17:00.238N 061:45.606W Freemans Bay, Antigua
Week ending 16 December 2007
This afternoon was the start of the river trip. I did not have a pilot or a chart last time, this time I have, because my chart plotter does not include the river details.
Last time I got stuck on the mud at 4 in the morning before the first bridge and quite wisely gave up.
I set off up the river to the mooring buoys before the first bridge. I thought it looked a bit overcast, but that is what happens if you keep your sunglasses on. I needed to be settled before dark. I had a few nasty gusts, 20, 22 and then 24 knots, where did they come from? The world of fishing boats and jet skis, and a tripper catamarran kept coming round the corner when I was trying to get on the mooring buoy. One pair of jet skis even slalomed round me and the buoys, great fun for them, but I was trying to coast up the to buoy and catch it before the current took me away.
I must have had 4 attempts before securing the rope to the buoy. The first time the rubber end came off the boat hook, I saved the boat hook, but had to lose the buoy. The second time I could not hold the buoy against the current and had to let go, but the boat hook was still hooked onto the buoy. I then tried the other buoy, but had no boat hook to catch it with and was not able to quite reach it. I tried the original buoy again, not wanting to dislodge the boathook and I managed to tie onto the buoy, but still could not reach the boathook. I tied a rope from the front to the back of the boat, because of the strong current, and pulled myself along it in the dinghy and rescued my boat hook. Alhambra were close behind me and took the other buoy. The depth was only 1.5metres, I draw 1.54, the transducer measures from about 8 inches below that, but it does not give a lot to play with. I think the boat may have hit the mud at midnight, but it is very soft mud and there was nothing I could do except worry and hope I was floating in the morning.
4am alarm. Got ready for the river and the following trip across to Antigua. The first bridge, actually there are two next to each other, opens at 5am. We were on time and got through. The current was very strong under the bridge and I had to motor hard to avoid being swept against the sides. Then we had to follow the buoys, most of which were lit, to get to the other bridge which opens at 5.30. The man in the control box was saying something, in French, I think it was to turn. You have to turn parallel to the bridge immediately you are through it. Would it be too much to dredge that one mud bank? The motor boats do not need the bridge open and are constantly roaring through, you would think they would erode it; so far they have eradicated all vegetation and got down to pure mud. Then we moored up to the buoys on the other side to wait for daylight and hopefully high tide when we got to the really shallow part. No boats went through in the other direction. There were hundreds of little biting bugs, I had put the net on the companionway ready.
6.30 we set off up the river, that was reasonably easy, you could see the buoys and staying mid channel was ok. There were parts that went down to 1.5m. Once we got out of the river, then it was exchanging the mud and mangroves for coral reefs; some good snorkelling sites, but no time to stop and explore. My chart plotter started once you were out of the river, so I kept an eye on that to try to follow the route and that was fine. We did have to take a serious left at one point to clear the reefs, the depth was 2m and dropping to the reef; we needed to find 16m and quickly. We came out the end of the reefs at 8am and it had been a very stressful morning. Cutting through the middle of Guadeloupe saved 30 miles of motoring through lobster pots, but at the cost of a fair number of nerve endings.
Now it was 36 miles to Antigua. The forecast had been for Easterly 15 knots, which would have been great. There was a strong rolling NE swell, but there was not much wind. If I motored at 1900 rpm I cannot go fast enough to get to Antigua in daylight. I have been into English Harbour before, but a night entry is not advisable. I kept the engine on full and put all the sails out. The wind moved to due South and was light and unsteady between SE and SW. The swell changed to Easterly and eventually came into line with the wind from the SW. SW I generally associate with bad weather here. I do not like dead downwind, even across the Atlantic I went off the wind, but I had to goosewing to get that extra bit of speed I needed, but the sails continually flapped, banged and crashed as they filled and then collapsed. If that was not bad enough my autopilot refused to work, it went crazy every time I tried to use it. This meant that I was going to have to steer all the way and the heavy swell knocked me off course when I left it for even a minute. I was nearing Antigua and the wind picked up to 20 knots a few times and so I took most of the main in and then the genoa as I was so close. The bay where I was going to anchor has protection from all sides except SW. The entrance through the reefs was SW and was soon to become untenable. It was rather a daunting trip, but I arrived at 4pm before dark and 1 hour before Olga, who I had no idea was coming my way. I was so pleased to be stationary. Actually I was anything but stationary. The wind was still SW straight in the entrance making the anchorage very rough. Alhambra came over for a drink and to discuss the awful day. It certainly deserved a good choice of expletives. The wind picked up to 30 and 40 knots and it rained very hard. We thought that this weather had actually developed into a tropical storm, it was certainly not in yesterday’s forecast. We were not in a position to hear today’s weather and had committed to going once we went through the bridges, they do not open again until tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what they say tomorrow.
17 00 238N 061 45 606W Freemans Bay, Antigua
I had heard a Pan Pan and lots of messages sent out by Fort de France Rescue Co-ordinator, but could not leave the wheel to listen properly. There was a 101 foot boat with engine problems SW of Montserrat. The wind was SW and getting stronger all the time, you cannot land on the SW of Montserrat. There was a survey boat that was near enough to relay messages to Montserrat police and the Marine Rescue, but they could not tow it; I don’t know what happened.
It was a rough night, all the boats were moving at different rates in different directions and a few boats came close and there were a few that seemed nearer the beach than they had been the day before, but nothing serious.
I listened to the 6.30 SSB weather analysis and sure enough it was a subtropical storm, Olga. A Sub tropical storm is not less than a tropical storm, it means that it contains a hot and a cold centre. NOAA, where they are supposed to pick these things up and name them, had dropped the ball on this one and there was a hoo hah going on about how late they left it before the warnings went out. Too late for us, I just made it in in time, but with only an hour to spare left me feeling a bit lucky. Now hurricane season is officially over, I am insured for named storms even above 11.5 N, but that does not mean that I would be happy to be in one. Olga has moved on and this morning Puerto Rico has all the warnings, wind, waves, rain, flood, and is being battered. In the weather we are given the sea state and the size of the waves and the seconds of interval between them; North of Puerto Rico the sea was described as monstrous – not scientific, but probably as informative as the numbers.
After the storm my anchor should be well set. It rained in heavy sessions and I put the rain catcher in the cockpit and bottled the water. I have 9 x 1.5 litre bottles of rainwater that I am going to drink, rather than buy any more bottled water. The purity is very good at about 50 ppm and that is probably due to the collection materials rather than in the rain. I have only just got into drinking the rainwater, it is quite a big leap for me, but people have been doing this for millions of years. I got the dinghy down and am contemplating putting the engine on, but rowed in to clear in. If customs or immigration had given me a hard time for not coming in yesterday when I arrived I would not have taken it well. Antigua officials can be a bit tough, ex-British islands are the worst, but they were all very nice and the immigration man remembered the boat from when I was here before. Everybody insisted that I have a restful and enjoyable day.
I checked with the electronic firm and they wanted 90 US an hour to come and look at my autopilot, so I think I will try installing my old one.
I met Harriet and Richard, Perseverance, in the office and we went for a walkabout. They got in yesterday from Guadeloupe, but they left from Deshais on the West coast.
I bought one new solar garden light to act as an anchor light. I did have 3, but was down to the last one and that had been superglued. I was going to buy a spare bulb for the stern light and a mesh for the filter and they were over £10 each.
“You cannot be serious”
There are mooring buoys in the bay, none of them are legal. There was a small one near me, it did not seem that close yesterday when I anchored, but after the storm everything has settled and it was wrapped around my anchor chain. I untangled it and hoped that it was not fouling my chain any further down.
Just before dark a big heavy ketch came in and took that little buoy. I could not believe they tied up, there was no room at all. They decided the knot was a bad idea and they changed the rope so that they could let it go from the boat if necessary, they were beginning to get the idea. There was a rope with a 6” float on a piece of thin rope, equally close and they were thinking of taking that one instead. They were looking for a buoy with a specific name on it that they had been told they could use, neither of these were it. They were so close I did not even have to raise my voice, but I did say to them that the buoy was not legal and I was here first. They knew that and they went off and find a bigger buoy with more room, perhaps even with the name they were looking for.
There is another mayday tonight for a boat with engine problems just outside the next bay. The rescue centre has told them to anchor outside the reef, another boat has a line on them to help and there are two rescue vessels responding, but they are taking 30 minutes to set out.
I have to say I cannot remember when I last got this badly bitten by mosquitos, especially my arms, but I cannot see any in the boat. I am in an exposed, windy anchorage, hopefully it is just a late reaction to ones that bit me while I was ashore. It is the daytime ones that carry Dengue fever. I do not use spray, but was told that the ones here are not only immune to it, they are attracted to it.
The weather forecast is not looking great for the rest of this week and so I shall stay here until it improves.