Monday, June 18, 2012

Passage to Bequia or "Captain and the sea"

Posted by Captain

We have another month till we fly to Europe and we want to use it the best we can.

We cleared out from St. Lucia heading South, Destination Bequia. We had no intention to stop in St. Vincent - crime rate is too high there, so they deserve a pass. We intended to start early having a chance to arrive during daylight. Early morning started with a terrible rain and heavy winds. It was perhaps arround 5 a cock when I went out to open a dinghy drain. I was tottaly wet in a second. Wind instrument was showing 33 knots and in such wind sprayhood or bimini offers little protection. I did not feel like raising the anchor and sails in such a squall, so we waited. And waited.

It was well past 8 when the rain slowed down. Should we postpone our trip? A well known rule says one should never attempt to enter unknown port at nigth. Specially not here in Caribbean, where most charting was done shortly after Columbus and corrections were made in 18th and 19th century. Large areas of charts are marked "insufficiently surveyed". Navigation marks are rare and often not lit at night. But Admirality bay looks easy to negotiate at night. Appart from Devil's table shoal the entrance is clear of dangers. Inside there are some unlit heavy metal buoys, several shoals on the SE side and one can expect a good number of boats without any anchor light. But if we wanted to be 100% safe we would not cross the ocean in the first place, so off we went.

First part of the passage was under lee of St Lucia. The wind got tired afer blowing 30+ knots for hours, so it almost died. We motor-sailed easily. Having plenty of energy we were making water, cooling the fridge and charging all our appliances. Water in our newly repaired boiler was also getting hot.  Runing an engine does have some benefits.
This is how much we got to see of famous Pitons.


 Approaching the South tip of St. Lucia we got fresh undisturbed wind, so we killed the engine and we were making good progress averaging 6 to 7 knots, going to 8 at times. Cleaning the bottom did pay off. There were few squalls passing left and right, and of course soon we got a direct hit.
It was a typical tropic squall:
1) Dark cloud with visible rain approaches you. At this time you try to guess if it will hit you or miss, you can usually see the rain on the radar - in that case you know if it's going to hit you.
2) Wind increases and changes direction.  You reef and adjust sails, trying to make it fast,  so you would not get wet from the coming rain - only to get wet from sweat.
3) Rain and some more wind increases. You can never guess how much the wind will increase. Sometimes it goes to 25, sometime to more then 30 knots, so basically you either reef too much and you go slow, or reef to little and have to reef again during rain. In this case we reefed again in heavy rain.
4) Rain continues while wind changes direction, just to make sure you really get wet while you tend the sails.
 5) At the end you get rainbow, sunshine and wind almost dies. At this time you shake out a reef or two, wipe whatever water find a way inside. After a couple of more minutes the wind starts to blow normally - that is around 15 to 20 knots here, so life is good again.

We were facing a dilemma: To pass St. Vincent on a windward side or on the leeward side. Windward means fresh undisturbed wind, but it also means we would need to beat hard to get to windward side of the island and we would sail in the open ocean with large waves - lots of salt and water over the boat. Leeward side means easy passage between St.Lucia and St.Vincent (reaching), but it also means less wind behind St.Vincent, plus a possible beat from Vincent to Bequia.
We decided for leeward option.

The Fish

I usually troll (catch fish) on a passage. We had a great success with our previous lure, but it is long gone. The new lure is not such a succes. I did catch two Big-eye tunas with it, but more often then not we end up eating what we buy, not what we catch.
On this passage we also got nothing for 50 miles.
Then Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
I juped to the rod and increased the brake tension. This usualy stops or slows the fish. Oh, oh. Not this one. I set befind the rod. Heron has a good place to fish - looks almost like a fighting chair on professional fishing boats. I shouted to Lili (Yes I know. I get all the fun, she does all the work): "Quick, slowdown the boat, this is a big one!".  Lili promptly changed course 20deg to wind and rolled the foresail. This slowed us from 7 knots to 2 knots.
But the line was still going out like crazy. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz - I pushed the limmiter and placed the brake from strike zone over to hard. Still zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
"She is too big, we are going to loose it and the gear"
There was almost no line left od the wheel, the rod was bent to the point I was sure it was going to brake. The line was all streached and the brake got hot.  What to do...
"Wow, she is a beauty" shouted Lili when a marlin jumped out of the water faaaar away from the boat.  
"What to do now" was going in my head. The fish turned and the line stopped unwinding. I quickly started to reel in. I managed to get back about 100m of line when zzzzzzzzzzzzzz again. This fish was so strong. The beatle went on and on for a while, my arms hurt, my back hurt, my hands hardly hold the rod but I got more and more line in.  Soon we saw a beautifill marlin close to the boat. She wanted to hide under the boat. Old trick, but I was prepared. I franticaly reeled-in the line and here she was. Two meters from me.
Beautiful fish. Big fish. Oh, why did she bite this lure. I felt sorry for the fish, but there was no way back. Cutting the lure is a bad option. Beside loosing an expensive lure you leave the hook in the fish. She can not hunt and may suffer infection. Who knows if she can recover from that. So my only chance was to get the fish out. If she is not going to survive anyway at least she will provide several good meals for us.
I looked her in the eye - visibly exausted from a battle resting on the surface for a second.
I shouted "Lili, the hook".
Lili already stood there with a hook, a bottle of strong rum and a big diving knive.  How she manages to safely sail the boat while tending all my crazy needs during a catch is beyond my understanding, but she is a seasoned sailor now and can read my mind.
I did not know she even took a few pictures during the battle.

I wanted to hook the fish as soon as possible and pour rum in her gills.
But this marlin was not done yet. She started to jump, so I could not hook her.
At the heat of a fight between our swimming platform and the ocean Marlin's spear came too close to my body for my comfort. I wished my fish hook was longer, I wish the fish was smaller, I wish she was more tired.
At one final jump the fish managed to get very high from the water, shook off the fishing tackle from her mouth and off she went.
Lili and me stood for a moment in silence with mixed emotions.
Reliefed that a beautiful fish got free (and I even got the lure back), a little sad as we know how delicious this fish would be. She would provide us with enough meat for a week. We were more sad as in the heat of a battle the fish suffered some injuries - we just hoped she would fully recover. I almost cried when I was whiping blood drops from the swim platform.   

What a day.
The rest of a passage was great. Bequia channel is known for strong currents, erratic large waves and strong winds, but we got none of that. The passage was fast, waves one to two meters ony and towards the end we even got another rain shower to rinse the salt from the boat (fast sailing in two meter waves does bring water over the boat).
It got dark, so we turned on navigation lights.  All that time we were making water.
 All three of  our tanks were now full, so I rinsed the watermaker.
Approaching Admirality bay we were pleasantly surprised to find W cardinal mark at Devil's table in place end working. Fl(9) 15s. Wow. We allowed plenty of room and turned into a bay.
Lili was at the helm. She rolled the headsail and started the engine. I prepared the lines for lowering main sail. I have done it so many times that darkness was not an issue at all. Lili routinely asked "Ready?". "Ready!" I replied. She turned the bow into wind and "Whusk", down went the big main sail.
I went forward and when we were at the anchorage the main was in the bag with boom preventer fixed.
Lili was a bit worried - I was forward and had no clue. There were several big ships in the bay and none had any anchor light or any other light. I was not at all worried as I had no idea we were maneuvering among them. Thanks for radar and a good helmsman. Lili really knows how to handle the boat.
She said "6m, you can drop it now".
I dropped the anchor, let out enough scope and Lili set the anchor by reversing. First gently, then strong. I fixed the anchor snubber and went back.
We are so happy to have this big good anchor. It was expensive, but it holds like nothing I have seen so far.
We were tired, but happy. I poured each of us a generous portion of good old Antiguan rum, we sipped it slowly and watched the night.  Life is good. This is why we went cruising.

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