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…fast forward

Not having kept up the  blog for some months it takes quite an effort to catch up – especially since obtaining wifi is such a performance – there are only so many coffees and cocktails that a man can drink just to get wifi. So I thought I would just skip forward.

Appropriately April Fools Day was spent doing the 167nm journey from Jolly Harbour, Antigua to Gorda Sound, Virgin Gorda. The passage is in two parts. First the channel that separates a number of islands. To the South lie St Kitts & Nevis; Sint Eustatia; Saba and to the North St Barthelemy; St Martin and Anguilla. Normally speaking at least two or three of these would be worth a visit. It breaks up the journey. But I have to get to USVI by 14 April for the shipping. The second half of the passage entails navigating the Anegada Passage – sometimes affectionately referred to as the “Oh-My-God-A” passage.

I had intended leaving on Thursday and crossing the Anegada Passage during Friday – but as I watched the weather data it became apparent that delaying one day would mean getting to the Anagada Passage on Saturday – a day with very light winds – which was a pity – but more importantly only 2m swells funnelling in from the Atlantic. It would mean motor sailing – but I chose that option rather than put the philosopher and the mathematician through hell on their first long trip out for months. 

The picture below will give you an idea why the underwater profile and sea mounts cause such confused seas on the best of days. You get a minimum of 2m swells from the Atlantic, plus the waves caused by the wind from the SE plus the curling of currents caused by the underwater seamounts. You definitely don’t want to be here in bad weather.

 

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We set off on Friday March 31st. The forecast was for E or SE winds – so it was no surprise when N winds greeted us as we left Jolly Harbour! To be fair to the computerised weather models, there is a wind and current effect for at least 20nm around each Island, which these models cannot take account of. So for the next few hours we went from close hauled to beam reach to broad reach and then dead run. A normal day at the office for a sailor.

I had also intended leaving at 3pm but boredom and an itch to get going meant we left at 11am – 4 hrs early. I knew that time difference would have to be adjusted somewhere to ensure that we did not arrive at our reef strewn destination in the middle of the night. Our destination was North Sound  – one of the favourite anchorages for Sir Francis Drake – on the Island of the fat virgin – Virgin Gorda.

“…A fair easterly wind filled the square sails of more than 20 British warships surging westward three days out from Guadaloupe on November 8, 1595. Sir Francis Drake, a hero of Britannia and the scourge of Spain, could easily see the lush green hills of the present-day British Virgin Islands from the quarterdeck of the flagship Defiance. He knew he was getting close to battle, and he looked forward to it. Apart from his exploits against the Spanish, Drake was also famous as the first Englishman and only the second captain to circumnavigate the globe during an epic voyage between 1577 and 1580. Ferdinand Magellan was the first to circumnavigate in 1522. Drake’s achievement, which included claiming California for Britain, earned him a knighthood.

Drake was no stranger to the Caribbean, one of the most popular yacht charter destinations in the world. He had first sailed there in his late teens and in the years following those initial piratical adventures he had returned several times for more loot, plundering Spanish galleons and making himself wealthy. Drake was preoccupied with his latest objective: seizing the treasure aboard a galleon undergoing repairs in the Spanish stronghold at San Juan, Puerto Rico.

But in 1595 Drake had fallen out of favor with Queen Elizabeth. Several failed expeditions against the Spanish had seen to that. In his mid-fifties, Drake badly needed a victory. He had to capture the Spanish galleon at San Juan.

Soon Virgin Gorda came abeam. Ahead was North Sound, at the north end of the island, which today is home to the world-famous Bitter End Yacht Club and many other resorts. Guiding the warships through the channel into the picturesque bay would be challenging, but ultimately the fleet gathered inside and anchored “in a sounde in the Virgines northe northeast from Santa Cruse.” The anchorage was well protected and exquisitely beautiful. The fleet stayed for only one night while Drake and his co-commander planned the attack on San Juan…”

The first half of the journey went to plan – except for the Philosopher marking each nautical mile with a sick bag. I sent her below to sleep. She emerged from time to time over the next two days but over excitement drew her back to her bed on each occasion. Not to worry. The old Bentley and I were a good team. She did not react quickly to extremes of weather – and frankly, I didn’t react quickly to..well… anything.

Saba_with_seaThe first day drew to a close – the wind dying to 3/5kts and the distant lights of the amazing Saba Island to help guide the helm.

 Saba Island looks so small it could be mistaken for a container ship at night with a small necklace of lights strung along the top and down one side. It seemed like hours went by as we sailed towards Saba – actually it was hours at our grand speed of 3/4 kts.  As the sea became pitch black and the sky littered with stars I wondered if my plan to cross the notorious Anagada Passage while it was calm would become a reality. I had been careful not to use words like notorious the day, before when I briefed the crew. Dawn broke at about 0700 and there was Saba, looming out of the sea, a truly formidable rocky remnant of an ancient volcano. But not as formidable as the people who colonised it. They said no one could inhabit it – so some early white and black settlers proved them wrong by building two settlements. The lower one can be reach by a flight of stone steps from the rocky bay where it is virtually impossible to land a boat – virtually – but they did it. They said the two settlements could not be joined by a road – so a local man took a correspondence course on road building and started to build one – after 21 years of hard labour the road was completed. They said that you couldn’t build an airstrip – so again the locals built one by hand and a mad French pilot landed on it to prove it could be done – the airstrip starts and ends on a cliff edge.

 Eventually Saba became owned by the Dutch West Indies Company and today it’s claim to fame is that at 887 metres (2,910 ft) its the highest point of the entire Netherlands. As we sailed passed I saluted out of respect for such a magnificent symbol of human spirit.

…more next time….

Essequibo River, Guyana..

Approaching the estuary of the River Essequibo takes timing. There is a sand bar and you must enter at the correct state of tide. After entering it is advisable to anchor off one of the little islands – the estuary is huge – and then do the 50 mile journey up river with a full day ahead of you.

As Enterprise approached the coast, we were far too early so with only a scrap of mainsail, we drifted along silently on a calm and moonlit sea. The mouth of the river lay ahead. I could see on AIS that my friends on Nautilus, Aztec Dream and Fenicia who had all started from Tobago had kept their one day lead and were already anchored on the other side of the bar. Behind me, the AIS showed 4 or 5 boats closing fast – German. I was NOT going to follow boats in….

I started the engine and motored, it was 0330. I took an angle to the sand bar so that I could turn at about 0600 and head in with the tide. At the allotted moment I turned – as dawn broke on a deep blue and flat ocean, all I could see was a a dark brown line that crossed our path about a mile ahead. I was heading directly for it – gunning the engine to keep ahead of the pack behind me. As the bow of the boat broke out of the blue and into the murky brown I fully expected a crack and for Enterprise to grind to a halt. But no – with only 1 meter of water below the keel we were still progressing. Relief.

By 1130 we were at anchor inside the estuary next a small island. Some other boats had caught up and decided to anchor nearby.

As the sun set there was only the green jungle; the scream of howler monkeys and the squawk of the parrots going home to roost. Absolutely magical.

 

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Nereids Rally…

Its the start day of the rally – 5 Sept 2016. The much anticipated Nereids Rally. Only a few boats are leaving from Trinidad. Most had opted for leaving from Tobago. So Enterprise sails alone one more.

Its customary to hug the Trinidad coast to avoid the counter current and wind, then to head out into the Atlantic to clear pirate alley off the coast of Venezuela, out through the oil rigs and traffic of the oil fields and then south – against the currents and the wind – what could go wrong …?

The sky was grey most of the time. We sailed close hauled all the way (into the wind) – than goodness for the new main sail!… Electrical storms were a feature every evening. Initially they were in the distance but each passing day brought them closer. Eventually around 6am, a dark foreboding cloud started to cover the entire sky – it seemed like a scene from a Harry Potter movie, I fully expected a bat to fly down out of the cloud. Then the lightening and thunder began. It seemed directly overhead the crack and flashes were virtually simultaneous. I thought of putting as many electronic gadgets as I could in the oven for protection – but I couldn’t leave the helm. With the sea rushing past the boat furiously but with only slight waves the wind started to scream through the rigging. This was a new one on me. I had never heard the wind do that so loudly. The wind indicator at the top of the mast started to whine like a child’s top. I watched with interest as the wind speed went to 30kts (ok, I had sailed that before); 40kts (oh, perhaps I have to much sail up  – I took the genoa in); 50kts (the main sail was reefed – but only one reef); 65kts (oh shit… this could be bad) – the apparent speed reached 73.4kts because of our forward motion – it is greater than the true wind speed – Enterprise just ground to a halt. I froze in awe. The boat stood perfectly upright – head into the wind and the sea and wind screamed past. It was dreamlike – I didn’t do anything except watch. I knew if I touched anything this perfect balance may be disturbed and we would be blown flat. I waited – it seemed an age – but was probably no more than 20/30 mins. The wind subsided to around 25kts … with much relief, we continued on our way.

 

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Its behind you …! If you were asleep and you had to take the helm – you may have to do it with only underpants on …
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Electric storm and 65kt winds… Into the black..
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A new day… Land ahoy..

Message in a bottle…

Having returned to Trinidad, we do at least get to be at the celebration dinner hosted by the Nereid’s Rally organiser – David – an ex Italian banker… dont ask.

David has also arranged for children and parents from the local special needs school, to come down to the yard and be shown around a few boats – Enterprise included – and have a little talk given to them by each of the skippers present.

We then join the children at the roti hut to write their messages in a bottle. Each bottle will be given to the rally participants to launch into the Atlantic off the coast of Venezuela.

 

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New main sail…

While languishing in Trinidad for the second time getting the drip-less seal and the generator fixed I happend to enquire about the price of a new main sail. The old one has done roughly 10,000 miles and is well past its sell by date. Again the prospect of upwind sailing to S America is not to be underestimated.

So – at last a new sail! USS sails struck a great deal on a beautiful new main sail – fully monogrammed with the “Moody” logo, …terrific.

It even furls easily – great job!

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Oh oh…

The new leak proof, lifetime guarantee, drip-less seal on the propeller shaft is – er – leaking…..

Not so much that Enterprise would sink – but enough that I don’t want to sail to South America with this worry.

On top of which the generator capacitor is having an argument with the inverter /charger – don’t worry its a boaty thing. It was great to get help from Steve on Aztec Dream – who helped to diagnose the generator fault and lent me his only spare capacitor… it was good to be able to return the capacitor to Steve later when I got 2 extra ones in Trinidad. The cruising community are always willing to help it makes life so much easier to be able to tap in to the wealth of experience that fellow boaters can offer.

There is no choice but a sail back to Trinidad and a lift out for repairs – all of which must be done before the Nereids Rally departs on 5 September.

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Life in Tobago…

After an anchoring at Store Bay, you take your dinghy and head for the beach. On arrival, you drag the dinghy up the beach and chain it to a palm tree – swapping pleasantries with the local rasta who are sitting in the shade writing lyrics and smoking their own brand of tobaco. You then march a 1/4 mile to a road junction and wait for a bus. They don’t come – so a passing “taxi” – a guy with a car that was given its last rites some years previously, negotiates to take you across the island to the capital, Scarborough. Thirty minutes later you get out at the ferry port and find a tiny office in the deserted ferry terminus building where once more you “check-in” by filling out copious forms in triplicate. Scarborough is a town of about 20k people – small you might think. Excpet when they all talk at once and all have hifi systems that were once used by Pink Floyd.

You reverse the journey, and get back to the dinghy hoping that nothing has been “borrowed” from it or it itself has been “borrowed.” This is the way “day-one” passes in many of the stops along the way. You put out of your mind the prospect that you have to repeat this exercise on the “check-out” lap.

Sights of Tobago.

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Store Bay to Scarborough.. Store Bay
Pigeon-point Bay
Pigeon Point.. Distant views..
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Posh hotel.. Colonial past…
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I love signs.. There are a lot of issues for the local mayor to deal with..

Sambol ..

Life could not progress without making coconut sambol –  with my new coconut scraper…

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Green beans….? Onion…
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Chilli powder, salt, lemon juice.. Scrape a real coconut..
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Fry it up with Maldive Fish… High tea is served…

Off to Tobago…

At last we are free of the confines of Power Boats marina.

Three fellow cruisers – Aztec Dream; Nautilus and Fenicia are leaving today for Tobago – at last!.

We all plan on joining the Nereids Rally to Guyana – and the sailing angle from Tobago is much more favourable. Not to mention that Tobago is a wonderful little island.

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Fenicia sailing along behind.. Cutting through the notorious Dragons Mouth
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Enterprise at anchor Store Bay, Tobago Enterprise at anchor
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Ok ok I was going to put up the anchor ball… Give me a break !

Life in Trinidad

The other aspect of the cruising life is of course fixing stuff. Every cruiser has to spend at least one day a week on DIY.

Whether its a new million pound wonder boat or a 30 year old wooden yawl held together by Rescue Tape. By the way – get Rescue Tape – its marvellous !

 

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Assorted “useful” o-rings… Engine oil change time…
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The local rigger – washed up here from Norway ! ….to lubricate furling mainsail mechanism