LONG HAUL TO ST MARTEN, AND A VESSEL IN DISTRESS
POSITION N18:02.41 W063:05.66
SIMPSON BAY, ST MAARTEN
18 April 2015 LONG HAUL TO St MAARTEN, SICK CREW, SLOW SPEEDS, AND A RIGHT OLD SLOG.
First we had to get out of the US Virgins. That took most of the morning and through a very wet squall too, then took a pounding going out of the narrow gap into ocean sailing at ROUND ROCK PASSAGE, to the South of VIRGIN GORDA, BVI. Most folk would stop in the British Virgins first to await the right weather, but I had neither the time nor money to do that – we had been informed that the BVI were now charging $1 per foot per day on top of the clearing in and out charges. Pure extortion. That’s equivalent to marina charges.
As the water deepened the seas settled down, and we tacked our way Eastwards. But progress was pathetic.. Our course looked like a zigzag stitch, with 3-4 miles sailed for every 1 mile gained. After 12 hours we had only made 17 miles East – an average of 1.4 nautical miles per hour! At this rate it would take 2 days 9 hours to make the 80nm to St Maarten!
By 2100, with David seasick, I decided to motorsail to give us better penetration into the wind, but first the genoa had to be furled away. It jammed solid. Freeing it off right up on the bow in the dark was decidedly hairy, I had to admit, and was glad to get back to the safety of the cockpit. What had happened was the reefing line had come off the reel and wound itself round the forestay instead, not unknown but the first time this season. The instruments showed that we had been getting a massive 20 degrees of leeway on each tack, ie the boat was slipping sideways 20 degrees, due to slow speeds and strong currents. The norm for Pinball would be less than 5 degrees.
To motorsail, the mainsail is hauled tight amidships and the genoa furled away, which allows an angle of attack to the wind of 30 degrees – about 15-20 degrees better that if sailed with genoa and no engine. It also increased our speed and thus reduced leeway and efficiency.
0100: David is sick again after being on watch since 2200 whilst I slept below.
0300: A merchant ship on a reciprocal course passed ¼ mile down our starboard side, showing a confusing set of lights – 2 x white, 1 red, 1 green, all visible from every direction. This is NOT right!
I am unable to understand why Pinball is going so slow. We have the engine on at 2500 revs – about ¾ power, and sail up – yet are making between 2.5 kts and 4.0 kts. With the engine alone we should be making 5 kts. WHAT IS GOING ON?
I am startled by a dark shape suddenly right next to the boat, like a Hitchcock movie! It’s a large seabird which attempts to land on the pushpit on the stern. After several attempts it gives up its hitchhiking attempt and disappears into the black night. There is no moon tonight.
A welcome dawn at 0600 and we were just passed halfway with 37nm to go. I let David sleep through and didn’t call him for a watch.
Was that propeller fouled with something? We were still much slower that we should have been. I set full power, and nothing happened. Just 2600 revs; should be 3400!
I had a bright idea. Maybe if I set the smaller, brand new staysail it would be efficient enough to take a 30 degree angle to the wind? Worth a try. It worked. The speed increased to a much more useful 4.4 knots, as at the previous speeds we would be arriving in the dark of a second night. Now we stood a chance of making it by dusk.
1445: ‘PAN PAN PAN, VESSEL LOST ITS ENGINE IN POSITION N18 13.884 W063 19.049 ANY VESSELS IN THE AREA ARE REQUESTED TO ASSIST’
I had to wait for the second broadcast to get the position written down, plotted it, and it was just 5 nm north of us, off the west coast of St MAARTEN. We were heading south. I thought about it; if we responded we would ourselves be arriving back in the dark, I had inexperienced and often seasick crew, and a fouled prop. Not a great asset for a boat needing a tow.
‘CALLSIGN DEALING WITH VESSEL IN DISTRESS, THIS IS SAILING VESSEL PINBALL WIZARD. DO YOU REQUIRE MY ASSISTANCE, OVER?’
Then they were talking to another boat that had responded, offering help, who’s replies I couldn’t hear, but clearly had given an ETA for the vessel in distress. Help was on the way. Pinball could continue. This was a relief. Later the vessel was towed into French St Marten - Fort Louis Marina.
1800: just a couple of miles to go. We are so SLOW! This is reinforced when, nearing Simpson Bay anchorage I drop the sails and Pinball nearly stops, still with 2500 revs on! By now the seas had flattened, and we should have been doing well over 5 kts. That prop must be fouled with something. Rope? Seaweed? Fishing net?
We anchored on the Eastern, more popular side of the channel leading to the bridge and inner lagoon, and slumped. David, fully recovered, wanted a swim, so asked him to look at the prop. Nothing there, he reported.
‘WHAT?!!!’ This was not what I wanted to hear.
‘It MUST have fallen off then’ I said, hopefully. If it wasn’t a fouled prop then I really did have a problem.
Next day two things needed to happen. I needed to go test the engine out in the bay, and Pinball had to be re-anchored as it had dragged. Perfect! Two for one. The engine was fine, zooming along with over 6kts going like a speedboat, then dropped the hook over the other side of the channel. Time for some R&R. But I was annoyed with myself. Why hadn’t I stopped the propeller and tried to free it by going into reverse when I first suspected a foul prop? It could have saved us hours, and fuel too. I had thought of doing that, but what if it had been a rope, and by going into reverse made it worse and stopped the engine completely?
Pinball was still leaking. Sitting at anchor it would take about 65 pumps a day to empty, and about twice that much if at sea. I still could find no obvious cause.
pics: PW handing it out
David overlooking The Lagoon, from the French side of St MARTEN