Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in St. Thomas 2007
Picture: Merry Christmas Everyone!!
Now that we are where we need to be, our guests arriving on December 28th, we started to plan our Christmas. We had never been to St. Croix, and understood there were lots of Christmas celebrations planned so we decided to go there. It is a 40 mile trip, with a very tricky entrance (read reef protected) into Christiansted. Having never been there, we definitely wanted to arrive in early afternoon with lots of light to guide us in. We were up before dawn and underway by 6am. But the weather gods were still not being kind to us, and after 3 hours we turned back, knowing we would not get to St. Croix in daylight. The waves/currents were pushing us the wrong way, and there just was no reason to take unnecessary risks for a pleasure trip. We would have to find something else to do for Christmas in St. Thomas.
And for this, the boating community did not let us down. We were not expecting "Diesel Duck" to be in St. Thomas, but when we heard them on the radio, we quickly made contact. We had been following Benoit and Marlene in and out of anchorages for nearly two years, and only had personally met on a couple of occasions. We accused them of branding us as fleas, because it seemed as we entered an anchorage, they were making their exit.
We met up on their boat for drinks, and planned to share Christmas dinner on RAFT. As they were anchored off Crown Bay, we decided to move RAFT over there. Anchoring off Crown Bay is difficult, as you must choose a spot among moorings, long term residents on multiple anchors. Plus the bottom is debris and coral covered, and the depth quickly changes from 4 ft to 30ft. Not an ideal anchorage, and one that caused us difficulties when we were there in 2006. However, Benoit had snorkeled and determined a spot that we could "just" fit in.
We had a lovely Christmas dinner, since we couldn’t be with our family, new boater friends are the next best. Benoit and Marlene know many of our Ontario boater friends, having built Diesel Duck through the OBBC (Ontario Boat Builder Coop), living and sailing out of Toronto.
Marlene showed Bev how to take the safaris to the "upcountry"shopping areas after the holidays, something not high on Ross’s desired activities, but the girls had a good day out.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

St. Martin to St. Thomas December 2007
Picture: Megas in Simpson Lagoon
The nasty weather that Chris Parker had been warning us about turned into Tropical Storm Olga, surprising everyone. Olga passed just north of us, giving us some rain, and lots of gusty winds. We are anchored in Simpson Lagoon, completely protected, but even here, there have been some waves in the 35 knot gusts. Unfortunately the lagoon bottom is weed covered and the anchors tend to fill up with weeds and become big balls of dirt, instead of doing their job. We dragged a few times when we first got here, but then we put out our second anchor, the CQR, one that likes weeds better, and now we seemed to be okay. Problem is that there are many other boats in the lagoon, and every day someone else is dragging near us. This means that we don't go too far from RAFT and that we don't sleep too soundly at night.
The Big Atlantic Rally boats arrived in to St. Martin while we were there, Some of the boats made the crossing from the Canaries (2600 miles) in 10 -12 days. Every day there is a parade of the multi million dollar plastic megas, trekking in and out at bridge openings. The marina guys with divers, really have to work hard to shoehorn them into the med moored docks, especially with the wind. Gives us a new "show" to watch from our cockpit everyday.
We ended up paying for another week, as we waited for the 9-12’ seas to come down. However, we had to get out of there, boats just continued to drag onto us regularly. Our boat neighbours were disappointed to see us leave, we were such good goalies. During the time we were in the lagoon, 12 days, we dragged 3 times, stopped with second anchor. We were endangered by six boats, Ross helped reanchor 3 unoccupied boats, and woke up one sleeping sailor as his boat approached the mega boats on the dock. Note to anyone considering anchoring there....don't anchor close to Shrimpy's. That's were all the boats try to, and then the owners jump off their boats, leaving others to tend to while they are off enjoying St. Martin.
We moved out of the Lagoon on the 1130 bridge and anchored in Simpson Bay, planning an afternoon departure. We calculated that with the predicted NE winds 15-20, we should have a fast downwind sail, and if we left too early we would arrive in St. Thomas before dawn. Not that it would really be a problem, given how large and well lit Charlotte Amalie harbour is. But as usual, the winds did not perform as predicted, instead we had light east winds, directly on the stern. We were able to sail, the main securely tied off, the foresail flogging, furled, wing on wing, averaging 4knots, instead of the expected 6. As a result our anticipated 18 hour sail, took over 24.
We were pleasantly surprised to find "Off Call", friends from Trenton Ontario we had not seen since Luperon. They were heading off to St. Martin but had waited for us, knowing we were coming in. It was great to see Joe and Wendy, even if it was only for a few hours.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Leaving Venezuela December 2007

Picture: Catching tunas
All systems are ready to go north. Its time to wait for weather. Our intentions were to sail from Margarita to St. Thomas, which should be a 4-5 day sail in moderate easterly winds, southeasterly would even be better. Since it was only the middle of November, we were hopeful of getting a favourable window, before the Christmas winds set in. So we started the wait, consulting Chris Parker, computer models, Sandcastle (our buddy boat) and for the next two weeks, all we saw were light northeast winds (guess which way we want to go), nothing to sail with.
By the 29th of November, we are starting to get tired of weather consultations over cheap beer at Juan’s. The 7 day outlook indicated more of the same. Some weather gurus and old salts seemed to think that the Christmas winds were kicking in early—just our luck. Our Canadian friends were going to join us in St. Thomas on Dec. 28th, and we wanted to get there. We made the decision to motor in the light winds east, to Los Tostigos and then on to Grenada, hoping that the winds would go more easterly and we could sail up the island chain. Of course that meant burning our cheap Ven. Fuel, but we didn’t have many other options.
We overnighted in Los Tostigos and continued using the iron genny until we pulled into the Lagoon, Grenada. There we stopped long enough to buy fuel, caught a few hours of sleep and then left, still motoring as we passed Union, Bequia, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, thinking we would stop in Martinique. By the time we were there, we were finally getting a little lift from the light east winds so we kept going. We finally anchored at 8pm in Deschaies, Guadaloupe on Dec. 5th. Next morning, more weather consultations and we determined we had one more day of good weather, before nasty 20+winds and squalls were expected. Up with the anchor and we set off sailing. The winds continued to be from the NE, but now we have done our easting, and our course is west of north to St. Martin.
We had been dragging fishing lines most of our trip, (except at night), so Ross set the fishing lines out as we were leaving Deschaies. Within 20 mins, Ross pulled in a small blackfin tuna…Lunch!! We reset the lines and continued sailing. As we passed a big commercial fishing trawler, both of our fishing clothes pin alarms went off. As we started to pull in the lines we figured the two lines had gotten twisted together, but we very quickly discovered we had two more tunas, they had escaped the trawler and come our way. We kept one and released the second one, to go back to school!! The winds we clocking and we enjoyed a beam reach the balance of the way to St. Martin, anchoring in Simpson Bay at dawn.
We checked in with the Dutch authorities, paid $10US for a week’s stay. Charges are levied for all boats in Simpson Bay and in the Lagoon. With the rough weather predicted, possibly the beginning of the Christmas winds, we decided to go into the lagoon on the 0930 bridge opening.
It had taken us one week to make the trip from Margarita, with 3 overnight stops (Los Tostigos, Grenada and Guadaloupe). Not the trip we had planned, but we now were only 100 miles from St. Thomas, and have three weeks to get there.