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Pirogues of the Caribbean…

Enterprise set sail from Port Louis, Grenada at 1230 on 2nd August, bound for Trinidad. We had taken on board the growing sense of insecurity from the Caribbean Safety & Security Net (CSSN) bulletins and decided that discretion was the better part… so we were to join two other boats – Aztec Dream and Nautilus – as we crossed South of Grenada – they were departing from Prickly Bay.

The CSSN publish “Passage Precautions” and we had heeded their advice – travelling in company; creating sacrificial goodies to hand over to pirates (money in a credible wallet; defunct credit cards; assorted electronic items; older phones and so on) – all these had to be “hidden” in credible places too, to give the appearance that they were “discovered”. What with hiding of real stuff as well as “fake” stuff – I somehow knew that I would probably lose 50% of the things I had hidden simply by not remembering my brilliant hiding place !

We also published a “Float Plan” to the Trinidad Coast Guard; the Ocean Cruising Club Rep in Trinidad – who by the way is arrestingly called Jesse James… you couldn’t invent this !

I briefed the mathematician and the philosopher as best I could… we revised VHF procedures; safety equipment; man overboard procedures… and decided on a simple watch keeping system for the 100nm – 20hr – passage. As advised by the CSSN and others we would leave at midday and travel through the night making landfall in the morning. There was some tricky pilotage at the end of the journey to since we would be passing through the famous Boca Monas passage. Most importantly we stocked up with Ginger Nuts.

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The passage started well, with winds F3 to F4 and sea state slight. As we rounded the SW tip of Grenada we tried to make as far East as we could so that we would clear the oil platform South of the island and also get a better angle for Trinidad – given the prevailing easterly trade winds. We actually went further east than the Float Plan indicated.

I took the opportunity to have an hours nap, anticipating that the planned watch rota would probably have to be ditched if the crew needed help. As evening drew on, the weather deteriorated to F5 to F7, and sea state moderate to rough – not a good introduction for the crew, experiencing their very first night time passage. Luckily we had all taken our mal de mer tablets.

All three boats had kept their AIS transmitters on. We had originally planned to turn these off since they give the precise location, direction and speed of the vessels – very handy for a pirate. But, in view of the conditions we all felt that an unwelcome encounter was highly unlikely and it was more useful to warn commercial shipping of our existence than worry about an encounter with Black Beard.

Our buddy boats had started further east, and were able to stick to the Float Plan, passing about 3 miles east of both Hibiscus and Poinsettia – the two oil rigs – but we couldn’t head into the wind as well as our buddies and passed between the rigs – a gap of about 10nm – about 3nm east of the Hibiscus platform. I was getting more and more frustrated with the pointing ability of the boat – it looked like I would have to fork out for a new mainsail sooner rather than later. The current sail has delivered over 15,000 nm in my ownership alone, which amongst other passages, includes 3 Biscay crossings and the Atlantic. A fair bit of work I would say.

We managed without mishap throughout the night. Enterprise delivering the usual solid performance. A bit like driving your Bentley, laden with a massive Harrods Hamper strapped on the boot lid – across the fields behind Ascot. Not ideal – but – well – “solid”.

The crew were allowed to sleep off their slight mal de mer (actually 3 bags full of it) … and join me occasionally in the cockpit to get a feel for what its like to career along in the pitch black with the radar screen and the starlight canopy for comfort. On one such occasion we actually did hit the perfect angle on a wave, with the result that it completely covered the boat and managed to put fresh cool sea water down everyone’s neck and soak everything in the cockpit even my ginger nuts (biscuits you understand).

As the day dawned. We had an “incident”. This is the report now listed on the CSSN. You can read it here. I don’t want to overegg the situation – but you will probably realise that we were pretty rattled by the experience. I will be forever grateful to Steve & Lynne aboard Aztec Dream for their quick thinking and unhesitating and courageous reaction in turning towards us and contributing to the eventual happy outcome.

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The rest of the passage went according to plan. But, I must say that the sinister and powerful currents in the Boca – that had all three yachts crawling at 1knot even with engines at full power was pretty awe inspiring. Much respect to 18 century schooners that plied this passage with only sails to power them and steering that would have made a sloth on ice skates look graceful.

imageApproaching the Boca image
imageOld leper colony – not a Sandals Resort.. imageA Trinidadian pirogue…
imageHoliday homes in the islands… imageSwirling currents – not waves – in the Boca..

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