Gaviota's final ARC blog entry

Thu 27 Dec 2007 21:49

14:05N 60:57W


This was written by Nishi on 21 Dec but we couldn't send it due to lack of wifi connection, so I'm sending it now anyway, but I'll send more updates almost immediately of what we've done since then. (now Wed 27 Dec). Annabel.


Does anyone have any Alka Seltzer?


A bit about alcohol ….


In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent asks Ford Prefect what’s so bad about a hangover. “Try asking a glass of water” replies Ford. Or you could ask the crew of Gaviota. After several weeks of sailing dry, we’ve had a few “wee drinkees” to catch up on.


Tuesday 11th December 2007


Monday was just about perfect. It was warm, it hadn’t rained, the wind was pushing us along at a steady 8/9 knots (using a sail combination that shouldn’t have worked) in the right direction and nothing/no-one had broken. Even the water-maker kept quiet  (although Syd kept his “persuader” (ie his large rubber mallet) to hand just in case). Had our luck changed? Were we going to get a clear run in to the tropical island paradise of St Lucia?


Er … no. Come on – have you read the rest of the blog? Did you really expect everything to run smoothly? Maybe the dolphins were trying to tell us something.


As night drew in, the sky started to cloud over and the wind started to pick up. We were thundering along at 9/10 knots. We’d picked up those sorts of speeds before but not so consistently. If the wind held steady we would cross the line even sooner than we thought – brilliant! But the weather had changed so often before that we couldn’t be sure that conditions wouldn’t get worse. A drop in wind would be ok, but if it got any stronger we would have to consider changing the sails to try and keep the boat under control. Also, the wind was still delicately balanced directly behind us – any shift in direction could push us off target (and being so close to the island we would then have to zig-zag our way home, which could add another day or two of hard work and sail changes). We had to stay focused.


Just before midnight, Annabel and Nishi were woken by an almighty “BANG”. Syd was on deck alone, so both Annabel and Nishi grabbed their lifejackets and were out on deck in moments. A shackle on the traveller had shaken loose (basically, the traveller is the system of ropes and pulley that connect the end of the boom to the back end of the boat so that you can control the tension on the main sail and the position of the boom). Those blasted gremlins again! The wind and the weight of the boom had caused the boom to swing out to one side (causing the bang as the boom was brought to a sudden halt by a safety rope). As it did, it took the traveller with it. Somehow, Syd had managed to grab the traveller before it disappeared overboard. Pretty incredible, when you consider that he could only have had fractions of a second to realise that there was a problem, identify the problem then leap out and grab the traveller.


We worked quickly to try and bring the boom and mainsail back under control so that the traveller could be reattached. Just as we managed to get the boom back amidships we were hit by a wave at a slight angle to the boat. It was just strong enough to twist the boat so that the wind was no longer behind us, blowing the mainsail and boom back out to the side of the boat. As it did, one of the safety lines wrapped around the frame of the bimini (the sun/rain cover over the cockpit) and ripped it from the boat, sending it flying just over our heads. Somehow it was still attached to the boat, so we again made the boom and mainsail safe, hauled the bimini and frame back aboard took what was left of it below deck to keep it out of the way, reset the boat and carried on on our way.


All of this happened in a matter of about two minutes.


Of all the things that had happened so far, this was probably our only really serious and dangerous incident, which is testament to Syd’s preparations and leadership (a good skipper makes it all look easy). What was most pleasing, though, was the way that we dealt with the situation – calmly, quickly and safely.


A couple of hours later, the wind picked up again. Syd decided that we should drop the mainsail to be safe – we didn’t want to risk the wind continuing to pick up then having top deal with a sail change in worse weather. Sail change and shift change complete, we noticed that the batteries were nearly empty. We had been running the engine in neutral for an hour or so every day to recharge them using the engine’s alternator, but now it wasn’t charging the batteries at all. Without electricity we would lose boat lights, the electronic systems (such as GPS and the computers) and the autohelm.  


Even though he’d just come off a busy night shift, Syd decided to have it out with the engine once and for all. The water-maker’s antics had been mischievous, but the engine was just being malicious. Out came the “persuader”. After half an hour of “negotiation” the engine sensibly realised who was in charge. We had power again.


Dropping the mainsail turned out to be the right decision. The wind did indeed pick up in the early hours of the morning – at one stage it was up to 45 knots (gale force 9) and we were hitting boat speeds as high as 12/13 knots. By mid morning, the wind dropped to a more manageable 20/25 knots, but this time was accompanied by squalls and torrential rain (making Nishi very wet). By late afternoon, we realised that the really dark, heavy looking cloud on the horizon in front of us was in fact land! Nishi suggested we celebrate with a wee drinkee. We had an early dinner instead.


As the sun set behind St Lucia, we rounded the tip of the island and made preparations for our final run into the island. Annabel contacted Rodney Bay to alert them to our imminent arrival. We would be arriving in the bay in darkness, which would mean dropping speed to be safe.


We rounded the headland and entered the bay, looking for the finish line – between a boat with a flashing white light and a buoy with a flashing yellow light. We were told that both were in the middle of the bay. However, against the backdrop of the lights on land we couldn’t see either. Then, all of a sudden, there was a “FLASH”. We turned to see a photographer in a speed boat. Apparently we’d already crossed the line!


After a (brief) celebration (still no drinkee) we dropped the sails, powered up the engines and motored our way into the marina. We were directed to a berth between a couple of larger boats (both Oyster 54s) which made Gaviota look tiny in comparison. After making the boat safe, we were welcomed at the dockside by rum punch and cold beer. It took a while for it to all sink in – we’d made it!


Rum punch and beer supplies exhausted, we remembered that we had a lot of wee drinkees to catch up on. We disembarked, taking our first few tentative steps on dry land for weeks, and headed for the marina. The main bar was buzzing with people who had finished over the last few days. We were pleased when a few groups from bigger/faster boas came over to say that they had been tracking our progress and thought we’d done really well to keep up with them. We were even more pleased when they asked where the rest of the crew were – they didn’t believe that there were only three of us!



Key facts:


Position (at 2320 GMT/UTC) – 14.04n 60.57w

Distance travelled (to 23.20 GMT/UTC) – 278 nautical miles

Total distance travelled – 2785 nautical miles

Dinner – Chicken Stir Fry

Nishi’s beard growth – “Aharr. Pieces of eight …”


A bit about what happened next ….


It took a few days for it all to sink in. For Syd, this represented the culmination of a life long dream, months of planning and the start of his new life travelling around the world. Understandably, he was a bit emotional.


We spent the first few days sorting out the boat. She’s a tough old girl, and did her job magnificently. Despite a few snags with some of the equipment, she’d suffered very little damage (certainly nothing material). In summary:


·    The sail cover for the main sail had torn where a rope had been rubbing against it

·    The bimini frame had to be bent back into shape and reattached

·    One of the genoa sails had ripped a little at the base

·    The generator needed to be brought back to life (as it turned out, it was just a loose wire)

·    A couple of pulleys had broken

·    One of the brackets attaching the main sail to boom had come loose

·    The lazy jacks (basically guide ropes that make it easier to drop the mainsail without it flopping overboard) had frayed


That sorted, we (finally) switched off, kicked back, unwound and relaxed. The people of Saint Lucia know how to take it easy, but they really know how to have a party! In summary:


·    Thursday 13th December – This was national day in Saint Lucia. Street parties, live music and dancing, carnivals and lots of rum

·    Saturday 15th December – ARC beach party at the Pigeon Island nature reserve

·    Sunday 16th December – As if he hadn’t done enough sailing over the past few weeks, Syd entered a laser sailing competition. With two 2nd places and a 1st place, he walked away with a bottle of wine

·    Tuesday 18th December – The marina manager hosted a party at his house overlooking the bay

·    Friday 21 December – ARC prize giving ceremony and party, followed by the “Jump up” – the weekly street party/carnival in the village of Gros Islet


In between all that, we’ve found time for some cycling (Syd and Annabel have managed to fit in a couple of long rides), some scuba diving on the coral reefs at Anse Chastanet, a day trip to the capital, Castries, and plenty of trips to the beach, various restaurants and bars.


And Nishi shaved his beard off.


The results ….


We were please to find that we were the second boat in our category to cross the line. But would the decision to turn on the motor cost us?


Well, yes. Our corrected time, allowing for the number of hours that we motored and our handicap, pushed us back into 5th place, with only minutes separating 3rd and 5th place. In hindsight, we should have tried to get the sails up sooner, even if it slowed us down, but we made a decision as a team based on the situation as we saw it.


Nevertheless, based on the size and type of boat we were expected to finish in about 160th place. We haven’t seen the overall results, but we understand that we may have finished in the top 50 overall, which is still quite some achievement.


A bit about what happens next …


We will shortly be heading down the west coast of St Lucia to see the south of the island before Nishi flies home on 27 December 2007. Watch this space for further updates …