Monday, February 29, 2016

Night Passage to Virgin Gorda

Our last day in Statia was pretty typical of a cruiser's life. We arrived early at the Customs Office only to find it closed. When it opened, they told us we needed a form from the Port Authority Office and it was closed. So we waited for them to arrive, got our form, went back to the Customs Office and found several other cruisers there checking in. We had a mini cruisers' get-together while we all waited, and we met two West Coast boats. We don't see many of them here in the Caribbean, so it was fun to compare notes and share favorite anchorages.

When we got back to our boat, we took one last snorkel with the sea turtles, had lunch, prepped the boat for a passage, loaded the dinghy onboard, and got underway at 1:30pm. Conditions were unbelievably perfect and we enjoyed several hours of a gentle beam reach.

We soon settled into our typical overnight passage routine of three hour watches. Doing a night passage is kind of like riding a bicycle: you never forget the mechanics of it and in no time at all everything feels right. There's plenty of time for star gazing and thinking.

Not having done a night passage since November 2015, I'd forgotten what a perfect layout our Alden 44 has for passage making. Our small aft cabin has the Nav station with all the instruments just 5' from the companionway; all clearly visible, but protected from the elements. On a passage the aft cabin becomes the "office" with head and galley just a step away, and the rest of the boat stays dark and quiet for the off watch. As important as the duties of the on watch crew are, we feel the (equally important) duty of the off watch crew is to SLEEP.


Our narrow cockpit with its solid rails and bimini supports all around makes a secure and comfortable spot to sit while on watch. We virtually never sit at the helm while on watch, preferring to sit against the cabin or on the bridge deck. We never leave the cockpit at night unless the other person is above decks, but the sails can be adjusted from the cockpit, so unless we need to reef that's not a problem.

I thought about all this on my 2:00am to 5:00am watch. Then I woke the Captain, told him about traffic, pointed out the lights of Virgin Gorda in the distance, and went to my bunk, happy in the knowledge that we had selected a perfect boat for passage making.

Location Map February 29, 2016 - Virgin Gorda

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Swell Bridle

We'd been anchored at Gallows Bay on St. Eustatius for a couple of days and with the wind from the east and the swell from the south, we were (as our old cruising buddy Larry Kruzick used to say) "Rolling our guts out!" We couldn't leave anything out on the counters and we had to sleep like starfish; arms and legs fully spread out. It was miserable.

We've used a stern anchor several times in the past but setting one up requires a fair amount of time and effort, so I suggested we try a swell bridle. I read about this recently but can't remember where, so if one of the brilliant Women Who Sail posted it, please take credit and accept my thanks. Because it is awesome. And it works. And it's easy!

Here's how to set it up:

Take a line (nylon is best, but if you are desperate, you'll use a dock line) about the length of your boat and tie it to one end of your anchor chain snubber, then attach your snubber to the chain in the normal way. (If you use rode, tie it to your rode with a rolling hitch.)

Now instead of taking the snubber through a bow chock, run it outboard of all lifelines and shrouds, through a midship fairlead or hawse pipe, and to a primary winch. Do this on the side you need to face into the wind.

While letting out chain, winch in the snubber and your boat will head into the swell. Observe how the boat sits and adjust as necessary to keep the boat's bow directly into the swell. Notice the tug boats in front of us? They are using the same technique even on their mooring buoy.

It's that easy! You don't have to heft the stern anchor into the dinghy and you don't have to retrieve it later. And the real beauty of this method is you haven't complicated everyone else's anchoring by having two anchors out.

Positioning your boat side to the wind increases the strain on the anchor, so consider adjusting your scope as well. And obviously if there's a wind shift, you won't be heading into the swell any longer. If the swell comes back or wakes you up, simply adjust the bridle again.

I don't know why we waited so long to try this; we certainly could have used it a few times here in the Caribbean. Next time you're in a rolly anchorage, give it a try; I think you'll be impressed. We certainly were.

ps: Please excuse my lame graphics. I don't have Photoshop or Illustrator so I made these drawings on my tiny phone screen with a tiny slippery stylus. At anchor. 

Adix Under Sail

James said he'd like to see this boat under sail so I found this on the Internet.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Accidental Tourists in Statia

We had planned to sail from Antigua to St. Kitts to check out St. Kitts Marine Works for a possible haul-out. We arrived at Basseterre Wednesday afternoon, anchored near the Coast Guard dock, and arrived at St. Kitts Marine Works around 10:00am the next morning.

We tried repeatedly to call them on the VHF with no success. We approached their tiny breakwater and saw a barge offloading rocks inside. There was also a boat in the travel lift being launched. Not enough room to go inside and anchor. Lots going on, but no one on the VHF. We abandoned our plans and sailed towards Puerto Rico.

After an hour we saw St. Eustatius and decided to stop there for the night. And that's how we became accidental tourists on this delightful little island.

St. Eustatius (Statia) has a long and colorful history from being named by Columbus himself in 1493, to gaining fame as the "Golden Rock" in the 1700s, to being the first nation to recognize the fledgling America Navy in 1776.

For years American merchant ships had been procuring gunpowder, ammunition, and arms from Statia for the War of Independence. When the Andrew Doria sailed into the bay and fired a 13-gun salute, Governor deGraaff gave them an 11-gun salute in return. He didn't know the Andrew Doria carried a copy of the Declaration of Independence and was under the command of the Amercan Navy Commander, Isaiah Robinson.
With his actions, Governor deGraaff (seen above) gave legitimacy to the Americans and really pissed off the English. This event started a war between England and Holland and Admiral Rodney soon arrived from England to defeat the Dutch and take over Statia. He ruled it with an iron fist imposing stiff taxes and harsh (in the eyes of the residents) laws, effectively ending Statia's reign as the "Golden Rock".
The guns used for salutes were much smaller than this, but they may have been fired from this spot at the nicely restored Fort Oranje.

We spent two hours in the house (now a museum) where Rodney stayed when he was here. The drawing room has been furnished as it might have been at the end of the eighteenth century.

We also rented a scooter and drove all over the island. It only took two hours because the island is so small: only five miles by four miles. However, it's full of all kinds of ruins that haven't been disturbed over the centuries.

This bell at the fort is rung hourly by some faithful citizen. I just heard it ring 6:00am, so I've got to get going. I hope someday all if you can visit Statia and be awoken by the sound of this bell.

St. Eustatius Location Map

February 24 - 28, 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016

Treasure Hunt at Jolly Harbour

We had a delightful day yesterday with members of the Jolly Harbour Yacht Club. They had a treasure hunt that took place around the harbor and surrounding neighborhood. There are fingers of land in the harbor with condominiums along them and most of the hunt was along those fingers.

We had to drive around following the instructions and gathering answers to obscure questions. The streets have security gates with guards and we had a little problem getting into them, but we somehow talked our way in.

We were worried that lots of "local knowledge" would be required, but thankfully there was only one question like that and we got real close on it, but still got it wrong.

The final question led us to a beach area where they had set up a picnic. After a nice barbecue and salads, the papers were scored and we had the highest score! We were so surprised and pleased to win two bottles of wine. And what a great way to spend a Sunday.

Thank you so much Jolly Harbour Yacht Club. 

Early tomorrow we are off to St. Kitts, about 50 miles to the East. I don't know where we will find Internet, but I'll try to post something soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Back to Jolly Harbour

We are done racing for a while so we sailed back to Jolly Harbour yesterday. I must admit sailing in such shallow water takes some getting used to. Here's our chart plotter showing our track and below shows the depth we were in.

You can also see a blue triangle on the chartplotter. That's another boat. That boat is anchored out there because she needs deeper water.

Here she is; isn't she gorgeous? Can you see that little bump out on the end of the main boom? That's a man; this boat is huge. I think it's Adix, 213' long, 13'-4" draft, scheduled to race in the Caribbean 600 which starts Monday.
I would LOVE to see this boat under sail. Hmmm, maybe another field trip is in order.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Round Redonda Race

Just as the sun began to peek over Shirley Heights, our friends on Madhatter came alongside our anchored boat and we jumped aboard. I motored us out of English Harbour while the guys removed the anchor and prepped the boat for racing and Lisa prepared our food for the day.

We arrived at the start line a little late so the race committee swapped the multihull and monohull starts. The multihulls left at 8:15, and we crossed at 8:30 am.

The downwind run to Redondo Island was pretty easy and we rounded the island at 1:45 pm. We thought we would have a reach down the lee side of the island, but these steep sided islands in the Caribbean create their own microclimates and the wind was flukey, variable, and at times nonexistant. We struggled around the northwest corner of the island, but finally found the wind again and started beating back to Antigua.

We could hold about 65° on the starboard tack and 165° on the port tack and of course the finish line was on a heading of about 95°, dead upwind. The conditions were rougher and wetter going upwind, but at least it wasn't cold. We continued like this for hours and hours.

There's always plenty of time for talking on long legs, and we all got to know each other better as we shared tales and stories from our pasts, even as we laughed about our present circumstances. Eventually the children (did I mention they have a 6 year-old, an 8 year-old, and a 12 year-old aboard?) drifted off to sleep and the adults enjoyed that comfortable sense of comraderie where conversation isn't even necessary. We were truly at ease with each other, ourselves, and the world. Well, maybe not the wind angle, but most everything else.

We finally crossed the finish line at 3:00 am, quickly dropped the sails, cleared up the spaghetti in the cockpit, and motored alongside "Thistle" where we stepped back aboard, staggered below, and fell into our bunks exhausted.

The next day was the awards ceremony at The Pillars. We had a pleasant evening getting to know the race committee and the crew of Phaedo3, who also raced. Although the name "Madhatter" will be the first name on this new trophy, we felt a little like Captain Jack Sparrow when told that he was perhaps the worst pirate they'd ever heard of and he said, "Yes, but you HAVE heard of me."

Being cruisers, we may be the worst racers anyone's ever heard of, but they HAVE heard of us!
Congratulations Madhatter! Job well done.

Captain Chris and Captain Lloyd with their trophies.
Phaedo3, winner in multihull division.

In and around Antigua

We've really been enjoying ourselves at Antigua. The weather has been nice. The sailing has been good. The company has been delightful. The services have been excellent.

We spent a few days up island visiting Deep Bay and Jolly Harbour. One day in Deep Bay we hitched a ride into the capitol, St. John's, with the Big Red Boat in their huge fast dinghy. It was a fun day filled with lunch, beach time, shopping at the produce market, and scoring some really cheap Campari.

In Jolly Harbour we watched Madhatter's kids participate in some Laser races and enjoyed walking to Epicurean Fine Foods for provisioning. These kids had never sailed Lasers, but they did a good job out on the course.

Then Madhatter suggested a race to Redonda Island on Tuesday, so we went back to English Harbour which was closer to the start/finish.

The awards ceremony if this evening so I'll share the results later, but it was one tough race!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

31 Days of Sunrise

Just before the New Year I heard about this "31 Days of Sunrise" challenge on Facebook. I like to take pictures and I'm usually up early, so how hard could it be to take a snap of the sunrise every morning for a month? I joined the group, checked the time for sunrise on January 1st, and went to sleep dreaming of beautiful sunrises.

The very first morning I found out just how hard it could be! All these Caribbean islands that we are visiting have the anchorages on the West side and the sun is coming up on the other side. Hmmmm, what to do? The first day I caught the brightening sky over the low ridge behind Rodney Bay and submitted that.

The next day I stayed with it longer and waited for the sun to show itself, but it never really did because there were so many clouds. I got a nice photo, but I was beginning to suspect this challenge would be more challenging than I thought.

Some days there were so many clouds that I never even saw the sun. Some days it rained. Some days there was no color at all. And every day I had to deal with boats mucking up the foreground. Contrary to popular belief, not all boats are beautiful; especially when their mast is poking right into your sunrise.

To eliminate the boat problem, I took to my dinghy and got away from the anchorages, but new problems arose. The mother ship is always moving a little, but the dinghy is really lively and my moving camera made blurry photos.

Then I noticed how nice the other contributors photos were and tried to kick mine up a notch, but I realized that they have things like real cameras, tripods, and the ability to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and focus. I can't do anything like that with my cell phone. Sigh.

Many days I'd spend a half hour before and a half hour after the actual sunrise taking photos. Then I'd spend another hour going through sixty photos, comparing and deleting and editing. And always there was the issue of Internet availability.

A few magical days it all came together and I got some pretty nice photos. And although the photos are very rewarding, I realize that just getting out and experiencing each day's beginning was the best part of the challenge.

Being the first one awake, creeping quietly up on deck, listening to the frogs as the night slips away, seeing the cattle egrets glide across the anchorage from mangrove to pasture, hearing the first rooster crow, sharing cookies with the fishermen,  witnessing the birth of a new day; those were the real rewards.

My favorite sunrise had to be the one on Îles des Saintes because the Captain joined me and we rode a motor scooter to the east side of the island. The golden morning light reflecting on the sand was magical and sharing it with him made it truly special.

Towards the end of the challenge Marnie gave us suggestions like "Black and White" sunrise...
and "Self Portrait" sunrise...
but her best advice was to "receive" the photo rather than "take" the photo.

Thank you Marnie for a wonderful start to the new year and for hosting this (literally) eye-opening challenge.