Grenada to Virgin Islands


November 19, 2016

This morning we drifted carefully into the fuel dock and tied up, just as the dockmaster approached. We have a 300 gallon tank capacity and we took on 110 gallons of diesel to bring us up to full. We also took on some additional drinking water but the flow rate from the hose was like watching ice melt. At 0912 hours we were paid up and done and we set out for a 360 mile run to Marigot Bay, St. Martin with 4/8 ths. cloud cover and light rain showers. As we cleared land the showers decreased, the clouds dispersed and the wind and waves were just on the beam with waves in the 4 foot range producing an uncomfortable and jerky side to side motion. We were running just about due magnetic north and as forecast the winds began to lighten slightly towards the afternoon with the seas dropped to the 3 foot range. In late afternoon we were visited by a pod of dolphins, presumably hunting the flying fish we were scattering ahead of our motion. Boobies cruised by us expectantly but I never saw them actually catch anything. A large turtle watched us pass; of shipping, the seas were empty. We passed by a shadowy St. Vincent to the east but St. Lucia was too far off to see. No other sails or vessels until late evening when we altered course to avoid a small craft directly in our path. It appeared on radar at 12 miles but showed a single dim light, visible only when we were within 3 miles.

At 2110 hours our position was 14 02.2 N 061 57.2’ W and we had run 99 miles in 12 hours.

November 20, 2016

Our first night at sea and a half moon rose above the horizon, dodging the few clouds that had been lurking. We could now see that the seas were still in the 3 foot range, although the motion of DoodleBug as she motored on, told us that. A beautiful dawn and the sun rose to the east, blotting out the stars.

We could now see Guadaloupe to starboard, as a grey shadow 50 miles away on the horizon. At 0910 hours our position was 15 37.8 N 062 22.3 W. We had run 197 miles in the past 24 hours, with the engines at half throttle. Around 1100 hours a small powerboat crossed our bow and the chart showed the island of Aves, claimed by Dominica, some 60 miles to the west, although the boat in question seemed to be continuing on to Guadaloupe.

By early afternoon we were off Montserrat with near clear sunny skies and waves in the 2 foot range. Although we were just 30 miles to the west of the volcano, we saw no evidence of activity and the wind continued to drop, producing a glassy swell.

1640 hours there was a bang, followed by shuddering of the hull. The port engine dropped slightly in RPM and the shuddering stopped when we moved the transmission to neutral. Now what? Had we picked up another rope? We checked the engine compartment and saw a slowly rotating prop shaft and everything else as normal. I tried reverse on the engine and then forwards. The vibration disappeared and we were off again! Whatever we had caught had either spun off, or had made some accommodation with the drive train.

By sunset, we were passing within 20 miles of Nevis with the lights of St. Kitts just off the starboard bow.

2110 hours put us at 17 12.5 N 062 54.4 W, 296 miles run in 36 hours as we headed into our second night at sea. From Grenada north, the islands swing in a long arc and we had cut across the chord of this arc, in a direct course that had taken us out into open waters and along the path less travelled. We were now keeping a more careful watch for local fisherman, as we approached the shallower coastal waters of the island chain. As it was, there was no shipping of any kind until we were passing close by Sint Eustatius. This Dutch owned island boasts a fuel transfer / storage facility and six tankers were in the process of discharging cargo, taking on cargo or whatever, all brightly lit up like refineries at night. A cruise ship, “The Freedom of the Seas” passed close by, as did an unknown cargo ship.

November 21, 2016

We altered course to pass between the anchored shipping and the northbound vessels and then turned slightly to aim at the west end of St. Martin, whose lights lay ahead of us, with the lights of Saba (former home of Hiram Beakes – Annette’s favorite pirate) passing by on the port side. Just after 0330 hours we began a sweep around Pointe du Cannonier and entered Marigot Bay using the radar to find a gap in the anchored vessels, most of which were unlit. We dropped anchor at 0407 hours at 18 04.2 N 063 05.7 W. We are here! St. Martin!

November 21, 2016 ......later

I can’t believe that we were up and about at 0830 hours! It simply isn’t realistic to drink celebratory arrival beer and then expect your bladder to allow dreamless sleep!

We launched our dinghy and headed ashore to get breakfast (cheese and ham crepes with that wonderful French bread!) and make a quick check of the internet. No response to our warranty question from the solar panel vendor, even after I had stated I will be on their premises this morning. We motored over to Budget Marine, St. Martin to use their computer to check into French Customs and Immigration. The only challenge here is that the keyboard is not a QWERTY keyboard and the names are all in French. “Etats” is relatively easy to remember for the United States but I always misspell “Isles” instead of “Iles” – the French spelling. Anyway, when you have filled out their on-line form and printed it, a store employee checks your passport numbers and the boat registration for accuracy, then stamps your self generated inbound clearance. That’s it! We are legally here, no snarling or dour government employees involved! No TSA goons dropping knuckle hairs all over the boat, as they drool and grunt whilst dragging their specially designed government black rubber boots leaving a generous trail on our white fiberglass decks...... but I digress. Our next port of call was Budget Marine on the Dutch half of the island, where we had purchased our solar panels some 14 months ago.

This experience was better than expected in that after apologizing for not answering my e-mail, a sales rep looked up the receipt from our original purchase, printed a copy for me and promised to file a warranty claim with the manufacturer this very day. Now we must wait to hear the response.

The other exciting task for the afternoon was to change the oil in the generator. According to the manufacturer, the engine was shipped with “special break in oil” and this needed to be exchanged for 30 weight oil after the first 50 hours of operation. First I needed to buy some “straight” 30 weight oil as it is not a common item. Several stores later I had a couple of gallons and was ready for the next task, to install an oil drain hose on the unit; relatively straightforward to do since we had brought the parts with us in our suitcases. This is the first time I have changed oil on this particular engine and the procedure is always a learning process, to avoid making a total mess with dirty oil and the like. By the time it was all done and cleaned up, I was through for the day and ready for a good night’s sleep. A busy day but useful.

November 22, 2016

Laundry and chores day! While Annette ploughed through our accumulated laundry I ran down my chores list. I had brought from the USA enough LED bulbs that I was able to switch all of the overhead lights from halogen to LED bulbs, a marked improvement in light output and far more efficient of power. I “installed” the new “Stars and Stripes” on our stern in readiness for Thanksgiving. The old tattered banner was both faded and shredded and we couldn’t tolerate a French flag on the bow in better condition than the American flag flying from our stern. No turkey dinners out here bro’!

We dinghied ashore to get an excellent lunch and then headed over to “Dutch side” Budget Marine to check on the status of out warranty claim on the solar panels. The sales reps we spoke with claimed that they could not obtain a response from the UK vendor either by phone or by e-mail. Not good. We will allow them another day before ratcheting up the pressure.

At 1600 hours we headed over to S/V Xenia II, for sundowners with Patrick and Alison from Victoria. An enjoyable visit.

November 23, 2016

Annette tackled the Herculean task of reorganizing the kitchen lockers and I went back to my repair list. When we had returned to DoodleBug in Grenada, the obvious problem with the boat was the failure of the solar panel charging system but another minor problem was that the freezer would not function. When it was turned on, it would operate for a few seconds and then the circuit breaker would “pop”. This means that either the breaker is faulty, or the compressor for the freezer is drawing too much power. Yesterday I had removed the groceries from the locker above the freezer and determined that the freezer control was not showing diagnostic warning lights. Today I decided I would try swapping out the circuit breaker. I had also looked up the installation instructions for the unit and noticed that the manufacturer specified a 15 ampere breaker instead of the 10 ampere unit installed and for the first time ever, the nearest marine supply store actually had a 15 amp breaker in stock. We purchased same and shot back to DoodleBug to install it. We then threw the switch of the “new” breaker and waited. The freezer light came on and stayed on. Ten minutes later, the remote thermometer in the freezer showed a temperature drop of two degrees. We have freezer capacity! Now I won’t have to trek upstairs to the flybridge to get ice for Annette’s beer (don’t ask!) .

Lunch, ATM machine, grocery store – the usual round. We get an internet connection at the lunch stop and this allows a quick check of e-mails plus a scan of the headlines. The media are still howling over the election results and we basked in the glow of their misery. Back to Budget Marine to check on the status of our warranty claim. The lady we had dealt with yesterday was somewhat snotty and said, “Weren’t you here yesterday? I already told you “she” (whoever she is was not defined) has tried to contact the supplier.” “Exactly”, I responded, “that is why I am here today, to see if there has been a change of status.””There has been no answer”, she insisted. “So that’s it then, you are done? I am out three grand?” By this time the temperature in the store had risen, we had three employees involved and I assured them after driving a boat for 43 hours from Grenada, just to visit their store, I was not going to wait around both patiently and indefinitely. Thirty minutes later we agreed that if Budget had not successfully contacted their solar panel supplier by noon tomorrow (Thursday, US Thanksgiving – BTW, not a French holiday), then Budget would service the warranty claim themselves - whatever that means.

The wind has picked up in this part of the Caribbean and the waters of Marigot Bay are decidedly more choppy. It was a bouncy ride back to DoodleBug but the forecast shows lighter winds after the week-end and we will likely run to St. Thomas on Monday.

November 24, 2016

We ate breakfast ashore so that we might access the internet at a waterside café and then determined that to ride the local ferry to nearby Anguilla, transiting the 4 mile body of water that separates the two islands, would set us back US$106, about what Southwest would charge to fly us from Houston to Dallas. We had stopped in Anguilla in 2009 and Annette decided that a couple of hundred bucks for a return to collect a sand sample was just a bit too rich.

Right after noon, we called Budget Marine (Dutch side) to find out what they had determined regarding our solar panel issue. The phone extension I had been provided rang without being answered. Back to the operator and the lady informed me that the man I had made an appointment with for my 12 o’clock call does not work today. OK then, the back-up man was Errol. No, he doesn’t work today either. I asked for some help on the warranty claim status and the lady went back to Tuesday’s story, they were waiting for the likely bankrupt, UK dealer to contact them. I asked for the manager. He doesn’t work until tomorrow. Tomorrow then.

Back aboard DoodleBug we put on our snorkel gear and cooled off with a swim from the stern. I checked the rudders, props and anodes and Annette dove for sand on the seabed below us. We were now both wet and there was a beach near the canal that cuts through from Marigot Bay to Simpson Bay and which we had already determined was inaccessible from the land as it was fronted with private residences. We drove the dinghy near the beach, tied it off on an ancient mooring and then Annette snorkeled to the land whilst I monitored our dinghy position close by a lee shore. Success! She now has two sand samples!

The forecast still looks good for a Monday departure bound for St. Thomas, the major unknown being whether we can get any warranty support from Budget.

November 25, 2016

An early morning visit to Budget Marine (Dutch side) produced the expected results. While we waited and only after I provided them with the listed telephone number I had obtained from the internet as the main contact number for the solar panel supplier ApolloFLEX, they placed a call to the company in Germany. There was no answer. Since the manufacturer is unresponsive, we therefore have no warranty and are screwed. This took ten days, four e-mails, three satellite phone calls and four store visits to determine. The Budget Marine manager insisted that they have no technical support and their customer responsibility is strictly limited to passing through to us any warranty support provided by the product manufacturer. However, he did offer me a discount if I buy additional replacement panels from them.

We stopped in at the Budget Marine store on the French side of the island and checked out for a Monday departure. The forecast is for high winds for this afternoon and tomorrow and then light winds on Sunday and Monday.

Annette was now on a mission and we trekked over to the super-market to buy groceries for a dinner party. She couldn’t find what she wanted in the display cabinets and requested a conference with the butcher. The young French butcher didn’t seem the least insulted while she showed him where she wanted the pork cuts to come from by indicating the area on his back. It certainly worked because the tenderloins she barbequed that evening were memorable. I am pretty sure it was pork.

November 26, 2016

Saturday and there were several Cruise ships visiting Sint Maarten. We joined Patrick and Alicia in riding the bus from Marigot Bay to Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. This is “tourist central” and there were dozens of booths selling tee-shirts, souvenirs and the like and a boggling number of stores selling jewelry, watches, high end clothing, shoes and handbags. Do people really take a cruise ship to buy a watch or a diamond necklace? Do people even wear watches anymore? There were touts pushing boat rides, deck chair rentals (two chairs, a bucket of beer, towels, free shower and wi-fi for just $20!!), casino specials and so on. There were also shoulder to shoulder bars and restaurants lining the beach and we enjoyed a leisurely perambulation through this chaos, window shopping and bar hopping. A very pleasant diversion.

November 27, 2016

Sunday is typically a slow day in the Caribbean when half the island is just getting to bed and the other half are off to church. We checked the engine fluid levels and the like for departure tomorrow and headed ashore to use the internet. The primary need for internet was to use the US government Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) in order to “file” our float plan for Monday. This is alleged to obviate the necessity to make the arrival pilgrimage to the office of Customs and Border Protection, or whichever flavor of alphabet soup is currently extant. The government website was obviously written by the same clowns who “built” the world renowned Obamacare website. A clue as to how it was going to perform was when it required your “type” of departure point. It could be a boat ramp, a marina or a residence but there was no option for a bay or an anchorage. Then they needed the zip code, just in case they needed to mail us a change of address post-card I suppose. When we had filled it all out, we hit the exit button and instead of a pop-up window saying something like, “great job, your confirmation number is XXXX; please write this number down since you will need this when you report in upon arrival” , you get a warning stating that if you continue now, you will lose everything you have just put in. I tediously filled out this crap but somehow managed to file two float plans for the same trip.

We ate our final French breakfast (Annette had the lobster crepe), mailed some postcards and collected some more Euros from the ATM to fund our proposed Cuba trip next year. (Dinner and drinks with Fidel has been cancelled for some reason or other). We are all set, dinghy hoisted and lashed down and all aboard primed for an 0400 hours departure.

November 28, 2016

0400 hours we were ready to sail. Two mugs of coffee / tea imbibed, the anchor bridle removed and stowed, radar, VHF radio, AIS, chartplotter fired up. The navigation was entered and the navigation and steaming lights turned on. Annette had taken her anti-nausea medication and we were both wearing life jackets with automatic strobe lights in the hopefully unlikely event we went overboard in darkness. I started the port engine and checked the coolant water flow from the exhaust. Annette stood ready at the bow to raise the anchor. The starboard engine would not start. Chrymixphthwzz!**#!! The battery voltage dropped to less than 10 volts when I hit the starter and you could hear the start solenoid “buzzing”.

We fired up the generator and tried to charge the battery but nothing doing. It would show a full charge but crash as soon as it was under load. We shut down the radar, instruments and the like; Turned the navigation lights off and the anchor light back on. Let out another 30 feet of anchor chain and then tried to nap for a couple of hours.

At 0700 hours I gave up the attempt to nap, unlashed the dinghy, launched it, connected up the fuel tank and tested the outboard to see if it would run. By 0800 hours I was at Budget Marine (French side) to buy an new battery. The major excitement of the early morning dinghy run was when a squid “flew” across the dinghy, missing me by inches. It was about 8 inches long and had stretched out some short, stubby and near translucent “wings”. Two large dark patches were on the anterior surface and I supposed these to be eyes. I don’t think that I have ever seen their flight before although we have collected their dried out little bodies from the deck during long passages.

Fifty minutes after eight, the new battery had been installed, charged up a little more by the generator, the dinghy re-hoisted, re-lashed and stowed. The boat again made ready for sea and .... the starboard engine started instantly. At 0850 hours we raised anchor and set sail for Charlotte Amelie, St. Thomas, a distance of 105 nautical miles. We were now nearly five hours behind our planned departure and would arrive in darkness.

By noon we were still motoring along at near 10 knots running the engines at 2,200 RPM, about 25% faster than we would typically run but the waves were from the rear quarter and I was hoping that we would both make up some passage time and perhaps the boat would steer a little better than the zig-zag path she seems to prefer in a following sea. The problem is that the water at the crest of the wave is travelling faster than the boat, as if the boat was going in reverse. This means that the rudder is pointing the opposite direction to the water motion and the autopilot detects the “slew” and makes the matter worse by turning the rudder in the wrong direction for the actual water flow. At the trough of the wave, the water slows down, the boat is going faster because it has just run “down hill” and so it overcorrects the “slew” by a violent turn in the opposite direction. When it is just about back on course the process repeats. To make the voyage more tolerable, I set the autopilot to its slowest response setting, sort of like having a helmsman who is stoned. The rain continued to pour down from an overcast sky but with light winds from astern, it was mainly vertical rain rather than a horizontal fire-hose and we could stay moderately dry.

As we approached the mid-afternoon, the wind began to build creating whitecaps and the seas correspondingly built into the four to six foot range. There were still rain pods all around us but also hints of blue sky ahead. We saw very little shipping although we were visited by a largish pod of dolphins and by now we could see Virgin Gorda, and Norman Island to starboard, with just the tips of the mountains of St. Croix to port. Annette had her USA cell phone on and announced that she had a signal when we were about 15 miles off St. Johns in the US Virgin Islands.

2030 hours and we eased slowly into Long Bay, Charlotte Amelie, St. Thomas and anchored in the middle of a group of sailing vessels, aided to no small degree by the street lighting of the waterfront. Our position is 18 20.3 N 064 55.8 W. We are here!