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OCC Report from Nicky and Reg Barker

by Nicky & Reg Barker 29 May 13:48 UTC

This report covers the last six months, beginning in Nov 2019 when we were in Beaufort NC and covering our time in the Caribbean.

Like many cruisers, we have found Beaufort NC to be a great jumping-off point for heading down to the Caribbean. The Gulf Stream is close to the coast and can be crossed quickly once a suitable weather window opens up; the town has good supplies and technical support; and OCC members are welcomed by Diane Tetreault, our fabulous POR for Beaufort and Morehead City.

We shared our time in Beaufort with OCC yachts Innamorata II, Willow, Barfly, Incentive, Grace of Longstone, Miles and Zwailer - almost all of the Club it seemed at times. We all enjoyed the delights of Beaufort, often gathering for an evening drink in the Back Street Bar where Diane would arrive laden down with packages of boat spares that she had kindly agreed to have shipped to her home.

The sail south to the Caribbean seemed a tricky one this year, with a number of troublesome frontal systems and storms making for very small weather windows in which to set off. Having eventually raised anchor and departed we found that these systems also affected the weather much further east and south, disrupting the Trade Winds and bringing large areas of calms.

We ended up motoring far more than we had anticipated on our passage to Antigua and consequently discovered a problem with our fuel gauge readings at the mid-tank level. So we were grateful that we carried extra reserves of diesel in jerry cans lashed to the deck - not that we needed them in the end. And, with five or six yachts leaving Beaufort within a day or so of each other, the 'fleet' ran an SSB net each morning to track progress and offer any support needed.

Our time in Antigua was a delight. The cold weather further north was well behind us and we basked in the sunshine, social life and warm seas. We cleared in at Jolly Harbour where we met up with Ruby Tuesday and Zwailer before moving on to our favourite Antiguan destination, English Harbour. Here we enjoyed time with friends in the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda as well as with fellow cruisers, most of whom we had previously met on our travels, including Zwailer, Pleione, Anura, Oyster and Contigo.

At St Martin and found another OCC gathering. Innamorata II called us up when we were still about 10nm out and warned us that there was rioting in the town on Marigot Bay, our destination. The consensus was that the anchorage was safe and that the riots were demonstrations to protest about the lack of rebuilding support post-hurricane Irma. And so it proved to be.

We had a fabulous Swedish style Christmas with the crews of Sea Wind and Samantha on Christmas Eve, followed by a very British 'return match' on Blue Velvet the next day. And after a day's resupplying, we finally wrenched ourselves away from St Martin, well-stocked with French wine and cheese, and followed the others to the BVIs.

In the BVIs, whilst the hurricane damage was still obvious, we saw that there had been a huge amount of rebuilding and there were plenty of visiting and charter yachts in the anchorages.

Steve and Carol on Innamorata II took the lead on organising an impromptu series of scuba dives for the gang of OCC yachts that spent New Year and the following week together. Carol even issued us with laminated maps of the dives whilst Steve did sterling service in filling tanks so the yachts could stay where they were making more time for social gatherings on the beach or each other's yachts each evening. Great fun all round; team OCC at its best.

From there we headed off towards the Honduran Bay Islands. En route we had planned to stop at the Cayman Islands for some more diving but the weather gods had other plans for us. It was clear that a frontal system would push further south than normal, making the anchorages off Cayman Brac untenable. So, we adjusted the plan and diverted to Port Antonio, Jamaica.

Sometimes the impromptu changes the weather forces on us create wonderful opportunities and that's what happened in Jamaica. We loved the place. Laid back to the point of being almost horizontal you couldn't help but relax. That said, we also enjoyed hiking up the Blue Mountain to watch the sunrise, visiting a coffee estate and sampling what is regarded to be some of the best coffee in the world.

We arrived at Guanaja, the most eastern of the Bay Islands, in early February and checked in at the unusual island of Bonacca, where all of the houses are on stilts. Here there are allegedly about 8000 people crammed onto a 100 square acre island town, just ┬╝ mile off a beautiful tropical Caribbean island. After a couple of days of rainy, frontal weather, the sun came out again and we moved around to the remoter north side of the island where we spent 2 weeks on our own anchored off Michael's Rock and diving on the pristine reef.

Moving downwind (west) along the island chain, we explored, and dived off, St Helene which only was connected to the electric grid a few months ago, and on to the much more densely populated Roatan. This scuba diving mecca is popular with cruise ships and relies almost entirely on tourism. So, it was incredibly impressive to see the Governor of the Bay Islands municipality lock down the islands far earlier than the rest of Honduras to protect the islanders.

We are now in a small community of 21 yachts moored at West End waiting for the end of the Covid-19 lockdown. We are, coincidentally, one of seven OCC yachts here (the others being Suzie Too, Flyin' Low of Poole, Willow, Mariah, Casa Blanca and Easy Rider) but, as you would expect, the whole fleet is looking out for each other: running a security watch roster, coordinating shopping trips, sharing technical expertise and spares. The sailing community and the support it offers is an amazing thing.

As to our plans for the rest of the season? Well, like everyone out there at the moment, we don't really know. We had planned to attend OCC events en route to Newfoundland before returning to the Caribbean for winter 2020/2021. Perhaps some of those options will still be possible but until countries feel that they have the virus outbreak under control, borders are unlikely to be opened to non-citizens.

Having said which, as we write, the USA is one of those countries where entry is still possible. In a bid to keep our options open, we have joined the OCC's Atlantic West to East Group as we may decide to take the opportunity to return home to Guernsey for a while.

Roatan has been incredibly generous to the cruisers here when lock-down began and we have been able to shop ashore (on set days) and/or make use of the newly instituted supermarket delivery service. Fuel, water and propane are all quite easily available and we have been using our lockdown time to ensure that Blue Velvet is ready to undertake however long a passage is required. We could, if necessary, sail the whole way back home in one shot, making use of the AWE Group to maintain an SSB net with other eastbound sailors.

The Covid-19 lockdown is certainly an inconvenience but it is also showing the sailing community for what it is; a fabulous mix of resourceful, interesting, helpful and supportive people who are remaining buoyant and optimistic, even if their usual freedom to roam is temporarily restricted.

The OCC is at the heart of that community and it is great to see that the OCC's Atlantic West to East Group, and other similar groups, are open to any sailor, not just OCC members in these uncertain times. Long may that traditional seafaring open and supportive outlook continue.

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