November 15 - December 24, 2005

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HIGHLIGHTS - "We Made It To The Caribbean" And "Carnage On The Foredeck"

We finally escaped from Winter in Rhode Island and made a spectacular passage to the Caribbean, helped along by tropical storm (soon to be Hurricane) Epsilon. Also had some amazing fishing.

Then an "easy two-day cruise" from St. Martin to St. Lucia almost turned to disaster, as we blew out TWO headsails and had to limp into Martinique for repairs.

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November 15 - November 24

Last year we left Rhode Island on November 9, bound for Bermuda. And we thought that was late in the season, as winter storms start to push through the East Coast one after another in late November. This year we were still in Barrington, Rhode Island, for Thanksgiving, due to our pilothouse window project, which took a long time.

But this was a good year to be late, because the hurricanes just wouldn't quit. NOAA had never before run out of English alphabet letters for storm names, but this year we used up the entire English alphabet and went five deep into the Greek letters. The very last storm, Epsilon, ultimately gave us some thrills out on the ocean.

Tent coming down, revealing new, beautiful windows The new pilothouse windows turned out great, and the "tent" came down. Now we needed to escape to the Caribbean -- destination St. Maarten, over 1500 miles away.

 

Usually, before each passage, Ken dives down to check the prop for sea growth. Usually. The water in Barrington was 48 degrees.

Ken first tried to convince Beth that she needed to learn how to clean the prop, but when that didn't work he broke down and hired somebody tougher than us to do the job.

Here is Frankie Chaves, a really tough Portuguese/American boat rigger and jack of all trades who works at Cove Haven (and who actually built the pilot house on Eagle's Wings back in 1995).

Frankie managed to clean the prop and replace a prop zinc, (without dropping any of the little screws), despite the fact that he was gasping from the cold by the end. We were really impressed.

Frankie ready to dive under boat to check prop

Trapped

We were ready to go, but the weather wasn't cooperating -- there were nasty storms brewing off the East Coast, and our weather router, Herb Hilgenberg, said "no window."

So we did what we always do when we have time on our hands -- we worked on the boat.

Ken with quick fix (left) and complicated fix (right)

How many PhDs does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Both bulbs in one of our flourescent fixtures stopped working. Ken had seen this problem before -- it meant the ballast in the light fixture had died. So we ordered some spare fixtures and Ken took the old one out, installed the new one, put the blubs back in and turned it on. Still didn't work.

Then he changed the light bulbs. That worked.

 

Beth claims she was just threading the sewing machine needle, but Ken thinks she's praying to the sewing gods that -- just once -- she might complete a project without having to rip out all of her new seams to start over again.

 

Threading machine in preparation for a sewing session

 

Setting up and testing Iridium connection

When we bought our Iridium satellite phone, we had it in mind mostly for emergencies. ("Hello, operator? I'm in a life raft in the Southern Ocean. Could you please connect me with the Chilean Navy?")

But it turns out that you can use Iridium to download all kinds of great weather data. Here Beth gets the phone set up to work with our laptop. Its a bit pricey, though, at $1.50/minute.

 

Our Iridium phone. We weren't sure whether to talk to it, worship it, or report it to NASA as an alien invader. The rigged Iridium phone is one strange looking dude

Cold And Snow

And so it got colder and colder.

Now we realize that we can't expect much sympathy from our friends and family in the frozen North. But you've got to realize, a sailboat is not very comfortable when the temps get below freezing.

The snowfall was beautiful, but not what we bargained on What's wrong with these pictures? Winter wonderland morning after first snowfall

Sailboats aren't insulated like houses. So you get lots of condensation. And mold grows like crazy. You can start cleaning with a scrunge and a spray bottle of Fantastic at one end of the interior, and by the time you've completed the circle back to your starting point the mold will have returned to meet you.

Condensation on a hatch. This gets so bad that eventually it "rains" inside the boat. Condensation on inside of hatches was constantly dripping on our heads

Heater Problems

To compound matters, we didn't have a working heater on board, because our Webasto just refused to light, as we discussed in the last update.

We briefly considered getting the new model, which apparently does work, but it's three times as big, five times as heavy, would require some major surgery to squeeze it on board, would cost lots of money, and might delay our departure. And once we got out of Rhode Island we probably wouldn't turn it on again for more than a year.

So we decided to just be cold. Brrr....

Actually, the folks at Brewers Cove Haven were great and lent us two space heaters to supplement the small one that we carry. The extra heaters made a huge difference (though we still wore long underwear, pile jackets, and hats onboard). Also, Ken had installed an additional heat exchanger to heat water when our generator runs. We were able to pipe that hot water into the boat for extra heat.

Mike showing off lined blue jeans Mike, the general manager at Cove Haven, was well-prepared for the cold. His blue jeans were lined with a nice warm flannel material. We never knew you could get lined blue jeans!

 

Mike and George of "Zafu" were also preparing to sail for the Caribbean as soon as the weather permitted. Here they model their winter sailing gear. We liked the mask idea so much that we went out and bought some. Mike and George of Zafu suited up with masks

You Thought WE Were Crazy?

We consoled ourselves waiting for the weather to clear up by going to the shopping mall and stocking up on M&M's. On the way we found some people who were really nuts.

Line gathered outside Best Buy for release of Microsoft X-Box

At about 4:00 p.m. we noticed a long line of young people, complete with blankets and lawn furniture, gathered outside Best Buy. We learned that these hardy souls were lining up for the release of Microsoft's new X-Box THE NEXT MORNING AT 9 a.m.

Meantime it was going to go into the 30's that night and the giant storm that was keeping us in port would sweep through and dump torrential rain and then snow on R.I.

 

We stuck around for a while and got to talk with Kim and Tim, the first two people in line. (Notice the TV guy interviewing somebody in the background.)

Kim said she was there to help her husband, Tim get the X-Box for his Christmas Present. She said she would get a lot of "wife points" out of this. We sure hope so.

We knew from experience that they were going to get very cold and wet. We urged them to go buy a plastic tarp to hide under when the rain started, before their cotton clothes got wet. Cotton won't help at all once it's waterlogged.

As we left, the rain had started and Kim had gone for the tarp. We hope they made it without catching pneumonia.

Ah, to be young again.

Or maybe not....

Kim and Tim were first in line for the X-Box

Last Days In The U.S.

Bleak November landscape We managed to take some time and go on a short hike near the marina. It was sobering seeing the lack of greenery (only seen on evergreens). This was definitely looking a bit too wintery.

It began to dawn on us that we would spend Thanksgiving in Rhode Island. We were bummed that we couldn't be with family for the holiday and started to think about what we could do to celebrate the holiday.

Mike, the general manager, and his wife, Nancy, were so thoughtful and invited us, along with Mike and George from "Zafu," to spend Thanksgiving with their family. Mike and Nancy managed a large racing "Maxiboat" sailboat for many years, sailing all over the world, and they know what its like to be away from family and friends for the holidays.

We had a delightful Thanksgiving at Mike and Nancy's. Nancy is pictured at far right, with Mike in background, 4th from right. Mike from "Zafu" is at the far left and George of "Zafu" is in the front center. We enjoyed meeting Mike and Nancy's sons (not pictured) and their other relatives. Thanksgiving dinner at Mike and Nancy's

November 25 - December 4

Herb, our weather router, gave us the thumbs up for a departure the day after Thanksgiving. But the boat gods conspired against us. The pump which drives our fresh water system failed and Ken discovered the housing had cracked completely in two. We'd had exactly the same failure last year.

Ken installing new water pump on morning of departure We couldn't launch off on a 1-2 week voyage with an inoperable water system, so Ken swapped out the pump with a spare we were carrying. We've gotten good at this sort of thing..

We finally got underway in the afternoon and motored down Naragansett Bay toward Newport. The air temperature was 41 degrees and the water temperature was 42 degrees.

As we neared the mouth of the Naragansett, the sun was setting and it got progressively COLDER. But Beth was toasty warm in all of her long underwear, pile, boots, foul weather gear, heavy duty mittons, and ski mask. Beth bundled up on first night out

 

Last view of North America As we looked back toward shore, we realized this would be the last view of North America that "Eagle's Wings" would have for a very long time. WE plan to fly back for visits, but the boat (with us onboard) is now bound for New Zealand!

 

The wind picked up nicely to about 10-15 knots and we decided to raise the sails. But lo and behold we discovered all of the lines -- mainsheet, halyards, reefing lines -- were frozen solid! Beth is holding up the mainsheet which has frozen into a solid block. So we had to motor until everything thawed out the next morning. Beth holding up frozen mainsheet

By the next morning, the water temperature rose to the 60's and the lines thawed, but the wind dropped to 2-6 knots and went right on the nose -- so we continued motoring. It would be two days before we had enough wind to sail.

Ken enjoying the ride We had some pretty rolly conditions -- long period 10-12 foot seas -- but we were mentally prepared for anything -- especially if it meant getting out the snow and ice of the East Coast! We both got a little queasyfor the first day or so, but after taking seasickness medication for one day, we were fine for the rest of the passage..

 

Under sail at last After almost 48 hours of motoring, we got decent wind and hoisted our sails. Wow -- that sure was great! Our speeds jumped to 9 and 10 knots in perfect reaching conditions and we even hit 11-12 knots occasionally. This was more like it! The water temperature steadily climbed and stayed in the low to mid 70's. We were finally in the Gulf Stream. Burying bow in wave

 

What a great feeling -- going fast and going SOUTH! Speeding along toward the Caribbean

 

Ken with a tuna, caught early in the trip

The water turned from green to blue we we started to get whiffs of tropical life. Soon after we put up the sails, we caught a 30" tuna -- providing us with 14 single-person meals. We had a tasty blackened tuna dinner and froze the rest.

Beth even baked some bread for dinner.

 

We quickly settled into a routine. Each day we'd talk to Herb on the single-side band and get his opinion of what we should do. We'd also download weather files using our Iridium phone, as Ken is doing at the right.

The Iridium data (from a company called "Ocens"), was just great. For the first time we felt like we had enough information to really understand what Herb was telling us, as opposed to just following his instructions.

Ken downloading weather files using Iridium phone

 

Phosphoresence lighting up our wake at night

The air and water temperatures were wonderful and night sailing never ceased to thrill us with its magic.

If you look hard at the picture, you can see a few bits of light in the water. These lights (very hard to capture on film) come from tiny sea creatures stirred up by our passage. Sometimes the whole wake will light up like a Christmas tree.

And the stars were spectacular. Orion is a particular favorite and keeps us company during those long night watches. One evening the planet Venus came up so bright that it cast a "star path" on the water.

 

We've gotten more conservative in our sailing style and we've learned to reef the main early. But even with a reef in the main we were going 9 and 10 knots. Reefed and going fast

 

With the good wind, we also saw some squalls. We'd normally put in a second or third reef when a squall would approach, but sometimes we'd miscalculate and get caught by surprise. Heading into a squall

Send The Marines

For the first time ever, Ken had to rouse Beth out of bed on her off-watch to help with a developing problem. The wind had been blowing 15-18 and everything was going great, when it suddenly jumped to 24, with gusts to 26. Ken had to turn down to ease the strain on the rig. He was just preparing to reef when a ship popped up on the radar dead ahead.

Ken tried to plot the ship's course to figure out how to avoid it, but couldn't make any sense of its progress. (Turned out the ship had engine trouble and was dead in the water.) Meanwhile Ken was trying to keep EW from making an uncontrolled jibe while she charged along at 11 knots with way too much sail up. So he finally yelled "BETHHH!!!" With all hands on deck we were able to get things straightened out.

POW!

There's nothing like blasting along to get your adrenaline going. All of your senses are very in tune and you feel on a razor's edge. When everything is holding together, its great, but you realize that if something breaks, all hell will break loose. With all of the groaning and creaking sounds, its easy to visualize something exploding.

Rough water

All at once we heard a loud "POW" and saw that the jib sheet (the line that controls the forward sail) had exploded under thousands of pounds of force. The sail flogged violently.

Fortunately, we have two jib sheets on each side, one for sheeting inboard (close hauled) and one outboard (for reaching). So we just cranked in on the second sheet, got the sail under control, and replaced the blown line.

 

Ken went forward to replace the old jib sheet with a spare. He stayed nice and dry in his foul weather gear despite crashing waves. Ken replacing broken jib sheet

 

Ken with broken jib sheet These sheets came with "Eagle's Wings" when we bought her 5 years ago. But lines don't last forever -- especially with the harsh UV exposure of the tropics. We decided to get some new lines once we reached St. Maarten.

 

When the conditions got rough, we were reluctant to take pictures for fear the salt water spray would damage the camera. But this waterproof case worked great in the rain and spray. We're also hoping to use it to take underwater pictures when we get to the Caribbean. Waterproof camera case

Epsilon

As we passed the Gulf Stream we learned -- to our amazement -- that the tropics were brewing up yet ANOTHER storm. And we had to head right at it.

Tropical storm Epsilon to the East

 

The jagged "accordian" line running diagonally across this diagram is a high pressure ridge. To the west (left) side of the ridge the winds are from the SE. Not good if you want to go SE. On the East (right) of the ridge the winds are NE. Perfect. So our strategy was to cross the ridge as fast as possible and then turn south.

HOWEVER, this strategy meant that we had to go almost straight at Epsilon (the concentric circle in the lower right corner), until we could cross the ridge.

In this picture (our position marked by the big "X") we have crossed the ridge and turned south. At this point the strong winds from Epsilon are helping to push us along.

 

We must admit that we were very sobered to see Epsilon's eye clearly defined on this satellite picture. But we're still to the west of the storm, which is supposed to move away to the NE. (Again the "X" marks our position.) Epsilon had clearly defined eye

NOAA's track for Epsilon clearly showed it heading to the NE (see picture below left). But Herb and some other forecasters started to hint that it might curve to the south. NOAA eventually agreed and changed their projected forecast (see picture below right) -- sending Epsilon straight for the Eastern Caribbean! That certainly got our attention!

Early predicted track for Epsilon had it moving safely to the NE Epsilon changing course to the south

Since the projected turn wasn't expected for several more days, we figured we'd at least be in the Caribbean and have time to evaluate our next step if Epsilon really started to threaten us. Hurricanes move pretty slow in the tropics, so we could probably run away from it.

So, we turned our attention back to enjoying the passage.

Breathtaking sunset at sea Mother nature never ceases to awe us with her power and beauty. Each sunset is uniquely beautiful.

The temperature kept getting warmer and we continued to shed clothes. All of the heavy clothes piled up in the boat -- good riddance!

Tropical Ken enjoying some free time Ken quickly adopted his tropical uniform (left) and Beth followed suit (right). Tropical Beth enjoying the gorgeous scenery

We saw a large pod of dolphins swimming nearby. Some very small baby dolphins -- the smallest we'd ever seen -- broke loose from the pod and came over to swim in our bow wave. They were here and gone too quickly and we didn't get a picture. The little ones were so frisky that they jumped clear out of the water as they zoomed by.

Cover on preventor line chafed through On a long passage, you appreciate how the continual motion of lines and hardware take their toll. Late in the trip we noticed our preventor line (keeps the boom from swinging dangerously) had chafed badly. We'd been told that chafe is the bane of long distance cruising and it is absolutely true. We changed the run of the preventor to eliminate the chafe problem.

 

Another casualty of the trip. The screw holding one of Ken's lenses in his glasses frame unscrewed and his lens fell out. Fortunately he was able to recover the lens. The screw was nowhere to be found. He had to dig out an old pair of eyeglasses for the remainder of the trip. Popped out eyeglass

Just as the passage was drawing to a close, we snagged a long-billed spearfish.

Spearfish jumping The fish put up quite a fight but we were able to land it after about half an hour. We'd never landed a billfish before. Spearfish straining our fishing line

 

Ken with our spearfish catch -- the biggest fish we'd ever caught Ken with our 6' spearfish. Ken cut the fish into 30 single-person meals. Our freezer is now stuffed to the gills with fish!

In the heat of battle, it never occurred to us to turn this guy loose -- we view fish as food. But we were both bothered by killing this magnificent animal, and we've decided we won't keep any more billfish (with the possible exception of a small swordfish once in a while.)

Land ho! After almost 9 days at sea, we spotted Anguilla in the distance. When we finally pulled into Simpson Bay on St. Maarten, we had travelled over 1600 nm. Sighting land after 8 days at sea

December 5 - December 21

Landfall in St. Maarten

We anchored in Simpson Bay after our arrival in St. Maarten. The water was classic Caribbean -- 82 degrees of beautiful aqua blue and you could see clear to the bottom. The island is a bit strange -- its actually two countries in one. St. Martin is the north half and is run by the French. St. Maarten is the south half and is run by the Dutch. We stayed on the Dutch side. We planned to stay a week but ended up staying 2 1/2 weeks!

We loved it -- great boat parts stores.

 

The anchorage out in Simpson Bay was very rolly and we quickly moved into Simpson Bay Lagoon. This was a huge, protected anchorage and we anchored near a feature called the "Witches Tit" (show to the right). Witches Tit inside Simpson Bay Lagoon

 

Mega-yacht row

St. Maarten is a study in contrasts. On the one hand you have the normal cruisers, like us. On the other you have these gigantic yachts that reflect a lifestyle which is from another planet. Many of these boats are available for charter -- costing over $100,000 a week to charter (not including crew costs, fuel, or provisions). They have full-time chefs, activity directors, and the entire crew dress in matching outfits.

(Actually the crew of Eagle's Wings usually dress in matching outfits also.)

Based on his corporate experience, Ken bets that most of the people who charter these boats are not spending their own money!

 

Here's "Ecstasea" -- one of the biggest Yachts we'd ever seen. We were told she's almost 300 feet long, and can go 40 knots at full throttle, burning 1000 gallons of diesel an hour! Ecstasea -- almost a football field long

 

Christina O -- the boat Aristotle used to court Jackie We saw some storied boats at St. Maarten. This elegant ship, the "Christina O", was once owned by Aristotle Onassis, and he used it to court Jackie.

Although we don't run with the mega-yacht crowd, St. Maarten is still a great place for people like us. It is a very congenial community and many cruisers stay here for weeks. The only problem is that the water in the Lagoon is not clean -- you wouldn't want to go swimming in there. In fact, even the Bay outside the Lagoon has problems and Ken got an ear infection after he went for a swim in the Bay. (We were able to treat the infection successfully with antibiotic eardrops from our medical kit.)

A bridge opens twice daily allowing boats to enter the Lagoon.

The local yacht club offers half price drinks for the 5:30 p.m. bridge opening, so there is usually a large crowd on hand to salute boats as they pass into the Lagoon. At right is "Lady Joy", a large power yacht. We didn't know it at the time, but we'd meet up with her again on our passage south from St. Maarten.

Lady Joy entering Simpson Bay Lagoon

 

Mike, proprietor of Shrimpy's

Mike (pictured left) and his wife Sally run Shrimpy's, a delightful cruiser's hangout. He also runs the daily VHF radio net, where cruisers can ask for advice, report problems and advertise stuff for sale.

Shrimpy's is a focal point for cruisers. They have a wonderful laundry service and best of all, they run a free wireless internet hotspot.

 

The definition of tropical paradise in the 21st century: warm breezes, tasty tropical drinks, and good internet access. Patrons at Shrimpy's enjoying free wifi connections

 

Beth with Parker and Jill of Tootsie We met Parker and Jill of "Tootsie", some very nice folks from the Philadelphia area. They've been to St. Maarten many times before and gave us tips about the area. We also met Ken and Audrey of "Fast Forward", a beautiful 60' custom-made aluminum boat built in South Africa. Unfortunately we didn't get a picture of them.

 

We introduced ourselves to John and his wife on "Speedwell", a 45' boat that John had built himself. John and his wife have been all over the world but have been sailing between Nova Scotia and the Caribbean for the last 12 years. Their boat was packed with interesting items they'd collected on their trips to exotic locations -- carvings from the Solomon Islands and a Narwhale tusk from heaven knows where. We heard John talking with Herb every night on our trip down from Rhode Island -- he was just a few days behind us. John on Speedwell

 

Epsilon headed for the Caribbean

Soon after we arrived in St. Maarten, we began to get reports that our old nemesis, Epsilon, was due to head directly for St. Maarten. We knew we'd have to bail out if Epsilon got close enough to be a threat -- the last big hurricane to hit St. Maartin destroyed around 1000 boats in the lagoon!

Fortunately, Epsilon blew itself apart while it was still hundreds of miles away.

Fixing Things So They STAY Fixed

Simpson Bay Lagoon is a cruisers paradise. A huge maritime support industry has grown up to support the mega-yachts. Surprisingly, the prices for services were very reasonable. Labor rates were cheaper than in the States and boat parts were actually CHEAPER than anywhere we've been.

And we were blown away by the depth and quality of the service people here. All of the service people we met were extremely friendly and we got amazing turn around times (sometimes next day) on projects we expected to take a week.

We took advantage of the metal fabrication shops to replace some parts that have given us trouble.

We had never managed a metal fabrication project before and were amazed at how easily and quickly the work gets done. There were at least three metal fabricators within a short walk of each other and we worked with two on various projects.

For example, the bracket that holds our Kubota dynamo had broken twice. We have lots of spares, but the thing obviously isn't beefy enough. So we had a metal shop make us one that would last.

As you can see in the picture, the new bracket (left) is a lot stronger than the old bracket (right).

 

New and old Kubota dynamo brackets

 

New and old brackets for the big balmar alternator

While we've never had a failure with the bracket which holds our big 300 amp Balmar alternator, the guys at Cove Haven in Barrington told us they'd seen several failures of this bracket. Also, it's almost impossible to get the belts tight enough, even with a three foot crowbar.

So we had a new, much stronger bracket (left) made up, with a tensioning bolt built into it. That little bolt will generate more tension that Ken's huge crowbar. Isn't mechanical advantage amazing? (The old bracket is on the right.)

 

We also gave up on the tiny little in-line blowers that we'd been using to ventilate the engine room, after the second one died. We replaced the failed blower (right) with the big monster on the left, which is rated for continuous duty.

The big one takes up more space and draws 12 amps, compared to only 2.5 for the small blower, but it will keep working. (And we bought another as a spare, just in case.) The big one is also quieter, believe it or not.

Our new philosophy: If it breaks once, fix it. If it breaks again, throw it away and find a different answer.

New and old blowers

Fortress Eagle's Wings

Although we've never had anything stolen off the boat, we admit to some paranoia. At home in Chicago we would lock up our house at night, but on the boat we go to strange neighborhoods and sleep with the hatches wide open. But if we close the hatches, we lose most of the airflow, which is tough to bear.

After our great success with metal fabrication projects, we thought maybe it was time to fix this security problem, so we commissioned a set of custom stainless jailbars for the companionway hatch and for the foward hatch in our stateroom.

Companionway grate locked in place Hatch grate mounted in forward cabin

We think the companionway grate (above left) actually looks a a bit homey during the day -- the light shining through looks like light coming in through window panes. The forward grate (above right) makes it feel a little like you are in jail. But the feeling of security is fantastic.

Ken tying in 4th reef We also took the boat out into the bay to raise the mainsail so Ken could test the clew line for the new 4th reef we had added in Newport (left). The extra reef will allow us to shorten sail even further in a real blow (right) Sail hoisted to 4th reef

Visiting France

We had been in St. Maarten for almost a week and we still hadn't visited St. Martin, the French side. We were craving a nice French dinner so we took our dinghy through the Lagoon to Marigot in French St. Martin.

Marigot waterfront The charming Marigot waterfront really feels like a different country. People speak French and it has a whole different ambiance from St. Maarten. The Dutch side is a melting pot, where everyone speaks English and uses dollars. ( We actually met very few people who were "Dutch" in St. Maarten.) In contrast, the people in Marigot seemed very French.

 

We knew we were in France because everybody was so incredibly fashionable. It felt like a different planet. Even elderly women, with canes (right), were smartly dressed. We felt like shlumps. Women of all ages were very chique in French St. Martin

Beth was shamed into trying to be more fashionable and attempted to buy a cute little dress, with short sleevelets, she saw in a shop. She almost died of asphyxiation trying on that dress and her arms almost fell off due to being squeezed by the tight bands of the sleevelets. When she tried to explain (through pantomime) that the dress was too small, the French shopowner vigorously claimed this could not possibly be true. Then she flexed here biceps to show him the problem and he immediately conceded the dress was too small. Guess these dresses are meant for tiny, lithe shapes. Beth admitted defeat and vowed to be satisfied with her Ex Officio fashions.

So much chocolate, so little time   We took the dollar bus and spent an afternoon ogling all the goodies at Le Grand Marche, a magnificent supermarket with foods from all over the world. Ken had a hard time prying Beth away from the cake display in the pastry section. The prices were excellent -- even cheaper than in the States for some items.

December 22 - December 24

Carnage On The Foredeck

We finally got all of our projects done and raised anchor, heading for St. Lucia. This 275 nm run should have been an easy trip for us. We planned to join our friends, John and Susan (from "Tuppence") for Christmas.

Glowing sunset  behind St. Kitts (left) and St. Eustatius (right)

We witnessed a gorgeous sunset our first night out as we passed by St. Kitts (left) and St. Eustatius (right).

The water and air temperature were great, but the wind was strong, the waves were very choppy and we had to sail close hauled -- an uncomfortable point of sail where the boat heels over, pounds into the waves, and all the gear takes enormous loads.

During the night, we talked with the large motor yacht "Lady Joy" (we saw them going through the bridge opening at St. Maarten). She was bound for Martinique but decided to divert to Guadeloupe because the seas were so choppy and incomfortable. We felt pretty smug that our much smaller sailboat was handling the conditions so well.

What do they say about pride going before a fall?

The waves built and we both got queasy. We had lost our sea legs during the layover in St. Maarten. We were also hard on the wind and it was not the most comfortable sailing. Crashing through the waves

We normally reef the main but not the jib when conditions get frisky. Our jib is small for a boat this size so we don't switch down to a storm sail (our staysail) until the winds get above 30 knots. Well, we overestimated the strength of our jib. In 22 knots sustained winds, with gusts to 25, the sail couldn't take it. We heard a loud "BANG!" and leaped up to see what had happened. We were shocked to see the jib flying with NO CLEW at all! The clew ring (with both sets of sheets attached) had pulled completely out of the sail. The sail itself was not ripped at all, but there were no lines attached to it so it was flogging violently in the wind.

(For you landlubbers, the clew is the aftmost corner of the sail where the sheets (lines) attach. The forward edge of the sail is held in a track on the forestay. So the sail was still attached to the boat, but only by the leading edge.)

This was a very serious problem. The flogging jib would beat itself to death in a few minutes -- possibly ripping to shreds -- and the tremendous shaking pressure could even bring down the mast.

We were able to furl the sail (roll it around the forestay) using the furling line. That stopped the flogging for the minute. But with no sheets attached to the clew, the sail wasn't going to stay furled for long -- it would simply unwrap itself and start flogging again. Somehow we had to get the thing tied up.

First we bore off (turned away from the wind) to reduce the pressure on the boat. When we go into the wind our boat speed adds to the wind that we feel (the "apparent wind"). Going away from the wind our boat speed subtracts from the apparent wind. So if we are going 9 knots, the wind feels 18 knots (about 20 mph) lighter going downwind.

Also the boat doesn't crash into the waves when it's going downwind (because the waves are traveling in the same direction as the boat). And the main throws a big windshadow that takes all the pressure off the jib.

So turning downwind takes a crashing, plunging hurricane on the bow and reduces it to a nice gentle, calm ride. (Unfortunately it also means we are going really fast in the wrong direction.)

Ken doing a maypole maneuver to secure the jib

Ken went up on the bow not knowing how he was going to secure the jib. He couldn't simply tie it up because the amputated clew was about 10 feet up in the air.

Then Ken realized that he could use the spare jib and spinnaker halyards (lines that come down from the top of the mast and are used to pull sails up), and wrap them around the sail like a maypole. He wrapped two halyards in opposite direction, tied them off at the bottom. and the jib was totally secured.

Ken putting last touches on securing the jib

 

Wrapped up jib The maypole wrap (picture taken after we arrived in port).

We weren't too concerned as we had another headsail -- the staysail -- that could get us to St. Lucia. So we unfurled the staysail. About half an hour later, we heard another "POW!" and were once again shocked (we spent a good deal of this day with our eyes bugged out), this time to see the staysail trailing in the water. The head (at the top) had blown out of the sail and the whole thing had gone overboard.

Ken going forward to save the staysail Fortunately the staysail was still attached at the tack (lower foreward corner) and clew and we were able to wrestle it back on board. We were also fortunate it was a fairly small sail and it never got under the boat (a manuever called "shrimping" because it looks like you are netting shrimp). Staysail catching a wave

 

The staysail lashed on deck (picture taken after we arrived in port). Staysail lashed to the rail

After both sails were secured, we considered our options. We could try to fix the sails ourselves or take them to a sailmaker for repairs. These failures occurred while we were in the passage between Dominica and Martinique. We knew of an excellent sailmaker in Marin, Martinique and we decided to divert there for repairs. We sent Herve, of Incidences, an email over our SSB radio, telling him we were coming. He responded that he was open on the day after Christmas and could handle our repair.

Well, we weren't so smug anymore. We tried to figure out what had happened. We were disappointed that the jib had failed -- but also realized that the stitching which holds the clew ring onto the sail gets direct UV exposure when the sail is furled. The sail material has a protective UV coating, but the thread is out in the open. We suspect the UV just ate through the stitching.

What was most distressing was the failure of our staysail -- which is supposed to be a bullet proof sail. It had failed in conditions that are considered "light" for that sail.

After closer inspection, we discovered the failure was due to operator (us) error. We had taken the sail down in St. Maarten for a small repair and when we re-rigged the sail we attached it incorrectly. The sail has a very strong Vectran luff line that is supposed to be reeved through a thimble at the head of the sail. We completely forgot about that and the only thing holding the sail up were two small straps that were not designed to take any load.

Remains of blown out clew ring attachment All that remains of our clew ring attachment the jib (left) and the blown out head of the staysail (right). Blown out head attachment for the staysail

All in all, we came through these disasters very well. Fortunately both failures happened during the day, while we were both on deck, so it wasn't as scary as it could have been. We are also learning more about the limits of our rig.

We were disappointed that we missed Christmas with our friends, John and Susan, but we're still optimistic we can pop down to see them in St. Lucia for a day or two before heading to Bonaire, where we are meeting friends from Wisconsin.