Monday 20th February 2012 - Southbound from Saba

Jon & Carol Dutton
Mon 20 Feb 2012 02:00

14:04.65N 60:56.88W


20th February 2012 – Rodney Bay, St Lucia


The 50NM passage from Saba to Nevis on Saturday 28th January had its moments.  We knew that the wind was going to be forward of the beam and F5 - F6.  So, reasonably lively and we’d be well heeled over, dealing with quite a bit of swell from the NE.  No problem – this is Arnamentia’s forte.  We were making very good time when Jon looked over the stern to see the Hydrovane self-steering gear hanging at a very drunken angle.  One of the 10mm bolts holding the bottom bracket had sheared and the other was struggling manfully to cope with the whole force of the Hydrovane rudder being dragged through the water at an angle.  Jon went over the taff rail to hang off the stern ladder to remove the rudder before it tore the rest of the structure away.  This was absorbing work under sail in F6 winds with a 3m Atlantic swell.  It was clear that the rudder shaft and the tube in which it revolves had been bent in the process.   


It was a relief to turn into Charlestown bay in Nevis at 1630 on the 28th and pick up one of dozens of well laid moorings off Pinney’s Beach.  Sunday the 29th and Monday 30th were spent clearing customs, immigration, port authority etc, removing the rest of the Hydrovane structure, lest it feel tempted to drop into the oggin, and generally sorting out bits and bobs aboard.   Tuesday 31st saw us off to see something of Nevis.  The capital, Charlestown, is tiny but appeared to be in a pretty good state of repair.  Many of the buildings are stone as are the walls lining the roads and forming field boundaries.  The guy who looks after your dinghy (no locking up of dinghies allowed here) sorted out a taxi guide for us at a reasonable price.


Out in the countryside you could almost think you were back in England which is perhaps why Nelson chose the spot below for his marriage to Fanny Nesbit. Maybe the fashion for weddings in the tropics without a cast of thousands was started by them!



Montpelier, where Nelson married Fanny Nesbit, 11th March 1787


The houses in the south of the island – an area known as Gingerland, though we didn’t see any ginger growing - are delightful, mainly made of wood but painted in a dazzling palette of colours and generally surrounded by carefully tended gardens.  What we found quite extraordinary, though, as we drove around was the almost complete lack of traffic and people.  Apart from in Charlestown, no-one was walking along waiting for a bus, gossiping with neighbours, tending their gardens - not even just plain hanging around (or liming as they call it out here) as they had done in Antigua. Why ‘liming’?  Just hangin’ aroun’, doin’ not’ing, chillin’, shootin’ da breeze was all the locals (mostly then slaves) ever saw the limeys (British sailors) doing in harbour in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  That’s, presumably, why Cable and Wireless over here became ‘Lime’.


Next on the itinerary were the Botanical Gardens which amazingly Jon didn’t grumble at visiting – even though it would be our second garden within two months!  They were beautifully arranged being a mixture of exotic plants with a liberal scattering of statues of Hindu gods with a bit of modern sculpture thrown in.




This is a massively religious island.  Churches abound and there are almost as many denominations as church buildings.  On Sunday morning there is nowhere else to be. Even in the police station - which serves also as the immigration office – there is a black chalk board precisely like the ones persons d’un certain âge would remember as being the conduit in schools for the passage of information from the knowing to the needy – which lists the number of traffic accidents on the island in each year going back to 2007.  It’s 25 or 30.  Above the list of gloomy statistics is the following table scrawled in the neatest writing any maths teacher could have managed:


Drive with care

Life is no game

Life has no spare

Life is short

Jesus saves




Juxtaposed with this was a wonderful bit of Caribbean philosophy shown on the windscreen and rear window of a car we saw:






Rear window:




Sounds like a pretty reasonable approach to life!


We had intended to depart on Wednesday 1st but the weather looked pretty unappealing.  It was generally overcast and a succession of heavy squalls came through throughout the day accompanied by tropical downpours.  So, we didn’t.  We spent time negotiating with various people by e-mail and telephone, doing routine maintenance on the boat and completing some light shopping.  But, having now spent far longer in the northern Caribbean than we had originally intended, we needed to get south again.  We left the lovely Nevis at the very civilized hour of 0945 on Thursday 2nd February heading for Portsmouth in Prince Rupert’s Bay, north Dominica, some 130 NM away.  So, that was bound to be an overnight passage.  It generally makes sense, hereabouts, to approach anchorages in daylight and that was why we had set out rather late in the day.  But, Arnamentia sailed too quickly and in the early hours of the morning of Friday 3rd February we had to furl away the foresail to reduce speed to under about 3 knots so as to arrange our arrival after dawn.  En route we had a minor routine equipment problem – the domestic water pump motor burnt out so Jon spent his off watch time replacing it – fortunately we had a spare (it’s happened before) but we probably do need to replace the whole pump.  We could manage with the foot pump for most water needs, though that would be tedious, but the pump is essential when the water maker is running.


The rest of the passage was uneventful and we dropped anchor in the delightful Prince Rupert Bay shortly after dawn.  We had an excellent dinner that evening in Big Papa’s  on the beach and the following evening attended the weekly PAYS (Portsmouth Area Yacht Services) barbecue and jump up (normally on a Sunday but this week there was to be a carnival on the Sunday.  So. . . ).  PAYS has built itself a magnificent t’rown toget’er structure on the beach which can accommodate about 60 people at tables.  There is a small platform from which music blasts out and a fine range of barbecue grilles from which excellent fish and chicken is served.  We were warned about the rum punch but as ever the really good ones don’t taste that alcoholic.  Funny how getting a bit wet in the dinghy on the way back doesn’t seem to matter that much after one or two of those.


We had intended leaving for Martinique the next day, but were persuaded by the Dominica local MP and Minister for Tourism, who was at the PAYS barbecue, to stay on until Sunday to see the Carnival.  We were told it started at 1300 – we should have known that that meant 1600 or so (the Cornwall “d’rectly” has nothing on the Caribbean “in a while”).  Rio it wasn’t, but everyone enjoyed themselves.




The next passage south to St Pierre in Martinique was hassle free.  The anchorage was pretty crowded but we reckoned we could squeeze in between a couple of boats and the ferry jetty – occupied by an imposing fast cat ferry.  No problem – they were unlikely to be leaving before we were at 0700 the next morning.  Next morning, just as we busying ourselves to move, there were some pretty insistent blasts on the ferry’s horn and the boat anchored on the opposite side of it to us moved off sharpish.  No problem – our anchor drills are pretty good now.  Carol was on the helm with Jon on the bow, boat hook in hand ready to catch the tripping line and deploy his big toe on the windlass “up” button.  A shout from the foredeck to check that the windlass was switched on caused alarm at the helm as Carol was absolutely certain it was.  Confirmation that that was the case, despite the fact that no amount of big toe action on the foredeck produced any upward movement of anchor chain, resulted in much uprooting of stuff in the anchor chain locker and forecabin to try to find the root of the problem.  This took rather more time than the ferry skipper felt he had and more insistent tooting resulted.  So, we were left with no option but to recover the 40m of 10mm chain and the 70lb anchor by hand.  That was a useful bit of early morning PT for Jon. 


We were headed for Le Marin again in the south east corner of Martinique.  We had a number of things to do here; collect our repaired spinnaker pole, get our dinghy repaired and order a new one and get the Hydrovane shaft straightened. – more of all of that in a bit.  For the first time since we rounded Cape Vincent in Portugal, we would be heading due east for the second half of the passage and into the prevailing winds.  No big deal – Arnamentia likes going to windward – but what hit us was a good Force 7 accompanied by torrential rain – it was cold work at the helm and our full fig oilskins were buried somewhere deep in a locker.  After several tacks, and it has been a long time since those were necessary, we entered the calmer waters of Cul de Sac du Marin.  By then, the sun was shining brightly as we backed into our berth, made much easier this time by having the wind from astern rather than from the beam, as on our previous visit. 


The problem of how to get the windlass fixed was solved by simply asking the excellent Manu, who had mended the spinnaker pole, if he could recommend anyone.  Within half an hour a tall, thin strip of a guy, Fredo from Brittany, turned up and almost before Carol had explained the problem had his head and shoulders through the tiny hatch into the chain locker.  You need to be a whippet to do this stuff.  It also helps if you have hands the size of a child’s, the dexterity of a surgeon’s and the strength of Garth’s.  A bit more wriggling down there and even more wriggling in the anchor locker on deck got the problem sorted.  Dodgy bodged connections put in by someone who should have known better.  So should Jon.  If, in the rush to avoid the ire of the ferry captain he’d thought a bit more, he’d have identified the problem himself instead of misidentifying it as being much more serious than it was.  Anyway, within a couple of hours, Fredo had done a proper job on the wiring, replaced much of it and given us a detailed wiring diagram.  Jon’s excused PT for a bit.


So, what’s all this about repaired and new dinghies?  You will recall that one of the outboard engine fittings on our Avon Redcrest had sheared off whilst we were off Saba.  A lash-up sorted it temporarily but was clearly not the long-term solution.  Closer examination, once we’d recovered the dinghy aboard in preparation for moving, revealed that a further 2 of the 4 fixings were about to go.  So, a fix was needed pronto and there is an excellent place in Martinique for getting this stuff done (La Survy in Le Marin).  We got it fixed; it’s much better than ever it was (Avon, take note if you have a mind) but . . . The problem is that the Avon Redcrest is a marvellous, compact, rugged bit of kit built of decent Hyperlon, but, its outboard engine bracket hangs off the back end of the after tube and Avon have not sorted out how to do that properly.  It’s fine pootling about in Channel harbours and spending most of its life being inconspicuous in a locker.  But, if it’s your only means of getting ashore in rugged conditions, it just is not up to the job.  Not only are the outboard engine fixings not strong enough; the tubes aren’t fat enough to avoid your taking copious amounts of water aboard.   On the plus side, it has decent oars and decent rowlocks – not something you see much of elsewhere.  And, when you need these things, you need ‘em.  And, agricultural is good.


So, we need a different dinghy.  The Avon will become the spare.  Given the importance of dinghies, to cruisers like us, and their nickability, that’s no a bad idea anyway.  The virtually universal advice is that we really need a fibreglass bottomed one with inflatable tubes – a small RIB.  Anything else will be very vulnerable once we get to coral, coral sand beaches and all that.  Moreover, we have watched with envy those who have such things zipping about in serious chop and planing their way from A to B at speeds we cannot hope to match.  And, by and large, the occupants keep dry.  The problem is that they weigh a lot and they don’t fold up small.  So, on a boat of this size, to stow it you either have davits (no dice given the self-steering gear) or you stow it upside down on the foredeck.  We have an inner forestay which we can erect in tough conditions and up which either the staysail or the storm jib are hoisted.  With that up, there is no hope of stowing a RIB, however small, on the foredeck.  In the conditions in which you would hoist a storm jib there is no hope of being able to tow the RIB.  So; QED.  Any new dinghy has to be able to roll up.  Further, even if you can safely beach a RIB, it is most unlikely that the two of us would be able to manhandle its weight up the beach unaided.  That is pretty important.   Having done quite a lot of research we are due to pick up a new 9’4” Neoprene Zodiac Cadet Fastroller in Martinique this coming week.  Decent wooden transom, sponsons that extend aft of it and an inflatable keel but chi-chi aluminium and plastic oars with swivel rowlocks you’d kinda wish were a bit more agricultural. We’re seeing what La Survy can do about beefing up the leading edge of the inflatable keel to protect it from beaching.  But, as John Whyte of the OCC intimated to Jon when they discussed the subject in Las Palmas, if you accept that a soft-bottomed dinghy is what you have to have (and John and Lyn had no other in their 10 years at this stuff), and it’s as important to you as you know it to be, why would you trash it?  So, you are going to get wet getting ashore on beaches because you’ll jump in before the dinghy grounds.  Get used to it.


There were fevered calls to Hydrovane about the damage to the self-steering gear.  We got the shaft to a machine shop and had it straightened on the advice of Hydrovane.  They acknowledged that they had had problems with the drilling of the shaft sockets on a batch of rudders that may have contributed to the problem.  They will provide a new rudder, free of charge, together with the tube inside which the rudder shaft revolves – all to be brought out by Bob Raley next week when he joins us in Grenada.  The most surprising thing was that we were advised to drill out the bottom bracket casting to accept 12mm diameter bolts rather than the 10mm diameter bolts for which it was designed.  And, of course, to drill bigger holes in the boat etc.  Any GCSE maths student can tell you that a 12mm bolt has a cross-sectional area (hence; mass and shear strength) 44% greater than a 10mm bolt.  And, you’d kinda think that the strength of the bracket and its fixings were in some way related.  And, you’d kinda wonder, if you’d done that beefing up ab initio and the casting had broken . . . Anyway, after quite a lot of faffing about and pot-holing upside-down in a stiflingly hot lazarette (not to mention a bit of immoderate language once or twice) it looks as though we may have a fix.    


Anchoring was not a called for at our next land fall – Rodney Bay.  It felt like coming home as we rounded Pigeon Island though this time there was no finishing line to cross (nor an ODM to just miss).  It has been lovely to meet up with other ARC friends who are also back here, - Geoff and Ann (Nyda), Mike (Raparee) and Graham (Annie).  We have also bumped into Henry Hugh-Smith who keeps Drum Horse permanently in the Caribbean.  The main reason for stopping in Rodney Bay was to try to crack a recurring over-heating problem with the Mastervolt 3.5 Whisper auxiliary generator.  It had developed another problem in not charging its starter battery but that was readily sorted out – no thanks to the wholly inadequate Mastervolt Users’ Manual.  We don’t know who they got to write it but do hope that he’s not now the CEO.  The problem was a fuse but you’d be pressed to know that the thing existed unless you were an electrical expert.  Or, at least, not an electrical numpty.  We still appear to have over-heating problems with the generator when it is driven at anything more than about half capacity.  Like most marine engines it relies on a flow of sea water through a heat exchanger to keep the engine cool.  Jon has expended a lot of blood sweat and tears replacing the sea water inlet hose and the various fittings to try to speed up the flow of water.  The experts in Holland (where the generator was designed and from where the head office is) say the flow rate we’re getting is fine.  Anything between 8 and 12 litres per minute is OK.  We get 8.  Those in the US say it’s not fine – you need at least 10 litres per minute; preferably 12.  But, the experts in Holland are used to sea water temperatures of 10 – 15 degrees Centigrade.  We’re dealing with water temperatures of about 30 degrees.  And, as we go on they won’t get any cooler.  So, the seawater just don’t have the same cooling effect per litre/gallon/tonne/whatever.  Stands to reason, Squire.  To date, efforts have resulted in negligible improvements in water flow.  So, the next thought is that the heat exchanger might be furred up.  So, perhaps the marine equivalent of Mr Muscle Drain Unblocker is called for.  If that doesn’t work all we can say is that getting the heat exchanger out of the back and bottom of a 100kg generator buried in the depths of a locker into which it only just fits is going to involve a piece of magic we’d rather not think about right now.


Whilst Jon laboured hard in the bilges, Carol did a bit of swotting in order to take her diving theory exam before she could start on the practical course. Sadly,  Jon can’t clear his ears and so can’t dive – a problem diagnosed whilst he was on the Joint Defence Staff course just before he was due to go up in a fast jet and so denied a young RAF pilot of the pleasure of inducing several brown bags to be filled to the brim.  Chris Copeland had kindly left his diving kit on board so that Jon could go down a couple of metres if necessary to remove snagged ropes or infestations of weed but having Carol properly qualified means that there won’t be any problem getting the tanks re-filled.  (It also means that she can sort out the afore-mentioned snags and infestations – non? – Ed).  She completed the course without any major dramas – though like many novice divers she hasn’t perfected the art of completely controlling her buoyancy and resembled a yo-yo at times.  One of the greatest challenges was standing up in the dive boat with the tank and several pounds of lead weight attached to the waist – now she knows what her horse must feel like after she gets on his back.  The dives themselves were a little nerve racking at times – the thought of having to repeat skills that were a bit fumbled in a swimming pool several metres down was a concern but all went well and there are no stray masks, snorkels or weights damaging the beautiful coral below the Pitons. 


We are now really looking forward to next week-end when Bob Raley flies into Grenada to join us for a few weeks.  We have a trip north to Martinique to do on Wednesday to collect the new dinghy followed by a return trip south to St Lucia and on to Grenada some 140NM south of here.  We’ll be laying in supplies of the local rum and experimenting with punch recipes over the next few days so that we can welcome him properly.