Thursday, April 24, 2008

The first real sail: 300+ miles! (PART 2)

After it got dark the five of us started to feel a little cold. After all it had rained several times and was very windy. There were no stars which was such a downer for me because one of the coolest things about being on a yacht at night is seeing the stars without having any artificial lights polluting their beauty. I guess there will be more nights at sea and more stars to gaze at. I wanted to keep close enough off the islands that i could maintain mobile phone and VHF radio contact but far enough from them to avoid getting becalmed under the shadows of their mountains. Remember we were in a rush and had no engine to power out of windless areas. We found out on this trip that the two were not possible together as even 10 miles off St. Vincent the winds got lighter and lighter. It seemed as though the waves hadn't been told that there was no wind and we rocked and rolled as if in a storm without any wind in our sails. This went on for hours and hours and i told the guys about a story uncle Jimmy had spoken about recently. As it goes, he was sailing the same leg from the southern Caribbean to Antigua on an engineless boat just like us sometime in the early 80s. He had gotten becalmed and sat there all day not moving. In the afternoon he went for a pee and a smoke on the back of the boat. Afterwards he threw the empty cigarette pack into the water in frustration as it was his last. All night long they sat there again with no wind and when the next morning came and he went for an early morning pee....... the empty cigarette pack was still in the same place. They hadn't moved at all. I was hoping that this was just a bad story and that we wouldn't be stuck for 24 hours. We had enough water and food, but we needed to get the boat finished in time for classics and had loads of painting and other work to get done. We had been having shifts of two people at a time up on deck. One at the tiller and one there for support, and while becalmed Stevie and I took our turn to rest down below. I was mostly awake and heard Olly and Terry on deck speaking about hearing whales. Later they recounted hearing whales spout (exhale). I guess in the extremely calm conditions too far from land to hear any other noise a whales spout would be hear from quite a distance. I have been at sea many times drift fishing and heard humpbacks before i saw them. Sometime in the middle of the night while resting below i head the flow of water against the hull change and i knew we had found wind. Thank goodness, we were on our way again. I made a slight course adjustment to make sure we were well off St. Lucia which i knew was very high. The winds were extremely strong the next morning and Stevie and I stayed on deck worried about how much this new boat could take. I think the winds were above somewhere around 35 knots in the squalls and the sea looked and acted angry. The Ocean Nomad kept trucking along as if happy to finally be at sea and oblivious to the concerns of those who sailed her. In the strongest gusts i have to admit was very worried about the rig. What if the rush had led some part of it not to be strong enough for this punishment. The photo above was taken by stevie who had to goto the top of the mast to fix something we had missed jusat before we sailed her for the first time. I hoped it was all ok now! IT was very windy and rough and we had no port to pull into...well sort of. At some 15 miles west of Martinique the winds finally died down as the shadow of the islands' largest mountain started to becalm us again. This time i was happy for the rest even if it did rain. It didn't last as long. Unlike the youngest person on the boat who seemed to have no problem nodding off anywhere (check photo below), I hadn't slept much in the past week and i fell in and out of sleep. By the way, there has been no work done below decks yet and we slept on bags of sand ballast. Speak about roughing it! The whole next day was much of the same with mostly cloudy, rough and windy conditions when we were not being becalmed. We spent most of our time wet and tired and i couldn't say it was nice sailing at all. I don't remember if it was Dominica or Martinique, but during the night some 15 miles off shore becalmed again i walked up to the front of the boat to stretch my legs and gazed into the water. For the whole trip we had been seeing huge amounts of phosphorescence at night and even in the calm while hardly moving the water would light up whenever a wave would wash against the side of the boat. All of a sudden a large glowing trail of phosphorescence zoomed past the boat and for a second i thought my tiredness had gotten the better of me. Did i imagine what i had just seen? It happened again and this time immediately i knew what was going on out here in the darkness. One of the dolphins exhaled loudly as i called for Olly and Stevie who were on the back. For the next five minutes a pod of about eight dolphins zoomed around the boat leaving glowing trails that could only be recreated in some kind of Pixel animated movie. It was wonderful and i heard one of the boys exclaim "This made the trip for me". Just then a dolphin launched itself about eight feet into the air and almost looked straight at us. They were showing off and checking our quiet dark vessel out. As suddenly as they flashed onto the scene, they were gone and the winds were back. Twice during our trip we had the lacing around the main sail burst which made for quite a fixing mission out there in the rough. I would have stayed 20 miles off from Guadeloupe, but with Antigua just fifty miles away at a tight reach i didn't want to go too low and have to end up tacking back upwind to home. Dad had warned me that i wouldn't be able to make Antigua on one tack if it was very windy and although i knew he was wrong at the time, i didn't need to hear "i told you" from him either. I maintained a course that kept us 10-15 miles west of Guadeloupe and once again we were becalmed. This time it seemed that for any foreword movement we made the currents would take us backwards to the starting point. I think we were at a standstill on GPS while seemingly making speed though the water. The currents were bad and we stayed almost six hours in the same place under Guadeloupe watching the same bits of land to our right. Two vast pods of dolphins past us fishing aggressively. With birds around too it was obvious that some major feeding was taking place and they hardly noticed us sitting there this time. Just before the winds filled back in i saw a whale spouting a good distance away from us. I hoped it would come closer, but it wasn't to be. Finally we were moving again and with the volcanic island of Montserrat passing below us Antigua was bound to be visible soon. I was uncomfortable numb with tiredness and had a headache to match which retired me to the "comfort" of the lumpy sandbags below. Olly seemed to be enjoying the see more and more and took the helm while soaked to the gills as only a tough Englishman could do. The rest of the crew laughed at how he managed to sit there struggling with the tiller, waves washing over him and still maintaining a wide grin. I don't think i have ever had a headache like the one that was bending me up down below and only managed to surface when we were a few miles from shore. Alexis on Genesis with some friends had sailed out in the hope of meeting us, but by the time we were in mobile phone range we were not in sailing range. We wanted to be in Jolly Harbour immediately and told Alexis we would sail together soon. JD who had just come in from an Xtreme Circumnav said he'd help bring us into port and as we zoomed past the lee of Cades reef the crew spotted probably a dozen sea turtles. Our welcome party of endangered species brought smiles to all aboard. The sun peeked out and Antigua never looked more beautiful. Mykl waved from Darkwood Beach and the boat kept zooming. Stevie said that this was more like it and that this would be a lovely boat for this kind of sailing. "Tourists are going to love it" he said. Anyone would in the lovely calm seas and brisk trades that flow on the south and west coast of Antigua. JD, Martin and Mykl met us outside Jolly Harbour's channel and towed us onto the customs dock inside. Family and friends came to welcome us and the Ocean Nomad home. It was a lovely afternoon and we were all happy to be there. Work and lots of painting would have to continue tomorrow Tuesday in order to make the party on the book launch on Thursday and Antigua Classics on Friday.