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When Bad Luck is Good Luck


Our original plan for this sailing season was to head north from Curacao and then from where ever we “made landfall”, we would make our way West to BVI, USVI, Puerto Rico and onwards to the Dominican Republic and maybe even to Cuba (The Plans of Mice and Men again !).

 

As we spent time around Puerto Rico and the USVI we came to understand (by talking to many experienced sailors) that sailing further West was easy as the trade winds were behind us, but to sail back East could be very difficult as we would probably have to motor against the wind & waves for many days and hundreds of miles on end.


The “problem” was made more complex as we did not yet know where we would spend our second Hurricane Season. Going West is great if we want to stay west, but we were also uncertain of where we would be sailing to next season. It feels a little strange to have the spontaneity of sailing removed with the requirement to plan a year or more in advance !

I had always thought that we will “go with the wind” but in fact this can get us to places where we do not want to be and places that are even harder to get out of.

 

We have deliberated and sort of decided, as a provisional plan to sail down the Windward Islands where good friends of ours will join us in April. They will come to the small island of Bequia (St. Vincent & The Grenadines) from which we hope to have some easy sailing, but a little off the beaten track for holiday destinations with visits to Canuan, Tobago Cays and Mystique.

 

From there we may sail to Los Rocas (some beautiful Venezuelan Islands) and then onto Bonaire and Curacao for the hurricane season, a little like last year.

 

This way, we are again well positioned to sail either East or West at the start of the next season as we still have not managed to plan our next year’s sailing. Planning a year ahead is not easy !

 

As always, we try to be safe onboard, not just whilst planning our sailing around good weather windows but also onboard, especially when we are anchoring near to other boats. It is always fascinating that we can turn up in a bay where we place our anchor a long way from any other boats.  Then in the evening, as the sun begins its descent and darkness is approaching an “irresponsible” boat owner decides to set their anchor right beside us. Clearly, they see that we are there, so it must be a good, safe spot and so they come to join us. Usually it is the last boat to arrive who should take the precaution to be in a position that does not interfere with the swing of the other boats at the end of a 30 or 40 metre anchor chain with the changing winds. The positioning of our boat, relative to other boats is really important as we can even swing in full circles during the night.

 

If we are not happy then we have to let them know that we consider they are too close for comfort – sometimes they are polite and move, other times they are impolite and ignore our requests. This leaves us concerned for what the night may bring and easy sleep is disrupted.


A way of helping to “define our territory” is by having an anchor ball that floats above the position of our anchor. There is a flat rope on a drum that adjusts automatically for the water depth up to 20 metres. This way, if the swing of a boat in front comes close to being above our anchor, then we can politely ask them to move – with a sound reason as we can show them where our anchor is positioned. If we depart from an anchored location, the boat will end up above the anchor for retrieval, so there should not be any boat above this point or even close by.

Recently, we had the “Bad luck” to have a problem with our anchor ball. The retrieval system that adjusts for water depth stopped working. This resulted in our anchor ball being “stuck” several metres below the surface of the water, and a potential hazard to other boats as they may tangle with such an under-water obstruction.  On this occasion, we had other boats coming close by who did not know where our anchor was sitting, so we were concerned for several reasons.


I swam out with my normal snorkelling gear to see if I could get the ball to work correctly – unfortunately, it was too deep for me to swim down and make any adjustments. I then took our large chain lifting hook (on 10 metres of rope) to try and pull on the anchor ball to free the mechanism. Again, this did not work as the ball seemed completely stuck.

The only remaining option was to put on my scuba gear, dive down and untie the anchor ball from the anchor. I could then bring the anchor ball back to the boat and see if it could be fixed.

 

This is where the bad luck of a non-working anchor ball became our “good luck”. As I untied the rope from the anchor itself – at 12 metres depth -  I saw that the anchor’s point was hooked over a large chain that was on the sea bed. With my scuba gear on, I could remove chain from the anchor and re-position both the anchor and chain.

If I had not noticed this, then the following day when we were planning to depart from our anchorage, it would have been impossible to leave as the chain would have held the anchor firm. Earlier, in my attempts with my snorkelling gear, the water was too murky at this depth to see the interaction of the anchor and the chain on the seabed, hence I would never have noticed the problem had I been successful in fixing the anchor ball.

Bringing in an anchor is the last thing to do before departing any location and trying to understand why it was not possible to retrieve the anchor would have been difficult and frustrating. This is the reason why it was such good luck for us to have a non-working anchor ball and all the necessary scuba equipment and diving experience to help get us out of this pickle before it ever became one.

 

Once the anchor ball was back on the boat, I took it apart to see the reason why it was not working. The metal band which brings the tension to the rope was twisted and out of place and how it got to be like that I don’t know. We unravelled the metal band and hopefully it is working again – we will know when we use it next time !



I mentioned earlier that we have friends joining us in April for almost 2 weeks. This is quite unusual for us as few people are prepared to take the risk of a visit; we always say we will never guarantee being where we plan to be due to weather and other external circumstances. Many disasters have happened with people taking risks to meet deadlines so we carefully plan ahead to be at our expected meeting point well in advance of our expected meeting date.

 

We doubly profit with the visit of our friends by taking the opportunity to have a few spare parts delivered to their house before they depart. All sailors know that their lifeblood is the flow of spare parts from the well-established chandlers in Europe to the far-flung corners of the seven seas. To make it as easy as possible, we have ordered only what was most urgent, a bag to put it all in and left large items like solar panels off the list.

 


The bays that we are visiting in the Leeward Islands are all ones that we have been to last year. So much easier to arrive the second time around. We know what to expect, where to go for bread, groceries and checking in (and out). We also have an idea of walks and hikes we would like to make, a dinner reservation has been made and where to snorkel with our favourite turtles.

 

February was a good month for us, I think it is the first time in 3 years that we have come in within our budget. No major equipment failures and no major repairs !

 

However, we did have some problems, other than our malfunctioning anchor ball. Our Starlink cable seems to have given up transmitting data, so our satellite-based internet has stopped working. We are currently dependent on 4G and local wifi networks. This is not what we are used to and some normal things in this “online world” become much more complicated to do.

 

A new cable is on order and with the help of Anthony in the USA, we hope for a delivery to Marina du Marin, Martinique in the next 2 weeks. Unfortunately, the 2 kg cable will cost is $200 in Fedex costs + the cost of the cable. We could not easily get the cable to be sent to Europe to be brought by our visitors in time, so we had to bite the bullet on this one (2 weeks on and the new cable arrived, was installed and we were back on line for 3 days - then back to "System Offline" ! ? ).


A couple of days ago Our Watt & Sea hydrogenator had a little mishap as we sailed over a fishing pot. One blade of the propeller was broken off and a new propeller needed to be installed. Fortunately, about 3 weeks ago our friends from “Hokulea” gave us a spare that they would never use as it created too much noise on their generator (many thanks) – so our unit is back in action again. Once again great timing as our friends have another item to bring along in our “goodies bag”.

We always try not to sail through shallow waters to avoid fishing pots, but when we can’t, we are both on the lookout for them as we sail through these areas. Motoring is most dangerous as it is easy for the rope to snag on the engine's propeller but at least when we are sailing, the pots and ropes should slip off.

 

While we were sheltering in Saint Martin (French side) from the cold fronts (and bad weather) coming down from the USA we picked up a mooring buoy from “Ton”, who manages a small village of about 10 buoys. Here, Ton would look after the boats in his care, especially if the owners were away in Europe or just generally looking around the area. He would spoil us with a baguette on Sunday and organise an occasional beach party for the guests of his village. In addition, Ton helped to get us through the complex organisation of the draw bridges that strictly controls access in and out of the lagoon and provided a “taxi service” from the boat to the International Airport.

 

Ton’s help was invaluable to us and his local knowledge convinced us that it was a better idea to take a small plane to visit the Dutch Island of Saba, rather than to try and go by boat and anchor in a relatively unprotected anchorage.




Saba is renowned for having the shortest commercial runway in the world with mountains, cliffs and sea around it. This makes for quite exciting landings in small propeller engine aircrafts that carry about a dozen passengers.

 

I think the island is designed for mountain goats as the roads and tracks make a lot of steep up and down and I think we have not walked so much since we left Madeira ! Down and back up at least 100m elevation each time to get bread, lunch, dinner and a walk, should we think we need one ! It was only 450m to the top of the volcano with a track like a staircase all the way. Yes, our legs were well worked after a few days visit and probably better for it. In addition, this is also known that this island the highest point in The Netherlands.


After returning to Saint Martin, we sailed onto the last Dutch Island : of St Eustatius, also known as Statia by the locals. Here we anchored in a beautiful big bay but were rocked by the tugs and work boats that brought the large tankers to the tank farm to discharge their cargos.

Here we climbed our last volcano in the Netherlands and had a lovely time walking around the old parts of what was once the biggest commercial port in the Caribbean. We, as ever, continue to meet old friends and make new ones on the way. This is provably the best part of this life we lead.



 

Whilst swimming around the boat to cool off in the evenings after a hard day’s walking I noticed that there was some significant barnacle growth on the boat’s hull. During our 16 days in the Saint Martin Lagoon a few million barnacles decided that the smooth curves of our Ocean Deva were a great place to setup home – in-spite of ultra-sonic and anti-fouling paint that is supposed to seriously deter this from happening, I think that the overwhelming number of homeless barnacles was too great to stop. From the bottom of the keel to the water line, we had barnacles on every square centimetre of the hull, rudder and keel. Gentle brushing made little difference and so I ended up scraping each barnacle away with a stiff plastic spatula. In the end it took me two dives with my scuba gear to remove all of these animals. I think I may have removed a lot of anti-fouling paint in the process, but at least Ocean Deva has her smooth curves again.


In many enclosed marinas and bays, where we see protection from the forces of nature we have never seen such a proliferation of marine growth in such a short space of time. Each time I swim, I take a soft brush with me to keep our Ocean Deva’s bottom smooth and polished. It was here also that we had a visit from the Dutch Coast Guard. They came up to our boat, asked if we had weapons on board and then came onboard to check our safety equipment and our papers.





They were actually very impressed that our fire extinguishers were not expired and that we had sufficient life jackets - not everyone meets this basic requirement they said.

 

Sailing on from the Dutch Islands to St Kitts we are enjoying the diversity of the different islands that we pass. Soon we are back in the same sailing areas of last year in Guadeloupe, Deshais and Les Isles des Saints.

 
















One small story to share; as we explore the different islands on our various hikes we see many “Tourist Trees”. They stand out from the other trees with a bright bronze coloured bark. One of our guides told us that they call these trees after the tourists that visit the islands. He explained that the tourists arrive and spend time in the sun and go a nice bronze colour.












Then the skin tends to over cook and flake off – looking at the tourist trees, the bark is indeed peeling off like an over exposure to the sun – and so they look at the trees and think of the suffering tourists !

 








Well, for another story, we have now passed 1,100 sailing miles this season and the 14,000 nautical mile mark of our journey from setting off from Amsterdam 3-1/2 years ago. Though we know that we still have a lot to learn, we have learnt a great deal since our initial sailing starting days on the IJsselmeer which started over 10 years ago.

 

Our next bit of fun to look forwards to, other than sailing 200 nautical miles in the open sea, is to have our good friends onboard to share a part of our adventure. I hope they will enjoy it as much as we do. In preparation, we need to convert our `”garages” to liveable cabins and find places for all of our own “stuff”. This is a big task, but I think we are up to it.




 

 

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