Given the wet, rainy and overcast start to the day, while at anchor in Baie Hanamoenoa, Tahuata, in the Marquesas Islands, we decided there was no better time to sit and write this article, on this day, 1st April 2016.
A certain calm has descended on the anchorage after the last of the yachts of the World ARC fleet departed yesterday for a rendezvous in Nuku Hiva; one we have decided to skip in order to more fully enjoy our independent sailing time until the rendezvous in Tahiti. With their departure, our cruising life seems to have returned to an even keel, mirroring that which we had grown used to as full-time cruisers in the Caribbean for the past two years.
It would be an understatement to say that life has been completely hectic up until this point in the rally. We knew the World ARC itinerary was fast, for reasons well documented, but we never expected the level of stress associated with it and has certainly had us wondering whether we are indeed retired or have just changed roles and responsibilities in a more challenging environment.
We left Bequia, soon after our Christmas celebrations had come to a close, with the intention of spending New Year in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, before heading into the marina on 2nd January 2016, in time for the opening of the World ARC office. Knowing we were well prepared and with ample time to spare, we were looking forward to a fairly relaxed week, with only the last of our fresh produce provisioning to do, leading up to the start of the rally on 9th January 2016. We were aware that we had to complete the World ARC Safety Inspection, but other than a few get-togethers, a Skippers Briefing and a farewell function, we assumed we had plenty of time to arrange a dive to the Pitons as well as enjoy some of the sites that St Lucia had to offer. For this reason we had purposefully skipped this Caribbean island during our previous sailing season, expecting that we would have the time prior to the start of the rally. Well, best laid plans!
After introducing ourselves at the World ARC office, we were promptly presented with information detailing such a full itinerary for the remainder of the entire week, to the extent that we had to squeeze in and split our provisioning time over two days. It was bedlam to say the least, with neither one of us getting to bed earlier than midnight on a single night. It was so busy that we were trying to squeeze out time for cruising friends who had taken the trouble to come and see us off. Elaine was icing Roy’s birthday cake in the middle of the night so that it would be ready for his birthday celebrations the following morning. In all this mayhem, Elaine didn’t even get a chance to practice her Happy Birthday renditions on the saxophone. Needless to say, it was a disaster, when trying to play it for Roy on the day, in between getting Paw Paw ready to leave the marina for the noon start. Combine that with trying to remember boat names and the names of 150+ people so as not to embarrass ourselves when we next encountered a fellow participant on the dock. Although we were all issued with name tags and dutifully wore them, failing eyesight meant peering into someone’s chest to read them. What a carry-on!
It didn’t help matters that, after the time had lapsed to contest any of the handicaps that had been posted on the noticeboard, we learnt that two of the faster and larger boats had been given a better handicap than ours, after the fact. Although Elaine brought the matter to the attention of the organisers to no avail, it was rather disheartening to realise that no matter what we would do, we would never qualify for a prize. Although the rally is touted as not being a race, this seemed rather underhanded, since we only learnt of the change during the Skippers Briefing at the end of the week and left a somewhat sour taste in our mouths. It was more of a bitter pill to swallow when one of these yachts won the first Leg in the catamaran division – So much for: “It’s a slow and heavy boat hence the rating”! As with all these things, it’s always a case of “follow the money” as we discovered Lagoon is a huge sponsor of ARC events.
The highlight of Roy’s birthday though, was spending it with TiSento (Agnes and Bas), who stopped by to unload the last of our goodies that they had bought for us in Martinique and, of course, with nerves and excitement mounting, with each tick of the clock, we were commencing a lifelong dream – 35 years in the waiting for Roy, 8 years in the planning and preparation. It was indeed a dream come true and a very emotional time for both of us, especially when we heard the horns blowing from our cruising friends who were in the anchorage to wave us off as we presented Paw Paw to the “race” committee boat.
While the route of the World ARC Rally is well documented, the one leg that Elaine was not looking forward to was the leg from St Lucia to Santa Marta, Colombia, primarily because of the time of the year we were rounding the Colombian Cape and the notorious storms associated with it. Fortunately, we had the most benign weather we could ever have wished for and rounded the Cape in flat, following seas, glorious sunshine and fair winds. We were off to a great start! Unfortunately twelve hours out from Santa Marta we hit the compression zone with winds in excess of 35 Kts and flew into the anchorage of Santa Marta at 0230 with blinding lights everywhere, doing 10 – 12Kts and having to overtake one of the World ARC yachts, Giampi, within one mile of the finish line because they seemed to have stopped dead in the water. Our hurtle over the finish line resulted in us nearly t-boning a tanker, which, minutes before, was at anchor, but decided to berth and block the entire entrance as we approached. With Elaine about to jump overboard in fright and screaming to Roy that we’re going to end up toothpicks, Roy, in a very calm voice indicated that “now was not the time to panic”, following which he turned Paw Paw around and headed back towards the finish line, much to the dismay of everyone aboard Giampi, who by now, had surely deemed us certifiable!
After leaving our hurricane season cocoon, Prickly Bay, Grenada, on 15th November 2015, we headed for Carricou, where we arrived safe and sound after a rather long day in very lumpy seas and stronger than predicted winds. It was here where we said goodbye to TiSento (Agnes and Bas) until Christmas, where we planned to meet in Bequia. Our thanks go out to them for contributing to a great hurricane season, one of numerous laughs and plenty of fond memories to take with us, as well as looking after Paw Paw for us while we were in the UK. That said, Carricou will be remembered for the enormous lobster we enjoyed for dinner prior to our departure, but also, unfortunately, for the custom and immigration personnel, who were not only extremely rude to Elaine and other cruisers who were clearing out, but who also passed on an infection that resulted in Elaine having a relapse of her psittacosis pneumonia soon after our arrival in Martinique on 18th November 2015.
We did, however, enjoy an amazing day and overnight sail from Carricou to Martinique prior to falling ill. Besides a text book execution to predetermined coordinates supplied by our weather routing software, we had it all - Strong winds, no winds, flat seas, confused, heavy seas, large tankers, very large tankers, cruise ships, fishing boats, fishing pods, some moon, no moon, rain, no rain. It was, however, the brilliance of the stars in the pitch blackness, the whales that passed us to starboard as the sun set, the day breaking as we sailed into St Anne's anchorage, dropping the hook as the sun peered over the horizon and the grande cafe au lait et pain au chocolat which we enjoyed for an early morning breakfast after a hot shower, that made this passage memorable indeed and one that makes this lifestyle all worthwhile!
By 22nd November 2015, however, Elaine was “man down” and it was definitely no fun being sick in paradise. She was hoping her body could fight off the infection without any aid, but when her temperature hit 102.2F, it was time to take the antibiotics that we had on board. This was the price to pay for not being vigilant with the sick immigration officer and, in her annoyance after having words with him, forgot to wash her hands when she got back to Paw Paw. Lesson learnt – After all these years Elaine’s psittacosis pneumonia is not to be taken lightly! Unfortunately, whatever had triggered Elaine’s relapse, rendered Roy “man down” a few days later. The silver-lining was that we had both fallen ill in the beautiful, protected anchorage of St Anne’s with first world doctors and hospitals close at hand.