Bequia and St. Vincent

December 3, 2008

At 1916 hours UTM. Position N 16 16.3' W 026 06.4'

Dropped our lines this morning at 0705 hours and set sail for Bequia in the Grenadines. All well on board.

Yesterday I had noticed that the battery charger was no longer working, whilst it was plugged in to "city power" at the marina. Panic! After a few minutes checking, I got around to metering the voltage and discovered that it was a mere 170 volts, instead of the advertised 220V. OK for charging the camera batteries but that is about it. We waited until 0630 hours this morning before firing up our generator, as a gesture of friendship towards our sleeping French neighbors and cast off our lines at 0705 hours, bound for Bequia in the Grenadines. Two hours later we had cleared the Cape Verde Islands, had run the water maker to fill our tanks (the Cape Verde marina supply was not potable) and restored the batteries to full charge. We are on our way!

The wind oscillated in the range of 13 to 23 knots and swung back and forth some 60 degrees across the stern. We sailed under poled Genoa, winged main and mizzen and used the "wind vane" mode on the autopilot to keep the sail trim within tolerance. The sky was both sunny and hazy with perhaps an eighth of cloud cover. The temperature has reached 80F during the day and only dropped to 77F at night, making for much more comfortable night watches.

In the afternoon Chris and Joyce achieved another maritime first as the movie "Galaxy Quest" was shown in the main salon. On this occasion there was no popcorn but this shortcoming may be remedied during future attractions. The wind dropped slightly to the 12 to 16 knot range as we headed into the night. The seas behind DoodleBug were in pitch darkness but ahead, the passing 8 foot rollers shimmered with a silver pathway, lit by a "Cheshire Cat" moon. Mileage run for the 24 hour period was 152 miles. We are still heading west of southwest.

 

December 4, 2008

Today was overcast as we approached the remains of the low pressure system to the west and the sea confused for most of the day. A steep roller from behind built, until it was topping 10 foot by noon and was combined with cross seas from the various lows prowling around on this side of the Atlantic. This made for an uncomfortable ride and the wind gusted from 11 to 17 knots, swinging from side to side as it did so. In spite of this, we sailed with the same configuration as yesterday; Genoa poled to port and main and mizzen winged to starboard. By nightfall the wind and waves settled down slightly and we sailed on through the darkness. We have seen no shipping since we left Sao Vicente but the mornings have brought discoveries of flying fish that boarded during the night and we have watched their antics as they explode from the sea, fleeing predators or alarmed by our passage. Our position at 12/5/2008, 0312 hours UTM was N 14 34.6' W 028 55.2'. All well on board.

 

December 5, 2008

When Joyce came on deck this morning, she noticed that a seam on the leech of the Genoa was opening. I had inspected the sail during my watch and I did not notice the damage at the time. I therefore assumed that this was a recent phenomenon and something that needed to be addressed, before it became worse. We were sailing in light winds from behind and the damaged seam was about 15 feet above the deck. Our first attempt was to use the engine to increase our speed and thus reduce the apparent wind. We lowered the Genoa, while Chris struggled to drag and hold it on the deck. Now Chris is a big lad but this was not going to work. Plan "B" was necessary and we turned Doodlebug into the wind and used the engine to motor slowly back towards the Cape Verde Islands. The sail was now spread across the foredeck and we were able to examine the damage in detail. We found that the seam had opened on the strip of Ultraviolet (UV) cloth that is sewn on the leech, to protect the furled sail. We could now see perhaps a dozen small holes in this UV strip, all the way to the head of the sail. The sail had been stored at Marmaris and "serviced" there. It was in perfect condition when it was rigged last April. My only postulate as to why the sail has become damaged, is that we did not remove it in Lanzarote but instead installed a protective sock. The constant wind blowing at the Puerto Calero marina and the subsequent flogging of this sock, must have somehow damaged both the sock and the sail.

We made a temporary repair to the sail with a clear plastic "sail bandage" that we had used successfully before in the Pacific and will seek to replace the UV strip when we next reach a sail repair facility. Forty five minutes later, we rerigged the Genoa and pointed DoodleBug back towards Bequia.

By noon UTM, the wind was firmly on the stern, the swells had dropped to a long period roller and the temperature was reaching 85F. We rigged the poled out ballooner to starboard, as a mirror image of the Genoa on the port side. This combo gives us 1,500 square feet of sail and a boat speed of approximately half of the true wind speed. The red, white and blue paneled sail is very photogenic and an example of it's deployment is displayed on the welcome page of our web-site.

1430 hours and we were passed by a pod of a dozen or so small whales. Our identification guide is a bit light here and we were unable to find an match but they were similar in size to the cetaceans we had previously identified as "Risso's Dolphin" only with a rounded head like a nuclear submarine.

The wind has stayed steady all day and we were still holding at 5.5 knots as we headed into our third night at sea on this leg. Tonight's movie was "Chariot's of Fire" and Joyce achieved another sailing first, when Annette fixed PBJ sandwiches (Peanut Butter and Jelly) for the movie watchers. We are still heading south towards N 13 latitude and so far the butter has not melted. As everyone knows, Columbus' sailing directions called upon him to turn west when "butter melts". Maybe he was using olive oil......

Our position at 2220 hours UTM on 12/5/2008 was N 13 45.8' W 030 23.3'.

 

December 6, 2008

Early this morning the winds died, I furled the Genoa and Ballooner together on the forestay and we motored for a couple of hours. Almost as soon as we went to engine, a radar target showed up at 10 miles distance. The swells were still large and the vessel showed just a white over red mast light, when we both crested a swell, the size of radar reflection indicating that it was a small motor vessel, such as a trawler. The vessel's course indicated that it would cross our stern at a distance of five miles or so and probably never see our deck level navigation motoring lights. By now I could see it had two range lights, a green starboard navigation light and a red light below the stern white range light. This is the light configuration of a pilot boat and unlikely to be found 400 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. A couple of hours later the mysterious visitor had disappeared from our radar and we were back under sail. Chris was on watch next and reported that a motor trawler with working deck floods and a white over red light configuration, approached to within a mile and a half of our stern and tailed us for a while, before taking off again at a tangent. We must have been a bizarre sight on a dark night, with just a mast-top navigation light, indicating a sailing vessel, with two poled sails on either side. I expect the fishing boat was just curious. Chris and Annette reported that the moon had set and the phosphorescence in the water provided a submarine fireworks display of large amoebic blobs of bright light, around a milky trail in DoodleBug's wake. These conditions are great for starwatching and on my watch I had noticed that both Polaris and the Southern Cross were clearly visible.

1010 hours we confirmed that a "test" pat of butter had melted and we changed course by some 30 degrees, on a direct run to pass just south of Barbados. The twin headsails were no longer viable so we struck the "Ballooner" and went to a broad reach with poled Genoa, main and mizzen.

1340 hours we passed a bulk carrier on a reciprocal course to ours, the first "cargo" vessel we have seen.

1755 hours we set the mizzen staysail and were maintaining over six knots through the water in the lightening winds. Midnight found us at a position of N 13 13.8' W 032 52.7'.

 

December 7, 2008

This morning I noted that we had completed our 4th. day at sea and were now some 556 miles from Porto Grande, with another 1,622 miles to go until we reach Bequia. Annette had discovered a dead snake during her brief beach-combing interlude a few days ago, whilst I was schlepping jerry jugs of diesel to the dinghy. She had retained the corpse for later identification and biological examination, however, the warm temperatures we were enjoying had not improved the condition of the snake and the rank smell of fishy corruption that engulfed us when she opened the side locker to find a bucket, coupled with my hearty endorsement, encouraged her to dump the slimy and rotting reptilian remains over the side. We then sent her below to wash her hands.

The winds have not entirely been cooperating with us and hover annoyingly about 20 degrees off a dead run. You cannot effectively set sail for a broad reach at this wind angle, because the mizzen partially blankets the main, which partially blankets the Genoa, thereby reducing their effectiveness. Three cups of coffee later and I finally made the decision to rig for a dead run. I had procrastinated because we needed to furl the Genoa and lower it's pole from the starboard side; then reverse the procedure on the port side before rigging and poling the "ballooner" back to the starboard side. We would sail as close to the wind direction as we could, while keeping both sails filled and angle off further south as needed. The wind forecasts have been changeable and although we don't entirely trust their musings, we need something to base our strategy upon. The forecasting website cooperated by remaining resolutely silent, despite several requests for weather updates. I always forget that website managers like to perform their maintenance, by shutting down the relevant sites around the very small hours of a Sunday morning. We must use the previous day's cast of the tea -leaves.

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So it was that we headed into our fifth night at sea, with twin head sails set, running on "wind vane" mode set 20 degrees from a dead run. Small rain pods have begun to appear on the radar but they drift slowly and don't seem to present a strong wind threat. At 12/8/2008; UTM 0350 hours our position is N 13 07' W 035 34'.

 

December 8, 2008

Although we were making good progress under poled Genoa, poled "ballooner" and mizzen - that is "twin headsails", there was an occasional violent roll aboard DoodleBug. The wind was from the stern, as was the dominant swell but dawn showed an additional steep swell at near right angles, producing the uncomfortable roll whenever it hit the beam. The weather forecast had shown a low pressure system due west of us, in our path and presumably there were also systems to the north producing the additional swell.

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1050 hours we were passed by an obviously empty tanker on a reciprocal course. The day was muggy and hazy at 85.6 F and the tanker seemed to adjust his course slightly, to take a look at us as he passed. His rudder was partly clear of the water and his propeller was so close to the surface, it kicked up foam at his stern. We assumed that he was heading for the West African offshore oil fields.

1725 hours: The winds had been increasingly fickle and the radar now showed a massive rainstorm ahead. We secured all hatches and stowed loose items as we headed towards it. The storm's progress looked to be at right angles to the prevailing wind direction but without a lot of speed. Nevertheless we made the precaution of furling the sails and motoring until we were clear of the disturbance. The deck was lashed with torrential rain for the next couple of hours and DoodleBug was thoroughly washed. As we exited to the west of the storm, we were treated to a spectacular lightning display. The wind returned to blowing from the stern and the contrary swell was now absent. Thus we returned to sailing with our twin headsail configuration, as the sun faded from the cloudy sky and was replaced by a two-thirds moon. Tomorrow's forecast is for lighter winds.

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Our position at 12/9/2008; 0240 hours UTM is N 13 20.1' W 037 45.4'

 

December 9, 2008

As forecast, the wind went away today and just after midnight, we began to motor sail. I say "just after midnight", but this is referenced to "ship's time". We usually set the latter to whatever is the local time and for the Cape Verde Islands, we used UTM minus 1. By now we had passed the 38th. line of longitude and changed the ship's time to UTM minus 3. The actual time zone change occurred during Joyce's watch but we waited for daylight to make the adjustment, as we failed to convince her to stand 5 hours instead of her scheduled 3. The other major event at dawn was the deployment of our two trolling lines. We anxiously watched these for at least five minutes but caught no fish.

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0840 hours: I tested the engine on a maximum throttle / speed run and the engine would not run at higher than 2,000 RPM. A quick check indicated that the "on-engine" fuel filter was partially clogged; we swiftly replaced this and verified a maximum RPM with "clean filters" of just over 3,000 RPM. Over our stern Annette spotted multiple dorsal fins, rapidly approaching and these belonged to a pod of a score or so bottlenose dolphins. We have never experienced a dolphin touching a deployed fishing lures but as a precaution, we hauled the two lines back aboard until our guests departed about twenty minutes later.

1155 hours a pod of whales passed us about 300 yards off the starboard beam. I changed course as soon as I saw the "blow", so that we could get closer but the pod was on a reciprocal course to ours and we never did get close enough to attempt a specie identification. Annette still had no fish, even though showers of flying fish continued to explode from the waves. She sat gloomily on the stern, willing a bite and when this didn't happen, she reverted to her practice of "jiggling" the trolling line. Unfortunately, the line must have been salt-stiff, because when she released it, the loop of line holding it onto the port cleat, popped off and the newest of her lines disappeared into 13,000 feet of Atlantic sea-water. We had tuna sandwiches for lunch. The tuna came from a can.

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1700 hours: A repeat of yesterday. A line of rain cells popped up on the radar, barring our path west. We did not get much rain, as we managed to slip between pods, but the wind gusted to 25 knots and switched direction around every point of the compass. Unfortunately, by the time we had passed the rain pods and the wind had settled down as to direction and strength, it had also dropped back to the 3 to 6 knot range. We remained on engine as we headed into the seventh night at sea since we left the Cape Verde Islands.

On 12/10/2008: 0350 hours UTM our position was N 13 18' W 040 41'.:

 

December 10, 2008

Today was hot with a maximum temperature reached of 90.6 degrees F (32.5C). By mid-morning the wind had died to a whisper and we were both motoring and examining the wind forecasts, looking for any sign of encouragement. We received an e-mail this morning containing an "ARC" website report from 12/7/2008, indicating that half of their fleet were still over 1,000 miles from St. Lucia and suffering from the same lack of winds as we. The last time we saw ARC vessels was the day before we put into the Cape Verde Islands and have since been alone on an ocean that is empty of either commercial vessels or even aircraft con-trails.

The sky was clear and sunny and Joyce suggested that we use the opportunity to compute our position with the sextant. We took a fore-noon sight a couple of hours before noon, checked the accuracy of our timepieces using a BBC Africa time-signal on the SSB; followed this with a noon-sight for latitude and wrapped this all up with an afternoon sight; around two hours after local noon. We also noted the GPS noon position - just to see if the satellites were in their correct orbit. Annette was very patient and delayed lunch allowing our scientific noon-time observations. Thus it was that by mid-afternoon, we had three sets of sextant observations that we could either perform calculations on today, or save them for a future rainy afternoon. Zeal overcame lethargy and we ran through our three position sets. The first encouragement came when we calculated our latitude to within four tenths of a mile of the GPS version. Yeah! The next step was to plot the three sets of "position lines" and then translate the fore-noon sight and post-noon sights to the noon position. This is to account for the

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movement of the vessel during the four hours between the sights. We needed the tranquilizing effects of a beer before we tackled this job, as precision is called for and shaky hands are to be avoided. Our graphed position produced a longitude within 1.8 miles of the GPS version. Wow! I was personally stunned that we had achieved the same hemisphere. Captain Cook was pretty good with the ol' sextant and he could get within a mile; but then he had practiced more than us and as previously stated, within five miles generally works, since you can look out of the cockpit and see your destination at this range.

Our second major task of the day was to replace the lost trolling line. We dug through our locker and discovered a hand made lure, courtesy of Keith in Chagos. This was on a substantial steel leader that we attached to about 120 feet of 300 pound test monofilament. We do not plan on losing this sucker! Some bungee cords used as a shock absorber and we sailed and or motored onwards with our double fishing rig deployed.

The wind remained in the 3 and 4 knot range but we suffered from a choppy sea with 5 foot swells knocking us around. There was certainly wind somewhere but nowhere near us. A few rain pods popped into existence to threaten us around sunset but their speed did not indicate wind shifts. The whole crew assembled on the foredeck to witness a spectacular sunset, with the scattered rain clouds and fair weather cumulus lit by the setting sun,
all against a multi-hued sky. Fabulous.

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2100 hours the wind began to gently increase in strength and we immediately re-rigged the poled Genoa, poled Ballooner (twin headsail) combination, plus the mizzen. The latter is far enough back that it does not seem to shadow the head sails. We thus achieved 4 knots over the ground but did this without burning diesel.

0315 hours UTM on 12/11/2008 found us at N 13 13' W 042 49'

 

December 11, 2008

My watch began at midnight and I had checked the decks, tightened loose control lines for the deployed poles and tidied the cockpit, aided by a near full moon. I then settled down to read a book when the radar alarm sounded it's warning. A squall line of heavy rain cells had triggered the alarm and were about 8 miles away and closing. I made sure that we had all of the hatches and windows secured and as the batteries needed charging anyway, decided to furl the twin head sails that were currently driving us and proceed under engine power. Annette had just awoken and asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. The kettle was fired up. She then announced, "you have a fish on the line".

We were still trolling two lines and since we had never caught a fish at night, we had simply left them in the water. At 0100 hours I had checked the lines using a flashlight and all was normal i.e. "fishless". Now we had the squall approaching, the kettle whistle was screaming, the watch alarm timer adding it's own blare to the cacophony and I was standing on the stern, hauling a thrashing tuna aboard. Of course Annette needed a photograph and this necessitated a search for the camera, whilst I clung grimly to the fish. The tuna was a chubby 25 inch fish and was not particularly happy about being aboard. Annette returned wearing her life jacket, safety line and holding a camera but the latter refused to function. The tuna and I continued to regard each other, while Annette went in search of a spare battery. Still no luck with the camera. She was now encouraged to abandon the photo journalistic endeavor and to get a plastic bin for the fish, which by now was bleeding liberally all over the stern, just as the first rain from the squall line began to sprinkle us. Finally the fishing lines were spooled and stowed, I had sloshed several buckets of sea water over the mess on the stern which was also being washed by a heavy rain, the tuna was on the way to the refrigerator and my coffee was in my hand. Why does everything always happen at once?

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0800 hours: Annette was wearing a bikini and gutting the tuna on the side deck. She looked a little like an extra from a teenage horror flick, as she had managed to smear bright red tuna blood over most of her body, thoroughly grossing out Joyce, who is not accustomed to in-flight butchery. Joyce then said, "Ed, there is something wrong with the ballooner". A quick glance at the latter, showed that the head of the sail was no longer attached to the fitting at the top of the forestay and the top third of the sail had collapsed; the balance of the sail being held up by the compression of the bolt rope in the groove on the forestay furling mandrel (non-sailors may skip the technical parts described herein). "Bugger", my professional analysis, "we need to get that down". Annette hacked away at our tuna whilst Joyce steered DoodleBug to a reach and I dropped the ballooner and struggled mightily to stuff it into the forward locker. The nylon hook that clips into the mast head fitting had broken. I had a spare on board and so the failure of this item was not catastrophic. The problem was that the broken end of the hook was still in the fitting at the top of the forestay and would almost certainly prevent a new hook from engaging. By now Joyce had steered DB back onto her downwind course and Annette was clearing away the evidence of her food preparation exercise. I ran the "dehooking mouse" up the forestay in the vain hope that it would allow the broken ballooner hook to release and fall down it's groove under gravity - but no dice. The only solution was to drop the Genoa along with the head fitting and remove the recalcitrant hook fragment at deck level.

Chris had been off-watch and emerged sleepily on deck, probably regretting his decision to wake up. "Are you feeling strong?", I asked. We set out the procedure as to who was to do what and de-rigged the Genoa pole before turning DB into the wind and dropping the Genny. The wind was blowing at 15 knots with DB plunging as she faced into the Atlantic waves instead of running with them. As soon as we had dropped about one-third of the sail, the balance became separated from the forestay, as the bolt-rope detached itself from it's groove. Now we had just lost our second driving sail. We had it pretty much under control on deck, with three bodies lying on top of the Genoa to stop it from blowing away and used the opportunity to examine the repair job we had made several days ago. It did not look good and we began to re-tape the worst of the seam separations, all the time thinking that there was no way that we could re-hoist this sail in the current wind conditions. The bolt rope was undersized for the size of the slot in the forestay furling mandrel. It would simply slip out again as we attempted to hoist it. Chris came to the rescue when he asked, "Don't you have a spare Genoa?". "Duh!" It was the originally supplied sail; was in good condition and the reason I had it on board, was in case we had a problem on the Atlantic crossing - particularly with the undersized bolt rope on the replacement sail we were currently sitting upon.

The spare Genny was buried at the very bottom of the stern locker and I unpacked the various layers of locker stuff, placing the contents on various parts of the plunging deck where I hoped they wouldn't blow away. Finally and with Annette's help, we managed to drag the beast from it's lair and schlep it to the foredeck. The ballooner slot was cleared of its clogging debris and with Chris cranking on the winch handle like a madman and me feeding the Genoa's bolt rope and burning my fingers in the process, we soon had the spare Genoa rigged, tensioned and poled into position. Back to sailing

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again as we hauled the downed Genoa along the side decks and stuffed it into the cockpit, burying Joyce the helmsperson in the process. Then came the task of repacking the stern locker, which was now easier since it suddenly had more space. Everything back in place and I collapsed on top of the sail in the cockpit, whilst noting that this is how racing crews slept.

Nobody seemed anxious to re-rig the now repaired ballooner, so we winged the main and continued to sail towards Bequia, albeit at about a knot slower than before. Chris and I then began the seeming impossible task of folding the 750 square foot Genoa on the mizzen deck. We not only accomplished this task but the bundle even fit inside the sail bag which was then lashed to the mizzen top rails.

Lunch was freshly caught tuna, marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil and white wine; then sautéed in olive oil and served with string beans and rice peanut pilaf. Well received by a hungry crew!

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By late afternoon, the wind had dropped to around 10 knots and we raised and poled the repaired ballooner without incident. We were now under sail with twin headsails again, just as we had been some ten hours earlier.

 

December 12, 2008

Time 1330 hours UTM; Position N 13 21' W 046 12' All well on board. We sailed through the night with winds of around 10 knots and moving at between 5.5 and 6 knots over the ground, using the now repaired Genoa / Ballooner twin headsail combo. This combo seems to give us about 50 % of the true wind speed and about three-quarters of a knot more than the Genoa / winged main combination. The extra speed is very welcome in light winds but the catch is that the ballooner is rated by the manufacturer as good for "up to 20 knots". If the wind exceeds 20 knots, the ballooner and Genoa furl together around the forestay but then the Genoa is unavailable, until the ballooner is struck. In high winds, the 750 square foot light material ballooner is a lot of sail to handle on a pitching deck, particularly when attempting to stuff it into it's locker and we will almost always strike it in lighter conditions.

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The reason for this discourse became apparent at around 0800 hours in the form of a line of heavy rain cells approaching from the stern. These rain-cells contain gusty winds in the 16 to 22 knot range. The wind direction also veers by 60 degrees or so. We observed that when the cells have passed, there is often a period of almost no wind for the next hour or so. We can hold our twin headsail combo for winds within 30 degrees either side of a dead run and the strategy we adopted was to try and avoid the heaviest cells and to run off before the veering wind, using the "wind vane mode" on the autopilot to hold a constant wind angle. All this is while praying that we don't have too much sail up and blow out the ballooner, while surfing down the large swells at speeds of over 10 knots. The problem cells stayed with us for nearly 5 hours and the day stayed heavily overcast and cooler than before, reaching a high of "only" 85.1F. Nevertheless, the Captain ordered ice lollipops distributed to crew during the afternoon. Night watches have been comfortable as the cockpit temperature has remained above 81F throughout the night.

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2010 hours: The first freighters we have seen in several days passed simultaneously. One at 10 miles distance and the other at 4 miles. A reminder that careful watches are still necessary. Miles run during our tenth day at sea since leaving the Cape Verdes was 163 miles. Our position at 0317 hours UTM on 12/13/2008 was N 13 16' W 047 48'.

 

December 13, 2008

Time 0355 hours UTM; Position N 13 16' W 047 53' All well on board. Our tenth night at sea provided an overcast sky and lots of rain cells, with higher winds than forecast. In fact the weather forecast has become schizophrenic, with wild swings in predictions, just hours apart. The morning found us sailing with 18 knots of wind and 10 foot swells versus a forecast 7 knots. By mid-morning the cloud cover had mostly burned away and the wind settled down to the 11 to 12 knot range, allowing us to maintain our sail configuration of poled ballooner, poled Genoa and mizzen.

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The chart plotter shows that we are approaching our destination in the Caribbean and Annette finally relented, allowing us to dig deeper into her closely guarded freezer. Lunch was pan-fried entrecote steaks, with red wine, mint and marjoram reduction, plus bow-tie pasta, basil pesto and tomatoes. The Captain distributed the last of the ice cream bars for dessert. Tough times.

The afternoon brought a visit from a pod of bottlenose dolphins, whose leaps and aerial acrobatics were truly amazing. Perhaps they were inspired by Annette's music selection of Lyle Lovett singing, "The One Eyed Fiona".

Sunset and civil twilight allowed the wannabe celestial navigators, Ed and Joyce, to make a sextant measurement of the altitude of Venus. Our measurements were probably "iffy" as DB was rocking violently in large swells but we were gratified to find a bright planet-like object (FYI planets don't twinkle) at almost exactly our computed elevation and azimuth. We will put off the search for other celestial objects for a clearer night and a more stable platform.

The rain returned in earnest in late afternoon but the full moon rising at 1900 hours produced a never before seen "moon rainbow". The colors were obviously muted but a pale green and rose separation was prominent and easily noted.

All night long, heavy rain was the norm, with light, shifting winds in the 12 knot range. The 24 hour run for the day was 142 miles and our position at 0745 hours UTM on 12/14/2008 was N 13 22' W 050 43'.

 

December 14, 2008

During our 11th. night at sea since leaving the Cape Verde Islands, it rained on and off all night long and we did our best to dodge the heaviest cells. Around dawn a particularly heavy line of cells passed us by and shortly thereafter, we lost our tail wind. For the next six hours we motored with the just the main-sail on centerline to damp the roll, in the very confused sea of wind "memory" chop, mixed with 6 foot swells. We were visited again by a large pod of bottlenose dolphins to beak the

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monotony of an otherwise dull and overcast morning. One cause for concern was the slight loss of engine RPM and the fact that switching Racors (pre-filters on diesel supply line) normalized our cruising speed but did not cure the problem entirely. This indicated that the on-engine filter is clogged - but this was changed only 44 hours ago. These filters are supposed to be changed every "couple of years". I liberally dosed the fuel tank with a biocide, just in case we had anaerobic bacterial growth in the tank and we motored onwards.

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1300 hours: Our wind returned and we were back sailing again under poled ballooner, poled Genoa and mizzen. The wind was steady at 10 to 12 knots and provided a sailing speed of 6 and a 1/2 knots over the ground. Once we were under sail, we took the opportunity to replace both the offending Racor filter as well as the on-engine fuel filter. Engine RPM were again restored.

We also took advantage of the calmer conditions in the afternoon to improve the education of the crew. The first DVD we watched was a documentary defining the relationship between the British Secret Service and the British Royal succession and was titled, "Johnny English". The second documentary was an analysis if American Jurisprudence titled, "My Cousin Vinny".

Thus we headed into our 12th. night at sea. Our position at 12/15/2008: 0600 hours UTM was N 12 57' W 053 08'

 

December 15, 2008

Another night spent under poled Genoa, poled ballooner and mizzen, with the inevitable rains cells in the small hours. Now we are heading too far to the south and need to change course for a more direct route to Bequia.

0900 hours: We struck the ballooner and changed course to a broad reach with poled Genoa, main and mizzen, holding good speeds of 6 knots or better in winds of 13 to 15 knots. The waves were choppy and we had a 10 foot swell to add to the mix.

1300 hours: Annette issues potato guns and begins a target competition between Chris and Joyce, using empty beer cans as targets. Unfortunately DB's roll kept knocking the beer can targets over but the additional challenge of moving targets did not dissuade the marksmen from filling the cockpit with spent potato "bullets".

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1800 hours: Just before sunset the swell had shifted to the beam and the Genoa pole occasionally dipped dangerously close to getting wet. We struck the pole and headed on into our thirteen night at sea since the Cape Verdes, still on a broad reach but using the wind vane mode on the autopilot to maintain sail trim in the constantly veering and backing wind direction.

At 0430 hours UTM on 12/16/2008 our position was N 12 46.3' W 055 39.8'

 

December 16, 2008

0430 hours UTM ; Position N 12 46.3' W 055 39.8'. All well on board. 330 miles to go.

We sailed our 13th. night at sea since the Cape Verde Islands as a broad reach under full sail. A freighter passed about four miles from our stern to enliven an almost uneventful night. Sightings of other vessels remind us that we are not entirely alone on the planet and we have been monitoring the radar and making more careful sweeps of the horizon, now that we are in proximity to the islands and might encounter small Caribbean fishing boats.

After dawn the wind dropped and veered in a rolly, confused seaway. We poled the Genoa and spent a frustrating morning chasing wild changes of wind speed and direction, while surrounded by heavy rain cells. We finally broke clear of a particularly large cell and went to a reach that was to last until we arrived in Bequia.

 

December 17, 2008

1125 hours UTM: Position N 12 56' W 059 11'
Barbados in sight to starboard. Calypso Christmas music on local radio. All well on board. 120 miles to Bequia. Dawn and at 0730 hours land is in sight! We see the clear shape of an island off the starboard bow. I turned on the FM radio and

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immediately we were listening to "calypso" Christmas songs with a background of steel drums. DB sailed through the day at 7 to 9 knots with a steady 14 knots of wind from just behind the beam. The wind forecast had stoutly maintained "near northerlies of 6 or 7 knots", and we were extremely grateful that this was wrong. We passed our waypoint off the southern tip of Barbados before noon and were now on a direct course for Bequia, some 100 miles further west. Just before sunset, we could see mountainous St. Vincent to starboard but the lower lying Bequia was still invisible.

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 December 18, 2008

Arrived Bequia 0505 hours UTM. All well on board. Position N 13 01' W 061 15'. We are here!!

We entered the Bequia channel that separates the island from St. Vincent, just after midnight. The moon behind the thin clouds provided just enough illumination that we could see the black outlines of Bequia and neighboring islets of Battowia and Baliceaux. The Bequia channel is notorious for difficult seas and our fast sail had placed us here well before our expected arrival time. The tide was now against us with a current against the wind running at 1.5 to 2 knots. The result was a short sea of steep, closely spaced waves. The wind backed and dropped and we furled the Genoa and main as we entered the channel, now motor sailing with just the mizzen. A glance at the GPS speed showed that our "speed over the ground" had dropped to 3 knots with DoodleBug swinging wildly in the steep waves and also drifting closer to the steep and unseen sea cliffs on the port side. We increased engine speed to a "fast cruise" of 2500 RPM and the motion stabilized at 8 knots through the water and six over the ground. Now was the time to be thankful that we had changed out the diesel filters en-route instead of waiting for the calmer waters of an anchorage.

Forty minutes later and the darkness was shattered by an explosion of lights as we rounded "the Devil's table" and entered Admiralty Bay, Bequia. We dropped anchor at N 13 00.2' W 061 14.7' at 0505 hours UTM (local time is UTM minus 4). We are here! DoodleBug had crossed the Atlantic and our third great Ocean.

 

December 19, 2008 thru December 23, 2008

Bequia is a really great place to "hang". It is as close to a "yachties" town as you can get. There are about 100 yachts anchored in Admiralty Bay at present, a couple of dive companies, a few small hotels and that is about it. The local economy is predominantly dependant upon yacht - tourism. This is our fourth visit and six years have passed since we last gazed upon the white homes with brightly colored roofs, scattered around the steep, verdant hillsides. The town is just as friendly and laid back as we remember; a few restaurants and businesses added and a few have disappeared.

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Chris and Joyce flew home yesterday to an icier and snowier climate but will I'm sure, bask in the warmth of friends and family.

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We are slowly catching up on our four weeks separation from so called civilization by electronically paying bills and balancing accounts. There are a few boat chores to catch up on but overall, we crossed the Atlantic in fine shape. We spent 6 days sailing from Lanzarote to Cape Verde and 14 and half days sailing from Cape Verde to Bequia. That was an average daily run of around 150 miles and very satisfying for the light wind conditions experienced.

We plan to spend Christmas in Bequia and then move north to St. Lucia as weather permits. The forecast for the Christmas period is for strong winds and we are not in a rush to brave these, particularly since this is lobster season in the Grenadines and there are lots of restaurants we haven't tried yet!

 

December 24, 2008

We have been trapped aboard for near 24 hours due to an "equipment failure". This is simply that the rubber rub-strip that protects our dinghy from "rubbing" up against docks and like, has become detached from the front of the dinghy and makes a sort of sea anchor when trying to motor. We tried gluing it with "Shoe Goo" and this lasted about a day before giving up. This time we used alleged "flexible" epoxy. We left the whole mess to dry for 24 hours with the dinghy across the mizzen deck. This was no great hardship as the weather has been cloudy

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with frequent rain showers and strong gusty winds. The wind gusts howl through the anchorage and the boats all tug at their moorings and swing wildly from side to side as though trying to escape. The anchorage in Admiralty Bay is very full, with almost double the number of vessels that were present upon our arrival. Watching the new arrivals has been both entertaining and disconcerting. Several yachts have dropped anchor in the middle of our mooring field, just feet away from us. The mooring buoys are spaced so that there is barely swinging room between the moored boats. It should be obvious to anyone, that the addition of an anchored yacht into the middle of this is not going to work. The anchor chain needs to be much longer than the mooring line and so the anchored vessel will swing much more than a moored vessel. Most attempts to anchor produced dragging anchors and provided entertainment from those of us watching from a safe distance and heart palpitations from those unfortunates who were downwind of the dragees (dragees - Native Carib word meaning "charter boat full of French people"). A couple did manage to get their hook to stick and remained at anchor until the wind swung direction and then there was a lot of yelling and waving of fenders until they gave up and left.

The strong winds are forecast to be with us until near the New Year. The wind are from the Northeast and thus discourage anyone, including us from sailing north. This also means that the ARC cruisers are trapped in St. Lucia and still reputedly occupying all of the marina space and moorings; thus we might just as well hang here for a few more days.

The other major equipment malfunction was when our backup laptop crashed. I believe the problem lies with the video card and it will probably remain in a "down" condition until we return to the mainland. In the meantime the primary laptop cannot find the Wifi network that I have been successfully pirating and we have lost internet access (e-mail still via satellite phone) until we can get ashore to pay cash money to access one of the several "non-free" wireless networks.

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By afternoon we tested our glue job on the dinghy and it seems to be holding. SV Cetacea arrived from St' Lucia bearing Tony and Gail Wessendorf. We last met the Wessendorf's for dinner at the Lakeshore Yacht Club near Houston, Texas. We joined them and their guests for Christmas eve supper at the Frangipani restaurant. A fun evening with a steel band for "background" music.

 

December 25, 2008 thru December 26, 2008

Our friends Gail and Tony aboard SV Cetacea departed Christmas morning, heading south and bearing their guests towards the Tobago Cays. They would have a fast broad reach towards these islands but unless the high winds drop over the next few days, they will face a tough and uncomfortable uphill slog back towards their base in St. Lucia.

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Annette and I have been feeling under the weather for the past two days and the high winds and rain combined to keep us aboard DB, reading books and watching movies. The weather forecast reliably predicts the winds to drop, "the day after tomorrow". Each day it is the same forecast, the lighter winds just tantalizing a "few days" away.

 

December 27, 2008

We shrugged off our lethargy, dinghied ashore and caught the 0800 hours ferry to the port of Kingstown on the island of St. Vincent. The high winds were still evident and local recommendation was to take "the Admiral" ferry boat rather than the larger "Bequia Express" ferry, that departed at exactly the same time. We were assured that the Admiral was much faster and could make the passage to the nearby island in one hour. Sure enough, the Admiral shot out of "Admiralty Bay" within seconds of it's scheduled departure time and turned the corner at the "Devil's Table" rocks to bear the full brunt of the wind and waves. The seas were in the 12 to 15 foot range near Bequia and the wind howled, causing the Admiral to plunge and roll violently. A glance behind showed that conditions aboard the pursuing "Bequia Express" were much worse and indeed the Admiral was bashing through the seas at near double the speed of the B. Express.

In Kingstown we were on a mission to locate and buy a "coal pot". This is a cast iron device that was used by everyone's grandmother in the Islands as the primary cooking heat source. Just like a barbeque, a few coals were placed in the "coal pot" and then the pans containing the food, sat upon a grill above the coals to heat and cook. Annette had exhaustively searched Bequia for such a device and was assured that the only place to buy same was upon St. Vincent.

Every person or business where we enquired in Kingstown was firm in that the only place that might carry such an ancient device was "Prescott's". We were in some hurry to do this as today was Saturday and from experience, Kingstown shuts down at noon and the sidewalks then remained tightly rolled until Monday morning. We did find Prescott's in a narrow street behind the market place and they did have a small "coal pot" for sale. The larger size was out of stock but we were told that we might find one at the "Iron Man", across from the Kingstown police station. We retraced our steps and looked for the store called the "Iron Man". In vain we searched for

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this, even though our directions had been explicit. Everyone kept pointing at the same location, which was devoid of such a store. Finally one person we asked, pointed at the WW II statue we had walked by several times. The statue was of a soldier in 1940's combat attire and was referred to locally as "The Iron Man". There was no such store and we were simply being directed to the loose group of market stalls set up in the vicinity! We did indeed find a large size "coal pot" but it was made of aluminum and was not as "cool" as the smaller cast iron version we had seen at Prescott's. The small pot then! Back to Prescott's and a relieved husband, who was going to have to carry the gosh darned thing anyway, delighted that the proposed burden would be the lighter of the two. It was now 1120 hours and the ferry departed at 1200 hours, the next being at 1900 hours. A further seven hours hanging in a dead and closed up Kingstown was not appealing and we scurried back to the ferry dock. The 1200 hours Admiral left about two minutes after we boarded and 25 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time. A fast "broad reach" back to Bequia and DoodleBug was still straining at her mooring in the high winds.

 

December 28, 2008

We finally gave up on the always promised weather window and decided that the forecast 20 knots of wind would be "manageable". 0900 hours found us at the Customs and Immigration offices, "checking out" of the Grenadine Islands. The Caribbean Islands are very particular that you must have a "Zarpe" or clearance document when you arrive, listing the crew and any stores such as firearms, alcohol, pets or narcotics. If you do carry narcotics, I noted that the form asks for the quantity carried in "kilograms" rather than in "bales". When you clear out of a country, the crew list is carefully examined and matched to your inbound crew list. Because Chris and Joyce left the islands by air, we had previously made a second visit to the immigration office and upon production of their air tickets, their names were removed from our crew list. The significance of this ritual will become apparent in two days time as we "enter" St. Lucia.

1000 hours and we slipped our mooring and motored gently out of Admiralty Bay bound for Wallilabou Bay on St. Vincent. Just as we experienced yesterday on the ferry, we were met with a blast of wind and big seas just 

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beyond the "Devil's Table" rocks. The seas are biggest and the wind strongest right here and we sailed close hauled with reefed Genoa, reefed main and reefed mizzen in 12 foot seas and over 30 knots of apparent wind. We normally don't use the mizzen when close hauled but the force of a strong wind overcomes Amel's outhaul tensioner on the mainsail and we cannot set the sail properly. The mizzen has no such restriction and we sailed the Bequia channel between 42 and 45 degrees to the apparent wind, using

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the "windvane" mode on the autopilot to hold us at the optimum wind angle. This worked well and an hour later we were off Kingstown, with the current and leeway only moving us off our rhumbline by a quarter mile. Once under the lee of St. Vincent, we altered course for Wallilabou Bay and by 1230 hours had picked up a mooring just off the beach. This was a disconcerting experience in that there were vertical cliffs just off our starboard, the beach ahead was steep with breaking waves and on our port side lay a ruined dock with steel pilings and several other moored yachts, crammed together.

We had been met by boat boy "Ashley" as we approached the mooring and he seemed to barely fit inside the tiny wooden boat he was rowing. He first took the bow line from Annette and we were now broadside to the waves. He announced that we needed a stern line. This involved the usual panic as the stern line was safely stored away in the bow locker and was also well tangled. We sorted this out and Ashley headed for the beach with our line. He then announced it was too short. The second line was much easier to handle since it was coiled inside a bag and we soon had DoodleBug winched into position. I decided that a single thin bowline, even though it was doubled through the mooring, was not enough security for DoodleBug this close to the multiple marine hazards. We therefore launched our dinghy to put on a second back-up line on the mooring. To my horror, the mooring line was a single line of hemp-like rope, that was thinner than anything we had aboard. At least the wind was not blowing particularly hard, although there was considerable swell.

Wallilabou Bay has several interesting ruined structures and their purpose was not immediately obvious. I asked Ronnie on the beach what they were for and he pointed out that they were sets used in the movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean". I now recognized the remains of the gibbet where Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, saluted the hanging corpse of a fellow pirate. The pier that he passed as his boat sank below him was the structure that now lay some 20 feet from DoodleBug. The steel pilings were now threatening to sink us should the mooring fail.

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SV Cetacea had also moored nearby and we joined crew Tony, Bruce and Dennis ashore on a hike with Ronnie's twin brother "Ron" up a nearby mountain stream. Ron and Ronnie own a nearby bar / restaurant (The Golden Spoon) but also act as local tour guides. The hike was fun and as we precariously boulder hopped back and forth across the mountain river, we examined the incredible variety of lush tropical plants and bushes. Bananas, papayas, mangoes, breadfruit, nutmeg (plus inner covering of "mace"), callaloo, figs, cocoa, tamarind and so on. The list seems almost endless. The one fruit we saw that we had not previously seen on our travels was "ackee". This looks like a cross between a bell-pepper an apple and we know it from the song that begins, "I took a trip on a sailing ship....." and notes that "ackee rice, salt fish are nice and the rum tastes fine....". Okay, so now we know what an ackee looks like.

For supper we walked to nearby Kearton Bay where we had a fine meal at the Rock Side Cafe. The walk was interesting as the narrow unlit roads passed though a local village with the open homes adding the sounds of Christmas music playing, the wonderful smells of cooking and dogs yapping at our feet. On our return to DoodleBug, large bats, with perhaps an 18" wingspan, flitted just off the surface of the water searching for mosquitoes. The night was rolly with rain drumming on the cabin roof and water sloshing about as the tide changed. To further add to the nights' discomfort was the observation made earlier by Ronnie that two boats had broken free from the moorings last year. One ended up on the beach and another on the nearby sea cliffs. Morning was almost a relief.