Sailing the Atlantic, Cruising the Caribbean - Avalon of Arne

By Phaon Reid

Barbados FlagBarbados Flag

A Christmas to Remember


Once we had checked in, we left the boat moored in the deep water harbour and wandered off in search of a drink. Funnily enough, we don’t drink while on passage. It’s not a matter of principle or anything, we just find that we don’t want to. After wandering through Bridgetown, we mysteriously found our way to the Boatyard, the bar on Carlisle Bay where most of the yachties hang out. We had lunch there (not cheap, but good) and a few beers and rum punches and the like. From the Boatyard you can see all the yachts at anchor in the bay. The beach is picture-book Caribbean, with a long expanse of golden sand, palm trees, blue waters, the lot. It felt good to be there. One of the main spectator sports is watching people coming ashore, and setting off, in their tenders. There is no jetty, and there can be quite a bit of surf. If you get it wrong (easy enough, after a few drinks) your dinghy can easily get swamped or flipped (to the sound of applause from the balcony).

At the boatyard, we were re-united with Idefix, who had arrived a couple of days earlier and, as promised, had bought the Turkey for Christmas. Murielle swore it was the last one on the island, and they had to hunt high and low for it. They offered to come round and give us a tow to the anchorage in the morning, which we accepted. We would then cook, and eat, Christmas lunch (on 24th December, which is apparently the French tradition). After a few more drinks we headed back to the boat, had a snack and went to bed. Sarah was all for going back into town and partying, but after 18.5 days at sea, I just wanted to crash out and get an uninterrupted night’s sleep. We did make time to phone home, though, and tell our friends and relatives in England that we had arrived.

Idefix Towing Avalon to the Anchorage

The next morning there was a bit of a surge in the deep water harbour and we were bashing against the quay. Fenders are not particularly effective as they have positioned baulks of timber in just the wrong places - unless you happen to be a cruise ship. We filled up our water tanks and were relieved when Idefix motored round to tow us to Carlisle Bay. As the motor was out of order, and not likely to be fixed for some time, we put out both the CQR and the Fortress, with plenty of scope. It’s a big anchorage, so even at Christmas it doesn’t get too crowded. To give the boat a festive air, we dressed her overall with the signal flags (except Romeo and November, doing duty at the crosstrees). Several other boats had done the same, and it made a colourful sight.

Avalon at anchor in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
It was agreed that we would cook the turkey and Idefix would do the trimmings, so the bird was duly ferried across and and placed in Avalon’s oven. While waiting for it to cook, we went over to Idefix for aperitifs, taking turns to row or swim back to turn and baste. When it was cooked, the turkey was very carefully ferried over to Idefix in the dinghy. All the best bottles of wine remaining from Europe were broken out, and we had a really splendid meal. Afterwards, we exchanged the presents we had made during the crossing. Later, we adjourned to Avalon for Christmas Pudding. This had been made by Sarah’s mother and carried all the way from England. It was very good served with plenty of rum and cream. After all the unaccustomed food we had a siesta, then a swim, before going ashore to the Boatyard to continue the celebration.

On Christmas day we had another big meal on Idefix, and in the afternoon we went snorkelling around a wreck in Carlisle bay. This is a very convenient little wreck, with buoys nearby that you can tie your tender to. It is in about 30 feet of water, and has been colonised by large numbers of marine creatures. Visibility is normally excellent.

Some friends of Sarah’s were over in Barbados and we had been planning to meet up. They had actually arrived in the island before we did, but it took them about three days to find us. Being land people, they didn’t have the yachtie instinct of finding the bar with all the tenders outside, and asking in there. By the time we did link up, they only had two or three days of their holiday left. We went for some meals together, and took a tour of the Island by minibus. They did come out to Avalon, rather briefly, but Dee didn’t like it much so they soon went back. Sarah took Manoj snorkelling over the wreck. As he is very large, and cannot swim, this required the use of some special techniques... We also went to their hotel and made use of their BATH. A proper soak in a tub of hot water seemed like the ultimate luxury. Another friend of Sarah's, Kumud, arrived around the time that Manoj and Dee left. He came to stay on the boat and fitted in very well.

December 28th is Sarah’s Birthday, and on this occasion it was her 30th, so obviously a party was called for. On the previous couple of days we rowed and swam around the anchorage, inviting just about everybody on all the boats to a beach barbecue. While doing this, we came across Colin and Penny on Bambouche, who had been fitting out in the same yard in Poole, and had set out a few months before us. Everyone was to bring a contribution of food and drink, but we got a fair bit of stuff to get things started - fish and chicken, Salads, and the ingredients for large quantities of Rum Punch, plus paper plates and cups and so on. After sunset, we lit two large fires on the beach, and a fleet of tenders started heading in.

Avalon at anchor in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
It was a brilliant party. Sarah says it was the best birthday she’s had in her life. It was also a good way for all the people on the boats in the anchorage to get to know each other. The party went on until well after midnight, after which everyone had to try to get back to their boats. With a fair bit of surf running, and everyone very merry, this was entertaining to say the least. Several dinghies got filled with water or flipped, some several times, with their occupants laughing uproariously. We stopped for a drink on board the Norwegian boat “Alice” on the way back to Avalon,

The party was such a success that everyone decided to do it again three days later, for New Year’s Eve.

Once the New Year was over, we decided it was time to start doing something about the motor. After asking around, we found out that Andy was the local Marine engineer, and that he could usually be found (surprise, surprise) in the Boatyard bar. We located Andy, and, after a few rums with him and his assistant Tony, they agreed to come out and have a look at Avalon’s engine the next morning. This they duly did. Once the cylinder head was off, the immediate problem was apparent. The cylinders were full of water. There were other problems, too - some resulting from the water, others just from the age of the engine. It would be a big job to get it fixed, and some parts would need to be ordered from England. But Andy and Tony would do it.

We now knew that we would be in Barbados for some time, getting the engine fixed, so the three of us decided to learn to scuba dive. Andy (who seems to know everybody) spoke to Glenn at the local dive school, Bubbles Galore, and got us a good deal on the PADI Open Water Course.

So we learned to dive. It took us four fairly intensive days. I found it unnerving at first, but soon got used to it, and then got to really enjoy it. After completing the course, we did a few other dives with the dive school, including the wreck of the “Stavronikita”, which was huge and a really amazing experience.

Coincidentally, we had met a local Bajan whose sister and brother-in-law were about to move somewhere inland in the USA, and wanted to sell their diving gear. It was good quality stuff, very little used, all Dacor (except the tanks), and offered at a very reasonable price. So we bought it. We had it serviced by the local Dacor dealer before using it, which wasn’t cheap but gave us peace of mind. So now we were able to dive independently, initially starting with simple dives like the wreck we had snorkelled in Carlisle Bay.

During the rest of our trip, we were to get an enormous amount of pleasure from diving. I would seriously recommend that anyone cruising in the Caribbean should learn - it adds another dimension to your enjoyment of each place you visit. If you also have your own equipment (and tanks), diving also becomes a cheap activity. Tank fills cost very little, and are available almost everywhere that there's anything worth diving on. In contrast, diving with a dive shop is a fairly expensive luxury.

In the meantime, work on the engine began. Most days Andy, Tony or one of their “apprentices” would be doing something on the boat. One day I came back from a run ashore, to find an ”apprentice” reclining limply in the cockpit, while Sarah was down below cleaning up the cylinder head. Apparently as soon as he had gone below, the young Bajan had become violently seasick, and had had only just managed to make it back to the cockpit before voiding the contents of his stomach. We never saw him again after that day.

Once everything had been taken apart and cleaned, the cylinder head was sent to a local engineering firm to be reconditioned - valve seats recut and that sort of thing. The injection pump and injectors were also eventually found wanting and sent off for reconditioning. In the meantime, we had to order some parts from Watermota in England. When they arrived, about a week later, the timing chain was the wrong size. Andy sighed, went away, and came back with one that fitted. Apparently it was for a Hyundai Stellar.

In the meantime Andy had introduced us to some local people who ran one of the big “booze cruise” catamarans for the tourists. Theirs is called Heatwave, is probably about 60 feet long and 40 wide, and sails very fast. We did some work on their PCs - installing modems and fax software, reconfiguring and giving a bit of training. In exchange they paid for us to go out for an excellent (and expensive) meal, and took us out on Heatwave a couple of times. Never having sailed on a big fast catamaran before, this was an interesting experience. We both got to do some helming, as well as consuming inordinate amounts of rum. It also gave us a chance to see some other parts of Barbados from the sea, and do a bit of snorkelling. For some reason, visiting boats are normally only allowed to anchor in Carlisle Bay.

It was after one of these outings that I had an unfortunate accident. After the trip on Heatwave we had been waylaid by some friends in the Boatyard and plied with yet more alcohol, after which we had to get back to Avalon. Somehow, after starting the outboard my leg had an altercation with the propellor. Needless to say, the propellor came off rather better. Being fairly well anaesthetised I didn’t feel much at the time, but by the time we got to Avalon there was a fair amount of blood around, so Sarah had to get me aboard, lie me down and dress my wounds - which she did with a characteristic lack of sympathy. No serious harm was done, but a couple of feet higher up and I might have been singing soprano.

The engine gradually went back together. It was a big job - I wouldn't like to guess how many hours Andy and Tony spent on it. Fortunately access to the engine is excellent on Avalon. On some boats, where the motor is shoehorned under the cockpit, it would have been an absolute nightmare. The fuel lift pump also needed to be changed; fortunately we were carrying a spare. In the meantime other boats had come in with engine problems, such as Marisco, a wooden ketch with a Perkins engine that had lost its crankshaft oil seal. We got to know Tim on Marisco quite well, and were to meet up again in Trinidad at carnival time.

And once the engine was back together, it worked! Andy called up the signal station and got us permission to take a trip up the coast for “engine trials” which we duly did. And the engine seemed to be working better than ever before. Following the rebuild, it was actually capable of pushing Avalon into 15 knots of wind and a choppy sea at 6 knots, which was unheard of. Previously, we might have got half that. And, since then, the engine has given us no trouble at all. Even after laying the boat up for six months, when we come back the engine starts at the first turn of the key. So we reckon Andy did a good job. The price of the rebuild, including everything, worked out to around 1000 pounds, which seems to us good value for money. It’s certainly a small fraction of the cost of buying and fitting a new engine.

For our engine test we motored up to the north of the island, where we anchored while Andy cooked us a delicious lunch of fresh barracuda. This was washed down with appropriate quantities of beer and rum, needless to say. Then we motored merrily back and re-anchored in Carlisle Bay.

Once the engine was fixed, we could of course leave whenever we wanted. However, the Mount Gay rally was due to arrive in Barbados in a few days time, and a couple of the boats we knew from Europe (Wild Rose and Jigsaw) would be on it. So we decided to stick around and wait for them, which was no hardship as we were having a great time, and had made a number of friends, both yachtie and local. In the meantime Andy and Tony had started work on Marisco. In that case, it was necessary to remove the engine to get at the offending oil seal.

So we waited, and the rally duly arrived. Most of the boats had had good conditions for the crossing and had made good time. There were a number of good parties with the Mount Gay people providing copious quantities of their product free of charge. I was amazed to meet someone I knew from sailing in the Channel Islands, Aidan, who had come across on one of the Mount Gay boats. I had no idea he was doing anything of the sort.

After a few days, we felt thoroughly “partied out” and decided that we had to leave Barbados before we died of alcohol poisoning. We had thoroughly enjoyed the island and certainly plan to go back there - although it’s a hard uphill sail from anywhere else in the Caribbean.

We would strongly recommend Barbados as a landfall for anyone crossing the Atlantic East-West on the Tradewind route.