August 5, 2019
I realized yesterday that it had been more than eight days since I left Ecuador and moved to Antares. The 8-units package of Starbox instant coffee, which I had opened early in the morning the day after I arrived to Ponce – Puerto Rico, had only one little bag left.
As planned, I left Ponce Wednesday just before midnight bound to St. Croix. I couldn’t sleep well that night; part anxiety, part the squalls and rain. They were supposed to stop by midnight but it was still raining when I let go the last line connecting Antares to the dock. It was attached to the bow. Once freed, I went behind the wheel, engaged the reverse, and Antares started to back slowly while her bow turned to starboard under the gentle push of a 12 Kts north easterly.
The small bay between the marina and “Guanchas” is well lit, but once outside it was charcoal black. My navigational reference was a red flashing light that I had to leave to port, then sail half a mile south before I turning east towards the north side of Isla Caja de Muertos. There were other red and green flashing lights marking the channel I had used to enter the marina back in June, but tonight they were mainly an annoying distraction. Every few seconds I saw my red light flashing and checked my course on the compass. The rest of the time I was blind, trusting the electronic chart and the local knowledge I had received from Cheo, the guy who was taking care of Antares during my absence.
After turning east I set the autopilot and hoisted the main with one reef. Even if Antares was not heading into the wind, it came up with no resistance. After coiling the bow and stern lines, I removed and stored the two black, giant, fenders that had been protecting Antares starboard side. Next, I unrolled the Genoa to the first reef to give us more speed; we went from 3 to almost 5 knots, on course. I then opened my green folding chair in the cockpit and sat with a mug of coffee I had prepared for the night.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Once we passed north of Isla Caja de Muertos the wind veered to the east and increased to 15-20 Knots; not the conditions that had been expected. I had no choice but to turn some 50 degrees off-shore. Just then Antares woke-up, maybe a coincidence, and I turned off the engine. Overall, ok sailing, just a bit rough and in the wrong direction.
I eventually tacked towards land; it must have been around 2am. I was not keeping a log and the tracker on INavX was off for some reason. To keep speed and relative comfort I was sailing some 60 degrees off the true wind. That means that when tacking towards land I was sailing almost north. I could have kept doing this and eventually arrive to St. Croix, but I had a deadline, which is never a good idea at sea. I had to arrive before Thursday night, max midnight. By 5am I was only south of Salinas with some 80 miles to go in less than 18 hours and worsening conditions. I was also tired, so I decide to go and anchor in Salinas.
To arrive at daylight I slowed down the boat. Going north, towards Cayo de Ratones, I was sailing with just the main (2 reefs), but I was still making 3 knots or more on a deep close reach. Annoying in a way. When I really wanted to slowdown, Antares found every opportunity to speed up. By 6 am, with enough sunlight, I doused the main and started to motor towards marina Salinas.
By 7 am Antares was at anchor and I went to my bunk to get some sleep. I was awaken by the sound of a mild collision. Not mild enough to keep me in my bunk though. In less than 5 seconds I was in the cockpit and saw what had happened. Antares, beautiful, charming and in her 30s was lying by the side of an old boat, rubbing hulls. The boat was not only old; it was decrepit. A victim of hurricane Marina, I assume, it no longer carried a mast and I, speculate, no human had given him any attention in a very long time. I had dragged anchor with some 50 feet of chain in less than 10 feet of water. I pulled up the anchor, removed the mud and grass it came up with, moved locations and tried again. This time I didn’t sleep. I kept watching around, keeping track of my position relative to other boats and points in land. A few hours later I had to accept that I was again getting to close to the old boat.
I called the marina to explore the possibility of coming in and getting a slip. I asked the dock master why the anchor was not holding; was it the mud ? He told me to try with a 10 to 1 scope and so I did. I re-anchored and this time I let out 100 feet of chain ! Antares no longer tried to socialize. I had a G&T, ate dinner, watched half a movie and slept soundly.
The next day I got up in a good mood, drank two glasses of orange juice and boiled water for coffee. I was thinking about my next move, sailing direct to Grenada from Salinas, feeling very confident about my anchor and chain. I read before and after my lunch of two hot dogs. The wind was increasing though and by mid afternoon I was again dragging anchor, albeit slowly. The marina was now very close and I could read for the first time the price of diesel and gasoline.
I called again and asked for a slip with easy access. “No problem, you are very welcome was the answer.” So I turned on the engine and instruments and started to retrieve the 100 feet of chain. The anchor finally resurfaced, again bringing with her an obnoxious volume of mud and grass. The windlass, in fact, couldn’t handle the weight, so the anchor — that you really couldn’t see – stayed there hanging from the bow. I went back to the wheel to take control and position my self in a place where I could let Antares drift while I cleaned the anchor. Winds were blowing in their 20s, so Antares could not be allowed to drift for long.
My phone rang. It was Antonio the manager of the marina who asked me if I wanted help to be towed to my sleep. Feeling a bit offended, but without showing, I told him that there was no need; I was going to aim for one of the slips downwind and just enter bow first. I explained that Antares has problems motoring in reverse in a strong breeze. He insisted, indicating that it was important I enter stern first. He could, with a dingy and a line attached to Antares’ bow, keep her upwind while I motored in reverse towards the slip. “I’ve done it before,” he mustered. And so we did. The procedure was a bit chaotic and offered the opportunity of doing a good workout. Once Antares was secure in her sleep, I shake hands with Antonio and got two very cold beers from the fridge.
It was Friday and the weather forecast suggested I could attempt a direct crossing to Grenada. After a shower, drinks and dinner I went to bed and set the alarm at 5:30am for a departure at 6am. It never happened…