The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 61

Chapter 61: Navigating treacherous rips, currents and raisor-sharp coral reefs, the 1947 Kon Tiki raft expedition remembered, and the impact of the French nuclear testing site remains.

May 2001: Polynesian Islands – Tuamotus, Kauehi

On the 8th May, first light revealed hundreds of dolphins skipping through the water towards us.  They stayed to play for more than half an hour, giving us a delightful start to a new day and as  a tremendous thrill. We’ve seen at least five different species in the pacific, and like the fish, Pacific dolphin identification is a whole new learning curve!

Dolphins Skipping

A Welcoming Committee of skipping Dolphns

A squally night during which we had winds from 0 – 30 knots brought us within sight of the end of this particular leg of our journey, but we had to kill 22 hours because we’d just missed slack tide at the cut in the reef at Kauehi. We had to wait until noon the next day, and hung off at a safe distance. The current runs very strongly through these cuts, reaching 6, 7 knots and more. You have to wait for slack tide, which occurs here about 1.5 hours after high or low water. There are nasty overfalls and rips which are scary looking, but once the water slackens the cuts are safely negotiable.  You need good light to get through, and good light to eyeball your way to an anchorage as the lagoons are full of coral heads.

Kauehi Reef at Tuamotus

The Kauehi reef

The Tuamotus are a group of 78 islands, 76 of which are coral atolls. The Polynesian name of “Paumoto”  (Dangerous Archipelago) isn’t very encouraging and great care has to be taken when sailing here. In 1947 the Kon Tiki raft landed on Raroia having drifted 4300 nautical miles in 3.5 months from Peru.  The chain covers nearly 1000 nautical miles in a NW – SE direction and includes the infamous French Nuclear test site at Mururoa, which is still off limits although the testing was stopped in 1996.

French nuclear testing at Mururoa – very sad.

The economy is based on copra and pearls (mainly black pearls).  Rain is the only source of fresh water and the total land area of all the islands is 343 sq.miles.  During the 1800’s pearls and mother of pearl shells were the chief source of income, with divers going down 50 to 100 feet. Over harvesting, as usual, killed the goose that laid the golden egg, and black pearl cultivation has taken over. Commercial fishing for export, especially to Tahiti has also become a good money spinner, so over harvesting will take it’s toll again.  Here, as in the other areas of French Poly. the reefs are stripped of beautiful (live) shells, which find a ready market in the Society Islands, a favourite cruise-ship and hotel tourist destination. Let me not get carried away now, as I get horribly upset by needless destruction of nature’s wonders and tend to rant on.

We visited a pearl farm set partly on a motu (small island within the lagoon) and partly on stilts over the sea.  The manager showed us around and we watched technicians from China seeding the oysters. Round marbles, made from Mississippi clams are carefully inserted into 1.5 year old oysters, which are returned to the water attached to ropes and left for another 1.5 years. They are then collected, opened and the pearls harvested. If the oyster is healthy, another marble is inserted and they are returned to the water. If not, they are discarded. The most valuable pearls are the green ones, and colours range from white through pink, green and mainly black. They fetch anything from a few dollars to thousands of dollars on the overseas markets, and the best pearls are exported. The pearl industry seems to be dominated by the Chinese, with locals doing the dirty work like removing the oysters from the sea, cleaning them  prior to harvesting and seeding, and replacing them in the water. The mother of pearl shells are exported for button making, furniture inlays, and are used by artists to carve into pendants, bracelets and all sorts of other jewelry. The markets in the Society islands are full of mother of pearl products which generate a tidy income.

Pearl farming is quite a skill!

We did some great snorkeling in Kauehi and enjoyed our time there.  We’d planned on visiting Rangiroa and had our sail covers off, food prepared and the boat ready for going to sea the next morning, when the weather deteriorated.  Being ever cautious, we tucked ourselves up behind a small headland where we’d have protection from the S.W.  At this stage we and “Bow Bells” were joined by  “Dirty Dottie”, an American boat.  They have a
digital camera and managed to capture a magic moment for us when a rainbow appeared to be right next to “Silver Heels”. It’s an amazing photo.


One of those magic moments captured with Silver Heels on Left and Bow Bells on the right. 

We all ended up on “Bow Bells” one night and were joined by a  local Polynesian couple who spoke only French.  It’s amazing how well you can communicate with hand signals, nods and smiles and mutilated French. We had a truly merry evening, with heavy consumption of beer and rum. John brought his guitar up for Andy to play, and the “Dotties” produced their harmonicas.  We sang and played until very late. The two Polynesians thoroughly enjoyed the music and joined in here and there. These were very special moments that will never be forgotten. We were  leaving for Papeete in Tahiti the next morning and said a sad farewell to Xavier and Joanna (anglicized names as the Polynesian versions are unpronounceable).

Andy & Dotties music
Continue reading “The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 61”

The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 60

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 60: The unfortunate matter of the politically corrected Bay of “Virgin”, catching the rain, and our first encounter with a black tipped shark!

Date: April  & May 2001 – Marquesas: Baie de Vierges; Hiva Oa; Tahuata; Havatefau Bay & Nuku Hiva.

The Marquesas are also volcanic in origin, with fantastic spires soaring skywards. They are the northernmost group in French Polynesia and lie within the tradewind belt, with a sub-tropical climate.  Fatu-Hiva is the Southernmost of the Marquesas and has a heavy rainfall and lush vegetation.

The anchorage was previously called “Baie des VERGES” translating to “Bay of the Phalli”, this from the large and very distinct penis formation of one of the spires. The arriving missionaries didn’t fancy this at all and added an “i” to the spelling, making it Baie des VIERGES, “Bay of the Virgins”!!! Pity about that.

Baie Des Vierges

Baie Des Vierges

This is the only island that still produces Tapa, a fabric made by peeling the bark from breadfruit, banyan and mulberry trees. The bark is kept wet while being pounded with a mallet over a log. It’s dried, then traditional designs are painted on it.  Other artistic offerings are beautiful wood carvings of tikis, masks, animals and jewelry boxes. These
are all home industries, and you’re invited in to view them.  The prices were a bit steep for our budget, but we managed to acquire two tapas, a tiki and two other woodcarvings in exchange for  lipstick, beads and t-shirts. We also traded for fruit which we’d been craving as we’d run out of fresh produce on the long crossing.

Tapa artwork

Walking was pure pleasure as there are flowering shrubs, breadfruit and mango trees, oranges, grapefruit, limes, bananas, bushes with small red peppers and various other fruit.  We were surrounded by unspoiled beauty. We bought bread baked in a mud oven.  It was almost too hot to hold and tasted like manna from heaven.  We experienced torrential rain and filled our water tanks very quickly.  I did all the laundry including cushion covers and anything else I could lay my hands on.  It’s always so satisfying to collect rain water and beats lugging jerryjugs ashore and back.

SH Joan catching the Rain

Joan catching the rain.

The islanders use outrigger canoes, which slice effortlessly through the water.  We’d  seen pictures of these canoes and wondered if they’d still be in use in this modern age.

Outrigger canoes

We hiked  1.5 hours each way to a waterfall. Quite a steep and slippery business, but well worth the effort. The reward was a swim in the chilly pool at the bottom of the falls. All too soon we were obliged to move on to Hiva Oa to check in, so sailed across only to be confronted with an anchorage crammed with boats.


Waterfall and chilly pool

We wiggled our way into an illegal spot and set our stern anchor to stop us from swinging.  We checked in and US$1900 for a bond plus an additional US$60 for visas later were legally in French Poly. for 90 days. We decided to divide this period into 30 days each for the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands.

The next day we sailed to Tahuata and anchored in a small bay where we and “Bow Bells” were the only boats.  Spent two days relaxing and snorkeling, then moved to Havatefau Bay near the village of Hepatoni. We had two resident schools of dolphins in the bay, so felt snug and secure.

SH Dolphin Welcome

Dolphins at play

The landing at the dinghy dock was a hairy experience.  John dropped Andy, Colleen and me off and we scrambled up over the rocks.  John then tied the dinghy to a fisherman’s buoy and swam ashore, reversing the procedure to get us off again. We had to leap into the dinghy between swells which rolled in and swallowed us up to our waists.  I don’t know how the older islanders manage as this village is only accessible by boat.  We walked to the top of a hill where there’s a shrine overlooking the anchorage.  We found mangoes along the path so feasted as we walked.  Back in the anchorage we snorkeled
along the edge of the steep cliff and saw our first black tipped shark and thousands of fish, most of which were unfamiliar to us. There were plenty of cowrie shells, but unfortunately all alive, so no shell collecting here.

SH Black Tipped Shark

Our first black tipped shark!

On 26th April we did an overnight sail to Ua-Poa, and  had to slow down to avoid a night arrival.  We had a double-reefed main and no headsail and  were still doing 6 knots.  The anchorage was very crowded with no room behind the breakwater and huge swells rolling in and crashing on the shore. We tried an alternative anchorage and found it to be even worse, so had no choice but to set sail for the island of Nuku-Hiva, finding relief from the strong wind and big seas in Daniel’s Bay.  It was an exciting approach as the entrance is hard to spot between towering cliffs.  Once through, the bay opens up like a long finger. Daniel and his wife have an open plan house with a palm-thatched roof, lots of fruit trees, but a definite problem with no-see-ems which are particularly nasty in the Marquesas and seem to be unfazed by insect repellent.

Daniel’s Bay & no-see-ems and the waterfall

We walked to the waterfall, 3rd highest in the world, through a canopy of greenery.  Lots of trees with weirdly shaped roots which conjure up visions of  hobbit and goblin territory.  More mango trees to keep us healthy and fill our tummies, and a picnic lunch at the foot of the falls. We’d armed ourselves with soap and shampoo and had a lavish fresh water bath.  We paid dearly for this outing as we were covered in bites which
itched for days. The water in the bay was murky, so no snorkeling, but we saw turtles and a baby black-tip came to check us out.  It was a real cutie, about 12 – 15 inches long and perfect in every way.

SH No-see-em bites

No-see-em bites are NO fun at all!

We needed some provisions so tucked into Taiohoe Bay, the main anchorage on Nuku-Hiva and bought flour and rice. Everything else was too expensive. There was no drinking water available but plenty of fresh water for laundry so we took advantage of it.  One morning we spotted a veggie truck heading into the village to deliver goods to the stores, so we bought good veggies, did final laundry, scratched our itches and on the 5th May left for the Tuamotus.  An hour out of Nuku-Hiva we lost the use of our headsail when the roller furler broke in half.  This was a hell of a blow as we were clipping along nicely at 7 knots. We hanked the staysail onto the baby-stay and soldiered on much slower. There were too many squalls around to safely use the gennaker. We had winds from 2 knots to 30 knots and our 4 day trip became 5 days.


The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 59

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 59: Sea lions with bad breath come to show off, stargazing the nights away, then escorted by a pod of friendly dolphins.

March 2001: Galapagos to Marquesas – our longest crossing yet.

Next stop was Santa Cruz Island where we visited the Darwin Centre and tortoise breeding station. “Lonesome George” is the last of his particular species.  There were several other huge tortoises of a different species housed in natural surroundings. At the fish market we watched pelicans stridently demanding hand-outs as the boats came in. They were unafraid and jostled for positions amongst the fishermen on the quay.

Pelicans in Finding Nemo

Reminiscent of those mad pelicans in Finding Nemo.

While motoring to the island of Isabela on a flat calm sea we were treated to a wonderful dolphin display.  The sea was alive with turtles and thousands of sea birds including masked boobys, frigates and smaller birds that we couldn’t identify. Villamil was our favourite anchorage and it was here that we interacted with the sea lions in the “shark lagoon” which was formed by a lava flow and is open to the sea on one end.  The sea lions are show-offs and would swim around us, under us, roll upside down, pop up with
their smelly breath blowing in our faces. We swam with a couple of dozen 4 – 6 foot white tipped sharks in the shallow water next to the mangroves. They were within touching distance as we floated quietly while they moved around next to and below us.  This was one of our highlights, and we returned to the shark lagoon time and time again.

Sea lion with bad breath

Swimming with show-off sea lions with bad breath.

One day we were up and about in time for a 7 a.m. breakfast at the Ballena Azul Guesthouse (Blue Whale) where we were picked up in an open truck and with 10 of us crammed in the back, were driven for 45 minutes through the ever-changing vegetation to a point on the lower slopes of a volcano. From there it was an hour on horseback to the lip of what our guide informed us was the 2nd largest crater in the world, measuring 12 km in diameter. We’d like to check this info but haven’t had access to a good
encyclopedia. We hiked down into the crater, passing many deep sinkholes. We peered into fissures, steamy crevices and saw evidence of erosion. The terrain is unbelievably rough, and bleak, bleak, bleak.  The horse ride was great fun although we were riding in each other’s dust and were suitably caked with it.  The saddles are homemade, using re-bar and old car tubes.

They’re pretty awful, especially for the horses.  The stirrups are bent bits of metal tied on with frayed rope, hanging at different heights, so it’s not easy to ride comfortably.  The bridles are simply bits of rope through the horses’ mouths, with tatty rope reins.  All very suspect to say the least, and a far cry from my beautiful hand tooled western saddle and bridle!

Joan's Western Saddle

The hand stitched western saddle made specially for Joan by a talented cowboy.

The 23rd March found us under way toward the Marquesacs, the longest ocean passage we’ll ever do.  After a good start the wind died six hours later and we motored S.W. for 5 days until we picked up the trades at 8 degrees South.  This used a lot of fuel, but once we were locked into the trades we had 20 – 25 knots for the rest of the trip. A point of  interest – someone on the radio net informed us that 8 deg. S and 112 deg. W is the furthest point in the world away from land. We had a 3 x day radio schedule with several other boats , exchanging weather info and our positions.

Marquesas Map 3

Marqueses in relation to Australia.

Plotting each other’s positions is interesting apart from being a safety precaution for all of us, and hearing familiar voices, some belonging to friends we haven’t yet personally met, is comforting.

We read a book a day each as we hardly needed to touch our sails. I spent my night watches studying the heavens and by the end of the passage could identify 22 constellations and their main stars. I worked out of 3 different star books and gradually got my eye in. I hope I never forget how to trace a path through the sky, tracking from star to star.  On cloudy nights I had the pleasure of listening to my favourite music.  We have a 10 CD shuttle and can turn off the sound downstairs and use just the cockpit
speakers so that the person off watch isn’t disturbed. One night several huge dolphins visited us, glinting like burnished steel in the moonlight as they surfed down the swells.

Joan Stargazing

Joan stargazing.

After our last night at sea we watched the dawn break over Fatu-Hiva, Marquesas.  The island rises straight up out of the sea and is overwhelmingly spectacular.  Somehow the emerald green vegetation manages to cling to the cliff faces, and we spotted two very high but narrow waterfalls that looked like silver ribbons hanging down the rock faces.   We were escorted by dolphins, a fitting end to a long crossing. We’d sailed 3074 nautical miles (about 6148 kms). We each did 44 three-hour night watches, and were at sea for 22 days. We approached the anchorage just as a strong squall went through. It was a total whiteout, so we turned away and stay offshore for about 30 minutes, then went in, dropped the hook and heaved a sigh of relief.  I cleaned the boat while Andy scraped the goose barnacles off the hull, then had lunch, a swim and a shower. We were happy with our time taken and were grateful to “Silver Heels” and our Guardian Angels for getting us there safely.

The beautiful Marqueses. Heaven!

Marquesas 6

The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 58

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 58: A sea lion deems our dinghy his new loo, Wreck Bay plays host to an offending tanker and Silver Heels becomes “catch of the day” in a net.

Feb 2001: Wreck Bay, Galapagos: written in Bora-Bora, French Polynesia on 5th July.


The previous newsletter ended with us in Las Perlas Islands, Panama, so I’ll take up the tale from there. Once “Bow Bells” joined us we visited several more islands in the Perlas Group before pointing our bow West toward the Galapagos at first light on the 19th February.  Because of the influence of the cold Humboldt Current we’d dredged out the warm clothes and sleeping bags which hadn’t seen the light of day since we left the USA two years ago, and were grateful for that precaution, especially at night. Our first day’s average was 7 knots and we did 170 miles.

Andy Joan snug

Snug in our warm sleeping bags!

The next day we did 156, and then 145.  The wind gradually died until we were motoring, at which time we got entangled in a fishing net.  There was a 2 knot current running and Andy had to go overboard to cut us loose.  He tied himself to the boat with a rope and had to dive and cut, dive and cut until we were free. This was the 3rd time he’s had to go over to sort out a problem.  The wind gradually picked up again so we set the genoa on the pole and skipped along at 5 – 7 knots.  By 4 a.m. on the 24th we were closing on Wreck Bay, Galapagos, and drifted offshore until daylight.

SH caught in net

Andy cutting the net away!

As the sky lightened we saw dolphins wherever we looked.  Some were jumping, others lazily rolling along. Once anchored, we tidied the boat and watched large turtles going about their business in the bay.  There were sea lions playing around us and we found that this was the norm in the Galapagos. “Galapagos” means giant tortoises in Spanish and consists of a group of 13 major and several minor islands of volcanic origin. There are about 2000 extinct volcanoes on the islands which are a province of Ecuador and lie astride two currents which flow side by side causing the Northern islands to sometimes have a sea temperature of 80F while the Southern islands have a temperature of 60F. All native mammals, reptiles and birds are protected.  There are no indigenous people in the archipelago – mostly Ecuadorians and a few other foreign residents.

Some of the animals of Galapagos.

The islands were discovered in 1535 by Tomas de Berlangu, bishop of Panama, when his ship was caught in a current that pulled them off course between Panama and Peru.  During the 17th century pirates used the islands as a refuge and to stock their vessels with food and water. The tortoises, which were stowed on board live as fresh meat, were all but wiped out. The pirates introduced pigs, goats and cattle, which caused havoc. Between 1780 and 1860 British and USA whalers killed countless thousands of fur seals.

17th Century Pirate Ship

17th Century Pirate Ship

When we went to check in we were a bit taken aback to find a lady breastfeeding a baby behind the counter in the immigration office. Nobody batted an eyelid, the officials went about their business, and we wondered if she was a receptionist or just one of their wives. Shades of Africa.

We spent about a week in Wreck Bay, well named as it was the site of the recent oil tanker disaster, the culprit of which was sitting prominently on the reef.

Wreck at Galapagos 2

Wreck at Galapagos 1

Tanker on the reef at Wreck Bay.

We photographed a sea lion lazing in our dinghy, which was a delightful sight, but not such a good idea as they have no manners and wee and poo all over the place. It’s an unpleasant fishy smelly business to clean up the mess.

Seal in Dinghy

The Culprit crapping in our dinghy at leisure!


The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 57

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 57: Panama Canal Pandamonium, Silver Heels Collision and Sunburned Nudists Descend.

Jan to 4 Feb 2001.   Written in Las Perlas Islands, Panama

Panama Map

We needed to move on to Colon to arrange for collection of the new sail which was being sent from S.A. to replace the genoa that was ruined during the squall.  We couldn’t book our Canal transit until the sail was safely in our hands. While waiting we went through the Canal as line handlers on two other boats. This was good experience and showed us what to expect (or so we thought).

Damage from the squall.

The Canal consists of 6 locks, three on the Caribbean side, which lift the boats 26 meters into the Gatun Lake.  The Lake covers an area of 423 square kilometers and was the largest earth dam in the world when the Canal was completed.  It was accomplished by damming the Chagres River.  The last three locks lead down to the Pacific.

Panama Canal system

Thousands of lives were lost to Yellow Fever, Malaria and accidents during construction of the Canal, which spanned about 35 years and was begun by Ferdinand de Lessops who had built the Suez Canal.  The French ran into insurmountable financial difficulties, and America took over in 1904. It took 10 more years and a further $400 million to complete the job. They were faced with devastating mudslides in the Culebra Cut, and the budget was exceeded time and time again.  There’s an excellent book on the history of the Canal called “The Path Between the Seas” by David McCullough, for those of you interested.

Construction of Panama Canal

By the time our transit date arrived John and Colleen on “Bow Bells” had shown up, so they and Rob from “Caviar” came on board early on 23rd January and we waited for our “advisor” to show up. We were to be tied to a 60 foot yacht with a 120 h.p. motor (ours is 49 h.p.) and weighing many times our weight. We were distressed to see that the entire crew of 10 plus the skipper were drinking steadily when we were ready to raft up and this was early in the morning! I complained to our advisor who said there was nothing he could do about it. The result was that we were almost wiped out before we even got into the first lock. The 2nd and 3rd locks were not much better, and by the time we’d motored to Gamboa where we were to spend the night, we were pretty nervous. The next day brought no relief, and the drinking continued. The 4th and 5th locks went quite smoothly although we approached much too fast and couldn’t do a thing about it.

Drunk Crew

Drunk crew and not a damn thing we could do about it!

The last lock was where we had the accident. It’s the most dangerous part as there’s a very strong current pushing the yachts towards the front gates. You HAVE to get your stern lines onto the bollards fast, then pull in the slack. Through inattentiveness on the part of both the advisors, who stood and chatted instead of supervising at this crucial stage, the big yacht failed to get their stern line on, then he surged ahead instead of reversing to stop, and the boats slewed towards the wall on our side. “Silver Heels” bore the brunt of the crunch, and if we hadn’t managed to grab a few extra fenders and stuff them between ourselves and the wall just before we hit, we’d probably have had serious structural damage. Our fenders were squashed flat, and one of the car tires (we had 8 tyres, wrapped and tied on as fenders) was ripped off and hit the wall with such force that it stuck there like a big spider as the water receded. It was very difficult to pull the boats back into line as the current was now forcing us against the lock gates.

Crash in Canal

Silver Heels crunched between the big boat and the wall!

Eventually a line was taken from the stern of the big boat to a bollard, and John and Andy used our big winch to pull our stern around. I was upset and furious, but this didn’t help as it would have taken 8 weeks for an inspector to see the boat then decide what to do about it.  I was ranting and raving about the f—ng bastards being totally incompetent and drinking etc. but Andy wisely decided to get the hell out of the locks and assess the damage once we were at anchor. This was the right decision, as he spent the next day cleaning up the mess and managed to polish out all but a few deep scratches which we’ll patch when Bow Bells comes through, because the two young guys who are traveling to New Zealand with them are arriving on the 5th armed with all sorts of boat spares for John and a gelcoat repair kit for us. We’ve calmed down and are grateful that our beautiful and faithful “Silver Heels” is almost back to normal. I’m trying to curb my awful thoughts towards the big boat, but it’s still a very sore point. Our introduction to the Pacific wasn’t exactly smooth, but here’s hoping that the crossing will be safe and incident free.

Joan Hopping Mad

Joan, hopping mad!

We dropped our line handlers off at the Balboa yacht club, then moved on to the anchorage at Flamenco Island where we were reunited with Swara II. Together we went ashore and explored the Smithsonian Institute’s “Park”, which is a protected area of undamaged dry forest which houses sloths, many birds, and a small aquarium.   Unfortunately the book shop was still under construction so we were unable to browse for a Pacific Reef Fish book. We didn’t linger there as we wanted to get to Las Perlas Islands as soon as possible, so did a day sail on 30th January, and here we are, anchored close to the nudist beach on Isla Contadoro. We’ve explored the island and have snorkeled in the clear water.  The fish are recognizable, but are different to the Caribbean fish we know so well.  We can still use our excellent fish book but would like to get a Pacific book.

Library Closed

“Library” Closed – under construction … pity about that!

Swara II and ourselves are the only yachts in this anchorage apart from a day charter boat that takes hotel guests out most days. The most entertaining day so far has been the nude charter. About 18 nudists were ferried out to the yacht, and clambered aboard.   There’s no shade provided, and we watched in horror as all the bare bodies gathered in the blistering midday heat. By the time they returned at 4 p.m. there were some very red bums and boobs, and we suspect that there would have been misery aplenty by the next morning. The best part was when they were clambering down from the yacht into the dinghy. The charter crew (dressed) held the dinghy against the yacht’s hull, and the somewhat overweight nudies scrambled down in the most inelegant fashion. This entailed going down backwards, and the crew in the dinghy seemed to want to help them down but didn’t know where to put their hands. They were treated to some awful views of  backsides and worse. Great amusement was provided for Swara II and Silver Heels.

Nudists Descend

A nasty view as sunburned nudists climb backwards down into the dinghy.

We’ll be heading for the Galapagos once Bow Bells arrives here, and are hoping for a fast passage. This depends on the state of  the South Equatorial current and the wind, and could take anything from 7 days to 3 weeks. There’s no point in starting the motor if there’s no wind as we don’t carry enough diesel to get there. We’ll have to be content with the wind we get, and settle down and enjoy whatever conditions come our way. We’re hoping that the oil spill in the Galapagos hasn’t ruined the ecology of this very special place, and are looking forward to seeing wondrous sights as there are many species there that are found nowhere else on earth. We don’t want to arrive in the Marquesas before about mid April as the hurricane season ends officially on 1st April. We’ll probably leave Galapagos around mid March and allow about a month for the trip.

To all the birthday people who fall into this time period especially Andy’s Mom’s 80th on 2 March, we wish you happy birthdays and will be thinking of each one of you.

Please drop us a note to say you’ve received this letter as we’re left in doubt when we get no feedback. We’re looking forward to hearing from all of you and want to know what you’re up to.

Lots of love from Joan, Andy & “Silver Heels”


The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 56

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 56: Lightning strikes, electric storms amid old shipwrecks and eyeball navigating through the sharp coral reefs.

Oct to Nov 2000: Curacao, Santa Cruz, Punta Hermosa as part of Colombia, San Blas, Jose Pobre, Isla Linton belonging to Panama.

Curacao was discovered in 1499 by one of Columbus’ Lieutenants and remained a Spanish possession until the Dutch conquest of 1634. There was the usual skirmishing between the British, Dutch and French, but by 1815 the Dutch had regained control. The islands in the Dutch Antilles became self governing in 1954, still within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The architecture in Willemstad, the capital, is attractive, freshly painted and well preserved.

Examples of Dutch architecture in Curacao I found on the net gives you an idea of the magic.

On 9th October we checked out of Curacao after a long wait for Immigration to show up, and had a very fast sail up to Santa Cruz Bay on the N.W. coast.  Here we snorkeled on a wreck,  then settled down to finalise our plans for the trip along the Colombian coast and across to the San Blas Islands.  By 7 a.m. on the 11th Oct we were on our way to Aruba, the 3rd island in the A.B.C. chain (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). We bypassed it about 3 miles off and it looked pretty bleak, it’s claim to fame being oil and refineries. We were sailing at over 8 knots, and saw 10 knots over the ground. Before dark we pulled the main down, but this didn’t slow us down much. It was a very bumpy ride with huge swells which made it difficult to sleep with stuff flying around, and rattling and slamming in cupboards. In spite of careful stowing and padding, there’s always something that manages to escape and cause a disturbance!

Falling off Shelf

Items in escaping their stowages.

We reached our first Colombian anchorage, at Cabo de la Vela (Cape of the Sail) at 9 a.m. after 26 hours and averaging 7 knots. So far no pirates or drug smugglers, only a few fishermen. At 5 p.m. some fishermen came and told us to move closer to the village as the wind had picked up to 30 – 32 knots since lunchtime, so we upped anchor and cautiously picked our way in. We tried three times to anchor, each time finding poor holding in rock. We weren’t happy, so decided to do a night passage to Guyaraoa where we were welcomed to the anchorage by four American yachts.  We had a great pot luck on “Suething” then slept like rocks, having had little sleep for 3 days and 2 nights.

Our final destination on the Colombian coast was at Punta Hermosa, which we reached after negotiating the mouth of the Rio Magdalena.   The water was very muddy with strong currents, and there was plenty of debris including islands of water hyacinth, some of which got tangled around our prop and propshaft, so Andy had to go overboard and clear them away.  I didn’t feel too relaxed about this and made him tie a rope around his waist as I couldn’t see him in the water. That evening we had a severe electrical storm and Sunbow and ourselves took indirect hits and sustained some electronic damage.  Our wind instrument was knocked out, for the second time, as the same thing had happened in the States. The American boats were headed for Cartagena, but as we were unable to get visas for Colombia, we said goodbye to them and plotted a course for the San Blas Islands, 250 miles away. 

SH Strruck by Lightning

Silver Heels takes a direct hit!

On 18th October, about 80 miles from our destination a 40 knot squall hit us. We’d been sailing in 12 knots of wind with the genoa on the pole and full main. It was drizzling gently and we were catching water when suddenly the wind leaped from 12 – 20 – 30 – 40 knots in what seemed like half a minute. We didn’t have time to get the genoa furled, couldn’t turn into wind to take the pressure of the sails because the genny was on the pole, and the furler jammed. We were now in the situation where we had about 40% of the genoa flogging wildly,  and the mast starting to pump. We had visions of the entire rig coming down. Andy decided to do a series of 360 degree turns to try and physically wrap the flogging sail around the forestay.  It was a nerve racking hour, but we eventually had the sail under control, got the main down, and could gather our wits.

Right after the squall, the wind died and we motored towards the islands. The trip took two days and two nights, and once again we hove to until there was enough light to enter the channel leading to Banedup in the Eastern Holandes, San Blas. The territory belongs to Panama but is governed autonomously by the Tribal Leaders of the Kuna Indians. The land belongs to all the Kunas, but the coconut trees are individually owned. The coconuts are used for bartering or sold for cash, usually to traders from Colombia. The Kuna women dress colorfully and wear “molas” which form part of their blouses and are intricately stitched and appliquéd.   The patterns include traditional geometric designs plus many variations of parrots, iguanas, toucans, fish, trees and other Panamanian wildlife. There is now a great demand for molas, and they have become a wonderful source of income for the tribes.

Parronts from Panama

Bought this for Julie to show her their pretty handy work.

Their means of transport remains large dugout canoes which are either paddled or sailed. Some now have small outboard motors, so civilization is creeping in. The houses on the inhabited islands are primitive with palm fronded roofs, frames made from coconut trees, and reeds forming the walls. The Kunas have their own language, but  some have learned Spanish in the missionary schools.

We experienced several scary electrical storms in the San Blas, accompanied by sudden very high winds. There are many wrecks scattered throughout the islands, and it’s easy to see how this can happen. Apart from the weather, the entire region is reef strewn, so you need good light to move from anchorage to anchorage. It’s pretty much eyeball navigation as you can’t trust the GPS or charts for final approaches, and we soon got used to the change in water colour being indicative of what we were approaching.

Our favorite anchorage was at Coco Bandera, where we discovered an amazing reef with deep channels, caves, “roadways” of sand between the cliffs, and plenty of live coral and more fish than we saw anywhere else in the islands. We had the privilege of having one of two Nurse sharks swimming around us, and we saw our same shark friend each time we snorkeled.

Shark for Company

Swimming with Shark friend.

We were the only boat there, so had unlimited peace, and time to relax after all the preparations for the trip from Trinidad to Panama. We lazed in the water, read, chatted, planned, and felt ready to face the hustle and bustle of the trip which we’d unexpectedly decided to make back to S.A.

Jose Pobre

Jose Pobre

Jose Pobre

This involved checking into Panama, and this traumatic experience took 3 days and cost us $355 – the most expensive and unpleasant check-in EVER! We then took Silver Heels to Jose Pobre, a tiny village nestled on the edge of the jungle. There’s a narrow gap in the broad reef that allows access to a somewhat shallow but very protected lagoon. Many boats are stored here while their owners travel inland or go home. The German owner of the small bar/restaurant keeps an eye on the boats, and his Panamanian helper (actually, we think he’s Colombian) will start the engines, air the boat, check the bilges etc.  He even watered my plants while we were away.   The boats are anchored fore and aft so that they can’t swing. They’re then tied to the mangroves on two sides, and tied to other boats. It’s like a huge spiderweb, and I don’t know what happens if one of the inner boats suddenly needs to get out. It would cause a major reshuffle.

With our 6’6” draft, we were anchored close to the reef, and bumped at low tide when the wind blew (it blew a LOT).  Silver Heels was safe, and we went home feeling quite happy to leave her there. The  trip home gave us only 10 working days to attend to a million things, so we were rushed off our feet. Seeing our beloved family and some of our friends was a special experience as our next visit to S.A. is going to be well in the future.

When we returned to Jose Pobre,  we were unable to get out from behind the reef for more than two weeks as we needed high tide, no wind, and good light for this operation.   While still there, two of the local dogs were attacked by a black panther which had been sighted very close to the restaurant.  The damage done was horrendous, and the big sort-of Labrador was slashed to ribbons.  A surgeon on one of the American boats did his best to stitch the dog, and this was done on the restaurant table, under the only light worth mentioning. The stitching was done without anaesthetic, but as both dogs were so shocked that they didn’t know what was happening, they lay still throughout. The small dog healed very quickly and the big dog was coming along O.K. by the time we left, although his wounds had opened up again. I checked them and they were all granulating, so I was convinced that he’d be O.K. if somewhat less attractive than before. We were sad to hear that he’d died from a suspected reaction to some antibiotics the locals gave him. They have no veterinary knowledge, so who knows what they used and what dosage they administered.

When we eventually escaped from Jose Pobre, we spent a few days anchored off Isla Linton where there are some spider monkeys living in and around an abandoned house on the privately owned and uninhabited island.  We dinghied very close to the shore, and the monkeys came to investigate.  They walk just like people, totally upright, not like chimps that bend over and put their hands on the ground.  Their limbs are long, slender and sinuously muscled.  They have prehensile tails that are extremely long and agile.  We watched them eating coconut from the nuts, and they sit around like old men eating porridge from a pot. When it rained the monkeys sat on the verandah wall like grandma and grandpa! Very cute. We discovered a tiny octopus residing under the boat behind one of our zinc anodes, and also acquired a remora (the fish that sucks onto sharks & rays).  We still had our remora in Colon, but lost it when we went through the Canal.

Net pics of Spider Monkeys in Isla Linton.

Remora fish which “stick” around with sharks.

The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 55

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 55: Hauling Silver Heels out for repairs, another tricky rescue, and sailing by a hankerchief.

July 2000: Trinidad, Margarita, Tortuga, Written in Las Perlas Islands,  Panama on 4th Feb. ‘01

Our 5th visit to Trinidad consisted of uninterrupted boat work. We installed two new 12 volt fridge systems and redid the insulation in the boxes. We fitted 5 large solar panels as our generator is no longer reliable and to repair it would probably have cost almost as much as the panels.  They’ve worked out very well, and we’re thrilled with the results.  We hauled the boat onto the hard to scrape and anti-foul the bottom and discovered that our prop-shaft was bent.  This was a real pain as Andy had to cut the flexible coupling off with an angle grinder in order to get the shaft out for straightening.  The new cutlass bearing we bought was the wrong size so Andy had to painstakingly file it down to fit in the stern-tube. After a week of working in the blistering heat we were safely splashed back into Chaguaramas Bay only to find that the water filter above the new batteries was leaking.

Island Time

Island Time in action!

We had a never ending supply of hassles. We love our lifestyle, but it isn’t always a bed of roses. The next snag was that the engineer who came to realign our main engine discovered that our front engine mountings were cracked.  It took a week to get this job done as everything works on “island time”. We eventually managed to get out to Scotland Bay in time to watch the boats come through that were competing in the Trinidad to Tobago race. These are very fast racers, gaudily painted, with two to three crew manning the controls. They are capable of incredible speed, and we wondered what sort of battering the crew’s kidneys took slamming over the chop near the Boca de Mona, and how they coped with the stress of concentrating all the way to Tobago in the open sea.

Pics off the net of Trini to Tobago race.

Scotland Bay is a pretty alternative to Chaguaramas, with towering cliffs covered in rich greenery.  Howler monkeys abound, and although they’re difficult to see, their presence is advertised by their cries which sound like a pride of lions snarling and half roaring.     Green parrots flit happily from tree to tree with a distinctive flight that looks a bit unaerodynamic. It was peaceful in spite of being somewhat crowded, and gave us a chance to catch our breath before motor-sailing on smooth water and in very light wind to Porlamar, Margarita.

Howler Monkeys 3

Howler Monkeys 2

Howler monkeys & green parrots.

This is the largest of the Venezuelan islands with a warm, dry climate and pretty beaches, and is a major holiday destination for wealthy Venezuelans who flock there to buy duty-free jewelry, electronics, and chic clothing.  The smart stores rub shoulders with street vendor stalls selling anything from ballpoint pens and shoelaces to freshwater pearls, t-shirts, shells, freshly squeezed orange juice and delicious fast food prepared on small barrows.  For $2 you can get a satisfying meal and fresh fruit juice.   We soon got back into the swing of being in a Spanish speaking island, and managed to stretch my Spanish to the limit by buying a new large frame alternator and the correct capacitor. We stocked up on beer, wine, rum and  plenty of fresh fruit and veggies before turning our bow towards Tortuga.

Porlamar Margarita Venuzuela

Porlamar, Margarita – Venuzuela

While motor-sailing (again!!) we spotted something small in the water.  As we passed it, we saw that it was a small bird. We turned back and had a hell of a time trying to locate it again. Andy eventually spotted it, and brought “Silver Heels” to a stop very close to the little fellow. I jumped into the sea and picked it up, then rinsed it in fresh water and settled it in the galley sink on a soft towel to try and absorb some of the water from it’s soggy feathers. In a couple of hours it recovered enough to disappear from the sink, and we had a major search on hand to find it before it got sat on or squashed under foot.  We found him behind the stove, and I put him into my laundry basin on the bed and covered the whole thing with a light wrap as we needed to know where he was through the night.

Bird in Wash Basket

Our rescue bird in the laundry basket.

The wind picked up and we had a wonderful sail, sliding along over a smooth sea and under a full moon. We entered the bay at Playa Caldera at 11.30 p.m., eyeballing our way in and making use of the radar and GPS and with help from Norm on Walkabout who also talked us in. We’d been there before, or would not have attempted a night entry.   Early the next morning we took the bird ashore and he flew happily away .

Tortuga is a low, arid island with many beautiful anchorages, stunning white beaches and superb snorkeling. From Playa Caldera, where there’s a tiny airstrip used for flying in weekend visitors from Caracas, we moved to Herradura, our favorite Tortugan anchorage. We delivered the veggies we’d brought for our friends on “Gilana” then on the evening of the 21st September, after five glorious days we left for Los Rocques. The great sailing petered out when the wind died at 4 a.m. and we alternated between motor- sailing and sailing until we dropped anchor behind the reef at 9 a.m. We didn’t linger there as we’d been there before and weren’t prepared to pay the hefty Park charge, so after a very rolly sail to Barlovento, anchored in one of our best loved spots.


Best I could find on the net of Tortuga to give you an idea as to where it is.

At this point, hurricane “Joyce” reared her head, and had everyone in the Southern Caribbean listening anxiously to weather reports. Joyce didn’t turn North as expected, and became a direct threat to us. We didn’t want to be trapped behind the reef as the sea and wind picked up, so decided to run for Morrocoy, a National Park on the Venezuelan mainland. This was a great sail, averaging 7 knots, with the boat upright and “in the groove”. There was no moon and not a cloud in sight, so we could see every star, and their brilliance illuminated the sea. We tucked ourselves into a bay surrounded by Mangroves and settled down to see what would happen next. To everyone’s great joy Joyce was downgraded to a Tropical Depression, and the danger was over.

Hurrican Joyce

Satellite images of Hurricane Joyce

With relief in our hearts we picked our way out of the mangroves and with 20 – 25 knots on the beam, had an exciting 8-knot sail to Curacao. We were going to arrive much too early and furled more and more of the sail until we had just a handkerchief sized piece left. We were still doing 8 knots, so eventually hove to about three miles off and waited until dawn to enter the harbour at Spanish Waters. The anchorage was packed with boats which had come in from Las Aves and Bonaire to take shelter from Joyce, and we came across many boats we’d met all over the Caribbean.


The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 54

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 54: Naked and dripping in oil again, a prize-winning Poo Story, and a fun visit from family.

June & July 2000: Written in Trinidad 1 Aug 2000 – Tobago, Pirate’s Cove, Store Bay and back to Trinidad.

The anchorage was filling up by the time the “Gilanas” arrived and organized an evening on the beach where each boat brought a snack and an exotic drink to share. We had interesting conversations, plenty to eat and too much to drink. We were finally driven back to our boats by the biting no-see-ums that are the curse of the Caribbean.

Biting No-see-ums of the Caribbean

At this stage we topped our last oil mess story in spectacular fashion. Andy added oil to the generator, forgot to put the cap back, and fired up the motor. A minute or two later we heard the beat of the engine change and smelled smoke! The entire engine and generator compartments were covered in a layer of hot oil. It dripped from the ceilings, the walls, the main engine, the diesel day tank, the wiring, the compressor and all the pipes that usually go about their business in a clean and orderly manner in the engine room. We didn’t know where to start, but as keeping the oil out of the bilge was a priority, we stripped off our clothes and waded in. We ended up covered in oil, with blackened hair and faces. Needless to say I’d just cleaned the galley and as we couldn’t help brushing against the cupboards as we crawled in and out of the engine room, I had to redo that job from scratch the next day. We did the best we could, but as it was impossible to reach in everywhere, we get oily every time we do anything in that compartment. Fortunately we’d been invited to “Gilana” for dinner that night and that cheered us up no end. Good company and excellent food soon puts a happier slant on things.

SH Engine Room Oil

Engine room and us covered in oil, and NOT in a fun way.

As time crept on towards “arrival day” we sailed back to Store Bay so that we could be at the airport to greet John and Girlie. It would have been an excellent sail except for the fact that we noticed that the U.V. strip on our genoa (main foresail) was coming undone. Early the next morning we pulled the sail down and set up my poor abused domestic sewing machine on the deck. We wrestled the sail under the machine and started stitching. Every ten minutes we had a squall. It took most of the day to get the U.V. strip secured, but we still had to hand stitch the clew (the corner that you tie the ropes to, for those who don’t know). This fabric is very thick and the only way we could get a sail-maker’s needle through was for Andy to use the electric drill to make a small hole, me to push the needle and thick waxed whipping twine through, him to drill the next hole etc. This also took a couple of hours. That clew will NEVER come off!! Having done all this, we couldn’t even scratch it off the dreaded List, as it wasn’t on the List in the first place.

Andy on SH

Lots to do on the boat.

We were blessed with calm conditions the Saturday our guests arrived, so got them and the luggage out to the boat without getting anything wet. They were pretty jet lagged and went to bed early but felt up to a long walk around Pigeon Point on Sunday morning. We caught a bus into Scarborough to visit the museum, and the next day hired a car for an island tour.

My brother, John and my sister-in-law, Girlie arrive at last!

At this stage the story gets interesting as we had a “poo story” which is every cruiser’s worst nightmare. A BLOCKED TOILET!!! This happened first thing in the morning, but we decided to let things simmer for the day as we wanted to make an early start and see as much of the island as possible. Our thoughts kept coming back to what was lurking in the toilet awaiting our return. By the end of the day, we’d had a good few laughs out of the situation and felt strong enough to face it.

Andy’s theory that the problem might have gone away was a failure, so in view of the fact that I’m the least squeamish of the bunch, I fetched the bucket, shed my clothes, donned gloves, and bravely bailed out the worst of the mess, then poured clean sea water in, bailed again until things looked no worse than thick soup. Andy then dived under the boat and tried to get things moving by using a plunger, but this didn’t work, so the ball was back in my court. I used the plunger inside the bowl and very carefully (I mean, VERY carefully) moved it up and down until I heard gurgling noises coming from the pump. Happiness – I manned the pump, and everything disappeared. A quick swish with chlorine all over the place, a bath in the sea for me, then we rewarded ourselves with cold beer and wine in the cockpit and a nice dinner.

SH Joan Toilet Clean up

“Wish me luck!” Joan goes in to deal with the lurking poo.

We spent the rest of their two weeks up at Pirate’s Cove and taught Girlie to swim. She learned very quickly, and we hope she’s going to keep it up now that they’re back home. We walked them off their feet, with Jonno moaning and groaning all the way, but he lost weight, ended up pretty fit, and hopefully managed to do a lot of walking in London on their way home without having to rest every five minutes!

Our trip back to Store Bay was a smooth-as-butter sail, which we all enjoyed, and was a fitting end to their holiday. We were very sad to see them go, and still can’t believe that they were ever here.

Jonno & Girlie’s visit

Joan with Goat and Dog

Wherever Joan goes, she makes new friends!

Joan & Goat

Goat Joan Andy

There was no excuse for us to stay in Tobago any longer and with extensive boat maintenance, we did an early morning anchor-up and had our best sail ever to Trinidad. We were being pushed along by a three-knot current and 25 – 30 knots of wind. Our boat speed over the ground was up to 9.5 knots at times, and we surfed into the Boca de Mona at 9.3 knots, only to be stopped just about dead by the outgoing tide.

Andy SH

Skipper enjoying a swift sail.

We were suddenly down to 2.7 knots and struggling! It felt like a driver feels when he’s been doing 120 kph on the freeway and has to cut down to 35 kph in town. Our days since then have consisted of frustration, heat and work. We’ve now got our solar panels mounted and will get rid of the generator, install a second battery bank and do something about getting our fridge onto a DC system instead of domestic AC. Lots to do still, but we’re getting there. The next newsletter should come to you from Colombia or Panama as the plan is to transit the Canal at the end of the year and cross the Pacific.

Our thoughts go out to friends and family who have looming birthdays and anniversaries. We drink a toast to each of you on your special days. Hopefully I’ll manage another newsletter before the end of the year!

Please drop us a note to say you’ve received this letter as we’re left in doubt when we get no feedback. We’re looking forward to hearing from all of you and want to know what you’re up to.

Lots of love to all of you from Joan, Andy and “Silver Heels”





The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 53

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 53: An entertaining party with nudies, a leak somewhere and rescuing a leather back turtle.

May 2000: Written in Trinidad 1 Aug 2000 – Grenada, Union Island & Tobago

In early May, we decided to go up to Carriacou, the next island in the chain. Our planned route was to be on the windward side of Grenada. Not a good idea! We were soon ploughing into 3 metre swells with a two-knot current against us, so after 2 hours of slow going, we turned downwind and went around to the Western side, spending a night at the anchorage in St. Georges. This wasn’t pleasant as the anchorage was filled to capacity, the wind was howling, and the surroundings were unattractive. The next day found us motor-sailing the length of Grenada then finding good wind between the two islands and having a lively sail to Hillsborough, Carriacou, where we anchored in a sandy spot and discovered that one of the waves we’d taken over the fore-deck had penetrated somewhere, and water (the horror, SALT water) was dripping through the ceiling very close to the Nav. Station and all our electronics! We still haven’t traced the leak, so that’s another item on the dreaded List.

SH Nav Station

Leaking ceiling above our Nav. Station!

Carriacou is a Carib Indian word meaning “island surrounded by reefs”, and the inhabitants live off the sea and do some farming. It didn’t seem as though anybody strained themselves too much as we saw plenty of people “resting” wherever we looked.

As dawn lightened the sky next morning, we eased on over to Sandy Island, which is no more than a scrap of sand with a few palm trees lying about a mile off Carriacou. We’d previously snorkeled there and were now horrified to see the damage hurricane “Lenny” had done to the reef. The coral was completely dead, which meant that there were very few fish to be seen. We’d spotted enormous rainbow parrot fish there the last time, with teeming masses of other reef fish, moray eels and sea fans. Lenny destroyed in a few hours what must have taken many years to build up.

Hurricane Lenny

By lunchtime we were ready to move on, and Chatham Bay on Union Island, which is part of the Grenadines group, was our next destination. The Bay is pretty, surrounded by unspoiled vegetation and a pristine beach. “Infinity” followed us. Shortly thereafter two large catamarans with nudists on board came in, and although the bay is enormous, they anchored just about on top of us. Towards evening a dinghy load of nudies came over and introduced themselves. Their attire consisted of hats or bandannas, earrings, nipple rings, assorted watches and other jewelry and that was it! They had come to invite us to join them if we found their party getting too noisy later on. After dinner, and with a bottle of wine safely in our tummies, we dinghied across, received a warm welcome, stripped off our clothes and were each presented with two long strings of brightly coloured beads, the dress code for that evening. We were plied with rum and coke and amidst much merriment had a wonderful and most unusual night. There were 18 nudies on each boat, so you can imagine the assortment of shapes and sizes we were presented with. It was highly entertaining. I don’t know what time we got to bed, but it was LATE!

SH Bum View

Assorted shapes and sizes!

When the nudies left the next morning, they sailed past very close to us, and obligingly posed for photos.


Nudies posing for photo.

“Gilana” and “Southern Terrier” joined us later that day and as the only yachts there had all come from South Africa, we felt as though we’d colonized the Bay. A few days later “Khaya Manzi” showed up to add to the number, and I took a photo looking down on the anchorage of the five boats, all flying their bright flags and looking very pleased with themselves.

“Silver Heels” wanted to revisit the Tobago Cays, so we lifted our anchor and motored with the wind on the nose the short distance to the Southern entrance to the reef. The wind was strong and snorkeling conditions were unpleasant because of the choppy water, so by the next morning we’d decided that Chatham Bay was a much better bet and had a great downwind sail back to our original spot. What a wise move, as we saw a huge manta ray. This was my second and Andy’s third Manta, and the thrill was as great as the first time.

We ended up having an impromptu rum evening on “Silver Heels” and were all pretty merry by the time everyone left. It’s a fact of life that unplanned gatherings are usually the best!

SH Rum

Some evenings are better with Rum and unexpected friends.

Our time in the Grenadines was running out. We wanted to check into Tobago during Race Week, as Customs and Immigration were going to be in Store Bay for that period, cutting out the necessity for going all the way around to Scarborough to check in. We had a good crossing and anchored in Store Bay after a 16 hour run. We did all the paper work in the temporary office at the Store Bay Hotel, and were treated to free rum punches there that night. Our plan was to spend the time before my brother and sister-in-law’s arrival, up at Man-O-War Bay, so didn’t stay longer than necessary down South. The day we left, “Infinity” had engine problems and turned back, so Roger and Lindy hired a car a day or two later to come and say goodbye to us in Charlotteville, leaving Frankie behind as she had food poisoning.

We had the anchorage at Pirate’s Bay to ourselves for a couple of days and enjoyed the solitude. Our preparations for our guests’ arrival progressed steadily, and our hard work was interspersed with excellent snorkeling and a couple of long walks. Nick on “Southern Terrier” was there by then, and joined us on our walk across the mountain to Speyside, as well as on several others. We had plenty of rain during that period and our water tanks were full, all our laundry was done and “Silver Heels” had been thoroughly rinsed.

One morning we noticed frantic activity in the region of the nets the fishermen leave out on a permanent basis. We launched the dinghy and went to investigate. An enormous leather back turtle was trapped in two layers of net. These are endangered creatures but are nevertheless eaten by the locals. We calmed the struggling animal down and eventually managed to free her. It felt good to see her swim away, unharmed apart from some minor wounds on her flippers. We hope she’s learned that nets are bad news and that she lives to be a hundred.

SH Save Turtle

Operation Turtle Rescue!


The Adventures of Silver Heels. Ch 52

Written by Joan Gillett, Julie’s mother.

Chapter 52: Skimpy carnival costumes, hair raising minibus trips and sailing by full moon.

March & April 2000: Written in Trinidad 1 Aug 2000 – Trinidad, Grenada, Hog Island.

March was Carnival time in Trini – This annual event is the highlight of the year for Trinidadians, and excitement mounts day by day. We were lucky enough to get onto the main grandstand for the “Big” parade, thanks to Norm on “Walkabout” who by devious means best not divulged, managed to organize seats for the four of us. The costumes were spectacular, and the bigger ones were so enormous that they were built around frames with wheels, which the brilliantly clad “driver” then pushed along. Each group of people formed a “band” and each band had chosen a distinctive costume, which the members pay for themselves. They were pretty skimpy to say the least, and the dancing that went with the deafening music was suggestive and grew more erotic as the day progressed. Photos don’t do justice to the colours and costumes, but the ones we took are a bright memory in our scrapbook.

Photos off the net of Trinidad Carnival just to give you an idea of the spectacular colours!

We’re convinced that the nonstop music, so loud that you feel it pounding against your chest, does a lot of damage to hearing, and at one stage I pushed bits of tissue into my ears as I was getting a headache. This helped a bit, but I would have preferred having proper earmuffs for the occasion! The aftermath of the parade was like a sight from a movie depicting a hurricane’s path. The garbage was literally ankle deep, and everywhere we looked we saw Styrofoam containers, beer cans, bottles, plastic, parts of costumes, fruit peelings, and paper. What a mess. It must have taken hundreds of people many hours to get the streets back to normal.

Trini Carnival Joan Tissues in Ears

Joan with tissues in ears to dim the loud music.

By the middle of March we were ready to return to Grenada, so we checked out of Trinidad, stocked up on duty free beer and wine, and had a very pleasant overnight sail to Prickly Bay. There was a full moon to light our way and the sailing conditions were perfect, with “Silver Heels” romping along at 7.5 knots much of the time. This resulted in a night arrival so we hove to and waited for first light before entering Prickly to check into Grenada. We discovered “Sea Tjalm” and “Rich Reward”, two South African boats and friends of ours, sitting peacefully at anchor, so naturally we had to stop and catch up on their news. Debbie and Anthony, old friends from St. Martin, were also there, and “Infinity” arrived an hour or two later.

SH Sailing by full moon

Sailing by full moon

Grenada, originally inhabited by Carib Indians, was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1498, and named “Conception”. It was then named “Grenada” by the Spanished, renamed “Grenade” by the French, and finally ended up being called “Grenada” – pronounced “Gre-nay-da” by the British. The French and English fought for ownership for 90 years, and the island was eventually ceded to Britain in 1783. Grenada gained independence in 1974. It is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg (after Indonesia), and cloves, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, mace, cocoa and bananas are other important crops.


Grenada 4

We moved to “Hog Island” and settled down to tackle our never-ending boat list. I was sewing cushion covers and curtains while Andy dived on the hull, scraping off the weeds and barnacles, then attending to the tannin stain we’d acquired in the American Waterway. I made teddy bears for our three grandchildren, and found it quite a challenging project, which to my surprise turned out better than expected. “Gilana” arrived from Trinidad, followed by Nick on “Southern Terrier” who had single-handed from Cape Town to Grenada in 39 days. Nick looked tired but pleased with his achievement, and we all gave him a hearty welcome.

Joan and the teddies she made.

We experienced strong wind for several weeks and our dinghy rides ashore to catch the local minibus into St. Georges were wet and bumpy. The flowering shrubs and trees plus towering breadfruit trees and lush vegetation help take your mind off the precipitous terrain as you tear along in the minibus, jammed like sardines and taking the hairpin bends at breakneck speed. We’re old hands at these rides now, and always smile when newcomers to the anchorage get back from their first ride into town. They invariably complain about the numbers crammed into the bus, but nobody has yet topped our record of 23! The usual number is 18 or 19.

SH Friends' first taxi ride

Friends emerge shell shocked from their first minibus experience.

The fresh produce in Grenada costs twice as much as in Trinidad, but that didn’t stop us from tucking into creamy soursop and huge juicy mangos. Trips to the market always yielded lots of delicious and sometimes strange fruit and veggies. Being a vegetarian in the tropics is no great hardship!

Hog Island hasn’t changed much since we first lingered there in 1996. The little beach is still the gathering place for cruisers in the evenings, and the Sunday “Picnic” still takes place although it’s no longer a “pot luck” where each boat contributes a dish to share. There’s a little open bar made from bamboo and run by the Rastafarian who originally supplied the barbecued chicken for the picnics. He still does the chicken part, but now supplies salad as well, so everyone wanders ashore on a Sunday, has a tasty meal, socializes, the kids play in the water and on the beach, dogs mingle without any aggressive behavior, and until the multi-million dollar hotel complex finally manages to muscle in, things there will remain laid back and pleasant. Development is a very real threat, constantly discussed.

SH Rastafarian serving salad

See ya later maan.