February 8, 2009
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.
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.
February 9, 2009
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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'
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
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
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
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.
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.