazing vertical rock formations. The view is fantastic and we can see all the way across to Tenerife and its highest peak, La Tiede. The winding roads continue and we stop for lunch at Tejeda. Again fantastic views of peaks and rocks, looking back to Roque Nublo where we have just been. From here we start heading towards the coast, with a quick detour via Pico las Nieves which is the highest point on the island. There is an observatory here, or maybe a military installation and again spectacular views. We continue to wind our way downhill and can see Las Palmas and the airport in the distance. We finally get to the freeway and decide to head straight back to the boat.
The following day is an easier one on the road as we just head along the coast. There are some really heavily developed areas with some very ordinary looking resorts. We finally get to Mogan after a detour/double back thanks to a road closure, and stop for coffee and cake. This area is well and truly over developed for mass tourism, with resorts lining the hills around even the tiniest of bays. Most of them are not particularly upmarket or attractive. After a supermarket stop we head to Maspalomas for lunch, intending to have a walk through the dunes but the wind direction has changed and strengthened so Keith and I head back to the boat while Soni and Martin take the car back. It’s a very bouncy RIB ride back for all of us!
We spent the time here ticking of our list of jobs to prepare for the crossing, a lot had already been done but there always seems to be more to do. The provisioning frenzy continued as well. That said we still had time for a little bit of sightseeing. There is not much happening around the marina area, which is part of a big resort complex with golf course and numerous apartment complexes, but you can walk along the coastal boardwalk to the nearby town of . We did manage to find a café run by a British lady that served an excellent Sunday Roast (oh how we miss lamb) with Yorkies!
Tour of La Gomera.
This small circular island is a mere 17nm from Tenerife at its closest point. It is only 22km in diameter and its highest peak (Alto de Garajonay) is a mere 1,487m. It is the greenest of the islands we have visited so far, with thick forests which are often shrouded in mist. We took a taxi to Los Christianos, and from there ferry to La Gomera, picked up a hire car and headed off along the narrow, windy roads. Had a traditional Canarian lunch via Google translate. It was fairly heavy, starchy and frankly a little weird. The visitor’s centre in the National Park was well worth a stop to and we learned about the Gomeran whistling language (Silbo) which was used to communicate in the hills between villages. It helped to find missing goats or communicate local news. We could also see how villagers used a long pole to travel on foot through rough and rocky terrain. From the north coast we could see views of La Palma, the island with recent volcanic eruptions and evacuations. This is as close as we will get. Then its back to San Sebastion for a look around the town before catching the ferry and taxi back to ITIKI.
Tour of Tenerife
Picked up a hire car from the airport and did a tour of Tenerife. First stop Mount La Teide. At 3,715m above sea level it is the highest point in Spain and the highest of the Atlantic islands. We drove up towards the peak, had lovely morning tea and cake at a small village along the way. The road then takes us down into and through the main crater with numerous photo stops along the way. It’s an incredible and quite diverse landscape, not completely devoid of vegetation but pretty dry. There are areas of lava flows, lunar landscape and vertical rocks, once molten outflows but now left behind after erosion of the surrounding soil. It was very chilly up top with clouds often descending to cover the peaks and descending down into the crater. It wasn’t possible to go to the peak of La Tiede as the cable car was not operating due to high winds, which is a regular occurrence. Then down to Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, for lunch and a wander round.
And so our time in the Canary islands has come to an end. Whilst the main reason for coming here was to use it as a staging point for our Atlantic crossing, it has been well worth a visit and we could have easily spent more time here. Given the time of year it was sometimes cool at night, and the water was also a little cool for swimming, but certainly clear, clean and refreshing. It was a good place to provision, although the fruit and veg was not always the freshest and a lot of it is obviously imported. It was busy with patrons of the ARC which at times was frustrating. Apparently, it does get less busy closer to Christmas as the ARC boats depart, emptying the marinas and returning their hire cars, however there is now a January rally so perhaps that doesn’t last too long. Don’t forget you can read about our Atlantic Crossing – first attempt and second attempt – in my previous blog posts.
Arrival, Lanzarote and Fuertaventura
The Canary Islands
In the 1400s the Spanish laid hands on the group of islands, which sit off the South West coast of Morocco, and have kept them ever since. Initially they used them as a bunkering station for their expeditions around Africa and to the Americas. Christopher Columbus launched numerous expeditions from here. The origins of the name of the islands is not clear but it seems to have nothing to do with the bird. Possibly related to the ferocious dogs (Canis in Latin) kept by the early inhabitants, The Guanches. It may also be related to the name of the Berber tribe (Canarii) that the Romans sent to the islands as slaves. Those Romans sure get around!
Cooled by constant NE winds the climate is fairly mild and the water is a cool 23C when we arrive. The winds make for interesting sailing and do rather dictate your itinerary through the islands. Acceleration zones around the southern corners of the islands are common and windspeeds build significantly in these areas. Anchorages protected from the N quadrant are a must, but may still get the swell wrapping around the land!
The islands are volcanic in origin and a matter of weeks before we arrive in the area the island of La Palma, in the NW of the group has suffered serious eruptions leading to evacuations and loss of homes. We decide to give that one a miss.
The Canary Islands are the main staging point for the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) for pleasure boats to cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean in company and with some shore support. After a couple of quiet years and cancellations due to Covid, the rally is proving very popular again and despite offering several departure dates is booked out well in advance. While we won’t be joining them they certainly make their presence felt - all of the boats and crews involved fill the marinas and bars, keep the workshops busy, book out the rental cars and generally boost the local economy before heading off mid-November.
Getting there - 28 October to 1 November
The journey south from La Linea in Spain (just across the border from Gibraltar) will be our longest crossing in ITIKI so far at 584nm! The crossing of the Bay of Biscay from La Rochelle (FR) to A Coruna (ES) was “only” 361nm and took us 2.5 days. We are expecting 4-5 days although winds are going to be lighter than we would like, but after almost 2 weeks in a marina (getting our new batteries fitted) we are keen to get going. Landfall and first anchorage will be Playa Francesca, on the small island of La Graciosa, which sits at the northern end of the Canary island group, just off the coast of Lanzarote.
We are ready to depart a bit before noon after a final shore run, but we are not off to a good start. Initially the starboard engine MDI (electronic engine starter) would not switch on – we just had a blank screen so it looked like it had failed, which has been a common problem for some time with the Volvo engines. There have been a significant number of recalls under warranty with some FP owners going through multiple failures. Fortunately with some jiggling of the wires and a dose of electrical spray we got it to light up and could start the engine. Phew.
We came out of the straits of Gibraltar under full main and Gennaker goosewinged. The wind and swell stayed mostly behind us with gusts of up to 28kts (TWS), but averaging 18s. We were making good time and sailing well, although there were lots of ships to dodge coming out of Gibraltar, but we are soon past the worst of it and on our own. Over the last 3 years this area that has been increasingly “plagued” by Orca “interactions” with smaller vessels, including yachts. The animals have been ramming the rudders and causing extensive damage, often disabling steering and we were concerned about having a confrontation*. Fortunately though they seem to have migrated further north over the last few weeks and we see nothing. It’s not long before we are out of sight of land and feel like we are well into our journey. There are four of us so we are doing 3-hour watches, with a couples’ shared watch in the middle of the day. This leads to a changeover so we do not do the same watch times on consecutive days. With 4 people it is a luxury to have 3 hours on and 9 hours off! I can even sleep down in our cabin, despite the noise of the autopilot and creaking windows.
* If you are interested in knowing more about the Orca “interactions” check out this article in Yachting Monthly by Andy Pag. We met Andy and his partner in Mindelo and again in Barbados.
We lost the breeze during the night as forecast so motored some, sailing when we could. The starboard engine MDI has gone dark again, hopefully just a loose wire after all of the activity in the engine bay recently, however it needs investigation during daylight. The fuel gauge also showing empty, despite being full of duty free fuel… Water temperature is already up to 22oC.
We mostly motored during the day with the breeze light and on the nose. We were eventually able to sail but it’s still a bit choppy. We got the starboard motor going with the bypass switch (the one we fitted in Hammamet), and then the MDI came alive. Also got the fuel gauge working, that was just a case of a loose wire at the nav station. Now just need to get this fishing rod into gear!
We motored into light headwinds through the night. At least it drowned out the whine of the autopilot so sleep was possible. Heady unfurled at 06h45, not breaking any speed records but at least not burning fossil fuels. There is a nasty chop which we don’t quite have enough speed to power through. Everything is damp and clammy but we are otherwise fairly comfortable.
We had the main and the genoa up all day with windspeeds of up to 15kts true. Our boat speed was constantly being knocked off by the short chop on top of the groundswell. We even put in a tack which must be the 4th one we have ever done! Had some dolphins visit us before sunset and play in front of the boat for a while. Breeze (and chop) eased in the early evening and we changed to a 2 Volvo reach chasing, some more breeze.
We motored again through much of the night with very low windspeeds. Dropped the main which started flogging and driving us nuts. Dimly lit and unlit fishing buoys appear without warning and sometimes too late to dodge them. We are off the coast of Essouira, a fishing port in Morroco that we visited back in 2019. The lack of wind is very frustrating. We appear to be just on the edge of some new breeze though so hopefully it will fill in. Fortunately the swell is not too uncomfortable.
Later in the day we finally found some breeze and the kite went up around 3pm. So good to have the engines off. The fishing rod is set up but apparently we are missing a stainless steel tracer to stop the fish with sharp teeth (?!) from taking our expensive lures. Hmmm not sure Tuna is going to be on the menu this trip! We dropped the kite at the midnight watch change as the watch crew are not yet night certified in the Parasailor, having only seen it for the first time today! We changed to gennaker and came up a bit.
Shifty winds during the night so sails were goosewinged by our morning watch change. Light conditions continued during the day but we are still sailing. A good opportunity to see what the solar panels can pump into the new batteries today without the engine running, although it is looking a bit cloudy.
We sighted land at 13h24 local time at 35nm to go to our anchorage. Sunset is fairly early here though and there is no twilight to speak of so its dusk as we anchor and Google Earth is helpful in picking a sandy spot to drop the pick in the dark.
We thought that this was a great shakedown cruise in preparation for our upcoming Atlantic crossing, although in hindsight it was actually a bit too easy. Still it was a good introduction to ITIKI for our crew. The watch system worked well and we used a whole range of sail configurations in a variety of wind conditions. The IridiumGo and PredictWind weather forecasts proved useful and easy to use and relatively accurate. We did not have really strong winds so no reefing was necessary, and we hope that the swell across the Atlantic will be at a better angle and longer period than the short chop that we have had. It was a good way to ensure everyone has their sea legs, getting sorted with sea-sickness management and nerves as well as getting familiar with the boat and how things work.
We spent a couple of nights in the anchorage just recovering on the boat, no one felt like going ashore initially. The boys tried to fit the port prop anode, which we lost in the marina in Spain, but no luck. Seems it needs some modifications as it is not quite the right shape. The water is not that warm here so there is a limit to how much time they can spend in it. It’s exhausting trying to work underwater with a mask and snorkel, and getting covered in anti-foul in the process.
We went for a short walk ashore the next morning to check out the volcano and coastal caves then headed to Lanzarote. We intended to anchor outside the marina but the anchorage looked a bit dodgy and very industrial. Further south we went to our second choice but we were waved away by an enthusiastic police woman. It turns out this port area is now being used to process the many refugees that are making the journey from Morocco and Western Sahara to the Canaries. Hmm, running out of options we consult Navily and go a little further south and anchor of the beach at Playa Concha, 23nm from our initial anchorage. It’s a reasonable spot and fortunately a calm night.
We tried to rent a car to do some touring but it seems there is just nothing available, with all of the ARC boats in town. Soni and Martin have rented a motor bike to tour the island though so we head to the fuel dock at Marina Lanzorote to refuel and check in. Keith stays on board while we go and check in at the passport office. This involves a taxi ride around to the other side of the port. Meanwhile the fuel pump breaks down so Keith also jumps in a taxi and comes over to the passport control. That was handy, very quick and no dramas at all, even with my obvious Schengen visa overstay (I have 2 stamps in my brand new passport!). The fuel pump is still not fixed when we get back so I walk up to the supermarket and buy way too much stuff, struggling to carry it back. By the time I get back the pump is fixed and Keith has been booted off the dock so we do a radical "touch and go" on the end of one of the marina arms, helped by a friendly local without a word of English! We head south under gennaker to a protected bay to wait for the intrepid travellers who will take a bus south to meet us. The weather is quite unsettled and we get some rain squalls along the way. We also experience the infamous“ acceleration zone” at the SE corner of Lanzarote (or exhilaration zone as one sailor has put it…). These acceleration zones are areas known for localised, higher windspeeds and are often popular with kite surfers. We good boat speeds before turning the corner into a more protected area. The Rubicon anchorage is just outside the marina and is quite popular.
The next morning we take a short trip ashore at Marina Rubicon for cake and coffee as well as a few provisions and then we head east away from the noisy town anchorage to a beach anchorage called Playa del Pozo. We are expecting some stronger northerlies over the next few days so need to plan carefully for those. It’s definitely winter weather now, cloudy and cool. Water temperature is 23C although it's not that tempting to go in as it is pretty cool when you get out.
Keith drops us on the beach, which is challenging as there is a bit of surf running. The 3 of us take a walk ashore along the beach and over the headland to one of the most famous beaches in The Canary Islands - Playa de Papagayo. The cliffs around it are quite high and spectacular, the water crystal clear. There is a large vein of volcanic rock running through the beach which almost looks like a steel plate. The beach is very crowded and the landscape is seriously dry - not a blade of grass to be had anywhere!
A strong N’Easter is now blowing, but it’s just a short distance (7nm to be exact) to go to our next destination of Caleta de la Rasca on Lobos, a small island off the NE corner of Fuertaventura. It’s a secure anchorage but it’s very bouncy and quite exposed. We try to go to visit the lagoon area on the south east corner of this tiny island but it’s too exposed and dangerous to go in the RIB, so we cross the bar of a smaller bay on the NW corner and bring the RIB up onto the beach. From here we can walk around the southern end of the island, which has a volcanic crater at the south west corner. Otherwise it is rocks, rocks and more rocks, it’s almost as if someone has come along with a bulldozer, created a path of rocks and made piles of more rocks either side. Still not a sliver of greenery in sight. There is a small restaurant and “beach” here but not much else, although we can visit the lagoon area more safely by foot than in the RIB.
We left our anchorage early after a very rolly night, and its 57nm to our next stop. We were able to sail under Gennaker initially before changing to the kite. The winds are certainly very consistent in this area with 15-20kts TWS NE most of the way. The northern part of Fuertaventura’s coast has a large area of sand dunes, quite the dessert scene, with a dramatic volcanic backdrop. The rest of the landscape is volcanic, much as we have seen before. We were wondering if the sand that has accumulated has blown in from the Sahara. We anchor off the town of Morro Jabel, north east of the marina and again it is very rolly and gets worse as the breeze drops overnight. There certainly is a dearth of protected anchorages in these islands so we are getting used to being rocked to sleep!
The next leg of our journey will take us due west for 253nm from Santa Marina, Salina in the Aeolian islands, to Carbonara East (or Villisimius) on the South East tip of the island of Sardinia. In our first season we travelled down the west and along the south coasts of Sardinia before crossing to Sicily. This time we will head up the east coast and across the north coast to complete our circumnavigation. We have planned some “chill out” time in La Madalenna, the island group between Sardinia (IT) and Corsica (FR).
It was a very rolly night at anchor so we were up and away just before 4am, 1 hour earlier than planned. It was a little bouncy until we turned the corner at the top of Isola Salina and started heading west and it was a very dark night. As expected we motored a lot of the way initially as there wasn’t enough breeze to sail. Later in the day we went past the western most of the Aeolian islands, Alicudi and Filicudi and much later in the evening Ustica, which is a nature reserve. The night was uneventful with very little boat traffic and the skies cleared to reveal a breathtaking star scape. It's impossible to photograph this on a moving boat, but without the light pollution of the towns there are so many stars and galaxies to see. We had the main up and got something out of it and tried to unfurl the gennaker several times, keeping it up as long as we could get good boatspeed and stay on a reasonable course. We were keen to arrive in daylight as always. There was a beam on swell knocking off our speed and wind was just a bit further aft and a bit too light to be ideal, so we end up burning a fair amount of diesel in the end.
We arrived late afternoon with the sun behind a massive cloud so the beach anchorage doesn’t look as welcoming as it did in the pictures. Still we know it is a wide sandy beach with good holding so we find a spot in the middle and settle in. We are the only yacht anchored (does everybody else know something we don’t??) It's late in the day but there are still a few people on the beach and a few smaller boats moving about but after a long passage we crash early and sleep very well.
We have a slow start the next day with breakfast and swimming in the beautiful clear waters. We can see the anchor from the foredeck very clearly and its well dug into the sand! This is always a good sight! With some easterly weather on the way we decide to head around to the other side of the Cape Carbonara, from Carbonara East to Carbonara West, and anchor in the bay outside the marina. This is another wide, sandy spot and the again anchor digs in well. In the afternoon we walk up to the main town of Villisimius in search of supermarkets. It’s a 2.5k hike and with all our supplies a long walk back. We find out later there is an hourly bus service, which we will take tomorrow when we come back for dinner and (for me) a much needed haircut!
Ashore from our anchorage there is a shallow lagoon that lies between the eastern and western sides of the spit. The forecast easterly is blowing quite strongly now so it is not as pleasant in yesterday or on the beach. There is a ruined Spanish tower on the eastern point but it’s a bit of a goat track to get there so I walk around to the old fort on the western side of the point. Later in the day we catch the bus up to town and I go for my haircut. This is an interesting experience in Italy, not least due to the language barrier (I show photos of a previous cut). The salon “Perruchia di Linda” had attracted my attention for obvious reasons. There are two other clients in the salon and the loud, animated and uninterrupted discussions keep me amused and in fear of my eyesight as scissors and other sharp objects flail around in the air in tempo with the conversation. I make it out alive and with a pretty good, and economical, haircut but need a drink! We enjoy dinner in town and then try to figure out the bus timetable for our return.
The weather remains unsettled and our anchorage becomes rolly overnight, lucky we are getting used to that! There are some strong northerlies coming so we decide to head north while its lighter and find a protected bay to wait it out. The northerly winds are strengthening just as we arrive, after dodging rain squalls all along the way. We have travelled around 50nm north along the east coast and found an anchorage in Porto Frailis, a bay just to the south of the town of Arbatax. It has a camping resort on one side with a beach club and there are plenty of restaurants around. The swell wraps around the point though and waves are breaking onto the beach. We have a good spot in the south east and less rolly than neighbouring boats and quite bearable in a cat.
I head ashore in the afternoon for a reccie and check out the opening times for the fuel dock in the town, as we are getting quite low. Keith has to drop me off on the rocks as there is nowhere to land the dinghy. There are some really interesting looking pink rock formations around the harbour entrance so I take a look around those before returning to our anchorage. There is an old fort on the point overlooking our anchorage so I walk up there to take a look. It’s in ruins but remarkably there is a ladder to climb up into it (no such thing as OHS here!). Getting picked up from the slippery rocks with the swell is pretty challenging too but Keith nudges the RIB into a gap between waves and I leap aboard. I am getting good at this.
We up anchor and motor around to the fuel dock, arriving at 7:30am the next morning, fortunately just beating a big powerboat in. We refuel quickly and we are on our way to Olbia, which is 74nm north. We manage a little bit of sailing with the main and gennaker along the way, but again mostly motoring as the breeze is just too light. At least we are not flogging into it. There are some interesting looking islands to the east of us just before we enter Olbia harbour and they look to be very popular with charter boats and day trippers, but sadly not for us to visit today. We arrive at Olbia late afternoon and anchor in front of the town quay. We are too tired to go ashore and after a few nights in a rolly anchorage, this one which is deep inside a well-protected harbour feels like being on land.
The next morning we pick up a hire car to explore inland Sardinia a little. Firstly we visit Porto Cervo, playground of the rich and famous, just out of curiosity really. This is the heart of the Costa Smerelda with its famous and exclusive yacht club. The town turns out to be just one big resort/coastal strip mall with every high end brand name represented and it looks so fake. We wander along for a bit, have morning tea and decide we hate it so time to move on. We drive along past the famous Yacht Club, the marina is disappointingly empty of gin palaces and there are not as many big luxury boats around as we expected. Perhaps they have gone out for the day.
We enjoy the drive through the country side and stop are some ancient ruins. Firstly the Giants’ Tomb (Coddu Ecchju). This is a collective grave that probably held the remains of the dead from the nearby village of La Prisgiona. It is thought to date back to the Nuragic Age around 1800 BC. The next stop is at a Nurhage, the ruined village of La Prisgiona dating to the 14th century BC with its round stone dwellings around a central stone keep.
We visit a couple of villages in the hills, which feel somewhat deserted apart from the odd clutches of men sitting in cafes watching the world go by. After a quick bite to eat Google Maps takes us into tiny hilltop town of Tempio Pausiana. We obediently twist and turn our way through ever narrowing streets, thankful we are only in a Fiat Panda as we watch a guy in a jeep try and do a 16 point turn to get out. Just as we pull your wing mirrors in and breath in deeply, we arrive at the central Piazza and the view opens up, phew! This place is quite remarkable, really a place that time has forgotten. There are not many people about and it doesn’t feel too lively. It’s all stone - buildings with stone facades, stone churches and stone roads – there is no shortage of stones in the hills of Sardinia so why not use it. We wander around soaking it up, and then go in search of a winery. Again Google takes us on a bit of a detour (4 minutes faster) and we find ourselves on a dirt road, flanked by dry stone walls, wine grapes and then trees covering the road. Oh and no phone signal. Thankfully we emerge back on to the main road and arrive in Monti. We find a winery, well actually a coop, but no tasting because of the “pandemico” so after a brief description from the manageress we buy a few bottles on spec and hope for the best. That’s it for the day, so we head back to Olbia, via Lidl of course, and take our loot back to the boat in the RIB. We have dinner ashore finally having a wander around Olbia which itself is quite lively and animated. Plenty of tourists and locals out and about too.
Our next destination is La Maddalena, which is the island group off the North east corner of Sardinia. It’s only a short hop north to get to the French island of Corsica, (although we did not have time for that). It is a national park area and a special permit is required to visit, which we managed to get online. It's half price if you pay in advance (ie double if you turn up without one!) and the park rangers come by our boat every day to check on us.
We are up reasonably early and head out of Olbia Port, motoring up the coast to arrive at Cala Coticcio on the island of Caprera (which means goat I think). It is already quite busy; it is one of those iconic “must visit” anchorages and we squeeze in amongst the throngs, thinking we probably won’t stay the night. The daytime comings and goings are incredible, an entire fleet of charter boats comes in and just drop anchor anywhere, professional skippers stay on board and then they are all gone after a couple of hours.
We paddle around the bay once the bulk of the charter fleet leave. The water is an incredible blue, crystal clear, and it really does deserve its reputation as the “Tahiti of the Maddalena”. Fortunately only a handful of boats stay the night and it is relatively peaceful.
Once the craziness of the day starts again we up anchor and head around to the bottom end of the Caprera island, to Porto Palma. Here we can see lots of sailing school boats which is really lovely. We stop here for lunch to watch for a while; its well protected but nothing special so we head around to the western side of the island to Cala Stagnali and like the vibe of it so here we stay. Ashore it’s a nice walk up to the Garibaldi House (Garibaldi is the father of modern Italy) and this is where he retired to. We share the bay with one other boat for the night, which of course has to anchor nice and close (and swim naked off the back)!
We will have westerly winds now for the next 4 days, not really strong but enough to keep us on the eastern side of the islands. That rules out a couple of places we would have liked to go but there are plenty more to explore. We go around to the southern end of Santa Stefano island where there is a lovely long bay, Cala di Villamarina. I walk up to what looks like a disused quarry, lots of rusting equipment, piles of stones and randomly a large statue of a fisherman’s head and shoulders overlooking the bay. After lunch we headed over to Spargi island, checked out a couple of anchorages before deciding on Cala Ferrigno. Initially we anchored and tied to a rock, (swimming lines ashore which I thought I had done for the last time in Greece!) but then another boat left the large granite dock and we tied alongside that instead. I went for a walk up into the hills to an abandoned farmhouse, with great views across the channel. Got chatting to the couple of the other yacht here, an Italian guy with an American wife who live in Singapore. We joined them for drinks later in the evening.
We left our dock relatively early to head across to Budelli Island. This is another popular daytime spot so we wanted to get in before the day trippers. Found a nice spot and chilled for the day, watching the many comings and goings, taking a RIB tour of the area in the afternoon but it was very choppy thanks to the westerly.
After breakfast we jumped in the RIB and went over to see the Spiaggia Rosa (or pink beach). You can’t walk on it, swim in it or take the RIB ashore so we park the RIB nearby and walk over to look at it. It really doesn’t look very pink to be honest. We get some drone shots to get a better look but I really might have to photoshop them so it looks pinker.... After morning tea we up anchor and motor across to Santa Maria island where there is a reasonably popular beach anchorage, Cala Santa Maria. The larger tourist boats disgorge the seething masses here who just seem to hang out at the small, crowded beach. We took the RIB onto the beach and walked up to an old lighthouse (described back on the beach as “rotten”). Nice view across the island group but the lighthouse was indeed in ruins, as was the scaffolding holding it up. Got back to our RIB and as we were pushing off from the beach we were told off by the lifeguard for leaving it there. Oh well, better to ask forgiveness than permission sometimes...
Back to ITIKI for lunch and then on to the next stop. We checked out a couple of possible bays to anchor in but they were rejected and we headed to Giardinelli island. It’s a whole 11nm from last night’s anchorage. The water here is more of a greenish colour but still crystal clear. The bay is full of power boats and RIBs but by 5:30, magically they are all gone and we have the bay to ourselves. We stay here for the next couple of days sheltering from the westerlies and waiting for our weather window to head west to the NW tip of Sardina. We have very much enjoyed our time in the Madalennas, such a lovely cruising ground with short distances between some very different anchorages, and pristine waters. We continue to push west though and leave in the early morning, navigating around the rocks in the dark, following our entry track on the chart plotter as it is poorly lit. We motored most of the 66nm to La Pelosa at the NW tip of Sardinia, and arrive just as the wind turns to the east. It’s not well protected here and pretty rolly, but we are getting used to this and it means another early morning start to get to Menorca in the Balearics.
Our third visit to Italy in ITIKI started in rather dramatic circumstances as you may know. We crossed overnight from Ionian Greece to the sole of Italy’s boot. From there we made our way up through the Messina Straits to the Aeolian islands before heading on to Sardinia and the Maddalenas, before crossing to the Balearics (Spain). We actually didn’t make landfall at Sicily, although we came pretty close to it.
This leg of our journey started after a sneaky last night in Greece, after officially checking out. It was an early morning departure 06h00 for a 186nm journey across to the toe end of Italy. Specifically, to Marina Rocella Ionica, which is a well-worn path for cruisers heading westward. We were expecting good pressure to start with so playing it safe (have we finally learned?!) we put one reef in the main and the genoa. Seas were very lumpy initially and we didn’t get a lot of breeze until we got away from the island but then we made good speeds and shared watches throughout the day. About 3pm Keith noticed that our first reef-line (the new Dynalite one) had chafed through the outer sheath at the (very smooth) cringle. It looks like the core will hold though. Once it comes time to shake it out we will need to be careful that it doesn’t peel the core like a banana, as happened with the gennaker halyard, which we had to cut. As evening approaches the breeze drops (as forecast) and we swap the genoa for the gennaker. We then need to go to full main and one engine. We keep that configuration through the night and into the next morning. We try a couple of times to switch motors off and sail again as we get a bit of breeze, but it doesn’t last and is taking us off course so motors go back on. We are keen to ensure we arrive in daylight.
We start to see the lights of Italy in the early hours of morning, about 40nm out and this is when it seems like our passage is almost over. We have made better time than we expected and should be in mid-morning. Our arrival is a bit more dramatic than we expected though and at 10nm out we see the sorry sight of a Bavaria 50 very low in the water, looking like it is in trouble. The main is up and strapped on but no headsail. As we get closer we can see that despite it being in reasonable condition otherwise, it has been ransacked and windows stove in, blankets and clothing scattered over the deck. Water is pouring into the foredeck hatch. It’s all I can do to stop Keith from jumping aboard to close the hatch. The boat could be a crime scene and not something we want to get involved with. It’s likely stolen and scuttled and this open hatch is probably not the only problem. We call in a Securite over the radio and wait for the Guarda Costiera to arrive about 10 mins later. By the time they get there though the boat has completely disappeared below the surface and we are in 80m of water. They seem to know about the boat already. We find out later that they took some migrants off it and probably just left it there, which is a shame, and also a shipping hazard! There are a collection of these stolen boats in the marina itself and they probably didn’t want any more of them, hoping it would sink without a trace before anyone noticed. We settle in to our Marina berth and of course our first night in Italy is celebrated with pizza, pasta and chianti at a local restaurant.
We really have no reason to stay in this area so we move on the next day. This was one of those days we went from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C and then back to Plan A again! This part of Italy is well known for its lack of safe and protected anchorages, but if conditions are calm you can get away with anchoring in some places. Initially we were going to anchor at a spot called Bova Marina (not a marina but that is just what they call coastal towns), on the south western end of the toe. We were still getting Southerlies at this stage and although we had a nice time sailing the anchorage was quite exposed. The forecast showed light northerly coming out of the Messina Straits (the channel between Italy and Sicily) so we decided to head across to Taormina on the Sicilian side and make our transit north from there. As we got to the very tip of the toe another change of plans. As the northerly in the strait was only 5kts (allegedly), we decided to head up to Regio di Calabria on the eastern side of the channel. There is an anchorage just north of the (€220 per night!) Marina at Regio di Calabrio called Galicio that looks ok. Well the forecast of 5kts from the north turned out to be BS. More like 20-22 and awful short chop. We persisted with it though, covering our recently cleaned boat with salt yet again. We had so much spray coming over the coach house that I had to close the saloon doors. We had fun dodging a huge fleet of windsurfers and kite surfers who were enjoying conditions more than us! The airhorn was ready to blast anyone who was not paying attention as although we were under motor, they are much quicker and more manoeuvrable than us. Then thankfully the breeze backed off. It’s amazing how 17kts feels like a relief after slamming into 22kts. Its 14kts by the time we anchored at Galicio and dropped to nothing from then on so we had a very calm night, albeit listening to 80s music from the beach club ashore – that would have been ok except for someone yelling in Italian over the top of it (possibly an aerobics class). There were also local fishermen coming and going all night in small dinghies around us. Apparently the pilot books say you can’t anchor in the Messina Straits, most people take this to mean anywhere between Italy and Sicily, but it’s really only means the short section at the north which is the narrowest point and includes the shipping channel. Anyway, as we don’t seem to have an Italian pilot book we didn’t know this until much later. By the end of the day we have done 64nm, not quite what we planned!
We departed again at a leisurely 8:30am for a “short” 40nm hope across to the Aeolian Islands, off the NE corner of Sicily. This group consists of several volcanic islands, the most well-known one being Stromboli, which is still quite active and regularly puts on a light show at night.
We motored north up into the Straits hugging the starboard shore. The Straits are not as busy with shipping as we expected, that said we had a nervous moment as a car ferry decided to leave just as we were passing by and we had cruise and cargo ships both over take us. We radioed VTS for permission to cross the channel and in no time we were turning the corner and pointing towards Isola Volcano at the south end of the Aeolian Island group. The wind gods are feeling happier today after giving us a beating yesterday and we get the Parasailor up. The angles are a bit flukey but as we get further from the coast it becomes more consistent. Later we change to the gennaker to get a better angle to our destination. Even without the main we get along at great speeds and better angles. We approach Volcano from the western side checking out a couple of anchorages, but end up opting for the town harbour anchorage, Baia di Pontente. It's already very crowded but conditions are calm and we squeeze ourselves in.
We go ashore early in the morning and walk up to the rim of the crater of the volcano of Isola Volcano (wondering how they decided on the name for this island???). Lots of acrid sulphur on one side but it’s quite spectacular and great views across to the island of Isola Lipari. Looking down into the crater it was a heart shape. We walked around the small town for a bit and then as we were heading back to ITIKI the police were doing the rounds of the anchorage telling everyone to move on. I guess they need to turn the crowds over. The weather is lovely and calm so we pick up an anchorage on Lipari’s west coast, all of 3nm away, one of the rare white sand “beaches” (Punta Di Levante) in this volcanic area, although still a bit on the deep side. Boats come and go all day, fishermen come by to sell their catch and we have a beautiful sunset.
Overnight we had a couple of storms pass through. Winds were not strong but they brought some rain and we had to bring all of the cocktail deck cushions in. Early morning brought a stronger westerly with a big swell and backwash from the cliffs which saw waves going over the transom. This is called getting “pooped” and it’s not very nice. ITIKI is bucking up and down like a bronco on our anchor. It’s raining moderately so we quickly get the bimini clears up and beat a hasty retreat in big seas around to the east coast of Lipari, with me holding the crockery drawer closed until we turned the corner around the south of the island and got out of the swell. We anchored at Punta di Capistelo on the southern part of the bay around the town of Lipari, a bit too close to another mono. Not a great anchorage, very rolly, too deep, probably rocks and weed and we did not feel happy about leaving the boat to visit the town. We chat to the guy on the mono and he recommends an anchorage on the island of Salina which is protected from Westerlies so we decide to give it a go. As we head north past the white sand beach on the north east of Lipari we see a Saba 50, Double Shot. This is Andy and Mel and their kids who were on the dock with us at La Rochelle and came to our baptism. How funny to see them after so long! We have a quick chat but by now its blowing strongly from the north, so we head across to Salina. We have travelled all of 15nm today, including our detour by Lipari town.
'The anchorage outside the Marina di Salina is not quite what we expected, still a bit deep and steep but that is par for the course around volcanic islands. Still it's protected enough, we have it to ourselves and it turns out to be a good choice. I go ashore for a wander and Keith stays on board to make sure ITIKI is settled in the anchorage. We were expecting storms overnight but nothing eventuates and we have a calm night.
We walk around Salina the next morning and decide to take the ferry over to Lipari Town for a couple of hours, rather than move to a crummy anchorage for the night. We have lunch in Lipari town and enjoy walking the streets of the old town, up to the castle. Museums are closed but wander into the church, have a gelato and head back on the ferry again. It is a pretty town with colourful houses and plenty of tourists. We decide against heading up north to Stromboli, the most active volcano in the group. It’s quite a way north and conditions are not so favourable. Anyway we also have heard that the volcano is not really doing much in the way of spectacular fireworks at the moment, so we are probably not missing out.
Our nicely protected anchorage has become very rolly overnight with a change of conditions so we were up and away just before 4am, 1 hour earlier than planned. We have a long passage of 253nm to the south east corner of Sardinia for the next part of our Italian adventures.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.