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Date: 22 Feb 2011 02:20:00
Title: A qualified diver

Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua, Monday night

Andrea and I went down to the fort at the entrance to English Harbour to watch the start of the Caribbean 600 race. Kali went up onto Shirley heights to watch. We all got a good view as the start line was right outside the harbour. We were on the side before the start line so we got a great view of the boats jostling for their start positions. As the first start approached, about a dozen boats were trying to get the better of each other while the real big beasts prowled around offshore. As they all set off, most were on a starboard tack but a few further inshore were on port so there was plenty of argy-bargy to entertain the few spectators.

The next start had about half a dozen larger boats and then it was the turn of the 100 foot, canting keel proper race boats. In fact, only two of them were here, ICAP Leopard and Rambler 100 but they're supposed to be the best ones. Rambler had been maneuvering around in front of us so we'd had a good look at her before the start. She's extremely wide and has a prominent bowsprit to carry her asymmetric spinnaker. Two huge dagger boards stick up either side of the mast so she can grip the water and prevent leeway, even when her keel is canted to one side so that the weight works better at keeping her upright. There is a rudder on each side of her transom so that one of them is always in the water and working properly, even if she's heeled right over. Her sails are carbon weave so they look both black and translucent which is a strange combination. The top of her mainsail is flat rather than coming to a point so the sail is almost rectangular, thus improving lift and reducing drag. There seemed to be about 20 crew.

When it was time for her to start, the helmsman just turned her slightly so she was pointed hard up into the wind and the whole boat shook herself, heeled slightly and accelerated. The change in speed was really abrupt. Whereas the other boats had been struggling to stay upright, even with reefed sails, Rambler was almost level despite her full spread of carbon/kevlar composite. That's what a canting keel does for you, I suppose. While we were watching all that, Leopard had just casually come up to the start line and shot across it with a minimum of drama. She's spent the whole pre-race time out at sea away from the melee and timed her start perfectly. No fuss, just totally professional. It will be interesting to see which of these two wins and if it 's a new course record. Leopard has the record at present - 600 miles in a little over 44 hours.

After we'd watched the last boats depart, we headed back to Saxon Blue to swap my binoculars for diver books and then Andrea and I went off for lunch at Grace Before Meals. We had vegetable rotis, salad, rice and peas and a huge fruit smoothie. It was all delicious and the atmosphere is great. I asked the girl behind the counter if I could have rice and peas with mine and she just turned and shouted "Mum, rice with one of them". The locals coming in just chat to Grace while she's doing the cooking. The whole thing is just so honest. Wonderful.

From there I went off to Aquanaut Divers to do my exams. I got the multi-choice questions and got on with them. Then John arrived and went through using the Dive Calculator which isn't as easy as it seems. It's so you can work out how much Nitrogen your body has absorbed and make sure that it's within safe limits without requiring a decompression stop. With multiple dives and various rest times, it can get complex. Once he'd finished, I did the next bit of the test. Mostly, it was straightforward although the questions using the calculator took some thinking about. One of the multi-choice questions didn't have an option for the correct answer which I thought was a bit slack. Anyway, I passed with only a couple of answers wrong - well, when I say wrong, different to the one they were looking for!

So that's it, I'm now a PADI diver so I can go out when we get somewhere with all the kit to rent. Hopefully that will be before too long so I don't forget it all. Kali seems keen as well so that'll help.

While I was doing the exam, the guys from Antigua Rigging had arrived on Saxon Blue to sort out the genoa halyard sheave. They were very efficient so they were finished by the time I got back to the Dockyard and it all seems fine. The pin around which the sheave rotates had sheered clean off. With that done, Saxon Blue is now ready for sea again. We've got some stuff to do tomorrow and Kali is back from her mini-break so we're aiming to depart on Wednesday morning.

Andrea and I went out for dinner to the Italian restaurant along the road which was as good as before and I've been looking at charts and the pilot book to plan where we're going when we leave here. The best bit is that we'll be back when we pick up Cind and Christine in the middle of March. I love Antigua so I'm glad not to be leaving for too long.

Harvey

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