Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Peace and Quiet on St Vincent

Approaching St Vincent from the south
At anchor and moored to a palm tree stump,
Cumberland Bay

Temptress crew renewed their SVG visa’s and the boat’s cruising permit on Wednesday 24 April at Bequia Revenue and Registry office (it also houses the Post Office). The cruising permit was straightforward – pay the cash and an extension was immediately issued by a smiling customs officer.  The visas took slightly longer as we cheekily asked for an extension until June 2 (we have a reason!). Kevin bought two $25EC stamps from the revenue desk then handed them over to immigration together with three forms in various sizes for each of us. “Come back tomorrow to pick up you passports”.  I presented myself on Thursday afternoon and after a short hunt in the back office “Sorry not stamped yet, come back tomorrow”.  Friday morning we picked them up delighted to find a two month visa in each. Thank-you SVG immigration.

The weekend was a lazy one saying a temporary farewell to Andy and co at Maria’s Café and to Bastion who runs the greengrocers then on Monday after doing a final bit of provisioning we headed north across the lumpy bumpy channel between Bequia and the mainland (the island of St Vincent). Our destination 17 nm away, Cumberland Bay, was randomly chosen from Chris Doyle’s guide as it looked quiet, off the charterboat/tourist trail and it did not disappoint. 

Peeking into the bay from the sea
The boat boys met us off Wallilabou about two miles from our goal, our first real experience with persistant ones but once they understood our destination they simply fell in line behind Temptress until we approached the bay then returned to Wallilabou. Inside the deep curving bay another crowd of smiling boat boys, mostly young men but some older met us. There seems to be some sort of code of conduct between them;  the first guy to greet us paddled furiously to cross our bow then pulled up alongside and explained the form. Reverse toward the shore dropping your anchor in about 20 metres then take a line ashore (he did this) and tie it to the remains of a palm tree.

Once we’d engaged our man the others joined in to assist until another boat arrived when they dashed off eager to get the lead job which means payment - Kevin handed over $20EC (£3.75) to the smiling, chirpy and cheeky kayak guy. During the remainder of the afternoon various boats came along side – waterfall tour, beaded necklaces, bread, fish? The bead guys are easy to deal with – I show them my own handiwork and we discuss materials and local crafts. The food sellers are happy to be put off until we need something when we’ll call them over. And we admired the local wooden rowing boats, double ended about 12 feet long but deep and thin, their owners happy to talk about boat building and maintenance.  Engage the boat boys and they become friendly and animated forgetting to be pushy with their wares and services. Ashore most of them would greet us as long time friends, they never seem to forget our names where as we frequently do or muddle them up – is that Davis or Clyde or ….
Mojito's Cafe and Bar
Mojito’s is scruffy, tucked in the north corner of the bay with a concrete deck lined with bamboo poles. The tables and chairs are from the pre-plastic garden furniture age, they probably graced someone’s school hall or waiting room in a previous life but are comfy enough. Pink table cloths and damask napkins are the only indication that this is somewhere a bit special, oh and the view. The deck is built out to three leaning coconut palm that offer a fringed view of the black sand beach and the bay with the few boats at anchor.  The sun sets just around the northern headland and once our cocktails are drunk, mojitos of course, supper is served. There are just four dinners, Kevin and myself plus a honeymooning couple from Essex who arrived in a charter catamaran just after us.  The plates are beautifully presented, the food plentiful and tasty. Kingfish with an amazing garlic dressing heaped on top for Susie and wonderfully flavoured seafood curry for Kevin, coconut rice and fancily shaped steamed vegetables as accompaniments. Never judge a restaurant by its cover!

A walk up the river to Spring the following morning was an adventure following the river path rather than the steep road. We spied the local women doing their laundry at the communal concrete washtubs. Lots of smiles and hellos interrupted their gossiping for a few seconds. The way down on the opposite bank was alongside the HEP station’s feeder pipe a huge wooden affair constructed a bit like a barrel, the strips of wood tied together with pairs of iron bands. A blue overalled, hard hatted Vinlec team were repairing a section and happy to answer our questions. Further down we could see some of the damage caused by the recent Christmas Storm. It looked like water had torn through the HEP compound ripping out yards of chainlink fence, bending poles like matchwood. In this valley fortunately no one lost their life but elsewhere on the island there was a large landslide killing some five or six people and another few were drowned when water swept through a village. Hard to visualise with the river now a gentle tumbling trickle but debris is still piled up high in the trees on either bank and above the village the banks have recently been relined with stonework to direct the flow around the houses and under the bridge.

Sheep and Egrets

Piglets

A lovely ford

Spot Temptress through the trees

Local fisherman!
Despite all that water the locals down in the bay still have a shortage of drinking water. We were asked if we would fill a 5l container so some fishermen could cook their lunch. The rainy season is not yet here and with no desalination the residents depend on rain water. It is collected in vast stone tanks or smaller more familiar black ones from roof gutters or concreted slopes. With the dry season almost over clean fresh water is in short supply. However in one of those weird things that make you do mental double take both locals and visiting boat crews have access to free fast wifi! This is sponsored by Lime, the local mobile phone operator and provided by the government for mainly for educational purposes in schools but is available to all. We had long skype video calls with parents and friends back in the UK for the first time in ages. More mojitos at sunset, supper on board and the following morning it was time to move on.

A lengthy, arduous voyage of almost 2nm took us from Cumberland Bay to the similarly sized Wallilabou next door in a few minutes. If you think the name is familiar, even if like us you can’t pronounce it, it is Wallilabou is famous for being  the setting of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The rock arch where the pirates were hung lies just to the north of the bay whilst ashore many of the buildings still bear traces of their painted makeovers. There are more buildings around the bay here than in Cumberland. Two ruined jetties make anchoring an awkward manoeuvre when combined with a bottom rearing up from over 60m deep just yards from the shore. A mooring buoy at $20EC refundable off food in the hotel therefore seemed like a good option. A young guy on a surfboard paddled out “I was in the movie as a fisherman” and helped attach a bow line to a central mooring then headed off with our stern line to the end of one of the ruined jetties – the uprights making an idea place to tie up to.
Moored for and aft at the dock



Keeping the cockpit into the light breeze makes it pleasantly cool under the shade of the bimini. Temptress gently shimmies from side to side, rocking in the almost imperceptible swell that finds it’s way into the bay. As we tie up other boat boys appeared as if by magic, there had been no one afloat or seemingly ashore when we approached. One volunteered to fetch us bread from the bakery in the village – it was still warm when he returned 20 minutes later, fresh out of the oven. Two extra large “finger rolls” or perhaps better described as short soft baguettes about 18 inches long. A bit expensive at $20EC but they’ll do us for a lunch and a breakfast. He’s promised to come back tomorrow to take us on a walk to a nearby waterfall where we can swim. We probably don’t need a guide but it enables us to contribute to the local economy and there are so few boats here now the winter is almost over that they have little to do.

Meanwhile our battery monitoring system has gone awry. It seems to have been confused by cloudy weather and the almost dead calm of the last couple of days (in stark contrast to Bequia where both wind genie and solar panels were at full pelt most of the time) and decided this morning that the batteries are below 60% charged. Running the engine soon proved this not to be the case as very little charge was going in indicating that the batteries are closer to being full. Kevin has tinkered a bit but we’ll just have to hope it sorts itself out again as it has before. Meanwhile just in case we’ll run the engine more regularly, the hot water being welcome for showers and laundry.

Wallilabou is a classic curved cove with high rocky cliffs covered in trees on either side, a small stretch of dark sand fringed by palms and grass but has more buildings ashore than Cumberland Bay and in front of the hotel there is a bit of a quay wall presumably left over from the filming like the ruined jetties and the mock warehouse that is actually a café. The trade wind makes its way down the valley more than in Cumberland which is not unwelcome, the resulting gusts are quite cooling. After a couple of quiet nights here Temptress will make her way south to Saline Bay, Mayreau again for this coming weekend’s Regatta which promises to be just as noisy and fun filled as the Bequia event.




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