Tobago was our favourite Caribbean island when we first cruised those waters 14 years ago. So we made it our destination
again this time; and we weren’t disappointed. Scarborough was as colourful as ever but with many more cars jamming the
roads. The ladies still wore the 1950s homemade look – poly-cotton dresses with triangular skirts, puff sleeves and
big bust darts. The kind of stuff we made in domestic science class and immediately after term finished shoved in the bin.
We took local buses round the island and had the best of crack with the other travellers. Old ladies would climb on board
laden with parcels and sit down muttering ‘praise dee lawd for dee bus a-comin.’
When we arrived there was only one other boat in the harbour – a 200 ft motor yacht. The guests arrived to it with
a police escort. Peter watched, through the binoculars, as they arrived and said ‘it’s just some elderly couple.’
Turned out to be Prince Charles and Camilla. And just in case you didn’t know the royals don’t tour with suitcases
- oh no – their luggage arrived in 4 transit vans and was mostly loose – in those covers you send stuff to the
dry cleaners in. The Trinidad coast guard had patrol boats standing by but no-one came to check us out at all; changed days
when an Irish flag goes unnoticed. As Trinidad is an oil producer we were able to buy diesel at 15p a litre and filled up.
Nothing else was cheap on the island though and complaints about rising food prices was universal. Saddest of all was the
price of bananas. At £1.30 a kilo they are cheaper in Ireland than here where they are grown.
After a lazy fortnight in Tobago we headed off northwards for Martinique. What a joy it is to browse a French supermarket.
We filled up on Camembert and pain au chocolat; pate and chocolate. The French treat their colonies as proper integral parts
of the country and everything is just as it is in the ‘metropole’ as the locals say as if mainland France were
only a mile away. The harbour at Marin was filled to capacity with French boats, many of the people living permanently there
and getting all the benefits of French social security. As it’s more or less European customs clearance is relaxed and
done by yourself at a computer in the office and stamped by a very bored official for no fees. Nearly all the other islands
have check in fees nowadays as the struggling island governments seek ways to relieve wealthy yachties of their cash. They
range from about $10 US to 50. we were badly caught out in St Martin where we ended up paying more than 70$ to check in and
anchor in Simpson Bay for a week. Of course lots of people don’t bother checking in at all and cruise illegally knowing
that few of the islands have the resources to send out coastal patrols to check up.
After Martinique we went straight to Guadeloupe, also French, where we anchored for a week and did a lot of walking in
the interior. We bypassed Montserrat this time and went straight to St Martin where we hoped to stay quite a while doing work
to the boat as it is one of the best places to buy cut price chandlery. With the weak US dollar prices were very favourable.
St Martin is a small island that is divided into a French and a Dutch part. It uses 3 currencies euro, US dollar and Antillean
guilder. All the French people were doing their shopping on the Dutch side using dollars as the exchange rate is very much
in their favour.
When we arrived in Simpson Bay it was dark and the bay seemed to be surrounded by thin, dimly lit columns with a red
light at the top. I thought they were tower cranes and that there must be a building boom ashore. In the morning light we
saw that they were the masts of super yachts anchored in the bay waiting for the bridge to open to go into the lagoon. St
Martin is the mega yacht capital of the Caribbean and Simpson Bay lagoon has 3 marinas that take only boats over 90 feet long.
I read an article that said since 1993 the number of private yachts worldwide over 100 ft long has risen from 700 to an estimated
7000 and many of them spend the winter in the Caribbean. We shared many an anchorage with them. it’s conspicuous wealth
of a serious kind. The run-around for one of these 150 ft sailing yachts is likely to be a Princess 35 along with numerous
RIBs, sailing dinghies and wet bikes. Local people must look out and think these are some sort of visitors from outer space
to have so much money. Super-yacht charter is the most popular holiday activity for those with a net wealth of more than 5
million pounds. A 140 ft yacht costs about £100,000 a week to charter. A shop assistant in Trinidad earns £1 an hour. And
thon red aircraft warning light at the top of the mast just beams out ‘hey look at me – I’m rich….seriously
rich.’ One thing we did notice is that a lot of these super-yachts are painted very dark blue or black just like Mithril
which shows they have at least some good taste!!
We got fed up with St Martin very quickly but stayed until the week we’d paid for was up. The anchorage was rolly,
the airport runway was right beside us, traffic was bumper to bumper all day; there were warnings everywhere for tourists
walking in the hills to beware of bandits and to internet cost $7 an hour or free wifi in MacDonald’s. So we took a
day sail south to St Kitts and Nevis where we anchored in a deserted bay with good snorkelling – saw turtles and rays.
We walked along roads used more by cows and goats than cars and the people actually spoke to us. There were still check in
fees here but of a reasonable size. We noticed big billboards advertising the fact that Venezuela is supplying the Caribbean
nations with cheaper fuel. Lots of happy smiling West Indians were pictured shaking hands with Hugo Chavez the Venezuelan
president who is thumbing his political nose at the Americans who usually try to influence Caribbean politics. In St Martin
immigration office there was a sticker for the dept of homeland security as if it were actually part of America.
Our last Caribbean stop of this trip was in the British Virgin Islands where we had not been before. What a superb cruising
destination! There are dozens of islands only hours apart with a multitude of anchorages and all under the influence of usually
gentle trade winds. It is no surprise therefore that you find a huge bareboat fleet there. Most of the bays have moorings
laid in them to save charterers having to embarrass themselves anchoring. These moorings cost around $30 per night and are
owned by waterside businesses. It’s money for old rope as most moorings are taken every night – not by us needless
to say. It was a little bothersome trying to find anchoring space outside the mooring field but it was possible. It was also
good crack watching the charterers who did decide to anchor. As often as not they gave up and picked up a mooring. We met
up with another cruising boat here that we last saw in 1994 in Venezuela. We had been exchanging emails for weeks giving likely
positions and dates and at last we were able to coordinate our destinations. The wonders of email!
Despite all the boats and tourists some places were very quiet. On Norman island we came upon a dirt track running the
whole length of the island which we spent a day walking. We met only 2 other people though there were about 35 boats at anchor
in the main bay. The interior of the islands is very dry with cactus and frangipani. We saw Monarch butterflies, wild flowers
and we frightened a small bird that had its nest right next the road, on a rock ledge about a metre above the ground. 2 tiny
white eggs lay inside. And it’s true what they say about birds not shitting on their own nests, the little basket of
twigs and moss was as clean as a whistle.
Taking advantage of the full moon for our passage to Canada meant leaving the Virgins around May 10. This was perhaps
a little early or maybe it was yet another unusual year but we had some very unseasonable weather on our way north. We had
calms, gales, cold fronts and even the Gulf Stream went against us at one point and we had to motor to get northwards as it
took us towards Ireland at a good 2-3 knots. Then just 48 hours before arrival we were completely becalmed but with strong
southwesterly winds forecast. That would suit very well but after the front passed the winds were to go strong north to north
east which was exactly what we didn’t want so we were left in the unenviable position of having to motorsail with a
favourable wind to get in before it turned against us. As it was we arrived in Shelburne, Nova Scotia about 2 hours before
sunset and the front arrived 3 hours later. The only good point about the trip was that we caught a lot of fish in the Gulf
Stream – we had to give it away we had so much.
Our first impressions of Canada are very favourable. Most noticeable were the trees, scented pines, apple and cherry
blossom in full glory and the maple unfurling bright new shiny leaves. Shelburne was founded by people loyal to Britain in
the American war of independence who had to flee New England when the war was lost. The town is still very proud of that heritage
and the 225 th anniversary of the Loyalist Landings are this year – over the twelfth of July weekend as it happens.
The town is already bedecked in red white and blue bunting and union jacks – a touch of home for us norn irondies. The
word loyalist is used in the title of many businesses in town; e.g. the Loyalist Plaza shopping centre which has gone bust
– is there a message in that for Ulster???