Hermione Pattison left home in summer 2019 to sail around the world with her husband and two kids on their 47ft yacht, Alisara. They've been swimming with turtles, battled an electrics fire, and spent lockdown on a remote Caribbean island. Now they're in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. Here's Hermione's story...
Swimming with turtles
After leaving St Lucia we’ve been cruising between the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines and Grenada and are now working our way north again.
Having spent a fabulous New Year in the Tobago Cays, the children were sad to say goodbye to the enormous turtles, which they swam with each day. Talk about a biology lesson!
The snorkelling on the windward side of the Cays was amongst the best yet, with a huge variety of fish and largely healthy coral. We headed south towards Grenada spending 10 days doing small repairs and jobs on the boat making use of the well stocked chandleries here.
We have upgraded our 25kg old-style anchor to a 33Kg Rocna Vulcan. This has been on our wish list since buying Alisara but required heavy investment. The decision was made easy two weeks ago, waking up at 3am, 2m to windward of another cruising vessel! This was our third ‘drag’ in five months and we decided to bite the bullet. Good decision!
Having been running the generator more and more, it seemed that we were not getting the most from our new wind turbine (which we installed last summer). It was producing a maximum of 2A in 20-knot gusts. After much communication, and finally sending the manufacturer a video of the system in action, they suggested a re-set involving pressing one button five times! Since then it has been working beautifully and generating tonnes of power.
We have also added two more 50W solar panels to the aft deck. This seems to have further boosted the wind generator’s performance. Douglas is still working out why this might be, but in the meantime he is thrilled we haven’t had to run the generator, despite making water, and I am ecstatic that our second fridge can stay in use!
Homeschool started again after the Christmas holidays. Travelling with two other ARC boats has meant we can share the lessons, which has been a roaring success. Sadly we go our separate ways soon, so teaching our own children will resume – along with the tantrums I expect!
February started with a bang! Whilst at anchor off Myreau in the Grenadines, we smelt the acrid aroma of burning to find that our 240V wiring was on fire! Fortunately we were onboard, allowing us to swiftly identify the source, isolate the electrics and prevent more damage. We didn’t have to deploy one of our four in-date fire extinguishers (thankfully the ARC stipulate various safely equipment including number and location of fire extinguishers).
However, we had one pointed with the pin out, ready to deploy whilst finding the source. Some of the wiring on the 240V system had corroded, causing extra resistance and heat. The positive and negative melted together and was drawing over 100A. Behind the master switchboard was plenty of damage, which would have been a disaster for many cruisers, but fortunately Douglas, with the help of fellow cruisers’ spares department, had us up-and-running in two days.
As well as wiring dramas, our generator started to play up. After days of frustrating fault finding (sensor tests and changes, removing and cleaning various pipework) it turns out that loose connections on the PCB (printed circuit board) were causing all the trouble. The connections looked absolutely fine, but with little else to try, Douglas remade them and, fingers crossed, this seems to have done the trick. With guests onboard, it was a huge relief to be able to generate extra power for water and fridges!
Towards the middle of the month, we decided to reactivate our Coppercoat with fine wet and dry (200 grit). It has worked really well and the slime regrowth has slowed down hugely.
We hope that March will see slightly less drama on the maintenance front as we continue north towards the Virgin Islands. We have of course noted that St Maarten is very good for chandleries and I do wonder whether we will have to pull in…
The pandemic strikes
March started wonderfully, whilst we cruised up through the French Islands; Martinique, Dominica, Les Saintes and Guadeloupe. We managed to find good snorkelling spots in all places plus some lovely attractions to visit, which we turned into school trips. It was also a real treat having the wonderful French shops selling delicious bread, food and wine.
The usual raft of running maintenance continues but has been rather overshadowed by recent events surrounding Coronavirus. Being safely tucked in English Harbour, it seemed unreal that the rest of the world was in lockdown.
Everyone here has been very relaxed. Our plan was to head up to the BVI via St Martin, however we found out that St Martin and the BVI are not letting boats in. Added to this, if you leave Antigua, you are not allowed to return. We therefore decided it was sensible to stay here in Antigua.
To give ourselves a change of scene, we set sail for Barbuda (part of Antigua) with a view to keeping ourselves to ourselves in the remote anchorages that this island offers. We have filled up with fuel and water (this took a whole day because all the superyachts had the same idea!) and have enough provisions to last 4-6 weeks. We really think we will stay in these remote places for the time being. Luckily some other cruising friends have the same idea, so the children have some playmates and we have some other adults to relax with. The aim is to make the most of our unusual circumstances and knuckle down to some serious home schooling!
Lockdown in Barbuda
Back in March we could never have imagined that we would be in this situation of ‘lockdown’. We were very lucky and made what was to be a fantastic decision: to stay in Barbuda. It was a choice between relative freedom in Barbuda, or no freedom but being able to get supplies (gas, food, fuel) in Antigua. Because of our two pirates onboard, we chose freedom!
Being forced to stay in one location for so long, we have become a very close-knit community with eight other boats here. Being isolated together for over a month now, we are confident there is no virus here and roam freely amongst ourselves. A total blessing for everyone.
Being far from civilisation the authorities have left us to our own devices. We are allowed to go ashore for exercise and they seem to ignore our kitesurfing, windsurfing and dinghy sailing. The water is crystal clear and the many reefs are wonderful for snorkelling.
All of the residents of Spanish Point have settled into the rhythm of life and us sailors are keeping fit and sane. At 0730 each morning the ‘Spanish Point Swimming Club’ meets for our 2km swim. Someone has even taught me to swim properly! Every few days I take an exercise class on the sand. Onboard Alisara and the other family boats, there is a quiet period until about 11am whilst school is underway (actually it’s not often quiet onboard our boat – usually some tears or tantrums over English grammar) and then the rest of the day is spent doing boat-maintenance, scrubbing the hull, watersports and the kids playing with other children. We’ve also had free diving lessons, watercolour painting classes and music jamming sessions!
The one drawback – as expected – has been provisioning. Luckily a local resident was able to bring us fresh supplies, though these were incredibly expensive and of questionable quality. It has meant, however, we can stay in this beautiful corner of paradise.
But now it’s time we all moved on and made plans for hurricane season. Many people are sailing back to Europe, others heading south.
We’ve decided to stay this side of the Atlantic, but trust me when I say that we explored many other options. We all will sail north to the USA for hurricane season, and hope to return to the West Indies in the Autumn for more exploring. Let’s hope the islands open up, or else cruising will not be so much fun!
Florida – a shock to the system!
What a month this has been! We are now 30 miles south of Cape Hatteras and about to pull in to Moorhead City, North Carolina for a pit stop.
After spending lockdown on a desert island in Barbuda with eight other boats, it was time to move on. There were many teary goodbyes, as cruising friends departed on their long journeys back to Europe. For some, this was always the plan, but others had to make this tough decision in light of recent world events, no doubt making this gritty journey harder to prepare for.
Tracking our pals through the Predict Wind tracker, where boats can upload blogs via sat comms, made tough reading at times. The frustrating wind and weather conditions made us feel lucky to still be this side of the Atlantic.
Onboard Alisara – our Moody 47, we decided to head north to the USA for hurricane season. The prospect of exploring the Chesapeake Bay and perhaps further north made for exciting bedtime reading.
Life became much more relaxed once we’d made the decision to join the American Salty Dawg rally from Antigua up to Florida. They were fantastic at organising our transits through the Bahamas (an otherwise bureaucratic nightmare) and provided other valuable resources such as weather routing from the renowned Chris Parker.
As a family boat with two young kids we were permitted a few ‘rest’ stops through the Bahamas, which we took and enjoyed. It was a shame not to be able to explore further, but it has whet our appetites for next season. What we did see blew our minds. The clear water, the wildlife, the deserted beaches!
The 1,000nm sail from Antigua to West Palm Beach in Florida was pleasant and luckily uneventful. Sailing in 3.5m of water whilst trucking along under spinnaker was exhilarating. Fortunately I trust my skipper implicitly!
We stopped a couple of nights for sleep, but pressed on as the weather was good and everyone onboard was happy. We had the most brilliant welcome into West Palm Beach from our friends who live there. An escort through the inlet and supper onboard with plenty of news to catch up on from the last two years. Perfection!
Our week in Florida has been such a shock to the system. The buildings, cars, endless people and bustle despite social distancing and lockdown. That said, after months in the wilderness we were incredibly grateful for luxuries. We had some boat parts to order (of course!) and the provisioning was wonderful. I nearly whooped for joy when Douglas returned from the shops with kale and asparagus.
We must have looked a sight though, as our friend bundled me into the car and dropped me outside a clothes shop to replace various items of the children’s clothing, which had become so tatty. We were having shoe dramas as nobody has worn anything on their feet apart from flippers for the last 3 months, and the last time Arthur had new underpants was in Florida four years ago on our last trip! The poor things looked like street urchins. A reflection of my frugality probably going a bit too far…
With the availability of new parts, Douglas replaced the pumps on our watermaker, increasing the output dramatically. This is very exciting as we can recover our daily water usage in a couple, rather than several hours. We also invested in new jib sheets and fixed our spinnaker pole.
Our aim is now to explore the Chesapeake Bay and possibly head further north if time and weather permit. We were going to head straight around Cape Hatteras, however the breeze is turning to the north so it would be an uncomfortable and miserable ride, hence the stop. This means that we will try to cut out the cape altogether by going inland up the Intracoastal Waterway.
The only snag is that the guidebook states the aerial draft of the bridges is 65ft. Our handbook says our aerial draft is 64.5 ft – eek!! Tomorrow’s job is to go up the mast with a tape measure to check exactly. I am not sure my nerves will be able to take such a small clearance. Even going up the mast to eyeball our way under might be too risky, so we will let you know what we decide to do. If we cannot cut out the cape, it is a 200nm sail around into Norfolk, Virginia.