RoRC Report from Suzanne Chappell in the Eastern Caribbean

RoRC Report from Suzanne Chappell in the Eastern Caribbean

It’s that time of year to reflect where has the sailing season gone…

By Suzanne Chappell - 28/07/2018

The season never feels long enough to visit and explore all the places on route and sail our usual 3000+ miles per season. On reflection, we have had a great season on Suzie Too, setting off from Hampton in the US on the Salty Dawg Rally early November with 55 other boats. We were in group 1 with 10 other boats and David, my husband, was an SSB controller, keeping in contact on a twice daily net with all the boats in our group.

On this leg we also used the Garmin Inreach device for tracking and sending messages to the Salty Dawg shore base and to our family on route. This little Garmin mobile worked a treat and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to keep in touch with family or land friends while on an ocean voyage. The passage from Hampton to Antigua was challenging and frustrating due to the weather patterns. We had very light winds on leaving Chesapeake Bay and flew our Cruising Chute all the way down Virginia Beach, which was a really pleasant start to our journey, then the wind died! Chris Parker’s weather reports were forecasting for even lighter and very variable southerly winds and by the end of day 1 we were motor sailing. We motor sailed on through the night and the next day as we needed to be past the Gulf Stream by the end of day 2 before some heavier northerly weather came through. We then started to calculate if we could actually motor sail all the way and whether we had enough fuel. We worked on the numbers and calculated the distance and fuel consumption we would have to take for a couple of hours and decided that there was no way we could motor of the whole way to Antigua. Luckily for us, after a really calm morning on the 3rd day the wind increased slightly so the motor went off to conserve fuel. We were only doing 5 knots but it felt good to be sailing again, the boats motion was back to feeling normal and balanced once more and once again it was easy to prepare meals, rest and read. During our 10 day passage to Antigua we had winds in the wrong direction more than in the right direction and more squalls than we anticipated so when we finally arrived into Jolly Harbour anchorage in the dark, we were all quite relieved to have finished that journey and in the end we had 1/3 of the fuel left! All that worrying for nothing!

Two months in Antigua passed very quickly with lots of social events, parties, beach days and exploring the island, many organised by Bob Osborn on Pandora. It was great to be back as it had been 4 years since we had last visited Antigua. Suzie Too's condition was excellent and she needed little maintenance for once so it was not stressful and was enjoyable for both of us. It’s a great sailing destination with lots to do, see, plenty of places to visit, good opportunities to repair and re-provision and anchorages all within a very short distance, it’s an excellent destination for family and friends to visit.

The next few months we spent making our way down the Eastern Caribbean chain starting with Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Dominica and finally Martinique, which actually was an island we had not really explored before. We enjoyed being back in Europe! It felt very familiar with baguettes, excellent French cheese, French wine, good French restaurants and excellent anchorages. This is a place I would like to spend more time next time down these islands.

But, the call of Curacao beckoned as I had huge amount of work to do and events to organise and people to see for the Suzie Too OCC Rally which start in November 2018 for 72 boats! So we set off with our friends on Supertramp, another OCC boat, towards Bonaire in the Dutch West Indies, as we planned a stop there to go diving for a few weeks before moving on to Curacao.

We have been to Bonaire many times and we love it, a small friendly island but very dusty and flat. The wind blows every day and the dust ends up on your rigging and lines! It’s best just to ignore the dust and enjoy the scenery, flamingos, donkeys and absolutely the most fabulous diving just directly off the back of your boat. From the mooring balls you’re in 10 - 30 metres of sheer bliss, fish, corals galore, the safest and easiest diving we have ever done and I would recommend to anyone to visit these islands, its truly special. The boating community get together for diving and social events and the time flies too quickly and suddenly it’s May already. It’s always a joy to return to Bonaire, but as we move towards June time is running out and our sailing season is nearly over.

The next island in the DWI is Curacao and it is completely different to Bonaire and Aruba. We fell in love with Curacao years ago and have already visited 4 times, after a season of anchoring we stay in a marina on the Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Plantation, our first marina since Christmas, so it’s bliss just to be able to walk off the boat without getting in a dingy every day. The beach and swimming is gorgeous, it’s my treat after a season sailing.

Since arriving in Curacao we have been working hard organising the Rally, taking 72 boats in 2 groups around the Western Caribbean is a lot of work and needs careful planning. We have taken this task very seriously and want to work with all the countries and islands we visit, making sure we are not impacting on the environment and actually help the islands and communities, taking part in cultural work and giving our time and experience to support foundations.

David & I have written a Sailing Development proposal for Curacao. If you have visited this island before you will know already it’s not an ideal sailing destination, with sailing restrictions and Customs and Immigration formalities several miles away in separate buildings. The island has no pump out facilities, no moorings and does not allow freedom of movement to other anchorages. We also suggested other opportunities for the island without the need for heavy investment from the local government and showed them what business revenues a sailing community could bring to the island. We sent the 17 page proposal and recommendations to the Minister of Economics in Curacao and Head of Tourism and 2 days later we were invited to present our thoughts and observations to a board which consisted of the Minister, Directors of the Port Authority, investors in Curacao. They opened up their offices up on a Sunday morning to hear our ideas and recommendations. After a two hour meeting with many questions from a very informed and knowledgeable group, we have had a brilliant response and were thanked for our efforts. We have since been invited to further meetings to see if we can help develop Curacao as a sailing destination. Fabulous work and progress for the island, they know our deadline and are working toward this for the start of this rally. If Curacao can get this right they are in an ideal position being under the hurricane belt, last hurricane was 1877, it’s a safe haven for sailing boats and a gateway to the Americas, and a new sailing destination.

Photo: Pidgeon Beach

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