Monthly Archives: December 2013

The view from the back porch


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Wild and Woolly

We felt well prepared after an early happy hour aboard Geode tucked away under Fort Hamilton in Admiralty Bay, Bequia. Hans & Hazel gave us the skinny on a passage that they’ve made many times, across the feared St. Vincent passage to Rodney Bay, St Lucia. These high mountain passes funnel wind down through them like a Dyson vacuum cleaner sucks dust bunnies. It makes for a wild and woolly ride, and what with the high winds and large Atlantic swells we’ve been having for some time, it’s kept us holed-up here in Bequia, rather than face the music. What ever that means. To top it off the wind has been more north than east which would leave us bashing into large swells and chop of three meters or more, fighting high winds on the nose while struggling to make St Lucia which is exactly northeast of Bequia. Escape Velocity may be many things but an upwind wonder she is not. A less than fun day at the office was in the offing.

Finally Marce had had enough of Bequia and pronounced that tomorrow would be the least worst day for weeks and it would be sails up at 0600 the following morning. She wasn’t about to spend Christmas in Bequia. It’s a sod and a bugger but there it is.


We had a beautiful sail up the coast of Bequia and the eight miles across to St Vincent but, as expected, the winds got a touch fluky in the lee of St Vincent’s high mountains so we started an engine and motor-sailed up the coast until we noticed an orange t-shirt-wearing delivery crew reefing down every sail they had to maybe fifty percent of what we currently had up. Hmm…what do they know that we do not? Being the prudent sailors that we are we simply copied them.


Within five minutes we were hanging on for dear life but at least we weren’t over-canvassed as forty knots of wind and rain slammed into us. The next nine hours were a repetition of gusty squalls, rain, and nasty waves.



Finally we just went with the flow and begrudgingly gave up our easting knowing we’d have to motor east, back towards the coast of St Lucia to reach Rodney Bay, but I knew that it would be less brutal protected by its mountains. Slow agonizing progress was made and as darkness fell the lights of Rodney Bay came into view. As we rounded Beef Barrel Island’s flashing white light, it was like falling into a dark hole surrounded by a brilliant circle of multicolored lights. With music blaring from shore we began to cautiously pick our way through the anchorage. Slowly, one by one, a darker patch would emerge out of the blackness, which became a yacht, unlit at anchor. Sometimes I could hear our engines echoing off a boat that I couldn’t see in the gloom. This is why we have a rule not to arrive at an unknown harbor in the dark but sometimes it takes longer than it ought. We poked around until we found an unoccupied spot and dropped the hook, ate the sandwiches that we couldn’t eat for lunch and watched the full moon peek through the backlit clouds. Simply beautiful with an added large dose of relief.

After another Groundhog Day weather forecast and failed SSB attempt we had a much more civilized departure at 0930 and put up even less sail. Soon the wisdom of this approach was obvious and I couldn’t imagine why I had thought St Lucia’s pass was less rambunctious than St Vincent’s in this northeast wind.


Maybe it was a little less wind or maybe it was less Dyson Effect but EV seemed to handle these very large seas a little better. Progress was slow but we had less distance to cover so by mid afternoon we were negotiating the approach into Le Marin harbor, Martinique. Already crowded, we reconnoitered the tricky anchorage like we usually do and dropped the hook in a likely spot. Le Marin looks promising and calm.

Ah, Marce made scratch pizza and with celebratory Dark and Stormys on the patio, it’ll be Christmas in Martinique.

Life is good.


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The view from the front porch



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Famous last words

I finally got to sleep last night and when I woke up we were still safely hooked. I made coffee and tucked myself in a corner of the cockpit to shake out the cobwebs and read the news. Suddenly I saw that we were much closer to the boat behind us than we’d been just a few minutes ago and I stood up to assess the positions of all the boats around us. Yep, we dragged. It just happened. I didn’t feel anything. I called down to Jack and we turned on the chartplotter to see our position on GPS. Ah, we could see instantly what happened. When the wind is steady from one direction, even a strong wind, our anchor holds tight. But this morning the wind shifted back and forth, swinging us in a wide arc which must have loosened the anchor and pulled it sideways. Each swing plowed us back again so that our track was a tight curving zigzag backwards. Luckily we weren’t in danger of hitting anyone and we watched for about 45 minutes until it was clear that we were getting too close for comfort to the boat behind and to the right of us. Reluctantly we started the engines and lifted the chain. I say reluctantly because the wind was still in the high 20s and gusting which makes it hard to hold a boat with this much windage steady while we lay down the chain. The bottom here is mostly grassy with small patches of sand and we want to drop the anchor in sand for good holding.

We got the hook up and drove around the anchorage looking for a good spot.


Three times we got into position and started to drop the anchor but the windlass jammed before we had the hook in and we had to quickly pull it up again and circle back to our spot. I could see the other skippers looking nervously at us. I waved and smiled from the helm to reassure them that we were under control and eventually we got ourselves stuck to the bottom again in almost the exact place we were before. We put a little more than the normal amount of chain out which is always a gamble because you want to swing the same amount as the boats around you so you don’t interrupt the geometry and end up too close to someone if the wind shifts. But we did it anyway just to get more weight down and to keep from plowing the anchor out again if we start swinging like we did this morning.

We watched for a while; Jack took his usual bearings and drew them on a pad of paper. When we were sure we were safe again we exhaled and made breakfast. Just another relaxing Sunday in paradise.




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Up all night

Boy, am I glad we didn’t leave on Friday. We knew the big storm was coming on Saturday and boats have been streaming into port for the past 12 hours. The wind kicked up just before sundown and really cranked up a few hours later. It’s now close to 1am and between the howling in the rigging and the deep shudder EV does in the gusts I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep. So here I sit listening to every creak and flutter, watching the masthead lights on the boats behind us drift left, then right as we swing back and forth at anchor. I have the rain catcher hose going directly into the water tank instead of into jerry jugs because in the squalls I can’t be sure I can change jugs as fact as the rain comes down and fills them. Earlier in the evening we could see the rain blowing horizontally, highlighted by the deck lights of the tug moored next to us. Now the tug’s lights are out and the clouds have cleared enough to let the waxing moon throw enough light to make out the boats near us. Every so often I go out in the cockpit and check our position but really there’s no need. As the pitch of the wind rises I can feel EV pulling backward on the chain, then stretch the anchor bridle sometimes so far that I hold my breath, waiting for the unmistakable feeling of dragging anchor, but then she springs back with such force that if I’m standing I’m thrown off balance. As unnerving as that is, it’s reassuring that our anchor and chain are doing their job and we’re safely hooked.

Jack went below to our cabin where it’s quieter and I think he even fell asleep. I’ll be keeping watch, checking the wind instrument, filing away the various sounds and correlating them with the windspeed. All of the weather sources I’ve consulted show the wind continuing all night but with fewer and fewer rain bands, and for days to come. That means the seas will be huge beyond the protection of the harbor and that means we’re here to stay for now.

I’m happy that so far our aging cockpit enclosure is holding together. It’s what make it possible for us to go outside and see the conditions while staying almost fully protected from the storm. When I step out on the side deck to check the positions of the boats around us the force of the wind nearly knocks me down and I quickly step back to the shelter of the cockpit.

It’s now 1:30 and after a brief lull when the wind dropped down to the 20s the rigging started screaming again and we’re back into the 40s. My nerves are wearing thin. Maybe it’s time to join Jack below.


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Hard call

Well, I’m feeling kind of smug about spending all that money on renewing Escape Velocity’s ground tackle these days. Apparently it’s called the Christmas winds. Weather guru Chris Parker says they’re reinforced, whatever that is, and it’s like when I was a kid I’d listen to Dylan songs and I thought I knew what they meant, that was until I really didn’t have a direction home or I truly was on my own…how does it feel? It’s a little unnerving… that’s how it feels, Mr. Zimmerman, unnerving.

It’s just like this wind. We’ve been anchored in higher winds but just not day after day of consistent high twenty something into the thirties, and the weekend is threatening to be worse. It’s kept us cooling our heels in Bequia, in truth not a bad place to be stuck, but it’s not cheap and you can just forget about a decent chandlery.

However, Bequia boasts having its own self-proclaimed Ferrari expert…but how would one know? A fellow cruiser and I hunted Mr. Wallace down, a proper Scottsman engineer, in a back alley shack behind the Bequia Bakery…no Ferraris in evidence.


He lives on a huge white rust-streaked ex-naval ship really, moored out in the harbor flying an over-sized blue with white X Scottish ensign. He did a great job on the weld for my friend’s humble generator exhaust elbow but he did it at a Ferrari price. Welcome to Bequia.

We’d planned to be in Puerto Rico for the holidays but the sea state around here is to be taken seriously…so we will. Nine to twelve foot swells or more with wind driven chop is just not fun. Still, we see yachts coming in and going out all the time. It’s one of those very familiar tough calls. Stay in windy but well-protected Admiralty Bay or take a pasting in the passes between the islands just to head up island and wait out the weather in a more productive place. What’ll it be?



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The view from the back porch


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The enduring soul of Chocobo

We knew when we bought our boat that we had big shoes to fill. The previous owners, Danielle and Roger not only sailed around the world but were famous in cruising circles for leading a convoy of boats that dared to sail through the pirate infested waters off Somalia and into the Red Sea, a passage that used to be commonplace but is now rare because of the danger of boarding, kidnapping or worse. You can read about the passage here and here.

Chocobo was a distinctly recognizable boat, with yellow canvas and cushions and a Chocobo, a big yellow bird, on each bow. We worked hard to make her our boat, removing the bird and most of the yellow, and of course, renaming her Escape Velocity. Despite the changes, our 1998 Manta catamaran is still recognized as Chocobo and we still run into people who know Danielle and Roger.

Not long ago we looked up a brunch companion’s blog as we sat enjoying a late morning chat in Prickly Bay. I bookmarked the site and glanced at the “blogs I follow” column.

“Hey, Chocobo!” I blurted. “That’s our boat!”

“You used to own that boat?” He asked.

“No! It’s our boat now; it’s Escape Velocity!”

It turns out he had crossed the Pacific in company with Chocobo and knew Danielle and Roger well. Small world, we were thinking.

Then just last week we were about to raise anchor in Carriacou when I noticed a boat that was heading out of the harbor suddenly turn around and come right towards us.

“Jack, I think this guy’s going to hit us!” Jack ran upstairs and we both watched anxiously as the boat pulled alongside.

“I’ve known that boat since it was Chocobo!” Jack and I stood there agape, wondering how anyone could recognize Escape Velocity as Chocobo. Turns out he’s one of the readers of Chocobo’s blog that continue to follow the adventures of the boat, even when the name and the owners have changed.

We’re proud to be the caretakers of this fine vessel, and we’re happy to know that Danielle and Roger left happy memories with so many people along their path. We think that means we’ll be welcome wherever we go because the spirit of Chocobo will pave the way.


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Water world

Ok, this is strange. I half expect Kevin Costner to come flying out of the water with those creepy gill things in his neck. There are upwards of fifty sailing yachts tightly anchored out in the middle of the ocean so it’s kind of like a floating community. I mean there is no bay for protection, no high land mass, no welcoming dinghy dock, in fact not much of anything but a rolly lurching spot of ocean shallow enough for your anchor to find the bottom. That’s why I found it strange when two guys in a runabout with Park Ranger painted on the side carefully sidled up to Escape Velocity and asked for $10EC per person per day to anchor here in the floating community. There are a couple of beautiful low-lying islets gathered around the periphery and so technically I suppose you’d have to call this a lagoon. The charts call it Tobago Cays. Boat boys with colorful names like Mr. Quality, Free Willy, Mr. Fabulous and Desperado zip around in runabouts with their names painted on the sides servicing the yachts with fresh baguettes, fish or whatever.

I have to say the water is some of the clearest I’ve ever seen and they have a section marked off where you can swim with turtles and the like then try to figure out how to get your beached dinghy off the sand bar. The darn thing’s got to weigh more than 300lbs. so you really don’t want to run it up the beach too far but you really don’t want it floating away either. It’s a fine line.

With Bequia’s siren song calling us we decided to dinghy over to the islets that define the lagoon at Tobago Cays just to enjoy a spot of exploring. It was a lovely day but we couldn’t deny that the dead pig had definitely floated past Escape Velocity . We need wifi and a cafe.









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The view from the back porch

Escapees to Bequia. After a total electronics freekout to start our day at 6:30am we managed to stay close on the wind for a lovely sail, to raise Bequia in just a few tacks but we’re not sure why the chart plotter and autopilot went bonkers.

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