I had arrived back in time for Grenada sailing week with only no real problem, except my new mainsail was not quite right, and it was not driving the boat very well in any wind direction due to how much shape Jerry had given it. I had anchored in St Georges first to get a new steering compass, this is to replace my broken original one. I have tried now for over 8 years to find a replacement, second hand as they are not manufactured any more. The reason for that was simple, my chart plotter would not display any information and I had to go back to using my paper charts on the way down island. (at some point I will try and get it fixed) While I was choosing a new compass I saw another plotter in 'Island Water World', Its a Garman of similar type but 10 years ahead of my old one with all the latest Tech improvements, couldn't stop myself from getting hold of it. I then left and went round the south coast to 'Secret Harbour' where sailing week was due to start, bit scary going through the reef without any Nav info and also all the channel marks leading through were missing. Got in OK and had arranged to pick up a mooring ball, local guy came out and helped me with that.
I got to work right away on taking the new main off and putting my old repaired sail back on for the racing, then I installed the new plotter and steering compass. Plotter is magic and since putting into service I am getting up to date with the latest innovations that have been thought up, also how to use the thing. Computer technology as moved forward by leaps and bounds were Navigation is concerned. Sailing week started and we all had a great time, I had 2 crew for all races and a third and forth crew for the first three, I had made friends with Wolfgang and Mathey before and a young sailor Micheal who was gasping to crew on a classic yacht, Emma was there too for the first three. Being the smallest boat there and having a mainsail with no battens in it, I didn't do very well, There were 7 boats in our class and I came 6: 6: 7: 7: 7: in the 5 races. My friends Jud and Chrissy on 'Galatea' (1899) won the lot, and was the overall winner in our class, and Gerry on Free Spirit was Third.
After all the racing parties were over I wanted to get back to St Lucia ASAP to fix my new sail and attend to the engine as I have found the blocked filter had damaged the fuel lift pump diaphragm. All the forecasts were dire, so from 4th of Feb I have been waiting for the winds to go down, there was no sign this was going to happen any time soon.
On Friday 16th a forecast gave the winds going down that weekend, just for a couple of days then back up again on the Monday 19th of this week. So took a chance and left on Saturday 20th at 0700hrs. This journey is about 135 NM from Bay to Bay and normally takes me 2 days and one night to get there, Not This Time, it took me 3 days and 2 nights in the biggest seas and highest winds I have ever seen in the Caribbean !!! I was going to call in on Carriacou on my way up to clear customs, I got to within 3 miles and then tacked, I was blown out to sea with wind and current taking me away and couldn't get there, unbelievable. I was in over 10 foot waves on the nose with 25 knts of wind blasting the boat, lee rail was more under water than above, this carried on hour after hour for the whole trip! sometimes more and not often less.
I was now approaching St Vincent with Mustique and Bequia on the Starboard side, I could see the loom of their lights in the clouds above them as it got dark on Saturday night, I was about 20 miles to the west of them. This is were the waves got even higher and wind much stronger. Its my habit to stick my head by the hatch to light a cigarette out of the wind, I had just come out of the cabin after a quick snooze for 10 mins. After a good look around I poked my head in to light a fag...I was hearing water sloshing around without really understanding what I was hearing, after all I had only just come into the cockpit. Cabin was in total darkness so slid the hatch back and shone the torch in there. Holy ***""*** Bilge floorboard was floating on top of the waves down there, what the ??????? poor old hart started to go into top gear, what could it be???? plank come off somewhere??????? that was a lot of water very quick?????? I had only just come out of there?????? ?????? ???????
I shot down there power switch first, had something hit it and turned it off? no it was on. hand down into the water to feel the pumps were running or not, engine bilge yes, emergency 3000 gall an hour yes, cabin sort of, 2 big towels were wrapped round it so running but not pumping any water, removed towels pump ok, check water is going out, all three overboards were discharging water, big EM pump didn't seem to be pumping a lot? down again water was very slowly going down?????
put all on to manual running, waited for a bit, water was definitely going down, when the level passed the overflow from engine to cabin there was a waterfall of water coming through, have I sprung a plank down there somewhere????? I then thought why is the cabin bilge taking so long to empty???? because that's were the big pump suction is and should already be dry????? I turned the big pump off and the engine bilge pump emptied the bilge! ah ahha put the big pump back on bilge filled up again, shit there is a split in the hose, so a combination had happened, towels down bilge 1 pump nobbled, engine bilge fills up overflows into cabin, cabin bilge fill up starts big pump, big pump is just circulating bilge water from cabin to engine bilge, engine pump can not keep up complete bilge fills with water. With both bilges now back to normal no planks have fallen off the boat!! That was a bit of a scare, poor old hart took an hour to calm down after that! Back in the cockpit I finally got to light that FAG.
As I started to pass St Vincent it became even nastier, I kept hearing a bang that night, I couldn't find out where it was coming from, at 0300hrs with the wind about 30 odd knts and seas way over 12 feet, I had 3 bangs one after the other then a big bang happened, I then got the torch and noticed the wind vane frame was moving, a closer look showed me not the frame but the Bumpkin was lifting up alarmingly, it was starting to pull out the 4" coach screws, I looked over the stern and the wire stay holding the backstay in tension had completely shredded, the mast was now pumping back and forward with the jib stay slack but under serious loading from the wind, if I didn't do something quick I would be losing the mast top! a quick think then, I, quick as I could, tacked the boat and heaved too, pulled the main in hard to help the mast and bring the boom end reachable, took off the topping lift shackle and rigged it around the wind steering rudder post, (sounds easy, this whole frame was going under the sea 2 feet every second with me trying to hang on to it and tie the topping lift to it!) once done back to the mast get the haliyard run that back to the frame end then off with the main sheet and on with the haliyard on the winch, with both ropes now in as much tension as I had the strength to muster on the winch I monitored the mast top for a while getting my breath back (and had a fag or 2) Back stay was now loose and the frame was holding steady, I tacked back on course watching everything like a hawk, all was good. Jib stay was taught again, I got away with that one whew! was doing 6+knts into this wind and sea, hard on the starboard tack, boat loving every minute of it, it amazes me this boat.
The rest of that Sunday night I battled into this weather, I couldn't make the course to St Lucia and was going further away from the island mile by mile.
Finally I got far enough north to make the coast a good deal higher than the Pitons, this about 0600hrs Monday 19th morning over 35 miles from St Lucia to the West. going fast as off the wind a bit, think the very strong current was helping this time as I made the coast close in quickly.
I knew next problem would be getting the sails down in such high wind, there is not any shelter in Rodney Bay, I had blown out this sail last year trying to do just this sail down pain here! came as close as I dared to a hotel beach North end of Cuti Cove just before Rodney Bay, still have to fit the new transducer for the new plotter so no depth sounder as yet.
Began just after 12 noon, order is 1st little jib, second is big jib then the main sail. again sounds easy but keeping the boat into the strong wind is the problem. 1 hour later I have not managed to drop the big jib yet, so down wind I go, Gusts are coming at me 25 deg. either side, have to let the boom out a lot to keep the wind up my backside, Da Ja Vue while half way getting Jib down a 30 degree gust slaps the boat hard....boat gybes...main goes round top spreaders....... I do one quick tie on jib....... then I try and gybe back...... before I get to rudder another gust...........as now getting a long way from beach..... this gust is full strength.......mainsail rips itself free...... turn into wind sail is slapping and tearing itself to pieces...... motor back to beach takes another hour! even closer this time..........
engine just ticking over in gear and into the fluctuating wind, wait for the right moment, it takes 20 seconds to drop, wait for it, wait for it, NOW let go haliyard, nothing, sail doesn't move??????
I am on the boom jumping off holding on to the sail, manage it down to the top spreaders, it will not come down any further?????? sail is now going berserk and making so much noise shaking the boat like a dog shakes a rag, I now have the whole beach full of hotel Guests watching this performance. Well what the hell, I tied as much of the sail to the boom, it now looks like a parachute and is having a similar effect on the boat! I go full throttle into the wind and round the corner into Rodney Bay, Full wind in my makeshift parachute allows me nearly 2 knts forward motion, quite good thinks me. Carried on to the channel then stopped to call the marina and arrange a berth, I sorely need one now.
While stopped 2 friends have spotted me and came over in their dinghies to give me some help, John who I met in Antigua Classics last year was a volunteer boat herder, very fit, and Robin whose classic boat was damaged just after I was hit, we decided to anchor get sail down then go into marina. After anchor was down John swarmed up the mast undid the sail and it dropped down no problem. Block however would not move and is even now waiting for me to fix. We then lifted anchor again and I am now in the Marina D22 berth. Got the ships papers and went to clear customs, very very knackered, customs had gone home, went to nearest bar and bought a bucket of beer (5 Bottles) when gone got another one, then up to Bosuns bar ordered a beefburger and fries and another beer, back to the boat at 8pm eat burger and fries and crashed out doing a deck head survey!