Passage to Guadeloupe

January 1, 2007

Our blog posting of December 28 inexplicably did not post.  I have reposted it below.  This is what we have been up to since that blog entry was written.

On the 29th we took a taxi up to Golden Rock Estate on the slope of Mt. Nevis.  It is the site of an old sugar mill constructed of blocks of volcanic rock.  It is now a small hotel and restaurant. It has beautifully landscaped grounds and good, but not great, views of the sea.  After a quick walk around the grounds, we ate a nice lunch on the terrace.  The rum drinks we ordered quickly reduced our hiking ambitions for the rest of the afternoon.  Walking on narrow paths did not seem the prudent thing to do until the effects of the single drink we each consumed wore off. In the end, we did not lose any hiking time since it rained hard for the next hour.  We sat in a large stone hall (circa 1815) and listened to music as the rain fell outside.  The “nature walk” we started on was well marked to start but all directional indicators disappeared after 30 minutes.  Laura has a great sense of spatial orientation in these circumstances and we were able to walk in a big loop back to the estate.  Towards the end of the walk the monkeys came out of the rainforest in small groups– walking on the path, sitting on roofs, and nonchalantly grooming each other.  The monkeys are very cute but apparently they are the reason that little fruit is available in the market — the monkeys eat it all.

The hotel called a different taxi driver for our return to the dock at Charlestown.  We asked him if we could stop somewhere to buy some papaya and bananas, neither of which we could find in the open air market at the port.  He suggested that we stop at his home and pick some papaya off of his trees, and so we did.  His house was just 100 yards off of the road.  Using a long stick, he coaxed six papaya in different stages of ripeness off of two different trees.  We then stopped at the Ram supermarket for bananas and we had the fruit that we craved.

We went to town on the morning of the 30th, a Saturday, to perform the formal check-out of the boat and us, as required by the Nevis authorities, as we planned to leave the next day and it was not clear that Customs would be open on Sunday.  The check-out procedure was positively streamlined compared to the check-in procedure requiring only a visit to one office as compared to three for check-in.  We both noticed the calendar hanging on the wall in Customs that advertised a Chinese restaurant on “Jews Street.”  After a quick visit to the internet cafe, we went looking for Jews Street.  Street signs are not abundant in Charlestown but after we found an old Jewish cemetary and the Chinese restaurant we knew we must have found it.  The grave stones were in both Hebrew and Spanish and dated from about 1640 to 1740.  A small plaque noted that Jews once made up one-quarter of  Charlestown’s 300 inhabitants by the year 1700.  They were of Spanish origin and there had been a small synagogue adjacent to the cemetary but there was no evidence of the latter (although I suspected it might have been on the space now occupied by the Gold Coast Chinese Restaurant.)  We had a quick lunch in the restaurant and returned to the boat.

Earlier that morning we listened to the weather report of Chris Parker of CaribWX on the SSB radio.  My “to do” list including checking on the Montserrat volcano and to my surprise, he started his broadcast with the news that the volcano has just increased its level of activity and the Monserrat Volcano Observatory had raised the alert level to 4 out of 5, where 5 means run away.  There were new lava flows, dome enlargement, and a 12,000 foot plume of ash and cinder.  Chris  also reported that the wind and waves would remain moderate for the next 24 hours, with some north in the easterly tradewinds, but the wind and waves would increase on Sunday and Monday and the bit of north in the wind would end and move slightly south of due east. As our next destination, Guadeloupe, was south and east, this was not the best weather change for our planned Sunday night and Monday sail.  So we thought, lets see if we can leave today.  We had already checked-out, but we needed to get through a list of tasks including finding a safe resting place for our new hard bottomed dinghy on the foredeck.  I had already checked the web site of the Monserrat Volcano Observatory to find out how large the marine navigation exclusion zone was given the new alert level (2 nautical miles).  Prior to starting on prepartions to sail away that afternoon, we used the satphone to download the wind and wave GRIB charts that provide detailed wind and wave forecasts for every six hour interval out 72 hours over the route we would traverse, and they confirmed Chris Parker’s forecast.  So we got busy.  Just as the sun was setting we had the boat ready to go.  I started up the engine and motored up on the anchor and Laura went forward and used her big toe on the windlass switch to haul in our anchor and chain — but nothing happened.  It was dead.  It worked in the other direction, letting more chain out, but refused to budge in the direction required.  We could haul everything in using the manual backup but that is a sweaty job and the sun was already on the horizon.  I suddenly remembered that I had a remote windlass switch at the helm station (duh!) and that worked.  But then  a squall was upon us, so we watched the sun set into a clear sky to the west while rain pelted the boat.  Finally, the rain passed, the anchor was up, and we were off,

In the wind acceleration zone south of Nevis we did over 8 knots in reasonably light seas, and as night fell and we moved away from the island, we did a solid 7.5 knots.  After a light supper, Laura went off to bed while I did the first watch.  It was glorious.  The almost full moon provided great visibility, and I gave my new IPod Nano its first work out listening to Rachmaninoff 3rd piano concerto and Lucia de Lammermoor.  I was in no rush to have Laura take over.  As we approached Montserrat, I could see an enormous dust plume blotting out the sky some miles ahead, so I decided to divert further west in order to keep our closest point of approach at 6 nm, triple the 2 nm exclusion zone.  But soon ash and cinder started to fall on the boat, leaving a layer of grit on everything.  The wind also dropped dramatically and boat speed dropped to 5 knots.

Laura woke herself up and came to relieve me just as we passed Montserrat’s wind shadow and the wind picked up.  As I lay in my bunk I heard a unusual noise from the engine room, something that is particularly odd when the engine is not running.  I opened up the cockpit floor and climbed down with my trusty Petzl headlamp strapped to my head and found the hydraulic shaft brake had become disengaged from the flywheel, which was spinning free.  This is a bad thing as this makes the transmission turn without having oil pumped to the bearings, leading to complete failure of the transmission.  Bob Fritz experienced this problem on the delivery of Sabbatical III from Rhode Island to St. Maarten.  He emailed me about it while at sea, I emailed Amel in France, and then forwarded their reply to Bob.  It is a fairly simple adjustment.  I had checked on the shaft brake during our first two sails after leaving St. Maarten, and it was nicely engaged so I thought the problem had been fixed. Coincidently, the last book I bought before leaving for our trip was Nigel Calder’s new edition of “Marine Diesel Engines”. One evening in St.Maarten, I read the section on hydraulic shaft brakes.  That knowledge came in handy now.  I located the right set of wrenches, loosened the set screw, and tightened the jack bolt which increased the clamping pressure of the brake shoes on the flywheel.  The flywheel stopped its spin.  I had Laura start the engine and put it into gear to make sure that I did not overtighten so that the hydraulic release would not free the transmission.  It worked fine.  I climbed up but before I could get back and into my bunk the weather changed.  A series of squalls blew through so I stayed up with Laura until they passed. I went back to bed but before I could sleep, Laura called me to tell me that the shaft brake had disengaged again.  This time the engine room was hot as we had run it.  With the engine going and in gear, I could see how far the brake shoes were from the flywheel and adjusted the jack bolt so that the shoes were just off the flywheel.  When Laura stopped the engine, the brake clamped solidly on the flywheel.  I came up from the engine room dirty and drenched in sweat.  I cleaned up and went back to my bunk.  But then the wind died and the boat rolled badly in a sloppy sea.  I could not sleep in an hour of trying with the boat rolling and the engine on, so I returned to relieve Laura.  When the wind picked up again and the boat was going 8+ knots, the brake disengaged once again.  The engine room was now hot like a sauna and, try as I might, I could not move the jack bolt in any further.  I then saw what the problem really was — the whole hydraulic brake assembly had come loose from the engine frame.  The whole things just moved aft under the pressure of the  brake shoes on the flywheel which itself was being turned by the force of water against the propellor while we were under sail.  I tried strapping the thing into place with some cinch straps, but there was no way I could get the brake to hold when the boat was moving quickly through the water while under sail.  So we reduced sail dramatically.  With the boat slowed to 5 knots, the flywheel did not turn and the transmission would not burn out.  As it was I got only one hour of sleep the whole night as my ear was constantly listening out for the turning of the flywheel.  We motored the last six or seven hours of the trip in very rolly seas with Laura on watch, and even though the shaft brake is not an issue while under power, the roll was too severe to let me sleep.  We came into Pointe-a-Pitre at about 2:30 pm,  4 hours later than we expected, both of us tired and hot.

The Marina Bas du Fort in Pointe-a-Pitre is not the prettiest place, but it sure is restful.  One minute after backing the boat to a stern-to dock, we had the shore power connected and the AC running full blast.  The 95 degree interior cooled down quickly, and we napped deeply for three hours after taking showers.  At 7 pm, Bob and Lorelai Diamond of the boat next door knocked on the hull and asked us to join them at a restaurant for New Years Eve supper.  We had a delightful evening with them but our fatigue could not quite get us up past midnight.  Today (January 1), we checked in (by fax — takes two minutes), bought one of these great French Caribbean phone cards, and talked with the kids, my mother, and Laura’s mother.  Tomorrow, I hope to get some repair people on the boat and get things back into proper shape.