Caribbean Adventures - from Reprobate 'Spirit 46' (and a good thing to do with Rum!)
Proving that a 46 foot Spirit is rather more than a glorious day boat (which we have always known), Dan Heald left behind a glowing performance in Reprobate at Antigua Classics last year to spend four months exploring the Caribbean. He sent us a delightful report and we give here some edited highlights.
He began with a reproach.
‘I think Spirit are selling themselves short (in the second Spirit News). At Antigua Reprobate had two first place finishes. In addition to the single-handed race she won the Concours d’Elegance for the Spirit of Tradition class beating, among others, Velsheda. Posterity will show these two firsts in the Antigua Classics Race records forever! Go on, blow your own trumpets. The quality of her finish is a credit to the hard work of all the staff of Spirit Yachts. She is a work of art. Spirits stand out now and I would be very surprised if in future years they are not mentioned in the very same breath as all the past classics.
‘Antigua Classics was great fun and should be on every sailor’s lifetime ‘Must Do’ list. Superb sailing and lots of great people to meet, to say nothing of the boats themselves.
‘The racing over, we went round to Nonesuch Bay and enjoyed one of the most beautiful meals in my life. A lunch in the sun with exquisite Italian food in the surroundings of an old sugar plantation overlooking the bay was divine, a fitting finale before a crew change. We parted with a tear in the eye and a heavy heart on my side after a holiday of a lifetime. To my surprise Mick and Wissie (Newman) were also in the bay so we said Hi and Goodbye once more as they were handing the charter boat back that day and wanted to clean out the fridge of all leftovers, like beer. A real Red Cross parcel gratefully accepted!
‘The next day my brother flew in from England. All our plans of meeting by calling up on VHF came to nought. Matt was stymied by the war on terrorism. “Can’t take that with you sir” said the aircraft security man. Incidentally, this upright and true Canadian citizen travelled for five months across the whole North American continent, including the USA five times, on an out of date passport. The only person who noticed was an airline boarding pass checker in Puerto Rico.
‘Twas a good job Matt arrived when he did. Shortly after he joined the wind changed through 180 degrees and got up to 45 knots. In next to no time the depth was in single figures. We started the engine and got out to deeper water and it was easier with two on board. Moral of the tale is, do not always rely on the trade winds staying in the same place! We later heard that boats in Falmouth Harbour had dragged their moorings, damaging some of the anchored boats. Our experience of the Fortress anchor’s holding power gave me new-found confidence in the anchor and rode, a confidence that had not been present on my part in an earlier discussion in an Ipswich portacabin . . .
‘The next step was to top up with food and show Matt the two harbours, English and Falmouth. Both are very beautiful natural settings. Nelson’s Dockyard is a bit of a misnomer. He never stepped ashore in his 18 months on the station, calling it a “mosquito-infested hole”. Nevis was the ‘society’ place to step ashore and this is where he met his wife.
‘Whilst in Falmouth we topped up with fresh supplies and then planned to depart for Jolly Harbour to pick up a new mainsheet/boom attachment coming in from England. Do not ask! It broke during a jibe creating some interesting moments.
‘Incidentally, we had a wonderful ride on the Toyota buses in Antigua - they are the best way to get the real flavour of an island. We saw most of the islands this way and had some great conversations with the locals.
‘Jolly Harbour is a safe place to be with all modern amenities to fit out a yacht but at night, when the wind drops, the mosquitoes come out to play. The marina is a drained mangrove swamp, after all.
‘Following in Nelson’s wake for Nevis, we managed to anchor in the last of the daylight in a dying wind. The timing for a sundowner was perfection. Nevis is definitely worth a visit, though the anchorages are not of the best. Ashore the buildings are really beautiful, a real step back in time. It felt like Cornwall in the Caribbean.
‘St Kitts was a brief stop and quite fascinating. Brimstone Fort, now a UN Heritage site, is a must see. It took 100 years to build and was lost in one month of siege warfare to the French c 1778. Here we learnt that the Caribbean presence cost 390,000 British lives during a 200 year period. And many early settlers to the island left for America in disgust at the growth of slavery.
‘But to return to that sundowner - here is a good thing to do to rum: The Reprobate “Barracuda”
1 part sour eg lime juice
2 parts sweet, eg muscovado sugar
3 parts alcohol i.e. rum
4 parts water/juice (Apple juice is best here)
Technique - Heat sugar in the lime juice until dissolved. Do not overheat as this taints the flavour. Cool and add the juice and alcohol. Be cautious to taste the sugar addition so as not to make the drink overly sweet, bearing in mind the juice still to be added. Pour over lots of ice.
A drop of Angostura bitters with a delicate grating of nutmeg creates the cat’s meow of rum punches.
‘Next we headed up to St Barts, a little tired on arrival after an exhilarating day’s sail under two reefs and 25 knots of wind. Brilliant. Then around to Marigot on the French side for a great cup of coffee. Thereafter we slipped round to Anguilla, a beautiful island that has chosen quality high-end tourism as its salvation. By comparison, St Martins is Costa del Sol and St Barts aspirational nouveau designer label. On Anguilla the locals have been encouraged to be part of the business in a way not present on the French islands. Many have been trained as chefs, spending three years in Paris to learn the required skills.
‘From Anguilla we did an overnight passage to the Virgin Islands and arrived as dawn was breaking. This became a frequent event as daytime sailing, particularly downwind, can be unpleasantly hot. On one occasion I had to curb my instinct to get even after a water pistol soaking because the soaking was so wonderfully cooling. On another night sail (to St Martins) one crew member was hit in the face by a flying fish as she reached over to view some dolphins.
Wild life was, though, generally remarkable for its absence. Whether down to global warming or over fishing I do not know. Compared to the west coast (of Canada) there was less of everything wild and just not what I had hoped for from the Jacques Cousteau expectations of my youth. The damage to the coral beds is very evident. Frequently the bottom looked more like a coffin had been upturned and the bones of dead coral strewn across the sand. Peters Bay in the BVIs was like this. We learnt that nothing is simple and clear cut though. Sure, anchors do damage the bottom and modern bleaches do their bit but so does the removal of the mangrove swamp to reduce the mosquito population. Juvenile Parrot Fish mature in the mangroves, feeding on mosquito larvae, and when adult return to the coral reef where they eat the algae off the coral. Without them, the coral can become covered with algae and die. No coral, no marine life. So mangroves are being replanted on Tortola to restore the balance of nature.
‘Trade winds make it safe to always anchor in the lee on the western side of Caribbean islands. But the odd time the wind was different, we found the eastern side was simply beautiful with coral reef, lots of fluorescent turquoise blue fish, brain coral, rib coral, the works. As it was unusual to anchor there, the bottom was perfect. A delight to snorkel. And we were alone in the bay because so many boaters will only go to the guidebook approved bay.
‘Sailing and anchoring in such shallow water is a strange experience. The sea is crystal blue and clear, just like the adverts and powering along at 8 or 9 knots in 17 feet of water with a clear view of the bottom somehow does not seem right! The plus side is that when it is time to anchor the coral can be avoided and the weed bed danced around so that the anchor is dropped in the perfect sand trap. Then, in 11 feet of water, the prudent sailor can always cool off with a quick swim and check the anchor at the same time.
‘The strange mix of everything is hard to describe from this distance. So much is changing with the growth of tourism. Gone or going is the often UK eccentric bar/restaurant owner. In his place is coming the themed resort with wonderful facilities and no soul. Nevertheless we saw some fantastic things, entertained eighteen guests, made a mean rum cocktail and generally experienced incredible sights and sounds vastly different from my world in Canada.’
Dan finished with some helpful feedback on his boat, all favourable and a few suggestions. We were mortified to hear that Bombay Blue Sapphire does not fit in the wine storage area of his table and have taken due note. We cannot resist quoting his final summing up on his experience so far with Reprobate - ‘She is beautiful and there is a warmth of heart and soul just knowing that she is there in my life.’
Editor’s note: That is a good thing to do to rum. If apple juice not available, cranberry works very well.