Monday, June 17, 2024

Wet 'n' wild landing in Grenada

Our dreams were finally coming true. The last three passages had been mostly sailing, mostly beam reach. So this is that champagne sailing we keep hearing about?

Between Carriacou Grenada we glided past Kick 'Em Jenny, an underwater volcano being closely monitored for activity. One day she may become an island, but not that day. We did see some bizarre bubbles but easily convinced ourselves they were the result of wave action not geothermal activity.

We sailed down the West coast of Grenada smoothly, all the while monitoring the storm clouds along the highest ridges of the island, peeking over the mountaintop to our left. There was another storm off to our right side, but in between the two of them the skies were blue and our little world was perfect.

Our destination was the anchorage at Prickly Bay Harbor, on the South side of the island of Grenada. There's a small island closeby and a shallow shelf between them. As we turned left around the bottom corner of Grenada and into the shallow shelf, it became clear that the storm that had been on the ridgeline would eventually make its way to us. We weren't sure what the one behind us was doing. We scurried quickly across the shallow shelf and into Prickly Bay Harbor.

Our first med moor experience was in Guadaloupe

We picked that spot weeks ago because it is close to the veterinarian university that processes Trinidad pet checkouts; there are restaurants and grocery stores nearby and everything that we would need while we worked our way through bureaucratic approval. So, imagine our disappointment when we could not find a place to drop the hook on our first or second lap through. The boats already there were anchored quite closely to one another, and we have indelibly learned our lesson about short rode (see the Chesapeake City story). When we agreed that couldn't find a safe spot we left for the next bay over, True Blue. The storm on the ridgeline was advancing and the storm that followed us in waited in the shallow channel behind us, not a safe place to be in high winds and chop; we needed to find a spot to land and fast.

On our first pass through True Blue we noticed the few boats there were really rolling around from the wrap-around swell that comes in off the open ocean. Some of the mast swaying looked quite unpleasant. We took a lap trying to find a quiet place to land, and were eyeballing the brand new large mooring balls when the storm hit.

Conch shell pile in Carriacou

A recent purchase for us is a pair of headsets that allow us to speak quietly to one another instead of the usual shouting to be heard over the engine noise. We also traditionally use a lot of hand signals so that Lance knows where to direct the boat while I try to land her safely at anchor, on mooring balls, and in a slip. It's good we already had them on our heads when the storm hit because Lance could not see my hand signals on the bow of the boat and I could not see the mooring ball in the suddenly frothy water. We took a second pass at it and I had no better luck at catching it the second time in the high wind.

The rain came on with such ferocity it felt like BBs hitting my face. I knew I would not be able to see the mooring ball pennant to hook it a third time around either and made the snap decision to drop the hook right in the middle of the empty mooring field. As I was dropping it Lance was suggesting the same thing. It's bizarre how we are so often in sync.

The anchor hit the sand hard and I paused the chain payout for a moment to be sure I didn't pile the chain on top of it (another lesson learned in the heat of the moment), and then let it run free while the wind hurled Minerva backwards and sideways. Lance was watching behind us for any potential obstacles and I was counting out the chain to him over the headset as it went out. When we agreed we had enough chain out I stopped paying it out and Minerva's bow snapped right around. The mighty Mantus rocks again! We had hooked well.

After setting the drag alarm, we took turns wringing out our clothes and keeping watch until the high winds passed by, made a nice dinner and relaxed into the rolly swell and rain on the deck for the night. First thing the next morning we made our way into a swanky nearby marina where we tied up and enjoyed some air conditioning for the week.

Chloe waiting patiently for the Grenada vet

Of course getting the dog approved for Trinidad meant we had to rent a car to go right back over the hill to the area of Prickly Bay. Come to find out there are pretty good restaurants over there too, so we made several trips back to the neighborhood, but always gratefully returned to our air conditioned boat in the peaceful waters of the marina.

Trinidad is next. That's where we will protect Minerva from hurricane season, and her crew will relax and explore a whole new country for a few months.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Minnerversary #4: Sweet Surrender in Sint Maarten

May 5th marks 4 years we've been with Minerva. Sometimes it feels like a hundred years ago that we were responsible homeowning adults commuting to work every day. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.

We've met many amazing people on the water. Some we run into again and again in our travels, some don't stay on the water for long. Not everyone is cut out for this lifestyle. I've noticed that those that stick with it for the long term have perfected the art of bending without breaking. The folks that must control their environment quickly learn that this is not the life for them or learn to surrender some control and work within the limitations of the day.

The volcano at St. Eustatius (pronounced Stay-Sha) holds court over the anchorage

Our friends Janet and Joe in Oriental NC introduced us to the concept of the No Plan Plan at a time when we were coming completely undone by our first year of Minerva maintenance failures. I still struggle with the No Plan Plan. I am a control freak. I make plans and expect to stick to them.

But sailing doesn't work that way. The wind won't cooperate. The parts are unobtainable. The professional you hired doesn't show up on time and won't return your phone calls. The skies won't cooperate -  it will surely dump rain the day you booked the welding work. Medical situations pop up at the most inconvenient moments. Boat insurance policies place seemingly arbitrary limitations on your travel plans. Bureaucracy and politics in general often place obstacles in your way. The mail won't work where you are, or it's prohibitively expensive. You can't get the groceries you want. You can't find the type of food you want at the local restaurants or they aren't open today despite their printed hours. The internet and phone connection is sometimes a challenge. You can't use all the fresh water you wish. You can't always get to an airport, a rental car, sometimes even getting to shore is impossible. You can't access the friends and the family that you want. The basic freaking high-count thread cotton sheets that you want don't exist in any of the islands you've approached - and you've  looked in every home goods store you found for the last 6 months.

Cannon at Brimstone Hill Fortress in St Kitts

The sailors that can move past these things and laugh anyways have become the true masters of flexibility. We're not there yet but we're learning.

Can't talk to your best friend? Wave the bag of ice you just bought at the strangers you just met and invite them over for a sundowner. You can't consume all that ice before it melts anyways so share the wealth. They dinghied past you to check in with the customs agent, they look tired and their boat probably doesn't have an ice maker either, they also probably just came in from a long sail. Make the crew a cocktail. Listen to their sailing stories. It might be not the sister or the best friend whose company you are missing; new friends are cool too.

The Grand Parade at Carnival St Maarten

Can't go where you want? Go where the wind takes you. Or stay where you are. Or fire up the engine and bash into it. Whatever plans you concocted yesterday don't have to be written in stone, you can change your mind to follow today's weather whims. An experienced sailor told us "when it's time to go, I just go, and I can be really quite rude about it". This conversation happened just a couple of days before he failed to show up for the dinner we cooked for him in Annapolis, and we found out days later he had caught a weather window to Maine.

Mural facing Marigot Bay, on the French Side of St. Martin

Lance had some foot medical drama to deal with, best done in California by the specialists that already know him. Somebody needed to stay with the dog and the boat. So we sailed Minerva back to St. Maarten where friends and resources are plentiful, access to boat supplies is easy and the technicians are top-notch. I worked through some big projects we were going to hire done in Trinidad anyways. Lance is getting back on two feet, Minerva got some big projects done a little earlier than planned and we (hopefully) play more/work less this hurricane season. We'll have to high-tail it to Trinidad so it's not the lovely slow tour of the Caribbean we had planned, but that's OK, we'll catch the things we missed on the way back up. I'm learning to surrender the plan and work within the day's limitations. There is peace in surrender.

Chloe loves to frolic on the beach at every opportunity

We had the most amazing sail back from St. Kitts to St. Maarten, and we both hold that memory close until we can share the next perfect sailing day together. That's the other side of this coin. Good preparations often make for smooth sailing, and now and then the most perfect moments are gifted to the persistent sailor. There are days when the wind is cooperative, the waves are minimal, the breeze is cool and the clouds or stars mirror the water so you and your vessel seem to float together in a magic bubble, outside of the rest of the world. Sometimes there are dolphins. Sometimes there are jaw-dropping views to sail past. Sometimes the water explodes with bioluminescence, trailing fireworks behind the boat's wake.

Those moments reward the struggle.

Shiny new standing rigging - done!

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Boat Insurance! What is it good for? (hopefully... nothing)

With January drawing near, it was time to get serious about renewing Minerva's insurance policy.

When we started out in 2020 in the USA with Minerva we had Geico. It was about $1,000 a year and included a generous tow package.

St. Martin as seen from the canopy tour

In December 2022 when we started preparing to leave the USA, we called Geico to order the additional Bahamas rider. That's when we found out that not only would they not issue approval for leaving the USA, they also intended to cancel us when our policy renewed in May on Minerva's 40th birthday year. So it was time to shop for a new policy that would carry us to the Bahamas and beyond into the Caribbean.

We found two companies that would insure Minerva. Both of them were priced ridiculously, but only one of which was requiring an out-of-water survey before signing us on. Having just spent 8 months on the hard enduring a Maine winter and significant boat repairs, we picked the insurance company that didn't require the survey because we wanted to finally go sailing instead of suffering additional delays. We paid more, but we didn't have to stop and deal with any surveyors in Florida, negating any possible savings. With our wallet $6000 lighter we pushed off the shores of the USA and into turquoise tropical waters.

Typical bounty from a morning shore run to the French side of St Martin

We followed their guidelines about where to spend hurricane season. We chose Curacao and watched the storms pass by well North of us while we sweated out the season in superheated tropical safety. We also gained some epic experience crossing the Caribbean Sea, and at the end of the season did it again in reverse to end back up in St Croix USVI.  We knew they would insist on a survey the next time around.

Then they sent us a bill for $7000. Same coverage. No claims. Survey required. I think it was the automated way the broker sent it to me without preamble, along with a $700 broker fee without even trying to shop it at all that really kicked my rage machine into motion. Time to shop it around again. Now that a survey was mandatory all the competitors were on equal footing. 

Let's talk about the survey. When you buy a boat, it's a good idea to hire a reputable, independent surveyor. They go over every system carefully, thump every inch of the hull and deck, flip every switch, examine the color of the engine exhaust and the stitching on the sails. A pre-purchase survey is an excellent way to be sure you are getting what you are paying for.

An insurance survey is different. The surveyor looks to make sure that you're maintaining the vessel, that it is seaworthy, and it is vaguely worth what the insurance company thinks it is worth. It's sort of a reality check between the boat owner and the insurance company. They generally don't go turning on the engine or thumping every inch of the hull and most boat yards offer a quick-haul option so the surveyor can quickly look over the bottom.

Grocery run to provision for a week of expected high winds

We've been with Minerva for a few years now and take pride in her care. We don't feel the survey is necessary because we know every inch of our vessel. We have our own perpetual list of repairs and improvements and are always working on some project to better our boat, but they don't know us and how fastidious we are about her maintenance or improvements.

As soon as we landed in St. Croix, we started shopping for a surveyor. We unanimously rejected the first surveyor the moment he swindled us on some boat parts at the local chandlery and set an appointment with one in St. Martin.

Chloe the super sailor dog in Philipsburg

On his way out to view Minerva in the lagoon the surveyor informed Lance he was condemning the rigging, sight unseen, because it is 9 years old. He said as a matter of practice all rigging should be replaced every 10 years. Our friends with French, German, Dutch and Canadian flagged vessels were horrified that this is a normal way of doing business for American vessels. "What, they don't think that you would maintain her on your own? Don't they think that you want the best for your vessel too?"

Yeah... Sigh.

The quick haul took about an hour, while the surveyor was doing his thing we scraped some sea life off the bottom, and Minerva was back in the water in no time. That's $1000 for the survey and $500 for the haul out, and $5000 for the insurance policy, and we're good to go for another year.

Now for those of you who are quick with math, that's $6500 that in no way actually improves our vessel. That same $6500 would be a solid start on new rigging, or one whole new sail maybe two, or a new dinghy, dinghy motor AND a new life raft. In other words, things that actually matter to Minerva.

Quick Haul - it's always unnerving to see your boat mid-air but the guys at Bobby's Mega Yard made it look easy

Boat insurance companies also include a territorial clause. It goes by different names but the basic gist of it is that they don't want you in a hurricane zone during hurricane season, and ignoring this map and schedule makes it possible for them to deny claims. Different companies have different maps and slightly different calendars. For our first international policy, anything South of Latitude 12'40" was acceptable. That opened up Grenada and the ABC Islands and they excluded most of the East coast of the USA. A different policy says anything North of Florida is acceptable but you have to get way South, like Trinidad, for hurricane season. Having lived through a couple of storm seasons on the East coast of the USA, ducking and dodging hurricanes, some well outside of their anticipated date range, this all seems rather arbitrary to me.

It's for these reasons many boaters choose to self-insure. Prudent mariners maintain their vessels and keep a constant weather eye. One day we may choose to skip buying insurance too. Because, more than anything, I hate being told where to go, when I can't be there, and which repairs should be prioritized.

Sidewalk crepes on the main drag in Marigot

On the other hand, floating in the lagoon of St. Martin we are surrounded by evidence of storm damage; half-floating boats, destroyed buildings left behind in the wake of Irma/Marie more than 6 years ago - a sobering daily reminder of the worst of the worst and the tedious claw back to the life "before".

Maybe when we have more miles under the hull I will feel confident to take the path of the self-insured. As annoyed as I am, for now though, I'll write the check and start making plans for hurricane season hideouts.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Imposter Syndrome

We sailed out of Curacao under a stiff wind, almost exactly on the nose. Somehow, impossibly, just like we came in.

The first rays of sunrise illuminate a wet deck and safety equipment at the ready. Jacklines lead from the cockpit to the bow and tethers keep our life vests connected to the jacklines in such a way that if we do fall, we fall ONTO the boat instead of off of it.

The first night we lost track of our boat buddy Bliss in a squall. Sometime later in the night we noticed the mainsail was shaped weirdly because the foot of the sail was working its way out of the boom track, before we had a chance to fix it the outhaul shredded and snapped loose. The big winds and steep waves made it just too much to attempt to solve any of it safely in the dark and so we decided the best course of action was to take down and secure the mainsail until we could get some sunshine on it and make a plan. The beauty of a ketch is that in high winds she often performs better with just the headsail and mizzen sail, ketch sailors call this "running jib & jigger" and Minerva is quite comfortable this way. I clipped to the jacklines, crab-walked/crawled out to the mainmast, pulled the sail down and secured it while Lance watched from the wheel, calling out warnings for the bigger waves so I could pause long enough to cling to the mast or boom until it was safe to take one hand off again and resume sail wrestling. Sail secured, I crawled back to the safety of the cockpit, unclipped and passed out until time for my watch. The morning light revealed a half dozen problems with the mainsail and boom, all of which would have to wait for a calm day at anchor before being addressed.

The rivets that keep the metal plate on the end of the boom end perished, and the metal plate came off. We found it on the deck before it went overboard, fortunately. Without the plate in place, the lines were able to escape the little troughs they should live in, chafed and shredded.

Then the autopilot died. We tried some basic troubleshooting but in the end resigned ourselves to hand-steering and shorter watches for the duration of the passage. Good thing we meal-planned for one-handed eating on this passage.

On the third day the wind shifted a bit behind us, we flattened out the boat and flew into Christiansted like a rocket, our Curacao flag still flying because it seemed too unimportant to hassle with in the rough conditions, short-handed as we were with the manual steering. It was somewhat shredded from the season and the long ride in. We didn't take it down until Minerva was resting on her anchor alongside our buddy boat. Our American flag at the stern was every bit as shredded.


There were already a couple of other sailboats anchored with Bliss. One of them was a beautiful charter boat named Kai. Shortly after we had settled the bureaucracy, removed our tattered Curacao flag and hoisted the USVI flag, the crew of Kai came over and gifted us with some fish from their freezer. Rather than let it thaw while getting some work done they shared the bounty. This is the cruiser way.

The happiest view - finding your long-lost buddy boat at your destination

They told us they had been scrabbling to figure out our Curacao flag, wondering what far away lands we had sailed in from, and how they were hoping we would anchor our "real sailboat" out by them so Kai and her crew could share the anchorage with the other "real sailors".

When they said those words I looked around and it took me a moment. "Oh... you mean us? Real sailors?

Our hair and skin is salty. Our mainsail is secured tightly, obviously done on the fly but done properly nonetheless (not to mention one-handed while often airborne). The dog is still wearing her life jacket and anxiously eyeing the frozen fish - she recognizes the way they zip-seal her favorite meats in the Caribbean. We are yawning but nonetheless going about our business settling Minerva after a long passage; tidying lines, securing sails, checking the chafe guards on the anchor bridle.

They're talking about us. I scratched my salty eyebrow and blinked the resulting salt from my eye. I suppose we are real sailors.

Huh. Wonder when that happened.

Goin' to shore for the first time after a long passage - this is the face of a very happy sailor dog

Friday, November 3, 2023

Curacao, Desert Island Hurricane Hideout

Curacao has been a lovely place to hide Minerva from hurricanes. It's a desert island of just over 170 square miles, and from our protected latitude under the hurricane belt we've witnessed several gnarly storms pass by harmlessly to the North of us.

The Queen Emma bridge between Punda and Otrabanda swings open on a raft of small boats. The bridgetender gives a very short alert before starting motion and pedestrians are often caught by surprise when it opens or closes while they are in the process of walking across it.

The island is just large and modern enough to offer up most everything we need. There's been a refreshing diversity of snorkeling, restaurants, groceries, and boat supplies. We were quickly welcomed into the cruising community and after we moved into the marina we formed our own sub-community there and freely shared rides to events and markets, tools, and windfalls such as the night we split the giant tuna the local fishermen gave us when they couldn't find a way to stuff it into their cooler. That fish fed several cruisers on A dock that week.

Much of Willemstad is covered in murals and this is one of my favorites.

We imagined we'd be doing lots of scuba diving off the boat when we got here, but the tanks haven't escaped their locker much. Mostly it's a logistical issue. Moving the boat requires permission from the government and a small fee paid each time, getting to the government office is a hassle. The diving is not where the boat is, which means loading the gear into the car or hitching rides with others for long dinghy slogs, and there always seems to be something else to distract us from making all that effort. Someday we'll anchor Minerva where the diving is and fall off the boat and dive there. Wherever that is.

We found respite from the heat in regular snorkeling trips and afternoon cooldown swims at the local beach. Adding this to our routine became something we looked forward to each afternoon.

This is a Chi Chi - proud, strong, Caribbean. There are several around the island and each one is different depending on the artists' interpretation of what these words mean to them. This one is in downtown Punda close to the Queen Emma bridge and is certainly the most colorful one we've discovered. There is a beautiful Chi Chi in delicate Danish blues at the local Sandals resort but the security guards there are quite tenacious about making sure nobody photographs her. Maybe she's camera shy.

We arrived with a long To Do list for Minerva, and tackled it with fervor, making every effort to balance out the laptop work with the boat work and a healthy dose of fun. The ungodly heat definitely threw a wrench in the schedule though, carving out hours in the middle of the day that defy any action at all aside from laying on the floor and just trying to breathe. Although we didn't get everything done, we did get the important things done. A dive boat captain in Monterey once told me "it's not IF something on the boat is broken, it's WHICH of the broken items needs to be most urgently fixed that is the real question." Wise words from an experienced captain I respect; I put the rest of the To Do sticky notes away for another day and will do my best to suppress the shame of not conquering it all before departing.

Typical Dutch architecture in Punda. The locals tell us if the building has a red roof you are wealthy, if the building has a black roof you are ridiculously wealthy. We can only presume because it means you can afford the air conditioning bill that goes with a black roof. Or, in the days before air conditioning, you could afford a posse to follow you around waving giant fans.

Curacao was once inhabited by Native Americans, then Spaniards, then the Dutch and only became a fully independent self-governing nation in 2015. Most locals can trace their family lineage back to sailors or slaves or some combination thereof and the echoes of all these influences are still prevalent in the local architecture, language, clothing, dance and cuisine. I  am fascinated by the colorful hair wraps, and was about to select one to tuck my long hair into on windy days when I was informed there is a whole host of reasons that is inappropriate, not the least of which is that the color of the wraps and they way they are tied is an unspoken language developed over hundreds of years, mostly signaling that I am looking for male companionship and, well... I am far too uninformed to wade into all that miscommunication. So no pretty hair wrap for me.

Another great mural in Willemstad

Just this week the weather has turned from hot and dry to hot and occasionally raining cats and dogs. This is the cue that hurricane season is coming to an end and it's time to plan our escape. The marina and anchorage are becoming emptier as boats left last month for Columbia, Panama, and Venezuela and this month are leaving for destinations North. Our plan is to sail North in mid-November, shooting for St. Martin but remaining flexible to fall back to St. Croix, Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic if the wind and waves are too much to comfortably greet head-on. Since we are under no schedule constraints for this next leg and the destination is less important than the journey we can afford to be picky when selecting our weather window. This time we'll be sailing across the Caribbean Sea with a buddy boat so the 500+ mile ride will be less lonely. Friends await our arrival on the other side.

We intend to see the rest of the Caribbean islands in a clockwise fashion over the winter. We have seen the British and US Virgin Islands, everything East and South of that will be new territory for us. So much exploring to do.

The Winter 2023-24 lineup

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Hurricane Season and the Curacao Cruising Community

"I am going to FINISH one of these projects TODAY" Lance shouted as he slid the boat hatch door closed and marched up the dock. I could only shake my head and commiserate. We've been banging our heads against the wall on this simple dinghy upgrade for way too long; what should have been an afternoon project was now dragging into the 5th day.

The rest of the "to do" sticky notes mock us from the wall, waving in the breeze.

The statue of Curacao's first Prime Minister was taken down for refurbishment. Locals watched nervously until he was safely on the ground.

It's been over a year since her Maine spa treatment and Minerva is demanding some attention. We knew we'd wash up here for hurricane season and postponed much of the work as we were expecting a big air conditioned workspace at the marina resort. As it turns out, there isn't any sort of clubhouse at the resort, air conditioned or otherwise. Fortunately locals have kindly offered to share their personal workspace with us for the larger projects such as the genoa sacrificial cover, which will involve spreading the huge sail out flat. The smaller projects are being tackled on the salon table next to Minerva's air conditioner.

Curacao is an island of the Dutch Antilles and the primary language is Papamiento (a blend of English, Dutch, Spanish and Afrikaan). We find that most folks also speak either English or Spanish. The projects involve lots of small parts which are requiring effort to source. We felt bad about constantly hitching rides with our cruising buddy and knew the more abstract items would require some significant legwork to track down; in the end we leased a car for the remainder of the season so we have some hope of getting it all done before November without monopolizing our neighbor's time and car.

Lance, Ken and Apollo teamed together to scrub bottoms of all three boats

Shopping for obscure parts (like an industrial sewing needle) is one of those things most people just don't do daily any more. If I were in the USA, I'd visit no more than 2 local stores before just ordering them directly from SailRite or Amazon and have them delivered right to my door. Shipments like this in Curacao are a lot more complicated, and either can't be done at all or require third party help from the USA at additional cost and delay. So we've been driving around to all the likely shops asking if they have what we need or will order it for us - it's like a throwback to shopping in the 80's - lots of driving, lots of talking to a lot of people (with a lot of hand signals or Google intervention when we encounter language barriers), and lots of incomplete directions to that "other store, I can't remember it's name".

Franko Maps reveal the hidden gems

Last weekend we took a day off and went exploring with A dock neighbors. All eight of us and Chloe piled into two cars and drove to the other end of the island to an obscure dive/snorkel spot discovered on a FrankoMap, then we finished up the day at an indoor/outdoor Thai restaurant. Ventures like this keep me from screaming out loud when we reach the next project roadblock. It's all about balance.

Cruiser dogs join the party at the hamburger joint

On Tuesday night we were invited to cruisers' night at the local hamburger joint. There was an excellent turnout and Chloe roamed freely through the crowd. Before long she fell in with the pack of boat kids running around the property; their friendship hastened and forever secured by shared French fries.

Upon leaving the USA we discovered that the rest of the world communicates on WhatsApp for texting, phone calls, and video calls. Businesses run on it also and if you make a phone call with your regular phone it isn't likely to be picked up by anyone except through WhatsApp. Here in Curacao we use it to chase parts with businesses and have embraced the group chat function of the app to keep in constant contact with the cruisers on the island.

The SuperMoon Rises over Minerva

Last weekend a dinghy float was organized under the SuperMoon which ended with a dozen boats tied together drifting along under the beautiful night skies and a gentle breeze. We pull together everything from scuba adventures to beach parties, lost and found, shared rides to stores, laundry and propane, requests for tools or help, and share windfalls. I found a hairdresser to give me a haircut on the stern of her boat last week. A cruising sailboat at anchor was struck by a drunken party vessel who then fled the scene, and within 24 hours it was all sorted out. Word got out of a disabled boat approaching the dock, so cruisers were waiting to help catch him as he limped in to the dock. 

We are a tight community.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Crossing the Caribbean Sea to Curacao

We said goodbye to Amy and Larry in St Croix; their parting words to us were "look out for the area around Udall Point (East St. Croix). It has potholes."

Boy they weren't kidding! But we picked our way through them, put up the sails and pointed Minerva Southwest across the open Caribbean Sea.

Amy and Larry, friends we made in St. Croix, built their trimaran from scratch.
It's made of cold-molded cedar and fiberglass and it looks like it deserves a speeding ticket even when tied to the dock.

The wind was coming from just a little East of due South. I suspect this is highly unusual. It is certainly annoying, since the whole point of doing the thorny path was to get all the way out here and have a nice beam reach run across the Caribbean Sea, which means we were looking for an East Wind - a trade wind, which is everyday here, right! Nope! Denied!

It's easy to become paralyzed by the options and waiting for a perfect weather window that may never arrive. There's also the fear that you pick the perfect window but it turns out to be a weatherman's lie. At some point you must simply go anyways and accept the consequences, and hope that you prepared well enough for the inevitable surprises.

I probably haven't mentioned this before, but I don't like leaning. We spent a lot of time choosing this specific boat because she's heavy and resists the lean. Close-haul = lean. But it was only supposed to be for a little while before the East Wind filled in and we would be at a nice comfortable beam reach for the majority of our ride.

One weather report suggested the wind would turn after only a couple hours. That came and went. A different weather report said we could look for the wind to turn at noon. That came and went. A third one said by 4:00, surely, the East Wind would show up then. By 6:00, still nothing. More leaning. And, you know what? It wasn't that bad! Minerva really seems to thrive in it. So we were cooking right along, leaning a little bit, and when a big gust of wind would come she would just sort of dump the excess wind and keep going. At first it freaked me out, and then I learned to trust her. She was really in her element. We've never experienced this before, and she's an old hand at it. It did feel a little bit like she was showing off, this was a side of my boat I've never really relaxed long enough to let her show me before.

Tethers are kept handy in the cockpit and our policy is to clip our lifevests to the safety lines on the boat whenever leaving the cockpit for any reason

There were a couple of incidents where our feet went out from under us on a lean, and some things went flying and broke, we earned some minor bruises here and there. All in all we did pretty well considering the sideways and bumpy state of living for a few days. Really great safety gear and a policy of always wearing it kept us on the deck when we fell topside, and lots of handholds in the cabin kept the below decks falls to a minimum (Merci Monsieur Amel).

We all got soaked by waves that slipped over the side now and then, unfairly attacking us as we were leaned over. Chloe always glared at us so indignantly, as if we were doing it purposefully to annoy her. She was the first to figure out the particular sound they make when they hit the hull and dive for cover before the splash could rain down on her, yes it seems the dog is Minerva's smartest crew member.

Sunrise on the third morning bathed the setting moon in cotton candy skies

The night watches were magical. As the sun went down and the full moon came out to play, the swell would lay down and Minerva would fly. We saw a handful of other boats on the radar, but only a couple of container ships were visible with our eyes, all of them distant. During the day we were kept company by schools of flying fish, who seemed determined to race with us, and the clouds made interesting moonshadows on the water at night. One night a small dolphin jumped all the way out of the water alongside Lance then quickly disappeared. Later that same night, on my watch there was a rather large cloud above Minerva and clear skies on the horizon, the moon caused a million little sparkles right on the horizon - it looked like we were sailing on a dark lake across from a bustling lakeside city. On the third night the wind did finally shift a little more to the East, we paid out some sails, the boat flattened out and we sailed comfortably the rest of the way, catching a free ride on a ripping current over the top of Bonaire and to Curacao.

The sacrificial suncover on the headsail went from gently frayed to completely shredded during our passage, and we pulled into the anchorage with the ravaged cover hanging like a row of sad flags. We arrived just before 5 pm and circled around a bit before settling on the perfect spot to drop the hook. We were on our final approach when we ran aground on a soft sandy shoal that wasn't on the chart, a rather inauspicious ending to an otherwise flawlessly executed passage. Of course it was getting close to sundowner time so everyone was on their boat decks to witness it, surely adding to our new neighbors' impression of us. Oh well. We set the hook and were treated to a front-row seat of the naked ancient French couple diving from their boat to swim upwind of us.