Monday, 30 December 2013

St Lucia

Rodney Bay was a great relaxed place to hang out for a while. The bars and restaurants were full of crews swapping stories.  A boat labelled " Mr Sparkle" with a smiling owner took our washing . Local bananas , mangos and melons arrived in similar fashion at a reasonable price after protracted negotiations with the first mate.

For the first couple of days , we concentrated on repairs. I took off part of the water maker after a very helpful phone call with Jim Donaldson of Mactra who agreed with our diagnosis of a bust spool valve and offered to fix it over Christmas . So Joe took it back to the Uk .  Louise Colin and Nick took off the mainsail, taped up the chafed bits and put more protection on the rear spreaders. the Duogen appears to be a regulator problem again and none of us including a very helpful Peter at Eclectic Energy can work out why it keeps blowing

The evening of the 12 th December was the final farewell party before we were kicked off our berths to go to Marigot Bay .It was a fairly boozy affair , as the drink was free but the food ran out. Everyone danced to a steel band that was really revving up and the celebrations continued back in the bars of Rodney bay well into the night. A fleet with a few sore heads cruised the 10 miles down to Marigot Bay the next day. Suzanne from Germany came with us and enjoyed the sail. 
The A (Atlantic) Team in Marigot Bay

Suzanne with bubbles

Joe enjoying a final taste of life in the slow lane

We said goodbye to Joe who had managed to squeeze in a weeks skiing with the family before Christmas before going back to work for the Sheiks in the sandpit in Quatar- the rest of us can't keep up with life in the fast lane.

Marigot bay is a beautiful  inlet . There is an outer anchorage with a beach lined with palm trees and an inner bay surrounded by mangrove trees with laid moorings. Dr Doodditle was filmed here and listening to the sounds of the tropical forest surrounding us the animals are still talking about it.   The cove is lined with a variety of restaurants all of which can be visited by dinghy and the dockside cafe even has a fast Internet connection that works!
The bay is also a well known hurricane hole. With winds of 125 knots outside yachts are tied up to the mangrove trees with maximum wind speeds of 50knots in the bay.

Marigot Bay

We returned by local bus to Rodney bay to meet up with Mary Burrows our ex chief executive who was renting a house with two old friends, Katherine and Judith
They had timed their visit to coincide with Kikas and Sephinas arrival. After a welcome beer and a shower at Mary's place we proceeded to the infamous local " jump up" at Gros Islet just north of Rodney Bay.

A drink or two in the bar and soon we were...........

...........talking to the animals on the way to Jump Up
 A jump up is a huge street party at which you can buy rum punches and drinks of every colour, food from fish and meat barbecues and the centre is reserved for a stage with huge speakers blaring out reggae and hip hop to which everyone dances. The bass was turned up so loud you could feel it hitting your chest and not fail to feel the rhythm , surprisingly with relatively little treble it didn't appear to hurt the ears, Mary, friends and Kika's crew were soon in the groove, jumpin' around.  The atmosphere was good humoured , however lounging around the edge of the crowd there were a few ladies of the night plying for trade surrounded by a number of hard faced men who didn't look as though they had just come for the music. We got the cue and disappeared just after midnight when the mood music changes.

We stopped using taxis and got into using the local bus system which consists of frequent privately owned minibuses which are full of people and you just hold out your hand and stop. There are two advantages. Travelling at a fraction of the cost of a taxi and getting to know people.  St Lucia was colonised successively by the French and British with the British finally winning out and sending the French off to sulk in nearby Martinique. In order to try and fend off the Brits the French even freed a number of slaves and armed them on a pragmatic you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours principle. Unfortunately the strategy failed. British ships landed in the deep pools off the Piton mountains near Soufriere and re enslaved them in 1819 . It wasn't until emancipation in 1829 that they became free again. Around Souffriere the locals have long memories.  Local Creole is spoken all over the Caribbean. It is a mixture of African dialects ,French , and some English. It was a means off communicating that the colonial oppressor would not understand and with slight variations can be understood in both English and French speaking Islands.  The local economy used to be based on sugar cane which declined together with the plantations to be replaced by banana trees. Sadly South America has taken over as the cheapest exporter of cheap bananas and the island is now heavily dependant on tourism, although bananas remain the main crop. My Rastafarian pal on the bus who hawked stuff on the beach explained. "When America hurts man, I feel the pain. Folks just ain't got spare cash no more."

We returned to Rodney Bay via Castries for Clive's arrival. Castries is full of cruise ships and hustlers offering lightning tours of the island. Once you get beyond them and the posh cruise ship shops the local market sells most things including a great collection of spices, straight from the queen of the spice islands. We found a lady who gave us a good reduction on some presents who told us we had been sent from heaven as trade had been disastrous recently, and she was now looking forward to Christmas.

Sephina arrived at 7 pm on 17th December. Clive managed to blague a berth on the luxury yacht India pontoon by insisting the posh cats could not disembark on a stern to mooring. Mary lead the cheering in party (she used to be the top cheerleader for her school baseball team) and raced us onto the posh pontoon, where we all had an ARC rum punch together. Sephina had had a tough trip. 
All six crew members were given a noisy reception on arrival in Rodney Bay

The last few days had been rough with winds in excess of 30 knots and Clive had wondered at points why he was putting his wife and family through it. They were all delighted to have survived it and excited to arrive and it was great to see them. Dave Gozzard on Gozzwos arrived a couple of days later with a broken spinnaker pole and water maker but seemed very chilled out as did his wife Alicia who enjoyed herself.

Colin and I retuned to Marigot Bay getting a ride from Castries from a bus driver who lived in the bay. As it was his last drive he lit up a 'phat' spiff of the local "ganja" after offering us some.  He also offered to arrange for us to go and see some local girls, but was only dissuaded when we told him we had women back at the boat "Respect man." He had worked out that Marijuana made him do everything better including driving. We didn't entirely agree as his eyes widened and the roadside ditches appeared rather close . We were relieved to emerge safe and sound at Marigot Bay.

We went down to Souffriere and climbed Gros Piton the next day. It is a steep 960 metres of extinct volcano. It took around 4 hours to get up and down a very rocky track with the skipper trailing along at the back. We were charged 30 US dollars each to have a guide (compulsory) and the whole experience was an exercise in masochism with all our legs turned to jelly by the time we reached the bottom. The view at the top was limited due to the arrival of a squall. Rather like North Wales on a wet day. 

The Pitons
We reach the summit. On top of the world, but not feeling it.

Back in Marigot Bay the luxury yachts with huge crews have been loading up with supplies as the owners arrive for Christmas cruises. We said goodbye to Louise and Nick and as I write this Colin is remaining in Marigot Bay for Christmas with Sephina and its crew for company . He also volunteered to fit new batteries to Kika after Christmas while I go home for a week. I am currently sitting in an aircraft on 24 December that has spent two hours waiting on the Tarmac after arriving at Gatwick airport with no stand available as the airport is suffering from power cuts and complete disruption due to last nightsstorms and flooding. It's great to be back home!
During the skipper's absence the first mate organises refit of Kika!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Atlantic Crossing

We crossed over the start line around the middle of the fleet to find ourselves in a strong wind acceleration zone of around Force 6-7 between the islands where we had to reef and our speed went up to 9 knots surfing on top of breaking waves - very un Kika like. We heard later that an Australian boat La Rochelle had accidentally gybed and broken the gooseneck attachment from the boom to the mainmast necessitating a return to Mindelo, really bad luck. We also heard a few days later from Adela with James on board  that they had lost their back stay in the same blow. They managed to recover the situation and rig a replacement which must have been difficult.

Starting over the line
Soon after crossing the start line we felt the seas build

We love balancing the boat!

yes, they're still floating

Colin gets her back on course for St Lucia

Waves high enough to hide in!

We watched the speed run wild

Winds to take you hat away

In the evening the opposite happened and we found ourselves in a 20 mile wind shadow from the islands and we eventually had to use our engine to get out of it. 

Thursday 21 Nov . First night at sea and we had the usual problems sleeping and getting used to the roll of the boat. The trick is using a Lee cloth and then restricting your space to roll around by wedging yourself in between bags and cushions. The Aries wind vane is operating perfectly which improves our power consumption at night considerably obviating the need to run the engine just to charge the batteries.  We got two fishing lines working today and in the late afternoon there were simultaneous strikes. Atlantic Dorado  seem to hunt in schools and can travel at great speeds of up to 25 knots. Joe had two fishes on his line and I had a big one on mine. Joe landed two and mine wriggled off just before it came in the boat. After gutting and filleting rather inexpertly done by the skipper. Joe marinaded them in Soy sauce, Garlic lemon and Chilli and cooked us a fried fish supper with a rice risotto and fried peppers- you couldn't have dined better in the poshest of fish restaurants.

Joe reels in the dorado

..and carefully prepared for Marco the chef

Friday 22. November . Satisfactory progress last night with 150 miles done in 24 hours. We got a noonsite sextant fix today recorded at exactly midday local time by taking serial sextant observations at Greenwich mean time plus 1.hours 56 minutes for our longitude west of 19 degrees. Nick,Louise and I all agreed on the angle rising then stabilising before finally dropping. Getting the lower rim of the orb of the sun to just touch the horizon requires a bit of practise on a pitching boat. 

Has he any idea where we are?

Matching anti sweat shirts from Joe

We gave the parasail an airing today and took down the main as the wind dropped.  Colin noticed some chafe on the mainsail where it had been lying against the lower shroud and also fractures in the mainsail battens due to our in advisable technique of reefing it under downwind pressure. We need to heave to next time to reef . Colin expertly bound up the battens with electrical tape ,and covered the area of chafed sail with sail tape.

Joe cooked us another cordon Blue dinner tonight of chicken risotto, and as things were calm we considered leaving the parasail up overnight. Big mistake as it got twisted in the dark. Getting a parasail sorted or dropped at night means major foredeck aggravation , and setting up a main and poled out Genoa is also difficult in the dark. The parasail is definitely a day sail.

Sat 23 Nov. lighter winds of around 12knots which do not really favour Kika so hoisted the parasail all day. Joe is getting good at fishing, we caught 3 dorado today, our filleting technique is improving and we had them fried for dinner-delicious. Louise made a tartar sauce with mayonnaise lemon and capers all mixed up and Joe did the chips by slicing the potatoes cold ,salting them and then covering with olive oil and baking them in the oven. Who needs a fryer!

Dorado with home made chips, but we do miss the corn beef hash!

During the day the boat is a hive of activity. Cleaning ,cutting off bits of chafed rope ,re whipping, fishing, operating the water maker, baking bread , the SSB radionet,and sail changing keep us fully occupied during the quite short 12 hours of daylight.
We then have dinner together and settle into a nighttime watch system. The stars come out with Venus very bright in the west. Later the moon rises astern and we see Orion high in the sky whereas at home it always sits in the South. With steady 12-14 knot easterly trade winds the boat ploughs along at a steady 5 knots in balmy air with our ever present friend the Aries Wind Vane doing all the work steering and consuming no power. It doesn't lose concentration like a human helmsman and doesn't accidentally gybe. the watch keeper is alone with his thoughts or in my case struggling to get good reception for our nightly download of  information on the SSB radio.

Sunday 24/Monday25 Nov. Sunday was a fairly quiet day with light winds and the reasonable progress using the parasail. On Monday morning we gybed to go North and switched the engine on to charge the batteries. Joe noticed the engine ignition warning signal come on. There was no oil pressure. Went below to have a look at the sender switch and found oil pumping out of one of the feeder pipes from the new oil filter. Most of the engine oil had been blown out into the engine tray. Interestingly the screw on the sender switch had also come off which helped give us an early warning before the engine heated up- we were lucky! The outer covering of the oil pipe had split and allowed it to come off. Colin and me cut off the damaged bit and secured the pipe on both ends with jubilee clips to prevent a repetition. While we were cleaning up Colin noticed that the water pump belt was 2/3 severed at one point, also very fortunate we noticed it then .So we replaced that as well. The re oiled engine works fine so we charged up the batteries, made some water and had an aft deck shower and clothes washing session which improved crew morale no end.
Today in light condition we tried out twin headsails with the parasail on one side and a genoa on the other. The genoa seems to add about 0.2 knots.

Tues 26nov . Sailed the parasail today on a beam reach which kept our speed up, however the wind died and we had to motor in the afternoon. The Grib files are not encouraging showing very light winds for the next few days. So much for those reliable trade winds!  Louise showed me how to make a dal for a beef curry and after dinner Joe set up a cinema under the stars in the cockpit where we watched Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock  Holmes  with a very bright Venus lighting shining over a calm sea to the west.  We are so far south we can't see the plough and the pole star and Orion lies directly overhead in the middle of my watch from 12-3 am.
Can you see Venus?
Wednesday  27 November . Wind remains light ENEat about 7-10 knots. We hoisted the parasail in the morning only to rip it as we pulled up the snuffler,  We managed to mangle the parasail in the snuffler causing a moderate sized tear in the sail. Louise had spent a week working as a sailmakers assistant during her tall ships training and did a brilliant repair on the rip with tape on both sides with a string attachment for the parasail wing over sown with thread. She inherited a superior needle palm from the sailmaker made of nonslip whalebone which fitted her palm exactly.. It worked well and despite the low wind speeds we were able to progress at 3-4 knots.

Louise needle sharp stitching

We had a lovely relaxed day. The sun shone glittering on the water, we played music relaxed and chatted on a calm sea as we ghosted along. We haven't seen another boat for around 3 days now and their voices on the daily SSB radio call are getting weaker. A sole gannet with different colourings from ours took up station for the afternoon and did a bit of dive bomb fishing. Tonight's GRIB file download indicates virtually no wind for the next 2 days until we get further west so we will probably have to motor for a couple of days. We have just over half a tank left which gives us 2-3 days motoring time allowing for additional time to charge the batteries
The long distance Atlantic Gannet our pal in the sky

Thursday 28 /Friday 29 Nov.  predictably little wind on Thursday so motored into the afternoon when a small breeze piped up from the west and we tacked Northwards after dinner watching a glorious sunset and  a further episode of Sherlock Holmes in the Atlantic Cinema( cockpit). 

Supper at sundown

Friday was halfway day . We motored in the morning and then a little wind arrived from the west . Although we didn't make much headway as we could only lay at 50 degrees to the desired course it was nice to be sailing again as fuel is getting low. At 3 pm we hove the boat to trailed a line astern with a fender at the end of it and we all went for a mid Atlantic swim in two miles of depth. Tried to get to the bottom but couldn't quite manage it. Saw some fish in the water who had obviously laughing at our lures.

Yippee, I've  been swimming in the middle of the ocean

On getting out we all had a wash and fresh water shower. Louise's sister Karen from Brittany had given us some red white and blue bunting which we hung from the Bimini and we had tea and sponge cake to celebrate. The evening arrived ,Joe's champagne was chilled perfectly and we toasted our friends families, Kika and most of all the vast Atlantic. We had been going 5 days without seeing another vessel with only the flying fish for company. Crawling along at 4 knots like ants across a vast ocean is a great reminder how insignificant we all are. 

Our nightly post dinner cinema show was rudely interrupted by an Atlantic squall following which the wind veered round to the North and Kika started to make good progress at 5 knots on a fine reach . Louise had a bumpy night bouncing around in the fore peak while Colin had a headache in the morning which he blamed on his glass of champagne; we should have used Bollinger!

Sat 30 Nov - Sunday 1 Dec. We're in a bit of a wind hole. Astro nav is proceeding apace with excellent noon meridian sights and calculations showing we are where we should be. It's good fun to do and a good exercise for Nick , Louise and myself to get our heads around the theory. We check each others calculations and readings.

Astro Nav school, very long hours with satisfying results... places us in the English Channel!

the deep end is two miles

Home (ship) made cake and a cup of tea

We're ready for the cricket results from Australia

Champers mid Atlantic

Celebrations over and its back to checking the rigging

The water maker has proved resistant to our best efforts. We mended a hole in the inlet pipe fitting as we felt it was likely that air was being sucked in however it still refuses to make any water which means we may have a spool valve issue which will require the manufacturers attention.
Cuisine is getting more imaginative as fresh supplies run out. Bread making, yogurt making, humus from chick peas and other delights emerge regularly from the galley under Louise's expert supervision.

On Sunday we had just enough wind for the parasail but during a calm we jumped off and dived in for a swim. Disaster! As I dived in my right shoulder dislocated. With help I just managed to get back on the boat. Initial attempts by Colin and Joe to relocate it were not successful. So a team of superb paramedics under the skippers confused garblings sorted the situation out. We got the big medical kit out and with help I was able to get an intravenous line into a vein on my Left arm with my right elbow supported. Louise then injected 20 mg of Morphine sulphate Intravenously to get muscle relaxation and with my armpit supported on Joes knee Colin was able to pull the upper arm down and laterally rotate it back into its socket with a satisfying clunk . I had not really given much thought as to what I would do if I was incapacitated, however when you are surrounded by positive practical people its extraordinary what can be achieved. Failure to get a result was not an attractive prospect.

Clunk click every trip and enjoy the morphine

Monday 2 - wed 4 Dec The wind is slowly improving and so are our astronav skills. We got our calculated sextant position from a sun site followed by a noonsite to within 5 miles of our position as seen on the GPS chart plotter . Bread making, haute cuisine and fishing proceed apace as the astronav class take further sights and compare calculations. On Monday night the wind kicked in properly and we did a steady 5-6 knots overnight- hurrah goodbye doldrums. With luck we may arrive in St Lucia on the9th December.

Nick, shows the perfect consistency of his loaf

Joe, another master baker

Sun hat, ear muffs and fashion statement all in one!

Our nightly routine is now settled. Half an hour before sundown we douse the parasail heave on the main and poled out genoa for the night, settle down in the cockpit where we watch the nightly show as the sun goes down and Venus rises in the west as we enjoy dinner together followed by would you believe -trivial pursuits organised by the first mate! Life could be worse.
awaiting popcorn and soda before the main feature
Thursday 5 dec dawned with our first significant squall . Wind speed went up to 30 knots,the boat gybed and we all got up. By the time we had reefed the squall was already abating and between squalls there was very little wind so up went the parasail. Bang down it came into the sea , the shackle on the spinnaker halliard had severed due to metal fatigue and we just managed to retrieve the sail without damaging it on the propellor of the Duogen generator which was also in the water . We spent most of the morning sorting things out. Getting the sail back in its snuffler without a twist took a few attempts . Then we sent Joe up the mast to retrieve the halliard. The boat was rolling quite badly in the swell and Joe had a tough time hanging on towards the top of the mast. We replaced the shackle with a spare re hoisted the parasail , settled down for lunch and coffee when we saw a sail on the starboard beam. 

Joe heavily bruised and battered after retrieving the broken shackle

Resolute of Thames was sailing along under a twin foresail rig. We had a good chat on the radio as our paths crossed and Joe landed our first fish for a few days. Colin and Gill on Resolute have had a tough time with a ripped mainsail and low fuel. We're now 520 miles from St Lucia which should take 4-5 days as we are currently making 3-4 knots in 9-11 knots of wind. To celebrate being 3/4 of the way there after dinner we opened another bottle of champagne while Joe landed an evil looking fish with big teeth that we think might have been an Atlantic eel.

Skippy comes to play

Friday 5 dec . Louise put a new patch on the parasail last night. However on launching it this morning it was a bit twisted and we managed to place the halliard on the wrong side of the forestay. Up and down it went a few times until we had got everything sorted, by which time we were knackered. Just shows you should make major sail changes after, not before breakfast as low blood sugars lead to tetchiness and poor communication between cockpit and foredeck. The fridge has also packed up. I think it's the compressor as I by passed the control unit electrically after checking that there was power coming in and the compressor still didn't start. Just as well we have now eaten all the fresh meat.  The good news is that the wind has picked up to 13-15 knots and we are doing over 6 knots over the ground which will hopefully keep going all the way to St Lucia . Also I followed Gareth's instructions properly this time, bypassed the control unit for the fridge and the compressor started. Joe immediately put the champagne in to chill! The fridge just needs a new control unit which is fairly easy to fit. The existing one just got water on the printed circuits

sat 7 Dec . Sunday8th Dec It's  getting much more humid and hot. This afternoon a school of young dolphins played around the bow of the boat for a couple of hours. After dinner we were treated to our first real Atlantic squall. The sky darkened torrential rain beat down and the wind gusted up to 34 knots. We had already taken the parasail down however when the wind caught us conditions were too severe to send anyone forward to reef the mainsail. It was quite safe in the cockpit albeit with a lot of weather helm and the boat rounded up into a reach every time the wind gusted. The rain made it hard to see anything including the wind indicator. Eventually after about an hour the wind had eased enough to send Colin and Louise up to the mast to take in one reef. Things then settled down and we spent an uncomfortable night in rather rolly conditions. Lessons learnt:- Try to spot squalls early and reef early. If it gets really rough and the boat is over canvassed keep everyone in the cockpit as we would have had zero chance of picking up a man overboard in those conditions. The boat seems to be able to take the punishment.
Our morning radio net is somewhat reduced owing to the majority of the fleet having arrived, however we spoke to George on Vabella who had blown out his parasail and Colin on Resolute who is just ahead of us.  We also heard David Gozzard in the distance in the main ARC and passed on our good wishes via an American boat called Heart of Gold which lived up to its Moniker.

We have gone a  little South on Port tack, just in case Joe is able to pick up any e mails off the phone signal at Barbados as we go past. The real world is beginning to rear its head. Bridget had e mailed on the SSB yesterday to say that Nelson Mandela had died- may he rest in peace. We now have 181 miles to go and should arrive as predicted early on the morning of 10 December . If all the rum punch has gone we will have our own celebrations with Resolute and Vabella.
In the late afternoon there was a sudden scream on the winch around which we had wrapped a fishing line.  Joe then expertly landed a huge 10 pound Skipjack Atlantic Tuna.
We gutted it and chopped it into steaks using the rigging hacksaw to go through the backbone. Joe then soaked the steaks in mustard and pepper before frying them and finally covering with a jus of red wine , garlic , onions and soy sauce. It was superb. With what was left we had tuna sushi the next day.
A proper Atlantic Skipjack Tuna

9 December. Overnight the wind picked up. We had reefed the mainsail in anticipation, however during Colin's watch it got up to 34knots. I got up to see the ancient bearded mariner hand steering with the binnacle light illuminating his beard complaining because he had just been hit on the face by 2 flying fish. 25-30 knot winds have continued all morning and Kika has been romping over the large Atlantic Rollers at 8 knots which means we are going to arrive at Rodney Bay at 10pm this evening .

Atlantic rollers!

Colin was the first to spot the mountains of St Lucia, and as we closed on the island we could pick out the lights of Esperanza harbour. We rounded pigeon island and saw the finish line at around 9pm . At the line a small rib shot up and took photos of an exited crew. We took down our sails ,motored down the cut into Rodney Bay Marina where we had a fantastic noisy  welcome with fog horns and cheers from all our friends including Suzanne who had flown out to meet us. We docked the vessel rather inexpertly but thankfully didn't hit anything and the party began with champagne with everyone crowded onto a rope strewn cockpit. We moved onto Islay whisky and no one remembered how they got into bed.
We woke to the sun and the sounds of the Caribbean and surveyed a boat with duff batteries, a bust water maker, no power from the wind generator and a chaffed mainsail but who cared we were in the land of rum sunshine and laughter and jump ups.