LAST STRAIT - TRINIDAD
POSTITION 10:40.4N 61:38.6W
BEQUIA, The Grenadines
I gave myself one full day and two nights off, that was the deal. Customs here are polite and pleasant. Cost of entry $35EC pp – about $10US. I did some wifi-ing in MARIA’S CAFÉ and just chilled and rested. Friday night was a good nights sleep. Saturday I gave a Rasta Boat Boy some $ to get bananas, but he took the money and ran. That’s a shame, Bequia has a very good reputation, now a little tarnished. I cleared out with Customs on Saturday pm, who charged me another $80EC in overtime. Another disappointment. More tarnish. The planned coffee and wifi was cancelled due to lack of funds!
But the good news was: Pinball had passed the 10,000nm mark from UK!
Sunday, 17 May 2015 GRANADA
Up at 0315, before the alarm, and anchor up and away before 0400 on a dark moonless night. I was, as usual, nervous. Surrounded by anchored boats, things could go badly wrong, and the wind had been howling overnight. I just hoped the anchor would come up cleanly and not get stuck, with the risk of drifting into another boat.
I had the radar on ¼ mile range, and it’s fantastic this broadband radar at close range, showing every boat clear as anything, and much better than trying to pick them out with the searchlight. Once clear of the anchorage Pinball rounded up into wind and hoisted the main, double reefed. Then it was decision time: go to windward of all the islands down to Grenada, or in their lee? Based on the success of previous lee rides, I went for the more westerly route, and with a wind speed of low twenties shook the reefs out too. The seas were something else though; there were THREE swells running, the main Easterly, a SE’ly, and a Northerly, creating a weird sea and making Pinball yaw around a lot. I tried the windvane steering again, but it just couldn’t cope once again, so autopilot it was. Trouble with the autopilot is it uses a fair bit of electrical power, especially in a sea like this, so until the sun was a bit higher I ran the engine for a bit to keep the voltage up. But it was a lovely ride, a very broad reach…almost downwind, a rolling downhill ride but with one eye on the voltage.
CANOUAN slid past, then MAYREAU and the famed TOBAGO CAYS, then UNION IS and CARRIACOU, passed the underwater and still occasionally active underwater volcano KICK ‘EM JENNY until the steep green hills of GRANADA lay ahead, dark, broody and cloud-covered. This was to be a rest stop, a brief breather before the final leg down to Trinidad. But Pinball had made such good time – up around 6kts or more – that I had a rethink; we were early, I wasn’t tired out by being cranked over on a hard tack like it had been until recently, and….AND I didn’t feel like coughing up another $50 to yet another Customs for just a day or less – I was still wincing from having to pay BEQUIA Customs an extra $80EC ‘overtime’. Why not go on?
Did the maths, yes PW could be in Chaguaramas by midday tomorrow Monday if things went well, or at least before nightfall if not.
ON CARIBBEAN CRUISING
That’s one thing about ‘doing the Caribbean Island chain’. Every island is interesting, yes, but unless you plan to stay in each for some time, it gets expensive. Tourism is their bread and butter of course (not so in Trinidad, its oil) but living on a small budget I can’t afford to be propping up the economies of the 13 countries between USA and Trinidad, so I have to skip some. Travel slower, go less far, and it gets more economical, but then you’ve got the Big H breathing down your neck. The Hurricane Season, 1 June – 30 Nov. It doesn’t seem to bother the owners of the thousands of boats who keep their boats year round in the risk zone, but they usually remain with their boats, so can move them to hurricane holes when threatened. I couldn’t do that as I’m in UK in the summer.
ON AUTOPILOTS AND WINDVANE SELF STEERING
For the first year ever I have barely used windvane steering, preferring the magical efficiency and accuracy of the excellent Raymarine S3G autopilot inherited with the boat. Why?
The advantage of the windvane steering system is it uses the (considerable) dynamic power of water flowing over a blade to create sufficient force to turn and hold a rudder, which is free energy. An autopilot uses electricity, which on my boat is also free thanks to two solar panels and a wind generator, but quite a lot of electricity. During the day when the sun shines, no problem, but at night, if the wind’s not very strong there just aren’t enough wigglies to go round. So best solution is use the windvane steering, at night at least, and this is exactly what I’ve done up until this year, very successfully.
So what’s changed?
The wind direction. From Portugal all the way to Florida the wind has been either behind PW or at worst on the beam. This year we backtrack! So for most of this season its been a hard tack against the trade wind, with just the Bequia to Granada run with any downwind element. I quickly learnt that the autopilot’s ruthless accuracy gave a better result in terms of efficiency against the wind than I could usually get from the windvane. It didn’t ‘come off’ heading or wander, and when you’re having to tack all day (and night) that matters.
Don’t get me wrong, the windvane system can be very good. But it depends how well it’s set up. The main thing is, the boat must be balanced. This means that the sails should be set so that the rudder doesn’t have to fight any tendency to luff up into wind, or not much. All yachts tend to luff up, a tendency increasing with wind speed. If I put full sail up on PW on a beam reach I will have to fight a strong tendency to luff up with perhaps up to 10% or more helm on. The autopilot can handle that. The windvane can’t. It needs a balanced boat. So if I want to use windvane steering on a beam reach, I have to reef the main and genoa which balances the boat beautifully, but we go a little slower. Not much slower though. A balanced boat is more efficient, and less heel means less leeway.
I got lazy. Why fiddle around balancing the boat by trial and error when I can just turn the autopilot on and career along with full sail up! But I needed that speed; the prop fouling in Turks and Caicos put me back a month..I had to get on!
GRANADA TO TRINIDAD - FINAL STRAIT
Its 90nm to Chaguaramas – a sprawling, industrial port of a thousand masts and Trinidad’s yachting centre - so unless you’re in a superyacht its an overnighter, and at this rate I would be leaving GRANADA’s long spiny SW peninsular around 5pm – perfect. It meant Pinball would be well clear of land overnight and therefore his Skipper might even get some kip.
Rounding that peninsular was hilarious, I’ve never seen sea quite like it! There was a Northerly swell coming up from behind, opposed by a fierce tidal current coming round the point and an Easterly wind running along it, all producing a chaotic sea through which Pinball ploughed majestically, rhythmically assisted by the swell. I just burst out laughing. A quarter mile out, it all just stopped, the sea flattened, wind eased, myriad of angry wavetops vanished along a visible line. Extraordinary.
Away from land the wind picked up towards 30kts, so reefed a couple of times whilst making good speed for Trinidad. Time for some kip. I just go below and lie down, rather than try and doze in the cockpit, as either way you’re not looking where you’re going are you, so might as well be comfortable. Then in the early hours two beacons of blazing light appeared miles ahead, one either side of track. Ships? Or Oil rigs? I plotted their positions on radar and waited to see if they moved. They didn’t. Oil rigs then, bugger. The windvane steering was being used so the heading wandered around a bit; better stay up top just in case. I waited until PW was nearly between the two before going below again, and next time I woke for a check they were well past. Visions of Pinball colliding with billions of dollars’ worth of rig receded.
The seas between Granada and Trinidad and Venezuela are quite changeable, starting off benign, then by halfway quite a swell running, then in the early hours really quite rough, followed by flat nearer the Trinidad coast.
Chaguaramas is not pretty. You don’t go swimming there. There are no beaches, no tourists. Its industrial. Work boats come and go, scruffy merchant ships plough their trade, tugs and fishing boats. The anchorage has poor holding, is limited by the approach channel and mainly moorings anyway. The shore line is cluttered with yards, marinas, and boat storage areas and a forest of masts. You do not come here for fun, this is the place to leave a boat. Why? Firstly, its outside the normal hurricane belt which is to the North, but not far away from it. Hopefully far enough. Granada was badly hit not long ago. Secondly it’s protected to the North by high ground, giving flat seas in effectively an inland sea, fed by the narrow BOCAS passages to the West. Third, it’s a reasonable price, and you can get pretty much anything done here, with well stocked chandlers and specialists on call. Fourth, BA fly here from Gatwick, and best of all…its got Tim, an old friend from the Navy, now instructing SAR skills to Trinidadian aircrew on the Augusta Westland 139. A friendly face makes it for me.
Its always the same: last stop, sad bear. I don’t like leaving Pinball, never have never will. It feels disloyal, a betrayal, left alone in a boatyard somewhere. But it doesn’t last long, the excitement of seeing the family again, belonging, no longer the traveller. Within a day the flight is booked, always BA they are so good, storage arranged – this time in Coral Cove, a smaller more friendly yard with the benefit of being right on the water’s edge, so much more pleasant in the heat. Peake’s used to get SO hot in their huge 300 boat yard up the road. Today is haulout day, and Tim will be coming too.
What a great life!
DISTANCE SAILED Nov 2014 – May 2015 2457 nm
TOTAL DISTANCE SAILED from UK 10179 nm
MARINAS STAYED AT 6
COUNTRIES VISITED 15
ISLANDS VISITED 21
BROKE: Engine mounts, No1 Genoa, Autopilot remote, Portaloo, mainsail cover zips, masthead lens, a leak somewhere!
Most enjoyable stops: Caicos Marina, Turks and Caicos (thanks to Marcus)
Puerta Bahia Marina, SAMANA, Dominican Republic
Green Beach, VIEQUES
Brewers Bay, St Thomas, USVI
Cruz Bay, St John, USVI
Des Haies, Guadeloupe
Places I’d like to go back to:
Best crew: Bro Stu
Martin the Traveller
Great people met: (in order of meeting)
Kevin and Velma on HOPE (re-met)
Craig and Christa on SIMUNYE
Tom and Billy on HORNBLOWER TOO
Carlton and Aggie on KNOT DREAMING
Worst times: Anchor drag and rope round the prop – Sapodilla Bay TCI
Night emergency anchoring in 50kts, Dominica
Pet Hates: Things crawling around in my veg.
Things laying eggs in my oats
Boat people who sit and watch you
Best bits: Setting sail
Cheryl Crow through the ships speakers
Sundowner and Supper at Sunset
Warm air and sunshine, blue skies and sea
Missing another UK winter
THANKYOU’s Craig and Christa for their wonderful veggie meals
Stu for providing real incentive to get going
Martin for all the food he left behind
Tom and Billy for helping when Pinball was sinking
Caicos Marina Engine Shed for fixing Pinball
All 3 readers of this Blog for their supportive comments
Mum and Dad for leaving enough money to buy Pinball
All those in support, mainly through Facebook
Lady Luck, for sparing Pinball from the rocks
NEXT BLOG NOVEMBER 2015...AND ANOTHER ADVENTURE