Sunday, February 21, 2016

Livin' and Divin' In St. Lucia Time

St. Lucia is quite nice. Rather more civilized and developed than I had anticipated. That’s good in that one wants all the services and amenities and bad in that there’s little sense of adventure in being here. The west side of the island, especially the northwest where we are,  is the most populated area and most of the 185,000 folks on St. Lucia live on the west, leeward side. The east is exposed to the Atlantic swell and weather. The interior is very rugged and mostly rain forest.
Slip G19 Rodney Bay Marina
Rodney Bay Marina has proven to be a good place that’s well managed and secure. The usual yacht services are available, there’s a good chandlery and several decent restaurants including Thai, Japanese and Indian. People are friendly and the ‘freelancers’ wandering the docks looking for jobs to do are watched over by marina security. We’ve used two of these guys and one was quite good, the other not so good. Things work on “island time” which can mean about anything but almost never “now”. 

Marina scenes
I’ve been here two weeks and Janet a week. Most of my time has been devoted to boat jobs. OK, I’ll admit it, that’s probably less than half of any given day. But after a major voyage there’s bound to be a little stuff  that needs to be done. In the days of wooden ships and iron men a good skipper prided himself on the appearance and condition of the ship entering port. That hasn’t changed completely but the crew is onboard for fun and adventure and the cat of nine tails has gone out of fashion. Here’s a short list of the first things I did or had done . And there’s easily three times this much that I’ve never bothered to list:

-rebuild hydraulic backstay cylinder
-fix bent starboard lifeline station
-replace broken mainsail car
-replace missing lower mainsail batten (tried but no batten available)
-have refrigeration serviced
-replace fridge thermostat
-have dodger canvas repaired
-get dodger hardware repaired
-fix mast leak
-purchase and install new inverter
-re-glue  teak strip on aft starboard lazarette
-reinstall solar panels
-get scuba tanks re-certified
-replace spinnaker pole butt downhaul line (chaffed)
-pickle water maker
-get genoa repaired and serviced

Fixing the "fire hose" mast leak

Like anywhere in our experience the quality of the people we have worked with varies a little. Most have been fine and a couple really very good and maybe a couple not so good.

Gary, one of the good guys.
But we have had a little fun. Just having Janet here rather than my smelly old crew is great fun for me. We have our five PM  ‘beer o’clock’ on board and then prowl the marina haunts looking for conversation and  for whatever place to feed ourselves if boat food doesn’t sound good.
Marina front restaurants
Yesterday we did our first pleasure diving in almost five years. I’ve been doing an occasional boat fix type dive but the Med diving wasn’t much and diving SE Asia, where we were at least, was not worth doing. Of course we’ve been spoiled. So we made arrangements to spend a two dive day with Dive St. Lucia which was a very clean and modern operation very near the marina. 

Janet and Germain, our dive master
We did a little re-familiarization work in the pool prior to the dives and then headed out for a day on one of their boats. The diving was good, not great. We did a wreck dive to about sixty-five feet. Visibility was maybe 60-70 feet and the usual tropical life was present, nice but nothing new to see and the wreck was sunk as a dive sight  twenty years ago.

Dive two plan
 Dive two was a long swim along the shore reef at about forty feet but it was nicer in that there were a lot of fish and a lot of variety. Swam with a  Hawksbill turtle. Lots of barrel sponges. Visibility about the same. So it was a fun day with an excellent dive operation. There were only six of us in our group with one dive master. There were some other snorkelers on board.  The boat, the staff, the food on board and the operation in general was very good. We’d recommend Dive St. Lucia

Dive crew
So it was a start back into diving. Bonaire is the place we’re looking forward to and its touted as one of the three best dive locations in the world. The plan now is to leave Rodney Bay Marina Wednesday and head down to Marigot Bay for at least a night. Then down to the southeast of the island and spend a night or two off the “pitons” and then head off to Bonaire. Bonaire is about 450 nautical miles and should be about a three day passage. We have reason to hope for a lovely down wind sail WITHOUT THE ROLL we found for eighteen days in the Atlantic. Wish us luck!

Love and kisses,
Bill and Janet
SV Airstream

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Atlantic Crossing Summary

Dan Strehlow, Bill Norton, myself and Booth Devitt
 Surreal! That’s what I thought after hitting the bunk about three in the AM after getting the boat secured to one of the super dock slips at Rodney Bay Marina. Surreal! No movement, no sounds, absolutely stabile and quiet. Sleep came pretty fast. And it ended entirely too soon as we weren’t really supposed to be moored at that position  and we were also supposed to check in with customs and immigration, the marina, etc, etc. So I got out of the rack too early and did the drill. Everyone was very friendly and laid back, fairly efficient. We moved the boat over to our reserved slip in the marina and the guys headed for home.
See any bread?
So, Atlantic crossing, been done before but not by us. 3018 nautical miles under the keel on our far southern route. 17 days, 17 hours and 50 minutes from the dock at Pasito Blanco, Grand Canary Island to the tie-up at Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia. Average speed equals 7.08 knots. Not too bad for a 42 foot boat with no real effort made to go fast. We rarely had more than one sail up and most of the voyage was done under poled out 150% genoa alone. 

Poled out 150% genoa. Note the solar panels on the deck!
 We motored about forty hours through one stretch of light air but on the whole had plenty of wind to stay powered up. Since the solar panels were down for much of the trip and the fridge was using excessive power before it quit entirely we ran the engine for battery charging when the wind generator couldn’t entirely keep up with the loads. But we probably burned less than forty gallons of fuel. I’ll know how much after we top off the tank.
North Atlantic sunrise
 The good stuff?  The boat remained structurally sound. That may seem like a given but it is not. Stuff happens out here and one should be thankful when the big things stay put.
Would you cross an ocean with these guys?
The crew worked well together,  we had a great time and other than the usual minor ‘boat bites’ nobody got hurt.  What could four airline pilots, two of them ex-marines,  three of us at university together, with about 100,000 hours of combined flight experience and 150 years in the airline industry find to talk about? Lies, all lies! Norton and I solved our nation’s financial difficulties. Dan worked really hard cooking and that was greatly appreciated. Booth was the fisherman this trip and caught some nice eating size Mahi Mahi to supplement the diet.

Mahi Mahi
Commanders Weather provided forecasting and they were quite good as they always have been for us. I think as  pilots and life long outdoors people we could qualify at least as amateur weather forecasters   but I like to have a professional opinion for long passages and it has always proven to be reassuring. Its still hard to make the transition from dealing with a weather system in a matter of hours or minutes to taking days. Its the 600 knots versus 6 knots syndrome. We had decent winds for most of the trip from astern or nearly so.

Rolling along
I was very pleased with the new Hydrovane XT-Vane. Other than a problem, later solved,  that I probably caused way back in Turkey by not assembling something properly,  the self-steering gear,  both wind vane and autopilot, worked very well.
Filet of Mahi Mahi
We had lots of Dolphins around including one of the biggest pods I’ve ever seen on the way down towards the Cape Verdes. We had a small Humpback (I believe) whale follow us one afternoon acting much like a big Dolphin surfing down waves. We had a few interesting birds including some Fairy Terns which are lovely to see. And we had a couple shore birds come aboard far out to sea. I always feel sorry for those lost birdies. One took off towards Africa. Sayonara I’m afraid. But one stayed with us until a few miles off St. Lucia so that bird should have made it to land just fine.

Hitch hiker
The not-so-good-stuff? We had a little damage and a few systems failures. Somehow a preventer must have been loose during one of the squally nights and a slam jibe took place. Actually multiple slam jibes. The preventer and snatch block broke and the main sheet got hooked on the solar panels and ripped them off the dodger while ripping up the dodger canvas pretty well. At least the panels stayed on board and appear to be undamaged. The dodger stuff is fixable. Some tubes are going to have to be re-bent.
Mixing bread in rough conditions
The fridge had been working normally, it seemed, but it hadn’t been topped off with coolant in some time. Didn’t seem necessary. It started using a lot of amps and then eventually quit cooling entirely. Bummer. But I had it serviced yesterday and its now working as it should. Oh well. From now on it gets topped off annually whether it seems to need it or not.

Soda bread ready for the oven
The inverter died. This one was purchased in Turkey three years ago. The only 110VAC inverter in all Turkey I was told at the time. It was not really a marine unit and it wasn’t expensive but it did the job until it got wet. I had a spare, actually two spares, and we suffered not. It will be replaced today.
Delicious banana bread
We started getting a massive deck leak from around the mast. Whenever it rained the water just poured in around the mast boot. Yesterday I tore into the mast deck fitting and found a rip in the rubber seal around the mast. It was in the perfect position that any water running down the mast was nicely funneled right into the interior of the boat. That has been temporarily fixed and I’ll see about the permanent fix maybe this afternoon. That water leak is what killed the inverter.
Pasta primo
We lost a mainsail batten early on. First one that’s ever came out of that sail. We also had a mainsail luff car break. The first failure of any kind in this Selden Mast system. I consider that to be a very excellent record considering its got about 30,000 miles on it so far.

Weather nastiness? Yep, seems we had more than our share of night time tropical squalls and a few were rather on the intense side. Winds over fifty knots at times. Throw in some very early AM cooling aloft and a little positive vorticity advection and things can go boom in the night. But the sneaky thing was that they weren’t really going ‘boom’. Often no lightning and never any thunder and sometimes not even much radar return but plenty of wind and rain. Interesting. At least we had no lightning strikes. 
Position plotting
The entrance to Rodney Bay Marina was rather a challenge at night. The very narrow passage has probably the smallest and most indistinct  marker lights I’ve ever seen and no markings once past the entrance. We kind of felt our way into the bay. At least the lights were functioning but you couldn’t make them out beyond about fifty yards. Luckily the GPS charting is spot on but I never trust the charting until that’s proven. It all worked out but it was an interesting end to a long passage.
Final day at sea
So I’m in St. Lucia. I don’t have a “bucket list” but this passage has always been part of the plan and its good to have it behind us. It was one of those things that qualify as an unforgettable experience but I won’t be looking for a way  to do it again. The almost endless roll was less than a pleasure. The guys were spring loaded to get home so we had no post passage celebration. Janet will be here the 13th and that will be quite wonderful. We plan on being in St. Lucia until about the 25th when we’ll head direct to Bonaire. I’ve got plenty of boat jobs to do to keep me out of trouble.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet, Bill Norton, Dan Strehlow and Booth Devitt
SV Airstream

Monday, February 1, 2016

Five Days Out, Maybe Six...

Depending on how much wind we have coming tomorrow and Wednesday we should be in St. Lucia Saturday night or Sunday morning the sixth or seventh. This east to east southeast trade just keeps blowing 15-25 knots day after day. And with it, day after day after day comes this mixed easterly and and northerly swell which has us rolling about half way viscously day after day after day. The roll got old after a couple days. After a couple weeks its starting to get almost funny, almost. But we're making reasonable time considering we're not doing anything to really go fast. We've got the 150% genoa poled out to starboard and that's all it takes to be well powered up. More would get us a little faster and a lot more trouble and we are, after all, "airline pilots". A well known acronym for "lazy".

In general things have gone very well. Dan has kept us well fed. The man actually seems to like cooking on the boat. Whatta guy! Booth does most of the clean up. Norton and I provide moral support.

The boat is keeping the ocean on the outside like a good boat should but we have broken a few things. The fridge seemed to be running more and more continuously, a bad sign, and then pretty much stopped cooling despite the non-stop operation. Almost certainly we developed a coolant leak. We shut it down a couple days ago and have been eating everything that might have needed refrigeration.

A few nights ago in brisk conditions and lots of roll we were with running the main up and got an inadvertent slam jibe despite the preventer we always have rigged. On the almost immediate slam jibe back the broken preventer caught the solar panels mounted on the dodger and ripped them off along with mashing up the dodger rails and canvas pretty well. This looked worse than it proved to be and in these events I'm always just happy that no one got hurt. The boom smashing around in the night could easily kill somebody and I believe the crew now has the proper "respect" for what can happen.

A Hydrovane tube sleeve slipped out of place. Probably because I didn't re-mount it properly three years ago in Marmais so we've been using the autopilot to steer. This rough sea should begin to calm down today and get reasonably flat tomorrow and the plan is get the solar panels and the Hydrovane back in action when we can work in better conditions. The dodger canvas will be repaired in St. Lucia. We've broken several hundred dollars worth of snatch blocks used on preventers and those will be replaced as well.

Booth has been trailing a hand line and has caught two nice Mahi Mahi so far. Great eating fresh Mahi! We had a small Humpback whale trailing us like a dolphin for an hour or so yesterday. We had very large pods of dolphins a few days ago. We've had Storm Petrels, a Booby, some Fairy Terns and some other nondescript Petrels around occasionally. All good company.

So wish us luck for the rest of the passage. I'll mix in some photos when we get to some fast internet.

Love to all,
Bill, Bill, Booth and Dan

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