Thursday, 5 March 2015

It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings....

Another month goes by as we languish in the heat of the Caribbean and have moved a few miles further north to Guadeloupe, made up our minds and changed them innumerable times, despaired at the anchoring techniques displayed and met up with old friends from years back. First the negative.

If we thought Fort de France was tight, the anchorage off Deshaies is often unreal. We arrived one late afternoon to find the bay very crowded and the safest water was too deep for comfort at 20 metres so we went a few hundred yards further north and shared a much larger bay with one superyacht. Long sandy beach, few people (although we later found it had numerous bars further along). The following morning, having watched 10 sails disappear north toward Antigua we upped anchor and found ourselves a spot off the village in the first bay. If it has a drawback it is the wind that funnels down from high hills and accelerates across the anchorage causing mayhem with those who either haven't anchored well or anchors are too light. One such incident was a charter boat that anchored too close to us. We pointed out that when we stretched out we were likely to catch them with our self-steerer. They suggested they could lay out more chain...sure we said how much do you have out....20 metres was the reply...but we're in 12 metres of water we said. They moved onto a buoy. And so it would go on. The anchorage would fill up and the late comers insisted on motoring through the boats determined to find a small spot they could squeeze into irrespective of scope or proximity of hull shape of their neighbour. Initially I would warn boats in no uncertain terms that they were fouling our anchor or chain but of late I've given up. In Fort de France a guy who anchored between us and another boat was told he was over our chain. He told me my anchor was somewhere else and if he was in the way he would move if needed. When we left the following day, despite warning them we were off, he chose to nap. Bee started winching the chain up creeping ever closer to the offending boat. With 3 metres to go before we hit them we still had 20 metres out and kept going as by then I had had enough. The bowsprit, always a sure fire way of getting folks attention, touched their sunshade and galvanised them into action as he was dragged from his bed and motored out of the way. Yesterday we noticed a boat drifting out to sea and realised it was couple we had met a few hours earlier. They had a problem with their engine so had little chance other than to sail back in. As nothing seemed to be happening Bee hailed a rib off a big charter cat and luckily found the perfect guy for the task. For one he'd been running the boat as its skipper for 10 years and the rib had a 70hp engine. It has to be said that Bee is unable to see folks struggling if we can assist … my experience had been that few seem to be bothered about helping and would simply say no to a request. As ever she persevered. We dumped ropes for towing into the rib and sped off and I mean sped! Jeez when you're used to rowing a dinghy to be suddenly hurtling across the waves at at 30 knots is unreal. Paul, the guy who had agreed to help, got us both out there and we set about helping the couple to get the boat back in. Obviously the seas were lumpier but the wind was still 25 – 30 knots, the boat weighed about 13 tons and Paul had doubts about being able to do the job. In the event he made the tow look so easy as we made our way into a more sheltered part. But the boat dragged again and again as the anchor appeared to hold and then gradually let go. Through the night we'd get up to monitor their progress and finally around 4am they got in close enough to drop and hold. I can only imagine they must have worked out the engine problem and sorted it. Too often we have seen boats anchoring in strong wind conditions getting blown rapidly sideways as they begin to lay out the chain. Nothing wrong with that but the combination of a light boat; no forefoot and electric windless seem to be a disastrous one as the boat moves faster than the chain can be laid out unless the windless can go into freefall and consequently it ends up a long way from where the anchor was dropped. I know I've laboured the point before but the anchor is the one thing you should invest in – it might seem like a lot of money but when the wind is howling with no sign of a let up knowing you're securely dug in with little chance of breaking out is worth every penny. And disregard what folks say about weights in relation to your boat – even our much loved Rocna say we'd be more than covered with a 25kg so with a 33kg we might be considered over the top. Yet we're in 13 metres with 50 metres out and solid. We've seen boats hauling in 60 metres and more and dragging (though not with a Rocna)

The positive. My sister and her husband sailed into Fort de France a month or so back and we had the chance to check out their boat. In fact we took great delight in rowing past our neighbours and saying we were going to visit their (sister's) boat, an Oyster 54. Their jaws would drop as they try to connect this scruffy gaffer with this pristine yacht! Paul and Trish welcomed us aboard with cold drinks, showers and the use of the washing machine! The contrast between our cruising life is summed up in that sentence really and after the first visit we returned to Hannah and realised how “difficult” we had made our life. Having said that even if we could afford an Oyster (hah!!!) it probably wouldn't suit us, although Paul & Trish are the most generous people you could meet and as far from the sort of person you might think would own such a boat as it is possible to be. Apart from the deep pockets obviously.

So Hannah is up for sale, many thanks to all those who have written to us about the decision and the kind words. Thanks too to the friends who offered to help move Hannah along the way. Bee, after returning from a 3 week break in the UK knows that the 365 day boat life is not for her any more but we're going to move Hannah back to the UK together and planning a last trip north to finish on a high. At this stage we're not sure how far north but out of the Caribbean asap. It seems there is a way to enter the USA using the ESTA scheme (see here) which we're going to check out and will report on in due course. Or if you have experience of the scheme perhaps you might let us know?

The gusts are continuing, some boats leave trying to get to Antigua before the weather gets worse tomorrow (Wed 4 March) and more arrive, glad to be in. Over the days we've had a succession of big boats arrive, numerous charter boats and a fair few superyachts. Cronos is a Dutch registered stays'l schooner with guests. Two crew came over to admire Hannah and in response to a question as to whether they had any spare ice promised to return with some. Half hour later the rib returned with a large plastic bag full of the stuff! A week later they returned to the anchorage and this time the rib came straight over with a bag of ice – the joys of having an eye-catching boat! In Fort de France as we left the anchorage we motored past a yacht about 120' long; 3 crew on deck in matching attire. The boat was spotless and very expensive. The crew waved to us and we said we were delivering our boat to them as the owner had agreed to a straight swap....the guy smiled and said “Hold on I'll just ask him” and spoke down a hatch to someone below. A guy appeared at the companionway, phone in hand, broke off the conversation he was having as I called out “Thought we might swap – got a Bill of Sale in my pocket”, grinned at us said “mebbe next time” and went back to his call. No idea on these things really but if he got any change out of $20milllion I'd be surprised.

And finally. 3 things have made me pause about Hannah's future. One was looking on the AIS live site at where Europa, the Dutch sail training ship we shared an anchorage with at Cascais. It's tied up in Ushuaia..... The second, reading Roger Taylor's (The Simple Sailor) account of his non stop trip up to Svalbard down to Jan Mayan island, then a wander across toward the east coast of Greenland and back to the UK in a small junk rigged boat; all in a couple of months because Mr Taylor doesn't bother with shore going but simply sails for the hell of it. Lastly today we had our first prospective buyers and as I took them through the boat, talked up the virtues etc I found myself thinking...I'm not sure I can go ahead with this. A later conversation with Bee revealed she had much the same ain't over 'til the fat lady sings.