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We’d had 8 nights aboard Pelican Pete on our first bareboat charter in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There had definitely been some ups and downs, but the stress of some sail and engine issues had been erased by a night at Glossy Bay.
We only had 2 nights left on board, and we were determined to make the most of it. This trip really was our litmus test for if we could hack boat life.
Day 9 – Canouan to Bequia
At 11:30, after a final banana bread snack, it’s time to leave Glossy Bay. the dockhands free our mooring lines and there’s some commotion as we leave. One of the dockhands managed to drop his phone in the water as he untied us. It’s nobody’s fault but I still feel guilty.
Crossing to Bequia
Once we’re in the lee of Canouan we get the sails out, and for a while, we make good time. We’re slowed a little by having to reef the sails. Squalls keep hitting us, then departing with no wind behind them. For the first time this trip we get a good soaking. It’s a small price to pay – we’re finally feeling more confident at putting in a reef quickly and we’re in a good mood.
Once we start to pass Bequia, we have a choice between tacking in or motoring. We opt for the latter as there’s more rain coming, and we don’t feel we can trust the wind. Motoring is useless, we just inexplicably have so little power. We at least have time to put our wet weather gear on before the rain hits us this time. All the rain makes for an almost chilly day at times, the air is cool. The upside is a beautiful full rainbow between Bequia and Isle a Quatre.
It’s turning in to a long day, and it’s clear we’re not having lunch, so we eat biscuits and Tostitos every so often.
Moving but going nowhere
We lose time reeling in the heavy fishing line, which disappointingly turns out to just have a massive clump of sargassum on it. We’re exhausted by this point, and motoring isn’t getting us anywhere.
We raise the sails again and tack in, with another soaking and another rainbow on the way. The mysterious Moonhole is to our right and the light is gorgeous so I get the SLR out for photos. We decide to go into Lower Bay as our final tack is leading us straight there, and I’m honestly not sure we can face another.
I get the sails in and we drop anchor at 6 pm – it’s been 6.5 hours of toil to get us 26 miles. Thankfully the holding is good and the Bay beautiful. Within half an hour Colin has snorkelled on the anchor, the deck is tidy, and the bed is made up with clean sheets. We’ve both showered (with the shower pump finally working) and we’re eating bacon and mozzarella sandwiches on deck with a beer. The sunset is beautiful, the first where we see the sun properly meet the horizon.
It’s a bit chilly and we both have to layer up, but I’m glad to be in a settled, quiet anchorage, and fed. We’re both also delighted to be back in earshot of frogs which we’d missed the last couple of nights. The cold and the hard cockpit are too much for me after a tiring day so we retreat indoors. I’m shocked to find myself wanting a blanket as well as my baggy cashmere cardigan. In over 20 years of visiting the Caribbean, I’ve never felt the need for an extra layer at night.
I cook some chicken ramen as dinner part two which warms me up, and we sit reading and fighting sleep until it’s after 9 pm.
Day 10 – “Relaxing” in Bequia
We get a night of good solid sleep, though Colin gets woken up early thinking we’re swinging on the anchor. Thankfully we aren’t, but the snubber has come off so he fixes that. We let ourselves have a proper lie in until 8:30.
The plan for the day is to relax as much as possible.
We eat breakfast and read a little. As we eat we spot the woman on the yacht closest to ours lean up as she’s doing something on her dingy to kiss a pet. We see that she has a liveaboard cat. We almost don’t want to leave as we want to see the cat more!
We finally dinghy ashore, which is a dinghy ride of close to a mile to the edge of town. After getting rid of garbage and recycling we walk through town and back, looking in a few shops.
We visit a lovely Batik studio, where we buy a cushion cover as a memento of our first bareboat charter. It’s not cheap at over £50 but we decide it’s art, not homeware. We wouldn’t worry about spending that on a painting after all. I love some of the dresses and shirts in the shop but they’re just too much for our budget. We also look in on the studio of the resident doctor-come painter, who paints stunning underwater vistas. These sell for a LOT. I had hoped to find some pottery but no luck – I’d wanted to replace a broken mug from the BVIs.
We take a walk all the way to Lower Bay, getting the odd shower from the rain on the way. As we pass the Plantation House a group of three dogs joins us. The welcoming party show us the way to Princess Margaret Beach where they leave us. Amusingly, they meet us again at the same spot on the way back and walk us all the way back along.
Our minds turn to lunch. I really want roti – it’s one of our favourite Caribbean foods and we’re running out of chances to have it. Whaleboner, where our dinghy is, doesn’t have it despite showing it on the menu. They suggest trying the Green Boley, but their chef is off for the week. In the end, we go back to Whaleboner and settle for sharing a club sandwich and tuna sandwich and fries. Throughout the dogs lie under our chairs, and when we go to dinghy back they follow us and sit on the dinghy dock staring at us.
A change of scenery
Back on Pelican Pete we raise the anchor and bring her closer into town so we won’t have such a long dinghy ride after dinner. We get her settled and open beers then realise we forgot to buy bread! Colin goes back ashore and leaves me reading (and being too much of a wuss to use the hammock in the wind). He comes back empty-handed – it’s too late in the day for bread.
We hail Daffodil marine services and ask for Ice, and they let us know there’s a guy who delivers bread in the morning. It’s nice to just lounge around for a while in the afternoon, watching flying fish. Eventually though, we have to pack, but at least we’re doing it once the air has cooled off. We shower as the sun sets rather unimpressively, with fishermen line trawling around us.
Back at Papa’s
We lock up extra carefully, leaving lights on including one on deck. It’s probably over-cautious but we’ve read this is a hotspot for burglary. We then dinghy ashore to the formal town dinghy dock, from which it’s only a few minutes walk to Papa’s Bar. We share conch fritters, then I have conch curry and Colin has red snapper fajitas (more a burrito). Both are excellent.
As we eat we can hear a steel pan band elsewhere playing songs like Material Girl and Hallelujah. We’ve always loved steel pan, it’s so soothing. The house band at Papa’s starts up as we’re waiting for the bill and we decide it’s the right time to head back to the boat. Working out our meals, I’d expected on our 10-night trip to eat dinner ashore 5 times, and lunch 3-4 times. In the end, it’s been 4 dinners and 5 lunches which I’m pretty happy with. As we pay for dinner we chat to Gert, the manager. We of course don’t have the gall to ask for the free meal that the owner, our friend Andrew back in Scotland, said we should ask for.
As we get back to the dinghy locals are line fishing from the dock. I don my head torch and we thankfully make it back across the bay to Pelican Pete without mishap, seeing some fish in the light as we go. I’m very pleased to get out of the dinghy for the last time – I’m never that confident making the mad scramble back on to the boat to tie her on. We’ve also really grown to hate the outboard. We have a beer in the cockpit then head to bed at around 9:30 to read a little.
Things that go bump in the night
It’s a howling night, and we’re getting swung about all over, with lots of clanks from the boat. I’m struggling to sleep and missing the smoother anchorage we had at Lower Bay the night before.
I hear a big thunk and it wakes Colin up, he runs outside in just his boxers and calls back that we’ve got a catamaran on us!
It’s around 11:45, and Impala has dragged her anchor and knocked onto our port bow. Colin lets out more anchor to move us back. I run forward with a fender to get between us, while we both push her starboard hull away. Our commotion thankfully wakes the owner (we’ve not thought to call him) who comes out.
Knowing where he was earlier, I call to him “you’ve swung your anchor” (he’s dragged but close enough), and he says “I know, I know” and starts his engine to move forward. He gets clear of us and starts to reset his anchor, and we go forward to check the damage and our own anchor.
Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be much harm, but we’re on the rope, having let our all of our anchor chain. We have a tough job raising it back on to the windlass. I never thought I’d find myself on the bow at midnight in my PJs wearing a head torch and hauling on an anchor!
There’s an unsettling feeling with Impala re-anchoring nearby in the dark – she gets uncomfortably close again. We get the anchor chain back on the windlass at last, but we have more scope than before. We settle into the cockpit to be sure of our swing room just in case. Colin’s anchor alarm shows we’ve actually held firm throughout.
We work out that Impala is a local yacht, which runs day trips to other islands. Of all the yachts in the bay to drag her anchor we did not expect it to be one that’s used to being here! It’s even more surprising as the sandy bottom gives good holding. We make a note of what happened, eat ginger nuts, and check our charter agreement for what we should do after a collision. We’ll have to get a declaration from Impala’s owner confirming what happened in the morning.
Weirdly, although it’s very windy it doesn’t feel as wild outside as it does below, which calms me a little. We head back to bed just after 1 am reassured that we’re holding and won’t swing into anyone.
A long night
Colin can’t sleep, so he gets up. I tell him to wake me in an hour and we can take watches. He comes back after 45 minutes and decides we’re fine. Not long after, at 2:40, the anchor alarm sounds. Thankfully it’a a false alarm.
I tell Colin to sleep as I feel it’s more important that he’s well rested for the journey back to St Vincent. Even though we’re equally qualified, my lack of confidence means he’s tended to take the lead on passages. I sit and read on deck wrapped in a blanket until I finish my book, then watch the sky as the sun rises. The wind slows a little and the light makes me feel more comfortable.
I finally head down to sleep at 5:30.
Day 11 – Bequia to St Vincent
Colin’s alarm goes off at 7:30. I’ve slept for only 2 hours. I’d maybe managed an hour and a bit before the drama, and half an hour since, so have had maybe 3.5-4 hours all night. I try to stay asleep while Colin is in the bathroom, but I hear a call which I’m sure will be the bakery boat. Sure enough when I run outside it is, so I flag him over to buy banana bread and croissants.
We dismantle our makeshift bed, glad to see the end of it. Colin heads over to Impala in the dinghy to get a note about the anchor incident, and in the meantime I get everything as tidy as possible. We eat breakfast and apply suncream, then raise the anchor at 8:45 which should give us plenty of time to get back to Barefoot by the 12:00 deadline.
The final passage
It’s incredibly windy, a good force 5-6, so we reef the mainsail and bring it out with some difficulty. We don’t feel safe going forward in the conditions, but we have no choice. I don’t think I’ll forget how it feels to cling on to the mast for dear life while hooking in the reefs.
We tentatively bring out the gib, and then bring it back to a very small amount. It’s just too windy to have more. There’s a swell, and big waves that we bounce off, meaning a fair soaking to keep us awake. I sit on the cockpit sole, my favourite place when it’s wild.
We’re making good time and feeling the end is near when I spot that the backstays are flapping. The forestays must also be, as the gib is bending in an odd way.
Thats… not good
This is alarming, to say the least – that’s what holds the mast up! We quickly bring in the sails and hope we can motor in, but the motor is still dropping out of drive. This is around 10:45, and we start to call Barefoot on the VHF, with no answer.
After 45 or so minutes we still can’t reach them, and putting out a little foresail carefully does not help us. We’re feeling stuck, and we’re getting further and further from our course.
The boat phone is flat, and neither of us has credit on our UK phones. It’s impossible to top up. I finally give in and get online with our local sim. I reach my Dad on Facebook messenger, giving him number after number for him to try to reach Barefoot. He even gets creative and tries to fax them, all with no luck. Jono, the other Barefoot charter, has been paging us on the VHF having heard we’re in trouble, but they’re not getting a reply from Barefoot either.
We’ve decided our only option may be to get into the lee of the island and anchor somewhere. Colin emails Barefoot as a final resort – they’d responded to an email about the anchor earlier.
Thankfully we get a call soon after and confirm our position. Someone will come to get us. We feel relieved, and at least appreciate that St Vincent is pretty. From then it’s just a case of waiting…
We do manage to get the motor working a little, but it’s still not enough to get us back on course. I’m beyond happy when a support boat arrives at 1 pm. Jono has been staying nearby just in case – we tell them to go on ahead of us getting into the lagoon.
Rather than tow us, a manager and a crew member dinghy over and come aboard. They rig up an emergency forestay using the halyard and adjust the rigging to make everything as secure as possible. Once the mast is secure, they start to motor us back to Blue Lagoon. They know the water better so bring us closer to shore and out of the worst of the tide. This means that the motor can finally provide enough power to move us towards Blue Lagoon. I feed everyone banana bread, beyond grateful for the save. I also use the time to clear out the galley and get the last of our things packed.
Back at Barefoot, at last
We finally get back to Barefoot’s jetty at 14:15, 5.5 hours after we set off on the 1.5-2 hour journey.
It’s over! 10 nights, 11 days of our first ever bareboat charter, with just us to do all the work.
35 hours of sailing, 135 nautical miles, some sunburn, very little sleep, a ton of cuts and bruises, and possibly some new shoulder muscles for me.
A lesson in resilience
At first, we thought a missing anchor light and no cockpit speakers was an issue.
We made do with the missing saloon cushion when we needed to make a bed that would fit two smallish humans. Then we dealt with a fridge and shower pump that didn’t work (all in, for about 7 of the 10 days despite an engineer visit).
We put up with a dinghy outboard that was so heavy and flaky that we resorted to rowing (having made our own makeshift rowlocks as we had none).
Then we had the drama of the ancient line securing our dinghy snapping mid-passage, and the subsequent rescue.
We learned to work with the temperamental windlass that liked to tangle up the anchor chain.
Then our engine decided to start losing drive despite appearing to run.
We were ready for it to be over when someone dragged their anchor and drifted on to us at midnight on the last night.
The final straw may have been the forestay snapping, and the long journey back.
Much of the week was in much higher swell and wind conditions than we’ve been in before.
Apparently, the Grenadines is a level 3 on Sunsail’s challenge scale. The highest level, and, er, not ideal for a first bareboat.
It was an adventure. I’m utterly amazed we survived without arguing, let alone killing each other.
This was the test to see if we could handle boat life, and boat life threw everything at us. We handled it all and took it in our stride. We learned to laugh and be kind to each other in stressful moments. We’re oddly not off sailing, but we’re definitely off taking the cheapest boat in the fleet…
It’s really important to point out that although Pelican Pete was a total heap, we don’t blame Barefoot for what we dealt with. They were professional and supportive all of the way. But they operate on the basis of maintaining boats in line with what the owner invests. That means that if the owner doesn’t invest much in maintenance, then you may well end up with a pretty rough charter boat. We know that other charter companies take different approaches, and it’s definitely a question to ask before booking a bareboat.
Once we were back on land, and full of rum punch and conch samosas from Driftwood, we laughed it all off. In the end, it was still a great experience.
We took two nights back at Blue Lagoon to have time to explore St Vincent on land and sleep. We had a little trouble getting a hire car so we didn’t do as much as we’d hoped, but we did get a feel for the island.
St Vincent to Saint Lucia
Our transatlantic flights were back from St Lucia, so we had to fly back there. We’ve learned our lesson about Caribbean flights, so we booked a night on land just to be on the safe side. We didn’t want to miss a transatlantic flight again…
In a very rare turn, given it was still our 5th-anniversary trip, we decided to tick off an item on our bucket list.
We stayed at Boucan – the Hotel Chocolat hotel. We love the chocolate, and had never stayed in a 5-star hotel before. It was 24 hours of decadence – the food, the bean to bar experience, a four-poster bed, massages, and lying by the pool under the gaze of the Pitons. In retrospect, we preferred Tet Rouge for accommodation, and Jade Mountain for food, but it was still amazing. We’re definitely not comfortable with being waited on. But still, we felt like we deserved every bit of luxury after 10 nights on Pelican Pete!
So, did we charter again?
Would you after that experience?
Find out in our next blog…