Leaving Antigua, W. I.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's Downhill from Here!

We stayed in Antigua from March 23 until March 29, visiting with our friends and enjoying the fried chicken from the grocery store at Jolly Harbour.  It's the best fried chicken we've found down this way.  We were eager to get on our way before the tradewinds began their annual shift from northeast to southeast, as southeast winds would make for difficult sailing until we reach St. Lucia, the eastern most point on our way south.  We stayed in Antigua a little too long.

The weather forecast for the 29th showed a little south in the easterly wind, shifting back to east on the 30th.  We had solid southeasterly wind on the 29th, all the way to our stop in Deshaies, Guadeloupe.  We motor-sailed the whole way, with main, staysail, and the diesel.  We needed an excuse to break in the new engine, anyway.  On the 30th, we had more of the same, and discovered a rip in the mainsail, so we took it down and motored along with just the staysail up.  This made no difference to our speed, but without the stabilizing influence of the main, the ride was a lot less pleasant.

Just as we were getting into the heavy seas at the south end of Guadeloupe, the engine dropped from about 2800 RPM to about 2000, and began to vibrate.  We lost speed rapidly.  We quickly figured out that our propeller had fouled on some floating debris.  Without the mainsail, and without the engine, our options diminished.  We turned around and set a course for the town of Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, a few miles away.  We were able to raise a bit of mainsail, up to the third reef, which would normally be used for sailing in near hurricane strength winds.  We only had about twenty knots of wind, now on our starboard bow, but we were able to make our way slowly to a semi-protected anchorage off the town, where we dropped the anchor under sail.  Bud donned snorkel gear and dove on the prop.  As we suspected, a piece of floating fish net had wrapped neatly around the prop.  Bud quickly cut the net away with a couple of desperate strokes of his dive knife.  All was well, again.  Because our prop runs in a small aperture between the aft end of the full keel and the rudder, it is well protected, and we have never, in twenty-two years of sailing Play Actor, fouled the prop before, not even among all of the crab pots on the Chesapeake.  Of course, it had to happen when we were more dependent on the engine than usual. 

The weather forecasts have given up any pretense at northeasterly trades, showing southeasterly winds of 15 to 20 knots for the next few days.  Our course until we reach St. Lucia is a little east of south, so we are very glad for the performance of our new engine.  The engine gives us an option for going to windward now that we haven't had before.  The old engine would only push us along at less than 5 knots with the wind in our faces.  Although our hull speed is around 7 knots, the old engine and prop combo didn't have enough power to overcome the windage.  That's not a problem with our new engine.  We can motor merrily into the wind at 7 knots, as long as we can pay for diesel fuel.  While it's nice to be able to do that, the ride is not great, and, with the wind close on our port bow and the seas up, we're wearing foul weather gear to stay dry.

We spent the night of the 30th anchored in Portsmouth, Dominica, and left early the next morning for St. Pierre, Martinique.  This is normally Leslie's least favorite hop, as the 25-mile channel from Dominica to Martinique is usually rough.  She was pleasantly surprised, this time, as the wind abated somewhat, as well as going a little farther east, making for a quite comfortable trip.  We anchored for the evening under the visage of the statue of Our Lady of Safe Harbor, up on the hillside above town, and thanked her for the smooth ride.  Tomorrow, we'll go to St. Lucia, where we will rest a few days and take our main to the sail maker who patched it for us a couple of years ago.

Our April Fool's Day trip to Martinique was the roughest we've experienced in all of our years in the islands.  The wind is back with a vengeance, and without the main, the waves really slap us around.  About 12 miles out from our destination, we hit a patch of breaking waves, some of which were sizable.  Several broke over the windward quarter and filled the cockpit.  This is not dangerous to a boat like Play Actor, as the cockpit has good drainage, but it's certainly not leisurely sailing.  In all our years aboard, we've only had green water in the cockpit a few times -- three or four, maybe, and those in stormy conditions.  Today, we had green water in the cockpit half a dozen times in an hour.  The waves diminished as we came into the lee of St. Lucia, and we anchored and dried ourselves out before taking the dinghy ashore to clear in with Customs.

We'll be here a week or so, waiting to get the mainsail fixed, and we'll use the time to catch up on some minor maintenance.  Our engine is fully broken in, so we'll do the 50-hour service checklist, as well as replacing weather stripping around a hatch and several portholes that were leaking while in the rough water.  It's nice to be cruising again, instead of installing an engine, and it's nice to be here in St. Lucia.  One of the fruit vendors, named Gregory, came by in his dinghy to welcome us back with a bunch of local bananas -- he knows Leslie as "Banana Lady," because that's all she ever buys from him.  He comes by every day that we are here, tooting on his conch shell to announce his arrival, and makes a close pass alongside, holding out a big bunch of bananas.  Leslie leans far out over the lifelines with a $5 E.C. bill in her fingers, and they do a flying transfer, accompanied by good-natured yells, laughter, and occasional applause from a neighboring boat.

It's downhill from here to Grenada, where we'll leave the boat for a few weeks to fly back to the States and visit family.  All of our courses from here to there have west in them, AND we'll have a mainsail again.

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