New Year’s Eve I drove down to Tim’s in PCA 9134 late pm, to find him sick with a cold. We had been invited to John and Annette’s for a drink and meal, and duly turned up for a few hours but left early as Tim was not feeling too good, and by midnight was back in bed on Pinball. No riots tonight then.
Jan 1 2017
Adjusting a stern line, I watched as the old cripple shuffled slowly down to the launch area to one of the water taps, head bowed to chest, crooked legged, his view of the world the ground beneath him. Carefully attaching a length of yellow hose to the water tap by the boat next to med, he fills a plastic water container with the top cut off, then lovingly washes a pair of shammy leathers in the quiet morning sunshine, all the while bending from the waist to reach the pot. I wondered why he didn’t just sit on the sill, but maybe those old legs wouldn’t bend enough. Carefully folding the shimmering wet leathers, he brushes his teeth from the pot, swilling out with the hose, his movements un-rushed and well practised. Taking a soap container he rubs his weathered face with it, turning the stubble beard white, rinsing once again with the hose and working the water around his face. Not once did he look up. Morning ceremonial ablutions complete, there then began a protracted cleaning of the immaculate shammies in the pot, changing the water more than once, before finally and lovingly rolling the leather into bars and stowing them back in the now empty pot. The hose, clearly a precious belonging, was unscrewed from the water tap, coiled three times and clipped neatly together, before shuffling off into the boatyard where he lives.
The next weather window - when winds between Trinidad and Grenada would be Easterly and not too strong, and seastate moderate, was January 4th, a few days away and time enough to finish preparations. Mike in Budget Marine announced unexpectedly that they did, after all, have a Tahatsu 9.8HP outboard with a short shaft, having been saying the opposite for weeks, and after a day to think it through, encouraged by a failure to get the Suzuki 2.5HP running, I decided to buy, and was given a good discount. It would be ready for delivery by Jan 4th.
But you can’t have anything on a boat without somewhere to keep it, and the engine weighed a hefty 57lbs - 26kg. This was a problem, as try as I might I could not come up with a solution. The other outboard - now a standby - lived on the pushpit rail on the stern, on a special wooden block clamped onto the steel rail. Finally, after much thought, there really was nowhere else to put it other than in the same position on the pushpit rail but on the other side of the cockpit. However, this was problematic; for a start the satphone aerial lived there, but that could be moved onto the bimini frame at a pinch. More of a problem was that this was where the ladder was to get back in the boat after a swim, and it was awkward enough to do already with the wind vane steering system right next to the ladder. But then, I figured, wouldn’t the outboard be on the dinghy then? Well, it HAD to go somewhere, and this HAD to be it, so i’d just have to make it work. But you can’t just hang an engine on a bar, it needs a solid wooden bracket to sit on, and I didn’t have any wood big enough, so wandered into the carpenter’s shack near the boat to ask.
No, he couldn’t do it in time. But maybe the other carpenter at the top of the boatyard could? I went to see him. Could he make me something…by lunchtime! (when the engine would be delivered).
He could. He did. And a beautiful job it was too. It was fitted on and ready just in time, the engine passed perilously across the bow from the dock by one of the Budget Marine guys. Safety rope on it of course..
Although it was January 4th, planned departure day, I was not going. Once again, fate had intervened, this time it was me that wasn’t ready. I was not feeling right, probably with Tim’s cold, whatever, but I needed to be 100% to sail overnight solo. Instead I did what I always do now and hit the Vit C - 1000mg every few hours - and it has hardly ever let me down.
Hearing this, Tim turned up with K to say goodbye and wish me and PW well, and by the next day I was ok again.
JAN 5 2017: TO GRENADA SINGLEHANDED
Pinball was bursting with food, water, diesel and petrol, PCA 9134 had been returned, Customs and Immigration visited, and I had even managed to persuade the Customs man, who was very helpful, to return my flare gun without the customary 24hours notice, which I had failed to give. To do this I had moved Pinball out of Dock A2 without any help and without messing up either - no easy matter when you have two bow lines to release, two stern lines plus a long spring line running the length of the boat, a cross current and crosswind and no Marian and Kate to help. Lucky..
First stop was the fuel dock for fuel and water, then across to the Custom’s dock on the other side of the Chaguaramas inlet, which happened to be unoccupied and saved having to take the long walk back round to the boatyards.
There was a certain amount of desperation is this decision to go - this was not the chosen day with the best conditions, it was a day late again just like it had been the first time with Marian and Kate when we’d had the engine snags, but working through the negatives looking for a reason NOT to go, I couldn’t really find one. The winds were forecast to be Easterly, stronger than I wanted at an average of 20 kts but at least Easterly ok? Slightly confusing was the barometric picture which showed a trough extending out from the mainland which if correct would give light NEly, and presumably rain. This proved correct. But in my heart I knew if I didn’t go now, I’d never go…there would always be a reason not to, and it could be weeks before conditions were favourable again. Chichester never delayed just for weather..
After Customs I had a really nice coffee and piece of warmed quiche in the Crews Inn Cafe, there was no hurry now. We were ready. The plan was to ‘stage’ up to Scotland Bay - a small fjord like inlet on the way out to the ocean - to anchor, rest, eat and hopefully sleep a bit before setting off at 2200. On arrival in the dark tree-lined gorge right at the top end of the inlet, the anchor went down noisily in the still air, leaving Pinball with just the lights of a beach party for company. Waypoint in the chart plotter - to enable a check to be made for dragging - and it was dinner time.
Nosing out to sea later found light winds dead on the nose and a fairly lively, confused sea, which got progressively more so as Trinidad receded. Earlier rain cleared, and we were blessed with a half moon and beautiful sky. Initially ten knots on the nose, the wind soon got up to 20 knots and veering more Easterly, so more useable, but still North of East. Pinball was hard on the wind. By 0400 the Hibiscus Gas Rig - a blaze of a thousand lights - was getting closer, and set course on the autopilot to pass a couple of miles upwind of it. However, I must have dozed off as the next thing I knew was waking to see the this blaze of lights almost dead astern at half a mile - the inference being we had sailed very close past it on the downwind side. How can this have happened? To arrive in this position there can only be one reason: leeway. A boat doesn’t actually travel exactly where you point it, it slips sideways a little, resisted by the keel, but to have come off the intended course by at least 20 degrees as we clearly had - a dangerous situation - needed a strong cross current too. The Equatorial Current flows at 1-2 knots, driven by the Easterly Trade Winds, and in this area of sea flows to the WNW. It must have been particularly strong close to the Gas Rig, probably due to being shallower there, and being asleep was not picked up by the Skipper. This is the great weakness of single handed sailing, and not something I am at all happy with.
After that, conditions slowly worsened. Windspeed's increased - very similar to that night with Marian and Kate - and then some nasty squalls started coming through by early morning, each one worse than its predecessor and increasingly frequent. Seas were on the beam now and had built up too, then a squall would hit with windspeed of over 40 kts and torrential rain, making it really hard to reef in those conditions. Wising up, I got the reefs in in the quieter interludes and just as well I did, as the next squall was particularly exciting with zero visibility in the rain. It was cold in these massive downpours too, got soaked through several times, and found Pinball was unable to hold course North and was luffing up into wind even with triple reefs in.
Enough! Time for some help from the engine - which has behaved very well - and max speed for the shelter of Prickly Bay, whilst keeping a patch of genoa out and a triple reefed main.
Entering the Bay at around 1330, there were boats everywhere, mostly on buoys, so motored round having a look, finally opting to take a buoy too. I found one unoccupied, and armed with my trusty buoy grabbing boathook - which has a spring loaded hook on the end of the boathook, on a line - managed a successful temporary attachment. Its not the strongest piece of rope in the world but sufficient to give some time to attach something beefier, in slow time. If its not windy you can usually drop a line over the bow and through the eye on top, then hook it back with a boathook. Not today. It was still blowing 25-30 knots, so just lassoed the whole buoy, twice, and tied it off. When the dinghy is launched you can then sort it all out properly.
Ah yes! The new dinghy!
To get to Customs I now needed the dinghy, and the new engine (still untried) as well, both heavier than their predecessors (now spares) The dinghy was up on the foredeck, upside down and lashed, whilst the more powerful 2 stroke engine sat on its brand new base plate bolted to the pushpit The dinghy was a step change improvement, with its hard fibreglass floor ensuring good planing speeds - basically a very small RIB - whilst the Tahitsu modern 2 stroke engine was four times as powerful as the Suzuki but less than twice the weight - a real boon when lifting it on and off Pinball on your tod. These two stroke engines are not sold in the USA or Europe as they do not comply with current emissions policies, all well and good, but the price for being forced to buy the admittedly cleaner running four stroke is a doubling of weight, and hike in price too. You try lifting a 50kg engine down into a bucking dinghy on your own!
Anyway, the dinghy was launched, somewhat messily I admit (I will make a proper bridle for it) using the mast winch and a spare halyard, and the engine lowered to dangle on a rope whilst I get in the dinghy (dink to a Yank) to do the rest. It started very easily, much easier than the Suzuki, first pull. Then conked out. Bit of throttle and off we go.
Tempting though it was, the urge to crack open the throttle was resisted as there were ten hours of running in period to serve first. The dinghy dock at the rather cramped Prickly Bay Marina was well utilised, and I went straight up to a well marked CUSTOMS room, which was of course shut. Opens 0900 tomorrow, where I will no doubt face questions about arrival times. But considering there were ferocious squalls coming through every ten minutes since arrival, I thought I’d done well to turn up at all, dressed somewhat bizarrely as I was in full Gortex, having been through three changes of clothing.
I won’t pretend. This was a hard 16 hour overnighter which got harder with the squalls, and no fun at all. I felt sick virtually the whole way, but wasn’t, and am currently very glad to be tied to a buoy whilst it continues to howl outside. Tomorrow will be worse, if the forecast is correct, so will not be going anywhere anyway.
Saturday 7 January 2017
Customs and Immigration are in the Prickly Bay Marina, and usually when co-located prove less trying. So it proved. I was taken through the Internet based procedure, called Sailclear, by a most helpful young Immigration Officer, whilst the Customs side of it would have to wait until Monday. He was off sick. (Yeah right..)
Afterwards the lure of the open air restaurant proved overwhelming, with its dedicated wifi area with plug points for your computer/iphone etc overhead, it was the best I’d seen. There were even UK sockets for goodness sake. So a most pleasant place to be, even the weather was calming down. Later I went back to Pinball and sorted out the mooring lines properly from the dinghy. A lovely relaxing day..
There was still the problem of meeting up with Colin, who would be arriving in Antigua from UK in ten days time to join the boat as crew for a while. I needed some ‘chill’ time here, as overnighter’s do take it out of you, but had originally hoped to get to St Lucia, there to meet. What to do? If I was to get to St Lucia I would have to set sail fairly soon. With a crew you can just keep going over several nights, a month of nights even, but single handed close to shore, more than one overnight sail is asking for trouble. Look what nearly happened getting here! So stops are needed; Carriacou, Bequia, they all take extra time.
But the weather decided it.
Cold fronts (“Northers”) regularly plunge southeast from the cold central American continent in Northern winters, bringing much cooler air, squalls and strong Northerly winds into the Caribbean, reaching as far as Puerto Rico quite often before petering out. But currently there was a Cold Front which had travelled much further - as far as St Lucia just a couple of hundred miles to the North of here, which was most unusual - a meteorological disturbance than kills the Easterly trade winds for a while. We now had North winds forecast between here and St Lucia, even going West of North, something I personally had not experienced in the Caribbean before. But it would mean headwinds all the way, although not that strong, but motoring for sure. Decision: stay here, and await Colin’s arrival by air from Antigua.
Tuesday 10 January 2017
Lovely day, calm. Me too - well not lovely, but calm.
Went for an explore in the new dinghy round the headland into True Blue Bay, which wasn’t as nice as the guide book says, just a few boats anchored plus all the Horizon charter boats in the marina at the end. Passing an old steel boat from Cardiff flying the Red Ensign at anchor, stopped and met Sarah, a pleasant North Country lass, whilst her own Nigel was away elsewhere. They’ve been here since September, crossed the Atlantic in Jan Feb, broke the wind vane rudder, diverted to and had it repaired in Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands, set off, broke again but too late to turn back so hand steered across. Looked like they’d never leave to me.
Then went up to Budget Marine and to buy some shackles and so on to rig the new dinghy properly for hauling out etc, but they needed my ships papers and Customs Arrival form to qualify for a tax free transaction. No papers? Pay 50% more!
Having finally achieved over 3 hours running in, it was first time up on the plane in the new dinghy! Wow! Love it! Couldn’t stop laughing..
Wednesday 11 January 2107 BARBARA is born.
Another lovely day, still, not much wind and now from the NE. Back to Budget for the fittings, then over to the wifi area to start the exciting task of filling in a Tax Return before it becomes critical. By the time I’d finished it was dark, I’m hungry, and so went back to the dinghy dock where after a straw poll the newly named dinghy - ‘Barbara’ - was….. gone.
No, it was gone alright.
Now I could dimly see Barbara, bobbing up and down 50yds off the end of the dinghy dock. WTF!
I HAD CHAINED IT to the dock. Some ******* had cut it loose then!
Looking back to see if anyone else was headed this way who could give me a lift out revealed no one. Ah sod it. There was a big red dinghy half full of water which was unlocked, so I stole it, and standing in its waterlogged bow, paddled awkwardly out to rescue Barbara. Luckily it wasn’t far, as the return journey towing Barbara was touch and go. I just hoped the Security guy wasn’t looking this way.
I found the chain still firmly padlocked to a cleat on the dock, the chain hanging vertically down in the water. I must have unlocked it from the bow of Barbara for some reason and not locked it again, probably whilst rigging the lifting harness.
You were lucky NN.
There are a lot of thefts going on in the Caribbean, some of them violent, and not least here in Grenada although no violence involved so far. The number one items on a thief’s agenda of course are a new dinghy, and a new outboard.
Saturday 14 January 2017
On arrangement, met up with Tony, a retired Naval Commander, MEO and now Skipper of his own Tradewinds of Elmsworth, enjoying a beer and half price pizza with him. He had messaged me on Facebook, having been given a heads up by the lovely Ali, a previous crew member. He bases his boat here, sailing it in the Northern winter, returning to the Med in summer to sail his other boat! Wish I had a Commander’s pension.. Good to meet up.
Sunday 15 January 2017
The security routine at night had so far meant attaching not one but two 8mm chains to the dinghy from the stern of Pinball - not thief proof by any means as has been proven, as a thief can climb in and cut the fittings. But now, with a good strong harness made up, I would be winching Barbara right out of the water until nearly level with the deck, with just the one chain on. This makes it very much harder to steal and would involve coming on deck to remove the chain and release the dinghy.
I have ears.
Tuesday 17 January 2017
Got the Black and Decker drill out and fitted the security bars to the front hatch I had had made in Chaguaramas.
Tried to start the engine. Dead! Nothing happening at all.
Eventually tried using the house batteries instead of the engine start battery and it starts. Strange..
Colin arrives in Antigua. He will stay overnight (in a ‘dodgy hotel’) then a LIAT flight down to Barbados, and another LIAT flight on to Grenada tomorrow.
Wednesday 18 January 2107 A sick Colin
The sun has gone, replaced by low cloud and rain. 11 o’clock I set off in the rain in Barbara for the dock by Budget Marine at the head of Prickly Bay - closest point to the Airport, wearing a ghastly yellow cape with arm-holes. At least I wont get run over. On Tony’s recommendation I had arranged to meet Paul the Taxi man at 1230 at the airport. By the time I’d got to the end of the road, a maxi-taxi pulled up alongside with a very forthright Rasta ‘customer recruiter’ hanging out one side, and after some negotiation, climbed in. We settled on $5 XCD - about £1.70. Well, it was raining..
At the airport I discovered I was now 2 hours early, Colin’s ETA of 1235 being an hour out. No worries, time for a coffee and sandwich in the cafe. At 1230 I met the towering Paul, who took the bad news in good grace.
‘ Ok, call me when he’s actually here, right here!’..pointing at the ground
How many UK taxis would wait an hour?
Colin arrived beaming, and we made our way to Pauls red, rattly van. I had asked Paul if he would mind taking us via a shopping mall to stock up on food, which he did, leaving us for another customer to return later. Not having eaten for 24hours, Colin needed some lunch right now!
Back on Pinball, we had much to talk about, but it soon became clear to me that Colin was not well. Claiming a cold, his cough was something else, quite horrendous, and would go on for five minutes or so.
‘Colin. You have a chest infection.’
He was not really persuaded. ‘I get a cold and it always goes to my chest. This one is taking a while to clear though..’ he admitted.
Between us we load the food and water from Barbara into Pinball, then I make Spag Bol and we crash out.
Thursday 19 January 2017
Colin is worse. Hacking, painful cough day and night and streaming cold, he bravely helps me try and diagnose the engine start problem. The battery voltage was fine, so a detailed check of all the wires and connections was made, testing with the voltmeter, and no problems found. Finally, I asked Colin to crank the engine whilst I monitored the voltage drop on the battery. The result was conclusive, although at first I could hardly believe it. As soon as the key was turned the voltage plunged to just 3 volts across the terminals!
‘Must be a short somewhere’. But no short could be found, and suspicions began in earnest about the state of the battery. It was only a couple of years old, so should be fine, but how could we test it? It had already failed the ‘Nigel Calder load test’ by not doing anything at all with the engine. The only other equipment connected to this battery was the electric windlass - which uses a lot of power. We went up on deck and with a rope wrapped around the windlass to give it some load, pressed the ‘Up’ button.
Nothing. Dead as a dodo. ‘Well that rules out the wiring then. Its the battery…’
We set off back to Budget Marine to buy another battery, taking the failed one with us to get rid of it. Selecting the right size, they put it on charge for the night, for collection tomorrow.
Friday 20 January 2017
Colin is even worse, and looking haggard now.
‘You need antibiotics Colin. If you don't take them soon you risk pneumonia.’ This time he didn’t argue. We went ashore to find out if antibiotics could be bought at a pharmacy without prescription or not, and got mixed responses. However, whilst collecting the now fully charged battery from Budget Marine we fortuitously bumped into Paul the Taxi, who quite emphatically said we needed to see a doctor to get them.
‘The pharmacies are very strict on this’.
So, could he take us?
Arriving in a pleasant waiting room with a receptionist, Colin was in and out with an array of drugs including the antibiotics, in just ten minutes, at a cost of about $50US.
Back on the boat, new battery in place, turned the key. Bingo!
Saturday 21 January 2017
Overcast, gusts coming through now and then.
Colin sleeps all morning, whilst I catch up on the Blog. We want to sail round to St Georges for a quick look at this historic town - capitol of Grenada - but decide to go tomorrow.
For the second time Lloyds Bank have blocked my Debit card, this time for no reason as I had informed them of being in Grenada. To unblock it I will have to Skype their fraud number, really annoyed!
TOMORROW we’re off round the corner to St Georges.