After a rewarding season of island hopping all the way up from Trinidad to as far north as Antigua and visiting all the islands in between , it was time to turn around and start heading back south to Trinidad to haul out at Peakes Yacht Services by mid-May .
Virtually every boat that we met up north was going to follow the normal route of island hopping back south to either Grenada or whichever marina they planned to sit out the hurricane season , but our plan was a little different .
Having almost day-sailed the entire Windward and Southern Leeward islands l was needing a decent passage with a couple of nights at sea thrown in before we hauled out and effectively ended our 2017 season . The thought of having to contend with the vagaries of inter-island sailing all the way back with strong currents and inconsistent wind off the islands didn't appeal to me at all . To put that into perspective imagine the easterly trade winds along with the west flowing current moving unhindered across the Atlantic and all of a sudden being confronted with a chain of islands dead across their path . Billions of litres of water now being squeezed through the gaps between the islands and the trade winds now being forced to climb mountains in order to continue on their journey west . The result is strong currents through the inter-island passages and in most cases either little wind or strong katabatic winds in the lee of the islands .
My thinking was that if we headed east of the island chain into the North Atlantic we would enjoy some steady trade wind sailing and although the current would be forward of our beam , it should be weaker and not reduce our boatspeed that much . The big bonus is that we could visit Barbados and Tobago on our way home which would complete all the islands south of Antigua .
Our boat (not because she is named Windward) sails really well when the wind angle is forward of the beam but the trick was to wait for either a ENE wind or first prize would be a north-easterly for two days solid .
I monitored the weather for a number of days and saw a window developing that would suit this passage of 300nm particularly as we needed to reach my waypoint 4nm east of La Desirade a little island off the eastern tip of Guadeloupe . The only negative regarding the weather forecast was a prediction of nocturnal rain squalls which are squalls that occur usually between the hours of 3.00am and 9.00am in the morning . Our plan was that l would be on watch during those hours in order to reef and reduce sail while they passed over us .
To improve our wind angle we decided to sail to Green Island which lies off the east coast of Antigua and overnight there and then set off the next morning for Barbados . This short passage of 11nm would prove to be the hardest slog of our entire trip but we sailed into the beautiful little anchorage and settled in for the night . Modern weather forecasting is a wonderful thing as the next morning a little north had crept into the easterly trades and we set sail for Barbados . The first leg of 70nm was a little tight but with our new genoa we made good progress and by late afternoon we turned the corner and eased off on course for Barbados . That's when the magic set in with a steady 15/18kns on the beam we took off and had one of the best passages ever close-reaching all the way to Barbados . As for the nocturnal squalls they appeared as predicted and apart from one intense downpour , we either passed slightly ahead or behind them avoiding the strong winds and rain that they produce . With a bright moon both evenings at sea giving us a clear view of their approach we never touched the sails once , the first time being when we dropped the main and furled the genoa off the entrance to Port St Charles Marina . It was an amazing sail knocking off 2/3rds of our passage home in 44 hours at sea as against hopping down via numerous islands .
It was wonderful being offshore again and we had some interesting moments on the way with groups of dolphins , one in particular hanging in with us for over 20 minutes . Another little encounter with nature came during the downpour while a squall was passing over . The moon had disappeared but in the dark while looking ahead over our spray dodger l became aware of something moving alongside me in flight . It was so close l could have reached out and grabbed it . Turning on my headlamp it turned out to be a brown gull of sorts who appeared to be trying to land in our cockpit . He had his landing gear down ( legs hanging vertically ) but with the boat being rather lively in the squally wind and such poor visibility in the pitch black , he seemed to be having a major issue with judging the distance between himself and the boat . I switched off my headlamp to improve his night vision but after half a dozen attempts at landing he threw in the towel and disappeared into the night . Maybe he had plans of sitting out the intense downpour with me in the cockpit .
Another interesting encounter was with the only ship that we came across in the entire passage . It appeared on our chart plotter screen 10nm off our starboard bow but my reliable AIS system calculated that our CPA ( closest distance between us ) would be approx 150 metres ahead of us crossing our bow . I decided to wait until the ship got closer to see if they would alter course and cross our stern but 3nm off they hadn't changed their COG at all . I called up the ship with the radio operator answering immediately and when l asked him if he was aware of our presence he confirmed that they had picked us up on their AIS a long way off and they now had a clear visual on us . When l pointed out that we had a tight CPA he casually replied that all was under control and that l need not worry . I replied stating that l was under sail and would be holding my course . A few minutes later they crossed our bows doing 19kns with lights blazing and for the first time ever at sea , l could smell their burnt fuel being sucked along in their wake . I found it strange that with all this open ocean ahead of them they chose to cut it fine and not cross our stern . I was tempted to remind them about the rule that “ motor gives way to sail “ but at the end of it they relied on the accuracy of their electronics which in my book is taking a fat chance .
Apart from arriving in Barbados with Sargasso weed and a dozen flying fish on our teak decks it was a straight forward passage , a great alternative to hopping down south through all the islands .
Having rambled on and on about our great sail to Barbados l almost forgot that the topic of this post is all about the beautiful island of Barbados . It started with the officials at Port St Charles Marina who were very welcoming and courteous while clearing us into the country . They handed me a pile of maps and tourism info on the island and wished us a pleasant stay . Having not been in a marina for months we thought we would treat ourselves to all the perks of Port St Charles Marina which is part of an ultra luxury waterfront development . Unfortunately it comes at a price and after one week's stay our bill equaled that of our last year's annual berth fees in our homeport of Port Owen Marina . All the same we had a very comfortable stay hobnobbing with all the multi-smultis who hung around the restaurant and pool area all day sipping on cocktails that cost an arm and a leg . We chose to eat at local restaurants where the Bajans dine and discovered local dishes like flying fish amongst others . For years l have thrown dozens of these fish off our decks while at sea never thinking they could be eaten because of their bones . In Barbados they have competitions where people compete to see how many flying fish they can fillet in a set time .
Wanting to see the entire island we were advised that a company called Island Tours was a great way to accomplish this so we booked a day tour for the following day . We should have smelt a rat when our tour guide arrived half an hour late telling us that he had been stopped by traffic cops for reckless driving on route to pick us up . The vehicle was a Toyota Landcruiser 4x4 with two rows of plastic seats fitted with seatbelts . He explained that he still had to collect another four people so he would have to put pedal to the metal to make up for lost time . We took off wheel spinning out of the marina but our thinking was that once he had all his clients strapped firmly in their seats he would slow down to an orderly pace and let us enjoy a proper tour of the island . No chance , we spent the entire day hanging on for dear life with our fellow tourists particularly one American guy praying continually that we would all survive the day and get back in one piece . What made matters worse is that one of his clients , a local Bajan guy thought our guide was an incredible driver and kept on encouraging him to go faster .
The idea of using 4x4's is that a lot of the route is off-road but the only positive is that because of the speed that we traveled at around the island we got to see most of it in one day .
Barbados stands apart both geographically and geologically from the rest of the Caribbean islands in that it lies isolated in the North Atlantic 161kms east of the Lesser Antilles island chain and it sits on top of a submerged mountain of coral and limestone as against the rest of the islands which are the peaks of a volcanic mountain range . Without any volcanoes it is relatively flat unlike the mountains on all the islands we have visited this season . Broad vistas , sweeping seascapes and craggy cliffs that line the windward coast gives the island a totally different feel to its neighbours .
One of its biggest assets are its people . Bajans are warm friendly people who know how to make you feel at home and they are very British in their accents and mannerisms . The reason why Barbados is the “ most British “ of all the Caribbean islands is because unlike its neighbours who had mainly the French and British continually having repeated conflicts for control , the British ruled here uninterrupted for 340 years . The British influence remains strong today not only in their manners , customs and so on but also in their traditions where afternoon tea is a ritual , dressing up for dinner is popular and cricket is a national pastime . We were told by our guide ( Barbados's equivalent to Ayton Senna ) that in Barbados education is free and the kids start school at five years of age . They are well spoken and courteous and when the First Mate and l caught a bus a few days later down to Bridgetown we had a number of fellow passengers point out to us that we had arrived on the outskirts of the city , their concern in case we wanted to jump off early at a specific location . If you stop a Bajan in the street and ask for directions you will be kept for ages while they explain in detail just how to get to where you are wanting to go .
Up on the West Coast where we were based is very upmarket with fashionable , luxurious beach resorts , expensive restaurants and some of the most beautiful beaches we have seen in the Caribbean . In Speightstown we found some well priced eateries where the locals gather which is much more our style .
All in all , Barbados is a sophisticated tropical island with a rich interesting history whether you are British or not and according to my First Mate , if she had to choose a Caribbean island to live on this would be it .