May 3rd, 2021
I am at anchor at Martin’s Bay in the quarantine zone. It s raining hard outside. It has been raining on and off since I made land fall on Monday around 1am. Entering the bay and anchoring during the day doesn’t involve any challenge; there are no shallows or tricky currents, which is why I told myself that doing it at night should not be a big deal either. I was wrong. The lights from the island distort distances and in the anchorage a few of the boats didn’t have anchor lights! I had a flash-light to help me see them but it stopped working when I was trying to anchor. At the end I managed to drop the hook and it held but knowing how stressful the process was, if I had to do it again, I would stay outside until daylight.
I spent the last few days in St. Martin provisioning and doing odd jobs on Antares. I did end up changing the batteries and also the anchor chain (I now have 150 feet). Other than going for a run and taking a couple of rides to buy provisions and do a PCR test (required to enter Grenada), I was at boat yard. My stay there was quite pleasant though, to a large extent because I met a couple, Steffen from Germany and Pik from Thailand, who were doing some work on their catamaran. They were very nice and helpful. Pik is an excellent cook and we enjoyed a few dinners together and long conversations over a glass of wine (beer for Steffen) — including during my last night there.
Friday I got up at 5:30am to prepare coffee, top-up the water tanks, and attach the jacklines. At 7:00am Bea, the manager of the yard, arrived in her pickup truck with my dinghy; it had gone to the shop for a second attempt to glue some of its seams. The guys form the yard helped me put it on deck under the boom. The last thing I had to do was to pay my bill — always more than budgeted. By 7:30 I was on my way. Steffen escorted me in his dinghy until the Causeway Swing bridge. There I waited for 10 minutes for the bridge to start rotating 90 degrees and motored directly to the Simpson Bay bridge which lifted 15 minutes later.
Once out in the bay I pointed to St. Christopher, set the CP2 autopilot, and stared stowing the fenders and lines. After I cleared the few boats anchored in Simpson bay I turned Antares into the wind and hoisted the main sail with one reef. Back on a 175º course I unrolled the genoa with also one reef and set Constancia the wind vane. We had 15-20 Knots winds from the E-NE, ideal conditions to start the short passage to Grenada.
I soon noticed that the Raymarine speed transducer was not calibrated properly. It was reporting a speed of 9.2 Kts when according to my log-book the SOG was on average 6.5 knots, and there was not current with that strength. Still, the data generated by the transducer was useful because the difference with the SOG seemed be a constant of around 2 Kts. Otherwise, the wind and depth data (the latter useless during the passage) were accurate (it is really pouring outside while I write this).
By 2pm I was crossing St Eustatius and St Christopher and the wind dropped to less than 10Knots and would remain that way until I was no longer covered by the islands. With no shame, I decided to crank the engine; even with no reefs Antares barely moves with so little wind and I have a schedule to follow after all. Except for the noise generated by the engine the conditions were quite pleasant so I decided to poor myself a G&T and drank it while admiring the sunset (for this purpose I had bought a couple of crystal tumblers, see pic). When the sun sank I decided to have dinner and reheated some pasta bolognese that I had cooked in St Martin. Trying to be reasonable, I ate the pasta without wine, which is not ideal but it wasn’t bad either.
After passing Nevis at around 8pm the wind picked up again to 15+ Kts and I was able to turn off the engine and sail at close to 6 Kts. I didn’t sleep the first night. The wind was shifting between 15 and 21Kts and had to adjust the wind vane frequently to keep the course. There was also a current setting west and pushing us south, when I wanted to make as much easting as possible in case the winds changed the following day.
At 2am the AIS alarm went off; it’s set to do so when there is a boat within 5 nautical miles. It was a container sailing north west and we were on collision course. I tried to make contact by VHF but got no response. The wind was blowing 18-20 Kts, Antares was sailing fast through zestful seas, and I didn’t want to have to change course and sail close-hauled. I tried again the VHF but with no luck. Just when I decided to go back outside and adjust the vane I saw that the ship changed course. I have the feeling that the silence was on purpose. Obviously, they also saw me on their AIS which is why they changed course last minute. Maybe the person on watch was a sadist enjoying the stress he sensed in the voice coming through his radio.
I spent quite some time in the cockpit that first night, smoked a couple of cigarettes and, other than the incident with the ship, enjoyed myself. After midnight we had an almost full moon which makes all the difference between sailing into unknown darkness and having a sense, even if diminished, of the surroundings.
The first daylight found us west of the northern tip of Guadeloupe and I set course towards Grenada. I had a glass of juice, boiled water for coffee (instant coffee from Starbucks is quite a good compromise when sailing alone), and drank it in the cockpit. I usually don’t eat breakfast but that morning I was feeling hungry. So I went inside, turned on the stove, put olive oil in a pan, and tossed some coin sliced sausages and three eggs. I devoured the, lets call it omelette, and went back to the cockpit for more coffee (here it finally stopped raining and have opened a hatch and the companion way).
The rest of the morning I spent reading a book by Dan Silva. Not great literature but I have discovered that, while alone on a passage, page-turners work better for me; my brain doesn’t have the wave length for non-fiction or good fiction. I hope this is something that would change in a longer passage as the brain adapts to life at sea. The same with writing. I see Webb Chiles updating his log on the computer every few hours; I can’t do that. I can barely enter by hand some basic information about wind and boat speed, longitude and latitude on the log book. And my hand writing is horrible.
By noon, the distance covered in the last 24 hours we had covered 144 miles. Soon after the wind dropped but remained above 10Kts so I went to the mast to take-off the reef. A few hour later it dropped below 10 in the shadow of Dominica and I went back to the mast to add a reef, as I was planning to motor-sail for a while and the main was slating badly. It is then I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t pull on the line for the first reef or the one for second reef; they had become entangled together just where they enter the boom aft. This was a problem of my own making. When I set up the reefing lines at the boat yard I didn’t realize they were crossing. I tried to untangle the lines by different means but nothing worked. Plus, with little wind and leftover swells the boom was moving wildly even with a preventer. I was assessing my options. Without been able to reef the main, I would have to sail with only the Genoa in winds above 18 Kts. That meant not been able to use the vane, which requires both sails to have good balance, and been underpowered precisely when Antares could be sailing at her best. At the end, I cut the first reef line just where it enters the boom, and I was able to push what was left (tangled with the second reef line) with a shackle key. Then I rigged again the reef line. The two lines were still crossing but I was now aware of the problem and just had to be careful.
I solved the problem just in time. The wind soon increased to 18-20 Kts and I had to set the first reef. Things were under control, I was tranquilo for a while and poured myself a G&T at sunset. When the night fell we were sailing west of the southern cost of Dominica and the wind increased further as it funneled between that island and Martinique (this is my assumption). It was blowing 20-25 Kts for a while and had to go back to the mast to set the second reef — something I don’t like to do at night with the boat lurking through the seas. I was very glad to have the two reefing lines operational.
That night I slept some four hours but no without consequences. I woke up a couple of times to find Antares off course and the wind vane sleeping. She must be tired I told myself and set the CP2 autopilot instead with a course of 180º. But a couple of hours later I was awoken by the lack of movement. I went outside and found that we were hove-to; the CP2 had also fallen asleep and tacked the boat. I put Antares back on course and went woke up Constancia the vane. I m sure those two have long conversations and argue about who is the best. Constancia might think that CP2 is only good in harbors and flat seas, that he doesn’t have what it takes to steer a boat in the ocean. But I don’t fully agree. The CP2 has shown to be quite competent even the seas are far from flat. I don’t use it though with winds above 20 knots, unless they come from the quarter (it’s raining again).
Sunday morning I was feeling hungry again so my juice and coffee were followed by another omelette. I washed dishes, put some order around, downloaded a weather file (no changes), took a shower, and then went back to Silva’s book. By early afternoon we were sailing west of St Vincent and by sunset I had my G&T while sailing west of the Grenadines. The wind had increased fo 20-23 Kts but we had it on the quarter so the apparent wind was much less — no need to add a reef.
The estimated time of arrival to Martin Bay was 10:30pm. It took longer because I slowed down as I approached, trying to make sense of the landscape and the lights. Somehow, I could only identify the green and red lights that mark the entrance to Georgetown when I was just five minutes away. And then there was the anchorage with the invisible boats that would pop up into existence when I was just a few feet away. In retrospect, having the flash-light probably made things worse by not letting me develop fully my night-vision.
When I was more or less sure that the anchor was not dragging I called Natalia and poured myself a well deserved G&T. After I hanged up I had one more. It must have been close to 3am when I went to my bunk. By 7am yesterday I was awake; could not sleep more as I was high as a kite (from the passage). While boiling water for coffee I went outside to set the generator. I saw were I had anchored and didn’t like it. So, after drinking the coffee I moved the boat closer to north east side of the anchorage. This time I made sure that I had enough chain out and set a snubber. I then put the dinghy on the water using the main halyard and installed the Torquedo. By 9:30I was at the Yatch Club presenting my documents and Antares’ papers. They gave me the number of a lady who can buy groceries and supplies and deliver them to the club. I bought a couple of cans of tonic water, ground beef, tomatoes and onions so that I could cook more pasta bolognese at night. And so I did while enjoying a bottle of Fumé Blanc.
I had a good night of sleep and got up at 6:30am this morning. I catch-up with e-mails and had a couple of work related calls while sipping coffee. Then it was time to go get my PCR test done. Since I came back at around 11 I have been writing this entry which I am now going to post. I am enjoying very much the quarantine. It stopped raining, I hope this time for good so that I can enjoy my G&T outside. More updates will follow. ..