Monday, March 25, 2019

March 2019

We started March in Rendezvous Bay, St Johns. We had intended to sail across to St Croix on the Friday but, with the stresses of the previous day, decided we needed a rest and just relaxed and swam. There was none of the wildlife that we had seen previously – conch, rays, barracuda, remora. Whether this was just chance or a permanent change we don’t know. On Saturday, we had an earlyish start and had a great reach down to Christiansted on St Croix. The entrance to the harbour is convoluted but we worked our way in to an area, protected by hidden reefs, that gave us easy access to the town. We wanted to visit Buck Island, which is a National park and theoretically requires prior permission so we had a hasty lunch and took the dinghy to a nice public dock and scurried to the fort, which acts as the park control. Here we were informed that, after the hurricanes of 2017, things were still not back to normal and that no permit was required. We continued for a walk past the inner harbour and a look at the shops. On Sunday, we went ashore again for a walk round the old part of the town then motored the 4 miles into wind to the designated anchorage at Buck Island. The downside of no permission being required was apparent, with many motor boats taking up the best spots but we found a comfortable enough berth. There is a renowned reef inside a long lagoon with moorings for small craft. Our charts suggested that Ruby would not be able to navigate in the lagoon so we waited until 1600, when we thought that the rush would be over, and took the dinghy. Any rush there might have been was definitely over and we had the reef to ourselves. The reef was OK but had lost some of its glory with the hurricanes. It was Elsie’s first time swimming with only the dinghy and she was, understandably, a little nervous but managed to board with little fuss. Had our windlass not been playing up, we would have moved Ruby further in for the night, but decided to stay put. Monday morning, we rowed ashore and, briefly, had the island to ourselves before the stream of day trippers arrived. We managed to find an entrance to the trails and had a pleasant, though strenuous, walk across the island.

There is a long fringing reef protecting the eastern end of the north side of St Croix, with what looks like a sheltered bay, with a yacht club near the tip. This seemed like a good opportunity to explore so we picked up and headed across. Unfortunately, the swell somehow managed to work its way in and, after a rolly lunch, we back-tracked a mile or so to the west and found a more comfortable spot for the night. We were not sure about beach access here, and believed that there was a reasonable bus service so, rather than pushing our luck, we picked up in the morning and headed out to sail round the island. Once outside the reef, we had a five mile beat to the tip and then a fantastic broad reach westwards, beam reaching the final few miles to anchor just north of Fredricksted pier. We were a little surprised to find about 8 yachts already (including Baloo, which we hadn’t seen for 18 months) already there, but there was plenty of room. The windlass made even more noise than usual and, when we tried to heave in, it failed altogether confirming our decision that a new one was needed. I was pretty confident that we could heave up manually but it would be a slow process and it was good that we were in an uncrowded anchorage. On Wednesday morning, we dinghied in with the intention of just having a walk round the town but were hailed by a fellow cruiser who had the luxury of a borrowed car. He was off shopping at a big supermarket and could offer a lift. It was too good an opportunity to miss so we accepted and stocked up on provisions. Back on board, I took the windlass apart, not with any hope of fixing it but just to make sure that I wouldn’t have any hold-ups when it came to replacing it. Having not moved since Ruby was built, it was a little stuck but a little gentle persuasion got it moving.

Elsie had found some walks on the island and on Thursday we tried to get to the North West tip. Further investigation had shown that buses only ran between the two main towns, so we tried hitching. This was only partially successful and we had to walk most of the way and we missed the route to the official walk. As Elsie managed to trip over an obstruction and badly grazed her knee, we decided to call it a day in case we had to walk the whole way back and returned. We did manage to hitch most of the way but we had had sufficient exercise. On Friday, we decided to do the tour of the local distillery, Cruzan, which is located within a mile of the centreline bus route. We got to the bus stop well before 10 and checked with a couple of locals that we were in the right place – yes, and the 09:30 bus should be along soon. At 10:00 one of them phoned the bus company – yes bus was on it’s way but running a few minutes late. At 10:20, we gave up and took a ‘taxi bus’, $2.50 instead of $1.00, only to see the service bus arrive. The tour was a little disappointing, showing us fermentation vats and ageing storage but not the stills or bottling (which is actually done in the States) and lasting only 20 minutes. The tasting afterwards was, however, was well worth it with a couple of shots of flavoured, low proof, rum and a couple of cocktails. If we were not already full to the gunwales with rum, I suspect that we might have come away with a few more bottles. We did manage to break away with only a couple of T shirts and weaved our way back to the highway. Only a 10 minute wait for a ‘taxi bus’ this time and back on board for a late lunch and a much needed afternoon nap. We were anchored just north of the Fredricksted pier, which was reputed to have good snorkelling so, on Saturday morning, we took the dinghy across and swum along it. Plenty of fish, a couple of turtles, but none of the sea horses that were supposed to be there. The afternoon was spent mostly lazing. On Sunday, we were more energetic and walked the 3 miles down to the south western tip of the island. The first mile was on roads but they ran out and we continued along a beach, which is seasonally closed in the summer as it is a prime breeding spot for turtles. This was heavier going as it was soft sand so we were a little surprised to see an occupied beach umbrella at the far end. As we approached, these multiplied and we discovered car loads of families, who knew that there was road access from the other side.

Back to Ruby for lunch then, no rest for the wicked, it was time to play with anchors. With the windlass out of action, we were going to have to lay and pick up anchor by hand. Our main anchor weighs about 20 Kg and 10 metres of chain a similar amount. This is quite enough to handle manually and, with a wind blowing and putting horizontal load on would be unmanageable. Fortunately we had light winds and were expecting similar for the next few days but we needed to be sure that we could anchor and pick up easily. I assembled our lightweight Fortress anchor and attached it to our kedging rode, which has about 12 metres of smaller gauge chain and a similar length of rope. We then rigged up a long rope from the bow to a cockpit winch and transferred our snubber to the starboard bow cleat with just a foot of rope between that and the chain hook. The system was: Elsie attached the long rope to the chain with a rolling hitch then indicated which way the cable was leading; I gave a kick with the engine and, as the weight came off, winched 5 metres up. Elsie hooked on with the snubber; I slacked back while she stowed the chain in the locker; repeat. It all went much more smoothly than expected, the only snag being that once the anchor broke ground we started to drift. To be properly safe in a crowded anchorage, we would have needed a third person: one to winch, one on the bow and one to manoeuvre Ruby. Fortunately we had plenty of space, but it confirmed our decision to use the lighter anchor. We drifted for a while as I removed our main anchor from its cable (this needed to be done as the chain threads through the windlass), stowed all safely, assembled the new anchor and cable on the foredeck then manoeuvred to a clear area for practice. Once in position, I stopped and dashed to the bow and lowered the Fortress, with Elsie ready to manoeuvre as required. In only 5 metres of water and light winds, we just put out 20 metres or so and gave a tug to bed it in – perfect. Picking it up on Monday morning we found, as hoped, that I could haul in by hand at the cockpit winch, bringing in 10 metres of rope at a time with Elsie using a long and a short rope and rolling hitches at the bow. This made it a lot quicker and easier.

Anchor up, we headed north to Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas. Arriving at 14:00. We found a nice big space, anchored and went ashore for a walk and a little shopping. Once back on board we got the news that our new windlass was in Puerto Rico so it was time to head west. It was only 40 miles downwind to Fajardo. We hoped to do this on a broad reach but, with the wind not quite as forecast and the island of Culebra in the way, the first 25 miles were done on a dead run under cruising chute and main. Once past Culebra, the wind backed just enough for a broad reach to take us to Isleta Marina which provided a nice quiet anchorage for the night. There were still a few uncharted wrecks around from the 2017 hurricanes so it is definitely a daylight navigation area. We needed to clear in and thought that we were going to have to dinghy in and walk a mile to the customs office but a phone call on Wednesday morning revealed that there was now an office at Sunray marina and that we could take Ruby to the fuel dock while we did the necessary. This proved a blessing as it was a hot, still, day and just walking the length of the marina had us melting. Paperwork done, we headed back out and down the 4 miles to Puerto del Rey. We parked, booked in for 2 days and went to find our new windlass. I had been quoted $3000 in parts and materials, by a shipyard in the States to install it but, with only a modicum of sweat and hardly any bad language, I had the job done and cleaned up within 3 hours. A quick test showed that the electrical terminals were wrongly labelled but that was soon sorted. Elsie had meanwhile done the laundry and booked a hair appointment for the following morning so all was going well.

We had been watching the weather for the passage to the Bahamas for weeks. No problem – the trade winds were working well and you could pick any time, any day and get a nice F3-4 to give a comfortable broad reach. Until now. There were a succession of cold fronts emerging from Florida giving cyclonic winds, then calms, as far as the forecast could see. It looked as though we might be retrieving part of our original plan and spending a week or so in Puerto Rico but we then spotted a window for leaving on Friday. Not a great window, but we would be getting a reasonable wind for most of the way and a slow drift for the remainder.

Food and other consumer goods being so expensive in the Bahamas, we wanted to do a good provisioning here. I thought of hiring a car but, as everything was fairly local, decided to just use Uber instead. Elsie’s hair was at 10:30 on Thursday, so I rolled along at 11:15 to collect her. The hairdresser was doing a lovely job but after the cut spent a further 30 minutes drying and straightening it. This meant that we arrived at the gas depot, where we needed to refill our cylinder, just in time to see the operator disappear for his lunch. With no car, we had no option but to wait an hour before getting our next cab, doping a mega shop, a third cab back, golf buggy back to our dock and stow all away. Another check on the weather and prepare for departure. We were going downwind, so had preventers rigged on each side and I fitted the inner forestay in case the forecast was wrong and we needed to beat into wind.

We let go at 08:50 on the 15th and found a light easterly so full sails up for a reach to Cockroach Passage then a broad reach on track under main and cruising chute, changing to genoa as the wind built to a F4. By nightfall, it was gusting to F5, so we put a reef in the main but we were making 7 knots, better than predicted, on track. Some gusts in the small hours had Elsie wake me to put in the second reef and the Genoa was going in and out with wind changes. With our new furling gear, this is now so simple. At mid-day, the wind started to drop and, in late afternoon, we had to motor sail for a couple of hours as the sails were flogging with the swell. We managed to sail through the night, though at much lower speed than the first night, then had to motor again for a couple of hours on Sunday morning. Knowing that boats heading east on ‘The Thorny Path’ shelter in the afternoons to avoid easterly winds, we decided to close the coast and gybed round. This proved to be a good move and by mid afternoon we gain had a F4-5 and made excellent progress along the coast. A bonus was that we could get a phone signal so were able to update our weather forecast (and listen to some radio). This, unfortunately, confirmed that we were likely to run out of wind the following day. At 14:00 on Monday, we started the engine and used it all the rest of the way at an economical 1800 revs, 5 knots, as we were certain of a night-time arrival anyway. We did arrive at mid-night and dropped anchor opposite Matthew Town. As soon as we stopped our engine, we noticed the generators running on shore but, with a beer and some ear plugs had a good sleep anyway.

On our previous visit, a year ago, we had been the only visitors and even had locals coming to see us as a novelty. Word had obviously spread as, on rising, we could see 5 masts inside and there were a further 4 yachts at anchor. While we were debating whether to go in and have a look anyway, 3 catamarans emerged so we quickly picked up, proceeded in and found a nice empty dock and someone ready to take our lines. The docks are American style wooden pilings, high and with only one ladder per 80 ft finger, so it took a bit of fiddling to get us properly moored, fendered and with adequate access but it was nice to be back. Breakfast done, it was time to clear in. Customs have an office ½ mile north of the port but, in the heat, it was nice that locals stopped and gave us lifts both ways. The officials here are very friendly and we were soon done with them so our next stop was Bahamas Telecom to get a local sim card. I have a great deal with Vodafone, which allows me to roam almost anywhere except the Bahamas (an accidental turning on of data the previous evening had racked up a bill of £12 in 20 seconds). BTC does a data only sim which gives 15 Gb for $30 so is affordable, but their office was closed and seemed to be so for the duration. Back to Ruby. With the heat building and no wind we dug out the silvered tarpaulin, last used in Greece 2 ½ years earlier and rigged an awning. It was then a trudge into town to the new telecoms provider, Aliv, to try their service. Their system was down so no joy and I stopped off at the library to check mail, etc.

We had timed our arrival well as the mail boat was in and we could see fresh provisions being loaded onto the supermarket truck. After lunch, we walked back to the town and had a good shop, before returning and doing not very much in the heat. Wednesday was, likewise, a not very much day. We did manage to get an a bit more food and an Aliv sim but otherwise just socialised with John and Julie from Myla and Blondie from Alabama, a beautiful 1980s American yacht, spending the evening aboard the latter, together with the dock master, George. Somewhere along the way, we decided to head off to Hogsty Reef the following morning, but failed to plan properly. We should have left at first light but instead waited for George to arrive, so that we could top up on water. This meant that we didn’t leave until 10:00. With 45 miles to go and light winds, it was clear that we wouldn’t arrive until after dark so had to ‘motor assist’ most of the way. Indecision again got the better of us here. Hogsty reef is an almost completely submerged atoll, reputed to have some of the best snorkelling and diving in the Bahamas, but is only tenable in calm conditions. We were tucked into the North West corner, near the only entrance and it was pretty lumpy overnight. On the chart, it looked as though there might be a better spot in the North East corner but that was 3 miles away over unknown shallow water. If it didn’t work, that would probably be 2 hours, there and back. By the time we had decided to go it was 09:00 and, with a light northerly, it was soon apparent that we needed to motor again to arrive at our next stop, Castle rock, at the bottom of Aklins, in daylight. I lost count of the number of times we looked at each other that day and said ‘this isn’t us, is it’. On arrival, we found that ‘Myla’ and ‘Bow Tied’, who had both been at Hogsty, were already there and we were given a lift over to the latter for sun-downers and some great seafood.

Again, we debated whether to stay or go but, this time, managed to be away by 07:30 the next morning to sail up to Landrail Point on Crooked Island. It was going to be close hauled all the way, so we hoisted the staysail and, with reefed main and genoa, headed off. Today, the wind was just backed 10 – 20 degrees from forecast and it was hard going. It took us over 10 hours to achieve the 45 miles, though we did manage to make it all the way without motoring. The plan had been to continue up to Rum Cay the following day but, when Elsie suggested that we take a break and wait for the next weather system, I didn’t take much persuading.   

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

February 2019

In which we continue our way through the Leewards, back to the Virgin Ilsands, buying a new boat on the way.

We started February 2019 at anchor in the lagoon at Sint Maarten.  On Friday, I collect the bimini cover then another shopping expedition for short-term groceries and a well deserved lazy afternoon. On Saturday, we decided to move on again so booked out then went for a top-up of water before catching the 10:30 bridge and motoring round to France. Only 2 miles by dinghy but 9 round the coast. Check-in took longer than planned as our first two attempts were met with closed stores but we finally managed. On Sunday, we just motored 5 miles up the coast to Grande Case, a small tourist resort, dinghying in to have a pleasant stroll and an ice cream.
Other yachts at St Martin

On Monday, we had a short sail up to Tintamarre island. For the exercise, I rigged the inner forestay with our newly adjustable fitting and we beat up into a 15 knot wind with greater ease. Tintamarre is in a conservation zone and mooring balls are provided, so we took one and then took the dinghy ashore for a stroll. There is a good beach with, behind it, low scrub from abandoned farmland and what had been the first airstrip in the Leeward Islands. We navigated our way through this and found another deserted beach on the Atlantic side, well protected by a reef and remarkably clean. On Tuesday morning, we went for an early walk back across to the Atlantic side and up to the North. It was slow going, first on pebbly beach, then rocks, then moorland. Halfway up, we were joined by a goat kid, apparently missing its mother. It followed, then led us, presumably believing that, as we were large and mobile we would provide some milk. Eventually we saw some adult goats and handed over responsibility. We managed to get ¾ of the way round the island then encountered thicker scrub and had to retrace our steps. Having only expected to walk for less than an hour we had neither water or sun protection and, after 2 hours, we were pleased to get back ‘home’. On Wednesday morning, as I went for a pleasant little snorkel, the park rangers called on Elsie and informed her that we should not have stayed overnight. Oops but, despite further internet searches, we could not find this written anywhere. We then picked up and, just using genoa, sailed across to Oriental, a tourist resort on the windward side of St Martin. There are 2 possible anchorages: one open to the South-East, from where the wind was blowing and the other nicely protected. The first was crowded and the second deserted so we picked a prime spot and dropped the hook. The downside was that it was near the tourist beach and there were various motorised water users. And of course, we weren’t alone for long as sailors are a bit like glider pilots in gathering round someone who seems to be doing well. Ashore to buy bread and, just as we were beaching the dinghy, we were hit by the wake of a speedboat, tumbling Elsie into the water and bouncing the motor on the transom. Elsie was in some discomfort, but would recover; the transom, however, showed greater than ever signs of coming apart.

On Thursday, it was a return to Marigot. We decided to stay on the French side, and dinghy down to Island Water World 2 ½ miles away to discuss the dinghy. While we are certain that it was they who had wrecked it, we had no proof. We had spent the last 2 months knowing that Rubette’s days were numbered so had done some research and even looked at a few possibilities. We preferred to get another fully inflatable roll-up one that we could stow away for ocean passages but, on looking at those available, didn’t particularly like the look of any. One available in the U.K. for about £1600 looked better but it would take over a week and another £500 to ship it out. Fibreglass RIBs, were too heavy to lift on board, or beach, but we found an aluminum (American) one that actually weighed less than Rubette and decided to go for it, negotiating a 15% discount. As Rubette’s transom was, by now, in danger of giving way altogether, we borrowed the courtesy dingy again and towed our sad little tender back home. On Friday, we collected our new tender, still unnamed despite a Facebook call for suggestions, and did a final provisioning run over to Philipsburg. Saturday morning was spent checking out, buying a new security wire for the dinghy and topping up with water and petrol; the afternoon was spent relaxing as we had decided to do an over-nighter across to the British Virgin Islands for a daylight arrival. We picked up at 20:15 and had a great broad reach across with an Easterly F4, arriving at Prickly Pear bay, just across from Richard Branson’s Necker, exactly 12 hours and 80 miles later and enjoyed a lazy Sunday recovering. Monday morning we sailed downwind under genoa only to Roadtown to check in. There was misleading information about where to do this as the usual place had been destroyed by 2017 hurricanes but was now operational again. We also hit the back of a ferry arrival crew and some of the rudest officials yet but held my patience with a fixed smile. The anchorage here was pretty rocky and non-scenic so we picked up again and sailed South to Peter island, anchoring for the night in South bay. This was well protected but the wind was directed by the topography to give us a westerly facing us away from the sunset. Swiz! There was also some kind of industrial activity with a generator running all night so, on Tuesday morning, we moved ½ mile up the coast to another anchorage, fortuitously arriving just as the boat in the prime spot was picking up so we hovered until they left and bagged it.
New dinghy

For nearly the last 5 years, I have been reporting back to my surgeon in Aberdeen every few months for a check-up. I am now ‘on licence’ provided I get my mouth looked at every few months by a suitably qualified professional. The BVIs seemed like a good place to do this, so I started calling round. The first orthodontist offered an appointment in six month; the second said that they were booked up until next year, but had just had a cancellation for that afternoon. A rapid decision made: up anchor and back to Road Town. A bit or research had found that there were a few buoys available, free, for daytime use so we found one of these to tie up to. The location wasn’t great, either scenically or for comfort so, after my appointment, away again to Peter Island, this time just stopping in the lee of a little hook in Key bay. This was fine over night but, in the morning, the wind turned south of east, bringing swell in so it was time to move again. There was an obvious bay less than 2 miles south, on Norman Island. It looked so good on the chart that we expected it to be packed but there were only 2 boats in it so we were able to find a good spot and settled in for a few days of relaxation. Just a swim that afternoon but there was an extensive network of trails, accessible from the beach so, the following 2 mornings we had long, healthy walks, followed by relaxing afternoons in the sun. After our (for us) recent hectic pace, this was a real tonic.
Ruby at Benures bay

On Saturday, 16th, we were getting low on food so, reluctantly, we left Benures bay and headed back to Road Town, again taking one of the free buoys. This was seriously bad timing as Saturday is change-over day for the charter boats and the supermarket was crammed with people stocking up, often with 2-3 trolleys in train. The check-out queue wasted half an hour but we managed to get what we wanted so headed out again, putting up the cruising chute to take us to the bottom of Tortola then motoring a mile up to Belmont bay, where we had stopped a couple of years ago. Anchoring was fine but, in the night, the wind changed moving our chain round a rock so it made horrible grating noises in the small hours. On Sunday, we decided to sail up the coast of Tortola looking at, and rejecting, several anchorages on the way. We eventually decided to continue back to Virgin Gorda and anchored at the north end of Long Bay. This proved to be a beautifully protected spot with some great snorkelling along the edges. The gloss was taken off by a charter flotilla arriving in the early evening and parking unnecessarily close to us. After a bit of water skiing they settled down to be mostly well behaved but, with a wind shift, one of them was parked right over our anchor when we wanted to leave in the morning and we had to ask them to move. Blank looks, so we just dragged the anchor out from under them.

The wind was due to shift again, round to North of East, so we headed north to Anegada, avoiding the main anchorage / mooring field at Setting Point and opting instead for the smaller, less well protected spot at Pomato Point. This is rolly with swell south of east but was bearable on arrival and got better during our stay of 3 nights. Each day, we went for a walk, either along the road to the main mooring area, where there are beach bars, scooter hire and a small shop but better along a lovely, deserted beach. We continued our seemingly aimless wanderings on the 21st with a great beam reach back south to Prickly Pear Island, out first stop. We believed that there were trails that we could walk on here but investigation the next morning proved fruitless, so we headed to Leverick Bay on the south side of Gorda Sound to do some laundry, a little shopping and a top-up of water, then headed out and down the coast back to Long Bay. We couldn’t see any access from the beach here to the interior so, the next morning took the dinghy a mile down the coast and walked up through a private development, back to our bay and, sure enough, found access although there was only a short stretch of the beach which didn’t have a rocky shore so landing might have been interesting.

On the 24th, we wandered downwind, under just the genoa, looking at possible anchorages on Beef Island and Tortola, but nothing appealed, so we just popped into Road Town for a little provisioning then back to Benures Bay on Norman. There were several yachts here already (including a Canadian, who had been here the previous week) so we had to anchor further out than ideal. While we walked the length of the island, the following morning, they all disappeared, so we were able to move in closer. Having an empty bay was good because our windlass was now very sick and overheating if asked to pick up more than 30 metres of chain. We picked up 20, paused, then the rest. Having the space to ourselves also allowed us to play at putting out a Mediterranean moor: anchoring, then running lines ashore. We did this a few times in Greece but hadn't since. Since one has to nip ashore with the line in the dinghy, the other has to drive the mother ship and present the stern to take it. We are lazy in sticking to our roles and Elsie gets little opportunity to drive Ruby under power, so having plenty of time and space enabled us to have several ‘dry runs’ and it all went smoothly. The wind shifted while we were mooring and, broadside to it, we were putting quite a strain on, so we let go our shore line and just swung to our anchor. Swimming over this later, I regretted that decision as the cable was lying over some rocks and would, no doubt, rub on them overnight. It did.
Southern side of Norman

On our walks along the spine of the island, we had looked at Money Bay, on the south side. This looked well sheltered from any wind north of east and was always deserted so on Tuesday, 26th, we picked up, to the evident relief of the Canadians, who had arrived back to a crowded bay the previous evening and now quickly nipped into our spot and motored round. The bottom was quite different to the chart – twice as deep and fringed with a coral reef. Our first attempt at anchoring left us too close to this for an overnight stay and, with grass covering the centre, we could not be assured of the anchor biting on a second go. As we would have to put out 40+ metres of chain, we didn’t want to have to have multiples goes so, after a few hours of soaking up the sun, we picked up and headed north to White Bay on Peter Island. Each time we had seen, or briefly visited here before, it had been crowded but this time we had it to ourselves. It is a picture perfect sandy bay which had been an up-market tourist resort before the 2017 hurricanes but was now deserted apart from one cabana with some cane furniture and a line of buoys preventing visiting yachts getting close to the non-existent swimmers. I swam ashore that evening and we rowed the dinghy in the following morning for a little investigate. The only access to the interior was not inviting so we stayed on the beach. A few yachts came and went during the day, including one 45 metre sloop, which we looked up as being available for £100,000 per week + expenses but, by the time that the sun was going down there was just us and one other so we mixed up some rum punch, rowed ashore again and watched it set from the luxury of our own cabana.
Our 'sundowners' cabana

Sunset over Peter Island

It seemed like time to move onto a new country so, on Thursday, we headed back to Road Town to check out. If I’d thought the officials bad on checking in, they were worse checking out. Replying to a cheery ‘good morning’ with a grunt was only a start. Although we had followed their directions on checking in, there was ‘an error’. And it was our fault. We might have got away with bad grace had one of them not stated that Elsie was not a ‘bona fide’ crew member. Suffice it to say that an hour of our day was lost, followed by further hours on following days with letters of complaint. We trudged back to the supermarket for a final top-up, and escaped. The wind was fair and we had a good broad reach down Sir Francis Drake channel and round to Cruz Bay on St Johns, USVI, anchoring outside and dingying in. Here we were met with a smiling ‘Good afternoon sir, madam and sent on our way with ‘Welcome to the USVIs, have a great stay’. From here, we motored the 3 miles round to Rendezvous Bay, where we had stayed 2 years before. Once again, we had it to ourselves, though one of the houses, which had been under construction before was now in use and had a loud sunset party on the verandah. We thought of complaining but decided to be tolerant.   

Sunday, January 13, 2019

January 2019

In which we wander round some of the Leeward Islands we passed by in haste in 2017.

We started the New Year in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua. Having completed the essential maintenance tasks, though with cooling pump on board rather than fitted, it was time to move on. We had been in close company with many other yachts for too long and craved a little isolation. So ashore to check out and buy bread then up anchor and sail back along the south coast to Johnson Point to anchor for the evening. On the second, we were up early and were under way at 0810 for the 45 mile sail to Deshais on Guadeloupe. The wind was a little stronger than forecast, at 20 knots but, with 2 reef in and the wind just ahead of the beam we had a fine sail across, albeit with occasional showers, dropping anchor 6 hours later, in time to dinghy ashore and use the self service check in located in a tourist shop. Guadeloupe has 2 main islands: The one with the mountains, where we were, is call Basse Terre, or Low Island; Grande Terre, which is flat, is the smaller of the two. Deshais is a touristy town with plenty of cafes and boutiques but not well served for provisions. We decided to do a little inland exploration and on Thursday, 3rd, we hired a car for 48 hours, taking a small circular route that afternoon through the mountains. On Friday, we did a full day, driving across to Basse Terre and following its coast round. Our first stop, at Anse Babin, had a muddy beach ands many people smearing themselves in the mud, no doubt considering it to be theraputic.

From there up to Anse Bertrand, a pleasant enough tourist resort, then on to the northerly Pointe de la Grande Vigie to peer out into the Atlantic. Down the East coast to Pointe de Chateaux, the last few miles along a small road lined with ‘Galeries Artisanal’ with more or less revolting local art and craft works. There was a stop at the end with more craft stalls and a view out to La Desirade, the easternmost island of the archipelago.
Pointe de Chateaux

We managed to view this in a break to the increasingly frequent showers then headed back along the south coast with a deliberate stop in Saint-Francois and unintentional ones in traffic at Sainte-Anne and Le Gosier. Back across the bridge to La Basse Terre and a stop at a supermarket to stock up. This was a disappointment as there was no fresh meat so it turned into a minor shop instead. On Saturday, we returned; Elsie dropping off to do laundry while I continued on to Sainte-Rose to find another supermarket and get enough food for a week. We had the car until 1400 but had run out of enthusiasm so dropped it off, returned to Ruby, picked up the anchor and sailed, close-hauled, down to Riviere Sens near the southern tip. This is where we had topped up on duty-free fuel 2 years before so, in the morning, we motored into the marina only to find that regulations had changed and we would have to pay the taxable rate. We had also banked on topping up on water but found that we had to move to a (stern-to) marina berth to get this and pay 15 Euros for the privilege. An exchange of camping gaz cylinder cost 30 Euros, [Edit.  I don't know what gas was inside, but it didn't burn properly, sooted up the cooker and gave us headaches. The remains of the bottle were vented on a windy day]  But at least we got good, cheap, bread for lunch. We then had a 10 mile beat with 2 reefs across to Iles des Saintes into a F4-5. We picked up a mooring buoy at Ilet a Cabrit, as anchoring is prohibited. The buoy had a large steel ring on top, which made it easy to pick up but, with fluky winds and currents, knocked against us marking not only the hull but also out new SS bow protector. Ashore in the morning for a walk round the, deserted, island then a short motor across to Anse de Bourge, the only town on this group of islands. This is, again, very touristy with frequent ferries across from the mainland. We made a quick trip ashore for the essential lunch time bread and a longer one in the afternoon for a walk across to the Atlantic beach and a full exploration of the town. Although the mooring buoy was similar design to the previous day’s one, this time there was a steady wind keeping us off it so obviating any further damage.

Our ‘new’ genoa is now 4 years old and has sailed over 20,000 miles. I suppose we shouldn’t be too disappointed that it has stretched a little and does not allow us to point so close to wind as when new. The next 2 legs were going to be into wind, so I rigged the inner forestay so we could experiment with the blade jib that I bought second hand over 3 years ago and we have hardly used. A final trip ashore on Tuesday morning, for bread, then let go at 0830 to sail up to Marie-Galante. Only 16 miles in a straight line but, into wind and dodging (some) showers we had nearly 30 miles on the clock when we dropped anchor at 1350. It took us a while to get the sheeting for our 2 headsails sorted out but, once we did, there was a definite improvement in both angle and speed to windward. Ashore after lunch to explore Saint-Louis, the big town of the island. This was very tatty and didn’t inspire us to linger so the following morning, after an even earlier bread run, we picked up at 0800 and headed up to Iles de la Petit Terre. These are a pair of tiny low islands that are Guadeloupe’s answer to Tobago Cays. The sail across was ‘interesting’ with frequent squalls, causing us to heave-to a couple of times and have the genoa in and out like a fiddler’s elbow but we managed better at tacking to the wind shifts and, for a direct distance of 18 miles, managed to only do 26 across the ground and arrived at 1315, taking one of the obligatory buoys.
Ruby at Isles de Petit Terre

As well as a few yachts on these, there were a multitude of day trip boats, filling the only beach with tourists so we waited for them to leave at 1600 before going ashore and exploring. A quiet night, an early rise and ashore at 0730 to again have the island to ourselves before the first day trip boat arrived at 0830.  A lazy middle of the day then ashore again for a longer explore before returning for sun-downers, joined by Andy and Lisa, fellow OCC members from yacht Kinetic.
King of the Castle

On Friday we decided to complete the circumnavigation of Guadeloupe so, with an early start, we headed north with full sail in a light easterly. Once again, there were passing showers and much reefing and un-reefing of the genoa. Our first check point was to pass between Pointe de Chateaux, where we had been a week before and Desirata. Towards the top of the island, a larger shower came through. We had the genoa well reefed but still full main up and it was an interesting few minutes of hand steering with the wind gusting up to 27 knots on a broad reach. I found it exhilarating; Elsie possibly not so much. What did disappoint was my ‘new’ Helly Hansen jacket. I had bought this 18 months earlier in Newport, Rhode Island but only worn it 3-4 times. I now found that it was leaking badly and the lining was coming away in shreds. Change of brand required. Once round the top of Grand Terre, the wind died and we motored the 7 miles down to anchor off Port Louis. As we settled in for the night, there was loud drumming from the town and fire-crackers going off. We later found out that this was part of the carnival which seems to stretch from Christmas to Mardi Gras.

Ashore in the morning, leaving Rubette in the fishing port. A pleasant little town, with a street market on. We managed to find a butcher, for some nice pork steaks; a stall selling bakery goods including a lovely pate en-croute and a fish monger butchering a fresh tuna. We bought from all 3 and stocked up on vegetables from a green grocer and, of course, bought fresh bread and pain chocolates from the boulangerie. We then had a pleasant broad reach across Grande cul-de-sac Marin to Basse-Terre and our starting point, Deshais, where we checked out and prepared for our crossing to Saint Kitts.

The direct distance is about 80 miles, which is too much for a daytime trip so we did it in two. On Sunday, with an ENE’ly F4 we had a close reach back across to Johnsons Point, which had been our departure point from Antigua 10 days earlier. A quiet night, then an early start as we wanted a daylight arrival and check-in. The wind was E’ly F2-3 so we started broad reaching with full main and cruising chute, giving us 4, then 5, 6, 7 knots as the wind built. By 10:00 it was up to F4 and still increasing, so we put it away and used full genoa instead. We were aiming for the gap between Nevis and St Kitts but the wind didn’t have enough north in it to allow us to make this on a reach. Rather than slow down on a run, we accepted a slightly longer track to route north of Booby Island. This worked well and, with just a short wing-on-wing run, we were able to gybe round to slip between the islands then back to sail on a beam reach up to the capital, Basseterre, anchoring off Port Zante at 1545. This allowed me to nip ashore in the dinghy, check-in and get a few goodies. A slightly rolly night at anchor, then discovered the following morning that we could come in for US$20 a night so did that. This allowed us to wander around the town at leisure and plan on a big touristy day for Wednesday.
Lime kiln or 18th Century space rocket?

There is a well preserved 18th century fort on top of a volcanic outcrop on the western side of St Kitts. One can pay for a taxi from town to the top but instead we had an early start, taking a local bus to the foot of the hill and walking up. Our timing was perfect and we got to the gate as it opened at 09:30 to get the whole site to ourselves for an hour or so before the cruise ship hoards arrived. A full tour, walk down the hill again past troops of Green Vervet monkeys, and we decided to stop off for more tourism on the way back. Again, a bus, then walk up a hill to Romney Manor where there is a batik printing workshop. There is a ‘tour’ which consists of of a bored
Brimstone hill
woman reciting her spiel for the 27th time today while painting a little wax on a piece of cotton before pointing you in the direction of the shop. I must confess that some of the product is gorgeous but it is the first time I have been charged $3 to enter a shop. Bus back to town and, while Elsie did a little food shopping, I had a much needed hair cut.

A lazier start on Thursday then out and motored the 5 miles across to Whitehouse Bay to anchor and spend the afternoon sun bathing. On Friday, we dinghied into the, very posh, Christophe Marina. The average size of the yachts here is in excess of 200 ft but they still met us with such charm that we spent $28 on some fresh Italian and balsamic vinegar, which was kept in the shop for us while we went for a walk. The marina is the first stage of a development and, as is our wont, we strolled around and picked the plot we would buy as soon as the lottery paid up. As we untied our scruffy dinghy, I noticed the fuel price and a bit of mental arithmetic showed me that it was the cheapest we had seen for months so resolved to top up the following day. Back on board, we pigged out out on fresh bread then, after a pause to let it settle, a dinghy into the shallows for a little snorkelling. On Saturday, we swapped islands, stopping off for fuel n the way. As it was only 6 miles across to Charleston, the capital of Nevis, we didn’t bother with the main and just reached across under the genoa. Not terribly efficient but, in the flat waters with 12-15 knots on the beam we did the trip in an hour, taking one of the obligatory buoys on arrival. We dinghied down to the town and managed, after a struggle, to land on a derelict pier. Wandered around the town for a bit then, on our way to find hot springs, noticed that a cricket match was being set up. Dangle of feet in the springs then back, beers in hand, to watch a seniors match between Nevis & St Kitts. The cricket might not have been of the highest standard but was enlivened by the commentary: "The crowd is building, we expecting a capacity of 26,000" (there were about 100 of us on rickety bleachers); "They are going wild" (our polite British applause at a six or a clean bowled or groan at a dropped catch were the loudest reactions). Also entertaining were the breaks when, after almost every 6, someone had to scramble over a wall to retrieve the ball or ask a passing pedestrian to fish it out of the main road.

On Sunday, we took the dinghy to the beach and walked up the hill opposite and through the forest to an abandoned sugar estate and beyond to work up an appetite for the last of our Italian bread. Monday was, basically, a lazy day with just a little trip ashore for bread and to check out.

We had an early start on Tuesday, 22nd, letting go our buoy at first light, 06:30 and motor-sailing the first few miles back past Booby Island to the windward side of St Kitts. Here we were delighted to find that the wind was due East, just a little further round than forecast and giving us 15 knots from just behind the beam. With full genoa and a single reef in the main we flew along and were at anchor off Gustavia, the Capital of St Barts before 14:00. Leisurely lunch and dinghy ashore to check in and explore the town. Voyaging round the Caribbean we encounter the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. These latters are often elderly, poorly dressed and have been left behind by the consumer society. While some may beg, they mostly seem content with their lot. In Gustavia, we realised that we were the have nots. The harbour was filled with yachts, but they were almost exclusively of the motor sort and averaged about 150 ft long. The bigger ones, including Abramovic’s Eclipse (435 ft) were anchored outside. While there were some of the usual Diamond ‘n Emerald shops for the tourists, there were also some seriously high class boutiques and our brief foray into the liquor store revealed that wines at less than 50 Euros per bottle were not to be considered. Even the Thai takeaway had dishes priced at 30 Euros plus. But looking at the lovely ladies in their designer floaty dresses and their bronzed men sitting at the cocktail bars, we couldn’t help wondering if they were actually having more fun than us. The local supermarket provided baguettes for a Euro, good rum for 12 together with fresh meat, fruit and vegetables at European prices, so we just enjoyed our stroll, stocked up the fridge and retired to Ruby to watch the sun go down.

On Wednesday, we headed up to a little bay, Anse de Columbier. On the chart, it doesn’t look to give particularly good protection from the prevailing swell but reports were good and proved to be accurate. Buoys are provided and we picked one up. Unfortunately, there is a very short eye on the top to pass ones mooring ropes through. Elsie was struggling so I went to assist and ended up dangling over the side, getting my shorts wet. Not a problem in this climate until I realised that my phone was in the pocket. End of phone. Fortunately the SIM survived and we put that in Elsie’s phone to tide us over. We spent 3 nights here, mostly just relaxing with a daily trip ashore for a walk or beach swim and back for some little maintenance jobs including our bi-annual clear out of waste pipes, for once doing it not under pressure. Time for another Island change, so on the 26th, we went back to Gustavia, taking a mooring buoy this time as they are included in the ‘facility fee’ and got us closer in. We booked out the following morning and headed downwind to Sint Maarten, Dutch side of the smallest territory in the world to be split into 2 nations. We anchored overnight at Phillipsburg in a large bay (OK but lacking in charm) and then continued the next morning round to Simpson’s Bay, the major yachting centre.

Initially we anchored outside, as there is a lifting bridge and limited space to anchor inside. In by dinghy to check in and check out maintenance facilities as we had a few jobs to do. We managed to locate someone to repair our dinghy (a tear in the bottom, first repaired in Lisbon, was leaking); put a doubler on our lovely new bimini cover that we had contrived to chafe a hole through and free up our inner forestay adjuster. This had seized, having not needed any adjustment for 3 years but now requiring it as our new furling gear had added an inch to the primary forestay. On dropping this off, at the opposite end of the lagoon to the chandleries, etc. I saw that there was, in fact, space in the anchorage for 2 – 3 yachts and, with a 5 PM bridge opening coming up, we hoisted the dinghy on board and heaved up anchor only to find ourselves the 4th in line to enter. Being British, we joined the back of the queue but, once inside, we came over all continental for a few minutes, took a short cut and dropped our hook in the prime space available. The others also slotted in easily, so we didn’t feel too bad. Tuesday was a busy day, dropping off bimini cover and dinghy early (getting a ‘courtesy dinghy’ for the latter). We then caught a bus back over the hill almost back to Phillipsburg to see if my phone could be mended (no), buy a new, second-hand one and scout the supermarkets. On Wednesday it time to set up my new phone. Fortunately, I was mostly up-to-date with back-ups, so most of the aps, photos, etc. were there. The only thing it wouldn’t do was act as a phone: it wouldn’t make or receive calls or texts. The vendor had told us of problems with the Dutch side system so we dinghied to France and tried there. Eventually, with me one side of the buildings and Elsie on the other, using different networks, we managed to assure ourselves that it was working and, only pausing to buy some proper French bread, we returned to Ruby. Next was laundry. The owner of the laundrette assured us that it was cheaper if we let her do it (though, at $28, I dread to think how much self-service would have cost), so we left it with her. While there, we were told that the dinghy was ready. Oh dear! A not very convincing repair but worse, they had managed to damage the joints between transom and hull tubes. Of course, they denied responsibility but we are now in the position of being in the one place in the Caribbean where we can get a replacement and not knowing if we need it. A few more errands, including dropping off cooking gas cylinders and collecting the forestay adjuster. Thursday, an early bus to Phillipsburg, to walk round Fort Amsterdam, built in turn by the Dutch, French, British and Dutch again but now isolated inside a gated resort, which I suspect we shouldn’t have walked through. A trek back up the hill to a discount supermarket for some stores shopping and back in time for a quick dinghy trip to collect laundry and gas bottles, a late lunch and then caught a bus in the other direction to the beach at the end of the runway. Here, the threshold is very close to the perimeter meaning that that those on the beach feel that they can almost touch the wheels of incoming jets and really can get the full benefit of the jet blast from those departing. A good spectator sport if you judge your position nicely to avoid the eflux but watch idiots getting sand blasted, bowled over, lose their hats etc. 
Warning sign

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

December 2018

In which we leave the States and head to warmer climes for the winter.

The start of December saw us on passage from North Carolina to Bermuda. To say that were ‘ship shape and Bristol fashion’ would be stretching things. Our radar wasn’t working; our dingy wasn’t holding air, so might need replacing – probably easier in the States than Caribbean; on the second day out, we discovered that our main VHF radio was again not receiving but worst was the lack of recency of the crew. We had had only one day of sailing, in fairly benign conditions in the last six months. Elsie frankly admitted to terror; I hid mine. On the plus side, we knew the boat well and had done longer passages in the past; we were full of fuel water and food; we had confidence in our ability to get weather updates and the forecast showed light winds, all from behind the beam. We would have been happier waiting a few more days and getting a bit more recency in but winter was pressing in and the longer term forecast didn’t give any other weather window for weeks. We had had a little trepidation over crossing the Gulf Stream, it being an axiom that you don’t do so with any significant North in the wind. As it was, we hit it at a quiet patch and although, at times, we could see a 2-3 northerly drift, you wouldn’t know it from the surface. What was amazing was the change in temperature. Only 150 miles from the coast, where night temperatures had been below freezing, it was now warm enough to put away several of the layers of clothing we had worn the first night out.

On departure, our 4 different weather models had given us widely different ETAs. By the morning of the first December, they started to agree that we would arrive around sunset on the 3rd. The weather overnight 3rd / 4th looked a little lively and the entrance to St George is a bit technical for an after dark first attempt so we needed to keep our speed up. On cue, the wind dropped and swung directly behind us so we started the engine to give us some assistance. It’s not something that we like to do for long periods but flexibility is good. The wind picked up again late in the evening and came round to just behind the beam, giving us a nice reach in smoothish seas and 8 knots through the water – heaven. It went up and down a bit over the next couple of days, giving us some nice reefing practice but we managed to keep ahead of our predicted speed and arrived off the coast of Bermuda at lunchtime on the 3rd with an hour to spare to enter in daylight. Our hope was to go to anchor and clear in with customs etc. the following morning but, just as we got to the entrance, we were instructed to go straight to the customs dock, which meant bringing in the spinnaker pole, tidying away lots of ropes (preventers, guys, spare sheets etc.) and getting out fenders and mooring ropes. Twenty minutes of frantic activity had us prepared and all went smoothly with very friendly officials making handing over $70 seem almost a pleasure. Half a mile motoring across the bay and another half hour of tidying away and we were able to take much needed showers, break out a drink and toast another successful passage. We had motor-assisted for nearly 24 hours but got back into the groove and could relax until the weather gave us a window for the next leg.
Customs House, St Georges.

Tuesday was, as forecast, wet and windy so we had a day of doing very little, just a bit of cleaning, tidying and trying to sort our radio problem. Our fuel gauge also seemed to be hugely optimistic but that would have to wait as I could not find access to the sender. A new calibration might be required. Wednesday was better so we got out the dinghy. It now seemed to be holding air in (maybe grit in a valve on first inflation) though still letting a little water in. Our new, heavier, outboard was installed without problem and we went ashore for a look round the local town. Very scenic and touristy, with a hammed-up reconstruction of 18th century punishments as lunchtime entertainment. The local 
supermarket was also better than (and not as outrageously expensive as) we expected.
Back to Ruby for another easy afternoon catching up on a few jobs, including finding an easy fix to our radar problem (loose connection at the display unit). Unfortunately no such joy with the radio. We managed for most of last winter with poor range caused by a damaged antenna. We would just have to put up with our hand-held back up, with the knowledge that the main was transmitting if we needed to send out an alert.

Thursday was again windy, so we elected to stay on board again.
On Friday, we took the bus to the capital, Hamilton and on yo the other end if the island group, the Naval Dockyard. This is where the cruise ships tie up and is a real tourist trap, with plenty of craft shops to augment the usual. We had omitted to pack a lunch and ended up paying over $30 for sandwiches and tea. Stopping off in Hamilton on the way back gave us some comfort, as we discovered that we could buy spirits duty free, to be delivered to customs for us to collect on departure. 2 very nice litre bottles of rum for $36. I wonder if we regret not buying more. Saturday, we took another local walk round St Georges, seeing the unfinished church and, at the northern point of the island, a new luxury resort under construction. Sunday got progressively wetter and windier with severe S’ly gales overnight. We were well prepared with everything battened down and even the wind generator curbed in case it over speeded. We unleashed it on Monday and, at times it was giving us over 100 watts so soon caught up the backlog.
Unfinished church

We had been following the weather closely and, from about Friday onwards, Wednesday had seemed the day for departure so, on Tuesday, we had a last trip down to Hamilton then came bacxk to tidy up and prepare for our next 930 mile leg down to Antigua.

On Wednesday morning, we eves-dropped a couple of other boats discussing their plans. Chris Parker, the weather guru, was recommending a 24 hour delay as there was a large, 3 – 4 metre swell running from the previous day’s high winds. We ran our forecast again and confirmed that delaying would make us miss our weather window. It would be fine for the first couple of days but then we would be caught in a calm then, worse, be sailing into a headwind for the second half of the passage. Our reckoning was that it was worth taking early pain for later gain. Final preparations: securing below; rigging lines; a top up of fuel, then we checked out (not forgetting to collect our duty-free rum) and headed out at 1040 with 2 reefs in the main and most of the genoa in a WNW’ly F5. While in the lee of the islands, the motion was fine and we made good speed. As we sailed south, the swell increased and, rather than the even ocean swell we were expecting, it became irregular and confused, possibly by the wave train being broken up by offshore shallows. Our motion became very uncomfortable and we suffered one slide down a particularly large wave, crashing sideways into the trough. We were both shaken by this and neither of us slept much that night. The following morning we had a little respite as the wind, as forecast, decreased to F3 and veered round to the NNE. We were travelling much slower but the motion improved a little, though there was still a significant W’ly swell. I then discovered water in the bilge. Only a couple of gallons but Ruby is such a dry boat that it had us worried but it seemed to have ceased and there was nothing we could do but monitor.

We were now in trade winds which kept a fairly steady direction, between NE and E, and speed, F 4-5 for the next 2 days. We should have been enjoying this but the first 24 hours had shaken and tired us. Elsie was unwell, probably just sea-sick, but was unable to keep anything down and, unusually for her, to sleep. I was eating OK but not sleeping. On the night of the 15th / 16th, the wind veered further to ESE and decreased to F 3-4. This meant that we were fairly close hauled, which in turn meant well heeled to starboard. As our forward bunk is on the port side, this meant using the port quarter berth, next to the cockpit and engine. This became significant as the wind veered and decreased more on the 17th, requiring us to motor sail for prolonged periods to stay ahead of the forecast calm. During an occasional stronger wind period, we suffered a further unpleasantness when the clew of the first reef gave way. Our ‘new’ main (we have had it for over a year, but not sailed very far in that time) had been modified by the makers, North, and a poor choice of shackle, supplied by them, had sawn through the webbing supporting the clew block. We managed a quick jury rig but, looking at the rest of the system revealed that the line had chafed badly at the tack. Being out of sorts on this passage had led me into not properly doing my twice-daily rounds and I had failed to notice that it had been poorly led. We managed to stay ahead of the calm and finally made it into Jolly Harbour at 1225 on the 19th. What we wanted to do was just curl up and sleep but, unfortunately, you can’t do that. We dropped anchor briefly, to tidy up and have the first proper showers in a week then motored into the customs dock to spend an hour or so doing paperwork and paying our dues. They were kind enough to let us stay alongside for a further half hour or so while we had a quick shop, then back out to anchor in the bay to finally relax.

We now had quite a few maintenance projects and the festive season was rapidly approaching. Our liferaft was overdue for survey and re-pack, as we had been unable to get this done in the States; The main sail needed repairing; the radio needed repairing; we needed to replace the first reefing line and the shackles for the reef clew blocks needed replacing. Fortunately, we were in a good place for all of this. Jolly harbour has a good chandlers and all of the technical people seemed to have capacity to help. Lots of phone calls and well-loaded dinghy trips saw everything required go ashore. Now to investigate the bilge water. The initial few gallons had been filthy with fibre glass dust, presumably from repairs back in 2014. We had dried that up but now there was more and it seemed to be coming from the keel area. This was deeply disturbing and I feared that our sideways slide on the first day had loosened bolts. It was, however, trickling out from a cross beam, which had no bolts inside. Lots of investigation revealed that it was coming from the raw water cooling pump for the main engine, trickling down the heating pipes for our domestic hot water tank and emerging in the beam. It was an annoyance that the pump, which was only replaced a couple of years before, was leaking but it was so much better than the possible alternatives.

New clew for hammock
Carrick mat

Turks head on re-covered wheel

The next few days were spent with minor jobs, chasing repairers and, occasionally, relaxing in the sun or strolling on the beach. It became clear that nothing was going to be returned before Christmas so we bowed to that and made the best of it. We had a few socials with Ocean Cruising Club friends and got invited to BYO beach barbecue, courtesy of the local sailing club, on Christmas day. On the 27th, it became apparent that the radio and sail needed more active chasing so, on the 28th, after a final shop, we upped anchor and headed down to English harbour, anchoring in time to nip ashore, drop our old water pump off for investigation and collect a repaired sail and an unrepaired radio. The latter was an annoyance as the manufacturers had diagnosed the problem
by internet and were prepared to repair it at reasonable cost. Only problem was that they were 3000 miles away. We decided to continue using our portable set (Elsie having cured a charging problem) and take the main set back for repair when we could. We re-installed this set as we knew that it was transmitting and, at the very least, was one of our several ways of sending a distress message, if required.
Coldies coming ashore for Christmas Barbie on the beach

The anchorage at English harbour is rather cramped and, with strong winds forecast, I couldn’t put out as much anchor cable as I would like so, on Friday 29th, We motored round the corner to Falmouth and settled in. We attempted to re-install the main and managed to get the battens in but the wind blew up, so lashed it to the rail to await calmer weather. I woke the next morning to find, unforecast, light winds so dug Elsie out, with surprisingly few complaints, and 30 minutes later it was back on the boom. On Monday afternoon we were informed that our water pump was ready, so we picked that up. It was too late to check out so we spent the evening messaging friends and family as their New Year passed. At midnight there was a nice firework display and all the guests on the big yachts took their turn at blowing the fog horns. Eventually things quietened down and we went to bed to dream about 2019.

Monthly stats

Log                1620

Over ground  1372

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

November 2018

In which we return to Ruby after six months in the U.K. and prepare to sail off for the Winter.

We arrived back in Oriental on the 9th November. Two months earlier, the town had taken a direct hit from hurricane Florence. We had been informed that Ruby had suffered no damage but were anxious to check for ourselves. We had an initial panic – she was not where we had left her but soon spotted her on the other side of the boatyard. A quick walk round showed no scrapes or bangs and the inside was clean and dry – phew!

Ruby in slings, ready for launching.

We had a list of jobs to be completed before departure: the mast to go back up and electronics checked; wind steering lower mounting to be reinforced; servicing of main, outboard and generator engines and several smaller items. Our first disappointment was the decision by the rigger that the mast could not be safely installed while we were on the hard. The second was rain: the work on the wind steering had to be done on land and in dry weather. This meant that we did not get launched and mast installed until Monday 19th. By this time we had discovered other pressing matters: bilge pump not working; missing part for steering gear; outboard beyond repair etc. and I didn’t manage to connect the mast electrics until Wednesday 21st. I then discovered that the radar was not working. Thursday was Thanksgiving (as big as Christmas in the States) so nothing could be done until Monday. We had managed a myriad of other jobs, including installing a new toilet and Elsie had battled her way through the technology of our Iridium GO satellite device so we spent the weekend tidying, cleaning and even having a trial with our new, bigger outboard. This is when we had our next disappointment: our dinghy, though old and scarred, had always kept the air in and the water out. After six months of being rolled up in the locker, it seemed to do neither. Only slow seeps but it was really time for a new one. This would take time to order and we wanted to be away so decided to cross our fingers that it would last until we could find a replacement. Monday morning brought a radar technician who could find no obvious fault so, again, we crossed our fingers ( we had barely used it in the last 2 years) and finally, at 12:10 on Monday 26th, we let go and motored down Adams Creek back to Fort Macon and anchored for the night. On Tuesday, we went out for a day sail, to Lookout Bight and back, to check the rigging (too loose), the wind steering (working) but mostly ourselves. We had had six months off and needed to be reassured that we still knew how to do it. We came back in to Homer Smith’s marina to make final preparations. One last disappointment awaited us as we discovered that our main radio was not receiving and we resolved to fix this the following day.

Re-fitting the mast.

Our plan for the winter has been to head to Antigua, drift west with the trade winds through the Leeward Islands. Virgins. Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba and then make a decision in the spring whether to re-cross the Atlantic to Europe. The way the weather systems work, the natural route from the east coast of the United States to Antigua takes one within about 100 miles of Bermuda so we planned to use this as a staging post, breaking the journey down to manageable sizes of about 600 and 900 miles. This sounded fine while we were sitting in the U.K. but now we were faced with the reality: these were long ocean passages and we were six months out of practice. The alternative was to coast-hop down to Florida and cross to the Bahamas, as we had last year. This would have been a lot more comfortable but we would then have been trapped by the trade winds. Sailing east in this area is known as ‘the Thorny Path’, beating hundreds of miles into the winds or taking advantage of short term conditions to make small, mostly night, hops, relying on the weather for your destiny.

Our ‘shake down’ day sail had gone well and a weather window for the leg to Bermuda had opened up for Thursday morning. We decided to take it. The radio seemed to have fixed itself, so it was a case of tuning the rigging, doing laundry, topping up on fuel, water, food and beer and checking out with customs. All this was achieved in time for us to meet up with 3 other Offshore Cruising Club members and the Port Officer for a great meal of local shrimps, snacks and drinks. All 4 of us were planning to leave the following morning, each with different plans: Blue Velvet was heading direct to Antigua; Coolchange for Charleston and Enjoy going South on the ICW. To say we slept well that night would be stretching things. Elsie admitted to terror; I did the manly thing and showed a calm exterior. Intellectually, we knew that we, and Ruby, were capable but the voyage ahead was daunting.

Flags hoisted, ready to sail.

A few minor tweaks on Thursday morning and we were off, just before 10 AM. As ever, we had to battle the tide leaving Morehead and then had light winds sailing for the first 24 hours, which gave us time to get our sea legs back. The next 24 built to a Force 5 W’ly giving us a great broad reach and a little practice in reefing. We were checking the weather every 12 hours. We can get 4 models and each gave us a slightly different ideal route and ETA. Our philosophy is ‘Hope for the best; plan for the worst’, so we weight each model, avoiding anything that looks nasty and modifying our route to try and achieve best speed while keeping the wind behind the beam when possible.

Monthly stats

Log               277

Over ground  276

Oops - late posting. Summer plans.

Elsie wrote this months ago but we didn't get round to posting.

Well that was The Bahamas and this is the south of England???

Talk about contrasts. I have spent the winter floating around paradise. The only major decisions taken were which beautiful Island or Cay next. OK, the weather was not perfect but it does add something to the journey, the uncertainty, the joy of a sailing wind, the disappointment of a force 8 instead of a force 4, the wind unpredictably backing, setting the cruising chute on the port side then realising, ten minutes later, that it should have been on the starboard. Yes, it was frustrating sometimes but the compensation for that frustration was visiting the most perfect beaches anyone could imagine or finding little homesteads of half a dozen houses and a school with five pupils. I loved it.

One of the best things about the Bahamas is everyone can find what they want or need. There is room for every type of sailor (or visitor) in this group of perfect islands. Large marinas with every facility that can be imagined, night life, bars, coffee shops, sophisticated restaurants, shops selling designer wear – they can all be found. Some of the islands are just an extension of Florida for those people who only feel comfortable in an environment that is familiar. There are sociable anchorages where people organise pot luck suppers and get together in beach bars. There will be a supermarket selling recognisable food, a laundry and hire cars available. But if you look hard enough you can still find deserted islands with no facilities, large and small cays that may or may not be shared with an occasional local fishing boat, tiny anchorages with just about enough room for one boat, long long deserted beaches who have only your own footprints in the sand. Yes, there is something for everyone in The Bahamas.

I enjoyed our time there. We used it as a winter to slow down and smell the air. To stop rushing around from place to place and enjoy the place. It was sometimes very difficult. Everything is weather dependant so when it rains there is not much to do. There are no ancient ruins to go round, or art galleries to peruse. There are very few cinemas and shopping malls usually consist of three shops in a row selling tacky souvenirs or boat bits with an occasional hairdresser thrown in. When the wind blows form the wrong direction AND it rains it is sometimes impossible to even get ashore so the entertainment has to be found on the boat. Luckily we are both avid readers and use the sailors book swaps constantly, we can loose an afternoon easily with our noses pressed in a book. In the evening radio podcasts are our entertainment, the Archers being the favourite but Lionel has also introduced me to The Navy Lark, Cabin Pressure, and Andy Hamilton’s brilliant serial about hell and the devil, just to name a few. We also have games onboard which can become very competitive. I have gone to bed not talking to Lionel because he won three out of three games in one night. I know very childish but he can be so smug about it.

I found it very difficult being stuck in one place for a week at a time because of bad weather. Of course when the wind blows the correct anchorage has to be found for the particular wind direction so you are forever thinking three or four days ahead when you are on the move. Being a member of a Facebook forum can be a blessing but it can also be a curse. People exaggerate or pass on wrong information or information that has been interpreted into what they think the expert meant. We learnt very early on in the winter to listen but make up our own minds when weather issues were discussed. Some people won’t move a matter of a couple of miles without the weather experts say so. What they don’t realise is what they are missing (but maybe that’s a good thing because the deserted anchorages would not be so deserted if people made up their own minds). However, Facebook was a good way to keep in touch with other sailors and get recommendations about places and anchorages.

We made it further South than we anticipated this winter, all the way to Great Guanya, 50 nm from Cuba. The Island was totally different to the others as it had a definite function and was not full of tourists. Morton Salt Company seemed to run the Island. Most of the land were huge salt pans, filled with sea water that was continuously pumped into canals. The salt was harvested by huge machines and the salt was piled up in enormous white hills awaiting for a ship to deliver it to be processed to Atlanta. Most of the population worked for them, the grocery store and most of the houses were owned by them. I did ask myself the question “is this a modern way to enslave people?” but the population seemed to be prosperous and happy so the partnership worked. The Haitians sailed here in traditional sloops to trade with the islanders. Maybe trade is the wrong word. The boats were empty when they came and full with all manner of useful, and sometimes useless, things. We saw a sloop sail out of the harbour (they have no engines) with a three piece suite tied onto the deck.
Yes, The Bahamas were a contrast of differences. I personally loved them. We could find the peace and tranquillity that we sometimes crave but there were sociable anchorages with something going on most of the time if company was needed. Deserted beaches a plenty, reefs to snorkel but always a shop or eatery a days sail away to get supplies. Yes, my winter was wonderful although I wouldn’t want to do it every year as the Snow birds do.

We left early. We didn’t need to go until the middle of May but when a good weather window appears you jump. The journey back to the States was “awesome”. Passing Great Bahama we got our last weather report. It was not good. There was storms predicted for two days time but knowing how the weather changes dramatically from day to day I was not happy to continue to Charleston so I persuaded Li that we should head for St Augustine. Looking back I was wrong, we would have got into the shelter before the storm hit but I was and will always be very cautious when doing long passages. We eventually found the Gulf Stream and rode it for 22 hours. It added about 6 knots onto our speed. With regret we jumped off and headed west towards St August and Officer Dibble. Loyal readers will know about Officer Dibble from our last entry into the good old U S of A. This time he was as bad, although we did not get separate interviews and he did crack a smile…….once. The weather deteriorated quickly and that was our only trip ashore before we sailed to Charleston. Not a good passage but we got there and we found ourselves anchored beside one of our favourite cities in America. For the next week, we made our way slowly towards Oriental, Ruby's summer home, some of it offshore, some through The Ditch. We arrived, we prepared Ruby to face a whole summer alone on the hard. It was hard to leave her but I think she is in safe hands, ready to face whatever Mother Nature throws at her and lots of friendly people looking after her.

On our way home, we went via Washington (thank you Susanne) and New York. I think I have “done” New York and feel no great urgency to visit again for a very long time. Washington has so many different experiences and I still haven’t seen them all so I may return. We landed back in Scotland and immediately started our new adventure – pet sitting. The whole summer stretched out with over a dozen pet sits in so many different places. From Inverbervie near Aberdeen to Penzance Cornwall. From large Newfoundlanders to Welsh Terriers and chickens and cats thrown in. We are approaching this new adventure as we approach everything new we face, anticipation of all the lovely places we will stay, terror of looking after unknown pets, joy of meeting old and new friends along the way and the whole uplifting feeling of starting a brand new adventure. Wish us luck, we may need it.