Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wednesday 7th March

Anse Deshaies

16 19.776 N
61 48.771 W

We heard from Dale late last night, he couldn’t fix his refrigeration problem, apparently he thinks it is something to do with the starting relay compressor, this means that he has to get it checked out and he wanted to take it to Antigua to a place he used once before. The question then for us was did we want to go to Antigua or should we continue on down the chain to Montserrat, Guadeloupe and Dominica. Going to Antigua would have meant 50 miles of wind and seas straight on the nose and as the forecast was for winds of 15 – 20 knots and 6 – 8 foot seas it wouldn’t be a pleasant trip and we would have to motor all the way, whilst the forecast was the same for going down the chain to Montserrat etc. the wind would be on our beam rather than the nose so we would have a chance to sail at least some of it – if the forecast was right! After a bit of deliberation we decided that we would take the chain and head towards Montserrat and possibly continue on through to Guadeloupe, a total of 70 miles. We were all up and ready to leave at 06.00hrs, Dale and Lorie hoisted their main sail and headed out first, waving goodbye and promising to email us with their progress, we should be able to meet up with them down the chain as they can cut out a couple of the islands and head straight to Dominica. We followed them out of the anchorage, hoisting our main with a reef in it and motor sailing. As we turned to our track for Montserrat we knew that we wouldn’t be able to just sail, the wind was too close to being on our nose so we contented ourselves with motor sailing the 35 miles to Montserrat. It was quite a bumpy ride as the waves tended to knock us about as we progressed but as the weather was meant to be deteriorating over the next couple of days we thought we would make the best of what we had. As we approached Montserrat the sky became very cloudy, we weren’t sure if it was because of the volcano spewing ash and smoke or if it was just the weather closing in around us. I began to take some photographs of the volcano as we approached it, it certainly looked like smoke coming out of the top but there was none of the sulfur smell that we know only too well accompanies volcanic activity. The closer we got the denser the “smog” effect became and suddenly we could see why – the winds were whipping up ash from the ground where it had lain since the previous eruptions and blowing it straight towards us. At this point the wind speed was about 20 knots (a little more than the prediction but whose surprised?) we began to get small stinging sensations on our exposed flesh – the ash had tiny particles of pumice, we were getting a free skin derma abrasion! The volcano eruption covered the town of Plymouth and as we went past we could see the deserted homes and businesses, it was all too familiar to us and a very sad sight.
Gerry and I had discussed stopping at Montserrat, I wanted to and he didn’t so guess what happened here – we continued on to Guadeloupe! The argument for continuing was the same old one – the weather was deteriorating and we didn’t want to be stuck in Montserrat (not that I would have minded!). We cleared the end of the island and suddenly we were getting gusts of wind up to 27 knots – I swear I will become a weather forecaster, I don’t know any other job where you can get it so wrong, get paid and not get the sack! Anyway to continue our day – as we motor sailed onwards I suddenly noticed that one of our spare dinghy hoists had effected an escape. It had bounced or been thrown out of the self at the back of cockpit arch. We quickly grabbed the second spare one which we use to haul the dinghy outboard onto its mount and tucked it away so that we didn’t loose that one too. Our next little problem was that the painter for the dinghy, which was on the foredeck, was dragging in the water. As we were heeling over with our toe rail in the water at the time Gerry said to leave it where it was. We got to about 12 miles out from Guadeloupe and suddenly our engine just shut down, Gerry says with no warning but I recon that it was slowing down and speeding up for a while before it stopped. So here we were in the middle of the water, our main sail pushing us along on our side with the wind howling at 27 knots, the seas at 6-8 feet and no engine! The first thought was that the dragging painter line (or one of the others that had since joined it) might be caught around the prop shaft so I crawled out on deck to pull the stray lines on board. There wasn’t too much line to pull in, certainly not enough to have stopped the engine. The next thought was perhaps we had some dirt in the fuel. Gerry handed over the steering to me and told me to keep us on track but try to keep the boat upright – oh yeah! He vanished down below to tinker with the engine, he changed the Raycor filter and started the engine up again, it burst into life and we breathed a sigh of relief and resumed our course. A few minutes later I pointed out to Gerry that the exhaust was pouring out blue tinged smoke – not good! Shortly after that the engine spluttered and died again. Gerry made a quick decision that it wasn’t something he could fix whilst we were bouncing around through the waves and heeling over on our side so he suggested that we try to sail the final 10 miles to Guadeloupe even if it was going to be a howling white knuckle sail. We pulled out ¾ of the jib and were immediately heeled over with the toe rails back in the water, zipping along at 6 ½ - 7 ½ knots. If the truth be known we had an improper balance of jib versus main and were over canvassed for the conditions but we were trying to get into port before darkness fell, not that there was much hope of that as it was already sun set by this time and we still had 2 hours worth of journey to go. As it got darker I had to go below to turn on the navigation lights, not an easy task when the boat is on its side. Worse was to come though – we began discussing how we were going to get into the harbour – an unknown place for us and once we had done that, how we were going to anchor without an engine. The discussion threw out a couple of ideas but we knew it was going to be a suck it and see situation once we actually arrived there as there were too many variables to set a plan in concrete at that time. We furled away the jib 2 miles out from the harbour entrance and proceeded on with just the reefed main sail up, we were still doing a decent 4-5 knots, the wind wasn’t going to give us a break. The moon didn’t co operate and rise early, well why the hell would it? So we arrived at the entrance to the harbour in the pitch black and of course the wind whipped around the coast at the harbour entrance showing up to 32 knots – just what we needed! The lights inside the harbour were numerous and it was difficult to make out whether they were boats at anchor or shore lights, add into this mix the boats that were anchored and had no lights on at all and you begin to get the picture of what our moment of horror was like. Gerry donned his head set, took a torch and went up to the bow whilst I took over the steering – following his directions so as to avoid hitting any of the obstacles in our way. Getting into the harbour was difficult as the hills on either side caused huge wind shifts and at times blocked all the wind. As we got just inside we realized that half the lights we thought were shore lights were in fact very large sail boats at anchor, probably some of the ones that had been racing in St Martin last week. The only way we were able to get inside the harbour was by tacking back and forth between the boats, with Gerry watching out I threw the boat from one side to the other and back again too many times to recall. Eventually we faced what looked like a line of anchored boats across the width of the harbour and at this point Gerry decided it was time to anchor. In 55 foot of water I turned the boat into wind and Gerry immediately dropped the anchor, letting out every bit of chain that we possess (not really enough for the depth of water but it was the best we could do). He then quickly dropped the main sail whilst I struggled to keep the boat from drifting into the other boats around us. We did drift very close to one boat and the owner yelled at Gerry that we were going to hit his boat – we didn’t but I can’t say I want to have a repeat performance of anchoring in the dark, in a strange place, under sail with no engine to back me up ever again. It would have been so much nicer if the guy had offered us some help when we told him we had a dead engine instead he just disappeared below on his boat again. We both breathed a sigh of relief when the “twang” of the anchor chain told us that we were anchored, we had no back up plan so it was a good job that the anchor set first time. At this point we were tired and hungry so I fixed a quick dinner whilst Gerry tidied away the lines and straightened the cockpit. We agreed to leave the engine problem until the morning and after showering we fell into bed, not that either of us slept very well as we were concerned that we might drift and then we would really be up the creek without a paddle. The wind gusted around us all night but I’m happy to say that we did an excellent job of setting the anchor – we didn’t budge an inch.



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