Sunday, May 30, 2010

Arrival in Anguilla

After a good full day of solar charging my starter battery, I managed to start the engine at the Spanish Town anchorage in Virgin Gorda. Much relieved, I motored Alexandra into the local marina for a full night of charging using the shore power plug. The next morning the 25th of May, with the starter battery showing 12.5 Volts (charged as one could hope) , we set sail, rounding the southern end of the island and making a nice bay on the East side protected by a long reef before sunset.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but it makes for entertaining reading; I lost my anchor for the 2nd time the night before we motored into the Marina on VG. It's worse than that, we had been ashore to see The Baths (a boulder covered beach) on a particularly windless day. When we returned to the boat at dusk, I noticed it was about 100 yds from where I had anchored it. I felt the nylon anchor line and realized the weight of the Anchor and chain wasn't on it. Had it been a normally windy day, the boat would have drifted to Tortolla before I ever noticed. In a way, my tragedies are often intertwined with a strange luck, where I make a mistake, am much inconvenienced by it, but in a way where the boat and I remain safe from any major problems. Basically, the anchor shackle must have worked itself loose. Normally I wire the shackle pin, but I had changed out chains quiet recently and hadn't wired the shackle yet, only tightened it, thinking that was enough. We re-anchored with my lighter anchor and managed, with great difficulty, to recover the anchor on our own from 7 fathoms of water. I owe recognition to my crew-member, J, for excellent underwater lassoing technique. Lesson learned... again.

ALEXANDRA departed VG for good on the morning of the 26th, arriving in Antigua 64 hours later on the 28th. We didn't have much wind and it rained the entire time. We caught and returned two barracuda. On the 28th we passed the lonely and deserted Sombrero island by about 100 yds. it's only 1 nm long, and features unusual looking buildings, a lighthouse and ruins . I thought I might anchor there for a rest, but I never saw less than 11 fathoms along it's coral cliff coast. Apparently they used to mine phosphate there, until the Brits depleted the mineral and left the once hilly island flat, barren, and un-manned.

On to St Martin for repairs tomorrow. I plan to Island hop on down to Grenada, arriving around July 5th or so, unless a hurricane forces me to make a dash out of the belt earlier. My crew member plans to depart in late June, so I will be back to single-handing again. With a faulty Aries steering gear (plan to get a new one in St. Martin) we've been doing 4 hour watches on the longer sails, hand steering the entire trip. I've come to enjoy the 0400-0800 watch, when it's cool and you can enjoy a coffee and watch the sunrise. That's what it's all about! Now I'm considering not making a September return stateside. My sister sent a reminder of the predicted intensity of the coming hurricane season, and I'm fairly sure I broke my dad's heart when he read I might return without seeing the Pacific ;) . We'll see, I'm not so decisive in these matters. I had particularly annoying complications with the boat recently, but perhaps when I've made good my repairs I'll feel better about continuing on for longer.

I'm already feeling better about her, in fact, after a recent bout of productivity. I dove on the hull this morning, scraping the hoards of barnacles that are attacking my so recently (oh wait, that was a year ago?!) painted hull. I think it best to haul the boat out of the water in Grenada, giving her new bottom paint, maintenancing all the seacocks (underwater valves), and finally painting the topsides, which still show my repairs to the deck fiberglass. I've been cleaning and re-organizing, etc. I've also gotten quite handy with my pressure cooker, I make all sorts of stews these days and even brownies and cakes. You can cook rice with only 6 minutes of cook time. Great thing to have on a boat.

Also! June 4th marks the one year anniversary of buying my boat! cool.

Fair winds!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tail end of the BVI's

Here I am at the tail end of the BVI's, on Virgin Gorda about to order a pizza and a beer. I am experiencing the true essence of low budget sailing by enduring at least one broken item per sail. I now have a jammed roller-furling jib and two banks of dead batteries. We left Tortolla under engine power only b/c I got a jump, thinking that the engine would re-charge the batteries over the course of 40 minutes. When I went to start the engine again at Virgin Gorda - no joy - so we sailed to our anchoring spot and safely dropped anchor near Spanish Town. Why didn't they charge properly? Is there a wiring problem? Is the batteries life simply over? I left one bank charging with the solar panels all day in a last attempt to charge for a good start. We shall see. I may need to have a new battery delivered to the boat. As for the Roller furling jib, it is a sad affair. J hoisted me up the mast today in my harness so that I could have a look. The inner cable for the roller has snapped at the top, who knows how the hell that happened? I suspect the entire deal needs replacement, which is going to cost... I can't think about it, thousands. So my last sail was quite basic, my only force of movement coming from 2 out of my 3 sails, no engine. Trouble in paradise.
We hiked down to the Baths, which came highly recommended. They were worth the visit, quite beautiful. We've visited Tortolla and Norman Island before here. Norman Island featured a two masted, 90ft schooner which was moored and a popular restaurant. It's theme seemed to be people getting drunk enough to lose their clothes, and we watched two drunk women fall accidently into the bay while trying to get to their dingy. Unfortunately, most of the people doing what I'm doing around here are over 40 or well over 40, and they are chartering massive catamerans. So there aren't as many young bikini-clad girls romping around as I would have hoped. I'm starting to feel that this trip will be limited to a Clockwise tour of the Caribean sea, which I feel is enough of an accomplishment. I am thinking my route will go from here down to Grenada, then West to the ABC islands and Venezuela, and then a return stateside, arriving in September. That's my best guess right now. We'll see. Even though I am living quite modestly on the boat, the unavoidable repairs that have and will come up are casting a menacing shadow on my savings.

The photos are of the snapped roller furling jib cable and one of the Baths. And one tired looking dog

If I can get the engine started tomorrow, we'll be off to St. Martin. Until then, fair winds.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A wedding in Tokyo and sailing to the Virgin Islands

My apologies for not posting in over a month. I spent over a month in San Juan and most of my days were pretty uneventful. I spent the 20th to the 29th of April in Tokyo. My brother Donald was getting married to his Elisa. I had an excellent time in Tokyo and the wedding was wonderfully planned and featured a great ceremony, amazing multi-course meal, a rockin band, and dancing. We all had a blast. I've promised myself to return in the near future. The flight back to San Juan came too soon, but the sailing since then has been spectacular. Finally I am in the Virgin Islands! The real Caribbean. My new Crew member, Jorrit joined me in San Juan and we shortly left for Culebra, a small island on the east coast of PR. where we spotted a serious looking waterspout in front of us, but luckily it was a couple miles away and moving south. We spent one night in Culebra, and then jumped to Culebrita, an even smaller island a stone's throw from Culebra to the east. We hiked up the hill which held the oldest lighthouse in the Caribbean. Rusted and crumbling, the lighthouse housed a modern solar powered light welded in place of the old lamp. Not only that, but one of the best views I have encountered on my trip. The next morning at 0530 we made for a bay on the north side of St Thomas, USVI. On the way there, Jorrit caught a big tuna, which was 2/3rds eaten by barracudas before we got it into the boat. There was still more meat left over than we could eat, and we had an excellent dinner of fresh tuna and rice with lemon. Then off at 0510 the next morning for White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI. Why the rush? My dad and step-mother are staying in a beach-side bungalow here and I am anchored within swimming range of it. Jost Van Dyke is a wonderful island, small but very busy with boats sailing in and out from the other islands, just to enjoy the world famous beachside bars here such as the Soggy Dollar and Foxxy's. The four of us enjoyed several of their famous "Painkiller" drinks, which really did the trick.
I am very excited to finally be in the Caribbean and especially the Virgin Islands, which are supposed to be one of the best sailing areas of the world. It's kind of like sailing along the alps, flooded near to their peaks. It truly is a captivating under-water mountain range. I plan to take my time exploring all that the VI's have to offer, perhaps 2 or 3 weeks, then continuing south along the chain of Islands that lead to Trinidad. It is almost unbelievable to me that I have sailed over 1800 sea miles since Charleston and it has been 3 months since this adventure began.