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Leg 6: Caribbean Cruising


Part 1: Barbados


Saturday 21st – Sunday 29th January 2012


We had arrived in Carlisle Bay just after dark and enjoyed our first beer or two since leaving Mindelo. Normally a capable drinker it seemed that going on the wagon for over two weeks had sapped my alcohol tolerance to a pitying level. So it was that the morning of 21st January greeted me with something of a headache!

 

Rising late, I clambered into the cockpit. The light was glary and there seemed to be a number of small motor boats pottering around, which, not used to civilisation, I scowled at before scuttling back below to brew tea and discuss with Kate moving up to the north end of the anchorage, where most of the other yachts appeared to be.

 

It later transpired that this was the day of the Round Barbados Race, the key event in the Barbados Race Week Schedule. We also later discovered that famous yachting journalist Bob Fisher was covering the event. Mr Fisher informed Clare Francis that he had seen Gulliver G in Barbados – I hoped that he did not mention the grumpy looking skipper!

 

That first morning following our arrival had a sense of anti-climax, but this soon passed. I put it down to (a) the E-W transat being over, snapping us out of the reasonably comfortable zone of routine, rest and reading which we had entered; (b) the morning being grey and windy; and (c) having a slight hangover.


With much flipping of decompression levers, several false starts and a series of stalls we eventually got the engine going, the anchor up and pootled up to the other end of the anchorage where we saw another boat from the Mindelo days.

 

You might think that having been at sea for over 17 days by now we would have been keen to step foot on terra firma, but we strangely felt in no great haste to do so. We were aware that we were supposed to go around to the cruise ship port to check in with customs and immigration before going into town, but decided that this being a public holiday – Errol Barrow Day – they would likely as not be closed and that we may as well rest up on the boat.

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Map from the CIA.


Checking in

 

The next morning, 22nd January, we went to check in. We’d had no intention of hefting up the anchor and attempting to motor Gulliver G around to the port, and everyone we had spoken to about checking in confirmed this decision and recommended opting for the long and wet dinghy ride. My advice to other cruisers would be to do the same as us because it became immediately apparent as we entered the port that risk of damage to any yacht (or crew) attempting to go alongside is high, the berths living up to their description of ‘cruise ship terminal’! The thing one should not do, though, is to go ashore in Bridgetown and walk round to the port – there is security at the port entrance and we know of one couple who found themselves in rather hot water for approaching the port from the wrong side of the gates!


As with everywhere we have been (airport security at Stanstead excepted), customs and immigration were pleasant and straightforward enough. Having spoken only to each other for the better part of three weeks a strong Bajan accent was a trifle hard to understand, but in these cases one simply needs to apply the golden rules of customs and immigration interaction: smile, agree with whatever is being said and show a suitable level of appreciation in the event of any jocularity on the part of the official. Our welcome to Barbados was a warm one.


Bridgetown

 

Now that we were legally allowed on Bajan soil we hastened back to Gulliver G to change into dry clothes before tendering up the Careenage to explore Bridgetown.


Barbados has been independent from the UK since 1966, but still has a distinctive British feel to it, with tea-time an enduring tradition following more than three centuries of British rule, the first colonists having arrived in 1627. Being rather out of the way – well east of the main Lesser Antilles Caribbean island chain – Barbados was untouched by the many wars and power struggles which have shaped the histories of most of the Caribbean islands over the last few centuries and which have seen a large number of the islands change hands multiple times.


Bridgetown has many fine examples of lovingly restored colonial buildings, including a couple of churches which would not have looked out of place in our home county of Buckinghamshire! The quality of the buildings and roads and the cleanliness of the town reflect the fact that Barbados is one of the most developed of Britain’s former colonies.


Regardless of its colonial past, which undoubtedly had its less palatable aspects – an estimated 95% of the present-day population is descended from the slave trade – Bajans are very proud of their country. They are also very welcoming to visitors. The combination of national pride with an openness and friendliness toward outsiders is one which we would often find elsewhere as we cruised the Caribbean.


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Clockwise from top left:  Kate in civilisation – Bridgetown, Barbados;  Bridgetown Careenage;  

bridge over the Careenage; colourful boat and building along the Careenage.


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Back at the Anchorage

 

Back at the anchorage we were surprised when Matador, who we had last seen in Puerto de Naos, snuck up on us. Steph and Stu had taken part in the Round Barbados Race, which is hosted by the Barbados Cruising Club and sponsored by Mount Gay Rum – my favourite Barbadian export!


Errol Barrow, who as prime minister led Barbados to independence and beyond, was a founder member of the Barbados Cruising Club in 1957. The club was established to open sailing to all Barbadians, growth of the island’s sailing community having been stunted by the racism of the then Royal Barbados Yacht Club (the latter was later obliged by a change in law to  drop the ‘royal’). Since Errol Barrow’s death in 1987, the Round Barbados Race has been held annually on Errol Barrow Day (21st January) in his memory.


Having sailed directly from the Canaries, Matador arrived a couple of weeks before us. Stu prepared for the Race by putting on as much weight as possible, the first prize being your own weight in Mount Gay rum. Matador won their class, but not overall. However, they were pleased to earn the coveted Mount Gay red caps for completing and enjoyed top nosh and rum back at the Barbados Cruising Club.


Over the next few days other boats of previous acquaintance joined the throng, allowing the exchange of stories about the crossing (though it does not seem like such a big deal once you have actually made it across), culminating in an impromptu beach party at which it transpired that many of our cruising friends were very musical.


Most mornings polo horses would descend the beach for their daily swim, coming almost as far out as Gulliver G – quite unusual to see horses swimming around of a morn!  

 

 

The Windward Coast

 

Now we were into the Caribbean we had to put Anne Hammick’s pilot away and instead refer to a copy of Jacques Patuelli’s Grenada to the Virgin Islands (the ‘Pilot’) which I had borrowed from a friend in London and somehow had forgotten to return before we set out on the voyage.

Patuelli notes that the windward coast (the east coast), battered by Atlantic swells and fringed with reef, is “still quite a wild place.”


We were keen to visit, as were a number of others. So it was that a few of us cruisers headed for the bus station one day and boarded a bus which took us over the centre of the island, past old sugar plantations and numerous schools. Yes, that’s right, schools – there seemed to be loads of them, kids in a variety of uniforms getting on and off the bus along the route, including a couple of girls who delighted in feeling Kate’s hair!


Then the east coast opened up before us, certainly a wild and beautiful place, one best visited by bus as there are no anchorages along it.


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Windward and wild: Barbados's east coast.


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Kensington Oval

 

Barbados is home to the Kensington Oval, an impressive cricket ground which pays tribute to the popularity of the sport in Barbados and throughout the West Indies.


I had never been to a cricket match before and assumed them to be rather boring affairs, but Kate and others were very keen to go and when I heard that you could buy cheap beer in the cricket ground I agreed to join them.


The Caribbean Twenty 20 competition, featuring a final between Trinidad and Jamaica, made me a cricket convert. Being T20 there was plenty of action, but more importantly I discovered that you can drink, eat and chat, focusing on the cricket only when something interesting is happening. The oval was packed and there was a great atmosphere. I did not need my arm twisting to go and see the one-day cricket a couple of months later in St Vincent!


Eating out

 

As we had rounded South Point and Oistin’s Bay opened up to starboard on the evening of Friday 20th January the sumptuous smell of frying fish greeted our nostrils (sumptuous to mine at least; Kate does not eat fish!). The famous Oistin’s Bay Friday Night Fish Fry had greeted our arrival and no trip to Barbados could be complete without dining there.


A week later we and some others once more made our way to the bus station, this time bound for Oistin’s Bay. It was fortunate that Barbados had a good bus network.


The Fish Fry occupies a very sizeable area of beach front with a large number of lolo-style shacks serving up locally caught fish accompanied with a range of typically Caribbean side dishes, such as macaroni pie, bread fruit, coleslaw and sweet potatoes. We found a place with tables on the beach and ordered away. The chef had no difficulty accommodating Kate’s vegetarianism; indeed Kate has found it far easier to eat out as a vegetarian throughout the Caribbean than in many parts of Europe.


My kingfish was delicious, as were all of the sides.


Bridgetown had a number of KFCs and Chefettes (the latter a Barbadian chain which appears to emulate KFC), serving abused and emotionally scarred fried chicken. I have always maintained that I would rather gnaw on my own arm than eat at one of those fast food chains but fortunately it proved unnecessary to test my resolve in this regard for with a little bit of exploring off the high street and down the side street decent eateries featuring local cuisine soon become apparent.


Musters, a place that resembled a run-down workers’ caf’, was one such find and proved to be a great place to get a very satisfying lunch (again, no problems with being vegetarian).


Checking out

 

When we came to check out on 28th January for our departure the next day, the immigration officer asked where we were off to next.

 

“Grenada,” we replied.

 

“Grenada?” he looked sceptical, sighed and shook his head.

 

“Well,” he eventually continued, “let’s just say that you might find that Grenada is not quite as… developed as Barbados.”

 

Like I said, Barbadians are a proud bunch. But then, they have every right to be so.


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Sand and surf on the windward coast.


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