Reflections About an Aborted Passage

August 18, 2019

This post is late due to problems accessing the blog.  

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I am writing from Tessalonikky Greece.  I came with Natalia for a couple of days to meet her parents who are on their way to Parea, a beach-town just a few miles north.  I left Salinas, Puerto Rico, almost two weeks ago and I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t able to complete the passage to Grenada.  

I should have left that Saturday morning, one week ago yesterday.  The fact is that I was feeling  anxious and my confidence had left me during the night and hadn’t come back when I got up at 5am.  I slept little that night. The neighbors in the motor boat next to Antares decided to have a party (I was not invited).  It must have been 3am or later when the last guest left and the loud conversations and laughs came to an end or at least receded.  

The forecast Chris Parker had sent around midnight was not exactly as expected but it wasn’t very different either from what we had discussed the previous day. There was uncertainty about what would happen with a Tropical Wave or Low passing Monday-Tuesday, when I would have been 2/3 of my way to Grenada.  But he didn’t suggest that I delay my departure.  His message read:  

Most of the day Sat3, departing SalinasPR: 110@14-17g21, any squalls to 30k end fairly early in the morning, wind-chop 4-5′, STRATEGY: sailing close reach (as close as you can sail without sacrificing too much speed/comfort)….my guess is your Course Over Ground is about 170T (but 160T is better if you can do that without sacrificing too much speed/comfort).

Sat3 night, near 16-30N / 65-45W: 090@17-20g25, stray mild squalls to 28k, wind-chop 6′, STRATEGY: same, but with wind backing you should be able to make Course Over Ground between 160T and maybe 150T (hopefully).

Sun4, near 15-40N / 65-20W: morning into afternoon moderates 090@18g23<14g17k, wind-chop 6′<4′, STRATEGY: same.

Sun4 late afternoon builds but also backs to 070@17-19g25, wind-chop 5-6′, STRATEGY: with wind backing a bit more, hopefully Course Over Ground is 150T by late afternoon Sun4.

Sun4 night, near 15N / 65W: 070@17-19g25<090@14-17g21, wind-chop 5-6′<4-5′. STRATEGY: same.

Mon5, near 14-10N / 64-25W: forecast details become uncertain….wind probably remains E, but becomes variable in strength…trending from 090@15g20<090@10-20g25, with squalls to 30k possible but not certain. Wind-chop 4′<3-7′, STRATEGY: continue sailing close reach to SSE until wind becomes light enough to turn ESE and motor toward Grenada (not sure when or if you will be able to turn ESE for Grenada).

Mon5 night, near 13-20N / 63-45W: wind will almost certainly veer toward S Mon5 night, but wind strength and whether-or-not it’s squally are your 2 uncertainties: “090@10-20g25<140-170@7-17g25, with squalls to 30k possible but not certain. Wind-chop 2-7′. STRATEGY: as wind veers SE you will either:

A. motor ESE toward Grenada, OR, if wind is too strong for that

B. TACK and sail close reach on Starboard tack in the general direction of Windwards, somewhere N of Grenada.

Tue6, near 12-40N / 62-45W: wind is probably lighter, generally 140-170@5-15<5-12k, any squalls to 20-30k early probably decrease to only 20k at most, wind-chop 1-5′<1-3′. STRATEGY: motoring in general direction of Grenada, or the closest Island to you N of Grenada.

Tue6 night, near Grenada / Grenadines: wind probably rebuilds from 130-160@5-12<120-140@12-17g22, isolated squalls to 28k begin, wind-chop 1-3′<3-6′, STRATEGY: motorsailing generally into the wind, toward Grenada or Grenadines.

Wed7, near Grenada: 120-140<090@14-17g22, with isolated squalls to 28k, wind-chop 4-6′, STRATEGY: motorsialing NE-SE toward Grenadines<sailing SSE toward Grenada as winds backs E.”

 It was doable and yet I chose to stay.  After I told him about my decision Chris made the following suggestion: 

“ David:

There’s a chance you could depart Salinas Tue6 morning, and arrive StCroix by about Midnight Tue6 night. Before Dawn Wed7 conditions may become squally, and wind direction may veer SE (more against you).

Would you be able to depart Tue6 morning / arrive StCroix during the night Tue6 night?

The next possible opportunity to move E from StCroix to the Leewards is departing StCroix Fri9 / arriving somewhere in Leewards Sat10.

I would guess you make Grenada during the week of Monday August 18.

It seems there is a low probability of Tropical LO formation thru Mon18, so I do not think Tropical LO formation will be a problem.

LET ME KNOW how we can help…Chris.”

By then, however, I was running out of time. Natalia was getting inpatient and surely frustrated by all the delays, I had a couple of work-related deadlines to meet, I had to start preparing classes and there were financial considerations.  If Grenada was out of the question and Antares was going to spend another hurricane season in the Caribbean, I had to think about the safest place and insurance/marina costs.  Insurance costs were more or less the same in Salinas, St. Croix, or close-by Leewards.   In St. Croix the boat could have been on the hard (probably safer) but the Marina was 50% more expensive (not including haul out costs).  The Marina in Salinas is in a hurricane hole, it is among the most affordable I’ve seen, and I really liked the people working there.  

If when I dragged anchor (see previous post) I had moved to Bahia de Jobos and spent the night there, I most likely would have departed Saturday through Boca del Infierno.  Choosing to enter Marina Salinas changed things:  I did not complete the passage but met a very nice group of people and during historic times.  Indeed, I arrived on the day the disgraced Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello, had to leave office and move out of the beautiful mansion,  La Fortaleza, he occupied in San Juan. I was following the news at the bar, listening to the disorganized conversations and debates sprawling around me, and drinking G&Ts.  Who will be the new Governor was the question everybody was talking about.  Between anchors and pundits, the cameras were filming the entrance to the mansion and the crowds outside holding flags and banners. The guy had to be out by 5pm yet by 4:30 it wasn’t clear who would be the successor. Eventually, the polished Pedro Pierlusi, Secretary of State, was sworn.  He wouldn’t stay as governor for long though.  The day of my departure, the Supreme Court declared that his appointment had been unconstitutional.  Wanda Vázquez Garced, Minister of Justice, became the Governor instead. Regardless, I think that the main lesson Puerto Rico gave to the world, is that the workings of a true democracy do not always involve the electoral system. The Puerto Ricans I met were proud about having been able to mobilize and organize relatively peaceful protests to oust Rosello. And the transition to the new regime, eventually, was done according to the constitution.   

Most of the day that Saturday I spent with Antonio’s family and friends.  Antonio is the dock-master and the-facto manager.  He lives with his wife Michelle in a two-levels motor-boat that he salvaged after hurricane Maria. It is a wonderful place where at some point during day — except on Mondays and Tuesdays — friends get together.  His father lives in a sailing sloop anchored just  a few hundred meters away, where he can play his saxophone “tranquilo.” Over a medicinal joint he told me about rising ocean levels and nearby places where once you could walk that are now covered by the sea.  I also met Julio, the man who brings people together; the connector.  He lives in a town 30 miles away from Salinas where he works for the Coca Cola company, but spends all weekends at the marina in his sailing boat; a 32 footer, also salvaged from Maria, that is docked in the slip next to Antonio’s.  After sunset he took me on a boat ride to discover the small bay and the local bars. 

After that weekend I spent most of the days in Antares leaving only before sunset to have drinks at the bar and visit Erwin.  He is another character I met who decided to move to the marina and live in a boat after his house in the mountains was destroyed by Maria. I visited him almost daily and sat in the cockpit listening to his stories (sometimes a repeat) sipping rum (Palo Viejo) with juice and sharing his pipe.  During those days I read The House of Spies by Daniel Silva (my brain couldn’t handle more) and little by little prepared Antares for her stay-over:  removed and folded the sails; cleaned, folded, and stowed the dinghy; drained the generator; covered the wheel and autopilot; covered winches and the windlass; removed and coiled genoa sheets; cleaned the refrigerator; etc…

The night I was leaving (Friday the 9th) the bag carrying my clothes fell in the water as I was stepping out of the boat. I dove in to try to save it and was able to catch-it before it sank, but then I had to decide:  the bag or me. I couldn’t pull my self out of the water while holding the bag, so I had to let it go.  It must have been 1am. A taxi was waiting for me outside the marina to take me to the airport in San Juan, so no time to change (plus into which clothes?).   When I boarded the plane to New York, which was over one hour late, I was soaking wet.  I then almost missed my connection to Doha (where I would then connect to Beirut).  But at the end I made it safe. Natalia was waiting for me at the airport in Beirut.  She was shocked to see the state of my clothes and shoes.

A couple of days later a diver recovered the bag and the, very stinky, clothes went to the laundry. Apparently the bag itself got damaged and has to be trowed away.  I’m just very glad none of the electronics where in it.        

I have not given up though.  I plan to go back to Salinas in early December and probably sail to Culebra, then St Croix, then Guadaloupe.  Will see.  I now have time to get to Grenada before the next hurricane season. I might as well discovered some of the Islands…

 

 

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