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I just arrived home in Brussels after eight months of travel, Rocio will be in Bilbao tonight.

We finally stopped in a Coruna after sailing 1100 NM with 35 knots grib in the before last day. Another crew shall be on the boat tonight to ensure that Epoksea come back safe to Paimpol. I guess that 2 months of volunteering for Glenans is enough…

And as the trip… it is not finished. It is just one more step in the trip that Rocio and me started and that hopefully shall last many more years.

I am much too close from this trip to think carefully about it now, I guess it will take me more than a couple days to assimilate and digest all those awesome souvenirs. In the meantime I will enjoy being with my family and friends that I did not see in a long time.

Bye bye and to those I missed in Britanny, don’t think I spared you because I am planning to visit you soon!

Gaspar

Bye bye Horta at last!

Very short message we are leaving Horta this evening!

 

The piece we were waiting fr did not arrive yet but in an excess of frustration Gaspar went up the mast of Zebulon, took their broken piece and with the help of Gilles (Zebulon’s new skipper) made from two broken piece one working one.

We know, we could have done that three days ago but well…

 

So see you soon in Brittany!

Technical stop in Faial

We are still stuck in the Azores, waiting for a sheave box to arrive. Indeed without this little plastic piece we cannot use the staysail halyard which enables to hoist a stormjib or a staysail. After the weather we have encountered to get here it seems to us silly to leave without it. But meanwhile we use or time to get out the marina and explore the island the best we can.

The first impression left by the local Portuguese is friendly, open and helpful people; most of them will speak either a bit of Spanish, English or French, and even if they don´t they will understand you at the condition you speak with a lot of “checheche”. The islanders produce many excellent products: cheese, meat, vegetables, so that being stuck here ends up being rather pleasant.

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Pico´s mountain, culminating some 1600 meters high

The island at first sight ressembled to Ireland with its green and rocky landscape, steep cliffs and bushes. But when approaching it, the visitor faces a vegetation mixed from tropical and northern weather: bamboos, aloe veras, pineaples and palm trees growing next to pine trees, lichens and spiny bushes. One thing is sure the Azores do not risk to lack of fresh water: from the summit of the island rivers come down in cascade down to the sea, at the top of Pico´s mountain (Pico is the island that we contemplate from the marina) snow can be seen when the clouds are gone, and finally in the week we spent here it did not rain only one day or two. In three words “we like it”. It is amusing considering how the different islands we visited since October differ: the arid Lanzarote, the green and tropical Antigua and finally the mixed green Faial. When the landscape in the Canaries was red, black, brown with black and white houses, in the Carribean blue and green with multicolor houses, here it is grey and green and black and white house. Although the houses have the same color as in the Canaries you could not confuse an Azorian house from a Canarian: the orange clay roofs are typical here and usually the walls are ornamented with curvy shapes or contrasted walls of black stones and white cement.

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Horta´s architecture in what looked like the poshy neighbourhood

The central point of Faial is Horta, with its harbour famous for sailing boats who each year stop here before continuing towards the Med or n0rthern Europe. The harbour is covered of paintings from the boats who passed here and you can easily spend a full day looking at all of them trying to find a known boat. It is apparently bad luck to leave the harbour without leaving your trace. We became sligtly supersticious after our last experience (left Martinique on Friday and we broke, Zebulon left Guadeloupe on Friday, they got bashed up in the storm for four days…) and so left our mark too.

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Horta´s pier from Zebulon´s mast

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Our mark!

As we mentioned Zebulon, the third Glenans´boat had a harder crossing than us. They spent four days in the storm, running in front of gigantic waves, breaking sails and generally being shaken around in their polyester tupperware. So we escorted them inside the harbour: they arrived with a staysail rigged as a main (the mainsail having been ripped from leech to luff in two places). For us it was a pleasure to welcome friends who did not hesitate to turn back to help us when we stopped in Guadeloupe.

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Zebulon´s arrival to Horta

Last Sunday our presence in the marina was not required (nothing to do on the boat, no help to give to our friend) and so we took or chance and rented a car for an express tour of the island. We were recommended to drive around the island anti-clockwise, visit the Western point that extended in a volcanic irruption some sixty years ago. On our way we stopped for a typical lunch and admire the view from some of the many splendid “Miradouro”. Funny enough, these “Miradouro” are all equipped with a stone barbecue which made us think that goiung around with a machette and coal you could survive: chop the cow, light up the fire and eat excellent meat in a wonderful environment.

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Enjoying the view from a “Miradouro”

On the way back we drove up to the summit of the island hoping to climb high enough to be above the clouds. We did not manage… we could only see 20 meters in front of us, far enough to spot the odd cow standing on the road.

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“Slow down it looks like there is… a cow? a cow on the road?!…”

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“How high is it?”   (extension of the island)

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The recent western extension of Faial

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The pine tree forest around the vulcano of Faial

It is indeed very nice in here, but on the other hand we are waiting forward to our piece to arrive as soon as possible and to go out sailing again, this time towards the continent where hopefully our friends and family have not forgotten us. For the moment… we will stay in Horta until next notice.

From Guadaloupe to the Azores

We sailed away from Guadeloupe on the 6th of April at 13h UT.  Des Mers d´Arts, the sistership of our Epok´sea, left in the same time as us. Zebulon the third boat of les Glenans left a day before, on Friday…

We had to clear first the point of Guadeloupe sailing 30 NM upwind in a choppy sea. At the point we were rewarded by our first catch: a barracuda that we threw back in the water (they have a bad reputation of Sicuatera carrier). We headed then NNW, reaching under genoa and full main towards the Anticyclone of Bermuda in a gentle and warm tradewind.

The RM was responding well after a week in Guadeloupe, fresh and happy crew, nets full of fruits and vegetables, sun and breeze….

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The saloon with our netting still full of food, our “cozy” little house for the next month or two.

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Noodles in the morning, the breakfast of the champions

Several days later we were further North but further West than DMA and our secret objective was getting more precise: catch up with Zebulon who started to slow down at the approach of the Anticyclone. Hitting the light airs of this Anticyclone located desperately far North and far West, we took out the spinnaker. We hoped to be fast enough to compensate for the extra miles of contourning the Anticyclone, by opposition of DMA who motored through the calm weather.

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Taking out the big guns, we set as much sails as possible. Result: same speed but more colors.

And one morning, we were slowly making our way under spinnaker and on the horizon we saw the silhouette of a yacht… Zebulon parked in no wind. We hoped to surprise them but the man on watch was attentive: five minutes later VHF call “Epoksea Epoksea Epoksea pour Zebulon Zebulon Zebulon…”. We motored to meet up and exchange some little presents: tobacco, photos, solar shower, limes… After the exchange the wind picked up and we match raced each other under spinnaker. For 30 minutes we held them behind our transom until they beared away and their longer boat overtook us. Wishing to make this common tack last, they dropped their spinnaker for lunch giving us the time for a sneaky gybe. For the first time we were then heading straight towards the Azores. Zebulon on the other hand decided to make a route more North to rally Concarneau without stopping in the Azores.

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Exchange of presents with the spinnaker halyard

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Tricky hoist of the Glenans banner in the light air of Bermuda´s high

We continued our trip towards the east slowly sailing away from the high pressure. As it started getting colder and colder, it was harder for everyone to get out from our sleeping bags, we changed the bikini for the salopette and forgot about taking showers until the arrival.

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5 minutitos más…

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Winter is coming

The conditions had changed after the light wind of the anticyclone and the wind started to come straight from the Azores. Sailing upwind on choppy seas wasn’t much fun and everyone onboard started to get a bit tired of being washed by the wave breaking on the cockpit every minute. We were downloading the weather forecast daily, hoping to see some arrows pointing east, but it was all on our faces and getting stronger as the days passed. Forecast since the 21st of April for the 24th: winds of 40 knots and waves of 8 meters. From then on we started sailing south east as fast as we could to try and avoid this danger area that we had marked in our chart drawing a big square where we didn’t want to be in. We were lucky and only got one day of this bad weather (1 day is enough!). Our barometer went from 1008 to 993 in 12 hours, the waves from the north got bigger and steeper and the wind stronger.At the helm, the objective was to bear away and surf the wave under storm jib. That is how we achieved our maximum speed of the crossing: 12.3 knots!

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Running under the storm jib. Top speed: 12 knots 

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Surfing 8 meter waves, cooking pot on the fire

The nextday the waves calmed down a little bit and they were more long than steep, so everyone onboard took his time to get some sleep. Our Iridium phone had stop working but we had the grib file with the weather forecast from the previous day until the 29th of April. This showed a bit of hope: we´d soon get to southerly winds on the other side of this low pressure which had caused all this nasty weather earlier, enabling us to sail north east straight to the Azores. It proved accurate and we had a couple of days of nice reaching-running and we even caught a big tuna! By the end of the day we were all full but happy to have the luxury of eating so fresh fish after some days of tinned meals.

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Gaspar holding our trophy

We were approaching Horta and the mood of the crew was quite up…but the wind didn’t want us to forget his strength and decided to blow 30 knots from the East on our last day of navigation. 3 x reefed mainsail, staysail hoisted on spinnaker halyard, since the piece that holds the staysail halyard at the mast had come off, and sailing against the waves towards Horta yihaaa!

That night the visibility was very bad so it took a while until we could spot the lights of the island, but then, there it was, waiting for us. We dropped the sails in front of Horta, where another sailing boat was doing the same thing… We got in the visitors pontoon at 4h UT on the 29th of April. And at 4h05min UT, there was Des Mer D’ Arts arriving behind us! Such a coincidence after having departed Guadeloupe at the same time the same day but doing completely different routes, the two RMs got back simultaneously. We celebrated with some beers and breakfast at Peter’s Bar. After 22 days and 12 hours of navigation, most of it upwind and with reefed mainsail and solent, it felt good to be on land.

Our little grey and red RM carried us safely across 3100 NM of sea. It only got bashep up a little bit and we are now fixing its bruises: couple tear in the sail, stay to change… hopefully we will soon be on our way again towards Britanny.

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Our route from Guadeloupe to Horta

Zebulon, the third boat of the Glenans that departed from Guadeloupe, had a bit more of a rough time going North.  We are expecting them in Horta tomorrow morning, 3rd of May.

One thing is sure… crossing the Atlantic back in April is not always so smooth… Unfortunately for some it was even harder: “Grain de Soleil” – a french boat who left St Martin on the 6th and that we overtook on the 13th North of Bermuda´s high – started its distress beacon (EPIRB) on the 24th. Since then we have no news of them. The family and friends of the three sailors are still searching for them. If you wish to help them visit their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grain-de-soleil-Moussette/

Safe and happy

Very short message without picture:

we arrived safe and happy in Horta (Açores) on the 29th at 05h00 UT. The RM brought us safely here although we got a couple things to fix up. More nwes in the days to come and a summary of the crossing with pictures! promised!

 

Gaga and Roro

 

Martinique and 150 NM later

We write on the blog and yes we should be at sea now. No, the Iridium did not improve, we don’t write from the middle of the Atlantic but from Guadeloupe…

We left the harbour of le Marin on Friday 29th, sailed down the coast to a little bay waiting for the next day when the second RM would be ready to go to sea. On saturday we sailed around the South of Martinique and started to sail Northwards into the night. Neat conditions: 15 to 20 knots of wind on the beam, a bit of swell but nothing terrible, full mainsail up and genoa. Everything seemed to indicate we were heading for a good 150 NM daily run.

At 3h45 local time, Gaspar is on watch, autopilot on he goes down below to visit the heads. Sitting on the throne he can hears some weird noise from the steering… After inspection it becomes obvious that the top bearing holding the rudder shaft into the boat is moving sideways of several milimeters and should not be… After waking up Dan to confirm what Gaspar saw, we changed course towards Guadeloupe to repair. At 7h30 local time it is Dan’s tun to wake up Gaspar: “we should have a word…” Arrived in the cockpit Dan lifts the cockpit hatch to reveal that the deck is coming loose from the bulkheads below under the action of the main traveller… we are definetely heading to Guadeloupe! Big repair. The main is lowered quickly, the evacuation material stored in the cockpit ready for use… After six hours of engine we reached Pointe-à-Pitre. The two other boats of les Glénans changed course to meet us up.

Sorry if I will describe the failures a bit “technically” but I will do my best. Both failures seem to be due to an error of design rather than misuse of the boat. Indeed the second RM presented signs of the two failures coming too. The deck coming loose from the deck is probably due to insufficient bonding area between deck and bulkhead and a concentration point around a cut in the bulkhead (the bulkhead was probably cut after being assembled when the workers realised that it was in the way of a bolt of the mainsail track…). The deck is made in 25 mm PVC foam sandwich, with an upper fiber layer rather thick (4 mm) but a bottom layer very thin (1 mm). Around the rudder bearing the deck layup wasn’t altered to single skin or a tougher core than the foam. Therefore when the bearing is fixed tight by its six bolts, the lower flange crushes into the sandwich. After a while the foam crushes more and the bearing come loose…

The yard found a quick and efficient way to fix those two problems: remove the foam and replace with an epoxy putty tougher in compression. They added a larger bottom plate to spread the compression on the lower sandwich skin on a larger area of the deck.

For the deck coming loose from the bulkheads, they relaminated but also added two stainless steel legs taking the vertical efforts of the mainsail track straight t the bulkheads rather than transmitted through the fiberglass bonding layers.

I add here a couple picture to illustrate:

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deck coming loose from bulkhead, notice the cut out in the bulkhead to fit the bolt… concentration of stress around the corners then…

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Repair by the yard, stainless steel leg (painted white) taking the efforts straight to the bulkhead: 6 hours of extra work max, could be worth telling RM about that…

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Top rudder bearing seen from below deck (the rudder is out the boat in this picture), the yard replaced the foam core and added the larger teflon ring to spread the loads.

The good thing is that we learned how to drop a rudder with the boat still afloat. We will concede this to RM, they made their steering system for easy handling: a halyard can be attached to the top of the rudder stock, after un-tightening pilot arm and everything else from the stock it comes down nice and easy. The rudder is heavy enough not to float (otherwise impossible to drop it with the boat afloat) but not to much so that one person can pull it out the water.

But this stop-over was not without its good moments too: Rocio met up with the German girls we met in Dominica to go to the beach, we learned to dance a bit of salsa and build up a good solidarity between the crew of the three Glénans boats.

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Rocio showing to her German friends how to pause on a Guadeloupe’s beach

We are now planning on leaving tomorrow morning, the weather forecast seems a bit more difficult, so we will have to think more about where do we go. Hopefully see you in a month in Brittany!

C’est parti!

And our time in the warm Caribbean came to an end… We will be setting sails today towards Paimpol, Brittany, onboard Epoksea, an RM 10.5 of the Glénans. The boat is ready after a week of work, checks, cleaning and provisioning and her crew are more than ready to be out there again: Atlantic here we come! With Gaspar as capitain, Rocio as femme des capitains, Dan the Irish who repairs everything and Clotilde the French lady, we can not complain about company!
This time we will start heading north from Martinique towards Bermuda, and then east to the Azores. The weather looks quite good for the first days with easterly and eventually northeast winds of about 15 knots, although once out there, who knows! We will be downloading forecasts and making our route as we go.
And because I am writing against the clock before the departure, I will just leave you with some pictures of beautiful Dominica: Enjoy and we will be back in about a month! (¿?)

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Morning views from our shed at Stonedge Hotel

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Coco surprise, is anyone in there?

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Victoria Falls

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Titou Gorge, doesn’t it remind you of a scene of Pirates of the Caribbean?

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Caribbean salute: Bones of my bones, heart of my heart

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On the way to Boiling Lake

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Did you know that pinneaples grow like that?

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First valley of desolation on the way to Boiling Lake, the sulfur smell is on the air

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Rastafari in Zion Valley

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Coco tree in Batibou Beach

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“x” Dominican flower

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Boeri Lake, ice cold water!

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Batibou Beach

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Food on the forest

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House pet

St. Maarten with a touch of the BVIs and The Story of the Crab

Since I haven’t written in a long time because I didn’t have a computer with me (yeah… right) I am getting back to you with an explosive, fascinating, amazing combo of all the events that happened to me since I last saw Gaspar at the airport in Miami.
After spending 5 months on two non stop it was quite exciting to get on my own, have some time for myself and rediscover the pleasures and displeasures of travelling alone.
I arrived in St. Maarten on the night of the 1st of March and I was welcomed by Davide onboard Lady Ann, a wooden charter boat which did the ARC and we had previously met in Las Palmas. He and George, the captain, were racing the Heineken Regatta (1st to 3rd of March) and so I spent my first two days exploring on my own and the nights checking out the parties organized for the race.

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Lady Ann moored at Palapa Marina, St. Martin

Little geographic explanation: Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, is a half dutch half french island on the north west of Antigua. Other islands around are Anguilla, the chic and expensive St. Barth, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Eustatius and the mysterious Saba. The border of the two countries is pretty much a straight line that places the Gouda eaters in the south and the Camembert eaters in the north. Due to free tax policy, the island attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world who enjoy buying cheap tobacco, alcohol, electronics and jewlery. And yes, it is a party island.
Lady Ann was moored in Palapa Marina, Simpsons Bay, a huge lagoon very well protected from the wind and swell and accessible from the sea by a lifting bridge which opens a couple of times by day. This lagoon hosts so many boats that one would get bored counting them, even more during the Heineken Regatta. It is quite nice if you have got a dinghy because you can go everywhere on the lagoon in a few minutes, but forget about swimming, with so many motor boats/floating hotels on a closed area the water is pretty dirty.

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And the bridge opened and the cars had to leave way to the boats…

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On my first day I went to Philipsburg. I did what every tourist on this island does, I went to an electronics shop and bought a camera (no excuses now). On the shop I met Giuseppe (was that his name?) a guy from Sicilia that had bought the same camera as me. That made us talk, it is amazing how you talk to everybody when you travel alone) and we ended up spending the afternoon together in Maho Beach.
Maho Beach: famous for being next to the the airport, making it a tourist attraction to stand behind the planes when they are about to take off, so all the sand goes into your eyes and your hat and eventually your bikini flies away.

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Plane landing in Maho beach, St. Martin

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People flying after plane take off in Maho Beach (the black and white is me trying the effects of my new toy)

The next day I went to see the french side, Marigot, hoping to see a bit of the race from the marina over there. But it was too far and I decided to go to the beach, which I thought, was pretty close. But it wasn’t and I ended up lost for about 3 hours walking through doggy areas with angry dogs and local men telling me ‘hey love…’ Hard minded, I kept on walking believing that I was going to find a beach since I was going around the coastline and I was on an island. And so I did. I found one of these touristic beaches with an expensive restaurant and where people look bad at you if you lay on the sand istead of taking a hamac for 10 dollars. But it was good enough and after a refreshing swim I felt that I was very hungry. So I went to the expensive french restaurant on the beach and asked for the cheapest salad and a bottle of water. Hopefully, it came with lots of bread and butter, vive la France!

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10 dollar hamacs at “x” beach, St. Martin

The following days my hosts in Lady Ann were not racing anymore so I helped them a bit with the work on the boat and we visited a beautiful beach called Mullet Bay, less touristy and with amazingly clear water… I am sorry but I forgot my camera, so you will have to go if you want to know how it looks like.
The date of my first delivery for Sunsail arrived and I moved to Loes’ apartment the day before. Loes is a dutch capitana, my host for the second week in the island, who loves travelling and the sea. She knows all the techniques needed for doing customs in the different islands (hard job sometimes). If you want you can have a look at her website: http://www.oliveadventure.nl.
We had to deliver a Beneteau 50 to Tortola, about 90 miles from St. Maarten. We decided to do it by day so we could anchor and spend the night and the morning in a nice place before bringing the boat to the Sunsail base in the main island of the BVIs. We were unlucky with the wind and we had to motor all the way to the BVIs, without major incidents apart from some seaweed in the filter of the engine, that we had to dismount and clean before it would get over heated. We finally arrived and anchored in front of Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. Apparently, Cristobal Colon gave this name to the island because it has the shape of a woman lying; it looks to me he had spent too many days at sea to have such imagination… We woke up next morning and went for a snorkelling, it was beautiful.

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Underwater BVIs

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Airport Beach, BVIs

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Sunset approaching Tortola, BVIs

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Sunsail and The Moorings base in tortola, BVIs

We flew back to St. Maarten that evening and got ready for the same trip, this time of a Beneteau Oceanis 50.5 (pretty similar but newer than the other one). Again we had no wind and quite a bit of swell, so we arrived directly at the base in Tortola and spent the night there, to fly back again the next day.
The BVIs gave me a good impression in general. With so many island it is a great place to go by boat and anchor in beautiful bays where pirates used to hide. The only problem is that many people think like this and it can be a bit too crowded.
Back in St. Maarten Loes had to leave on charter and I spent my last days on the island alone alone. Apart from the daily yoga lessons (my new discovery introduced by Davide) and long walks on the beach I didn’t do much. I felt a little lonely and willing to leave to a different place.

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Relaxing lonely walks on the beach, St. Martin, clouds are sometimes apreciated

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Just casual, A, St. Martin

And the day arrived. Mathieu, a french captain picked me up for my last Sunsail delivery to Antigua. Now it was a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 41. Mathieu’s philosophy was to always sail on the windward side of the islands so the wind is constant and there is less traffic. It was a good choice and we sailed almost all the way, during the night, doing watches of 2h. We arrived in Jolly Harbour in the morning, where a big group of Sunsail people who had just arrived like us were invited to a big lunch onboard one of the boats. And after that, off to the airport again and… Dominica here we come!

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Approaching Antigua

 I will writte more about Dominica in the days to come when we have had time to explore a bit more. But for the moment I leave you with The Story of the Crab:
Once upon a time there was a crab living peacefully in his shed in a guesthouse in Dominica. One night, his peace was disturbed by a big animal who came to share her shed. The big animal thought that the crab was a huge spider and, horrified, she slept enclosed in her sleeping bag despite the 40 degrees of temperature inside the shed. But the next morning, when the big animal woke up (surely weighting 5 kg less after a sweaty night) she saw her companion: a little shy crab! She named the crab Vanessa and both of them live now happily with each other, waiting for the third big animal to come from Martinique…

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Vanessa