Wednesday, February 28, 2007

barbados to antigua- 285 nautical miles to go

After a lovely adventure in Barbados, it was time for the sailing adventure back to Antigua. We had been looking at the weather forecast which showed a big cold front approaching from the North. Not many people realize that strong cold fronts sometimes can make it all the way down from Canada through the USA and into the Caribbean. Anyway, this one was a biggie and the winds and waves were forecast to get nasty. We wanted to get close to home before the worst of the weather came through.
After trying to track down my brand new mobile phone that had been charging inside the Boat Yard restaurant, we decided to give it up, clear customs and immigration, and set off for Antigua. Clearing out took forever because Barbados doesn’t seem ready for cruising yachts. In fact during our stay there we only saw three or four other cruising yachts. Antigua has hundreds coming and going each week and is more welcoming to the cruising world.
The phone thing kinda added to the stress of departing because it was a nasty situation. After lunch the day before we left, the manager on duty at Boat Yard agreed to charge my phone behind the bar. We came back at 9 pm and the security told us the place had closed early and that i had to come the next day. I could see the bar and after explaining about my phone was told that the bar was locked up. I remember thinking that it didn't look like it. Anyway, the next morning the phone was gone. The owner called the staff who had been working and assured me that it would be found. There could only be so many people with access to the phone, so it would be easy to sort it out. After the owner had left in the morning the staff just decided to stall me and jerk me around. The owner had told them to either produce the phone or pay for a new one. They did neither and in the end i had to leave with the boat. I am sooo over having expensive phones!!!!! (RANT) I am now sporting the cheapest phone available in the Caribbean, and it works and isn't attractive enough for anyone to want. Perfect!
Once we pulled the anchor up, Xabier's stress of clearing immigration and my phone theft stress seemed to wash away like the sand coming off the anchor. We were cruising again without time to be miserable. Those things seem so unimportant when you are out on the blue water with the winds blowing through your hair (or over your scalp in my case).
The winds had died down again to almost a breath in the lee of Barbados, but the waves were long large swells almost like a rolling field of blue wheat.

We tried at first to sail but that didn't work after we sailed into the glassy holes without enough air to fill the sails.
We motor sailed with just the main until we found some light winds on the North side of the island. Xabier hates the sound of his engines and no matter how light the winds were, was much happier to be sailing. With a specially designed light wind reaching sail called a "screacher" we were probably cruising between 8 and 9 knots. The winds were not much faster so we were happy with our speed. Xabier explained that on this hard core carbon fiber catamaran, sail choice was extremely critical, and we had to be careful not to carry the screacher in too much wind. We expected the winds to pick up during the night and at that time we would have to change to the regular jib which can handle stronger winds. The sun set as flying fish which Barbados is famous for flew off to our port side into the fading light. Sunsets out to sea are always an emotional thing for me......they are times of excitement and usually of nervous anticipation. Being at sea out in the middle of the ocean at night is as beautiful as it is dangerous, but all mariners love it.
Anyway Chef Francis got started making dinner at about 9 pm. The sky was overflowing with stars once again and the winds had picked up a bit to make it a little cooler than normal. In fact, as expected with cold fronts, the winds had bent a little more towards the North which kinda explained the chill.
At night, a radar adds a whole heap of technological security and comfort. Not only can u see land and other boats, but you can see squalls which can be dangerous to yachts. On the way to Barbados we had seen squalls coming on the radar and as they got close the winds picked up as expected. We were always prepared and ready for the spikes in wind speed. This time the massive jump in wind speed wasn't due to a squall. Well at least it wasn't a readable squall on the Radar. The sky showed no clouds either but just before we served the food a huge wind surge burst into our sails taking the screacher over the limits. The extremely light catamaran accelerated quickly and started to feel like it wanted to lift a hull. This all happened in seconds and although we were expecting the winds to pick up, we thought it was going to be much later in the night and more gradual. Xabier turned off the auto pilot which was straining to keep the boat on a reach, and she rounded up into the wind backwinding the screacher. Francis and i quickly tried to furl the sail in and within a few minutes we were back in control with the screacher rolled or furled on its bowsprit. Xabier decided to quickly put up the jib and to continue on as normal which is what i would have done too. In my opinion he was being a little too comfortable up on the front of the boat in a building sea at night with winds approaching 20 knots, but within a few minutes the sails were up again and we were on our way. Five minutes later we started hearing a sail making a hell of a noise up front and Xabier scurried quickly back up on the trampoline. The seas were building quickly and a few waves send spray all over us as we tried to figure what was going down. As it turns out, the screacher had been damaged in the wind surge and the damaged part was unrolling and filling with the strong winds which were ripping at it with noisy forked like gusts. Without hesitation Xabier decided that we had to drop the rolled up sail down from the mast. He released the halyard and the started pulling the partially rolled up sail down. Keep in mind that because of the winds we were probably doing about 12 knots of speed into a 20+ knot wind with large building invisible waves below us tossing the light cat around. At this point the real problem stopped us at the worst possible moment. The sail we were trying to drop was unfolding and catching some of the strong winds while this was happening the halyard got jammed. Try to imagine darkness with noisy strong winds, waves crashing over the decks, cold spray in your face and seeping under your clothes.....imagine that and then the nasty part. Imagine a huge sail with tons of power being stuck half way down as it threatens to totally unfurl while four tiny humans try to keep it under control. Poor Andre! He had been at the back of the boat kinda half asleep in a state of semi-seasickness. All of a sudden it was all hands on deck with total chaos unfurling in front of him. Not being a yacht sailor he didn't quite understand what was going on and was just ordered up onto the trampoline to attempt to hold down the bit of sail that had already reached the deck. Later he recounted that with every gust he was getting lifted and shaken like a rag doll. He was using all his power while kind of sitting to keep hold of it, but did say that he wasn't going over board with that sail no matter what. Xabier on the other hand was on the port side of the trampoline trying to pull down the damaged and unfurling screacher. I could kinda see him getting tossed around by the powerful and potentially deadly sail. One big wave, a little more unfurling, or one big gust and xabier could have been in the sea. Maybe there was no such danger but from my angle it was a frightening possibility and together with Francis we struggled to free the halyard. You see, earlier that day when Francis and Xabier had put up the big sail, they hadn't expected these problems and the halyard wasn't carefully stored in a way that ensured the sail could be quickly dropped. What had actually happened was a big tangle. The halyard looked like a big spilled bowl of spaghetti and it needed to be untangled to ensure our boat and crew's safety. Francis was holding back the halyard against the weight of Xabier and the wind while his fingers and hands jammed into the block at the base of the mast. He had to do that in order to give me enough slack to untangle the mess. Somehow i managed to pull some of my late grandma's tangle skills out of the air and the line came free. We dropped the screacher to the deck where it lay conquered like a huge snake for a few seconds. The waves were picking up quickly and i wanted to get the hell off the deck before a real accident happened. We quickly got the rest of the sail unattached and stowed it in the front lockers. When that front door finally closed i can tell you that i breathed a huge sigh of relief. When someone falls over at night from a yacht you can almost not even bother looking for them. People are almost never found and that's all i was thinking as we were zooming along on autopilot with jib and main sails up battling with the jammed screacher which was behaving like a prehistoric python on crack.
Anyway another thing that happened when we closed that door was that the smell of Chef Francis' food found its way to my nose. I can eat in almost any situation and although Dre and Xabier didn’t have an appetite immediately, it didn't take them that long to follow me and Francis into the pasta. Yum was good.
Man this story is getting long. Some of you will be reminded of my trip from Miami with Xtreme that i wrote about back in November. I will finish this story off tomorrow. The first and second photo show Andre up on the trampoline in the calm seas off Barbados. The first one shows him looking across the screacher. The third photo is of Xabier and Francis adjusting sails at the mast, and the last photo is of the bow of the catamaran in the glass calm seas near Barbados before the winds picked up. Hope you enjoyed. Night night little ones:)