April 2011 - London to Bequia

6 April 2011 London to Prickly Bay, Grenada
I woke up at six o'clock and it slowly dawned on me that I was in a hotel near Gatwick about to fly out to Grenada to start a new life on a yacht – blimey!

Glenys and I had a quick breakfast and lugged our six heavy bags onto a bus to the airport.  We arrived at the check in desk at quarter to eight and joined the back of the long snaking queue.  No worries, our flight didn't leave until half past nine so we had loads of time.  Then we saw the check-in people were weighing the hand luggage - we were only allowed 5 kg for each bag, so we had ten minutes of panicking while we got out of the queue, commandeered an unused weigh machine and had to repack our bags - very embarrassing.

The flight was a typical steerage flight – babies crying, people pushing past and a little girl behind me kicking the seat as she moved about. However, the worst part was sitting next to a huge lady who overflowed across the arm rest between us so much that I had to lean to the left to avoid her. I eventually found that I could slide my arms onto the armrest behind her if I reclined my seat - the lady was so rotund that her shoulders couldn't touch the seat back. She was dressed completely in black and even had black fingernail polish which I though was a little odd. After a short while, she leaned towards me and told me that she had just lost her husband and was going to Trinidad to bury him - that put a stop to any further conversation!

Our first sight of Alba

We arrived at Pointe Saline airport at quarter past two in the afternoon with a temperature of 29 degrees, blue skies and fluffy white clouds – perfect trade wind weather. A taxi was waiting for us and took us to the apartments on the beach in Prickly Bay which were nice. I immediately dug out my binoculars and could see Alba at anchor - very exciting. By three o'clock  we’d rung Sergio and arranged for him to pick us up at half past five. Rather than hanging about for two hours, we decided to go for a walk to the Prickly Bay Marina to buy some food for breakfast and a peaked cap for me - I’d had a senior moment and packed all of my peaked caps into one of the three crates that are being shipped out on a “banana” boat arriving Monday.

When we were last here fifteen years ago, Prickly Bay Marina was a pretty little marina with a small chandlers and a small haul out area. The marina pontoons are still there, but the boat yard is now a rough looking restaurant and they've built some $1 million apartments hoping to attract rich yacht owners. It doesn't look like it has worked – I believe that most of the apartments are empty. There’s an “essentials” store at the marina that hasn't changed in the past 15 years. It’s a small shop with a few runs of shelves, is incredibly dingy and (errr…) they only have essentials. We bought a few bread rolls, cheese, fruit juice and four cans of Carib beer, but no peaked cap.

While Glenys was browsing the vast array of goods on sale, I had a quick look at a map in the Doyle pilot book for Grenada to get my bearings. I decided that we should go for a longer walk and went to check out the local restaurants at the Calabash Hotel and the Red Crab just up the road. I then dragged Glenys through the lanes and up a steep hill to Spice Island Marine about ½ mile away to continue my search for a peaked cap.

Spice Island Marine used to be a tiny little marina for small local boats, but now it’s a thriving boat yard catering for foreign yachties - a vast change compared to Prickly Bay Marina. They have a huge area for hauled out boats and a yachtie bar. There’s also an excellent chandlers, but the only peaked cap was a $25US Gill technical hat – I don’t think so…

We were very hot and sweaty by the time that we had walked back, so we had a quick beer and a shower and went to meet Sergio.

I could hardly contain my excitement as we zipped out to Alba in the RIB dinghy. She looked just as I had imagined – in fantastic condition both outside and inside. Sergio immediately wanted to show us the equipment on the boat, but I persuaded him to get out some beer and we could just have a quick look about. We chatted for about an hour and arranged to meet him for a pizza at Prickly Bay Marina at seven o’clock, which was surprisingly good.

We went to bed excited.

7 April 2011 Prickly Bay, Grenada
I woke up at two o’clock to the sound of very heavy rain thundering onto the corrugated iron roof of the apartment. The old yachtie in me awoke and I “just” had to get up and have a look at the weather. It was lashing down with gusts of wind as the squall went through. I lay there worrying about being at anchor in these conditions.

Sergio picked up us at the dinghy dock at Prickly Bay Marina at half past eight and then went to get Neil from “Lucy Ellen.” Neil and Josie sailed their Westerly across the Atlantic seven years ago and have been coming out to the West Indies for five months every year since then, which is very similar to what Sergio has been doing with Alba. Neil came out for a sail with us to steer while Sergio showed us the “ropes.”

We upped anchor and set off motoring east towards St Georges. It was all very familiar and the boat has a nice motion going downwind. The wind was from the North - a very strange direction so we ended up beating upwind once we had rounded Pointe Saline. Even though the main sail has roller reefing, all of the controls are on the mast on the port side which is OK – keeps all of the nasty ropes out of the cockpit.

The frame from the bimini interferes with the primary winches for the jib, so it is impossible to get a full rotation on the winch handle – instead you have to wind back and forwards which is incredibly inefficient – so Job No.1 will be to change the bimini frame. There are no safety lines on the deck and it is a bit exposed by the mast especially because there are no “granny rails”, so Job No.2 is to fit some safety lines.

There were some nasty looking squalls coming, so I decided to abandon the trip to St Georges and go back. By this time, the wind had come around to the East and we ended up beating back towards Pigeon Island before having to turn on the engine. The jib roller reefing jammed when pulling it back in, so Neil had to go up front to sort it out – not a problem (I hope) I think that Sergio just let it out too fast and got a riding turn. Meanwhile, I rolled in the main sail which seemed easy enough, but I had to use both hands to do it which goes against the old adage “one hand for the boat” – I’ll have to sort out a secure way of clipping myself to the mast for heavy weather. We just managed to motor into Prickly Bay and get the anchor down before the first rain squall hit us.

We spent the rest of the day going through the equipment on the boat – generator, water maker, navigation instruments, chart plotter program on the laptop, batteries, location of the spares and tools (spread randomly around the boat), etc, etc.

By four o’clock, I’d had enough information and thought that the boat was great, so I asked Sergio to drop us off at the marina. We arranged to meet him at half past six for dinner, after which, I would go onto the boat for the night and Glenys would go back to the apartment.

We had a cunning plan for the transfer of the money. We had already transferred the money to Glenys’s brother (Gareth). The plan was for me to stay on the boat overnight and ring Gareth at 0300 (0800 UK time) and tell him to transfer the money into Sergio’s bank account. Gareth would then do a CHAPS transfer and ring Sergio’s wife (Rita) and tell her that the money had been transferred. At this point, Sergio and I would be joined at the hip - he wouldn’t give me the documents until he had the money and I wouldn’t leave the boat until he had given me the documents. The nightmare scenario was that I slept in the apartment with Glenys, started the transfer and, in the morning, woke up to find the boat was gone – hence me staying on the boat.

When I got back to the apartment, I decided to call Gareth (2200hrs UK time) and instruct him to do the transfer in the morning. I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any communication problems in the middle of the night - we are still using a UK pay-as-you-go SIM card in our phones which cost about £1 per minute.

We had a few beers and a chicken roti at the bar and I was in bed on Alba by nine o’clock.

8 April 2011 Prickly Bay, Grenada
It all happened pretty smoothly. I was woken up at half past three by Glenys ringing and telling me that Gareth had rung her because he had transferred the money, but couldn’t get hold of Rita or Sergio. I woke Sergio up and he called Rita. Thirty minutes later, Rita confirmed that she had received the money. We didn’t bother to transfer the documents until after breakfast at half past six - I hadn’t slept much.

I went and picked Glenys up at eight o’clock in OUR dinghy and brought her to OUR new boat. We spent a few hours reviewing some of the more complicated equipment with Sergio and then went to customs to sort out the change of skipper and crew. I thought that the customs would want us to fill in new clearance forms and pay for a cruising permit, but they only want to see us again when we clear out. They wanted a letter from the marina stating the dates that the boat was on the hard, which Sergio sorted out pretty quickly. I just hope that this doesn’t cause us any problems when we clear in our crates next week.

By eleven o’clock, we had sorted everything out, so I dropped Sergio off at Spice island Marine and returned to Alba. We had a ten minute breather and then went in the dinghy to the beach outside our apartment to pick up our bags and check out. We spent about two hours unpacking our bags and trying to find a place for everything. Most of the clothes disappeared into lockers in the aft cabin, but the berth in the front cabin ended up piled with other stuff.

Neil & Josie came over in the afternoon (while we were trying to have a nap) to congratulate us on buying the boat. We had a cup of tea and I sold Neil the air conditioning unit that Sergio had been using when on the hard. We have no intention of spending much time on the hard and it is taking up valuable space in the cockpit locker, which is where I want to put my new diving air compressor which is hopefully arriving on the banana boat on Monday.

We went for happy hour and had another pizza with Neil & Josie – we were in bed at nine o’clock – knackered.

9 April 2011 Prickly Bay, Grenada
We were up at half past six again and decided to go into St Georges to get some food. We went over to Spice Island Marine, parked the dinghy and walked towards the roundabout on the main road. We had only gone about 100 yards before we heard the sound of a car horn. A quick wave of the hand and a mini bus screeched to a halt to take us into town.

The Carenage, St Georges

The local minibuses are great. They come along every minute or so and only cost $2.50 EC (£0.60) for the fifteen minute trip into St Georges. The drivers are obviously the cool dudes and each mini bus has a “conductor” who takes the money but is also constantly on the lookout for people walking up side streets towards the main road. There’s lots of waving and shouting to make sure that they don’t drive past a customer. Loud reggae music blares away all the time and the driver goes a fast as he can. They jam as many people in as they can, so with the heat, it is an interesting journey.

We went into the centre of St Georges and first into Digicell to get a local mobile SIM card. This was very painless and we were sorted out within ten minutes. We went to the central market which is as chaotic as it was 15 years ago. Glenys bought a few spices and vegetables and we drank fresh coconut water from a coconut hacked open with a machete.

We walked down to the Carenage to look for the Geest-line shipping agent and eventually found it behind the Nutmeg after wandering around for an hour. We then went to Food Fair which is next to the Nutmeg restaurant and did a “big food shop”, getting a taxi back to Spice Island Marine.

The afternoon was spent trying to decide where to put stuff. We had our first meal on board – sail fish steaks and a bottle of red wine – yummy.

10 April 2011 Prickly Bay, Grenada
We got up late at quarter past eight and then spent most of the day looking in lockers, under the floorboards and trying to work out where to put stuff.
It was a really nice day and not too hot, so we lounged about on deck in the afternoon doing a bit of sunbathing and reading.

We’ve decided to use the freezer as storage for cold drinks – if we set the thermostat to 4 degrees, it will keep our beer nicely chilled. It’s a large space – a case of 24 cans of beer, six bottles of coke, 4 litres of orange juice and 4 * 1½ litre bottles of water only half fill it. We obviously just need to buy more beer.