Friday, May 20, 2011

First short passage to adventure

Getting ready to go

Talk about sleepy heads… I must admit that even I didn't get much sleep the night before our first real offshore voyage from St. Maarten to the British Virgin Islands, about 81 nautical miles west. Despite the calm anchorage in Marigot Bay and prospect of light winds and calm seas the next day, 3am came around just as I dropped off into a light snooze and it took only a few moments to jump up and put the coffee on. Judging by the silence and lack of motion on Odessa, I guessed that everyone had been having trouble sleeping. There is a good lesson here… when you've spent a long time on the dock, the first night on the hook is always a little tough… different sounds, motion and of course the faith in your anchor required for a proper nights sleep.

The morning light began to fill the sky as the third cup of coffee was poured, and we had been scuttling around the deck in the dark preparing Odessa to take the wind in hand. Lots of lines to make loose, rig to tighten and all safety precautions checked. The best invention in the world is the headlamp! after having a couple of cheap ones and being very sad when they crapped out, I plumped for an expensive waterproof adventure one with mega power, red led for night, green light for night vision and blue for stealth (not sure what that means, but it's cool). The other thing to look out for is one with the batteries in a separate pack on the back of the head band (balanced), with a blinky red light on the battery pack and a third strap that goes over the top of your head… super comfy and the blinky is great for running the dingy at night.

The lifting light was very welcome, signaling the time for departure and the beginning of our adventure.
As we slipped out of Marigot Bay and into the Anguila Channel, the wind was light 8 to 10 kits on our starboard beam and we had nice speed with both the main sail and Geno reefed… we began our adventure being cautious just in case we had another dodgy weather report. Odessa cruised this way making 7 to 9kts for a couple of hours as the sun lifted slowly revealing the silhouette of St. Maarten. At that rate we'd be into the BVI's early and even with beaming swells it was quite comfortable as Odessa sliced through the deepest blue water I've seen in a while.

Life settled down on the boat, the kids did school work, slept, eat, slept, ate and repeated the cycle. St. Maarten drifted off into the distance and we had Tuna all around us. Now, I do love fishing, but dropping sail to go chasing Tuna wasn't on the cards for our first passage and some apprehension about navigating into unknown islands hung in the air. Prudence payed off as the wind dropped to 5kts and below, our speed dropped accordingly and the ETA reading on the chart plotter climbed to the dark hours of the night.

We gave it an hour to see if the wind would cooperate,.. but not fancying entering an unknown anchorage at night, it was time to use the engine. With the engine slow cruising at 2000 rpm and sails up we got back to a respectable 7 to 8 kts still maintaining a quite sail like ambiance. Some may say why not drop the sails, but we had two swells, one on the beam and one on the stern and keeping the sails up gave us 2kts of extra speed and stabilized Odessa keeping her healing slightly to port with a nice purposeful motion… dropping the sails would mean running the engine harder and slopping about with the double swell direction.

A tuna grabbed a lure… the reel screamed for a few seconds and then it was gone. Two heads popped up from the cabin with great expectation on their faces, but soon slipped back when the boys realized the fish had gone. This happened a couple of times just to keep us on our toes, but for some reason we couldn't get them to hook up… dreams of a fresh fish dinner were fading as the day progressed. Our attention was soon switched to Izzy jumping up and down shouting "an island, an island" and sure enough the British Virgin Islands began to appear on the horizon. Now we had only been out of sight of St. Maarten for a couple of hours, but it is very exciting to get a glimpse of your destination, in this case Virgin Gorda. As we approached the ocean floor shot up to 125ft below our keel, then a minute later dropped to over 5000ft. We checked the chart and had just crossed a sea mount, bewildered and thankful that our electronics were working, the reel screamed again as we saw a Mahi Mahi grab the lure right behind the boat. Then silence, we looked hard for the tell tale flashes of green, yellow and boom, it came back around and hit the "bubbleboy" lure a little further back. Dinner was back on… however, as soon as we grabbed the fishing pole the fish simply let go of the lure… very fussy these inter-island fish…. we may have to rethink our presentation.

Our thoughts switched again to entering the island chain. The entrance we had chosen was between Fallen Jerusalem and Virgin Gorda, a small channel with two huge boulders "The Blinders" that sit in the middle just breaking the surface… a little unsettling during the day and bloody dangerous at night. Fortunately we had made good time and would arrive at 3:30pm, half an hour earlier than expected.

Everything looks bigger on a chart: Wow, it was a small entrance and the two boulders in the middle seemed to take up the whole channel. The dramatic cliffs, almost prehistoric look of the landscape added to the tension as we rolled the genoa and carefully made our way with an eagle eye on the depth sounder. "boy do those boulders look ominous.. "whizz" went one of the reels, no time for that as another fish teased us about dinner. We powered through the current surging out of the island chain with the engine, and entered a new world… the British Virgin Islands.

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