Union Trouble

It is Monday February 5th, and we are back in Chatham Bay, Union
Island. We are happy to finally get out of Clifton Harbor
after a couple of trying days. We had hoped to get all of our
passage preparations done on Saturday and leave at 6 am Sunday.
Saturday was not long enough a day for us. We spent too much
time catching up on email at Erika’s Internet Cafe and then did
not finish our food shopping until 5 pm. When we headed back to
the boat in the dinghy, the wind was up in the mid-20 knot range
and it seemed like a bad time to haul the outboard engine and
dinghy onto the deck. We had a long list of things to do before
departure and there was no way we could get them done that
evening. So we decided to stay one more day and plan on a
Monday departure.

Saturday night brought one squall after another beginning about
10:30 pm and ending about 8:45 am. When the wind howls and the
boat pitches, I feel the need to get out of bed and sit at the
helm in case the anchor drags. I was particularly concerned
because we were anchored in back of a reef, and thus there was
no protection from the wind, and in front of another reef, and
thus if we dragged we would quickly be be hard aground and
grinding on the rocks. The last squall was the worst that I had
seen in the Caribbean with winds approaching 40 knots and
lasting 45 minutes. Our anchor held and we did not move an
inch, but I was exhausted. I went off to bed in the forward
berth hoping for a few hours of sleep but an hour later I heard
Laura’s rapid footsteps above me and her shouting. I figured
that she was telling a local vendor in a boat who was trying to
sell us stuff that we were not interested. A minute later she
came into the forward berth and told me I need to see what was
going on outside. There was a 51 foot Contest sailboat (“Lara”)
flying the French flag that was obviously out of control
directly in front of us. The helmsman was using his engine and
bowthrusters to try and keep from crashing into “Sabbatical III”
and the neighboring catamaran, also at anchor. He swung within
a few feet of each of our boats and his two crew run around
frantically trying to figure out what to do.

Laura saw the hold thing unfold. The boat came into the tightly
packed anchorage at high speed with an anchor already hanging in
the water. Laura ran forward and yelled repeatedly at the
Captain not to anchor in front of us or he would likely get
entangled with our anchor and chain rode. He simply shrugged
her off and dropped his anchor while still moving forward, a
maneuver common among French vessels. As he pulled back from
his anchor he nearly missed us and the neighboring catamaran.
He then sheepishly realized that he was badly placed and begun
to haul up his anchor when his windlass ground to a halt. That
is when I came up on deck. He yelled out that his windlass was
jammed. The occupants of all of the boats in the area came out
to see the show as he swung wildly around trying not to hit us
our our neighbor. A Union Islander came out to help and dove
down 18 feet to the bottom on multiple occasions. I sat at the
helm with the engine running just in case he pulled up my anchor
and we started to drift. After 90 minutes the French boat
retreived her anchor. I asked the Union Islander what the
problem had been and he said that the French boat had caught my
anchor chain with her anchor. If we had not been on the boat,
and the French boat had pulled up our anchor, we would have come
to grief on the rocks.

That misadventure, plus continuing high winds and squalls kept
us in Clifton another day. We went to bed exhausted at 7:30pm
and got up early this morning to finally get the dinghy up and
the downwind poles set. We left Clifton before someone else
anchored on top of us and headed west to hoist our balloner and
then furl it along with the genoa on the headstay. We
immediately ran into a problem since we have a brand new
ballooner halyard that was too big to fit into the slot at the
head of the ballooner. So I sat on deck for 45 minutes as the
boat headed west, filing the slot until the halyard would just
fit. Once we got the two head sails up (and doing over 8 knots)
and then furled them,we were over 6 miles due west of Chatham
and so had to motor directly into the wind and chop to get back.
We are now peacefully anchored here in wide open Chatham Bay
and are mostly set for the 412 nautical mile passage to Bonaire.
We figure it will take us 54 to 62 hours. To be certain that
we arrive in Bonaire when there is still light, we plan on
leaving here at 2 am AST in the morning (just 7 hours from now,
or 0600 Zulu). Our course is pretty direct — taking us just
north of Las Roques (Venezuelan islands) and around the southern
end of Bonaire and up to the moorings just off of the Habour
Village Marina.