Leg 4: Part 4

The wind continued to ease all day and I have to say that evening’s watch I shall remember always, 7-8knots boat speed, clear full moon, sorts & t shirts and a good girlie book, coz I had read all the ones where men shoot each other.

By mid morning the wind had died to 15knots and being the last day at sea and harnesses a new found enthusiam onboard, we set the kite. In 6000 miles, it had been up twice before, once leaving La Manga on the fast day and once leaving the Cape Verdes. On both ocassions it took longer to repair, than it was up. Whilst discussing the pros and cons of adding another furler for the No.1 over maybe looking for a smaller kite, nature took over. It started with a gossamer kiss by the kite to the forestay, which opened a 1 foot square hole, then five minutes later same thing, another hole, but not content with that it then collasped and the top end disintergrated. Rob looked crestfallen, don’t worry we won’t need it again. Why’s that then? Wekk coming out of the Cape Verdes when we had the drone, we got great photos, so unless you change the colour of the hull, we won’t ever need to put it up again, simple.

For the last 100miles we had no wind at all, which should have been nice and easy, just motor in. No chance our recurring deisel issues reared their head again and ove rthe course of the next 24hours the engine would run for an hour or so then die. i changed filters, bypassed stuff, ran from a jerry can and probably every other thing you can think of to do with a deseil system to no avail. Some time I would think I had found the smoking gun, only for it to die again. I’m gutted that we will have to leave the boat not working for the moment, but I am out of ideas as to a solution.

We made out landfall in Boccas del Toro and as we passed between the 1st two islands which guard the anchorage, everything became good with the world. This place folks is paradise, all the things we had hoped of the Carribean, Panama has it in spades. Nautal beauty, quaint, cute, undeveloped, un crowded, just absolutely fantastic.

Rob’s agent for his building project pottered up to us shortly after we anchored and after all the greatings were made, he told us that it wouldn’t be a great idea to go ashore until we had been cleared by customs. So he was dispatched ashore and returned with 5 of the biggest nad best pizzas I have ever seen. Needless to say the red wine was broken out, glasses were raised, emptied, refilled and emptied. All onboard filled with an immense satisfaction of a job well done.

Bang on time at 9.30am the next morning, Customs, Immigration, Port authority and some other dude, who I think just liked boats all turned up. Incredibky poilte, couteous and welcoming. They were full of apologies, as the building opposite us, which was to be the new HQ of the officals was not finished yet. The process was a bit disjointed. For me though, this was perfect, it tallied with all the ocean voyages I have read about from yester year, about customs coming onboard as opposed to the modern traisping around different offices. I was slightly miffed that they did not suggest that a bottle of whiskey would be in order.

Once done and all the formalities completed, we shifter our berth 5 miles to Rob’s holiday development. This was pure Swallows and Amazons, threading our way through Mangrove islands, with no charts, glancing off little sand banks, a touch astern then on our way again, just awesome.

Rob’s place, just makes you envious, I cannot image a more perfect location or project, The property is fronted by a horse shoe bay about the size of a Tescos carpark, or as I pointed out a 100berth marina. We went stern to a rickety jetty, then all went ashore to look around. The idea fior the resort is as a rain forest retreat with spa, resturant etc. Accomodation is purpose built 2 story cabins built high up in the trees and very exclusive. 3 of the cabins are complet and landscaping is just beginning to clear the restaurant site.It is boys own adventure stuff, tropical but no snakes, fertile with every imaginble type of tree, but not so dense that moving around is difficult. Still to come is the construction of 4 cabannas, local style cabins which sit on stills ove rthe water, magical. He still has a lot to do but you can understand that this is a retirement project and once he is there almost full time, little foot paths and seating areas and possibly a marina will grow by increment. Its a long project but one that many of us would love.

I’m writing this in the cockpit, finding it very hard to concentrate, everywhere you look, there is water taxis buzzing along or a yacht moving or just nature, its mezmerising.

Andras & Konrad who are spending another month here decomissioning the boat, had to go off on a magical mystery tour this morning to get Visas. The dude that issues them locally is on vacation. Rob, Vicky & I have a 3 day grace period and need to fly out tomorrow. Vicky & Rob are ashore at the moment trying to sort flights. Having been away so long, it sounds like all our credit cards are well passed maed out, so a little bit of international finace is being conducted. It appears that we are off to Colombia in the morning before a flight to Europ. Cool by me, my passport is beginning to look awesome.

Its hard to describe how gut wrenching it is for this trip to be over, one of those things you just wish could go on forever, but I guess even I have to make a living at some stage.

For Vicky and I, it’s been a long over due break together and both feel bring it on in terms of what Greece throws at us next. I know this will not be the only time I am in Panama, firstly it is so good and secondly because there is serious talk of continuing into the Pacific in 3 years time.

Thanks for keeping up with our story, I hope its been enjoyavble.

Ruairi

Boccas del Toro

Panama

Leg 4: Part 3

Another side effect of learning just before departure, that the fridge & freezer were goosed, (we had been plugged in for 10days and not realised how bad they had got until we were in Martinique, by which time engine, generator, steering and autopilot took priority) was a lot of the meat we had stocked had of course to be binned. To compensate for this we had brought a slab of Hereford tinned corn beef. With Vicky incapacitated it fell to me to take over in the kitchen. Lasagna was programmed for that night and with Vicky adding a little ‘welcome’ advice from her sick berth, preparation went well. however gimballed though the oven may be, it seemed always to be on its way down as the boat was coming up and vice versa. Boat ovens generally don’t heat very evenly especially, when like ours you have to relight it every 20minutes, so the resulting concoction resembled bollangese & cheese sauce soup more than what had been billed on the menu. However being skipper, whose wife the chef is in her sick berth, due to a boys on deck sailing injury coupled with their collective inability to boil an egg, all agreed a fine dish, from which there was only a mild tinny after taste.

Rob had spent a lot of money on a wind generator made by a German crowd called Superwind and was understandably very proud of this expensive addition to the boat. Unlike myself he did not rate the solar panels which were mounted on the gantry with it. It was an ongoing discussion which came up, every couple of days. Rob would quote generating figures, pooh pooh at other yacht’s versions. To which I would helpfully point out, as eloquently as possible, yeah but it’s still a piece of crap. Now a couple of days after Burns Night with a good 6 to 7 chasing us up the chuff, the matter was finally settled and I have to admit Rob was correct, he just wasn’t happy about how he found out.

I had just spent my blustery 3 hour watch trying to get the boat balanced enough for the autopilot to steer and had finely succeeded when Konrad & Rob who had decided to share their 3 hour tricks arrived on deck. Hope you enjoy the fruits of my labours, I quipped, very nice skip good of you to think of us. Before collapsing into bed I was abluting when there was an almighty bang from outside. Signing, mid ablute I went back on deck to see what had happened now. Vicky & paws were poking out the aft cabin hatch pointing at the back of the boat. I have to add that I know now where she was pointing, whereas at the time it was hard to tell as she looked like one of those blokes who parks planes for Easy Jet, except with white table tennis bats.

It seemed that my solar panels had the temerity to break free of their fixings and triple selco into Rob’s windmill, smashing the bloody thing to bits. Since then we have had to run the generator a lot more, so it seems it wasn’t so crap after all.

After 6 days of those strong following winds, we were to a man and a 1 semi invalid heartily sick of rolling gunnel to gunnel every 20seconds, so the forecast for more gentle conditions was welcome. Of course we had to have one last kick in the butt. AP overload flashing & off course alarm screeching normally was no big deal. Yet since we had fitted a new autopilot pump, these familiar cockpit sounds had been absent, it was a real Oh bollocks that I flicked the pilot to standby and spun the wheel to get us back on course. Now normally when you turn the wheel, the scenery changes, but no matter how increasing vigorously I spun it, we inexorably ended up broadside to the swells, creating a whole new smogsaboard of noises down below.

Shit the rams stuck! I supermanned head first through the aft cabin hatch and ripped the mattress off the bed, not impressing its occupant. Sorry babe, problem, kisses as I dived into the subbedeterran. Sure enough the pin that connects the ram to the tiller had come out. Phew, easy fix. All I had to do was line up the ram and the 1 foot long tiller and pop the pin back in,piece of piss done it 100times. Not however whilst 25tons of boat is jumping 6 metres up and down every 20 seconds.  It was a bit like hunting, I would call instructions to my ankle region, which was closest to Vicky, she would pass the request to Andras at the wheel and I would track the tiller and strike at the right moment to secure the pin. What a bloody farce, it would have been comical were it not my pinkies almost being crushed every other wave. Eventually like frigid lovers, we got it in, more by luck than anything else and got it double ‘f…t…’ this time to lock it in place. Ye gods I ask you, when will it end.

Finally our much hoped for calm spell arrived. This would mean no pink panthering through the cabin, no octopusing to make a cup of coffee and no contradictory grip & relax to use the loo. Unfortunately our wished for early days of the Atlantic Crossing were not to be repeated, that evening we got our welcome we got our welcome to the Colombian basin. When you read about this part of the world, the recurring theme seems to be about lots & lots of wind on the approaches to Cartagena, the long range forecast bore this out, showing consistently higher winds on that corner. We thought it would not affect us, being 140NM offshore, no gales or pirates for us. Wrong!

A gale would not be the same if did not start at 8 o’clock at night, if it was 3pm you pretty much knew by dusk it will have blown itself out, but old 8.00pm he is there for the night. I remember we maxed out very early at 40knots true, which was when I decided staysail and 1/4 genoa was too much, the boat was surfing up to 14knots, which was like putting a bin lorry on a black run. Rather than wake the off watch crew and endure the waking, dressing, toilet, do you want coffee period which precludes anything actually being achieved, I opted for the easy option & called the much recovered Vicky. I knew that she would instantly grasp what was going on, take the wheel, let me go forward to drop sail.

On my return, whilst catching my breath ( code for lighting a fag.) I looked aft and said “have you closed the transom windows?” The why was almost perfectly formed as she began looking over her shoulder, but died as the impact of 50tons of water crashed into the arse end of the boat. Wet bed again!

Strangely things quietened down after that, with a scrap of head sail out we jogged along at 6 knots reasonably comfortably. The only recent nuisance being that the pilot simply would not control the boat. Towards the end of my watch, I resolved to sit up with Konrad as this was his first real gale at sea, he did great, his enthusiasm for each wave, matching my worst case scenario planning. When Rob came up 3 hours later it was only natural to sit with him too, then it would have been unfair not to be there for Andras, all of which is very noble, but noble is not sleep. The hardest part was no pilot, the concentration required whilst helming is draining. I some how got through my morning watch and sat down below with Vicky, Rob and a cup of coffee. Andras poked his head down the companionway and said, “I throw the wheel away.”Oh fuck Donald Crowhurst syndrome. In the end he had not cracked, just wanted to get rid of the car tires.

I best explain, all of my early reading from the beginning of ocean voyaging in the 1940s seemed to carry areference to, we used a tyre as a snubber to ease the pressure on shore lines, or fortunately we had some car tyres to shove between us and the wall & even, we tied all the tyres together with the kedge and heaved the whole lot over the rail on our longest line. Mercifully we slowed and saved the ship and all souls onboard, that sort of thing. So when Rob asked me for a shopping list in August, I popped in four old car tyres just in case. ( I can never that line without thinking of the Irish insurance company.Justin Casey.) The four tyres had been lashed to the bathing platform and to be honest I had quite forgotten them. In fact the only thing that they had achieved was to get me embroiled in a conversation in Spain which started with air being sucked through teeth and carried on with you’ll be heading across then, aye, you think them tyres will be enough, aye, I’d like more on my boat, aye…. , sorry what type of boat have you, she’ll need more tyres than that for sure aye. I’m ever so sorry must go, I have some broccolli blanching in the pressure cooker. Anyway it was these tyres which had fallen off the back and had been dragging behind us since the wave which hit our cabin 15hours before.

Andras was asking rehterically, should I spend 2 hours battling these bloody things only for us to have to pay to get rid of them in Panama or should I spend 10seconds creating a mid Colombia basin eco friendly crap community housing project? When nobody answered, he said I thought so and walked away cleaning his finger nails with the point of a sharp blade. I never found out what happened to those tyre, but next time I looked they were gone.

Ten minutes later he turns up at the hatch again and says, I am no longer Andras, now I am Andrad the autopilot engineer, you will find it is working now. It seems that my 16hour watch had been because of 3 bald Pirellis and a Michelon.

 

 

Leg 4: Part 2

Awaking next morning with a grumbling tummy and throbing head, my first thought was, can we please go back to sea now?   Rob & Vicky were dispatched ashore, whilst we three boys prepared for departure. We set the spinnaker pole, loose luffed No1 to leeward, so once the anchor was up, unfurled the genoa supported by the spinnaker pole, then hoisted the No.1 and hey pesto twins again.

Once Vicky & Rob returned from paperwork chores, the dinghy was stowed in davits, anchor up and off on the final leg of our trip, 1286NM to Bocas in Panama.  Ahead of us we knew to expect increased velocity of wind speed, a recognised piracy risk along the Venezuelan coast and a new untried steering system. By this time, life aboard was so natural that a lot of the passage making formality was gone.  No ceremony, anchor up, sails up, engine off.  Our earlier preparation paid off handsomely as the guys had the sails up and flying in moments. As we picked through the many long distance cruisers at anchor, appreciated nods or waves signified that their work was neatly done.

As we were one down from the Atlantic crossing, it was easy to adopt a 3 hour rotating watch. Vicky was excluded from the formal rota as she had her work cut out feeding a crew of many carnivores with no refrigeration on board. Needless to say though, whenever anything was going on up deck, she would be in the thick of it.

Barely an hour out of the anchorage, the 1st rain squall of the day bore down on us, no big deal as we had been experiencing them for a couple of days at anchor, giving us a moderate increase in wind strength and 20 mins of rain. Waiting for the squall, I asked who wanted first watch from now 11.00am to 2.00pm. Ever eager Konrad, when no one else said anything, said “Sure I’ll do it.” Next 2.00pm to 5.00pm, Rob grabbed that one,  Andras took the next, which left the remaining 8.00pm to 11.00pm to me. Ok slap bang in the middle of the nightly movie schedule, but in bed by 11.30pm and not up again until 07.00am, nice. It took a day or so for Rob & Konrad to realise that in their eagerness, they had bagged the graveyard shift from 11.00pm to 5.00am. Remember, never volunteer!

Dissecting of watches was soon forgotten as the squall hit and within seconds the 30 knot winds had snapped the tackline, which secures the tack or bottom front of the No1 to the boat.  Bollocks, it was now flying like a flag out the side of the boat, whilst she careered down wind at 8 knots.  As Andras released the halyard, another fierce gust tore it from him and plop, the whole shagging lot is now towing out the back of the boat like a fishing net. What a balls up, many broken finger nails later, we had clawed the bloody thing back on board. Konrad shot up the mast and replaced the halyard, new tack line, clean hoist and we were back in business. Only plus point, that the rain had obscured our messing around from our peers in the anchorage, who no doubt, would have found the whole episode highly amusing.

All through that night and for the next next 2 days we had similar weather, easterly 5 – 6. We can run with poled out roller genoa and loose luffed No.1 in this kind of wind, it’s roly but easy and the autopilot likes it. All the same issues from the Atlantic, trying to hold on in the aft cabin and the cacophony of noise in the saloon, but all in all easy passage making.

Around 1.00am on the 3rd night, the wind speed started to increase to 25-30 knots, this is where the limitations of our twin headsail rig are shown up. Initially you can roll away one genoa, but without his mate, the No1 becomes quite unstable. Then comes a time when you have to get all hands up on deck to wrestle the beast on to the deck and swap it for a much smaller staysail.

I asked Vicky to control the rate of decent, as we sort of need to drop the head almost until it is just clear of the water, then 3 of us can rail claw the thing onto the deck. By this stage its blowing a good 30 knots, when everyone is ready, Vicky stripped the halyard off the cleat and began paying out. Even though there were 3 turns on the winch, she couldn’t hold it. Now good advice in this situation, is to let the thing go and bugger the consequences, but to her credit Vicky held on, with the halyard sliding through her hands. Had not we then suffered another gust all would have been good. But the increased pressure tore at Vicky’s grip, sliding faster and faster until she had to let go.

On the rail none of us were aware of the unfolding drama behind us, until with a rush, the sail plummeted into the water and we sailed over it.

I turned with uncharitable thoughts towards my beloved, only to see her disappear below, ‘Unusual’ flashed through my mind but I had to focus on the mess we were now in. Slowly by passing a rope around a section of the sail, we managed to winch it onto the deck. Then cut the halyard as it was wrapped around the prop / rudder. 20mins or so later, I went down below to find out what the story was. Greeted by Vicky’s back hunched over the galley sink. I thought, here we go! Only when she turned around and I saw the massive rope burns to both her hands, did my heart melt. Rather than bother anyone on deck, she was trying to dress the burns, no handed. The lack of a working fridge or freezer made finding anything cold enough to get the heat out difficult, but eventually after translating from Spanish, Rob found some burns cream, which although stung like a Bxxxxd, gradually brought the pain down to bearable.

We packed a very peeved and sore Vicky off to bed for a couple of days with her hands wrapped up. Next day the funniest moment came as she tried to have a cigarette, not funny with no hands.

Leg 4: Part 1

As it was carnival on next door to the North in Martinique, our obvious place to go was Fort de France, the capital.

It turned out that we had some teething trouble still with the diesel system, which knocked the wind out of our sails. Whilst the boys went to carnival, I stayed on board and worked my way through the system, eventually tracing the problem to a new & very expensive racor water separator, which had been fitted in St Lucia. Ho, hum, all better now.

Dwindling time and the need for a touch of civilization saw us back track to Marin in the very South of Martinique. What an eye opener, if anyone is planning a first stop after an Atlantic crossing, this is the place. From every marine service and French style supermarkets to beautiful anchorages, this has the lot. Only down side, it is mini France, not very Caribbean.

Penultimate day here today, a real swim & relax day, meal ashore tonight, then off to Panama tomorrow. Its a shame to have had so much down time and little playtime since crossing, however all aboard are now eager to get to sea again.

In keeping with our new found eagerness, when Konrad and Andras came back from their morning shell hunting expedition, Vicky, Rob & I decided to head ashore, use a cafe terminal to ‘clear out’ and book a table for the evening. After so many days of stress & repair getting the boat fixed, it was with conscious effort we took in the waterside village of Sainte Anne, with its square and dominating, but welcoming church. It seems that the proprietor of the cafe, which holds the only customs clearance computer, had over exerted himself during the previous few days carnival, as he was now closed until tomorrow. That took the edge off our urgency in the morning, as some of us would need to come ashore again. We selected a restaurant which had all the right attributes, but rather than appear over eager, went to the seafront for lunch. Now as most of you know Vicky and I are long in the tooth enough to know that waterfront dining rarely climbs high enough to meet even the lowest of expectations, but world travelling Rob would not listen to our cynicism and chose prime location. In truth it was either this restaurant or a kebab stand. What can I say, location perfect, that’s me being positive.  After those nice people who own my credit card had paid for lunch, we resolved to book tonight’s place, lest we end up water front again, no kidding the vegetarian option, the only option was chips.  Average plate cost 30 euro, a classy joint! Being out of touch with all things French, when we got to our preferred evening eatery at 2.30pm it had obviously closed for lunch, aah!

Post siesta onboard, the team loaded into the dinghy promptly at seven, to make sure of a table. Maitre D’ greeted us suspiciously at the door, eyeing the shifty disposition of our multi national crew, we didn’t come ashore together much at this stage. When addressed with the ubiquitous eyebrow raised “Oui?” I really wished I had paid more attention in school! What I wanted to scream was, Oui, Oui, what? This is a restaurant, I know that because it said it out the front, we are a group of people who would like to eat.  It’s fairly obvious you don’t serve petrol, so cut the shite, count the number of the party and match that up with a table that has an appropriate number of chairs and don’t chew so much garlic before evening service. Instead I managed a meek “we would like to eat, a table of five perhaps.” “Mais non, deux, trois, quatre, oui, cinq… c’est impossible.” I peer around him at the completely empty restaurant and suggest that we would only like a main course, eat quickly and begone. Alas he responded “I have many reservations;” I know what you mean I thought, I was starting to have a few myself.

Passing Saturday evening service, we were shocked at the attendance in the church, doors were open and it was standing room only, I guess with the beginning of lent guilt was big business.  Inexorably we were drawn to the scene of our mid afternoon culinary disaster, but just as we were to cross the threshold, salvation. Not from the church this was more obvious, a round strip light lit sign, proclaiming ‘Restaurant Cajun Food’. To back up the declaration, the sign was haloed by low energy light bulbs arranged like detonators on a mine.

Auspicious for salvation maybe, alas lunch had really been that bad. A kindly gent explained that the church congregation would descend shortly, ravenous to begin lent. However noting our emaciated state, he offered a table alfresco, a charming group of mismatched 21st century blow molded plastic, which at this stage we were grateful to occupy. The menu appeared more of a catalogue from which you could order various bits of bovine body parts, until that is the last line, which I swear as I read it, coincided with the heavens opening and a heart rendition of Hosanna. I snapped from my reverie realising that the heavens had indeed opened and our group had huddled under the Heineken umbrella which was central to our table decor. So our order was placed, four steaks and the mysterious sounding, but entirely plausible plate vegetarian. None too soon as Hosanna had ended and the faithful stampeded from the church, already reaching the outskirts of our eatery, much more cheerfully accompanied by a rasta playing a steel drum. Red wine was ordered, poured, assessed and demolished, fears were voiced about the time it may take to be served, when miraculously (it was that type of night) all four steaks turned up swiftly followed by more red wine. Eat, eat I chastised my friends, as some of the meat looked as if it could get up and leave the table by its own volition, were it not held down firmly by a fork. You see, I explained, a bit more effort goes into this veggie stuff than your warmed up dead animal. Despite assurances to the contrary by the end on the 3rd bottle of red, hope for my meal was lost and after the 4th bottle which I insisted was  gratis to ease my suffering, all desire for food was gone. In fairness as I (or more accurately, my credit card angels) paid the bill, our waiter was still trying to foist an aluminium parcel onto me lest I should expire from malnutrition.

After a night cap in a place which was entirely populated by the clientele of a cruise ship, I declared whilst I may be pissed, I am in no way way that pissed, we left and returned to the boat.

 

The Caribbean: Layover

So everyone tells you that the Caribbean is crap for parts, but hey you have just crossed the Atlantic and everyone knows there will be dancing girls in grass skirts and motivated young men with spanners to look after your physical and mechanical needs.

In truth the reality is a bit of a let down. Yes you have just crossed the Atlantic, but no grass skirts and no spanners. Andrei we knew was leaving the day after we arrived, so all were happy to have lunch and dinner out. However post celebration hangover coffee morning, suggested that this was not to be a regular event. Boy is it expensive, 6 folks, lunch, dinner and breakfast, 800 euro, for sure a few Gin and tonics mixed in, but wow.

Then the spanners, its broken, take it off, we will export it to the states and re-import it, will only take 8 days, cost should not be more than 4500 dollars, eh, what?!  I’ve got a dirty fuel pump not cancer.  We spent the weekend screwing around with US suppliers who were, frankly uninterested in our issues and we were getting more frustrated, our steering problems were not big news on the Western seaboard.

I think one 5 o’clock session at the bar, Vicky made contact with Vetus UK, who said that they should be able to help which led me to be swimming in a manky marina, measuring the size of the rudder and placing an order in the UK.

Whilst waiting for parts or Caribbean engineers to turn up, we hired a car.  In truth it was more a Japanese oblong box with 3 rows of bench seats, finished in shit brown livery. As I walked towards it, at 100 US dollars per day, I was not enthralled. Especially when I opened the drivers door and said to the rent a car girl”Problem?” she replied  “What, its brand new.” “Yes very nice nice but its only got 2 pedals”.  You see at 42 years of age, my only other experience of an automatic car was on Warrenpoint pier back home, when my dad’s Honda and I nearly went swimming together. ” But all our cars are automatic” she explained. Only then did the significance of the signs everywhere sink in. The company was called ‘Rentamatic’.

Being ex English, St Lucians drive on the right, but I’m now so expatish that for me, it takes a while to get used to. Never the less we loaded the crew into the box and head South.  During this trip my views started to become more clear, St Lucia is one of those place with a perfect climate, stunning forests and plantations and a massive gap between rich and poor. Back from the posh villas and hotels along the coast, is real poverty.  Not surprisingly as after a few days we started to feel the punch.

One night saw us take a taxi to a ‘Jump Up’ area for the locals street party. The main street of a small village becomes a dance floor, with loads of rum shacks and bars fueling the revelers. The authenticity of the Caribbean feel was marred a little with too much Mariah Carey.

Our little Suzuki hire box took us all over the island and it is truly an awesome place, we visited the Pitons in the South, filled up on Sulphur steam at the volcanic park and washed away sightseeing lethargy in a warm spring waterfall. Most memorable experience was when Vicky led us down a dirt track to a deserted beach, by the time we decided to turn back, Sammy the Suzuki had earned new respect for his off road capability. Vicky was sacked as excursion manager though. It was with a bit of regret that we put Sammy back into his stable, praying the hire car people wouldn’t look at the bangs and dings he had suffered underneath.

Back on the boat things started to happen.  All 400 litres of diesel from the tanks was vacuumed out and dumped and Alvin the magician came and did something to make the engine work. Only 3 and 1/2 days after placing our order with Vetus, our complete new system arrived and all went together easily enough.

So after roughly 10 days in St Lucia, we were more than ready to go. Lady Sea Breeze had arrived broken and weary albeit with a crew in great spirits. She left St Lucia in tip top condition, with a crew who were hungry for more. More piracy reports around Trinidad and the Grenadines at the end of December, made our minds up for us. We were to avoid Venezuela altogether and head North for a few days of sight seeing and R & R, before heading due West on a non stop route of 1200 – 1400 NM direct to Bocas in Panama.

 

Leg 3: Part 5

Vicky and I were now sharing evening and morning watches. A couple of days after my up the mast morning, I called into the aft cabin and in my most sweet and sickly voice advised the love of me life to stay in bed a bit longer. This was in part me being nice but over long years of sailing together, I have learnt that adding rain and strong wind to a recently awoken Vicky, does not marital harmony make. For sure watching the darkening skies astern we were in for some weather, best to keep Vicky tucked up in bed. I Bizarrely put the Bimini up, you see it’s much more effective for keeping the main hatch dry than its minuscule size serves to keep the sun off. Twenty minutes after spotting this squall, it was all over us, wind 40 knots, rain horizontal and boat speed over 10 knots, wicked! It lasted twenty minutes, which was long enough to work out that, whilst the steering was good, it had its downwind surfing limitations.

So it seemed this dawn watch was working out with most cockups or worse, happening whilst I wasn’t sleeping.

I knew from reading other people’s accounts, that this increase in squalls was common as you approached the islands, it’s just bad timing. We were all really comfortable with our 10-20knot trade winds, so this 20-30 knots was a bit of a pain. Oh well at least it was behind us and shoving us West.  Andras seemed to catch the worst night time squalls, but really they were more a nuisance than anything difficult.

Our good friend, the staysail became the latest casualty after a little complacency about wind strength. This meant having to use heavily reefed main to balance reefed poled out Genoa but again it was a little more difficult to raise and lower. By this stage daily average distance made good stretched to 150-160 nm, an average of a little over 6 knots. It’s hard to imagine sailing in the Med with such incredible constant winds, usually an hour it’s good before conditions change. Out here our best period we went was ten days without touching the sails, just awesome.

There was a bit of irony at play on our final day, when having placed my morning coffee on the chart table, to throw my arm into my jacket, a particularly violent roll saw me head butting the plotter, trying to break my nose on the autopilot and finally scalding myself on fresh coffee, now moving across the ocean passage chart like a tsunami.

We sighted St Lucia at 0800 hours and as always those last twenty miles seemed the longest of the trip. However it was a time when everybody on board could reflect on the crossing and what it had meant to each individual. Unanimously we felt that 17 days after day 2 had passed incredibly quickly. Andras spent most of the trip wondering whether he would make the adventure on his own boat and by the time we got to the Caribbean, it was a firm belief that if you can make it to the Canaries, the rest of the journey is a breeze. Rob was reveling in a new confidence that even he still found strange. Vicky was happy that the big team on board had stuck together with such camaraderie. Most telling was Conrad, who before the trip had never set foot on a yacht. He has a massive store of ‘can do’ and from watch keeping alone, to fishing, whale watching, cooking and all the mundane things on board, he found a joy and a wonder in it all and is firmly a convert.
Me, well I was happy that my affirmation that it would be lots of days sailing one after the other was true, for me anyway. I have massive pride in all of the crew, when the chips were down, no bad feelings, no down in the dumps, just let’s fix it and keep going because nothing is going to taint this experience.

St Lucia is up ahead and we have some repair issues to sort out and some exploring to do, but for now, I guess we check in and the red and white wine will flow and a few toasts are in order.

I guess I will next be writing about St Lucia and how our repair efforts go, but for now I’m just happy.

Leg 3:Part 4

Every day at sun up, activity begins on the aft deck, much discussion and equipment precedes the first hook, lure, squid, thingy into the water. I tend to close out the differences in performance of each thing, as to me, they all equally catch seaweed with equal regularity. Like most times though, I was to be proven wrong, as the fishing crew finally got the measure of their quarry and in the space of 2 or 3 days they managed to land two 7/8 kilo Ono (Hawaiin name). Vicky was happy to be able to eke out her freezer-less menu and bring some more variety to evening meals. She was even more happy that Conrad delivered said fish minus heads and inside icky bits.

As a non fish eater, I am often consumed with curiosity as to what fish actually tastes like. It seems that every conversation around a fish goes…

” Do you like it?

“Oh yes very much, tastes like chicken”.

“Do you think so, I thought maybe rabbit”.

“Well it depends if you mean a wild rabbit or a bunny rabbit”.

“Whats a bunny rabbit”?

“Ach you know, the cuddly ones that taste like fish”.

…and so it goes on. Once again my quest for answers remains unsolved, as of our two mid Atlantic sea fish, one indeed tasted like chicken and the other vaguely of meat.

Onto sailing, engine has been off now for 11 days and we keep putting in 140nm averages, not bad for a big heavy elderly girl like this. Truth be told we just set the no 1 and no 2 Genoa wing to wing and let her do her thing. From 7 knots to 20 she is happy under this rig and we would go days on end without adjusting a thing. It couldn’t last though and as we approached the Caribbean, the mean wind speeds are on the rise. It seems that dawn is the time frame for squalls and most memorably when we blew both spinnaker halyards in the same 12 hour period, necessitating a trip up the mast at 7am.  Anyone who remembers Ellen McArthur getting battered up the mast of her race boat Kingfisher, will understand when I say, if she can do what she did then man up and get on with it. Truth be told, it was quite nice to get off the boat awhile.

Leg 3: Part. 3

imageimageI suppose it was good getting our Atlantic disasters out of the way early on and as the night watches started that evening, everyone was in good spirits. I mentioned watches earlier and to be honest, it was a bit of a problem with six people onboard. We had myself, four solid watch keepers and a person whose first time on a boat was this trip. Splitting into short watches is obvious but creates its own problems. If we go 6 x 2 hour watches it makes 5 x 2 hour watches where someone is unsure and calls me. Then we have a small breakdown and I spend my luxurious 10hours off, fixing stuff, answering questions or trying to get back to sleep. As we knew that the first week was going to be many hours under motor, we had stocked up on lots of meat, in the knowledge that the freezer would be on all the time. That meant Vicky was going to be spending her off watch cooking.  Neither situation ideal.  All the crew wanted to experience as much as possible on this trip, including long and short watches. So day three and for the foreseeable future ran like this. 2pm to 7pm boat is on autopilot, anybody and everybody keeps a weather eye. 8pm to 9pm  after dinner watch, half watching the evening movie, half on watch. 9pm to 11pm new person with an easy short watch into darkness before the moon comes out. 11pm to 2am proper watch, 3 hours, bring a book and get your teeth into it. 2am to 5 am same again. Then at 5am the first guy is back to do a four hour trick, with half of it in the dark and the other half after dawn; then everyone follows up to lunch time, making up their watch time to five hours each 24 hours. Everyday it changes by one person so variety too. This meant that Vick and I did not stand a formal watch, but for sure were on duty a lot more than five hours per day.

Next morning dawned with great hilarity as the only person who could not hear the off course alarm droning away was Andrei aka Moke, who was deep into a Diana Ross album behind his head phones, unfortunately he was also on watch.

Twenty minutes later the ribbing started again and to his defense he was ear plug less. I slipped out our hatch and confirmed that the steering was indeed jammed. Looking back I suppose it’s a good marker for when the trades started to blow. As no sooner had the wind filled in, we were rudderless.

After a bit of Meccano work, we extracted the emergency steering gear from its nest and mounted it. Once in place, we heard nervous titters, a little disbelief and a tad few swear words. ‘ how the fxxx are we supposed to steer with that?’ was the most obvious question. The issue being that after previous modification the prescribed method of using the equipment was to kneel on the bed in the aft cabin whilst someone on deck relayed instructions left and right. We called it the Hail Mary position, as you had a prayer’s chance in hell of ever making it from Meganisi to Vliho, never mind the 1400 miles of Ocean to the Caribbean.

Of course when some thing like this breaks, you always assume it will be a quick or at least a clever fix. None of us had any inkling that mucking around with the hydraulics would go for three days and eventually prove fruitless.

Once we (I ) finally accepted that no 11th minute solution was going to work with the autopilot and we would be hand steering for the next 1400 nmiles, (Vicky and I in our youth hand steered our 7 metre long keel wooden sloop Kara from the Peloponnse to Ireland and I swore that I would never do it again) things went quite smoothly. Let’s face it, with a crew of six competent helms it was never going to be too arduous, but it’s the principal of the thing.

The biggest impact with the whole emergency steering (which by now was onto the mark 3 version and pretty much perfect was to be in our cabin. Originally conceived as a luxurious in harbour double owners suite, it’s short comings at sea I have already documented, which the recent changes did nothing to address. As the steering stock now grew Jacks stalk like from, the DMZ where our shoulders would occasionally skirmish, we had to turn the double mattress thwart ships, generally with the head end to windward. This would mean that on the down roll your feet would end up 1 meter lower than your head. Of course gravity would then take over and you end up as a little pile of yourself on the other side of the cabin from which you laid your weary head to rest. Coupled (an ironic word to come to mind as in this situation there was more chance of snow in said cabin) various bits of the skeleton of the bed frame had been chopped out to augment the inadequate emergency steering. Therefore the topography of the mattress resembled the description of Robert Louis Stevensons ‘adventures on my counter pane’. His imaginings whilst bed ridden led to the writing of Robinson Crusoe, which I hope is not some potent of doom.

Leg 3: Part 2

I have to break with the method of day by day recounting of life onboard, as the next six days turned quite fraught.

Being aware you have a leak and living with it, is a little different when you apply hindsight. It goes like this, the rudder gland and the stern gland both drain into the main bilge, which is cool when the bilge pump is working, as mentioned before.

When it dies mid dinner the knock on effects are far reaching.

First the excess water leaks into the main bilge, from where, when sufficiently high enough it leaks into the keel tank. Itself unpleasant, especially when the keel contains 700 litres of diesel, which we sort of need to get through the first week of no wind, not to mention running the generator and watermaker to produce fresh water. Our problem during the previous night, was not in fact a lack of diesel in the day tank, more a lack of diesel in the diesel tank.

Of course this took hours of following white elephants and cul de sacs before we realized that the bottom half of the keel tank was full of water, thus feeding the day tank with water too. Marvelous! The only access to the keel tank, without major surgery was through the fuel gauge sender, approximately a 1 inch hole. We have on board one of those faux brass Chinese oil pumps, that move a quarter of a cup of liquid at a time, laborious to say the least. All in all we pumped 300 litres of water out of the tank until finally the first signs of diesel began to appear. For those of you, who didn’t know, the diesel will always float on top. So it’s a case of draining the water away until the clean stuff appears.

From the beginning to the final purging of the main engine and generator system took 13 hours. Distance made good in that smelly, dirty, heart breaking time, 31 miles.

Most of the next day continued on clearing up the mess from the day before. I reckon that of the 700 liters of fuel we started with, we used 200 litres and binned 100litres, leaving us with 400 litres for the rest of the trip. Lets pray for wind!

 

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Leg 3: part 1 Cape Verde to St Lucia

The rest of the crew have now arrived and with some last minute provisioning, we fueled and left under full sail, with crew in training about kite trimming. After some shenanigans with kite, the next bit of excitement came from the intrepid fishermen at the back of the boat. Their knowledge and wisdom spanned the globe, from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong to the mountains of Hungary, this group was led by the beach wisdom of Hawaii. Never has such collective deep sea fishing knowledge been gathered together. However whilst we poured scorn, they succeeded, a strike, whirring of clutches, a fish on the line. It wasn’t even seaweed this time, as the gaff was put on standby ready for immediate use, Conrad fought the reel and Andras offered encouragement and wondered if the line would hold. Eventually a small mackerel broke the surface.  Conrad covered well by saying .”At least we had bait now!” and the gaff was stood down and stowed. I wouldn’t say the group was deflated, more wistful about big ones to come. Vicky helpfully said, “I take it you still want Chicken Curry tonight?”.
We carried on all night on a four sail reach fairly racking up the miles. Then, during the dawn watch the wind deserted us and it was engine on. This may seem a bit odd with so far to go, but we either ran the generator or the engine to top up batteries and fridges, so may as well grab the miles as well. Forecast talks of wind this evening but we will see. Meanwhile 30 degrees C on deck so all sunbathing.

Day 2
Wow how can you pack so much into a day where nothing really happens. Started off everybody a bit groggy after their first night, had doubled up watches to allow for new guys, which meant at least two people in the cockpit. Wasteful and boring for all concerned. First issue of the day started when, 1litre bottle of shampoo high dived off the shelf in the bathroom and head butted the shower faucet. No showering good thing, no washing hands bad. Used the swim platform shower hose as a donor however obviously it was not a direct fit, more jungle bodging upside down in a locker. Next on the list the freshwater pre filter shat itself, voiding precious freshwater into the bilge, again no spare housing, why would you? So a mini bodge to restore fresh water. Took a bit of wildlife break to photo huge swordfish and 3 hump back whales really close up. No wind all day so engine still on, this was expected on departure, so no big deal.
Bit of an issue over Lemon Chicken evening meal. We have a long term issue with both rudder and stern glands leaking, so when the engine room bilge pump burnt out, all got a tad wet. Now we did have a spare, but of course it was different. So I missed dinner, whilst battling arms length tropical plumbing.
Major revamp of watch system , which if it works I will detail next week. The bones of it leaves me out of the rota but on call.
3.15 call arrived, nice thunder and lighting storm to deal with. However as we discussed it the engine died. It transpires that our day tank gauge which has been shit since the day the boat was launched has finally given up pretending to work. So day tank ran out of diesel. Of course dragged sludge from the bottom of the tank and clogged everything. Big lesson in righty tighty and lefty loosely after half an hour of struggling to take the fuel filter off, then a surprisingly problem free bleeding period saw us back under way again within two hours. All in all though everyone had a great night’s sleep and determined for team maintenance before breakfast tomorrow.