Having had such a wonderful two weeks holiday with James and Lorna in the West Indies on their 47ft catamaran “Mind the Gap”, we’d like to share it with you and hope you’ll enjoy reading all about it.
James and Lorna bought ‘Mind the Gap’ in December last year and have worked extremely hard getting it ready to sail. There are still jobs to do, like install a water maker and a radar - both required for their trip across the Atlantic later in the summer.
However, it was now time for them to enjoy the “fruits of their labour” and have some well deserved rest time themselves. There had been big celebrations when Charles (their eldest son) had visited two weeks prior and got married to Fung Yee on the boat (congratulations to them both), then it was our turn and, following us, Brian (J&L’s youngest) and Rachel flew to St Martin for their visit.
We flew into Antigua on Saturday, arriving early afternoon, and took a taxi to English Harbour on the South East coast where we had agreed to meet. The taxi drivers are very accommodating and are quite happy to give you a ‘guided tour’ whilst driving along. J&L were on the road waiting for us and had to jump out in front of the taxi to stop it (and hope that we were inside!). They both looked so well – slim and tanned. They were anchored in Falmouth Harbour and it was then I had my first set back - the dinghy! The world and his wife knew that I was quite anxious about our holiday as I don’t particularly like water / I can’t swim / I may be seasick! I innocently assumed the boat would be moored against concrete!!
Not to worry, we were ‘broken in’ very gently. Our first couple of days involved short sails to neighbouring harbours and we were able to get used to the heat – and getting in and out of the dinghy! On Sunday we happened to come across a dozen dolphins that surrounded the dinghy. Although clothed, Lorna was soon in the water swimming with them. In the evening we climbed 1.5 miles in sweltering heat and humidity to Shirley Heights – a look out point over English Harbour – where there was a steel band playing and a wonderful view of the sunset. We had rain on and off but it was very refreshing and rain water is good for washing clothes on the boat and cleaning the salt off the decks. We had one of our best meals that evening at the Calabash restaurant near English Harbour.
The following day, after Rob had bought a tee-shirt in Nelson’s Dockyard, we sailed to Carlisle Bay – one of our favourites – beautiful clear water, diving pelicans and turtles! We decided to stay for another day and then came my first “accident” – I fell out of the dinghy (Lorna said she hadn’t meant to push me overboard but I’m not so sure!). Of course it was the best thing that could have happened. I was then encouraged by James to put a life jacket on, don some flippers and a snorkel and I never looked back so to speak. Beautifully warm clear water, fish, coral, stingrays and especially the turtles.
The next day, Wednesday, we were up at 6.30, had a swim and a snorkel and set off for Jolly Harbour (past the dangerous Cafes reef) for provisions and to fill up with water. Then we sailed along the coast to Deep Bay. On Thursday morning we took the dinghy round to St Johns (the capital of Antigua). The locals assumed we were off the cruise ship and had loads of money, so we soon side-stepped them and looked around the town. Security is very good in the Caribbean – a taxi driver told us there are only 150 people in prison in Antigua, and capital punishment still exists there. Then in the afternoon back at Deep Bay we snorkeled by the wreck of the Andes (1905), watched a cruise liner pass a gap in the coastline, sailed up to Boon Reef and Dickinson Bay then back to Morris Bay for the evening.
On Friday morning we were up even earlier at 5.30 am to go to Guadeloupe but the winds were directly against us. We sailed towards Montserrat and saw dust clouds above the volcano and lava still flowing. Then a bucking bronco of a ride against the waves on a course parallel to Antigua. I decided that if I was going to be ill today was the day! I lay down and shut my eyes – works wonders – and within a couple of hours I was OK. James said that I hadn’t been seasick. When you’re really seasick you spend the first day thinking you’re going to die, but on the second you wish you had! We finally turned back with the wind behind us and moored back at Carlisle Bay in Antigua.
On Saturday morning the winds were more accommodating and after a 13 hour sail and 85 nautical miles we arrived at The Saints which is a set of small islands just south of the Basse-Terre part of Guadeloupe. The winds in the lee of Guadeloupe were fickle but we made progress with a couple of tacks. It was dark when we anchored in a lovely bay beside an illuminated cross on the hillside and the Hotel Bois Joli tucked away amongst the palm trees. The next day we had an excursion to Anse Saints, a little fishing village where Rob bought a tee-shirt. It was a Sunday and we heard singing from a little church, but outside the old locals were gathered with their cock-birds in cardboard boxes waiting for the service to finish so they could start cock-fighting. Not a pleasant thought.
Back on board we set off for the mainland which meant a sail north past the island of Marie Galante to starboard. Guadeloupe, or ‘Gwada’ as the locals call it, is shaped like a butterfly and we were headed for a bay on the right of the butterfly’s tail in the Terre-de-Haut part of the island. As was usual with James we found a yacht to race and, as with all the boats we followed, we overtook it. We moored in the lee of the Ilet de Gosier which is a little island a couple of hundred yards off the coast. We decided to eat ashore. Of course, as it was a Sunday, all the restaurants were shut but luckily a couple of gendarmes told us to try Les Quatre Epices. Rob had lobster which was quite messy.
The following morning we motored round to the capital, Point à Pitre to get more provisions. We wandered around the town and said how exactly French it was – it is part of France but how it mirrored French life surprised us. I had a contre-temps with an old woman in the market. I hadn’t tried her fruits when she wanted to give me some (probably because I couldn’t understand her garbled French). Rob bought another tee-shirt. James gave us a tour of the marina and was excited about showing us ‘Alidade,’ a Catana 581 catamaran (58 feet long but also 58 tonnes) which was owned by a friend of his. Catanas are built at Canet-en-Roussillon where our flat is in France. We were shown around it by Emmanuela, the cook and hostess. Gorgeous – the boat that is. That evening we motored back to Le Gosier and had a meal of marlin which we had bought from a fisherman at the quay.
Tuesday, we headed back to Antigua and had a great sail getting up to 11.9 knots. We decided to stop half way at the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Nature Reserve around Pigeon Island. We anchored beside a mega yacht (usually called a ‘stink pot’ because they can smell of diesel) called Lady Triumphant. We had read up about the diving and snorkeling there so we had a go. The views underwater were fantastic, the only problem was me trying to get back into the dinghy watched by several French divers. One wanted to help but embarrassment made me determined to do it on my own – well, with a little help!
On Wednesday we sailed past Deshaies at the top of Guadeloupe and had a good run across the 30 miles back to Antigua passing another shoal of dolphins on the way. We moored in Falmouth Bay – James was keen to get the official list of Antigua Race Week contestants because his friend JJ was racing. Rob bought an Antigua Race Week tee-shirt and we had Daiquiri cocktails and a meal in the ‘Café Havana’, an Internet café that J&L used. One of James’s sayings was ‘I’d rather be in a boat with a drink on the rocks than in the drink with a boat on the rocks’!
The next morning James was hoisted up the mast to check the mooring light before we set sail round the west coast and due north to Barbuda. This was my favourite “desert island”. Although a public island, there are no regular flights or ferries and the only hotel frowns on yachts visiting. So we felt very privileged to be there – with not another yacht or a single person in sight. We tendered to the shore and tied up to some drift wood and walked along the pink beach (caused by the remains of loads of pink coral). I was very brave and swam without the lifejacket.
At 4:45 on Friday morning Rob and I were on the deck watching the sun rise – and what we think must have been a couple of planets with the sunlight reflecting off them. After breakfast of Lorna’s famous eggy-bread we set off back to Jolly Harbour (we needed a supermarket and some wine) then anchored next door in Five Island Bay and had a swim near a deserted sea-side development before dinner.
Saturday – our last day. We signed Lorna’s visitor’s embroidery which is something else to keep her busy. At lunchtime we motored back round to Jolly Harbour, moored at the fuel and watering point and said our thanks and goodbyes. One of the men on the dock ‘happened’ to be a “taxi man” and we set off for the airport in a scrapheap a of a car – a really nice guy but we were glad to arrive after four near misses. Charles had told us about The Sticky Wickets, a pub beside the airport, which also overlooks the cricket ground. Getting our feet back on the ground with a sandwich and a beer before we set off back to the UK.
Each evening of our holiday the sun had set at around 6.30 so by 6pm we had to be organised and prepare our sundowners – pina colada, topical fruit juice, ice and, of course, a slice of lime. We looked out for the “green flash” which occasionally occurs just as the sun disappears below the horizon – but we were unlucky. We ate out a few times but it was great just staying on the boat and having our own food. After sundowners we took over as hosts – Rob cooked and I washed up – while J&L relaxed. Then it was chatting and gazing at stars (some shooting) until falling into bed around 9 – exhausted.
I’m sure after reading this you’ll all be very envious. It was a holiday we will never ever forget – all thanks to two very good friends. We feel very privileged to have been allowed to share ‘Mind the Gap’ for a short time and James and Lorna were great hosts.
PS. I hope you’ve taken note of the number of tee-shirts that were purchased!!!