My Sailing Experience Through The Windward Isles

I spent a fortnight in Barbados making good defects, varnishing and painting the ship and enjoying fresh food ashore. Brian and Ursula Jones, who had sailed their Buchanan yacht Halcyon from Cape Town, were most hospitable and I was able to see some of the island with their many friends; one day I lunched at Sam Lord’s Castle, formerly a private residence steeped in the history of the island.

Barclays Bank had a vast stack of mail for me and this took two days to cope with. One morning Wanderer III came round the point and soon Eric and Susan Hiscock were telling me some of their experiences. The careenage in Bridgetown was always full of interest, but it was obviously very hot to be there and I was advised that thieving was rife.

The Barbados Cruising Club made me welcome, and it was pleasant to sit on the veranda with people of all, and mixed, nationalities and hear their stories of the island life. But this lotus-eating had to stop.

When the time came for departure Henschell Larkson re-stored me with about 400 tins of food and assorted fresh provisions. To do this, I came into the careenage and Captain Simpson, the harbour master, put me alongside a dock and arranged for the ship to be guarded in my absence ashore. He joined me for a gin before lunch, when I thanked him for his help and asked him why, in view of the size of Dawn Star, there were two men. He replied quite simply, ‘So that one can watch the other!’ That evening I gave a farewell party aboard Dawn Star for all the kind people who had made my visit so enjoyable.

Being once more in all respects ready for sea, I weighed at 13:00 on November 16th and sailed out through the anchorage to the west. Making good time, I stopped and lay a-hull at 04:30 as I had run my safe distance and could not see any lights nor any sign of the islands comprising the Grenadines. However, Battowia, Little Mustique, and Bequia appeared through the haze after dawn.

Approaching Bequia from the south-east, Bullet Rock, of different stone, looked like a warship end – on with gangways down. Passing round the northern end of the island I worked up Admiralty Bay to anchor off Port Elizabeth. This was an unforgettable sight. With the high wooded hills all round, it is one of the many lovely anchorages in these islands, and I was to visit it four times.

Arrival at and departure from every island must be reported to the customs officials, who in the small islands are the police. At Port Elizabeth this was a simple matter. On posting my mail, I saw a notice outside the post office requesting customers to wear shirts inside; this entailed some people from a charter yacht having to borrow the one shirt that they had between them!

Through the months I got to know the district officer, Mr Martindale, and his wife; also the padre, the Reverend Dunn, who often entertained me to lunch at the rectory, and I know he enjoyed his visits aboard Dawn Star though the Avon dinghy ride for this large man was a precarious means of transportation.

He took me over the rough track to Paget Farm early one Sunday. A new fishing boat, gaily decorated with bunting, lay on the beach ready for launching and a feast was laid out; carvel-built, the boat was very heavy to have to drag up and down the shore several times a day. About sixty of us sang Oh God Our Help in Ages Past and after the blessing the padre collected his fee from the stern sheets – a cake and a bottle of rum! While I could not eat the former, we split the latter over lunch with his secretary.

In the evening, Geoff, at his bar on the foreshore, gave me a full description of the three stages of growth of a coconut to copra. Lieutenant-Commander ‘Bash’ Bailes was well known in this island and as we both wore the burgee of the Royal Na val Sailing Association I met many of his friends.

Lincoln Simmons, the local sailmaker, is also the butcher. He buys his steers in the islands and they are disembarked from the inter-island schooners by using a halyard to hoist them overboard and then they swim ashore. Every Saturday morning he marches one down to the small market building and after positioning the animal in the right spot, dispatches it with a swift swipe. The meat is sold at one Biwi (British West Indian dollar) a pound, regardless of the part of the animal!

He and his family are well respected in the islands and I found them all most interesting, kind, and full of sound advice. He made up a set of new cockpit dodgers which I have to this day.

The local schooners are of massive construction and built on the beaches of these islands. However, the length and breadth of many planks are of no particular specification; some I saw were as short as two feet, and fourteen inches wide. Owing to the lack of tides, and the necessity to careen, the enormous strain put on the vessels in hauling them down soon opens up the planking which is then further forced apart as cotton is driven in. It is largely due to tenacity and perseverance that some vessels are still afloat.

With the exception of some dug-out canoes I never saw a worm-eaten ship; very few yachts were copper sheathed, and I myself used International hard racing copper, extra strong, for anti-fouling. This paint has the advantage that it can be scrubbed to remove weed, even though it has lost its poisonous properties; a useful attribute in an area where there is only a marginal tide, and the cost of slipping a vessel is high.

After six days in this loveliest of anchorages I sailed for Canouan, and anchored off Charlestown. It is an unimpressive place, and with the yacht lying parallel to the beach she rolled heavily all night.

I had heard so much about the Tobago Cays. They are two low, heavily wooded islands and a maze of reefs, where the water is clear and the schnorkeling excellent, so I paid a visit by sailing into the lee and out again, to turn south for Carriacou.

Hillsborough is an attractive small town and a port of entry for the Southern Grenadines under the administration of Grenada. The police were very courteous and helpful, and I later met the district officer who told me that I had been reported overdue from San Juan and asked if all was well.

Widgee, in which David Guthrie had sailed solo from England, was in on a charter trip and we swopped stories. Fresh fish and fruit are available here, also white rum – a liquid guaranteed to take the skin off anyone’s throat. It rained a lot here.

On November 27th I sailed south to St George’s, Grenada, anchoring at dusk in the careenage close to Triptych. Here was civilization again, with the lights of restaurants, bars, and supermarkets round the waterfront, which was all lit up and rather noisy until after midnight.

George Rapier came off the next morning, and after I had lodged my papers with the immigration authority, guided me into the lagoon to anchor in twenty feet off the yacht club. This lagoon had been in use for only two years, as it had been sealed off by a bar with only two feet of water over it; a channel has now been dredged through and with the yacht club in a commanding and lovely position to port, and to starboard Grenada Yacht Services, a commercial concern with marina facilities, it makes a perfect setting.

After lunch at home with George and his wife, he drove me about the southern part of the island and over to Prickly Bay; the island is very lush and the vegetation grows thickly. Peter Poland was able to arrange for Dawn Star to go on the yacht club’s small slip, where I repainted the hull.

An interesting point about Grenada is that after lying three or four days in the lagoon the ship’s bottom will be found to be virtually clear of weed and tubers, and this I attributed to sulphur in the water. During the night one may be disturbed by the light sound of crackling outside the hull; I was told that crabs cause this noise while feeding.

With the assistance of a Grenadian native, Peter, I was only on the slip for two and a half days, having given her an undercoat and enamelled the topsides, and put on a coat of anti-fouling on her bottom.

Afloat once more I spent many afternoons anchored off the Grenada Beach Hotel meeting friends and bathing. One Englishman, who loved the island but could not afford the hotel bills, had a small yacht shipped out from the United Kingdom and used her purely as a floating home.

Among the many yachts I visited was Rose Rambler, in which Humphrey Barton, Admiral of the Ocean Cruising Club, had crossed the Atlantic several times.

For a change of scenery I spent three days round at Prickly Bay, lying off the lovely beach, but the rum parties afloat and ashore were a menace to my work routine.

Back at St George’s, the post office were unable to supply certain denominations of stamps, with the result that my letters had to have nine and my postcards five; they looked very colourful!

After storing ship from a supermarket, I was also permitted to embark bonded stores and so, well laden, I motored out to sea on December 14th bound north and spent the night in Tyrrell Bay, Carriacou, before going on to Bequia the next day. On the 17th I rafted alongside Valfreya in Cumberland Bay in St Vincent, and we all had a great party in this most picturesque anchorage.

I proceeded farther north up the chain of the Windward Islands. They are about twenty miles apart and between them one gets the fine trade winds, while in the lee the winds are somewhat variable and I often used the engine, if only for ten minutes at a time. Off the north and south ends of the islands, it was generally squally until one had sailed well clear.

Marigot Harbour in St Lucia is another lovely landlocked lagoon with coconut trees down to the sandy water’s edge, but after dark, there being no wind, the mosquitoes came in their millions, attracted by the ship’s

Working up to Martinique, I passed the famous HMS Diamond Rock and found myself in Fort de France; a French city to all appearances except for the dark-skinned Martiniquians, whose girls are reputed to be the most attractive in the Caribbean!

Group Captain Carr, who sailed round the world in Havfruen, took me ashore the next morning for clearance, an amusing business, if it were not so serious, After listing my last fifteen ports of call I had to fill in a if there were any coffins; if there were any of the latter, a description of the contents! More questions followed and the immigration officer apologized to me, observing that it was just the same for a liner. On completion of the last question he asked me to go over to a desk and write it all out five more times; and I had no carbon paper with me!

Back in the city I spent the remainder of the day obtaining only some money, my mail, and a telegram. Stores here are expensive so I did without.

Passing St Pierre, which was devastated in 1902 when Mont Pelee erupted, I anchored in Woodbridge Bay, just north of Roseau in Dominica, for the night; the rolling here is moderate but I was glad to get under way at dawn. While crossing the open water to the Saintes, a vicious squall with torrential rain came in, and it was necessary to lie-to without a headsail and with six rolls in the mainsail for a quarter of an hour. It is a wonderful entry from the west, through this group of islands, made famous in British naval history when Admiral Rodney defeated the French under Admiral de Grasse; I anchored near to the Cordiners aboard Valfreya.

In complete contrast to Fort de France, pratique at Bourg des Saintes took but one minute, and after an hour’s walk I was able to look down on the bay from Fort Napoleon. Only French is spoken in these islands, the inhabitants of which appear to be of roughly 75 per cent European extraction and 25 per cent native.

Again I met people, this time French, who made me welcome at their homes. The high-peaked straw hats of the fishermen are only to be found here.

At the northern end of Guadeloupe Deshayes is a passable bay in which to spend a night.
The days had passed so quickly that I suddenly realized it was Christmas, and I was overdue at Antigua. Under main and genoa, with sheets well eased, Dawn Star fair romped the forty-one miles to English Harbour, and I sighted the ‘railway trucks’ of Fort Barclay at 14:00, entering a half-hour later into one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, steeped in British history.

Christmas Day, and rum parties were going on everywhere, but when I motored up harbour to anchor off the old powder magazine, now Commander Vernon Nicholson’s house, no one could come aboard, and I was advised not to land until I had obtained pratique, which I did finally at 18:30.

The Hiscocks were there; Mrs Worth came alongside in a dinghy; Haida See with the Roberts family, Northern Light with the Griffins and their four daughters, Humphrey Barton, and many other ocean voyagers.
Largely due to the drive of the Nicholsons the old naval dockyard is being restored to its former state as a memorial to Nelson, who was Captain of HMS Boreas and Commander-in-Chief of the Leeward Isles in 1786. However, the Admiral’s House, which is now a museum, was built as recently as 18:55.

During its heyday the harbour was very busy with between four and ten men-of-war at anchor or alongside the quays, and some two or three thousand men in the port; ashore, there were a thousand troops employed on the defence of the dockyard, being stationed at Fort Barclay and in the large barracks on Daws Hill and Shirley Heights. The barracks have long since crumbled, but history is recorded on the tombstones in the cemetery for us to see today. The Royal Navy abandoned the dockyard in 1899, but now it is a center for yachts, many of which charter from Antigua.

Aboard Wanderer III at a party one evening, I was much amused to hear a South African lady ask Eric Hiscock how he managed to keep the line on his barograph so steady with such gentle and even undulations while theirs looked quite different!

Fresh vegetables were fairly expensive here, but the price of rum was one dollar ten cents per bottle – roughly five shillings.

Anchored as Dawn Star was, I was entertained nightly to the music of a steel band coming from the Admiral’s Inn, a hotel just outside the dockyard gate. In Nelson’s day I think the gate must have been shut at 2100, as it is now, and well secured with massive bolts and chains.

To collect mail and do shopping, I found I had to go fifteen miles into St John’s, the capital, a small sleepy town with tin roofs and dusty streets; after walking round town for two hours I was glad to have lunch with friends at the Kensington.

On New Year’s Eve I gave a rum punch party aboard Dawn Star for the single-handers and friends I had made in the harbour; nine visitors arrived, and the upper deck was still rather crowded when Vernon Nicholson came below, as he put it, ‘to inspect the bathroom, refrigeration, and air-conditioned apartment for his charter guests’ !

It was also an occasion to say farewell to Eric and Susan Hiscock, for they were leaving for St Lucia early in the morning, to have their defective engine attended to. I was not to meet them again until I went into Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight twenty months later.

My compass was by now almost unreadable, the card having gone nearly black, so I spent one morning changing it for a new one, under instructions sent out with it by Lilley & Reynolds from London. I also decarbonized the Stuart Turner engine, and varnished all the brightwork.

Nelson is reputed to have said that ‘Ships and men rot in harbour’, so for a change I sailed up to Indian Creek and later to the north-eastern corner of the island to dive for shells.

On January 18th, 1966, I cleared English Harbour, bound south, and for a change, I anchored one night at Portsmouth, a good bay at the northern end of Dominica. It was necessary to revisit Fort de France in order to obtain a visa for the USA but on this occasion I was fortunate, for customs and immigration met me as I entered and dealt with all the paper-work – with carbon paper!

At Kingston, St Vincent, I was again faced with full formalities before sailing over to Bequia. There was a party in full swing aboard Young Tiger, which Simon Baddeley had sailed from Lymington in England, so I rowed the dinghy over and joined in.

One evening the district officer, Mr Martindale, and his wife entertained me to supper with many friends and I met an English girl staying with them. She had read an advertisement in a glossy yachting magazine about sailing to adventure in the sunny South Seas, and having come out in a British yacht, she had transferred to an American one. Now she could only be described as a ‘Distressed British Seaman’ after a number of adventures, and the district officer was ensuring her safe return to England.

On my return to the yacht late that evening I capsized the dinghy for the tenth time and after searching for over an hour, reluctantly abandoned looking for the oars and let them float off to Panama; as they have the ship’s name burnt into them, perhaps I may one day get them back.

Tobago Cays was a lovely anchorage, but though I felt very exhausted the next day and one lung hurt badly, I was unable to get much sleep as the wind had gone round to the north-north-east giving me little shelter, while all night long I could hear the roar of surf on the rocks near by. Stopping briefly at Hillsborough in Carriacou, it was a relief to motorinto the lagoon at St George’s, Grenada, on January 31st, having sailed 745 miles on the round trip to Antigua.

After entering, Gordon Stout who ran his yacht Quest on charter trips, took me over to Grenada Yacht Services for a new pair of oars and during the next two days I applied several coats of varnish.

Meanwhile the round of parties got into full swing and it was always pleasant to sit on the veranda of The Nutmeg sipping rum and watching the varied activities aboard the schooners in the careenage. Not having been successful in catching flying fish in the Atlantic, I was able to buy them here in the supermarket!

Kingcup from Burnham-on-Crouch came in and I had several get-togethers with John and Beryl Ridsdale.
Paula Beaubrun, a solicitor who worked for the Chief Justice, often came aboard with a party. On one occasion I was landing her and a friend, Benny, at the yacht club about midnight, when he decided that he would swim ashore from the dinghy; as we followed him up the concrete path to the cars I noticed what appeared in the moonlight to be tar all over his right leg. Now I have seen this before and guessed he had cut his leg severely. Running him to the front of a car, and on his back with the leg in the air, I got Paula to turn on the headlights, which showed he had two long and deep slashes through to the bone and was fairly pumping out his blood; he had slashed himself on the oyster shells adhering to the jetty piles. A tourniquet was a bit difficult to start with as my sole article of clothing was a pair of shorts, but with Paula driving hard we got Benny to hospital in record time. Unfortunately we could not get in as ii was locked up. By the time Paula had decided to drive back to her flat and phone her doctor, who in turn phoned the hospital to give instructions for admittance, fifty minutes had passed, and the porch looked like an abattoir. A young Grenadian lady doctor later arrived and sewed up Benny with about twenty-five stitches. Getting him back into the car again to take him away presented a further problem, for he fainted twice.

In the morning the area outside the club was buzzing by 0900, and two policemen arrived to investigate the bloody track from the beach to the car park; the reminder of that evening was never washed away before I departed, notwithstanding the periodical heavy rainstorms.

On February 11th Terry Evans, a Grenadian dentist, came aboard and we motored out to anchor at the entrance to the harbour; the ship dressed with masthead flags. Sixteen yachts were in the line-up which Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip reviewed as the Royal Barge brought them ashore from the Royal Yacht, HMS Britannia, at 0930. I was disappointed to see only three yachts dip their ensigns as they passed. We later took part in a race round the buoys and that evening everywhere was floodlit for the royal visit which despite the rain ended with a firework display from Fort George.

I said farewell to the many friends I had met and next morning embarked bonded stores and ‘cleared out’. The weather had deteriorated, and with the wind round in the north gusting up to gale force I realized that I could not make Carriacou before dark, so put into Halifax Harbour for a very disturbing night, with a heavy swell setting in and surf roaring on the rocks all round. Despite having to smash to windward, I was glad to get under way at 07:00 and sail to Chatham Bay in Union Island, anchoring near to a large charter yacht.

On my arrival at Bequia six charter yachts lay in Admiralty Bay. Some were very noisy, charging batteries all day long and their boats buzzing about the bay at high speed on ferrying trips. Normally these things do not bother me, but I was feeling lousy and knew that I was rapidly becoming worse.

I had dinner one evening aboard Independence, Jon and Lois Lucas’s lovely charter yacht. Peter Rose of Odd Times was also there, as were two Americans, Gus and Vida van Lennep, whom we were both to meet again 2,000 miles north at St Michael’s on the Chesapeake.

Peter Rose, a schoolmaster, had sailed his yacht Odd Times out from Gravesend in England. She was a gaff cutter to an Essex fishing-boat design, and while her length was about twenty-five feet, this did not include her very long bowsprit which made her unmistakable from a distance.

During the past few days a pimple on my calf had developed into an ulcer. Dr Corbett, the local doctor, was away on tour in the islands, but the sister in the tiny hospital was swift to start treatment. Furthermore, I had lost control of my diabetes, and this made my position worse. Normally taking about 70 units of insulin per day, I increased this to over 200 and was unable to get any result from it. I was already of the opinion that my stock of insulin had lost a lot of its potency in the tropical heat, and on changing vials I discovered that most of it had gelled. Meanwhile I sat on board, unable to sail and not feeling like doing anything bar a daily visit to the hospital and passing the time of day with the Mitchells and other friends. On Dr Corbett’s return he put me on penicillin and two days later advised me to go over to the hospital at St Vincent.

While considering this, I rapidly went downhill, until a dreadful night when I was very ill and long before dawn I was virtually blind as if white shades had been placed over my eyes. There is an unwritten rule in the West Indies about ‘Colours’ and it is strictly observed by all, so I did not hoist my ensign that fateful morning and did not have long to wait. By 08:10 Mike Badham was alongside in his dinghy and, summing up the situation, he went back to his charter yacht and brought over two American doctors. I have vague recollections of being dragged into a dinghy and ashore; they got a wagon from somewhere and carried me to the hospital where I collapsed on a bench. Ten minutes later I heard Dr Corbett telling everyone in a loud voice that no one had ever died on him. I have recollections too that he moved very fast in order to maintain his record; for I was soon bumping down the track again and put aboard a schooner, which he had immediately chartered, and where I was laid out on deck.

Occasionally I became conscious of what was happening as the boat took us over to St Vincent, where two powerful darkies heaved me through the crowds to a waiting ambulance. Apparently Dr Corbett had run down to the district officer and after starting up the diesel generator he was able to radio St Vincent. I next woke up lying on a bed with a heavily built dusky nurse beating my back to keep me conscious while questions were screamed at me: ‘Who are you?’ ‘Where do you live in England?’ ‘Who is your next of kin?’ ‘What is wrong with you?’ ‘Have you had any insulin today?’ ‘How much did you take?’ I finally collapsed under the barrage, and came to late that night only wishing the end had come. First on a saline drip, then on their insulin, I was on my feet inside three days and was able to leave the hospital after a week.

Dr Corbett’s swift action and Dr Monroe and his staff undoubtedly saved my life, and I remember Sister Cupid, trained at a London hospital, apologizing for the staff’s inability to cook European food properly as it was more than two years since a European had spent a night in this remarkable wooden hospital with 270 beds. Instead, I enjoyed native food, generally spicy and hot, and found the change in diet a tonic in itself.

The district officer in Bequia had kindly dealt with my personal affairs and I was able to get a draft of money from Lloyds, for when I came to sorting myself out on the third day my only possession was the pair of khaki shorts I wore! I spent my forty-second birthday here, and as there were messages for me at English Harbour, they were kindly radioed through to Triptych; Sandy Burpee, the owner’s daughter, brought them up to me in the evening.

I returned to Bequia on the inter-island boat with all types of wonderful cargo and found Dawn Star just as I had left her. Lincoln Simmons had been aboard to pump her out as necessary and cleaned her up below; for the next week I lazed about the foreshore, recuperating and gaining strength.

Bluenose, a replica of the famous Grand Banks schooner, came in on charter. The new Bluenose is fitted with radar, and below she is fully air-conditioned; her skipper uses an amplifier to talk to the fo’c’sle head!
On March 12th I prepared for sea. It being a Saturday, Simmons had killed a cow at dawn and I asked him for two pounds of meat; returning to Pat Mitchell’s house on the foreshore, we weighed it and found over four pounds, half of it being liver; I had paid only one dollar ninety cents B.W.I.- about 7s. 6d.

It was sad to leave Bequia for the last time and I shall always remember this enchanting island with its kind and happy people, who collected on the foreshore to see me off on the next stage, albeit only to Cumberland Bay, St Vincent. There I spent the night alone, surrounded by the cliffs, with the coconut trees dripping rain in the grove; when night fell a small girl came and lit the hurricane lamp on the end of the short jetty.

Fishermen woke me with their cries long before dawn, when I motored out to the north, pausing at Marigold Harbour, St Lucia, for the night. I had no sleep, as in the poor light I had washed in a solution of detergent and water which stung my eyes all night, in spite of frequent bathing.

The next night was spent at anchor in a tiny bay one mile south-west of St Pierre, Martinique. The passage was remarkable only in that I had winds of Force o to 5 and they went just four times completely round the clock! In the last thirty-five days it had rained during thirty-three of them.

The second genoa now required stitching almost aily to keep it together. Northward bound, and not relishing another night rolling in the lee of Dominica near Roseau, I managed to make Prince Rupert Bay, and anchored off Portsmouth as darkness fell.

Back to the French-speaking Saintes, I had the company of the magnificent and enormous cruising catamaran Stranger, aboard which I enjoyed lunch.

The boredom of the following day’s passage to Deshayes was relieved by spending five hours restitching the old genoa.

Off English Harbour, the younger Nicholson met me in his launch and gave me the latest news; he also had
a stack of mail for me and again I sailed up the magnificent harbour to drop anchor off the Admiral’s Inn.

The social round began aboard Rose Rambler with Hum Barton and his special punch on which we floated pernod. We then repaired aboard Peter Rose’s Odd Times to meet Dido’s crew after their transatlantic crossing in a Debutante class boat. The Guzzwells were in harbour aboard Treasure; and later Julian and Judy Mustoe, who had sailed Tamain out from Cowes, came over.

Bailey drove me into St John’s and back in his taxi for eight biwi dollars and I was able to get a haircut as well as clearing my World Letter of Credit at Barclays Bank before it expired.

The island has a lot of manchineel trees, the leaves of which are poisonous to touch, and I had to be wary as I walked out to Fort Barclay one evening.

Aboard a Swedish yacht for a gin one Saturday morning I left all my fresh meat and provisions ashore on the dockyard quay, only to find on my return that the owner’s dog had devoured the lot. I was particularly incensed as Carib Marine was shut until Monday morning, and I was heartily sick of tinned food. For supper, I was back on bacon, a year old, rapidly becoming higher every day, and eggs of similar vintage: rum helped to drown the lot.

The days flitted by and though I was not feeling too good, the time came to prepare for final departure. Typhoid had broken out in the island, and with some deaths there were mass vaccinations of the population, while the local radio asked everyone to boil all fresh water before drinking it. This is rather difficult in a small yacht, for the saloon is like an oven most of the time; so, instead of watering ship from the newly laid mains, which anyway often did not have water turned on, I along with others got mine from the roof rain catchment system. There were some wriggling tadpole-shaped creatures in it, and we reckoned that if they were living typhoid was unlikely. Whether this was a correct deduction or whether it was the fact that I had chlorinated the water heavily, I have no idea, for I suffered no ill effects.

On 27th March I very sadly hoisted the dinghy and weighed at 07:15 making all plain sail as I motored down harbour bound west and north.

Comments are closed.