Dec 3 – Getting here

Aeeeyyyayae. This post is long overdue. I know. Apologies for any frayed nerves from this un-intended radio silence. Many reasons explain it not least the 52 days it took to arrive here (Grenada) from Antigua. Then technical failures – a corrupted hard drive that started deleting our photos and videos; laptop chargers that stopped charging rendering devices useless; mysterious boat battery problems (from little feet stamping on the solar panel? We wonder…) Then of course the perennial quest for easily accessible close-to-the-boat wifi followed by finding child free moments to actually write and so forth. Anyway, enough of these excuses. Here we are, many months on since we last set to sea…..I guess you may be wondering what we have been doing?

Well it is a story of two halves. The first is about just getting here to Grenada. The headlines read something like this…. Novice sailing mum made mad by her debut sailing to windward. Her seasoned sea puppies get sea sick too. Record setting wind stops sailing family in their tracks. Sailing Yacht Dhanu proves again she can endure gale force wind whilst at anchor (just!). Water water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink? Grotty yachties get squeaky clean after rainforests walks, waterfall sploshes and bathing in fresh water pools. Mummy bakes bread whilst daddy looks for hurricane hideouts. Alfi falls in the drink whilst Olive says bonjour, je m’appelle Olive’. All of this really is true.

We left Antigua on June 20th. The journey south took a staggering 52 days on account of rogue winds and lumpy seas. We were not sailing all the time of course, but we were in transit trying to get South. We had thought this would be relatively straight forward. We pencilled in arriving within 30 days allowing us to have a nice easy family amble down island stopping where we liked but wanting to be tucked up out of hurricane alley asap. However every time we left a port bound for as far south as possible, we never made it beyond the next island. Antigua, Guadaloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Bequia, Carriacou, Grenada. 8 islands and 10 ports. We have seen them all! Some ports we were stuck for weeks waiting for calmer seas. 3 weeks in Deshaies, Guadaloupe. 10 days in St Lucia. As tough as all this may not sound, it was, at times, frustrating. We had to arrive in Grenada to be safely beyond the normal reach of any hurricanes. Not all of the islands we pulled in to offered a hurricane hole should one roll through. So it felt a bit like we were playing a marine version of chicken. The common conversation between Ben and I in between peppa pig role play and picking up duplo, involved identifying where was the nearest hurricane hole? How many miles away and in which direction? Ironic that Antigua offered a brilliant one (good enough for Nelson, good enough for us) which only got further away as each mile south was slowly won. All of which added another pressure to the domestic routine of children, washing, cooking etc. Added to that, the longer we were in transit, the more funds depleted. So, hurricane or not, we simply needed to arrive in Grenada to find work and kids for the girls to hang out with. We had to get south and every day we stood still felt like pressure despite the idyllic setting. To cap it all, when we did eventually get sailing, often, it was in difficult unexpected and unforecast conditions. Not least to windward which was the first time for me and the girls in about 5000+ miles. I know now what sailing to windward is about and I can tell you, it is not my favourite activity!

And so what of the sailing? Well the distances involved were totally puny compared to the many miles sailed from the UK. One would be forgiven in thinking that there was no more adventure to be had’post-Atlantic’. That we were living the dream sailing upon calm seas under blue skies in the Caribbean sunshine. Hmm, yes that is what I thought anyway. Wrong.

The inter-island sailing was a completely different kettle of fish. This was day sailing, never logging more than 45 miles. There was always an island dead ahead, or behind or we were in the lee of one. Land was in sight at all times. A blessing in the end given we were finally sailing to windward, or some-where close. Added to this were the weird inter-island gusts and blows which bashed us about. All of which made the Atlantic feel at times, preferable. I am really not joking. Until we were south of Bequia, we did not have balmy Caribbean sailing. It was at times horrid. Wong forecasts and freak weather patterns dumped us in 30 knots and very lumpy seas. Bringing to my chest that crazed flush of fury which demanded to know yet again, why oh why were we doing this ridiculous activity. To cap it all, as the wind and wave ramming increased so vanished the girls rosy cheeked contentment that stood them well for thousands of miles. Their ashen faces and silent mouths foretold of the seasickness that was to follow. As the parental guilt-o-meter soared they both brought it back down by bouncing back very quickly. In fact so fast, I was still cleaning up the mess dripping off me and the good ship Dhanu. Around these moments, Ben and I made decisions swiftly and unanimously…to port, NOW. Even though we knew there we would probably get stuck again, but anything was better than staying out in such conditions in a boat that was wet inside and with children puking. No brainer.
But it was not all bad. Of course not. Once in the lee of an island conditions were calmer and once south of Bequia, we had lovely Caribbean sailing. Which included a night sail as we stole away in the dead of night under a big moon, from Soufriere, St Lucia. That was dreamy. (aside anything else to be alone with Ben, kids snoring…it was awesome).  And of course, we got to see a lot of the Caribbean. We experienced mountains and mangroves. Rainforests that blew us away by their scale and raw untouched beauty. We were dwarfed by vegetation in Land of the Giants proportions. Of ancient trees and crystal clear rivers. Of waterfalls and their surrounding forest which had grown taller than tall forming natural vaulted cathedral like ceilings. Giant ferns. Gigantic bamboo. All around, green life determined to live high and mighty. XXL! Greenness even sprouted out of rocks. Life dripped off the trees. We saw and heard avocados literally thumping to the ground. We gorged on mangoes which were two a penny. The girls had the best diet ever. Bananas, mangoes, starfruit, advocadoes, fresh fish…as fresh as it gets! Zero for a carbon footprint. We even ate almonds off the tree…they grow on trees!

We found ourselves living very elementally. The magic that enabled all that life, the rain. At time, torrential with a capital T. It brought rainbows a plenty and stunning vistas. It topped up the rivers and the waterfalls and the pools in which we bathed. When the heavens opened, we rushed to collect the celestial freebies, gallons and gallons of pure sweet rainwater. Olive now asks before supping from her beaker “mummy, is this rainwater or tank water?’ When the reply is ‘rainwater’, she gulps it back sighing on completion, ‘ahhhh sweeeeeet rainwater’. She is of course, right. It is sweet. In Guadaloupe we found a freshwater pool that was the best bathroom we ever had. Good job as there was not much else to do there other than eat Camembert (it being france) and make the daily hike up river to splash about and get us and our clothes clean.

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In Soufriere, St Lucia as we celebrated one year living aboard and being at sea, 77 mm fell in one day. An entire months rainfall. That our bed was soaked did not matter (wooden boats leak). The deck scud washed away, the tank filled up and our buckets overflowed. The girls went mad slipping and sliding around the deck slapping their tummies like landed seals. They must be British…they seem to love the rain!

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And then there was the wind. At times it howled all around. Rigging humming like a distant drone bomber. In Deshaies, Guadaloupe, where we lay at anchor, the wind got up the day after arriving. We had 6 nervous and tense hours whilst it belted through. We prayed and hoped our anchor would not drag. Dhanu bucked and strained and somehow held whilst 45+ knots of wind beat against her. Ben and I silently waited for a lull so we could move to a mooring ball. Thankfully the lull eventually came but not before the boat next to us, dragged its anchor. We watched, wincing as the skipper used engine and nerve to keep his boat in one place. Whilst I hoped and prayed he wold not hit us! The lull eventually came. We pulled up the hook to find the shackle pin securing chain to anchor was starting to unravel. Unbelievable physical forces at play. Another sailing drama narrowly avoided. But oh what wind. Things flying away. Dinghy flipping, outboard engine dunkings. Flip flops blowing off like dust along with towels or whatever else was not tied down. Even once an entire sail in its bag! Airbourne and off the deck in seconds, destination Panama. (Yes, we know, we know…it should have been tied down. We untied it only to give the girls a crash landing pad for their airbourne deck antics. At the time we thought avoiding a head injury preferable. We didn’t give a second thought to wind so strong it could lift several kilos of heavy folded sail…stupid us).

In amongst all this, was the day to day business of parenting. What to feed the kids? What to do with the kids? How to exhaust them so they slept! How to keep them safe and sound. In Dominica, we had our first man over board experience. Alfi’s indefatigable curiosity at what lurked beneath the dinghy, saw her plop in. Head first. Thankfully we were tied up to a dock and she had her life jacket on. I was surprised at how relatively cool she seemed as her little wet face burst through the surface of the water looking, admittedly, outraged and a bit shocked. We consoled ourselves that at least we know knew we could rely on her life jacket! It was amazing at how quickly it spun her head around and pushed it toward the surface. Thank goodness.

Alfi is proving herself to be physically fearless and in fact, a complete and utter thrill seeker. She will swing off anything, she hangs like a gymnast of our bimini frame as if it were a parallel bar. I had hoped the Dominica dunking may have instilled some fear in her. Not at all. There was another near Alfi overboard antics in St Lucia, but I will save that for another day.

I have written vast amounts about the detail of all the places we visited. But who needs words…

Making it south…bit by bit…

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Approaching Portsmouth, Dominica – it was love at first sight for me.

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Milton Falls, Dominica..quite a hike with a 3 year old stuck to me

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Giant forest – Dominica

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Marigot, St Lucia – not love at first, second or fourth sight

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Soufriere and The Pitons, St Lucia on the other hand…

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Not a happy mummy (apologies for the profanity)…

But it was not all bad…all of the above unhappiness was wiped out in an instant….when it was as it is in the shots below, we felt like the luckiest little boat family alive…living without regrets.

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As for the kids…well all parents know how hard they are.  Especially so young.  Much of my stress comes not from the dare devil stuff, or from living aboard a boat with less convenience than a house.  No the stresses come from the kids. The lack of extended networks (grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, daycare) and the constant unrelenting demands they place upon one! My kids have better batteries than the duracell bunny and they simply go on and on and on and on…when it gets tough this is what becomes of them…they do get early release for good behaviour but thereafter, they are permanently on licence…

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But joking aside, it is not all about detention…they kept us laughing…There was quite a lot of this of an evening…

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And this during the day…

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And I only wish I could remember what prompted this one…

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Tata for now…

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7 Responses to Dec 3 – Getting here

  1. Bill & Carol says:

    Thanks for letting us all know you are safe, Brilliant blog Philippa. We and no doubt everyone else were getting concerned, pleased to hear it was mainly technology that was preventing you making contact. Wherever you are over Christmas enjoy, will raise a glass of Rum to you on the 25th.

  2. Cheryl Wild says:

    Lovely to hear from you and know you are well. Just what I needed to read this morning before going back into work after 2 days leave to face a barrage of stuff akin to me being away for 2 months!! The girls are looking so utterly gorgeous, it’s an absolute pleasure to be watching them grow and sharing in this magical experience with you all (I know it doesn’t always feel magical !!). Sending you all much love xxx

  3. Emma says:

    Delighted to catch up with what you have been doing. Much admiration for you all. Hope you have a lovely tropical Christmas. Alas, your videos are ‘private’ but your pix are great.

  4. Sorry all…videos should be public now…let me know if not!

  5. Nicola Jeffreys says:

    Hats off to you all. Love reading your brilliant blog and follwing your many adventures. Please send my love to Ben as I haven’t seen him for many years!

  6. Emma says:

    Fabulous!

  7. Clare says:

    Hello famous four, so happy to read. See you so so soon. We love adore and gobble your blog my darling, send you huge snoggies to you all love Clare Charlie Bella Bia Mimo xxxxxxxxxxxx

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