February 8, 2009

This was the day everything went sour. I couldn't sleep last night and gave up trying at 0300 hours. I checked the weather forecast one last time and prepared DoodleBug for departure. Apparently I wasn't quiet enough and managed to wake Annette. She tried to go back to bed but it was not to be and we raised anchor at 0405 hours in light rain. The forecast was for light winds in the 10 to 15 knot range and in anticipation of a broad reach, we had rigged the port Genoa pole system at dusk last night. The winds seemed to be matching the forecast, as we headed out of Deshaises Bay, although the waves were bigger than expected. We just assumed that this was due to the swell rounding the northern point of Guadeloupe and interfering with the swell from the south, thus setting up a cross sea. This would sort itself out as we moved away from the land. Although it was quite dark, Annette and I reluctantly left the comfort and security of the cockpit, deployed the port pole system and set the Genoa sheet in the end of the pole. The winds began to build markedly. The guide book mentioned that this might happen in the vicinity of Guadeloupe and that the winds would settle down, once we were further offshore. Within the next ten minutes we were reefing down the Genoa we had just deployed, as well as the main, with winds up around 34 knots and seas in the 8 to 10 foot range and getting bigger. Of course, we couldn't really see how big the waves were, as it was still pitch dark and raining but we were getting thrown all over the place. Suddenly we had green water across the bow and cockpit, as a freak wave broke. Where had that come from? The wind and waves were supposed to be from behind. What was worse was that water was pouring into the main salon through the hatch. It was closed but had not been dogged down correctly and was open enough to thoroughly soak the dining area. This is the first time in six years of sailing that we have taken water aboard like this.

Next I noticed that the starboard Genoa sheet was very loose. When I tugged on the excess, it was soon obvious that it had become detached from the sail. WTF!? The "bitter" end was not damaged and had just become untied. This also has never happened before.

The waves continued to build and the wind stayed up in the 30 knot range, with a short, steep and breaking sea. How we longed for dawn so would could see what was going on. The waves had a few twelve footers mixed in with the tens and we turned about 30 degrees off course, to put these on our stern, while we hoped that the wind and waves would drop to something near the forecast values and we could come back on course.

We took the opportunity of a brief lull to turn down wind and to recover the pole system and re-rig the Genoa. DoodleBug had been rolling so wildly, I was afraid that we would submarine the end of the pole and besides, the wind angle was more of a beam reach than a broad reach. By now we were approaching the active volcano on the island of Montserrat. The rain had returned in earnest and although we could smell the brimstone, there was no sight of the volcano, that the chart indicated was but five miles away. We still sailed a few degrees south of our course and I would hit the autopilot to get another 10 degrees on the stern for the biggest waves.

In the lee of Montserrat, the winds "died" to the 15 knot mark and we were able to come back onto course for Nevis. We had been sailing with reefed Genoa, plus mizzen and when the winds dropped, I decided to add some mainsail to keep our speed up, in the steep and confused seas. This is when I noticed that the motor housing on the main outhaul looked odd. A quick inspection showed that all four retaining bolts were unscrewed and about to jump ship. I had checked these bolts a month or so ago and everything looked great. OK, no main. I could have used the manual rigging option but we were just 25 miles from Nevis island and sailing at 7 knots without the main.

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There was more rain, more high winds as squalls came through but at 1455 hours we picked up a mooring at Charlestown, Nevis; position N 17 09.0' W 062 37.9' . A tough day. The adventure continues.


St. Kitts


February 9, 2009

Last night I had examined the outhaul motor and discovered that the four bolts that attach the gearbox to the boom had sheared off. I need to be able to remove the gearbox and then find a machine shop that can extract the broken ends of the bolts. This was not going to be easy at anchor off a Nevis beach, thus at 0700 hours this morning, we dropped our mooring and set sail for Port Zante Marina at Basseterre, on the nearby island of St. Kitts. The distance was but 11 miles and we motor-sailed in light winds using the Genoa. As we cruised along the coast of St. Kitts, we could see dark rain clouds over the volcanic summit of Nevis behind us. Fortunately they stayed where they were and we enjoyed bright sunshine. Our first sight of the southern part of St. Kitts showed low hills of obvious volcanic origin and with low vegetation. The island does not appear to be heavily populated.

The high point of the passage was when we spotted a half dozen frigate birds feeding directly ahead of us. They were swooping down and grabbing small fish from the water. We could see them take the fish and swallow them. What was unusual about this was that frigates supposedly don't fish themselves. Their feeding technique is to mob or scare other more successful fishing birds and cause them to drop their fish. The frigates then swoop down and grab the dropped food. Frigates don't swim or dive and have difficulty taking off from either the ground or from the water, yet these large birds were actually hovering as they grabbed fish from the water. Amazing. We passed through the flock and they continued to fish as though we didn't exist. A few minutes later we witnessed the "typical" behavior when we saw four or five frigates mobbing a half dozen gannets. The gannets were diving for fish and the smarter birds floated on the surface until they had safely swallowed their prey before taking off again.

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At 0900 hours we tied up in the marina at position N 17 17.6 W 062 43.5'

We checked in with the marina office and then made the tour of Customs, Immigration and Port Captain. All three offices were close to the marina so it was not too arduous a task. Next step was to find some internet service, as I needed to determine how the outhaul motor is removed. This research was successful, in that I discovered I will need to use a "substantial" model of a tool called a "puller". Annette and I toured the small town and were able to purchase a puller from an automotive supply store. It may not be of the "substantial" variety and we will just have to try it and see.

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February 10, 2009

Yesterday we had made reservations to ride the St. Kitts Scenic Railway and 0730 hours found us wandering the streets, looking for a taxi to take us to the Railway Station. The railway was built to haul sugar cane and the track still circumnavigates the island. In 2003, the railway stopped hauling cane and the rail employees just switched over to hauling tourists instead. In 2005, the St. Kitts government further decided to halt the production of sugar from the huge cane-field that dominate the Island's agriculture. The sugar cane still exists, it just isn't getting harvested at the moment. I say, "at the moment" because the current idea is to restart sugar production to make ethanol for transportation needs. I am guessing at the details but I would expect that the current price of oil, together with the absence of a suitable funding source, has perhaps put "global warming" on hold. In the meantime, if a cruise ship is scheduled to arrive in St. Kitts, the scenic railway will operate. Today was such a day and we finally flagged down a van and were dropped at the station shortly afterwards.

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Although as I stated earlier, the railway track still circumnavigates the island, only about 60 % of this is used and maintained. Our route therefore took us along the north and east coasts, with the track hugging the rugged seashore, passing through the tiny villages, broad cane fields and with the steep cone of the volcano Mt. Liamuiga dominating the center of the island. The route also passed over deep "ghuts" or canyons, on steel bridges that are no wider than the thirty inch narrow gauge track we were riding upon. These canyons were often in the uncultivated parts of virgin rainforest and we could see long tailed monkeys jumping through the tree-tops, as we passed above. The monkeys were introduced several centuries ago by French sailors as pets and today they outnumber the people by a factor of two and are a menace to farmers. They are without natural predators, are "protected" by the government and the only thing they don't eat is the sugar cane.

As our train rocked past businesses, homes and traffic, the local "Saint Kittians" would invariable smile and wave. One of the highlights of the trip was that several Pre-schools had their entire classes standing in line, all in matching uniforms, to wave at the tourists as we rode by.


February 11, 2009

Last night the wind howled in the marina and today began with 30 plus knots of wind and heavy driving rain. This weather pattern is forecast to continue for the next two days and I took advantage of a brief lull between rain clouds, to make an another attempt to remove the recalcitrant main outhaul gearbox. I had made several attempts yesterday without success but had made some modifications to the set-up of puller and spacer bars this morning. It came off! I was surprised, even though that was precisely what I was attempting and I marveled at the quantity of dirty grease that now bespattered our freshly rain-washed deck. I had used the interludes of rain to track the wiring inside DoodleBug and soon had the unit completely removed. With the assistance and advice of David of Indigo Yachts, here in St. Kitts, the unit was dropped off at a machine shop to have the broken studs drilled out and retapped.

Meanwhile it was still pouring with rain but we overcame inertia and forced ourselves out into the rain on a scouting trip. We needed to locate the means of taking on diesel (we still have more than a half tank but I like the security of a full tank), gas for our out-board dinghy motor and a refill for the largest of our two propane bottles. Annette also wanted a spoon made from a coconut to go with her Calabash bowl collection. We tracked down everything on our list and also tracked down Domino's Pizza, where we ordered a large pepperoni and black olive pizza "to go". We have been talking about and discussing this for six years now.


February 12, 2009

Annette had decided that she needed to shop the pottery on Nevis and this morning she caught the ferry over to that island

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to continue her quest. Meanwhile back on DoodleBug, I had received the main outhaul motor / gearbox combo and spent the entire day cleaning it, repacking the grease and re-installing it. It did not want to return to work and I spent hours, drifting it back into position and finally bolting it together. The next step was to re-install the wiring but this task required the First Mate's assistance so I took a break over at the internet cafe, updating weather forecasts plus entry procedures for the next group of islands. Annette returned before I was through and with her help, we soon had the power cables re-routed through the mast, hooked up and tested. We are back in business! The main outhaul works again!

We decided that we deserved a nice dinner in town and after cleaning the major work stains off our bods, headed towards land. On the dock met Mike and Bess Smith from Padre Canyon, Colorado. Mike is a Professor of Histology (a branch of anatomy concerned with the study of the microscopic structures of tissue - I had to look it up) at the local medical school and he and Bess spend months at a time here in St. Kitts. Mike recommended the medallions of pork at the nearby StoneWalls restaurant. This is what we ordered and the meal was indeed delicious. Mike and Bess had invited us to join them for a drink after dinner and we headed over to join their friends at a local beach bar. The entertainment that night was karaoke. Annette and I had seen this form of entertainment in a movie but had never experienced the live version before. There were some excellent singers in that bar and if I had been capable of singing (other than shower singing of course) I might have attempted a song, especially after the third beer.


February 13, 2009

The morning of Friday 13th arrived and we had a busy day ahead of us. We picked up the rental car we had reserved and made the pilgrimage to fill our propane tank. Sailing vessels will normally use aluminum tanks for propane, because aluminum has fewer corrosion problems than steel tanks in a salt environment. The marine tanks cost a lot more than steel tanks and so the option of simply swapping an empty tank for a full one is not going to happen, if you want to keep your own tank. Thus we were headed for a plant where we could get our own bottle filled and conveniently, St. Kitts has such a plant, a mile or so east of the marina. We next found a regular gas station to fill up a jerry jug of gas (petrol) for our dinghy outboard. The final supplier of vital yacht supplies was from the Carib bottling plant on the west side of town. "Carib" is the local beer, is very good and the bottling plant sell it by the case. By lunch time we had obtained clearance / departure documents from the Customs office and paid our marina bill. Chores over!

We had passed the Brimstone Hill fortress when we made our tour of the island by choo-choo train and now wanted a closer look at this imposing citadel. The fortress dominates the north end of the island and its ramparts are defended by steep cliffs on at least three sides. In 1690 British forces mounted cannon in an attempt to recapture Fort Charles on the coast below, which had been occupied by the French. The fortress had been designed by British engineers but the heavy work of building the thing was of course relegated to African slave workers who had been imported by the sugar cane industry. Much of the stonework and like construction utilized ballast stones from the ships that serviced the island. We were told that the ballast stones were from Wales and had been cut and shaped to fit the cargo holds of the various vessels. When we arrived at the fortress, we drove up a single vehicle wide, paved road that was incredibly steep and made very sharp turns through gateways in the encircling defensive walls. The road had signs indicating that you should sound a horn upon approaching these blind corners and it was with some relief that we were alone on the road. The road terminated in a courtyard with a parking lot, bar and snack shop.

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We had not found lunch in our travels and ordered cheeseburgers at the bar. As we waited for our repast, Annette commented to a totally innocent stranger that he was sitting in the sun and he should move to the shade before he acquired melanomas. Thus chastised he moved under the canopy we were enjoying. He commented that he was off work and so Annette asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a D.J. and worked in several bars. We then recognized him as the D.J. from the karaoke bar last night. As we chatted to John Cogger, we discovered that he has lived on St. Kitts for the past fourteen years but he is originally from Station Road, Tyseley, Birmingham. This is perhaps a quarter mile from my own humble origins. I have never before met anyone else who has successfully escaped from "Tyseley", one of the less salubrious districts of the then industrial City of Birmingham. John attended the University of Birmingham but completed his degree in herpetology at the University of Leeds. I also attended Leeds University studying Physics but predated John by over a dozen years.

After leaving the Brimstone Hill fortress, we drove back down the incredibly steep hill and entered a tunnel formed from overhanging rainforest trees. Ahead of us on the road was a troop of monkeys and these seemed much less shy than the others we had seen and would stop to stare at us when we passed. We made a stop some 400 yards north of the fort, where a van had crashed through the wall of the local cemetery some days earlier. We met John at the site and from the debris, Annette recovered one of the Welsh ballast stones she had been coveting. The stones had been used to build the French occupied fortress of Fort Charles (built 1672) . The lesser fortress had been converted to a leper colony in 1890 and when this too was abandoned around 1960, some of the stone had been used to build the cemetery walls. John lives with his wife next to the cemetery and we met his wife returning from her work as an elementary school teacher. Together we explored the crumbling ruins of the fort / leper colony that the rainforest was in the process of burying under a mass of creepers and vegetation.

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We had a great visit with a fellow Brummy but the light was fading and we needed to return our rental car and prepare for the morrow. When we stopped at a local restaurant to get supper, we met and shared a table with a young couple of veterinary students from the local University. They too had been at the karaoke bar that evening. The hazards of living on a small island.



February 14, 2009

In strict and exact sequence, this morning we dropped the six lines that had been holding us somewhat awkwardly to the dock at the marina and at 0600 hours set off in the pre-dawn for the island of Anguilla. The day began with showers passing close by our stern but we had a near 70 mile run to make, close hauled in winds that would climb to 24 knots and then briefly drop back to 15 knots. Waves were in the six foot range and we sailed with reefed Genoa and mizzen for most of the day. "Close hauled" is not a particularly comfortable point of sail and the First Mate did not appreciate the motion. We passed close by the island of Statia and the cone of Saba off to our port, with St. Barts off to starboard; then skirted close by the island of St. Martin. Throughout, we sailed just about as close to the wind as we could get and were no more than a quarter mile off our rhumb line course when we rounded the westernmost tip of Anguilla. For the following hour we simply motored directly into an 18 knot headwind along the north coast of the island. We dropped anchor in Road Bay at 1615 hours at position N 18 12.0' W 063 05.7'

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The island of Anguilla is low and flat compared to the ancient volcanic islands we passed today. There were perhaps twenty boats of various types anchored in the bay and a row of bar / restaurants spaced along the white sand beach. The sight of land had revived the First Mate and as today is Valentine's Day, we cleaned up to repair our shipwrecked sailor look, launched the dinghy and set out in search of supper. Within minutes of our landfall, the sun set behind DoodleBug and I watched a "green flash" through her rigging. We took this as a good restaurant omen and indeed this was the case. The first restaurant we tried was "fully booked" but relented when we began to whine and plead. We enjoyed a really excellent meal at the "Barrel Stay Restaurant on the Beach", with the anchor light of DoodleBug swaying gently and romantically in the background and promising a miserable rolly night.


February 15, 2009

The first task of the day was to clear in with the customs and immigration authorities. We had spotted their office when we came ashore yesterday and could see one of the officers in his white uniform, chatting to a taxi driver outside the Custom's office. The office was locked and inside the chain-link fence was another officer, similarly uniformed. We asked when the office would open, since it was already some 15 minutes later than the stated time on the plaque next to the entrance. The officer seemed embarrassed and then said they were waiting on a third officer, who possessed the key to get in. Righty. Annette had a few grocery items and we had the taxi driver take us into town to the nearest supermarket. He gravely pointed out and named the islands we could see and which we had sailed by yesterday and also the traffic lights that had been recent installed at the intersection next to the supermarket. We all have our means of measuring progress.

On our return to the dock next to the Custom's office, the situation remained unchanged, in that the office was still tightly locked. We had admired a lone islet we had seen on our approach called "Sandy Island" and which seemed to sport a single beach bar. We asked the taxi driver if the bar / restaurant would be open and he indicated that we would need a $90 cruising permit in order to visit. The latter would be obtained from the locked Custom's office. The alternative was to take a water taxi across for $20. Deal! We deposited our documents back aboard DoodleBug and grabbed our snorkel gear before

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heading back to the dock. The water taxi carried us, as well as the proprietor of the restaurant, food and cooks. The islet was very pretty, a coral reef surrounded a light green inner lagoon and a sand bar perhaps 100 yards by 30 yards in size, on the windward side. The two wooden structures were a bar / restaurant with covered patio and an outhouse. The islet had some natural vegetation and this had been enhanced with palm trees, imported from the main island. Very much a travel magazine "cover shot" type of place. We placed our lunch orders and then snorkeled the circumference of the lagoon. The reef had been badly damaged by the last hurricane but there were organisms trying to recover and shoals of brightly colored reef fish to admire. By lunch time a few more boats had arrived to spoil our feeling of isolation. The cooks were safely hidden from view in the kitchen and we had walked the edges of the sand bar, with waves crossing on both sides and remembered the other achingly beautiful and lonely places we have visited.

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The Robinson Crusoe feeling was then further disturbed by the announcement that our lunch was ready. I had grilled grouper and Annette had crayfish and they were both really excellent.

Back at the dock we determined that the Custom's office was finally open and we checked in and out of Anguilla for a morning departure. For beaches and restaurants, Anguilla has done itself proud.