Tuesday, January 31, 2017

1979 (11) - Passage to Antigua

Charlestown, Nevis

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

After we had filled up on fuel and water, deciding it was too late to leave for Antigua, we anchored in the bay about 4:00 p.m.  But Ed stayed up by the bow, gazing seaward, and I knew he wanted to leave.  (You should never start a long sail when you're already tired.)  Ed claimed we would reach Antigua, which is about 100 miles S-SE of St. Maarten, by noon the next day.  Ed hauled up the anchor again and we left. 

That night we hit rough seas and strong winds.  I kept vomiting and couldn't keep anything down, even water.  We were over-canvassed, but I doubt we realized it at the time, through lack of experience.  The lee rail was often in the water.  We had our genoa up, and during the night the metal strip to which the genoa's sheet block is attached ripped off, leaving the sail flapping wildly.  Ed had to go forward on deck to do temporary repairs.  It was difficult to do any work and hang on at the same time, as the motion of the boat was violent. 

When dawn came we had hoped to be able to spot Antigua, but a study of the chart showed that we were still over fifty miles away.  With winds from an unfavorable direction, we knew we wouldn't make it by nightfall.  In the early morning we were hit by a squall.  After the squall Ed went forward, changed the genoa for our smaller jib, and reefed down the mainsail.  I suppose there’s always some compensation; the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen followed the squall.  It reminded me of what young kids produce when they’re told to draw a picture of a rainbow.  They might take their crayons and draw an arc from one side of the paper to the other, putting in each stripe of color, and having the rainbow dominate the picture.  I imagine a teacher would say "nice rainbow," but think rainbows don't really look like that.  Well, we saw one, and it was huge, arching through the sky with both legs in the water.  Each stripe of color distinct from its neighbor.  We just sat and stared at it until it faded away.


Off to the west and downwind of us was the island of Nevis.  We decided to put in there for the night.  Ed went down below to read the chart, and came back up to say that Nevis was fifteen miles away, and we could be in by early afternoon.  It turned out Ed misread the chart.  It was two miles/inch rather than one mile/inch.  We also had to go around to the lee side of the island to reach the port of Charlestown.  Instead of fifteen miles, it became fifty.  With the help of the engine, we just made it in at sunset. 

The seas by Nevis were unsettled, and the boat had to be steered carefully so that each wave could be taken at a slight angle.  While I was at the wheel, one wave hit us on the beam, and splashed over the boat with such force, I was knocked off from the wheel, and fell into the cockpit.  It was the one time on the trip I hadn't hooked on my safety harness, and I was quick to relatch it.  So many waves hit the boat; we were drenched, and coated with salt.  Ed's eyebrows were white with an accumulated salt crust.

Nevis, while offering up rough seas off its windward coast, captured our attention with its beauty.  Nevis is a volcanic island; the extinct volcano, with its head in the clouds, dominates the landscape.  We were motor sailing around the southern part of the island, which appeared uninhabited, and was really beautiful with its green fields, deserted sugar mills, and rough coastline dominated by the volcano in the background. 

The results of our being knocked about were evident below deck, especially in the forward cabin, where almost everything had gotten loose, most ending up on the floor.  Before leaving St. Maarten, I had purchased some postage stamps representing several of the islands, and had pasted them on sheets of writing paper.  I put these sheets on my clipboard, underneath more writing paper and envelopes, and placed the clipboard with several other items on a shelf over the head of my bunk.  It was difficult getting into the forward cabin.  The hook holding the door open had let go, and the door had slammed shut.  A pair of scissors, which had fallen from one of the shelves, was jammed under the doorframe.  I found one of the pages of stamps on the floor, looking like someone had taken it in his hands, and crumpled it into a ball.  My Snoopy was on top of a heap on the floor, and I thought I heard him muttering something about jumping ship at the next port.

The most unpleasant surprise was discovering our fresh water tanks had been contaminated with salt water.  There’s an inverted U-shaped pipe underneath the starboard rail, which acts as an air vent to our water tanks.  Our starboard rail had been underwater for long enough that salt water had siphoned into the tanks.  And that, in case you didn't get the implication, was our drinking water.  We carry a 5-gallon plastic jerry can in the cockpit with extra water, but the jerry can had fallen over during the trip, cracked, and all the water had leaked out.  We went from about 125 gallons of fresh water to zero gallons awfully fast.  As we had just filled the tanks in St. Maarten, we had that much water to hand pump out of the tanks before we could refill them in Antigua.  The water in the tanks was still potable, though quite brackish.  For five days we drank Coca Cola and grapefruit juice.

We stayed at Nevis for two days, and then took a day to sail south to Montserrat.  We moored overnight in a deserted bay near the northern tip of the island.  The following day we again headed windward toward Antigua, and at the end of a very long day, put in at Curtain Bluff Bay on Antigua's southern coast.  The following morning we motored east for three hours to reach English Harbour, our destination on Antigua.  And, what had started out as a "we'll get there by noon tomorrow" trip, ended up being a weeklong journey instead.

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