A LONG TACK TO MAYAGUANA
January 7, 2015
DAY 8 CROOKED ISLAND
FINALLY LEAVE FOR MAYAGUANA
Restless night with conditions going completely still, up at 0600 and it was a GO! I knew, even if it wasn’t suitable yet, I had to go find out, and the place I’d find out would be coming round the NW corner by BIRD ROCK lighthouse (that doesn’t). As it was so still I just pulled the anchor up and busied myself sorting the boat out, belatedly looking up to find we were nearly on the beach with just .2 metre under the keel. Whoops.. Reversed out of this embarrassing situation and set course for Bird Rock, whilst administering a proper Skipper’s Bollocking.
Turning the corner Pinball found some wind – about 10 kts SE – enough to get the sails on, and ended up with full sail up, just before it wound right up to 22kts of course. But resisted the temptation to shorten sail and was proved right as it settled in the Force 4 range, if up and down. A Stbd tack seemed best, take us away from Crooked Island up towards SAMANA CAY, 35nm NE. Beaut day, but with big Cu and Cb to the North where the stalled cold front must be.
At a couple of miles to go to Samana tacked and headed back south, managing to tack without the engine for once! Technique was to reef the genoa right back to not a lot, full rudder turn even though we had lost most of our way, and let the wind back the small bit of genoa left just enough to push the nose through the wind. Works a treat!
Lunch onion egg cheese fried in a wrap. Discarded all clothes.
Downloading WXFAX stuff pm, giving a NE wind tomorrow when I should be arriving at Mayaguana.
Later on in the afternoon, heading south and even a bit back on the track the wind was getting rather light, and the windvane steering just wasn’t coping – having the mizzen up I think interfered with the airflow too much, close hauled. Went through the wind once. So flashed up the engine at a fast idle to charge the batteries and allow the autopilot to take over, which improved our course by about 30 degrees. But it was a glorious day, we had plenty of time to make Mahaguana tomorrow, and standing up on the lazarette – my favourite spot – as nature intended, who cared anyway!
Found PW would motorsail ok at 30deg to the wind, which improved our course considerable and enabled us to just miss the shallow water off ACKLIN’s NE corner, so carried on on this tack right down to PLANA CAY WEST overnight, running the engine at ¼ speed ie around 1300 revs, which gave a good 3.5 kts from the sails as well, genoa and main. Without them, speed drops to around 2kts or less, but without the modest thrust from the engine, PW just wont sail anywhere near as close to the wind in these light airs, so it works. Some of the engine’s energy is converted into thrust by the sails from the increased apparent wind it seems, nearly doubling the speed.
At the S tip of PLANA CAY West, nearly due west of our destination at MAYAGUANA, it was decision time. Turn towards and directly into the albeit light wind, or carry on on this tack to the south? Direct won, as the gain for the alternative didn’t match the loss in distance. But this brought the speed right back. I experimented with small turns off the wind, no more than 30 degrees to see how this affected the speed in such light airs, and there didn’t seem to be much in it, a small gain in speed for a small loss due to wandering track. In the end for overnight I just set ¼ power direct course and went below, coming up to check fairly frequently. So I got a fair bit of sleep, and PW kept on going. With steaming lights on plus the AIS transmitting our presence, we should be safe enough.
Thursday: a beautiful, still, calm day, sea glassy, barely a breath of wind. Switched on the SSB radio and tuned to Chris Parker’s Caribbean Weather Centre broadcast just in time to pick up that winds would increase to E 20-25kts today, and be strong over th weekend, but next week from Tuesday would be ‘nice’. He didn’t elaborate on nice. I think I know..
Just a few puffs coming from the NE now and again, but as I write this coming up to 10am we are moving a little with 8kts.
Oh! Died again!
So chugged along slow, partly under an almost idling engine, partly sail. The sea, though devoid of wind driven waves on the surface, showed its power by undulating to a long distant rhythm, inky blue-black and deep. Reluctant as ever to waste good fuel, Pinball was left to slip oh so gently east to Mayaguana propelled by no more than puffs at first, but we were moving…just. But after a morning of this, waiting for the promised NE’ly, I gave in and put some Yanmar shove behind his keel, not much but enough for 3 knots, 4 if the wind blew a little. The day was so clear you could easily see the low lying west coast of Mayaguana ahead, even at 20 miles, marked overhead by bubbling cumulus.
Bruce Van Sant’s invaluable superb guide to doing just what I was attempting – sailing the wrong way back down the Bahamas southeast to the Caribbean islands, against the near impenetrable trade winds and associated current - stated very clearly that Abrahams Bay anchorage, a five by one mile piece of water protected by a coral reef, should only be entered with good sunlight over the shoulder- ie after midday - to allow one to spot the numerous nasty keel ripping coral heads and thus avoid them, so a leisurely potter eastwards was fine by me.
ABRAHAMS BAY, MAYAGUANA
Lining up with the two double-checked waypoints recommended by Van Sant that would lead Pinball across the reef entrance I admit I was nervous. In fact I’m always nervous coming in to somewhere new, sounds a bit melodramatic but I know that one mistake and its all over. But it was not a bad depth. The problem for a singlehander is just how to do this, the mechanics of doing the four things that had to be done simultaneously – watch the depth guage, follow the chart plotter, control the heading, but be high enough to look down sun and spot black coral-heads, and lastly.. not fall off. Standing in the cockpit was not good enough, you couldn’t see ahead at all. If I stood on deck in front of the cockpit I couldn’t see the depth guage or chartplotter. I tried standing alongside the cockpit, holding the autopilot controller in one hand, and hanging on to a mizzen shoud with the other. Bit dodgy. Final solution was to stand over the spray hood which had been dropped, hang on to the boom with one hand, hold the autopilot controller with the other, tilt the chartplotter up so I could still see it, and lean back to see the depth. The view wasn’t perfect – better way up the bow – but as long as the sun shone it wasn’t bad.
So thus we proceeded, dead slow, one-armed paperhanger stuff, following Van Sant’s footsteps. Then the sun went behind a cloud and the view closed down; nothing I can do about that. The route was a mile and a half long, and brought Pinball almost up to the inside of the reef, there to drop anchor. In fact, where he said to go I thought rather shallow, so went found my own spot, sandy in over 3 metres, nearby.
I knew from my wonderful little SSB radio that the wind would be picking up by tonight, and it did, on arrival. Now, a few hours later, its 30+ knots and Pinballs hobby-horsing nicely. But the anchor’s good..
As an experiment, load and fire off the speargun from the side, aiming obliquely at the sandy bottom. The attached retaining cord snaps of course and spear disappears from sight.
I’d be telling porkies if I said they don’t have Warm Fronts here. They do, but really they’re just Cold Fronts that have changed their minds, stopped then gone back up north as a Warm Front. Unlike UK, it’s the Cold Fronts that dominate the weather in North America, sweeping down from the cold northern latitudes bringing a drop in temperature, rain but not always, all the way down to me, sitting in Pinball in southern Bahamas. Up there they’re called ‘Northers’ and have an equivalent effect on folk as the term ‘Depression’ has on Brits. By the time they’ve pushed and shoved their way all the way south to the Tropics, displacing the Azores High in the process, they are nearly spent, and just referred to as Cold Fronts. Far from causing depression to your average ‘cruiser’ like me, they are a god-send.
The winds in the North Atlantic circulate around a near permanent High Pressure centre - The Azores High. Those winds drive the sea beneath and create the Equatorial Current, which sweeps up through the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico – where it gets confused – up through the Bahamas, and ripping up through the Florida Straits as The Gulf Stream then over to UK. Try and sail against this lot and have fun. If you want your brains bashed out, and a wrecked boat, this is for you. Or is it? This is where Mr Van Sant comes in. He’s done this trip against wind and tide over a hundred times, and has learnt some tricks. That’s what I’m learning, in a crash course of one, on the job. Its like an apprenticeship; if I do ok, I get to keep the boat.
The first thing to learn is how to download and/or copy the weather, then how to interpret it, and then how to use the information to beat the system. Well I’ve learnt the first one, the rest is work in progress. But back to Fronts… when a Cold Front gets past Florida, it starts interfering with the Trade Winds, which blow up to about 22 degree North of the Equator – ie around Cuba. But the effect of the Front can be felt hundreds of miles south of it
Friday, January 9, 2015 ABRAHAMS BAY, MAYAGUANA
Walking along the top of a coastline, rocky and not known to me on a wild windy day. There are animals around. Then I walk past a huge polar bear which is on its back scratching itself just yards from the path I’m walking. It is free ranging and I am most alarmed at this dangerous turn of events and concerned both for me and my dog, which has gone off somewhere, so I’m looking for a place to hide and keep safe from this animal. I see a small rocky enclave with steep sides, with an entrance and consider going in there, but it could turn into a death trap. Fear runs through this dream like the stripe in toothpaste.
With some careful prediction work using the chartplotter on where the speargun spear went relative to the boat, bearing in mind the boat had moved round 90 degrees overnight, I set about recovery. Launched the dinghy, put the outboard on – choppy so not easy – cleaned and tested the snorkel gear and set off in Perky to drop anchor roughly where it should be. The grapnel anchor held well in the 3.5m of sand, swum about, couldn’t find it. Saw a barracuda, mean looking thing. Tried harder, and after about 25 minutes found it. Back to PW to fix its bridle, then lunch egg, cheese (a little) and fried onion, feeling rather chuffed with myself. Later pm load up with water, some clothes but didn’t wear them, and set off starkers to have a look at the reef from Perky. Never saw a single fish so the speargun was useful, but the trip to the reef was good. Kindof wild out there. Not a soul around anywhere..! &
Saturday, January 10, 2015
DAY 3. WAITING FOR WEATHER.
Looks like earliest Tuesday, more likely Wednesday next week. Next hop – TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS.
Done nothing much today, blowing quite hard all day, 25-30kts E, with a very strong High pressure giving a lot of gradient wind, with gales forecast all around. Ok here, but windy. Watched a small yacht set off motoring into the teeth of it yesterday, mad fool. Totally agree with Van Sant, if you are going to rush this, you should sell the boat.
Didn’t fancy a Perky ride in that, or a swim.
This has got to be the loneliest spot yet, five miles from the nearest habitation – Abrahams Bay settlement – no boats, no fish, no seabirds, no nothing. Just me and Pinball..
..and a barracuda.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
DAY 4. SQUALLS AND STRONG WINDS - ABRAHAMS BAY.
Been rocking and rolling today although started out a lot calmer than it has been, then came the squalls. With nearly 40kts howling past and torrential tropical rain it was time for a shower! Yes, get your gear off North and out on that deck. Wonderful, fresh water – free! No chance of embarrassing anyone round here as I’m miles from anything and haven’t seen a soul for 5 days, just that small yacht coming in then setting off next day, in the teeth of a Force 5-6. Hope he made it ok.
Nope, seen nobody, no fishermen, no locals, and no fish. Well, just that one Barracuda whilst looking for the speargun spear. You know, Barracudas really look at you in an arrogant sort of way. Its like ‘who are YOU then?’.
Food: got loads, but running out of the nice stuff, like eggs, tortillas, fresh veg. Diet is porridge, a very nice wrap at lunchtime of fried onion, egg and a little cheese, then a tin of chunky soup with any fresh veg left at night. Still got some chocolate left thanks to Harry and Mary, and Stu. Wouldn’t say runner bean, but have lost some of the fat gained sitting on a settee looking after little Charlie last year. Got to keep in trim for Glasto!
I dare say if I went on a 2 day camel ride ashore I’d find a shop of sorts somewhere, but to do that I would have to sail Pinball four miles through shallow waters with lots of coral heads to spot just to get near enough for the dinghy, and with this wind mucking up the surface you’d have no chance of seeing anything below.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Steady 25kts or more all day ESE, brighter.
Concerned about the windgen(erator), making graunchy, groany noises you can feel through the post, not charging at all, starts to wind up then the electronic brake kicks in almost immediately. Not right. Very nearly got up in the middle of the night to stop it turning with the rope, but had an attack of common sense and didn’t, as it was too dangerous in strong wind at night.
Someone else came up of the weather radio who also wants to leave Mayaguana, wonder where they are! But for DR not Caicos, and the Wx Guru Chris Parker recommended Thursday pm for him, arriving Sat am. Think I agree with that.
DOING my self assessment tax…. GROAN.
Made a fish pie with tinned mackerel – pretty good actually! Enough for three meals. I think the windgen is just suffering from constant winds above its cut off – ie 24kts, so it keeps cutting out, which causes a vibration with the electronic brake.
Weather: got the voice stuff – I’m getting better at writing it all down – but forgot to get the evening faxes….I usually get the pm version instead but too busy doing the tax today.
Funny thing is, I’d be sitting there doing this or that, and random flash memories light up inside my head, completely random stuff, a flight, a conversation, could be anything, a moment from life just coming back up. I told Stu this when he was here. Prob thought I was going nuts being on my own so much. Maybe I am. But quiet and solitude does promote it, and I have plenty of both.
The wind here has been unrelenting ever since arrival, just been hanging off the Rocna, which is well dug in in sand. All because it’s a big powerful HIGH to the north which tightens up the isobars, and there’s another coming after the next front comes through this week – the last until the end of the month according to Parker.
But the sea today was breathtakingly colourful, as good as Black Point was two years ago, when we were in company with s/v HOPE. You just look at that colour and smile, its so sensual.
Its midnight, usually in bed by an hour or more ago, but wide awake – the chocolate? Battery voltage is a bit low as the windgen isn’t/can’t charge at this windstrength. But the winds are supposed to ease tomorrow. Hasn’t yet!
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Even STRONGER winds! 25 -30kts ESE now.
So much for easing today, its increased.
Stopped the windgen turning – no mean task in 30kts, stuck a flipper on the end of a boathook – then tied it off and got the ladder out to adjust the voltage at which the windgen cuts out. I’m not optimistic that this is the problem, but worth a try. But at 30 kts it won’t work anyway, as it shuts down above about 27kts. No sign of any improvement yet. This surely is Windy City without the city. Now been anchored out here 6 days, and not a soul has come this way. But Chris Parker of the Caribbean Weather Centre assures us there’s easier times on the way, easing tomorrow, and not much wind at all on Thursday – the day to go for TCI?
Had the porridge, but really hungry and its only 11am. Have to wait for lunchtime and another wrap. Not a lot of cheese left, and one egg, which I’m sort of keeping for the right moment! So demolished half a tube of Ritz biscuits instead.
About four inches of water in the aft bilge, not serious, but a bit unusual. Will keep an eye on it. Tried pumping it out with the bilge pumps and neither worked. Running the engine to charge the batteries.
Then quite suddenly, the wind dropped, at midday. Hurray! Spent most of the day removing the 2 way switch for the windgen, testing it – faulty - and replacing it with not a very good item but would have to do. But it made no difference at all, the windgen was not working now AT ALL.
Downloaded the weather whilst doing all this. Fish pie for tea, not that great second time round, and depressed about the windgen. Have I wired the new switch wrong? I really don’t think so, I tested it to make sure I knew how it worked etc, double checked the connections.
NEXT: ON TO THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS, AND AN EXPENSIVE MISTAKE