Thursday, December 29, 2011

what a morning i had yesterday!

This image of pure serenity yesterday morning was what i was feeling at the time while on the tiller of Ocean Nomad, our traditionally built Carriacou Sloop. These classic yachts have been built as work boats since the colonial sugar days of years gone by. Caribbean Helicopter pilot, Greg, took this image as he was leaving Jolly Harbour on his way to see the volcano over in Montserrat. I was skippering a private charter for two enthusiastic guests who just wanted to day sail on a wooden boat, have some lunch do some snorkeling and enjoy hearing stories about how it was traditionally built here in the Caribbean. This image's peaceful feel didn't last long for me and isn't how the day started. Over the weekend the boat's engine tore up a fan belt and because we had several days of public holidays, the skipper who was using the boat at the time couldn't find a proper replacement. It probably was going for a while and the batteries were not getting a proper charge. Anyway, my first mate had arrived at the boat early to check everything and prep the boat for the trip. The engine started just fine and he went to the fuel dock to top up. I met them there and once we were ready to push off we were surprised to find the battery dead. It was 9:10 am and our pickup was at 9:30. We went to A1 Marine engineering and left our battery to be charged while collecting an old used one which we hoped would get us going. After rushing back to the boat, hooking it up we were rewarded by a engine that wouldn't turn over. Next it was a mad rush back to my truck to take it's battery out. I had sent the third crew member over to our guests to let them know we would be a few minutes late.
After hooking up the truck battery, the engine fired easily to life and we cast off dock lines headed for the other side of the Jolly Harbour Marina.
Our two guests were excited to see us and not at all bothered by us being 5 minutes late. In no time we were out the harbour and setting sails. A few minutes later Greg passed overhead and took the image above. We had just seen several large greenies (green turtles) come up for air and while passing Darkwood Beach the light winds gently guided us onwards to Cades Reef.
As we tacked up inside Cades Bay some dark squalls started roll down the coast toward us. The winds went from about 12 knots to about 20 knots fairly quickly. I left the tiller to one of our very happy guests who had owned a wooden boat when he was a teenager. He was loving it. I walked around the boat to get a better view of the squall and noticed something very alarming.
The stainless steel stem fitting was coming lose. It's the integral part which is where the forestay cable coming down from the mast attaches itself to the boat. This was the photo i took:

If the stem fitting pulled out, the mast could very well come falling down. In there would be a way too many other things that could go badly wrong if this happened. I had the crew ease the sails to spill some of the power. We did two more tacks to get close up to a nice protected cove while I monitored the stem.  As soon as we were close enough we dropped sails and motored in for anchor.
As the anchor dug into the sandy bottom below very strong gusts from the passing squall helped it to dig deep. I was glad we were not out in the squall which probably was pushing gusts up to 30 knots. Trevor took the guests snorkeling while Jourdain and I started putting up the awning which would give us shade for lunch. At the back of the boat I had to pull the cover very tight to the end of the boom. I have done this hundreds of times, but this time was going to be different. The little stainless steel shackle burst as i was pulling as hard as i could and in a second i was falling over the transom and into the "drink"! It happened so quickly but while in mid air i was thinking about my phone still attached to a pouch on my hip. The line I was pulling was still fixed to the boom and although i hit the water I managed to spring back just enough to keep my belt above sea level. Jourdain leaned over and was able to grab it for me and i released the line to fall back into the sea. It was refreshing for a split second until i though about the morning so far. Wow! What else was going to go wrong today.
My beautiful son Skye had kept me up for hours during the middle of the night and while pulling myself out of the water and up the ladder I thought of him comfortably sleeping in now while I was out here dealing with all these issues. I missed him and wished I had stayed in bed with him and my wife. At just under 8 weeks old, Skye provides way way more happiness that I was having at that moment.
My keys, check books, wallet, and phone all were rinsed and put out to dry in the sun which was coming out. The day was going to get better for sure and after we had set up the awning our guests arrived back from snorkeling.

They had enjoyed it and the clouds cleared as they dried of to get ready for lunch. After lunch we reefed the main sail and attached a smaller jib.
The weather gods must have felt sorry for me because by the time we were ready to sail back down the coast the winds eased. With the winds lighter and the less powerful sails I felt confident that the stem would hold up until we were back in port. If it picked up again we would have to just abandon sailing. It didn't and the we sailed down the coast spotting birds, plenty of turtles and even a jumping spotted eagle ray who seemed to want to come into the boat. We got back just before sunset and our guests seemed very happy. Thank goodness that the afternoon was easier than the morning. All the Adventure Antigua crew met up for drinks at Al Porto afterward and we all laughed at my fall. The best part was last night my phone started working again. It's just the camera that's busted. Time for the newest Android phone!