Wednesday, October 31, 2018

British Virgin Islands

2130 10/31 position 18-26N 64-45W. At anchor in Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke Island, BVI

Team Arabella had their first full night's sleep in three days and awoke refreshed and ready for their assault on the Virgin Islands.  The winds were still non-existent, so we powered south for three hours leaving Virgin Gorda behind, and passing Tortola on the right.  Peter Island slipped by to port and we picked up a mooring at "The Indians", a group of three rocks protruding from ocean to the west of Pelican Island.

The Indians is a popular snorkeling spot, and the crew enjoyed the warm waters for a few hours.  Just after noon we dropped our mooring and moved a mile to "The Caves", another must see in the group.  There are three sea caves in the cliff of Norman Island, and you can swim into them.  One of the caves is so deep that it is a good idea to bring a flashlight along.  Pretty spooky, especially because the end of the cave was full of floating seaweed.  There were also massive schools of fish there, and a few large predators including four foot barracuda and three foot tarpon.

Andy has a baggie full of imitation Spanish doubloons aboard Arabella.  He brought a handful of them with him and dropped a few at the far end of each cave.  Too bad we can't see the looks on the faces of the folks that find them thinking they've found pirate booty!

Thoroughly exhausted from a day in the water, Team Arabella moved the final time for the day into "The Bight" on Norman Island just around the point from The Caves.

The Bight has sixty moorings in it, but there were only five other boats in there when we arrived.  The cruising season hasn't formally started yet because hurricane season isn't officially over.  Things really get busy down here when it starts to get cold in the continental US.  That's good for us.  Team Arabella doesn't go for crowds.

The next morning I hoisted Andy up the mast to fix Arabella's steaming light that has been out since Lori and I got on the boat. When it was working again we powered ten miles to Jost Van Dyke Island, the site of two of Andy and Patty's favorite bars. First was "The Soggy Dollar" in White Bay where the crew drank far too many Painkillers.  At 2PM we moved the half mile to Great Harbor where "Foxy's" is located. 

We're not kids anymore, so the crew had a late lunch and a nap before making our assault on Foxy's at 6PM. It was Halloween, and just before departing Arabella for shore a dinghy full of costumed kids came trick or treating to Arabella. We've never seen ocean going trick or treaters before.

The adults in Foxy's were in the Halloween spirit as well. As I write this aboard Arabella I can hear the music blasting and folks screaming ashore. Good times!

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Up the Chain

10/29 1700 position 18-30N 64-23W.  On a mooring in Virgin Gorda Sound, British Virgin Islands 

The marine hardware store in Rodney Bay insisted on charging the new battery overnight if Andy wanted it to be warrantied, so he went in to pick it up after breakfast on 10/27.  He returned to Arabella and we were installing the new battery when we realized that it had 5/16" threaded posts, and not 8mm posts like the old one.  Arabella was built in South Africa and nearly everything aboard her is metric, so of course we only had metric nuts in the spares locker.  Andy had to go back to the hardware store to buy some 5/16" nuts.

He returned, we completed installing the new battery, and the crew got Arabella ready to depart.  While we were going through the checklist a colorful fellow in a boat covered with palm fronds and branches making it look like a floating island approached blowing a conch shell.  "Gregory" cruises around Rodney bay in his boat selling fruit and souvenirs to visiting yachts.  Andy and Patty were in Rodney Bay a long time last year sitting out hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria.  They got well acquainted with Gregory during that stay.  The three of them caught up like old friends and we bought some fruit.

We got underway just before noon and headed north up the Lesser Antilles.  The weather was perfect, ten knot trade winds from just south of east.  We sailed across the channels and motor sailed through the lees of the islands.  Martinique, Dominica, and Guadeloupe slid by to weather.  Monserrat's active volcano was spewing smoke and leaving a trail of smog to the west.  Nevis and St. Kitts went by, and we cut through the channel between St. Eustatius and Saba to avoid crossing the Saba Bank, a huge shallow sand bank to the west.  

The chart shows that Saba Bank is only nineteen feet deep in places, and it cautions that it can be dangerous in certain weather.  We were going to get there after dark, and the area was hit by two of the hurricanes last summer which may have moved some sand around.  We figured avoiding the bank would be a prudent move.

After passing Saba Island we turned thirty degrees to port and headed straight to Virgin Gorda, dropping anchor off of Spanish Town at 1145AM this morning.  The wind had crapped out completely at 3AM, so we ended up powering the final eight plus hours.  The 350 mile passage took us almost exactly two days.  Our rookie passage makers did a great job, and everybody had a good time.

When we were passing the French speaking islands the local Coast Guard broadcast a set speech a couple of times a day.  None of us speak French, but we listened carefully and it sounded to us like the caller was asking for Pepe Le Pew to bring him some croissants.

Fishing improved.  Andy caught a nice four pound mahi just before sunset our first night out and we had him for that night's dinner.  He caught a small tuna the second day, which we threw back.  I got tired of fighting with seaweed so didn't have my line out most of the time.  Andy didn't have the same problem.  Apparently his single hook lure wasn't as prone to snagging weed as my double hook was.

Andy and Lori went ashore to check us into the British Virgin Islands in Spanish Town, and Patty and I went for a snorkel in the crystal clear waters where we were anchored.  The underwater scenery wasn't much there, but the warm water and unbelievable visibility made it special.

After Andy and Lori returned we moved Arabella a mile down the coast to "The Baths".  I've never been there before, but the spot was already special to me.  As a thirteen year old, I read about Robin Lee Graham's single handed voyage around the world in National Geographic Magazine.  Those articles about his voyage are one of the things that inspired me to make voyages of my own later in life.  Robin stopped at and wrote about The Baths in his articles, so it meant a lot to me to visit them.

The Baths are a quarter mile long pile of rounded granite boulders sitting on top of each other along a beach on Virgin Gorda.  These boulders are all huge, and some of them are as large as a house.  There is a trail between and underneath the boulders along the waterfront, and it is spectacular.

We moved the boat a few miles north to Virgin Gorda Sound at 4PM after we finished exploring The Baths, and Arabella is hanging on a mooring there as I write this while sipping a rum punch.  It has been a great day, and a perfect way to end the crossing.

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

St. Lucia

10/27 0900 position 14-05N 60-58W.  On a mooring in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

St. Lucia's west coast has two spectacular mountains, Gros Piton and Petit Piton.  These spires can be seen from far at sea, and they beckoned to us as Arabella approached.  We furled our sails in the lee of Gros Piton, and as we powered in two natives in an outboard powered pirogue approached and offered to help us pick up a mooring, for a fee of course.  Andy negotiated with them and they agreed on $15EC and two cold beers.  They guided us to a mooring in the marine park at the base of Petit Peton, the smaller of the two peaks.  We spent a delightful afternoon and evening there enjoying the scenery and snorkeling along the shore.

Yesterday morning we powered twenty miles through the lee of St. Lucia to Rodney Bay.  We entered the marina there, stopped at the fuel dock to top up our water tanks, then moved to a mooring deeper in the bay.  After getting settled we dinghied in to the marina center where the girls dropped off our laundry, Andy dealt with Customs and Immigration, and I tried to stay out of the way.  Andy also ordered a new engine battery.  We confirmed yesterday that the battery is shot.  When all the work was done we sat down at a nice Thai restaurant in the marina and had lunch.

Patty negotiated a taxi ride to the island's sulfur mud baths, so at 2PM we piled into Vitus's taxi for the five hour round trip drive.  It was a long way to go, but we had a blast getting exfoliated, tenderized, and filthy in the baths, and the scenery during the drive was interesting.  We didn't get back to the boat until well after dark.

 This will be my last blog for a few days.  We are departing St. Lucia this morning for the British Virgin Islands 350 miles to the north.  It will likely be a two day passage and we won't have internet access until we get settled at our destination.  We are skipping the islands in between and making the long passage for a couple of reasons.  First, most of the islands were devastated by the hurricanes of 2017 and haven't fully recovered.  They might not be much fun to visit.  Second, Andy and Patty have always wanted to make a real offshore passage longer than a single overnight.  I have lots of experience with long passages, and I'm happy to show them the ropes.  Also, the forecast is for perfect weather, light trade winds on the beam for the next few days.

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Friday, October 26, 2018


10/25 1200 position 13-32N 61-12W.  Underway for St. Lucia

Last night we dinghied in to Coco's Place, a waterfront restaurant in town.  We all enjoyed fresh mahi and Hairoun.  A good time was had by all. 

Today's passage from Bequia to St. Lucia is our longest yet, fifty miles.  We got an early start at 7AM since we have a long way to go, and were only delayed a few minutes by a starting problem with the starboard engine.  This is the second time it's happened.  We also couldn't get it started leaving Grenada.  It was cranking slowly and we suspected it was a weak battery.  We moved the generator battery from the forward lazarette to the starboard engine compartment, jump started the engine, and we were off.  Both times the failure to start occurred after the engine sat idle for more than a day.  I am thinking that there may be some kind of slow current drain that is discharging the battery when it doesn't get charged daily.   We'll keep working on it.

The wind was just a bit too far aft and too light to sail in the channel between Bequia and St. Vincent this morning.  We knew we'd be powering through the lee of St. Vincent anyway, so we left the engines on until we cleared St. Vincent and hardened up twenty degrees to head for St. Lucia.  The closer angle to the wind allowed us to sail, so we shut the engines down and are romping across the channel at eight knots in flat seas and ten knots of breeze.

The weather is absolutely perfect.  The air temperature is in the mid eighties, water temperature a couple of degrees higher.  The skies are clear with a few cumulus clouds and visibility is forty miles.  There are a parade of sailboats headed both north and south. We just blew by a slightly smaller and apparently less efficient catamaran.  Embarrassing.

I am starting to get comfortable aboard a catamaran now.  At first the lack of heeling and rolling was disconcerting.  On a monohull we roll with every wave and heel with every gust.  It is pretty nice though to always have a level boat.  Drinks don't spill.  You don't go sliding across the deck.  I'm also getting used to the slightly jerky bouncing motion as each hull reacts independently to the waves and fights with the other hull to control Arabella's motion. 

The real attraction of the catamaran though is the massive single level living area in the cabin that opens onto the gigantic open air covered lanai aft of the cabin.  There is lots of room to spread out and get comfortable.  I am typing this on the table in the cabin.  It is cool with the hatches open and air circulating.  Lori Lloyd is napping on the bench next to the table that seats ten out on the lanai, the hard top protecting her from the sun.  Andy is on watch at the covered raised helm station, and he is chatting with Patty who is sitting next to him.  There is room for all four of us on the bench seat behind the helm.

Yes, I think I could definitely get used to the dark side of the force.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018


10/24 1600 position 13-00N 61-15W.  At anchor in Admiralty Bay, Bequia

The ocean here has lots of seaweed floating on the surface.  We are told it is sargasso weed that drifts here from the Sargasso Sea in the mid-Atlantic.  It doesn't cause any problems except with our lures.  They are only out there for a minute or so before they snag some seaweed.  It is a nuisance to keep clearing weed off of the lures.  After clearing the weed a dozen times or so I gave up yesterday and hoped that any week I hooked would eventually come off.  I'm not sure it did.  We didn't catch any fish.

After a glorious sail, Arabella anchored in Admiralty Bay on the western side of Bequia at 330PM, too late to clear into the country before the government offices closed at 4.  A couple of minutes after the hook went down Alex, a native entrepreneur in a small outboard, came alongside and sold us the biggest lobster I've ever seen in the flesh.  Patty cooked him for dinner, and he was excellent.  I only had one bite though.  I started having reactions to shrimp this past summer in Alaska, and I wanted to see if lobster had the same effect on me.  Sure enough, one bite was enough to make my feet start swelling.  I took a Benadryl and was fine, but I missed out on the feast.

There were three large three masted schooners at anchor in Admiralty Bay when we arrived.  Beautiful ships.  They must have been cruising in company because when we woke up this morning all three were gone.

We went ashore after breakfast to complete formalities, and when we were done Lori and I hired a taxi to take us on a one hour island tour.  Baldwin, a friendly native, drove us to the Fort Hamilton, the top of Mount Pleasant, and around the island.  It was good fun, and we found Andy and Patty later in a local cafe where they were using the WIFI.  We tried the local brew there, Hairoun (pronounced like heroin), which was quite good.  It was hot, so after wandering down the waterfront we stopped at "Jack's" (as in Jack Sparrow) for a couple of rum punches before returning to the boat.

After all that lubrication Andy and I napped while the girls went snorkeling.  They returned to the boat excited to have seen eels, lobsters, wana, and lots of tropical fish in the rocks inshore of Arabella.

Admiralty Bay is a great anchorage.  There is lots of room for visiting yachts, it is protected from the prevailing easterly trades, the surrounding hillsides are scenic, and the town is quaint.  I could get comfortable here.

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10/23 1200 position 12-40N 61-30W.  Underway for Bequia.

My goal is to post the blog daily, but we need WIFI to do it.  We never could get WIFI yesterday.  Hopefully we will find some tonight in Bequia.

It got a little bumpy near Kick em Jenny yesterday, but it was nothing that Arabella couldn't easily handle.  We zipped along at eight knots with a full jib and single reef in the mainsail.  The boat couldn't quite lay the island of Carriacou though, so we dropped the sails at 330PM and powered the final few miles to windward into the island.  Nothing hit my second lure.

We mooored for the night off of Sandy Island, a marine preserve in the lee of Carriacou.  We powered in to find an empty mooring and picked it up amongst a dozen other cruising sailboats.  The crew put on snorkel gear to have a look around, but other than the eagle ray and conch shell that Andy found it was unremarkable.

This morning we powered a mile into Hillsborough, a town directly inshore of Sandy Island where Andy and Lori went ashore to check us out of the country of Grenada.  We were underway by 10AM, headed north.

The weather today is even better than yesterday.  Temperature in the mid 80's with fourteen knot trade winds, but the seas are smoother.  We just sailed through the lee of Union Island close aboard to have a look.  Arabella's speed dropped down to five knots or so in the fluky winds to leeward of the island, but we are now back up to eight knots as we close reach up the Lesser Antilles.

There is a fishing tournament today aboard Arabella.  Andy has his rod and reel and pathetic looking lure on the starboard hull.  I have my hand line and a tantalizing tidbit of a lure on the port hull twenty five feet away.  The boat is so wide, it is almost like fishing in a different ocean!  The prize is glory, and fish for dinner.

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Hog Island

10/22 1330 position 15-18N 61-40W.  Underway for Carriacou.

At 330PM yesterday the crew piled into Arabella's dinghy and went ashore to head for the Hog Island Bar-b-que.  The event is an every Sunday gathering of the yachting community on the small mangrove covered uninhabited islet south of Grenada.  First we hiked a mile or so to a marina in the next bay to the east of our anchorage.  There we met Sperry, a friendly native Grenadian who picked us up in his outboard powered plywood speedboat.  He got that nickname for his propensity to wear Sperry Topsider footwear.  Sperry took us on the fifteen minute boat ride to Hog Island for $20EC ($7US) per person, round trip.  When we offered to pay upon our arrival at Hog Island, Sperry said "Just pay me when I take you back in a few hours".

Hog Island looked like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean.  The beach was covered with dozens of happy, drinking, half naked sailors.  Others swam just offshore presenting navigation hazards for the boats trying to land guests at the party.  A rock and roll band made up of folks off of yachts anchored in the bay played on a bamboo stage.  A makeshift bar/take out restaurant was next to the stage.  Cold beer came out of coolers and food for dinner was being cooked on a gas grill.  Picnic tables scattered around under the trees were full of happy yachties.  Dogs chased each other around the picnic tables and between the legs of sailors preoccupied in their conversations.  Pantless toddlers wandered between groups of folks, as preteen boys zipped around just offshore in their motorized dinghies.

There was a real feeling of community among the yachtsmen there.  The only other place I've seen that outside a formal yacht club is in Vavau, Tonga, where sailors intending to stop for a short visit fall in love with the place and never leave.  We were told that Grenada has the same kind of semi-permanent yachting community.  It is tropical, friendly, reasonably priced, and sandwiched between South America and the islands to the north that are subject to hurricanes during the summer months.  

It was a great party, but it started shutting down as it got dark because there is no power on Hog Island.  We found Sperry for our ride home and were in bed by 9PM.

As I write this we have left Grenada behind and are just to the west of "Kick em Jenny", a submerged active volcano just north of Grenada.  The government recommends giving the volcano a 1.5km berth to avoid smoke and ash when it is active.  There is no sign of activity today.  The weather is perfect, 13 knot trades from the southeast allowing us to beam reach northeast toward Carriacou.  We have about forty miles of sailing to do today and should arrive in the anchorage by 4PM.  I've already lost one lure.  A fish hit a few minutes ago and the knot I tied in the 300 # monofilament came out.  I should be using crimps, but we don't have any aboard.  I've tied a better knot for the lure I have out now.... I think....

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Prickly Bay

Our flight departed JFK an hour late after some guy missed the plane and the airline had to dig through the luggage compartment to find and remove his bag.  The plane ride south was uneventful, and we landed at Grenada's Maurice Bishop International Airport at 4PM.  Lori and I breezed through customs and immigration though and made up some lost time.  A ten minute taxi ride later we were at Budget Marine in Prickly Bay where we met Andy who was waiting for us with the dingy.

We found Arabella tied to a mooring out in the bay amongst fifty or so other cruising boats.  Patty was standing on the swim step to greet us as we came aboard.  We got our luggage stowed in our stateroom and went back into the salon where we found Andy waiting for us with cold rum punches.  This trip was starting out on the right foot.

Prickly Bay is one of a half dozen or so protected inlets along Grenada's south shore.  A small surface chop rolls in continuously, but the bay is well protected from all directions but the southwest.  The easterly trade winds blow reliably here though, so weather from the vulnerable southwesterly direction is extremely rare.  Businesses around the bay cater to visiting yachtsmen, and the marina that owns the mooring we are using has something going on ashore every evening.  Last night it was "half price pizza night".  There is a trivia night, a bingo night, etc.  Yoga instruction takes place in the gazebo every morning.  We skipped on the pizza to walk a little further down the street to the local brew pub where we sampled their ales and had dinner.

This morning the crew hiked about a mile to the local grocery store where we provisioned for the next week or so of cruising.  We caught the bus back to the marina with full bags and backpacks.

Team Arabella is planning to go to the Hog Island bar-b-que this afternoon and evening, and then get underway for points north first thing tomorrow morning.

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Caribbean Bound

Lori Lloyd and I are sitting in JFK killing time until our flight to Grenada in a couple of hours.  We are heading there to join her high school classmate and lifelong pal Andy Engle and his wife Patty Morell aboard their Leopard 46 catamaran, Arabella.

It seems like we barely got our bags unpacked from the last trip before packing for this one.  We weren't planning on taking off on another adventure so soon, but Lori checked in with Andy after we returned from the Pacific Northwest, and he said that it was now or never.

Andy and Patty have been cruising Arabella in the Caribbean since he retired from the Navy two years ago.  They spent this year's hurricane season in Grenada, and now that the threat from those storms is waning, they are ready to head north through the Lesser Antilles and need a couple of crew.

Neither Lori nor I have visited the southern Caribbean, and we've never sailed on a large catamaran.  It's a great opportunity to do both and spend some time with good friends.  It will also complete my 2018 journey through the dark side of the force.  Power boats and catamarans.... Who would have thunk it!

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