Sunday, November 30, 2008

What worked!

[Maryanne]Warning - this post is LONG and really intended for boaters, especially Gemini Owners, others would be completely disinterested - so don't blame me if you keep reading....

Ok - after our post What Failed, and on special request from our good friend PY, I promised to make a more positive post on what worked... So here are all the things we could think of to mention.

We had a lot worse weather and seas than we expected so the boat and us took some pounding (the boat is low and the seas are big, AND we spent some time sailing into the wind). It is easy to miss things that work because they simply didn’t draw attention to themselves by breaking.. but here is my list for what it’s worth:

  • Sat phone and data kit, along with the Yotreps position reporting and Sailnet weather /grib subscriptions! This was a HUGE emotional help to us aboard and those on shore following our progress. It never failed us (although sometimes we had to go into the cockpit for a good enough signal).
  • Harness (built into life jacket) & Jacklines – worked well, we had no problems using them for a many forays to the foredeck and elsewhere.
  • Foul weather gear. We really didn’t expect to need this for more than a couple of days of the journey but we ended up wearing it much more than that - it did the job (boots, jackets, and trousers, along with fleece hats and socks). I have the ladies trousers and that makes restroom stops a WHOLE lot easier!
  • Fleece hat with baseball cap style sun visor and fleece ear warmers – I know, I’m a wimp but this makes things so much more bearable when it’s cold and wet out there.
  • Pocket warmers – we had a stash of these on the boat and Kyle particularly (who had early hours watch appreciated them).
  • Check lists – preparing the boat before we left was made easier with our check lists
  • Boat Log – keeping details of position, conditions, etc was made easy (and helped break up the watch) with the log we had prepared and had printed in advance. We also kept a note of failures (and any items we noticed needed addressing at a later date) and have referred back to it often.
  • Twice daily Rig Checks – we discovered a few missing/deformed / chafed items that we were able to resolve before they became an issue.
  • Galley sink foot pump (factory option) and Head sink manual pump installed by us - this enabled us to not use the pressure water and keep batteries for more important needs
  • Small Cooking timer - I use this on my watches to "remind" myself to take a good 360 degree look around - every 5 or 10 minutes. This way I know I won't get too engrossed in my book, or even nod off! Kyle doesn't use it, he's constantly tweaking things.
  • Radar reflector - We witnessed ships alter course for us, but can’t say if due to lights or a radar detection.
  • LED nav lights – again saved on battery power. We witnessed ships alter course for us, but can’t say if due to lights or a radar detection. Our tricolor light broke, but we are putting that down to our sail issues, and not blaming the light (for now)
  • Solar and wind generator – for the most part kept up without our power needs
  • Headlamp – my favorite and constant companion on night watches. The one I have has red or white light, and a brightness adjuster. I could check sail trim, safely go forward to reef/un-reef the mail, read, or just poke around for a snack all really easily, and without disturbing the sleeping off-watch. Kyle stresses that this would be #1 on his list.
  • Shelf stowage security. Even though it is a catamaran, the boat still heels, and waves often lurch the boat and convince things to fly off the shelves or tables. We installed lines to keep things in place on the shelving behind the sofas (galley and nav area) and also in the master bedroom (shelving above the “draws”). All this stuff kept in place. Need to consider adding similar protection for the small shelving under the side windows in the galley and the nav area, as these items regularly tumbled.
  • Pressure cooker: Nice hot food, cooked quickly and safely with no chance of spilling.
  • Helm Seat. This is an option on the boat and although more of a 1.5 than a double it was nice for the little time we had together each day to be able to hang out on the seat. With the noise of the seas it was otherwise difficult to communicate easily if sitting either side of the cockpit. The helm seat also provides a stable place to grab / lean against in the otherwise large cockpit..
  • GPS/Chartplotter with pre-input route – we used it constantly. It occasionally hiccupped but we would not be without it. Although it does sometimes make you feel you are playing a computer game and not really sailing in the middle of the ocean!
  • Autopilot (we only used the wheel autopilot about half the time, but use it and abuse it we did!). Our autopilot and chartplotter are linked and we used the track feature from time to time (although mostly we were on wind or course settings)
  • Radar (to track occasional storms and other traffic) – we found the rare boats we did see would not engage in any radio communication and it was often hard to visually determine what speed or direction they were doing (big seas!). On the one occasion where we came close, the yawing of our boat again made it difficult to tell if we were on a collision course and which was the best way to steer to avoid the other boat having to worry about us – the radar made that decision clear.

Some of you have noted that we didn’t use our enclosure… Hmm. Yes. We really thought the weather would be poor for only a couple of days, and once it was clear it had lasted longer, we still kept thinking “soon!”. The enclosure was buried under things and we kept determining it was not worth the effort to recover and install it. We made a mistake. Also with the enclosure fitted, the access to much of the running rigging is complicated/restricted, and we were uncertain what extra windage the enclosure might add to the boat. Next time we’ll have it installed I think, even if we only expect to need it for a couple of days.

Kind of related was our safety on the boat - here are a few comments on that too..

Safety At Sea

Keeping us aboard
  • We installed tread-master for extra grip. In the odd patches where we tended to walk / put our feet, but found no non-skid installed – this makes wondering around on deck a heck of a lot safer.
  • Tethers, Life jackets with built in harness. Jackline running from each back corner of the boat to the (centered) anchor cleat – and line running high between the inner cockpit roof supports to clip onto. We installed a small pad eye by the door from cabin to cockpit to stow the tether so we can clip in as we leave the cabin.
  • Love seat. We hardly use this for its intended purpose (no view) but this option is good for keeping us aboard if we have to venture out of the cockpit at the back of the boat.

Other safety (rig) items
  • Mainsheet track – line controlled, and adjustable from inside the cockpit (so we don’t have to step out!).
  • Genoa track – car is line controlled and adjustable from inside the cockpit (so we don’t have to step out).
  • Preventer Rigged. Since our head is rarely anywhere near the boom – this is primarily a good item to prevent boom/mast damage due to uncontrolled gybe.
  • Twice daily rig checks – our scheduled time to leave the cockpit – always when we are BOTH up and donned with our safety gear. We often found some worrying lose or missing item, point of chafe etc that we were able to rectify so it would NOT become an issue.

Recognized Rig Safety Danger areas!
  • Reefing and unreefing the main – as factory setup we have to exit the cockpit, which makes us more likely to delay reefing and to “hope” that increasing winds are just temporary – not good. We kept clipped in and used the jack lines, but would often need to reef / un-reef several times in a watch – and generally we did not disturb the sleeping crew!
  • Furling lines for genoa and screacher, and screacher track control lines. To get a decent purchase and angle we find ourselves leaning far out of the cockpit (or in my case straddling the combing) to get a decent purchase on these lines – a potential danger point (but always clipped in!).
  • If the enclosure is on, access to the winches and the furling lines becomes a little more complex - the wall needs to be unzipped and held clear to give access here – not a perfect solution.

  • EPIRB – to be activated if needed (luckily not!)
  • FLOAT PLAN - Before we leave we generate an extensive “float plan” we post this to the web (the URL referenced on our EPIRB registration), and also send copies to our 2 on shore watchers. This includes expected arrival dates, and details about us and the boat. Hopefully never needed, but if it is needed, we think (hope) it is very thorough. (I'm happy to give the URL to any boating friends).
  • Daily communication underway - Using iridium sat phone, data kit and lap top in our case to send and receive emails. Others may consider SSB rather than the Sat phone (after initial setup costs, it is free communication – unlike the sat phone!). Data speed is limited so we restricted communications to Critical and/or very short emails for the most part (we have a separate email account for this purpose)
  • Weather updates daily (reports subscribed to before we left using saildocs services)
  • Daily Grib file forecasts for up to 10 day ahead (again using saildocs services to download the grib file, and purchased OCENS software on PC to view file)
  • Position reports to Yotreps and family daily
  • email update to family daily (and occasional Yotreps postcard)
  • Occasional Blog updates via email too

Note Yotreps and saildocs services are free and deserve a huge THANK YOU from us.
Note also – all this warm feeling about the great communications must be tempered with the fact it could all fail so easily. We do have 2 laptops, but only one sat phone and data kit – I can imagine many scenarios where something breaks and that is the end of our communications. We tell our on-shore support that if they don’t hear from us (provided the EPIRB is not activated) then we are most likely fine and not to raise any alarms until we miss our “overdue” date – provided in our float plan.

  • We didn’t invest in a harness or strap at the cooker – I cook to one side and the galley is really narrow enough to wedge myself in place – even in an unexpected lurch, the narrow galley at least keeps me from flying too far.
  • I do have a PVC apron which I use when cooking on the stove top “just in case” I drop anything on myself (shame I wasn’t wearing it when eating the hot soup at the table that time!).

First Aid Kit
We did a LOT of research over several years into what we might need. This included many web sites, emails and books, and a couple of trips to our amazing Dr to discuss prescription and other medications we might need. We really didn’t need any of it – but we were ready! Kyle and I also studied for became qualified as and practiced as EMTs (true, Kyle's was years ago, but he doesn't forget ANYTHING); this didn't make us paramedics or anything, but certainly gave us the lingo, so if we needed external medical support we could at least communicate and take any required vital signs, etc.

Life Boat & Grab bag
Again, an item we didn’t need – but we put a lot of thought into it. Our dingy is a Portland Pudgy with the lifeboat options. It hangs on the davits (well strapped in) in case of need (there is so little space on the Gemini to place a traditional life raft AND we felt a life raft that we could practice with would be better than a mystery white box on deck). Before stowing the dinghy it was loaded with water and provisions, along with a host of safety gear. The Grab bag would complement that. Again a lot of research went into the grab bag contents. Actually we didn’t do a very good job of having the grab bag to hand and at the ready – we need to do better here.

Other safety odds and ends

  • I can't stress it enough - A HEADLAMP was really useful in all kinds of sail changes and trim, and to navigate my way to the mast or the foredeck at night – while keeping my hands free for more critical jobs (like holding on!). It also makes it easy to read, check charts, or search for tools or snacks on the night watch without disturbing the sleeping off watch
  • Tool and spares Aplenty

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Return to the Rigging

[Maryanne]We had to return to Angigua to prepare for Kyle's return to the real world of work. When we arrived we were able to download a week's worth of emails, and noted that the local rigger we have been talking with was keen to see the damage first hand and inspect the forestay, which they were concerned would also be damaged and need replacing. However, we have got into a very lazy daily routine, and only really managed to surface for our respective coffee and tea by 9am. Suddenly, we had to have the boat elsewhere by 9:30am. Wow. I'd forgotten we could move so fast.

The rigger managed to climb the rigging, and actually reassured us. Despite finding a couple of extra (previously unknown, but minor issues), many of the known issues were not as dramatic as they could have been; YES they need fixing, and DEFINITELY before any heavy, long distance sailing, but they would last until we haul the boat and un-step the mast in the Spring. The only critical repair was to replace the upper toggle (very deformed), and that can be done by the local rigger without even unstepping the mast (maybe a 15 minute job - certainly no more than an hour!).

The rest of the day was spent getting cash, organizing flights for Kyle and a cab ride to the airport. Once Kyle heads off to work, I'll be back to chore mode and fix all the smaller issues from our trip - but I do hope to make a few more breaks as a tourist and I'll certainly post anything interesting.

We did decide to try Caribbean Taste, a "local" Restaurant (one that seems to be owned by locals and not some ex-pat) that is tucked behind the main street. We passed it several times but always just after we'd eaten, or when it was closed - today we made an effort to go there. It turns out we are not the first: Rachael Ray, in 2005 visited and was impressed with the Conch Salad. Kyle had a Vegetable Roti (a kind of curry burrito) and I had Fish with Fungi (pronounced Foon-Jee, basically a cornmeal dumpling) with a curried tomato sauce and veggies.

There are still a few local dishes we need to try, but most of all I'm looking out for the famed black pineapple, smaller and sweeter than the more common yellow pineapple; I'm hoping to get to the food market in St Johns and try a number of new food experiences! Unfortunately recent heavy rains have washed out most of the crops so many things are hard to find this season - I'll have to see what I can get.

Final Day in Barbuda.. Very wet

Kyle got close up to a ray... Too close for my liking

[Kyle]We decided for our last full day in Barbuda to spend it snorkeling the many reefs surrounding our anchorage (which we still had all to ourselves). We loaded up the dinghy with supplies and provisions, and spent the day anchoring near various reefs using the dinghy as a base camp to explore all the adjacent reefs, move on and repeat!

We spent a whole day doing this. Further out from the beach, but still behind the protection of the main reef system we were able to find several large, diverse colorful reefs, filled with many different corals (soft, hard, fan, etc) and LOTS of multi-colored fishes darting in and out. Highlights were 2 large sting rays; and a family of 8 spiny lobster defending their small overhang, and looking as scary as they could muster (Unfortunately the camera batteries had died by the time we got there, and luckily these lobsters have no claws so it was as much amusing as threatening - they deter most predators by making a noise with their legs!).

Coral reefs are such endlessly fascinating places, with a seemingly unlimited number of nooks and crannies to peer into. The more you look, the more you see colorful creatures of all types in places you had first assumed were empty. It's easy to spend hours examining a small patch and observing the lives led below.

We returned to Footprint to get the boat ready for the return trip to Antigua, but even then I could not resist swimming back out to a couple of our local reefs for one last look, finally being forced home by darkness. What a beautiful place Barbuda is!

The next day we arose early to exit at first decent light; Maryanne piloting us out through the reefs. Once we got into open ocean, we had a nice fast reach back to the relative hustle and bustle of Antigua and English Harbour.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barbuda Tour Day

[Kyle]George (our Barbuda Guide) had apparently been under the impression that we had a fast dingy with a motor when he told us where to meet him the next day. Since we were rowing, we just took it to the same spot as the previous day and walked the 2 miles down the beach to the designated rendezvous point. We arrived in plenty of time and decided that rather than just hang around, we'd start the walk towards George's house. The agreed time came and went and a few miles later we were still walking (our guide books had warned us that often tours and taxis in Barbuda fail to turn up!). Just as we were starting to think we'd have to walk all the way to his house, he and his car finally came into view. Fortunately he had a cooler full of cold drinks in the back of his truck.

We then got George's version of the Cosmo Kramer reality tour, before he finally summarily deposited us at the boat dock on the west side of town. We boarded the boat and sped off across the lagoon to the Frigate Bird nesting colony on the NW end of the Island. It was not until we actually arrived and the engines were shut off that our boat guide spoke to us and formal introductions were made. Eventually, Clarance turned out to be a very friendly guy. He knew a lot about the birds and let us spend plenty of time just watching and enjoying them.

Frigate Birds (also known as Man-of-War birds, Weather birds and a host of other local names) have the distinction of being the birds with the highest wing area to body weight ratio. This makes them extremely maneuverable, agile fliers. Unlike seabirds, they don't float and can't get their wings wet, so they tend to feed themselves by harassing other birds to drop their catches. We were fortunate in that our visit coincided with mating season, with all the males clucking and showing off their big red throat sacks any time any white breasted female flew overhead. For those that had found a female, there was action to be seen, watching them steal the best nesting materials (in flight to the nest in progress) from each other. We observed the colony for an hour or so, and then made our way back to town to meet up with George for the remainder of his tour.

George is a quiet man, and seemed to think of himself more as taxi driver than tour guide (despite being the local council tourist representative). Maryanne wasn't going to let him get away with that and peppered him with questions during the whole drive - we were going to get our money out of this guy (nearly $200 US). The island was once owned and managed by the Codrington family - the patriarch of which was Governor of the Leeward Islands for a time. The Codringtons had an estate (read: slave colony) on the Island and used it for hunting. We visited the ruins of Codrington Manor, built on the highlands of the island; overgrown with the outlines of stone buildings to see. The best part of this site was the view and the remains of possible gardens. The highlands of Barbuda are a small plateau/spine, 125' above sea level (the rest of the island is VERY low and flat).

For our next and last stop we went to the caves at Two Foot Bay. (On the east of the Island). Legend has it that the bay was named from the story of an escaping slave who put his shoes on backwards, leaving prints in the sand to distract/confuse his pursuers. The highlight of the bay is the beautiful beach and the caves in the highland cliffs that run alongside. We were able to enter one cave at beach level and climb through up to the highland plateau for spectacular views of the white sand beach below and the eastern coastline. Along the length the highlands, rock had tumbled down from cliff and overhangs, leaving giant boulders at the base which have long since covered with greenery. This was a stark backdrop to the smooth sandy beaches alongside. George dropped us off at this site, with a pickup time 90 minutes later. We hadn't known what to expect but 90 minutes was very rushed; I was constantly getting rushed along by Maryanne, who was more mindful of the time. [Maryanne]Kyle was in kid heaven among the cliffs and caves, every time I managed to get him to agree to turn around for our return, he would sneak off for "one more picture", "just the next point", or some such thing. He really enjoyed the place and it was fun (if a little frustrating) to let him have his way.

[Kyle]George, being done with the tour, and to deter any more of Maryanne's questions, simply turned on his car radio (very loud), and returned us to our rendezvous point (while completing a few personal errands en route!).

Mad Sea Dogs and English Woman

[Kyle]Our original "plan" once arriving in Barbuda was to take a tour of the Island given by one of the locals to the various "must sees" of the island. We tried contact via VHF and even satellite phone, but were unable to make contact. Maryanne (not me, Maryanne), looked at the map and, apparently not realizing that it was a scaled representation of the whole island, came up with the idea to WALK to Codrington (the only town on the island), a distance of about 8 miles the short way, but when I measured it out, 14 miles the long scenic way that she had chosen. The scenic route would allow us to see many of the sights on our own (no need for a full day tour, just a cab ride back).

Armed with an entire survival kit (food, drinks, GPS, VHF radio, map, etc) we rode the dingy to the beach. Ahh the beach! The sand here is pink, actually it is white sand with little flecks of red sand, making it look pink, AND it is as soft as talcum powder. We had the whole thing to ourselves. BUT we had to get going. We headed for the "road" which the chart actually calls "a road of sorts", and set off across the uninhabited eastern side of the Island. Of course we didn't leave until mid-day (just to make it more of an adventure, with the hot sun broiling us). It is difficult to appreciate by looking at the map just how remote and uninhabited the island is. There was NOTHING out there. That "road" was a rock and dirt track that would be suicidal to drive on at more than 5mph. On each side were low shrubs (no good for shade).

After several miles our road petered out, so we went overland to the beach and followed it north. There was another completely deserted pink beach that went on for miles and miles, lapped by turquoise blue water. After a couple of miles of this, we were tired of walking either on a slope or on very soft sand, so we managed to bush-whack our way through what must have been a goat trail to a "road" which was at least easier going. We walked and walked and even though we were well hydrated and fed, the rough terrain was starting to wear us out. The road was supposed to end in a couple of miles and we would need to traverse 4 miles of beach before the next road. As we came to the end, we arrived at Castle Hill. Because of the way the road runs, this is the most remote place on the island, furthest from Codrington. We were pleased to see a couple of locals also enjoying the area. We talked for a bit, and they directed us to a path to climb Castle hill (a small cliff), where we had expansive views of almost the entire island, including the place we were initially headed for - looking very far away. Back at the base of the cliff, Maryanne managed to negotiate a ride into Codrington in the back seat of their truck.

On the ride to Codrington we discovered our ride was the daughter of the guide we had been trying to reach the previous day; what a lucky break. They drove us to the guide (George's) house where he seemed surprised to have new business, but he found us some local food, acted as our return cab to the boat, and promised us a tour of the remainder of the island sights the following day. George was more taciturn than we would have expected a tour guide to be, and it took us nearly the entire ride back to the boat to extract a price from him. He wanted us to to move the boat to the other side of the island to make it easier on his truck to collect us the following day; Kyle wasn't having any of it, and he seemed pretty anxious not to drive on these remote roads again (they would shake any vehicle to death in short order). Eventually we compromised - We didn't move the boat, but just walked to the agreed rendezvous.

We cooled down with some more snorkeling of the adjacent reefs and retired early ready for a long day ahead of us.

[Maryanne]Kyle's title comes from the song "Mad dogs and English men, out in the mid day sun". However we only got such a late start since Kyle wouldn't budge in the morning! AND my epic walk was really only a plan to walk until we could get a decent VHF signal... But OK, let Kyle have his fun.


[Maryanne]Antigua and Barbuda were lumped together on independence from Britain. Just 30 miles of ocean separate them, but they are worlds apart. From the little I had read of Barbuda, I really wanted to go.. I used my wifely charm to finally convince Kyle to take us there. It was certainly worth it.

Of course, I had never heard of Barbuda a few months ago, now I am becoming an expert on Caribbean geography. Barbuda is NOT Bermuda (of the triangle fame) and nor is it Barbados (much further to the South East) - although all were (once, or still are) British colonies.

[Kyle]Almost everything we had read about Barbuda said things like "the last unspoiled Island in the Caribbean", or "real desert island". Only half the size of Antigua, but with just 2% of the population, there is reportedly vast areas of the island to explore that remain wilderness. It's 1400 residents have so far managed to avoid the enticements of developers, and the island remains simple, communal (no land ownership) and independent minded, even though it is tied with Antigua.

We got up very early, left Indian Creek in the dark (nerve racking, and thankful for our radar and previous plot of our route in) and immediately turned into the teeth of both the trade winds and the equatorial current - which made for a rather unpleasant three hours trying to get around the East side of Antigua (while trying to be gentle on our rig). Once we were clear of Antigua, we made good time the rest of the way to Barbuda. Unlike mountainous (well, hilly) Antigua, which can be seen from many (up to 50) miles away, Barbuda is low and flat country (125') - only becoming visible about 5 miles out. The entire island of Barbuda is surrounded by coral reefs, and every guidebook we had admonished against approaching the island in the dark or in poor lighting (now you realize why we left so early) - we wanted to enter the coral studded anchorage with the sun behind us and in good visibility. With Maryanne up on the bow she guided us through the passes and around the coral heads into 4.5' of water over white sand.

We found a spot as close to the beach as we dared (so the dingy row would be short), and marveled at our location - again we were the only boat anchored in sight, on the south of the island, protected by the reefs with a nice breeze (no bugs, plenty of electricity). The most AMAZING thing was the water; it really is the colour portrayed in the magazines - like the sky turned upside down, the boat floating above it just 5' (or so) above the surface. We could see our anchor chain stretching away from the bow and disappearing into the sand ahead of us. The water just screamed "Jump in!" and with much haste we broke out the snorkel gear and swam to the nearby coral patch to explore. We were told later that tropical storms had destroyed much of the reef - this was evident in the many large broken corals covered with sand, but even so, the sea life was much more varied and interesting than it had been at Indian Creek. We spent the rest of the day hovering over schools of angel fish, watching timid parrot fish guarding their caves; puffer and box fish; and so many more. The whole thing was fascinating to float over and watch. Eventually the sun moved low in the sky and we returned to Footprint, where we realized we hadn't eaten since breakfast! That was soon rectified!

The night was magnificent. There were no lights ashore and the only signs of human habitation apart from the distant glow of Antigua was a lonely street lamp about 5 miles away. The stars were brilliant, there was a nice bug free breeze to keep us cool (and batteries charged) and in the background, the soothing sound of the surf.

Indian Creek - 19 Nov

[Kyle]Since someone can only be expected to live in one place for so long, and since we'd already been in English Harbour for a week, we decided a little change in scenery was in order. Our first stop (2 nights and one full day) was a little harbour about 2 miles east: Indian Creek.

Unlike the hustle and bustle of English Harbour, Indian Creek (apart from us, and the goats on the surrounding hills) was completely deserted; we had the whole anchorage to ourselves. Like English Harbour it is surrounded on all sides by high, green hills. It was reported to be very tricky and difficult to get into and shallow once inside, so we felt our way in carefully and were rewarded with all the solitude you could need.

We arrived late afternoon (after numerous errands in English Harbour), and the first evening we were able to lay on deck and enjoy the stars for at least half an hour before we retired with exhaustion (mostly we sleep when it's dark). The next day, fully rested, we cracked open my new snorkel gear for the first time and took the dingy to one of the reefs by the entrance where we spent a few hours simply enjoying the different corals and fish. This was the first time we had used the Portland Pudgy as a snorkel platform, which worked well, although we were not graceful when climbing back in and I have a few new scars to prove it. After snorkeling we took the dingy high into the creek, into the mangroves, out of sight of Footprint. It was beautiful, but as soon as we were out of the sunlight and in the shade we were besieged by "teefs" (Flying teeth, or no-see-ums, or sand flies!); the discomfort was immediate and unbearable, so we found ourselves performing an emergency evacuation back into the sunlight. Lesson learned! Shade BAD!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Low Mileage, One Previous Owner

[Kyle]What do you do if you are in Antigua, and too cheap to rent a car, or even a scooter; Go to Grab an Ass! where "Our Assess have been thoroughly checked over by certified Ass-nitions".

Seriously, we didn't have much of an interesting day. We trudged miles in the hot sun with various minor chores. We went to a local rigger, only to be told that the items we ordered last week, were not actually ordered yet, they weren't sure if the part numbers that we double and triple checked on ordering were correct - did we still want to place the order? We purchased new dinghy oars (for 4x the quoted price), and returned to the rigging place to be told the guy we need to deal with is out for the day, Propane fills were delayed a day,etc, etc, etc. We are certainly (forced to be) on Island time; all part of the experience.

On our long trudge back to English Harbour we spotted this poor animal being harassed by an over energetic little dog who had chased her into the street. Maryanne, being the good samaritan that she is, dove into traffic, picked up the line that was trailing behind, and led the donkey to safety. We continued our walk with the poor animal in tow, trying to establish where she had come from. After repeated blanks we found a guy who seemed to know where the donkey belonged and directed us to the appropriate gate, from which we assume she was able to wander her way back home. Fortunately, she was very tame and had a sweet disposition. She seemed happy enough to follow Maryanne wherever she was led. Luckily there was no stubborn ass scene in the middle of the local road and traffic.

[Maryanne]This was such a cute donkey, she really did seem pleased to be rescued from the dog, and in human hands. It was a nice sidebar to our otherwise dull day. We thought of a number of headlines for the picture, perhaps you can think of others.
My number 1 choice was Does my ass look big in this?

[Kyle]As for the legs, they are mine, covered with mosquito bites. They mosquitoes here don't actually seem so bad, we don't feel swarmed by them, etc. But they do come out at night when we are trying to sleep. The problem is that it is too hot to sleep with the hatches closed, or even with a sheet on. Unprotected, you get mauled. We usually try to stay protected by keeping a sheet up to our chins, but every couple of hours it gets unbearably hot and you have to throw the sheet off until shortly thereafter you hear the buzz of the mosquitoes about you. They know that you know, you know!

[Maryanne]Now! First of all we have a ton of bug spray, and citronella candles, but Kyle either thinks he does not need these, or is being environmentally safe and doesn't want to use such chemicals (I have no qualms). We also have mosquito netting / covers for the boat and the hatches - but for the last week, we have had constant short rain showers, and the hatches can't be opened and closed if the bug screen is on (poor design!). So we need to invest in a mosquito net for the bed, AND I need to design and make rain/bug covers for the hatches so we can leave the hatches open in the rain and still be protected.

Oh joys, more jobs!

Shirley Heights - Take 2

[Maryanne]We loafed around most of the morning. We were intending to collect our new oars later in the day. Much of the communication on the island is done by VHF rather than phone, so we were able to contact our supplier who told us the oars were in, but he was out for the afternoon; advising us to come tomorrow. No problem!

So we decided instead to try a new trail, that Kyle had noticed on his "Swallow's and Amazon's" dinghy trip the other day.

As Kyle and I have discovered trails in the area, we have followed them. For the most part they seem to be (so far) managed by the an informal club known as Royal Navy Tot Club. We have taken to calling them the "Dot Club" as we follow the white painted dots, for which we have been very grateful many times. The trails pass through various National Parks, and some are quite hard going. After taking a 1/2 mile trail from Freeman Bay to Shirley Heights, gaining 148m (485') to reach the top, we had assumed the 1.5 mile trail with the same start and end would be a more leisurely, and gentle climb. WRONG! this just looped further around the cliffs, took us up AND down, passed some spectacular rock ledge formations scrambling in places like goats, slipping around WAY too close to sheer drops, while all the time avoiding the prickly cacti and other plants. We deserved a drink when we arrived at the top.

This time we had Shirley Heights to ourselves, and it had such a different feel to it; we were able to take some time to admire the scenery, and reflect on our hard earned elevation. Finally the weather was clear enough that for the first time we could see Guadeloupe in the distance. We took the 1/2 mile trail back down, one that we had previously considered steep was now an easy walk! (Or maybe we are simply getting our land legs back?).

We finished the day with a drink at the Galleon bar, and a swim in Freeman Bay to cool down and refresh us.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shirley Heights

[Kyle]For today’s excursion, Maryanne and I slept in a bit so that we would be able to stay up late partying at what is pretty much billed as THE thing to do on the Southern end of the island: Sunday night at Shirley Heights.
Shirley Heights is on a high hill just to the East of English Harbour. During the British Navy’s occupation of English Harbour, it was used as a strategic lookout and gun location opposite the harbor entrance from Fort Berkeley, much lower down. Now it is occupied by the ruins of those structures plus some covered picnic tables, a bar and a big patio used as a barbecue area, all with sweeping views of pretty much the entire country.

We (That’s the Royal ‘we’) rowed to the dinghy dock on Galleon Beach at Freeman Bay (The Cheap Bastards Guide to Antigua that lives in my head and has yet to be written says it’s a good way to avoid the $5 cab ride). We climbed the steep ½ mile trail from the beach to Shirley Heights, occasionally popping out of the dense forest for an ever expanding view of the local area.

Antigua has very strange forests. They are very green and the undergrowth is very thick, which is to be expected in a tropical rainforest, but almost all the flora is of the dry climate variety. It looks as if someone took all of the plants from a square mile of Arizona desert and replanted them on an acre. Since there’s so much moisture, these plants are all huge, particularly the Aloe Vera and many of them are hosts to various giant bromeliads (air plants). It’s a bit schizophrenic but very pretty.

Anyway, the appeal of Shirley Heights on Sunday (and to a lesser degree, Thursday as well) is that they have live music.

We arrived via the footpath just as AMP Halcyon, who aptly call themselves a steel orchestra, were starting to play. They have two or three members playing traditional western instruments but the bulk of the large group were each playing huge sets of steel drums.

Since things were obviously not yet in full swing and we weren’t hungry yet, Maryanne and I went for a walk around the ruins and along the cliffs to take some pictures.

By the time we returned about thirty minutes later, the parking lot was filling up fast with mini buses. The main area was shoulder to shoulder with tourists shouting loudly at one another to be heard over each other and the music. It reminded me if an over crowded bar on a Saturday night. There was virtually no hope of getting to the edge for a view. It seemed that every tourist on the island was here. We bought some food and managed to wedge ourselves onto a corner of one of the tables long enough to eat it but by the time we were through, the place had become even more crowded. We decided we couldn’t take it any more and headed back down the footpath, rushing to get to the bottom before it got too dark to see (our original plan was to get a cab back). There was a nice open air bar on the beach that had maybe half a dozen people enjoying the view. The acoustics of the Harbour are such that we could still hear the music well and we had a nice relaxing drink with some very nice cruisers who gave us some good tips on how to avoid ‘tourist prices’.

On the way back in the dinghy, we stopped on the other side of the harbor at Nelson’s to dump our trash and have another drink at the Galley Bar – the place that served us that horrible food the first day. We figured that if we didn’t eat and stuck to rum, it would be okay. It was such a beautiful warm evening. The Dockyard was deserted except for a nice cruising couple and a couple of locals having a drink at the bar, one of them varnishing one end of the bar.

Oh, what fun we had! The poor guy doing the varnish, a rasta man called Flute, had all of us sailors standing over him watching him varnish while interjecting our own varnishing experience. We all agreed that he did a very nice job. “The trick,” He said in a thick West Indian accent, “is five rum punch, maybe ten rum punch!” (are you listening, JD?) It broke the ice, though and after the other cruisers left, we had a good time talking to the Antiguans about pretty much everything. We finally felt like we had started experiencing the culture and the people we had come so far to see and feel like we have made some new friends. One of the things we were proud to learn was that on November 5th, the Antiguan government renamed Boggy Peak, the highest point in the country, Obama Peak.

After staying up as late as we could, we headed back to Footprint feeling good. We were almost the last out of the bar. Just as I was falling asleep, I looked at my watch. Only 8:30!! Man, are we a couple of geezers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You Drop Someting?

[Kyle] Having had a day of brisk tourism, we set out to find a place to buy a sim card for our phone (not open weekends) and orient ourselves further. We walked the half mile to Falmouth Harbor to the main shopping area and were amazed to find real stores with actual stuff. The grocery store was well stocked and reasonably priced, as was a bookstore upstairs. There were a couple of cafes with tables spilling out on the deck full of people on laptops having conversations with each other. We bought a couple of delicious Rotis (a nice portable Indian dish) from a woman selling them out of a basket in front of the store for something like four bucks each. Walking back, we were trying to be inconspicuous while perusing the drink menu through a window of a local bar when we were spotted by Zola, The Jamaican barmaid who insisted that we come in, sweeping us in her arms like old friends. Contrary to what Maryanne has been saying, I had not managed to have any actual rum since we've been here. I almost did yesterday. When we sat at what turned out to be an unacceptably snooty restaurant (well, now we know), Maryanne ordered a rum and a beer and then handed me the beer! Back to today. It turns out that rum here is cheaper than beer and I finally got to try a couple of different things for practically nuttin'. Now that's more like it! We had a couple of games of fooseball (bar football) and pool and returned to English Harbour in good cheer. We had a nice amble around the museum and grounds right after the cruise ship people left on their buses.

Shops were all starting to close and the place was shutting down, but it was still early, so I set up the sailing rig on the dinghy and thought we'd go sailing around the harbor. Maryanne said she was tired and didn't want to risk too much sun, so I dropped her off at the boat for a nap and went a-dinghyin'.

Since the harbor is so well protected from the tradewinds by the high hills, the winds at water level are very swirly and with all of the moored boats, it makes for some very challenging dinghy sailing that was a lot of fun. I eventually made my way into Freeman Bay just inside the entrance to English Harbour and landed on a nice, white beach shaded by palms under lush, green hills for a walk around and to take some pictures.

I had been tacking back and forth in the shifting winds for the better part of an hour trying to make it past the boats to the beach, which was directly upwind. I would think I was going to clear a boat, and then the wind would shift and I'd have to tack. Then it would die and shift again so I would have to tack back. It was a real struggle to get to that beach. Meanwhile, I was providing the entertainment for the people on the boats and the few on the beach. Often, I would spend several minutes and several attempts getting past a boat. My hands were full, with one on the tiller and the other on the mainsheet but every time I got within hailing distance, I would make a point of giving a nod and saying hello or good afternoon. In every instance except one, this was met with a cold, blank, Deliverance-like stare from the occupants. Up until now, the sight of someone sailing around the harbor in a distinctive orange dinghy with a distinctive orange sail tended to bring people out to their rails to ask what kind of boat it is or say that it looked like a lot of fun or just to say hi. Here - nuttin', just the stare.

I landed on the beach and walked to the other end towards a trail leading into the trees. On the way, I passed a few of the tourists who had been watching me. As I went by, I would smile and say hello. One woman completely ignored me and went about composing a text message. A couple at the far end, who had been watching me with great interest half an hour before, returned my hello by silently turning over onto their fronts to tan the other half.

I scrambled through the forest to another small beach. There were two guys launching a dinghy into the surf who gave me a brief glance of recognition. I waved and said hello. They climbed into their dinghy and sped off without any further acknowledgement of my presence. I was starting to feel like a cop in a land of fugitives.

Still, I don't get it. After Maryanne and I arrived, I was so glad to finally be in this beautiful place that I wanted to go around saying hi to everybody. Even considering that the land tourists came by a short plane ride and that most of the boats probably made much shorter sails from a nearby island, the beauty of the place seems incongruous with such anti-social behavior. I get up in the morning and breathe in the unpolluted air and look at the lush, green hills and think "Aaahhh! This is nice." I want to smile and wave at everybody.

I suppose this could be a cultural misunderstanding. Most of the boats here have British ex-pats on them or other Europeans to whom I may seem much too forward as the American going around saying 'hi'. But the British I know in Britain are some of the loveliest, most polite people I have ever met (I even married one of them).

Maryanne said the locals here are indifferent. I disagree. All of our guidebooks say that West Indians don't smile out of politeness or courtesy, only if something is funny. I get a feeling that there is a long-standing tradition, sad as it may be, not to bother tourists unless they address you first or to engage in frivolous conversation. Nevertheless, almost every time we have come within earshot of West Indians, they will say good morning, good afternoon or hello. The etiquette around here is that you don't go into a store and just start ordering things without first exchanging pleasantries or thanking and wishing a good day on the way out.

Perhaps most of the boaters have been here so long that they all know each other and thus know that we're new. Rather than welcoming us as fellow travellers, they have been here long enough to feel like a tribe that is threatened by newcomers, so we get treated like the new kid in class. Whatever. They're jerks. [Maryanne] One guy so far, John, on a large motor yacht, has been helpful - for John we are grateful!

[Kyle] So... Maryanne and I, in a unilateral attempt to change the status quo, have decided to start saying a friendly 'hello' to everyone we meet (wear them down!), as is West Indian custom.

Which brings us back to the title of today's rant. "You drop someting?" is an Antiguan saying that translates to "Excuse me, you seem to have forgotten to say hello." I think it's derived from the 'ting' you dropped being your manners.

Anyway, enjoy some nice pictures from my excursion.

Pictures from Galleon Beach - English Harbour Eastern Shore (Antigua)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Itchy Feet in Antigua

[Maryanne]Today, Kyle and I managed to be tourists in English Harbour, Antigua. English Harbour is a very small hamlet, and is the historic location of an early (18th century) port for the British Navy. Many of the early buildings still exist, and are restored and in regular use. There is also an original fort (Fort Berkeley), and several buildings on the hills surrounding English Harbour and the neighboring Falmouth Harbour.

We took the trails from town to Fort Berkeley, and then along the coast towards Falmouth Harbour. The trails involved plenty of elevation changes, and so lots of great views. Kyle and I got a good dose of exercise after so much time stuck on the boat. Once back in English Harbour, we sampled a few more rums, and finally managed an almost rain free day! (We also picked up our fixed Genoa and installed that back on the boat!)

The day was great, and the trails we took were reasonable (but not suitable for flip flops). The coastline trail was well marked with white paint dots every once in a while (although it certainly seemed longer than the 1 miles advertised). We met plenty of wild goats, but no other tourists on the trail! The plant life was a wonderful mix, and there were plenty of small lizards rustling out of our path as we tramped through the trail. We spent some time at a beautiful Pigeon Beach (took a dip to cool down), and had great views of English Harbor and Falmouth Harbour from the higher peaks.

For the journey, we packed a small picnic and supplemented that with pasties and turnovers from the local baker - we'll definitely be back to sample more of their wares.

A great day, well apart from Kyle's conflict with a fire ant compound - he still has itchy feet this evening!

OK - what broke?

[Maryanne]Yesterday Kyle finally made it up the mast to inspect the rigging in the safety of a calm anchorage. This gave us a little additional insight into what may have happened during the trip - especially our day two storm issue.

So here we write about the various failures (or anything negative discovered) on the boat during the 1800+nm journey. We are still piecing together clues for the major rigging failures - but naturally are glad to be safe and well. Both PCI and Selden are helping us determine what happened and what might need replacing of the standing rigging. I'll post more as we discover more info. (FYI our boat is Gemini 105Mc, hull #976, 2007)

  • Genoa base Furler unit – cap came unscrewed, lifted on luff. We surmise it then somehow caught and unlocked/opened the tack quick release shackle. Caused jib to unfurl from double reefed to fully open in a storm, genoa got twisted around screacher halyard, and took some thought process to recover to deck! In fact we think this led to a whole slew of related incidents... (See Day 2 report for the actual event

    • Need to replace 2x bolts for cap – parts on order
    • Subsequent inspection (1700 nm later, once at anchor) of the upper stay rigging shows severely distorted metal up there – need to consider unstepping mast to repair / replace items. We had no idea of this distortion or we would have turned around / or found harbor earlier. – to seek expert help
    • Subsequent inspection of the lower stbd spreader shows both bolts have sheared - need to understand how we can replace these (i.e. how to remove the old bolt parts now in the mast! - to seek expert help
    • Stbd flag halyard broke away (cable tie failed and it dropped to deck) – fixed.
    • Later in the sail the lower genoa furler unit broke free (see Day 14 report. A split pin failed, the clevis pin slipped out and left the unit swinging on the deck. We managed to recover and reinstall this, however the whole unit seemed shorter (we assumed we were imagining it). Eventual refitting involved removing the backstays to allow the forward stay to reach its fittings. – Fixed, but to review with expert help
    • Mast Head light stopped working – day 2 – replaced with spare bulb – need to order new bulb
    • Jib sun cover stitching broken – Repaired at local sailmaker in Antigua
    • Radar reflector skew – leave bent or fix when mast issues addressed
    • Gelcoat by anchor roller chipped, needs patch (I assume from attempts to restrain the flailing jib using the anchor hook) – To fix
    • Mainsail head slider failed – Spare parts on order - also need to email Selden with details
    • Holes / stretch areas in Genoa – presumably from battle on day 2 – repaired with sail tape – need to find extra sail tape when possible
    • Latest find - we are seeing slight rust stains on the starboard side shrouds, just in one strand (of the 3) in each shroud. I assume this is a sign of the stress the shrouds were under at some point.

  • Ring pin on stbd preventer pulled free – replaced
  • Still to check for water in rear buoyancy tanks – to check
  • Water in tool locker – to identify where coming from and resolve
  • Water in bilges (pumped daily- about 10 manual pumps per bilge) - to identify where coming from and resolve
  • Water in Port step locker – 3-4” drained at end of trip to identify where coming from and resolve
  • Water in sail locker – 12” – removed plug and drained while at sea (should not have left plug in for this trip – added to check list) fixed.
  • Leaking galley hatch – can’t find any obvious reason why, luckily leaks to floor, not on sofa area – turned out to be a small (peppercorn size) seed stuck in hinge area – which prevented full /proper closure - but now removed, all seems well – whew!
  • Leak in Port q berth – beneath wind generator support pole mount – need to rebed.
  • Galley light fitting – loose connections – fixed
  • Stb Jib winch playing up – to service - to service
  • Oar sheared while rowing Portland Pudgy – new oars on order at local store.
  • Wall between Stbd Q berth and fridge – bolt/nut came undone/loose – glue useless– to replace / reinforce attachment points
  • Loose lifelines – mostly on stbd side. Not heat related? Still trying to understand why this happened. To adjust in the mean time
  • Stbd bulkhead (galley – masterberth) – more noisy than usual, door trim loosened. Investigate for any issues
  • MOB Pole – flag stitching – to fix / replace
  • Stanchion mounted furler line roller – pin lost – to replace
  • Mag compass – needs adjusting (never done this, tried at sea, unable to adjust correctly) – research manual / info – possible issue with compass
  • Galley sliding door – handle broke free (“glass” cracked off on handle end) – try superglue for now.
  • Rear Nav light – internal corrosion noticed – clean / have spare bulb to hand – possibly new unit
  • Star finder – 2x15 degrees charts, no 25 degrees chart! – contact Weems & Plath for replacement
  • Autopilot acting up once we passed 1000nm on trip log – reset to zero – autopilot ok again – quirk noted.
  • Cockpit locker bungie lost – to replace
  • 4x cockpit throwable cushions lost – to replace

I hope to do a more positive "What worked" post once we have settled down a little.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We Made it

Kyle lowers the Q flag (used until we clear customs and immigration) and hoists the Antigua & Barbuda Courtesy Flag - officially marking our arrival

[Maryanne]I'm not really sure how I feel. Arriving somewhere (anywhere) after a few days at sea is not exactly like arriving on a plane for your vacation/holiday in the tropics. You don't throw your suitcase on the hotel bed and get out to explore - there are immediate chores to do, sleep to catch up with, and eventually even emails and blogs :-). I suspect it takes several days to really feel that you are on holiday. I'm not sure I'm ready to recommend it. I'll let you know in a few days.

We have been overwhelmed by the emails and blog comments from friends, family and fellow boaters that have clearly been following our progress, and this has given us a wonderful feeling of warmth and community. We don't feel as though we are taking our travels alone at all. Thanks for all of you who commented in any way. We were really glad (and surprised) to know the communications we put in place were both working, and used by so many.

We posted daily position reports on Yotreps, along with a small text update (a yotreps postcard), We also posted a couple of blog updates from off shore, and emails so our immediate family knew we were making progress. We did this using our Satellite phone. We also were able to receive regular weather updates from NOAA (using Sailnet email subscription system); getting a text weather report, and a GRIB file - all these made us feel that we knew what to expect from the weather and the day(s) ahead. We were glad that these communication systems never failed us, even if the weather forecasts weren't always as accurate as we would have liked.

We had several really scary moments on the journey. Kyle's climb of the mast was not a success. The genoa (head sail) coming unfurled in the storm and it's subsequent recovery, and of course, the worst, the forestay disconnecting. We were lucky it disconnected at the base of the stay, and that it was furled, and that we were in calm weather at the time. All these problems we resolved, and I guess they add to our salty-ness as sailors. We also had some wonderful and fun moments too: Sunsets and sunrises, dolphins, sun sights, reading, flying fish landing on the boat, and just hanging out with the man I love.

And of course the world did not stop without us. There were birthdays, "Fireworks Night", and the big election. We were ecstatic to hear of the Obama win, and are looking forward to catching his acceptance speech and hopefully see a new order to civilization where America is once again seen as friend to the world. Thanks to everyone who shared their own emotions on the news; these were great emails to receive on our arrival.

For now, we take a few days rest before exploring our new found paradise. Here are pictures from the bay where Footprint is anchored - not too bad eh? (you can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them and see more details).

Finally - you may notice the new map of our position over on the side bar - well this is thanks to a fellow Gemini owner and blogger, Scott. He is a bit of a wiz with technology and did this after following our route for a while. Thanks Scott

Last Few Days of Passage

Maryanne gets an easy turn at the wheel - Sun at last

[Kyle]Day 15
Marvelous weather! Fair winds and following seas. We finally left 60 degrees west to head for Antigua. The day was clear and the night was warm. We had a pod of about 20 dolphins playing at the bow at sunrise. Suddenly, the weather was so nice and conditions so serene, that I felt a tinge of melancholy about our impending arrival. Sure, it will be nice to get there, but I'm going to miss the wonderful solitude and the stars on the clear nights. If it were like this, I could easily spend a month out here with the clouds and the waves on my thoughts. I knew when we got to shore it was going to be very busy. We were finally getting close enough to need to slow down to avoid landfall at night - this takes the strain off the boat and us. We had not much to do, but watch the sky and wait for a big green piece of land to appear.

Day 16
Well we are really closing in on it now, we have less than 100 miles left and have slowed down to avoid arriving at night. The wind is now behind us and we are going slow with relatively little sail up. The day was so hot that sleeping inside during the day was difficult (we keep the hatches closed underway to prevent waves getting in). I wish it had been this way more of the time. Just after sunset, Maryanne spotted some lights on the horizon, looking through the binoculars showed them to be the very top blinking lights from two different radio towers on Antigua - "Land Ho!".

Day 17
Our first day in Paradise. I came on watch at midnight after sleeping fitfully with anticipation. By then, there were lights from a couple of towns clearly visible and the once empty horizon was busy. Maryanne had shortened sail further and we were now scheduled to arrive just after sunrise. The bright moon was a day from being full, and in the light I could see squalls approaching from the east (now we have to look East to see what weather is headed towards us). The wind had slowly started to die so I decided to wait until the squall passed. As it arrived, the wind, rather than increasing, stopped completely and just poured buckets of straight down rain for 30 minutes or so. Afterward the wind never came back up. I shook out all the reefs from the sails and was able to start moving at a speed between zero and almost zero (bloody hell!). After an hour or so, it did finally come back up again and with full sail we seemed to be back on schedule.

Wet Kyle Arrives in Antigua - Or is it Scotland?

Another squall passed with no wind and then blocked from view the whole island until it passed over that too. I woke Maryanne at 5:45 just as it was getting light out, we could only see the outline of Antigua's hills in the heavy rains. Just as we were getting ready to make the turn around the SE corner of the island, yet another squall hit. The wind rose to almost 30kt, and I got drenched. Ordinarily we can carry full sail up to 18kt. Wind force increases by the speed squared so we suddenly had way to much sail up. I turned downwind to reduce the relative wind speed, but that heading was directly towards shallow water. I had to hope the squall would run its course before we got to the rocks. Otherwise, Maryanne was going to have to get wet reefing while I steered (as opposed to hiding out inside as she prefers in the rain). The squall did run out before any risk of hitting land, but we could see that there were more and more lined up behind. Looking at the island and the heavy rain, Maryanne remarked that it looked and felt like we were about to make landfall in Scotland, not tropical Antigua.

English Harbour is approached from the SE by heading right at what looks like a high rocky shore. Only at the last minute does a gap open up and allow us to see the masts nested within. As soon as we got in, the protection of the surrounding high ring of hills stopped the fierce wind and the water flattened. The place is actually pretty small, and filled with boats from all over, many of which seem to have been here for quite a while ([Maryanne] Many look as though they have been abandoned to the elements, but we noticed lights aboard in the evening so I guess we've seen some exotic boat bums now!]) [Kyle] We searched for a spot to anchor and managed to find one just big enough in the North end of Ordinance Bay, but the anchor dragged - twice. We went around the corner to Tank Bay, just in front of Nelson's dock yard (as in, of course, Admiral Horatio Nelson) and found a spot between another catamaran and shore, close enough that we could almost jump to either.

The rain stopped for a while, and the sun came out. It got HOT. I'm talking Houston in the summer HOT. Everything which had been soaking in the rain started steaming - man was it HOT. I put on some long pants and a long sleeve shirt (torture) to look respectable for my visit to customs. On the way it rained hard again, and I was drenched again. My glasses were useless for seeing through. At customs and immigration I managed to meet what so far had been the only 4 people on the island in a perpetual bad mood (It's universal isn't it? The official role of all officials?) I had to return to the boat after clearing customs so that Maryanne could present herself to Immigration, she was in the process of tidying the boat for a possible custom's inspection and was rapidly loosing her cool. Everytime the sun came out she would open the hatches for some air, then it would rain and she would have to run around closing them and sweat in the still heat of the boat ([Maryanne] I never did get around to making those rain covers for the hatches - my own fault)

[Kyle]We went ashore, cleared immigration and paid our port fees, then went for a stroll around. Nelson's dock yard was surprisingly small and trim and very quiet. We had expected that a place so big in the sailing world would resemble Annapolis or Newport, but busier and more touristy (like Martha's Vineyard?). Not so. The place has the atmosphere of a sleepy little backwater. We decided it must still be off season. The few locals were friendly and spoke in Caribbean accents so thick that we could barely understand them. Fortunately, like the Scots, they can tone it down to a tourist English that we can just make out.

Our goal for the day though was not tourism, but to quickly dispense with some pressing "non fun" jobs that needed doing. We spoke to a sail maker who said to get in today in order to avoid a line for fixing our salami. We also desperately needed to do laundry. We had wet clothes and some bedding that really needed refreshing.

We rushed back to the boat in the heat, packed everything up and headed to shore with our laundry and sail. On the way, one of our oars broke - just broke in half - it wasn't even a tough row! Exactly 3 seconds later, a squall came through and we found ourselves just making headway with me using the working oar and Maryanne using the stump as a paddle. We didn't make it to the dinghy dock, but manged to pull ourselves ashore using dock lines from a couple of boats we were being blown into. Nobody seemed to mind much - after all it must have been good entertainment.

I shouldered the sail bag and Maryanne got the laundry and then it rained, again! Maryanne's 25lb of laundry probably had 40lb of water in it by the time we made it to the laundry facility. The laundry attendant (Elizabeth. Antigua seems to have an attendant for everything) explained that she would do our laundry for us and we could collect it at 4:30. Lovely, we thought, that will free us to go to the Chandler (boat store) to find the other stuff we wanted from our list. Then she said it would be $36US for 3 loads (note it would have been $30US for us to do it ourselves). Are you freaking kidding me? we didn't pay that in NY city! She is the only game in town, and we REALLY needed clean laundry (which did come back clean smelling and nicely folded). Feeling ripped off and hungry, we decided to go for a quick bite and a coldie at the local cheap looking waterfront bar. $40 later we had two Carib beers each and two flavorless, greasy sandwiches - no bargain here.

The rumor was that we could find a good chandler in the next village over (about 1 mile). We had some time to kill, so we took a walk over. The chandlery was odd. It was very large, the shelves were full, yet it contained almost nothing of any use. They did have gallons and gallons of varnish and varnishing supplies; I guess when the mega-yachts arrive, this is what the crews get to do - know your customer eh! We were directed down the road another mile or so to another place. More varnish. The procedure was: you went in, they immediately asked you what you wanted, and if they thought they may have it, they would send an attendant to go and get it, the attendant would come back and say they didn't have it. We would then be asked to join the attendant and confirm for ourselves that they didn't have it. (no oars, no float cushions, no sail tape, no not'ing!) As we continued to try "the next place down the road", eventually this devolved into a mad walk in the hot sun down the main road trying to find the next option in time to turn around and still collect our laundry. Eventually at our last option, on the other side of the next harbour over, we found a rigger in an empty office who said she could order the parts for our main sail and genoa furler (head sail). We happily agreed and handed over our credit card without daring to ask how much. We went to a final chandlery that also had no parts we needed before we eventually came across a inflatable/liferaft shop who told us he had oars on order (come back Monday). In the mean time, he lent us an odd oar that would work "for now". So so far, during the long hot day, we had accomplished one thing, and our dinghy now rows in much bigger circles.

On the return to the dinghy with our loaner oar and our fresh laundry, we stopped by the local wireless (wifi internet) provider who explained we were anchored in the one place in English Harbour with no signal. Back at the boat we were exhausted, and defeated by lack of progress - we decided to move the boat so at least we would have internet access. We upped anchor and headed for a couple of likely spots, only to find we were too close to other boats, or the shore, or we dragged. During this, of course, it rained heavily; hard cold rain, and it was starting to get dark, adding urgency to the situation. Eventually, we found a less than ideal spot in Ordinance Bay that at least had a wifi signal. By the end of the day, Maryanne had put down and hauled up the anchor about 7 times, mostly in the heavy rain. Safely anchored, we dove inside to the dry of the boat and decided to at least tidy up before finally going to bed. We were actually feeling pretty miserable. So much for Paradise. We ended the day feeling hot, wet, broke, and disappointed that we had not accomplished more. The rumor is that this weather is caused by a trough going through, and that it does not normally rain here 5 minutes out of every 10 - we are looking forward to the trough passing.

Our sails are with the Sailmaker, our clean sheets are on the bed, the critical parts are on order. We have a few minor things to fix on the boat, so as soon as the rain is over, we plan to be serious tourists and really explore Antigua. We expect subsequent updates to be a lot more exotic and fun.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Kyle Writes on Week 2 Sea

[Kyle] Day 8
In the wee hours of the morning the wind started to increase again, until it finally leveled off at about 30 knots. The seas grew increasingly large and once again we found ourselves in rough, strong conditions, this time from the East. It seems that the very air that had pummeled us so badly realized it had passed us, stopped and came rushing back for another swipe at us. This made any further easting difficult and we shaped a course that slowly, grudgingly turned South. I wanted to have about a degree and a half of longitude East of our destination so that it would not be necessary to sail close to the wind once we finally hit the trade winds. So far we were about 100 miles West of that goal.

The wind was forecast to turn against us and we needed to get as far East as we could before the window shut on us. This made for some very uncomfortable sailing, we sailed at about 75 degrees to the wind and waves which is as much as we could tolerate in the 15'+ seas. The boat got slammed hard by waves that had many times her mass, in response she bends and flexes and distorts, she will come off a wave and slam down hard and the mast will oscillate back and forth sending the vibration through the rigging, and also sending my mind through everything I know about metallurgy and stress fatigue. I also find myself thinking of all of the dozens of people involved in the manufacture of this boat and her many components, only one had to be disgruntled or lazy or incompetent or careless to really mess up our lives out here.

Later that evening Maryanne and I were at the table just getting ready to eat some very hot soup when a wave made the table jump and throw Maryanne's soup into her lap. She ended up with 10 square inches of 1st degree burn on one thigh, and 2 square inches of 2nd degree burns. When the soup hit her she leapt up to keep the rest off her, and threw the soup everywhere, the boat was already getting to be a shambles from all the pounding, this did not help either of our moods. [Maryanne] Burn was not that bad, and we have a medical kit aboard to save an army, so no need to worry about me! The soup was good. Luckily there was plenty more in the pot).

[Kyle] Day 9
More of the same. We needed to stay as far east as we could in order to not beat against the trade winds later. We were crossing a stationary front and the winds were in the mid to high 20's (knots). We were getting as close as we could to it but the chop was miserable. Both of us were getting sick of all the pounding and were in pretty bad moods - fortunately not at each other. The weather is also gloomy, overcast and gray, which does not help. Neither of us were looking forward to our watches. Not 10 minutes after Maryanne went on for the night watch, just as I was climbing into bed, it started to pour, then the wind came up and she had to go on deck to reef - poor woman.

Day 10
Well the forecast looks like we'll have to sail close to the wind all the way there. These islands had better be nice! We were at the latitude of mid Florida, it was warmer but so far nothing seemed very tropical with gray clouds and rain on and off. It did calm down a bit during my afternoon watch so I took the opportunity to give the inside of Footprint a good clean and tidy. It was especially good to get all the salt we had been tracking in off the floors (Footprint alternates between having a perpetual coating of brine in most weather, and big grains of salt everywhere like a margarita glass in the sun). In the afternoon the wind started veering to the South, requiring us to turn a little west (wrong way). If it did not fill in from the East again soon we would have to tack and go NE to keep from being pushed too far West - we'd worry about South later.

Day 11
Here is pretty much how it went: King Neptune (as the Sarge) "All right, you lilly liver'd .. Um .. Lilly livers! Enough with the insults! Today's drill: Shortening he sail. YOU! Go put a reef in that mainsail". "Right away Sarge". I go up on deck and work through the methodical process of putting a reef in the mainsail (which actually reduces its size) I'm back in just under a minute. "How was that Sarge?", the Sarge, mocking me "how was that Sarge? That, son was the worst job of reefing that I have EVER seen! I've seen barnacles grow faster than that! What were you doing reading a book?! Plus you were looking the whole time, hardly any sport in that. Next time I see you looking, you are going to get a wave in the face - here comes a gust - go put another reef in and this time LETS SEE SOME HUSSLE!! Go! Go! That's it, faster, faster! Did you just eyeball me?, You'll get a wave for that. What ARE you doing? Stop sliding all over the deck on your back! Grab hold of something! NOT THAT! Grab hold of something useful! You are supposed to be reefing and it has already been 12 seconds - what is WRONG with you?" I arrived back in the cockpit, soaked and panting. "How's that?" I dared to ask. "Well son, that was a little bit better, but it was still the 2nd worst job I've ever seen behind your first attempt. Have you noticed that the boat stopped moving, now get up there and shake out those reefs, get back here, trim those sails, you'll never get anywhere if you don't trim those sails". I was about to plop down, exhausted when I noticed Sarge with a mischievous look on his face, gazing East: "Swabby" he says without looking away "what's this I see coming?....."

And so it went on like this over and over for 24 hours. As soon as either Maryanne or I would sit down, something would come up and we'd have to get up again. Neither of us got to sit still for more than 3 minutes at a time.

There is one good thing though, we can now reef or un-reef on a wildly bucking boat with little traction as waves crash over us, in the dark, in less than 15 seconds, without even waking up.

Day 12
After yesterday we are naturally very suspicious of the weather. The intensity of the wind has stabilized but the direction was all over the place. Must be trimming drills day. Today had us the furthest from land we would be for the trip: 450 miles from Bermuda and St Croix respectively. It has been a long time since we have seen anything other than seaweed, we have not even seen a bird in several days. Just as Maryanne came on for her evening watch the wind shifted South (South?! not good for our course) then died, then it started pouring - where is the nice Weather - I thought we were supposed to be in the tropics?

Day 13
I was quite pleased when I came on at midnight to see that Maryanne had coaxed about 10 miles east out of the light south winds before heading back south on the east side of the 60 degree west longitude line that we have been struggling to stay over since Bermuda. This area is supposed to be known as the NE trades but so far we have been bashing into 900 miles of SE winds, so every bit of east helps our approach angle. We don't want to find ourselves struggling up wind to clear reefs as we approach in the night (rather downwind in daylight!).

Towards sunrise, the sky cleared up and the wind picked up, slightly from the ESE. I unfurled the screacher and we were able to sail fast on relatively flat seas. In the morning we saw our first blue sky in a week. It was calm enough that I decided to have a go at fixing some of the damage up the mast from the day two storm.

I only got about 5' off the deck in the bosun's chair when the light swell had me swinging wildly. Maryanne attached another line to me to help control the swinging and determined to do the job, I continued on up. By the first spreaders, 15' up, I was pretty much completely out of control. I had my feet clamped around the baby stay, one arm on my hoisting line and one on a shroud - leaving none for work.

Maryanne was at times getting pulled completely clear of the deck trying to hold me down. Every now and then I'd lose grip of something and go swinging in huge wide arcs; occasionally just getting my head out of the way as I would slam full force into the rigging, which would the send me spinning wildly the other way. I had to use all of my strength to try to regain control. I finally got into position, hanging sideways from the chair with my feet clamped on the baby stay and both arms around the spreader. I was so tired from fighting to stay in position that I found I could not control my hands well enough to do detail work. I was not about to go back down until I'd done something, so I spent several agonizing minutes holding on for dear life and trying and failing to fix the part. Eventually I was successful (in 1 of the 3 planned jobs) and started down. The ride down was worse than the ride up, because I was totally knackered and could not get through it with brute strength any more. When I got back on deck I could not do anything but just lay there mumbling over and over that that was awful and I was NEVER going to do that again. Fatigue and the calm conditions meant that for the first time in a week or so, I slept like a rock through my whole off watch.

The weather has been improving - definitely shorts weather now - if only the NE trades would stop blowing from the SE.

Day 14
I came on watch to a gibbous moon lighting up the boat so well it seemed like just after dusk. The sky was clear and the seas were relatively mild. Maryanne mentioned as she went off watch at midnight that she had been waffling for 30 minutes over weather or not to switch to the screacher. After she went to bed, I went about my usual settling in routine; oriented myself, tidied up a little, pumped the bilges, and then decided I would roll up the genoa and unfurl the screacher (the boat was moving along nicely). Once done, I was just on my way inside to straighten up a bit, when I heard a scraping on deck. Usually this I caused by slack line on one of our preventers, but I had just re-secured those. I grabbed a flashlight and poked my head over the cockpit roof to see what was making the noise and was horrified to see our furled genoa swinging around the deck. The forestay it was furled on had either come undone or had broken, leaving the mast with nothing to keep it from falling backward except from the force of the wind from behind and (since we were using it) the luff wire in the leading edge of the screacher.

I called for Maryanne, who had just stirred because of the noise and had also noticed the same problem - she was already half way out of bed.

The genoa/head stay combination weighs maybe 100lb and was flailing around the forward deck like a loose hose, scraping and banging along the way. I was able to tackle it and eventually found the most stable position was to put the furling drum at the bottom in a leg lock and hold on tight to the rail with both arms. I was still getting thrown around a lot and was using all of my strength to keep it from hitting anything (that combined with yesterday's trip up the mast has left me bruised all over). Maryanne loosened the backstay tension, turned the boat down wind, grabbed a bunch of shackles and spare line and joined me on deck. The first priority was to get a line on the furled Genoa and keep it from flailing around. We were lucky that the forestay had not broken, but just disconnected, and that all the pieces of the connection were simply sitting on deck; including the busted split pin that has caused the problem in the first place. Normally the head stay/back stay tension on the Gemini is set so loose that there is noticeable sag in both when the boat is at rest. The tension is adjusted by the backstay tensioner(s) for what is required for sailing conditions. We expected because of this, that all we would have to do was manhandle the forestay back in place and reconnect everything - simply adding a new split pin. When we tried, though, we were about 3" short (probably because of the sag of the furled genoa stay?). We loosened the genoa halyard, cranked down tight on the screacher halyard, sailed directly downwind (no, not west!), yet we still needed 3 more inches. Maryanne made a chain of heavy shackles and connected the forestay temporarily back to the deck - but I was not satisfied.
There were supposed to be 300 more miles of downwind sailing to port, but what if we had to go upwind? I didn't trust the rig with 3" of shackles pasted on it.

By now the moon had set and it was dark. I reluctantly decided I needed to loosen the back stays and check stays (all holding the mast back) as much as I dared by unthreading the turnbuckles as far as I could without actually disconnecting them. 30 minutes later, we had narrowed the gap to 2". It was as if suddenly the boat grew.

After thinking about it for a while, we eventually came to the terrible conclusion that the back stays would have to be disconnected completely. We were both so frightened by the idea that we considered just leaving the rig patched with the shackles. We were still more than 300 miles from the nearest land, though, and had no way of guaranteeing we would not encounter rough seas or strong winds along the way. We HAD to do it, but the thought made our skin crawl, like deliberately taking all the lug nuts off a car and trying to make it to town on a windy road. Disconnecting the backstay is disconcerting enough in a quiet boat yard - we were in the middle of nowhere.

We pulled down the main sail, centered the boom and cranked down on the main sheet. It and the topping lift from the back of the boom to the top of the mast, once the backstays were disconnected, would support the mast from falling forward. Once the stays were disconnected (yeesh!), we gradually eased the mainsheet until the gap was bridged and we could get the forestay back in place with its original hardware. I connected one half of the backstay (it is in an upside down Y shape) but found the other half 3" short. We cranked down on the mainsheet until I was certain the topping lift would snap (It's ¼" rope - not meant for this role) and we were still an 1" short. Luckily there are two holes in the plate that attaches the back stay to the stern. We used the spare, and ran a small piece of line (small to fit through the hole) from there through a lead to a genoa winch - we cranked that sucker until we thought it too might snap - eventually I was able to get the threads on the turnbuckle - connecting the back stay back to the boat - the boat was back together - it was 4am.

With no more 2 person jobs to do, Maryanne went back to bed while I went around re-tensioning and securing all the stays and lines properly. By the time I got the last of the tools put away (apart from the one wrench dropped overboard) the sun was up. I had let Maryanne sleep in a couple of hours but I was fading fast. I had to get some sleep.

When Maryanne woke me up for my afternoon watch, she reported cheerfully that she hadn't broken anything and that absolutely nothing happened, and that the trade winds were now from the NE - yay!

Just before she went to bed, we saw our first bird in over a week, a lone frigate bird, flapping gently up wind up at about 200'. The nearest land to us, still over 300 miles distant, is the island of Barbuda, which has a frigate bird nesting colony which we hope to see soon.