Monthly Archives: December 2012

Leaving Grand Cayman

6:39 pm on 23 Dec, night before we leave for Mexico.  We had hoped to leave Grand Cayman last Thursday but there was a nice storm forecasted for the weekend.  Thank Goodness we stuck around.  Starting Friday night and all the way through Sunday, it was high winds about 50 kmph plus gusts and they were estimating 10-12 foot seas; there was a small craft warning out all weekend.  Even being in the Marina which is in a little inlet behind land and a breakwall, we were rocking and rolling pretty good.  With 6 lines out we were pretty secure but it was bouncy and noisy.  Storms here are weird:  high wind, rough water but not a cloud in the sky and no rain.  We did get a 3 minute downpour early Saturday morning, just long enough to close all the hatches and done by the time we were finished.  Typical.

The extra few days allowed for some more repairs and we now have a darn good bilge going, the shaft coupler doesn’t leak anymore, a clean deck, clean downstairs and….wonder of wonders!…wait for it…..a working Garmin!!

While at Harbour House Marine we were able to get the chip we needed for the Western Caribbean and were talking with Carl who said to bring our Garmin 4210 in and let him look at it.  Within 10 minutes he had it all hooked up and working and set up to our boat specs as well.  There was nothing wrong with the damn thing and we found we were 0 for 10 with all the crappy info we had been given by people who were supposedly ‘experts’.  Ah well, it is now installed, the chip is installed, the thing works great.  Our next leg should be a whole lot easier without having to estimate and eyeball our way across.  Oh and by the way…..it was free.  I wrote a long letter to Garmin complaining of the service we got elsewhere and giving great kudos for Carl.  I wonder if they’ll get back to us………..

We also had the greatest of fortunes to meet a most wonderful couple here – Blake and Lisa.  We had only been at the dock for 1/2 hour waiting for management to come and settle us in when a tapping came and a cheery “Hello”.  Lisa is a warm and friendly lady originally from Georgia and is the epitome of Southern hospitality.  A marathon runner, she is in fantastic shape and looks 37 not ……….  😉   Blake works locally as an engineer and is the most helpful and caring man we’ve met here.  The two of them are “water  borne trailer trash” in their own words…lol…which means they are liveaboard like us – only more so.  We’ve had walks to the store, dinner and drinks and most wonderful conversations; Blake and Lisa have transported us where we needed to go here on the island, going to do laundry, on beer runs, to Customs….just everywhere.  For their friendship, warmth and welcome we are eternally grateful.  We plan to meet up with them again somewhere along our travels and wish them safe journeys on their own path.  Keep the stick in the air, guys!

The 21st came and went without all the fanfare “everyone” was expecting.  The world did not end but I do feel that our world “as we know it” ended and our new beginning has started.  I was hit by the energy not only on Friday but yesterday and today as well.  Things have quieted down a bit now and I can turn my attention to leaving tomorrow morning.

Time is weird here.  It’s so very hard to get used to the sun setting at 6-something and not rising again til almost 7 a.m.  When it gets dark I think “It’s warm therefore it’s ‘summer’ to me therefore it should be after 9:00.”  Then to look at my watch and see that it’s only 7:00 – as I say, weird.  And because we’re so close to the equator, it’s the same all year ’round.  Approx 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of dark.

When it gets dark, it gets cold.  I know it’s winter but that’s not why I’m in the tropics!  Here we are, sitting at 7:00 pm in 27 C weather with sweaters and long pants.  Even the wind was cold today even though ‘they’ said it was high 20’s.  On the water, we are usually in sweaters and long pants with blankets overnight – it makes keeping watch easier when you’re cold but darned uncomfortable.

We’ve got everything pretty much in order and got our walking papers.  The dinghy is up, the boat is clean, we’ve laid in the supplies and said our goodbyes.  We will cast off at first light again tomorrow and head to the fuel dock to wait for them to open.  Once that’s on board, we’re outta here, heading to Puerto Juarez just north of Cancun.  With fair weather and calm seas, we should arrive sometime early-ish Thursday.

Spending Christmas on the water will be different.  Lisa gave us our one and only Christmas decoration – a Colorado pine cone all glittered up.  It’s beautiful and sits in a place of honour in the cockpit.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for Santa Claus as he crosses the Caribbean, with a 2/3 moon he should show up pretty good.  🙂

So….have a great Christmas doing whatever it is you’re doing.  Hug everybody for us, eat lots of turkey and dressing, have that second piece of pumpkin pie (I know “I” would..lol), and just enjoy enjoy enjoy your time together.  We are there in spirit.

Talk to you soon, from Mexico.

Things I have learned…so far

Experienced sailors, old salts and those others “in the know” should probably skip this post – unless you want to have a good chuckle at the expense of a newbie.  I certainly don’t mind…laughing at myself is one of my favourite pasttimes.  🙂

This will probably be an ongoing endeavour because I learn something new every day.

  • If you’re the type that has to have perfect hair, makeup and nails – you won’t get along on a boat
  • A shower is a luxury found only in a marina.  A hot shower takes an Act of God (the pool or ocean is usually warmer)  A quick sponge bath of the important parts (pits & bits) in the bucket of soapy water saved for dishes is the norm.  Squall rain and sea spray don’t count
  • Long nails are a hazard and break.  Short nails are inconvenient
  • I try to do everything before dark cuz after that it’s by flashlight and it keeps falling out of my mouth
  • If something is going to break, it will do so during the most inconvenient time – heavy seas, after dark, middle of a storm…usually all three at once
  • A toilet with elbow room that you can leave the paper in – and that isn’t moving – is an unknown comfort
  • Dry feet and clean hands are things of the past
  • Clothes that got caught in the rain or were worn over the side are considered laundered
  • Laundry is done, otherwise, in a big bucket with soapy water and good dancing music
  • When you call things and places on a boat by their “proper” name, people tend to look at you funny and then say bathroom and kitchen
  • Boats are never quiet.  Never.  Flap, crackle, clang, tink, whoosh, slap, rustle, slither, whisper, snap, bang, thunk, boom, whir, groan, creak, chirp – and are usually only at night
  •  Yes, you walk funny on land.  After a good sail with the slant to port, you get a real nice list to starboard going.  Standing still is impossible when the room keeps moving and sitting down only causes rocking
  • It is never completely black at night; even if it’s cloudy, there is still some differentiation between water and sky.  The moon, even at a sliver of new moon, creates a swath of silver on the water, and Sirius will shine a reflection at just the right angle
  • Under a clear sky, there is not one square centimetre without stars in it.  You can see them rising on the horizon, seemingly popping out of nowhere
  • Every sunrise and every sunset is unique, even after millions of years of them
  • Electrical tape works on EVERYTHING
  • Even in a Ziploc, nail clippers and tweezers will rust within 2 weeks
  • A Kobo or other e-reader is a Godsend (thank you Heather!)  I charged mine a week before leaving Vancouver on 18 Nov and there is still 1/2 a battery left.  I read on the planes, in the airports, every night while in one harbour or another or on the hook; it has been over a month now.
  • It is possible to go weeks on end without a Tim’s or a Starbuck’s – but not advisable
  • There is no end to the different shades of blue in the ocean
  • Chickens roam free on Grand Cayman and the roosters can’t tell time
  • Sand is a fact of life.  500 miles from everywhere, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, a freshly swept cockpit will fill with sand within 1/2 hour.
  • Cruise ships are truly the ‘floating cities’ they are advertised as.  At night, you can see the glow from one before it even comes over the horizon which is several miles away.
  • It took me 3 days to figure out that we couldn’t just pull over into a rest stop for a coffee and a break, just to sit in something that is not moving.  (yeah, I can be slow sometimes)
  • Use travel mugs for hot coffee if you value your ‘parts’
  • Yes, my entire wardrobe fits into 3 drawers, 4 hangers and a cubby for shoes; my entire stock of toiletries can fit into a shoebox.  I am not a real woman  <sigh>
  • Whichever side of the boat has the more expensive stuff stored is going to be the upside in the next storm, but the plastic plates and cups will not move an inch
  • The screw he just handed me is safe, the screwdriver is in the soup.  Ergo sum:  the likelihood of something going overboard is in direct proportion to its value.
  • If something happens and you have to anchor overnight, it will be at the end of the runway
  • Sandals slide on and off the easiest when you’re over the side trying to beach the dinghy
  • Doing a water workout, I sink like a rock; adding 50 lbs of diving gear ensures better buoyancy

Grand Cayman, so far

There was no room at the Inn, so we parked for the night at a marker. A couple of cruise ships coming in in the morning made a move necessary to a transit buoy that had come open.

Friday was spent walking. We beached the dinghy at the little beach beside Customs and toddled around Georgetown looking for a marine store, a diesel shop, public showers, diving supplies – oh we had a long list and just marked stuff down when we came across it. Everyone kept sending us to Kirk’s Marine – ‘they have everything’ – but we found their ‘everything’ was motorboat/fishing related. But they pointed us out to Morgan’s Harbour where the (supposedly) only diesel mechanic is – at Marine Diesel. So we dinghied up Seven Mile Beach as far as the public beach and stowed it there. A cut through a hotel complex (with a quick stop at their foot shower thingy by the pool) and we were able to get a cab the rest of the way.

One thing we have noticed here is that we can moor or beach the dinghy anywhere along the shore that there’s room, and no one touches it. We obviously stay out of the way of cruise ship tenders, cargo docks and other privately owned-looking places but there are plenty of spots to fit a 9 ft dinghy. The water is so clear you can see the rocks/coral on the bottom 30-40 feet down. The problem is you can’t tell the depth and in some areas that coral is only 2 feet down. The water has a pretty steep drop off along the beach where it will go past knee deep only a few feet out. I’ve gotten wet to the waist a couple times beaching that thing.

The sand all along Seven Mile Beach is white white and so very fine – almost like a coarse dust. And it’s all cool! No burning feet when walking, it actually feels really good and does a great job of sandblasting dry cracked heels. 🙂

Lunch at the Cayman Cabana was fantastic. The prices here are on the expensive side but we expected that. $8 CI for a cheeseburger platter, $5 CI per beer, etc. I had a side salad ($4 CI) with a most excellent honey mustard type dressing, and something they call Aunt Dawn’s Awesome Mac & Cheese. It came in a square and broke apart with the fork; done with at least a couple types of cheese and oozing cheese and butter goo out the bottom. It reminded me of the way I make mine so yes, it was awesome.

It was the bartender there (the owner, I think) that was the catch of the day. After our experience in Jamaica, I now assume that bartenders know everything – and I’m right again. He was the one that told us about Marine Diesel, gave us the name, address and phone number and even called out there so Jean-Marie could talk to the guy.

Friday was also Jean-Marie’s first dive of the season – too bad it was to untangle stuff from the prop. But we found that the engine will not start if the prop is tangled or slightly off ‘neutral centre’ – hence the ordering of the new starter. We are learning things about this boat every day.

I finally slept Friday night for more than 2 hours at a time. Maybe I was used to being on the move where we switched off every few hours, maybe its all the incoming energy – I don’t know but I haven’t slept through since leaving Vancouver. Bed time is whenever I’m tired enough (10-12) then it was heat or mosquitoes or no-see-ums or party boats or or or … by 1-1:30 I was awake again for a good couple of hours. Jean-Marie starting the coffee at 0500 or so usually woke me for the day – but I was never tired during the day. Hmmmm.

Finally, on Friday, I figured I’d stay up reading until I was tired enough to sleep. The sun going down at 6 is deceptive (since its warm, it must be summer therefore it should be light out til after 9 – follow my reasoning?) and we watched the two cruise ships leave for Miami, all lit up like the floating cities they are. I was yawning my head off not having read a word, and decided to lay down – it was 7:30! At 1135, I got up out of necessity but right back to sleep. I heard Jean-Marie putzing around at something after 7 (it was light out) and figured I should probably get up. Twelve hours – I felt like a new woman! THAT should hold me for another month or so…lol.

Saturday we hit Kirk’s Supermarket. This guy Kirk seems to own a lot of this island: Kirk’s marine store, jewelry stores, clothing stores, grocery store and on and on. The supermarket is a great place, better than Curacao or Jamaica by a long shot, and has a nice little pharmacy inside. I picked up something in Curacao, right at the beginning and don’t know what caused it – a type of fungus on my toes that spread across, but only the toes. Little bumps that burst open and spread like blisters, and itchy as hell. I’ve been bathing it in peroxide (as well as sea water or chlorine pools) but it’s not getting better. The pharmacy here has some lotion that should work.

A trip back to Kirk’s Marine on the off-chance they had charts – again out of luck. But this time they actually told us about another marine store – Harbour House Marina. They let us call out there through and ask questions before committing to a cab ride. (One of these days we’ll actually find something in that store that we can use)

The trip to Harbour House was a super score. We found new furling rope (we have been crossing our fingers every time we used the jib just waiting for the rope to snap), a Mexican flag, sundry small items – and they ordered us a new Garmin chip.

I’ll take this moment to tell you that we’ve sorta been sailing by the seat of our pants; not quite Christopher Columbus but close.

Jean-Marie bought a new Garmin 4210 in Vancouver and ordered the chips – South Caribbean (C30) and West Caribbean (C31). Steveston Marine in Langley was able to get the C30 but ran into major errors with the other one. This meant we could leave Curacao but couldn’t go anywhere. He got hold of Garmin who knew of the problem and were working on it, but not in time for us. We figured we could pick up a new chip in Curacao as there were Garmin dealers there. But when we tried to install it on the boat, we found that it was a “Friday afternoon” machine and didn’t work at all. There was a little 421S on the boat already that would take the chip so we’ve just been using that for the time being. We managed to find a chart of sorts that would take us to Jamaica – somewhat. We loaded the GPS with a waypoint and coordinates to put us within 20 miles of Kingston and hoped for the best. The chip we had left off halfway to Jamaica and the basic chart already loaded did not have any detail. The paper chart we had was a 1:3 million scale with no distance legend marked and very poor markings of shoals or reefs. So we sailed by compass and on estimated heading of the GPS in comparison to the chart. Once we were in sight of land, we eyeballed it. Kingston is not a harbour to try and navigate at night so it was a good thing we anchored the night before.

Jamaica had no charts at all so we pretty much estimated a course to Grand Cayman, again eyeballing the last bit. Georgetown, by comparison, has a fantastic in-and-out harbour. They also monitor the radio and are right on your ass when you get close. Wonderful, wonderful assistance here form beginning to end.

So now we have a new chip on order through Harbour House and hopefully that will get us to Mexico.

Since we have to stay here til at least Wednesday (19th), we’re thinking of moving around to the other side closer to both Morgan’s Harbour and Harbour House Marine. We’ll go to a wifi hotspot tomorrow to see if we can find a marina to park in for a couple days. I don’t mind being on the hook at all, it’s like camping on the water; but to have shore power, access to wifi and showers would be like a mini vacation.

We ran our new furling line Saturday as well, and tidied up a bit. Since it was still early, I was able to get out the diving gear and have a go. I found it difficult to stay down, even with weights, so I figure I’m doing something wrong. More experience will definitely help. But it was a nice little toodle around; I got to see the lady’s new little black dress, the beautiful coral designs and even a shy little nurse shark. I tried out the new underwater camera, actually underwater for the first time (all the photos I’ve uploaded were taken with the u/w camera), and found it is yet another situation that needs more experience. 

Grand Cayman rolls up the sidewalks on Sundays. Nothing is open except churches and bars. Not even coffee shops! The cruise ships are here Monday to Friday only with an occasional Saturday and I guess nobody else matters. We tried the wifi at Burger King but it sucked as badly as their burgers so we headed farther into town to find somewhere. Guy Harvey’s Restaurant and Bar was our wifi hotspot for the day.

The rest of Sunday was taken up with fixing stuff since the transmission decided to start acting up. Inside the control box in the cockpit, the sleeve that the cable rode in had broken in two so it wouldn’t change gears at all. We tried a few different fixes but didn’t have quite the right parts. Monday we hit the hardware store and came away with a nice brass sprayer wand that was just the right diameter to fit the cable. We taped the old tube tightly to snug it into the brass tube and were able to re-connect everything. The transmission has always clunked hard, it still does, but at least now it works.

Once it was working, and the engine stayed running (we had fixed it yet again), we decided to motor around to North Sound and find the marina we looked at on Google – Barcadere. What we didn’t realize was that the Sound, although huge, was very shallow and there was a specific channel that zigzagged back and forth until entering various inlets that held marinas. Again with no chart and eyeballing the whole way, we made it to the south end of the Sound and called the Barcadere. They gave us coordinates to their entrance but I guess they figured we were somewhere else because getting to those coordinates was a nightmare. We ended up grounding at about 5:30, just before dark. We only have a 4’9” draft so you can see just how shallow the Sound is. Luckily it was low tide so we just had to wait another 6 hours for the tide to rise. One boat stopped by and tried to pull us out but had no luck. So we waited. About 11:15, I could see the boat had straightened up from her slight list and there was a faint bobbing feel. We dumped all our water (about 150 gallons) and were able to maneuver out of there. We went back into the middle and anchored for the rest of the night, still in only about 9 feet of water.

At first light we headed for the marina, having finally spotted the lighthouse they had spoken about – I don’t think it was lit up at night or else it was a stationary white light amongst a whole coastline of stationary white lights. We called them to let them know we were there and they met us and brought us into an empty slip. Paperwork was done in short order and one of our neighbours, also a sailboat couple, came over to yak awhile. Lisa and Blake are also doing the semi-retired sailing life thing and can commiserate with our engine/sail troubles – their last trip, from Florida, was 6 days of hell instead of the 3 days of sailing bliss they were expecting.

We dinghied over to Harbour House to enquire about the chip and found that they hadn’t ordered it – a good thing because it was the wrong one anyway. It turns out they had the very one we needed already there. Also Jean-Marie will take the Garmin in tomorrow for them to have a look at. Maybe, just maybe, they can get it working.

Today, Tuesday, was hot shower day. Ahhhh, bliss! I didn’t want to come out. We haven’t had a hot shower since leaving Vancouver so this was a real treat. Walking to the grocery story about 2 kms away, I spotted a spiny iguana in a tree and more of the funny little lizards that run with their tails curled up and, of course, more chickens. How different this place is! – I was sitting on the cement railing of the store having a 5 minute timeout before heading back and a guy walking down the street stopped to ask if I was okay or if I needed help. That wouldn’t happen in Curacao and, in Jamaica, you don’t walk anywhere. People here are so nice and friendly, there is no crime to speak of, drivers will stop to let you cross the road, there are always little beeps of hello….now, if they could do something about them mosquitoes……………

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JAMAICA TO GRAND CAYMAN, 11-13 DEC

Monday, 10 Dec, got the boat all washed up; Otis and Horace did a bang-up job. I cleaned and stored away inside, Jean-Marie got the fuel and water topped up and everything shipshape outside. A last dip in the pool, a last shower and hairwash, last posts online, and we said all our goodbyes with much handshakes and hugs. It was very similar to when we arrived with everyone visiting the boat for a final send off. I’ll miss this place.

We were up early and had coffee done and cleaned up still in darkness. By the first graying of the sky, we were casting off and motoring out. We didn’t make it out of the harbour when the engine started acting up again. It had always been hard to start but ran well once going. Now it started dying at the 45 min mark if not in gear. We rigged a system and can now prime the primary fuel filter in less than a minute before spending 10 trying to get the darn engine to catch. <sigh>

A little fishing boat (picture a 14 foot aluminum job with 4 guys and an oversize motor) tried playing chicken with us, middle of the harbour with a barge on one side of us and a cargo ship on the other side. So we deked ‘em out and slid around behind. Sheesh!

Another beautiful sunrise greeted us as we turned out of the mouth into the main channel. We headed out past the tanker parking lot to make our turn west and we just made the last marker when a cargo ship came roaring up on our starboard side. Not having turn signals on the boat, we hugged the marker to make our turn and he cut inside. We sped up, he sped up. We were farther along so we just cut over and made our turn; once we crossed his bow we were outta there. Sheesh again! Crazy drivers even on the high seas.

It was about 8-10 foot waves and crappy wind the whole first day and most of the way through the night. The current, tide, waves and wind all seemed to come from different directions. Late afternoon during one of the doldrums, Jean-Marie went to snug up the main boom when the rope fouled. The core stretched out in this hands while the wrapping fed back into the pulley and jammed everything. So we cross-tied the boom and he re-rigged it with new rope.

We spent an uncomfortable night in a washing machine. It was a dark moon and the sky filled with clouds early on. Not being able to see what was happening was very disconcerting.

To top it off, toward the end of this long night, and during the ‘dark before the dawn’, the traveller stop came off. During the latest dying of the wind when the boom was snapping, it went to port and just kept going. Jean-Marie climbed out and rigged a pull and we winched the boom back in so he could re-attach the traveller and lock it into place with 2 pairs of vice grips. MacGyver is alive and well on this boat! Would this night never end?

Sunrise the next morning, Day 2/12 Dec, was spectacular. I marvel that the sun has risen every day for millions of years and it is completely different every time. With daylight came calmer seas after awhile but also calmer wind. We motored when we had to but were fairly content with the 5 knots or so. It was such a nice change from our last trip. We spent most of the day working on the engine and other stuff. Some of our “other stuff” is kinda personal so I won’t detail it here. Suffice to say, autopilot is a blessing.

In the afternoon, we were graced by the visit of another swallow. How do these things get out here 500 miles in the middle of nowhere?? He circled the boat several times then got up the nerve to land on the bimini. He rode with us the rest of the day and into the evening, just sitting quietly and unafraid by our moving around.

So, with calm-ish seas, decent weather, so-so winds – all coming from the proper directions, we thought maybe, just maybe, it would be a smoother night. Well it turned out to be too smooth. We flipped and flapped all night, motoring off and on, anything to try to keep going in the right direction. The swallow really didn’t like the boom swinging over his head so decided to launch out on his own again.

Morning of Day 3/13 Dec saw us only 20 some odd nautical miles out. The sun came up, the wind picked up, the seas were calm and we rode the last bit of the way under full sail. It was an absolutely perfect morning of sailing. Now THIS is what I signed on for!!

About 3 miles out, we called for Port Authority for instructions – and they answered on the first call! We scooted around through the cruise ships (there were 4 of them in) and got to follow an honest-to-goodness pirate ship in the rest of the way. Dodging cruise ship tenders we toodled around until the Harbour Patrol came alongside and gave us our paperwork to complete, which we did while turning circles trying to stay off the rocks and out of everyone’s way. Once they were ready for us, we followed them to the visitors dock, tied up and went to see Customs and Immigration. Twenty minutes later we were free to go. (mwaa-haa-haa) Harbour Patrol was busy so we let ourselves out and headed to the transit buoy area where we called to find out where they wanted us. They said to pick a spot and settle in so we did.

Hooking a buoy line is another grand experience – I got to do the cool “Titanic” thing in the bow. Able to hook the rope twice, it also got away from me twice – I didn’t know what to do with it once I had it. So I took the wheel and Jean-Marie showed off his skills – on the first try, of course.

After getting the boat settled in her new camping spot, we took the dinghy over to town – a cigarette, a drink and a meal were the priority list. Dinner at Breeze’s was great; Jean-Marie had mahi mahi and I had shrimp – good meal but expensive as we figured it would be. A cool drink to try is the Reggae Raspberry Mohito: raspberry rum with raspberry puree, mint, lime and juice. So good and really packs a punch.

On the trek to find cigarettes (pretty much only in the duty free shops and expensive), I did find a coffee shop with wifi – and great latte. First decent cup of coffee since Starbucks in Curacao! It was heaven – even in 35 degree sun.

We had a relaxing evening back aboard, finding a good radio station (reminded me of the Bear in Edmonton) and I even had a skinny dip to freshen up. Even with all the traffic around and the cruise ships anchored just over there, someone would have needed binoculars trained on just the right spot at just the right moment – and then it would serve them right for spying!

All in all, not a bad trip at all – Tues 0600 until Thurs noon-ish. No bad weather, no squalls, no 30 ft waves – a few mishaps with the boom and engine, one little sun shower of 30 seconds, a swallow visitor and a small pod of dolphins on Day 2. Yup, I would count this one a success.

Captain: From Curacao to Jamaica

Before departing Curacao, I carefully checked every day for the marine forecast. I picked up the best possible weather, for the main  reason that first mate Peggy was on her first long passage, ok let’s be frank, on her first sailing trip ever. So I picked a date where they forecasted long wind, low seas, and over all gentle waters all around. Exiting Piscedera Bay, we got hit with 3 squalls, one after another for the next few hours. Then after 6 or so hours, things looked up.

Small seas, 1 to 2 meters, good wind of 10 knots average, so things looks up nicely for Peggy’s first trip. We traded watch for the night, me keeping an eye open at most times. The next morning, the wind died totally, so we had to motor the whole day.  It was ok, better no seas than gales.

The next day, the wind picked up a bit, but it was still, nice sailing weather, but in mid afternoon, we got hit by two more squalls, not very nice, but still manageable. Then, the crap hit the fan. Seas got bigger and bigger, wind picked up, I was all ready reefed, rolled in the furling to a 30%,  but it still was too much sail. So I took the jib all the way in, with the main on the second reef point.

Still too much now that we had 35 foot seas, and gale winds of 80 kmph.  So I decided to drop the sail, and just motor. While dropping the sail, I failed to notice that the track keeper had shaken off, and fallen. So while lowering the sail, the wind picked it up and tossed it into the soup taking all its running rigging with it. (I could not get into the wind because of the waves). So I scrambled to haul the sail back on board, with the running rigging;  now no main sails for the rest of the trip.

The engine lasted for 2 whole days in this crappy weather, it is one hell of a good engine. Except for one little detail:  I had checked every thing on the boat, and was told that the fuel was good but another surprise was in store. The fuel was so dirty, that all my filters were clogged and choked by garbage. So the engine died, and to add insult to injury, the bilge pump died. Ever try to fix an engine and a bilge pump in 35 foot seas ?????  Not fun at all. But Peggy came through with flying colors. Not knowing what was wrong with the bilge pump, Peggy at my instruction, jury-rigged the spare pump to the sea cock and wired it directly to the battery.  And voila, a bilge pump that worked like a charm. (later we found out that the float switch had dislodged itself. Not a big deal and an easy fix in calm seas.)  But now  still no engine, and no main sail. So I got the jib out 30% and sailed that way until the sea calmed itself which was right when we came close to Kingston. Now to put icing on the cake we are getting into the main, commercial channel to the port of Kingston, and the wind died to ZERO. No wind whatsoever.  So in a hurry, I try to fix the fuel problem, changed all the filters, to no avail; the filters get clogged right away again. Still trying to fix the engine, I am thinking let’s call for a tow. I had been hailing channel 16, 68, and 69 for 6 hours, no answer, but I can hear other people chatting like crazy. Now I get really ticked off as it is getting close to darkness.  So I decide to do the unthinkable, I call a mayday. A cargo ship reply, asking what the problem is. I explain that I have no engine, zero wind, and I am in the middle of a shipping channel. He replies he will contact the Jamaican Coast guard, and to stand by on 16.

Two hours later, still no reply, now it is total darkness.  I take matters into my own hands, lower the dinghy, install the motor, and decide to tow the boat with the dinghy, until I can drop anchor. That said, 6 hours later it is now midnight, the boat is at anchor after a few dragging attempts.  Anchoring without engine power is not as easy as it sounds especially when the current changes direction every ½ hour.

Now anchored, we decide to try to sleep. But I have that sense that I am dragging, so I get up every ½ hours just to make sure we are ok. The next morning I jury-rig the fuel delivery system, feeding it in directly as I am totally out of fuel filters. I get the engine running and it runs high, but steady. I make it to Customs, right next to the Coast Guard.  I have a few words I would like to say to them, to give them a piece of my mind, but I abstain. At Customs, they direct us to the Royal Jamaica Yatch Club, about an hour away.  It is the only full marina in Kingston, the other one having been destroyed by hurricane Sandy not long ago.

They put me up at the only spot they had, the fuel dock. They call the authorities, and from there everything is a snap. First Health Services comes to the boat, quick 10 minutes of paper work on the boat, and I take the Q flag down, then Customs comes to the boat, same thing: great smiles all around, 10 minutes of friendly paper work, and I am done. Then Immigration come to the boat with the same great smiles, same expeditious work, and done.

But I still have a problem, engine needs proper fixing, bilge needs fixing, fuel tank needs flushing to get out that crappy Venezuelan diesel that is more like bunker oil than diesel. (Quick note:  do not ever, ever, ever, take fuel from Venezuela. It is cheap and there is a reason for that, it is crap!) And the Marina is full with no space and they expect 2 more sailboats in the next few days. I spend the night at the fuel dock. The next morning I talk to the manager Pat Yap-Chung (Canadian by the way J). She goes out of her way to help me out, and so does every one else. What a difference from Curacao. Peggy will blog about that on her side of the site.

Pat puts me up at the hold boat pullout dock, that is now disaffected but still passble, and with about 125 of cord I can have power for the charger.  Everything on 12 volts, so I either run the engine, or use shore power to charge the battery banks.

The night we arrived, while I stay on the boat waiting for Custom and Immigration, I send Peggy to the bar to find out what is available in regards to the repairs for the boat. In just a few minutes it is battle station, every one phones around and asked questions, locate Luther (the local mechanic) he called a mast monkey (the cutesy term Peggy used because it made her think of Curious George shinnying up a coconut tree).  The next morning within a half hour or so my sails are fixed, then we discuss the engine problem. “No problem Mon, we fix every thing good for you, sit back and let me think about it” he says.

Three days later the engine purrs like a kitten just the way it was before, the bilge is fixed, and I am ready to go again. But I decide to stay a few more days, to relax, rest and get ready for the leg to Grand Cayman Island.

So in a few words, 3 days of hell at seas, followed by 3 days of absolute wonderful people, with a smile ear to ear all the time, genuinely wanting to help and be friends with you.

To all at the Royal Jamaica Yatch club from Pat the manager, Luther the mechanic, Chris the bar tender, Debbie, Peter, Dana and all the people working or residing at the Marina:  a thousand thanks will not be enough.

Welcome to Jamaica

We were shortly surrounded by warm, caring people asking our situation and how they could help. Far cry from the cold response of Curacao. The marina called all the authorities we needed to see and they all visited the boat. We found that amazing considering we had to run around all over the island looking for people in Curacao.

The first visit was from the Health Authority, after which we could take down our Q flag. I went up to the main building then and found some emergency supplies (beer and cigarettes) and a Jamaica flag. We seemed to have every flag of the Caribbean except Jamaica. The yacht club has a lovely little terrace bar area and the bartender, Chris, is a love. He was so patient with my lack of knowledge of Jamaican dollars and all my questions. When I explained our situation, he called over a couple of guys that quickly understood the problems and offered to help. Luther and Paul explained that this was pretty much the best marina around to effect our repairs and that they would help us find a spot. This place is full to the brim but we couldn’t stay at the fuel dock for more than just the night.

Customs arrived next and Immigration a little while later. In between were all manners of other sailors and locals that came to welcome us and offer whatever assistance we needed. There was no weather here at all but they knew of the storm we went through. They all said to wait til morning and talk with Miss Pat (Yap-chung), the Yacht Club Manager, that she would be able to find us a spot.

First thing in the morning, Luther showed up with Chris who climbed the mast and was able to fish out the cable. The main sail was hooked back up, the lazy jack fixed and all was well in no time. Then Chris captained us around to our new home.

We ended up in a fine spot just outside the main marina, all to ourselves (better breeze too J) and with power hooked up. Luther and Jean-Marie worked on the engine and had it fixed the next day, after a trip to town to get new filters and a bunch of other parts. Turns out the whole main problem was really really REALLY dirty fuel. Once pumped out, and while emptying the filters, we let it settle in a little bucket to have a good look. There was approx ¼ inch of clean fuel on the top of 5 inches of sludge. No wonder the poor thing wouldn’t run.

The bilge pump problem turned out to be the float switch had let loose from the bottom. We put it back onto the plate, resunk the plate, rewired the pump and all is well there.

None of the problems turned out to be a huge fix, all simple stuff, but they all happened at once and they were all connected to one another somehow. Once they all happened, everything went to hell in a handbasket.

Thursday night we went into Port Royal to have dinner at Gloria’s. THE best seafood you’ll ever taste! We had lobster (mine in garlic, JM’s in curry) and brought over half of it home in a doggy box. Jean-Marie made lobster omelette the next morning with the leftovers. While there, we were trying to find a table in a packed house along with another family so mutually decided to share a spot. That turned out to be the highlight of the evening, even more than the food. Ian and Nicole, and Nicole’s aunt Olive, were such super nice people. Oh, we talked and laughed and talked and laughed some more. When it came time to leave, they gave us a ride back to the marina. They repeated what we had been told: that the bus was too dangerous at night, as well as the mile walk back up the hill from the road, and we shouldn’t trust a cab too much unless we had the marina book it.

Olive: Have a most wonderful visit with your family here and a safe trip home after Christmas.

Ian and Nicole: Thank you so much for everything: the conversation, the ride, the warmth you showed us. Merry Christmas!

Saturday was chore day, and Luther set us up with transportation. We thought Geoffrey was just giving us a ride into Harbourview to get groceries. Well, let me tell you…..he turned out to be a great ‘tour guide’ and our excursion lasted hours – not a ‘chore’ at all! He went through the supermarket with us, helped to find things and made some suggestions that we would never have thought of. Then he took us to toodle around Kingston a bit – we went down what is called Gaza Strip which is one street that divides political factions in much the same way as gangs or druglord territories are divided. It was incredible to think that there was such a strict ‘line in the sand’ that wasn’t created by drugs or guns. We stopped at the statue of Bob Marley (!!! J) then took a wander through lovely Emancipation Park. It is an oasis of beauty, not so much manicured as neat and tidy, with a running track through it and an outdoor amphitheatre in the middle.

Along the way from ‘business’ Kingston we passed various schools, prep schools, the College of Arts and Design, the Teachers College, the Mico University College, the Bushamante Hospital for Children, the Park of World Heroes, the Stadium – both indoor and outdoor. It surprised me a little the amount of education and cultural outlets there are in Jamaica, all kinds of stuff you never hear about and wouldn’t even consider.

We headed down to what was described as ‘ghetto Kingston’ which turned out to be a bazaar-type section that was teeming, absolutely swarming, with people. Little shops line narrow streets with the sidewalks packed full of wares and everything from soup to nuts can be found here. The merchandise takes up so much room the people can only walk on the street. The car was surrounded most of the time by shoppers and lookers that we literally crawled along. But what was remarkable was the lack of shouting or hollering, the lack of anger or frustration – the loudest sounds were the music and laughter and calling of the shopkeepers.

On the way back to the marina, we stopped at “Tastee” and had beef patties for lunch with Geoffrey. OMG!! You have got to try these things! Ground beef (or chicken) with spices, wrapped in a light pastry and baked. They look like a Cornish pasty, they taste similar to a Quebec tortiere but they have a subtle little difference that is totally Jamaican.

Debbie helped me with my laundry this afternoon, the two of us yakking away whilst working. I don’t know her position here at the marina so I just call her ‘angel’.

All of that, with a dip in the pool to cool off, made the day just wonderful.

Exodus

LEAVING CURACAO

0630, 30 Nov, Day 1, we cast off from Royal Marine Services and set out for either Guatemala or Mexico.  We had launched Ete Infini the day before and did final setup that night in order to be ready for first light.  There was not much sleep as it decided to rain most of the night, which did nothing for the heat, humidity or mosquitoes.  A quick coffee in the morning and the lines were cast off.

Coming out of Piscadera Bay just as sunrise was beautiful, clear and mirror-like water.  The forecast for the next week was good even to the point of too calm.  Jean-Marie was not looking forward to needing to motor so much but I was looking forward to a calm, uneventful sail – this being my first time ever on a sailboat.  Calm and uneventful just did not happen; I got my ‘trial by fire’ and Jean-Marie even got to use his experience to get us through safely.  Thank goodness for his unflappability, he was steady as a rock the whole time which really helped.

We hit the first squall by 0800, followed by two more in the next six hours.  They only lasted 1/2 hour or so, just enough to soak everything and make us wonder where all this good weather was supposed to be.  The afternoon and evening were good, the sunset (our first) was gorgeous, the seas were calm and we made it through the night in very good shape.

Day 2 (Dec 1) saw extremely calm weather and yes, we motored quite a bit.  There was just no wind to be had.  Late morning, Jean-Marie decided to change course completely and head for Jamaica so we set the coordinates and off we went.  We were accompanied by a rainbow coloured fish with a black tail (whatever it was) for over half and hour, just swimming alongside and playing in the wash.  Clear skies, light cumulus clouds along the horizon, some sylphs floating around, lots of sun, just a nice day on the water.

Day 3 (Dec 2) we had done 140 nm in the last 24 hours.  Just after sunrise, were had the honour of a few dolphins swimming alongside.  They were just so quick I was not able to get any photos of them.  They stayed only for half hour or so but were wonderful to watch.  Amazing how fast those little things are!

There had been a swallow following and circling us since late yesterday and he actually landed about noon.  Just flew right under the bimini and alit on the cushion, where he sat looking around and seeming exhausted.  We were over 300 miles from anywhere so we wondered where this little guy came from.  We put out bread crumbs, dry cereal crumbs, watermelon and water for him but he was not interested.  It looked like he just needed to rest so we left him alone.  He went downstairs into the main cabin after awhile and made himself comfortable in the forward cabin, on the shelf railings, in the aft cabin, etc.  I put his food and water down near where he looked like he was going to stay and just let him be to rest and relax.

At this time, we figured on being off Kingston about midnight or so Dec 3/4 so were trying to think of how to go about taking up about 6 hours so we didn’t arrive at night.  Little did we know.

There was a bit of a squall mid-afternoon with two fronts, both lasting about 20 minutes.  Heavy heavy rain, lots of wind but the water was smooooth.  The colour was awesome, it had changed from a beautiful medium royal blue to a steely grey and shiny, almost like it was oil.  It took all the wind with it when it passed by and left us steamy and becalmed.

That night, at about 0230, we circled around some more weather mostly because we could; we had the room and the time to do so no sense in getting the beds all wet.  We were finding it quite cold at night which is hilarious when you think of it.  Broiling during the day, trying to find respite from the sun and then donning long pants and sweaters and wrapping in blankets at night.  Weird.

Day 4 (Dec 3) We saw what looked like remnants of a homemade raft, a couple of long thing logs, some bits of wood and rope and some empty plastic jugs.  We called it in on the radio but got no answer from anyone.  The wind was up and down all day, mostly down, but the seas were 10-12 ft.  It began to chop, with whitecaps, and the surface looked windblown but there was really no wind to speak of.  The waves were from different directions, creating a nice little washing machine effect.  The clouds were mostly scattered cumulus but with flat dark bottoms.  They joined together in spots but passed by behind.  By late afternoon, we were approx. 34 nm from our last waypoint before Kingston; it would put us just southwest of the Cays and far east of Pedro Bank.

There was no wind and the seas were more swell than chop but higher, getting on to 15 ft or so.  We couldn’t understand how this could be.  The eastern horizon was one long, dark-bottomed cloud stretching to the south with a huge squall curtain.  The bilge pump decided this was a good time to pack it in.  The floor in the nav station was awash in diesel and it was spraying out of the engine compartment onto the galley floor and aft cabin floor as well.  So we disconnected the old pump, hooked a new one to the hose and wired it direct to the battery for the time being.  No mean feat in 15 foot waves and 100 degrees downstairs.  It was icky.  We got the bilge pumped out which meant the engine compartment stopped sloshing all over, put a towel down to sop up the most and left it hoping for the best.  By now, things were starting to heat up outside.

Just after sunset, it hit.

The wind picked up, the seas picked up, everything picked up.  We closed up tight and brought in some of the jib but kept main sail out.   It didn’t take long for everything to go to hell in a handbasket.  Long story short, the next 16 hours were a nightmare – estimated  30 ft waves, 80 kmph winds from the E-NE.  It was a very long night of huddling, wet and scared (well, me anyway) in corners of the cockpit and allowing the autopilot to do its thing.  I swear I left claw marks in the metal bimini frame while Jean-Marie battled the blowing sheet he was trying to keep on.  It was cold and wet and miserable.  The bow buried under one wave, the railing under the next, the dinghy bashed on the next.  The port side lazy jack broke when we tried to drop the main sail and the keeper snapped which sent the cable and sail over the side.  Getting it back up took everything Jean-Marie had and then some and we stuck it down the companionway just to keep it from blowing us over.

Every hour or so, I needed to run the bilge pump as it was filling up like crazy.  The only problem was that the wind was kicking it back all through the cockpit every time it drained.

The sun coming up was not quite the blessing it should have been because it meant we could actually see the crap that was happening.  It was much easier to sit with eyes closed in the dark.  It lasted until late morning when everything went calm all at once, and I mean really calm.  Water like glass and not a breath of wind.  That’s when the motor decided to die.  We were approx 10 nm south east of Kingston, the hills looked close enough to touch but still so far away.  Jean-Marie started working on the engine and I just steered back and forth in the current trying to stay within sight and reach of the harbour.  We radioed for hours with no response.  Finally another ship came back and asked what the problem was.  We told him we were dead in the water, trying to get to Kingston and wanted a tow or a mechanic.  He said he would get hold of port authority and get back to us.  We never did hear back from anyone.

About 1630 we had enough wind to get us into the final shipping lane but that died off too.  Knowing we couldn’t safely stay in the main lane after dark, especially not moving, we lowered the dinghy and used it to tow the boat past the markers to find an anchor for the night.  There were planes coming in on final approach just over our head so we had to get past the airport as well.

It was midnight before we finally were able to sit and think about bed.  We dragged a bit overnight but luckily kept off the rocks we knew were there.  At first light, Jean-Marie was back at the engine trying to coax life into it.  The problem, as it turned out, was that the fuel that was in the tank from before was so full of sludge and crap that it clogged everything.  It would probably not have been so bad except for the storm and all the rocking and rolling stirring everything up.  The filters would clog as soon as they filled so Jean-Marie finally just jury-rigged the system to bypass and feed directly.  At 1100, the engine started and kept running for half hour so we figured it was safe to haul anchor and head in.  The lobster fishermen were out in the morning and we saw where they put their traps which told us where the rocks were – all around us.  One boat stopped by and asked if we wanted a tow or anything but by then Jean-Marie had the problem solved.  It was super nice of them to stop and offer.

We retraced our path back to the main channel and found our way into the harbour proper.  There was NO way we could have done that in the dark.  We didn’t have the proper charts and the GPS didn’t have the expanded chart for this area.  There were rocks and sandbars all over the place.  After a zigzag course going by sight and depth meter only, we made it into the mouth.  We radioed for directions to Customs but got no answer.  We finally flagged down a pilot boat and asked where to go and he directed us.

We anchored and took the dinghy over to the Customs building where the first smile welcomed us: the first of many.  “Welcome to Jamaica” were the first words we heard, music to our ears.  We told them of our situation and the need for a marina to make repairs and they directed us to the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club.  They also called ahead and let them know we were coming.  So we came up through, past the refinery, past the line of tankers at anchor and found the marina where they waved us in to the visitors dock.  We got tied up and welcomed most warmly and we shut everything down.  Finally feeling safe, we were able to sit and really enjoy a beer and cigarette.