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.