Starblazer - 01/05/2016 - Famous Last Words!
Sorry, this is a lot longer than intended.
We did not pass Guadaloupe within 10 or 11 hours as previously guessed! It took us nearly 12 hours to reach the northern tip of Dominica, about 35 miles from our position at 0200. The first hour we averaged 6.9 knots, the second hour a little less, then the wind started to disappear. Our speed dropped until we were drifting at 1.8 knots. I steered while John laboured away in the engine room, coming up for a large glass of cold water at regular intervals. We eventually ran the engine for a few hours to charge the batteries before the overheat alarm went off. Problem still not solved!
Our intended track was to turn north between Guadaloupe and Montserrat which would then give us a better angle on the wind for Sint Maarten. Following this route would have entailed staying fairly close to shore. The revised plan, allowing us to sail 15-20 nM off the Guadaloupe shore, would see us altering course very slightly between St Eustacious (Statia) and Saba, two Dutch islands. The plan worked, we kept good wind making a fast passage to within 5 miles of Simson Bay on the west coast of Dutch Sint Maarten. We had to motor for the last 5 miles but the engine behaved itself.
As we only intended stopping for one or two nights it didn't make sense to go through the swing bridge into the lagoon, where we spent nearly three weeks in 2010. Since then the authorities appear to have decided that yachties are a sort of cash dispenser. They have always charged for the bridge opening, currently US$20, and harbour fees but now they charge US$60 per week for a boat of our size to anchor in a muddy, shallow lagoon where the authorities don't even provide a rubbish bin! If we return, we won't take Starblazer in. We thought $27 was a bit steep for harbour dues for two nights! There is an alternative, the French side of the island should prove to be a lot cheaper and less hassle now you can clear in at one of the chandleries. It is also possible to zoom down to the Dutch side of the lagoon to visit the two large chandleries providing you trust your dinghy outboard. Our reason for this fleeting visit was to collect a replacement set of 'Oilies', aka foul weather gear, replaced by the manufacturers under warranty. We also went for a long walk to find some suitable fan belts for our engine as the steam or smoke we spotted earlier was caused by a decomposing fan belt.
It is about 80 miles from St Maarten to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, too far to safely cover in daylight so we planned an overnight trip. We were going to pull up the anchor as soon as we had eaten, about 1830, but the rain was pelting down, there was a big wind shift and boats were swinging around the clock. We stayed put. By about 2025 the rain had just about stopped, we were facing back towards our anchor so we left. The wind was fairly gentle but on the port quarter (rear near side corner if you drive a British car) so we sped along fairly comfortably. During the night the wind went slack so John started the engine, it overheated within the hour. This problem does appear to be staying with us! To be honest, this was probably one of our least enjoyable passages. During the morning the wind suddenly built and we had rain of biblical proportions. The forecast had predicted 15 knots of wind falling to 10 knots overnight. Correct. Rain showers possible Saturday evening and Sunday. Correct. However there was no mention of lightning during the night, nor of very heavy rain, nor of 26-28 knots gusting 32 for over an hour! Finally, closing the North East corner of Virgin Gorda, the wind changed again. In all, we had to gybe the mainsail 6 times! We decided it was too risky to sail down the channel between Necker Island and the rest of the islands on the northern tip of Virgin Gorda so we tried the engine after John had checked the water levels of both the fresh water and the seawater reservoirs. It rapidly overheated so we had to come up with another plan. We sailed north of Necker Island then tacked to sail through the marked channel between Mosquito Island and Prickly Pear Island into North Sound, Virgin Gorda. It would have been possible to sail right into Gun Creek, where you can now clear in, however John didn't want to try to anchor in a bay which had a lee shore, i.e. where the wind would push us ashore if the anchor didn't hold. We anchored off Prickly Pear Island with the wind blowing us off to set the anchor.
Today is Sunday and tomorrow is a public holiday on some islands, so we were not sure when we would be able to clear in and how much overtime we might be charged. John went across in the dinghy while I hung up all the wet clothes and cushion covers. He was back quite soon, saying that the office would be open at 0830 tomorrow, so he had no excuse but to take our engine cooling water system apart. The impeller in the saltwater pump was still looking like new so his next step was to remove the heat exchanger. Again he could find no problem with it. When he ran a tap into the 'salt water in' pipe lovely water cascaded out of the 'salt water out' pipe. Back to the drawing board, or more particularly the engine manual on the iPad. Eureka! Between the pump and the heat exchanger the water goes through the oil cooler. John had barely taken off the water pipe when he discovered two large pieces of an impeller! It is possible that there are smaller bits blocking the tubes, however we now have an engine which doesn't overheat. It still isn't charging the batteries very well but that's another problem. The new fan belts we bought yesterday will be fitted tomorrow morning. I sincerely hope that we have found the root cause of all the engine overheating because, without a generator, our batteries have become rather heavily discharged and the engine will charge the batteries quite efficiently.
Life isn't all about the grotty bits, the boat problems, the dreadful weather etc. we have had several 'treats' today. This morning, while John was supposed to be asleep, the wind dropped and backed resulting in the genoa flapping about and the mainsail needing to be gybed. He got up after only about an hour off watch to gybe the mainsail, then he stayed up. As a treat, and as it was not very warm, I made porridge. After the fairly horrific rain and wind when John had to hand steer because the low battery levels meant the autopilot couldn't cope I made hot buttered rum for us, we had earned it. The clouds persisted and it was relatively cool at lunchtime so we had a change from the usual bread and ham and bread and cheese, a tin of Chicken Tikka Masala with rice made a nice change.
Monday. We have no wi-if so this is another day!
We woke up to leaden skies which very soon started to drop their contents on us. When the rain eased John went ashore to clear in, a bargain at only 20 cents! Back on the boat he set about installing the new fan belts which proved very successful. The engine has now been running for 8 hours without overheating, putting lots of lovely amps into the batteries, they are finally looking a lot healthier and the fridge and freezer are back on. The afternoon was quite pleasant but, with dusk, the rain returned. Every now and then the wind shoots up from 12 or 13 knots to 18 to 20, usually accompanied by a wind shift. All the boats in the anchorage swing about, all a safe distance apart. Our anchor is holding very well. I did try to ensure I dropped the anchor onto a sandy patch just as the boat stopped moving forward then the wind strengthened and blew us back as I let out lots of anchor chain. In normal circumstances we set the anchor by reversing, slowly increasing the revs until the chain is stretched out, all the time I feel the chain for any drag or jump. With no engine we had to rely on Mother Nature who kindly provided just the right wind.
I've cleaned the galley, its lockers and the cooker which are now pristine and the aft cabin is now stowed better. The Rognons Maritime tonight we're very successful.
The plan for tomorrow is to go to Nanny Cay on Tortola where the ARC Europe and ARC USA boats are gathering. There should be wi-fi so I'll be able to post this.
Tuesday. Grrrr, more engine problems! The engine overheated within 30 minutes of pulling the anchor up but at least we were out of the narrow channel into North Sound. We had a gentle sail all the way to Nanny Cay, dropped the sails, started to motor towards the entrance channel then found we had no cooling water, again. We sailed almost all the way to the end of A pontoon then started the engine to motor to our allotted slip. Checking in, ice creams and a beer at the beach bar followed by welcome drinks at Mullagans and Pizza rounded off the evening.
Wednesday. I set about checking all the items required for the safety inspection tomorrow morning. John started to check through the salt water cooling system, especially the oil cooler. No fault was found anywhere, water flowed through the system but not well. Eventually John replaced the water seals on the spare pump, installed it and, Eureka, it works!
It's now pouring with rain, we are not at anchor so not head to wind and it is becoming very wet in the cockpit! Time for bed, I think.