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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Pacific Planning
Randy
08/20/2007, Swingin' on a Star

I went to make a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich today and realized that we had run out of sandwich bread. Hideko to the rescue. In a matter of hours Hideko and mixed, beat up, proofed and what ever other violence you need to do to produce a fantastic loaf of sandwich bread. She had baked a lot of great baguettes over the last few months but this was the first time that she had come to the rescue of the peanut butter and jelly cause.

I spent the rest of the day preparing plans for our South Pacific Crossing. Hideko and I have been totally focused on getting far enough south to be out of the hurricane belt and in the insurance zone since the British Virgin Islands. Once here we began to realize that it won't be long before the longest crossing in our circumnavigation will be before us.

We have done a fair bit of pre-planning for the crossing of course. That said it is amazing how much work you really need to do to properly vet a real solid crossing plan. Jimmy Cornel's World Cruising Routes is always a good place to start planning any route. From Jimmy's work you can get the best routes and weather windows. This is really just the start though.

It has been about a weeks worth of work to get all of the data together to field our first draft of a plan for the South Pacific Crossing. We have decided that we would like to have six aboard for the trip. This means soliciting participation from four sailing friends. Here's the draft we're working with:

Timing
While route and timing specifics can not be determined precisely at this point, a general framework is in place targeting the Spring of 2008 using a well defined route from Colon Panama to French Polynesia. A crew commitment of two months would involve transit from Panama City, Panama to Papeete, Tahiti. A three month commitment would allow for transit from Colon through the canal and throughout the length of French Polynesia, perhaps returning from Bora Bora. A one month commitment risks becoming overdue on the return side but could be possible for crew wanting to make the ocean crossing only. Crew preferences will weigh heavily on the specific anchorages and durations of stay.

The tropical storm season in the Northern seas begins in June. The tropical storm season in the Southern seas ends in March. Our transit targets the month of April in an attempt to acquire the best possible conditions for the crossing.

Schedule
Week 1: Second Week of March - Cristobal, Panama/Canal Preparations
Week 2: Third Week of March - Panama City/Canal Transit
Week 3: Fourth Week of March - Las Perlas Islands/Crew Shake Down
Week 4: First Week of April - North Pacific Crossing
Week 5: Second Week of April - Galapagos
Week 6: Third Week of April - South Pacific Crossing Week I
Week 7: Fourth Week of April - South Pacific Crossing Week II
Week 8: First Week of May - South Pacific Crossing Week III
Week 9: Second Week of May -The Marquesas
Week 10: Third Week of May -The Tuamotus
Week 11: Fourth Week of May -The Eastern Society Islands
Week 12+: June -The Western Society Islands and onward

Crew
Our goal is to make this crossing with 6 crew and a dog aboard. We have three empty cabins and couples are certainly welcome. Minimum crew for the crossing will be three and maximum will be eight. Crew will be responsible for a watch each day while in transit and will also share in the operational responsibilities of the boat. The watch plan with 6 crew would involve 2 hours on and 2 hours stand by, followed by 2 hours on and 2 hours standby. This puts each member of the crew at the helm for 4 hours a day and standing ready to assist for 4 hours a day with 16 hours off. Cooking, cleaning and maintenance tasks will also be shared amongst the crew.

Grenada
Aquarium
Randy
08/19/2007, Southwest coast

Fred has been making us awesome espresso almost every morning so I though I would try to return the favor today. I made a Hollandaise sauce, the way my Dad taught me, and poached up some eggs for Eggs Benedict. Cindy has an overt dislike for anything associated with eggs so it was breakfast for three. Fred brought the coffee and ate at our boat, perhaps because Cindy wouldn't let him aboard with a plate full of eggs in an egg sauce.

Jay and Tami on Blue Star had rented a car so we all hopped a ride with them over to Aquarium on the West coast for lunch. The Aquarium restaurant is a really fun spot with good music and a great beach. We had great food out on the patio and got in a swim or two as well. We watched a beautiful sun set over the Caribbean sea from our table prior to heading home.

Grenada
Blue Star
Randy
08/18/2007, Mount Harman Bay

We met Jay and Tami from Blue Star, the last Lagoon 570, today. We first talked to Jay in Saint Lucia. Fred and I were tooling around and we stopped to say hi, particularly because I noticed that Jay's boat didn't have the steering out on the quarter like all of the other big Lagoons. I'm not a fan of being exposed out at the corner of the boat, particularly in trying conditions when you don't feel comfortable leaving everything up to the autopilot. Jay had highly customized his boat, to the point of having the helm moved to the bulk head.

We saw them prior to that in the anchorage in Dominica. We had a longer chat today and I found out that they had just bought property in Dominica to build their dream house on. Not a bad plan. Dominica is a beautiful island and certainly one of the less traveled in the Caribbean.

Blue Star came to Port Egmont from Dominica to get out of the possible path of Dean two days ago. Once Dean had moved on they came into Mount Hartman to relax and do some work on their boat. Jay was tirelessly working above and below deck and up in the rigging. Jay was not very happy with his boat from the factory and had done a lot of fairly expensive work to get it the way he wanted it.

Grenada
South Wind
Randy
08/17/2007, Martin's Marina

We stayed around the boat all day today just to be safe. Dean was wracking Martinique this morning but we saw little of his fury. The wind came around all the way to the South which was interesting. The southern harbors of Grenada are all open to the south with the exception of a few which are deep enough that they bend around providing 360 degree protection. Most also have reefs breaking up the entrance.

A large (I'm guessing 70 foot) Swan came in today from Prickly Bay. The captain said things were getting untenable on the dock there. Both Prickly and Hartman are open to the wind from the south but Hartman has a reef across the entire entrance. We definitely saw some chop coming in at Hartman but nothing concerning. It was overcast and we had a good sea running from the south but the wind never got over 15 knots in the harbor.

I was woken up at 2AM with the wind howling in the rigging and the boat bucking gently on her tethers. I got up to look around and noticed the wind sustaining speeds of over 30 knots. I got a drink and waited to see if things were going to get any more interesting. The rain was hammering down on the deck for a good hour but then things settled. That was it. One weak squall and Dean was off to the Central Caribbean.

Grenada
Calm before the calm
Randy
08/16/2007, Mount Hartman Bay

I think Tom Petty said it best, "The way ay ay ting is the hardest part". Ber ner now ner ner now neeeer ner.

When I got up this morning things just looked ominous. I know it's probably because I am aware of Dean burbling out there somewhere but the feeling is there all the same. Everyone around the dock is busy securing things or doting on the latest weather forecast.

The Internet at the marina is still down so I have been pulling information in over the SSB every 6 hours when the national weather service updates it. Dean has performed as advertised so far and continues on a 280 degree track heading for Martinique.

Hideko and I finished all of the little jobs on our list and got everything on the outside of the boat secured. I have taken to tying a short piece of dock line in a large loop around a stanchion base and then clipping the halyards to this. It has worked great because the halyard is away from the mast and all clanking is eliminated (not very innovative) but the great part is that the shackles and blocks don't squeak and chafe on the stanchion bases. I decided not to take the jib down because we should see nothing more than 25 knots gradient. The squalls coming in may get up to 40 or more but they go by pretty fast. I checked the furling line and made sure that I had two really good wraps on the jib. I secured the main sail bag and zipped up the front plate that keeps the bag from acting like a parachute. We took all of the gear off of the rail and stowed it below, Rolled up the windscreen, cleaned up all of the lines and tails, among other tasks.

We left the dingy in the water because we wanted to have access to it if there was a problem or if someone in the anchorage needed help. Our dingy and Kelp Fiction's are secured on their own cleats on what should be the leeward side of the dock for most of the day. About mid day we took a break and went out for Chinese food with Fred and Cindy. It was a short but welcome respite from the monotony of waiting.

When we returned I decided to put out an anchor to the northwest. As far as I could tell our key wind directions were going to be southwest in big squalls and south in the strong gradient wind after Dean passes. We are on the north side of an east/west dock specifically because the data was pointing to southerly winds as the heaviest. I know what it is like to be mashed onto a dock and I don't like it. We could certainly have big winds from the northwest if things change. Having an anchor out is probably superfluous but if we need it I'll be glad it is there.

Hideko and I loaded our FX37 Fortress and the chain leader into our dinghy and paddled out to the edge of the mangroves. This anchor serves as our stern anchor, we have about 25 feet of 3/8ths chain on it and the rest is 5/8ths nylon. Back on the boat Hideko feed the rode out as I paddled. I lowered the Fortress to the bottom where it landed nicely in the black mangrove mud. The whole time I was hoping I would not have to go down there and mess with it. Back on the boat we put the rode on the port primary winch and cranked it in until it quit wanting to crank. Fred was in the dinghy at this point watching the anchor. It disappeared into the mud early in the process. Perfect (until I have to retrieve it I guess). The anchor cleanly pulled the boat to the limit of the dock lines in 15 knots of wind. I was hoping that it would do the same in 40.

Danforth type anchors like the Fortress foul easy, they trip when you swing around them, once tripped they often don't reset and they have other short comings. All that cataloged and noted, they are amazing when properly set in mud or sand and pulled from a single direction. They are also light and fairly inexpensive. A boat anchored in the middle of this harbor rode out Ivan on a Fortress. Once dug in it stayed right where it was set. After the storm they tried to retrieve it and could not. A diver found the tang 3 feet down in the mud and could not get it out. It is still there today. I hope ours is not quite that buried.

After setting the Fortress up Fred, Hideko and I sat on the deck surveying the set up. It was exquisite. We were tied up to the windward dock six ways to Sunday and we had nine fenders out with an anchor off to port in case the wind did anything but light and variable from the north semicircle. Then we all began to ponder the possibility of folks blasting by in dinghies. The nylon line ran straight out from the winch at about seven feet off of the water angling down into the harbor at the edge of the channel. The marina is accessible from the main channel to the south but a fair amount of local boats head around the north end by the mangroves too.

As we considered the hazard to navigation a skiff came blasting up the east side of the dock. Yikes! We all jumped up and down and tried to get him to slow down. He didn't. But he did duck and zig a little to the left as he came around the end of the dock. In stride he sat back up on the other side of the line and motored into the marina. We realized that this was the dock master whom we had informed of our anchoring operation in advance. I decided to lower the shiny new anchor rode down into the oozing mud all the same. If we needed it in the night I could just winch it up and hang a strobe on it.

I have another anchor, a 66 pound claw, that we prepared to deploy off of the Port bow if need be but after the 11AM weather report I am fairly optimistic and don't think it will be necessary. We left the Rocna on the bow roller so that if we need to leave fast we can drop all of the dock and anchor lines and still have our primary anchor ready to go.

The conditions at the end of the day were light and variable, but with diabolical looking dark clouds all around the horizon. Fred and I were walking around the dock just to see what was happening in the bay around the marina. Less than 24 hours before landfall boats were still coming in. It started to rain. There is a really nasty bit of reef across the entire entrance to Mount Hartman Bay. Part of the reason we picked it. Not the kind of thing you want to navigate in failing light and a building squall however.

As we looked out we could see 8 Sunsail boats trying to enter the bay. I suspect that they were from the Blue Lagoon on the south end of Saint Vincent but I'm not sure. Some looked like charter clients but others were obviously Sunsail staff.

There are three ways into Hartman: the long way with a deep channel and fairly wide access all the way in, the long way with a short cut, where you have deep water but have to run a little bit of a gauntlet, and the short way that goes through shoals and narrow draws with breaking waves all about. The first five boats split between the short way and the long way with the short cut. Boat number six picked a fourth way. I saw the boat sort of stop, then turn beam to the wind, then show her bottom paint. Not pretty.

It started to pick up in the bay and was obviously getting going out near the reef. Fred and I thought to go out and see if we could help but the Sunsail team was already in action with one boat anchored near by and at least five dinghies darting to the scene. They ran a halyard out to the largest dinghy, put a captain on board, heeled the boat hard over and spun her slowly into deeper water. As the rescued boat and the last of the Sunsail crew dropped anchor it began to pour.

I went back to the boat to wait things out. Hideko and I listened to Chris Parker at 7PM and things were progressing as expected, which was good news for us. As I was thinking this though a guy anchored in Rodney Bay Saint Lucia came on the net. It was sort of eerie to hear the forecast for a boat directly in a possible track of Hurricane Dean. I went to sleep feeling a bit of dread and sympathy for our sailing comrades in Martinique and Saint Lucia.

Grenada
Mount Hartman Marina
Randy
08/15/2007, Secret Harbor

I got up around 6AM to download weather over the HF radio. As I was at it I saw a huge plume of black smoke rising from somewhere east of us. Peter on CUManana came on the VHF with a Pan Pan reporting that there was a massive fire on Calivigny Island, a beautiful private island just south of Clark's Court Bay. Emergency services were dispatched but they had to ferry the fire engine over from the mainland while the islands warehouse and power facility burned. A fine how do you do right before a Hurricane passage.

After the 7AM weather Hideko and I had another go/no go meeting. It was still a no go. Things in Grenada looked good and the hurricane holes here are some of the best in the Caribbean. If need be we could still easily overnight to Trinidad.

Staying in Prickly Bay was out of the question of course. Fairly choppy seas were expected from the south-soutwest on Friday along with winds up to 35 knots from the same direction. Prickly Bay is wide open to the south.

The Swingin' on a Star and Kelp Fiction crews decided to move over to Mount Harman Bay for the first part of the day. Mount Hartman is close to all of the deep holes and yet it is not overly crowded.

The entrance to Mount Hartman looks open to the south but in actuality it is totally covered by reefs and shoals. Most seas break well outside the mouth of the bay. This also makes getting in fairly interesting. The water in this area is pretty green, perhaps from the recent rains, and very hard to read. We followed the safest route, watching the sounder closely. There are buoys marking the eastern most channel. You need to aim for the reds because a fairly stiff westerly current will set you right down onto the reef otherwise. This is no place to steer by the compass in zero visibility.

Once into the back of the bay we had our choice of slips. Hideko and I anchored out and carefully considered our options in light of the expected conditions. Most of the wind and seas in our area were to be from the southwest moving into the southeast. We tied up on the end of the northern most tee facing due east. Hopefully this would have the wind blowing us off of the dock and put the whole marina between us and whatever chop made it into the bay.

Our plan was to stay in this spot through Dean's passage. Regardless Fred and I made another dinghy run to all of the proper holes to the east. If things were going to get into the 50 knot zone we would move. Anything more than that and Hideko and I would head for Trinidad.

Our biggest concern with anchoring and tieing into the mangroves in a hole was the other boats. Fred marveled at the number of boats as we cruised through the Hog Island Anchorage. It had filled in quite a bit and there were still 36 hours for more to come. Clark's Court Bay was getting crowded as well and the marina there was pretty packed. Some of the boats anchored out would threaten those in the marina it they dragged anchor.

We made our way around Calivigny Island which was still smoking and then up into Port Egmount. Fred and I were both amazed. It is a huge, totally protected bay and there were no more than seven boats there. The unfortunate thing is that there were only seven boats there. My worst nightmare would be getting totally secure, helping all the neighbors with anything they need to get done and then settling down for the blow, only to watch twenty boats (most probably steel hull commercial boats) come in at the last minute, drop anchor 10 yards off my bow and go ashore. Port Egmount is a little too famous as a great hurricane hole to be a great hurricane hole. That said if you could get in early and tie in on the side where the wind would be coming from you wouldn't have to worry about other boats. This wouldn't work if the storm came closer because you'd have too many wind directions to cover.

Fred and I decided to take a look around the next point at Calivigny Harbor. It was pretty choppy out but so far we had been able to stay inside the reef line. We started to make our way outside and found ourselves pounding into four and five footers. Normally this is not a problem in a good RIB (we were in the Red Barron), but these were steep. And then we hit a six footer that was not steep, it was a wall. It crashed down right on my head completely soaking both of us. As we made maybe a knot toward the next set a silent look between Fred and I was all it took to turn the boat back toward the bay. I was glad that my VHF was waterproof.

We surfed back into Clark's Court and checked in with Peter on CUManana to see how they were doing. Peter had a nice setup with his stern tied to the dock and his bow on a mooring facing southwest, exactly where the weather was going to come from. Peter informed us that ten boats from the lagoon were heading to port Egmont in the morning. Boats were also coming in from other islands to the north in a non stop stream. It was going to be interesting, but hopefully not too interesting.

Back at our marina in secret harbor we met the Mate of the 135 motor yacht Monaco. Jose was a friendly guy born in Uruguay and raised in Spain. The big yacht had a private weather router and Jose was always willing to share the wealth.

Our marina, Martin's Marina in "Secret Harbor", was formerly a Moorings base and unlike the floating docks that are so popular around here, Martin's has beefy concrete docks right at the waterline that break the chop down if it makes it this far.

Weather at 7PM confirmed the expected track taking Dean to Martinique. Hideko and I had our second to last go/no go meeting and again decided to stay in Grenada. We fully expect to be right here until after the weekend. We emailed Saint Brenden's Isle and asked them to forward our mail and settled down to dinner and the classic Tribble episode of Star Trek.

Grenada
Mongolian Sushi
Randy
08/14/2007, Grand Anse

When there's a storm threat Chris Parker comes on at 7AM and also adds a 7PM service. This guy is a hero in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. He is tireless, always kind and friendly, even to the biggest knuckle heads (don't ask me how I know), and incredibly informative. I'm certain that he saves lives all the time unbeknownst to anyone.

The 7PM forecast today was not optimistic. We were looking at a reasonable chance of a direct hit. The only places I've been that I could imagine riding out a direct hit from a major hurricane are Cariacou's Tyrell Bay Mangrove swamp, Luperon in the DR and a few sneaky places in the Bahamas. Grenada has good holes but they're too big and there would be too many boats, IMHO.

We collected all of the facts, made a list of possible escapes and invited Fred and Cindy from Kelp Fiction over to discuss thoughts on the matter. We ruled out Trinidad quickly. Trinidad is great because it never gets hit. In this case they were saying that it could get hit, or if things went Grenada way it would suffer a near miss. There are no real hurricane holes in Trinidad but there are huge numbers of boats. The only possible hide out that we could identify was the fishing port in Port of Spain.

Venezuela had a lot of nice spots but everything was about 200 miles away. Laguna Grande and similar spots were well south and very protected as well. This route became the favorite of Cindy, Hideko and myself. I probably would have preferred to stay in Grenada and spend the time really digging into the mangroves but our insurance (or lack thereof in Grenada) put me into the Venezuela camp. Fred wanted to stay in Grenada. At the end of our discussion we agreed to leave for Venezuela at noon tomorrow unless the 7AM report made us fairly confident that Grenada was out of the strike zone.

Hideko and I stayed up planning a route around Los Testigos to Margarita island in Venezuela, and then on to the Golfo de Cariaco on the mainland. We needed to plan things to arrive in Margarita with good light because the area is famous for nets and fish traps. The last thing you need when running from a hurricane is a net fouling your props. If reports on the SSB were still not going our way as day broke, we decided that we would pass by Margarita Customs (not the preference of the Venezuelan authorities) in order to be properly prepared for the storm. We also needed to ensure we anchored before night fall as the entire area was new to all of us.

I lay awake long into the night running through all of the tasks for staying or going in my mind. Take down and stow the jib. Take down and stow the windscreen. Clean everything off of the rails. How am I going to deploy the three anchors. Which way do we want to face if the storm goes north, which was if south, which way if a direct hit. Stow the dinghy or stash it in the mangroves for emergency operations? Get a tank ready so that I can dive on all of the ground tackle and all of the anchors for boats around us. Make them safe and we'll be safe. Lash the main to the boom and secure the boom. Put the front cover on the sail bag so that it doesn't act like a parachute. Run all of the halyards to the rail. Brush my teeth. Walk Roq. ...


Grenada

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