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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Tobago Cays
09/05/2007, Tobago Cays

This was Atsuko and Razmig's last day with us and we had saved the best. Everyone was up early so we weighed anchor and headed out to the Tobago Cays. We were anchored in front of Jamesby, the southernmost of the four main islands, by 9:30. The Tobago Cays are simply idyllic. When you think of inviting water and beautiful deserted islands, this is what you see.

It can get crowded here but the park was blissfully empty. Our early arrival had something to do with it but it was also part of our payback for skipping around the storms during hurricane season.

Everyone enjoyed snorkeling and exploring Jamesby. Somehow I ended up scrubbing the waterline for a bit. When I climbed back aboard I was rewarded by fresh pizza. Hideko had made pizza dough from scratch and whipped up some fantastic za.

In the afternoon we moved over to Baradel (a whopping quarter mile away). There's a turtle sanctuary marked by a buoyed line around the south side of the island. There are turtles galore here. Everyone had a great snorkel with the turtles and it was hard to keep track of how many we all saw. Many of the local folks in the Caribbean eat sea turtles and they are typically a bit shy when it comes to humans in the water. They are protected in the park however and seem to know it, more or less ignoring the large mammals with bright colored fins careening about.

The sun was getting low in the sky and I had never sailed out the south exit of the reefs surrounding the Cays. We piled everyone back aboard and made our way slowly out through the reef. Hideko was on the bow but with the sun only 20 degrees or so above the horizon it was just about impossible to read the water. Our charts had proven very accurate in this area and I had some bearings to work with from the cruising guide so it wasn't too hairy.

We anchored off of Palm Island to give Atsuko and Razmig one last amazing beach to play on. No one ended up going ashore but Hideko and Razmig went for a snorkel. They were generally nonplused (I don't think they went all the way around to the north where the amazing reef is). Right as they were about to return they sighted a huge Spotted Eagle Ray making the effort worth while.

We cooked up our now famous (to us anyway) Steak Frites, complete with Béarnaise sauce, and enjoyed our last night together in the Grenadines.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Salt Whistle Bay
09/04/2007, Mayreau

The crew spent the morning snorkeling and exploring Sandy Island. Lots of places in the Caribbean have a "Sandy Island" equivalent. Turks and Caicos has Big Sand Cay, the BVI has Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit, and Cariacou has Sandy Island. These "sandy" spots seem to be universally great places. This particular island has been getting smaller with each storm however and soon may be Sandy Bar.

There's a lot of coral built up on the north side of the island, presumably to protect the island from the north swell in the winter. The coral forms little pools that are connected to the ocean but only by small intricate channels. There are no real trees left living on the island but there are two good sized dead ones. The pelicans have requisitioned these and use them as a spotting platform for their hunting expeditions. The balance of the island is just beautiful white and pink sand.

Roq and I explored the island while Hideko, Razmig and Atsuko went snorkeling around the northeast point, which they rated as their favorite snorkeling spot of the trip. They found two lobsters on their exploration. Lobster season had just opened here September 1 but visitors are not allowed to take them. I was hoping that we would find a way to get Razmig and Atsuko in on a Lobster barbeque while they were here.

Razmig and Atsuko had to fly home on the 6th so we were really saving the best for last on this trip. We weighed anchor at just after noon and sailed over to Union Island on a moderate breeze. Razmig and I went to the airport to clear the boat in and to get plane tickets to Barbados for Atsuko and him. We tried to find a place to eat but low season had set in and few places were open and those that were only served lunch around noon.

We left Clifton harbor and sailed up the leeward coast of Mayreau for Salt Whistle Bay. Salt Whistle is one of the most beautiful anchorages you can find, but like most such anchorages, it has fallen victim to its own popularity. I secretly was hoping that the recent storms might have scared off all of the tourists.

As we came around the point I was pleasantly surprised, there were only four or five other boats. When we were here last folks were anchored out past the entrance of the bay. The contingent tonight consisted of a large sport fisher med moored to the beach, a small cruising boat from France and three Switch charter cats. is a French charter outfit and they seem to charter year round with no problem. The French are hard core sailors.

While we were setting the anchor a glass over plywood power boat came over. I always try to be nice to these guys but I am usually predisposed to avoid purchases. We really don't need much once we're out and about. We had fresh fruit from the market, Hideko catching fresh fish (although she's been striking out lately), we were set. We exchanged greetings, I said "yualright?", he said "gudgud", he gave me his pitch and I almost said, "thanks mon, we're good", but a car locked up the brakes in my head, jammed the shifter into reverse and floored it. He had just asked if we wanted to join in on a lobster beach barbeque. Whoa. I RSVPed for four. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Sailing to Sandy Island
09/03/2007, Cariacou

It felt like we were just getting started on the trip today and yet our friends were going to be leaving so soon. A Tropical Storm smack in the middle of your vacation can have that effect. Hideko had cleared us out yesterday so we were ready to do some serious cruising and we had an ambitious plan for the next few days.

We said another sad goodbye to all of our friends at Martin's Marina and got on our way. We motored out the west entrance of Mount Hartman Bay and up around the point to Saint Georges. Entering the Saint Georges harbor, we anchored in the lagoon just in time for a nice downpour. I wondered if we would get a whole day of good sunny weather for Razmig and Atsuko. We were at the peak of the rainy season of course.

After a short pounding the rain blew off and we decided to risk a trip to the Carenage in the dinghy. Saint Georges is really a quaint little town and has to be one of the classics in the Caribbean. We walked through a one way tunnel, used equally by people and cars, beneath the old fort to emerge in the wharf area. The famous Saint Georges market is just a few blocks down. We explored the market for a bit and bought lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. There is a fish market on the docks as well but Hideko was determined to catch her own. We tried to find a place that was serving Oil Down but to no avail. Our second choice was the tasty pineapple/bacon burgers at the Port Louis Marina.

We returned to Swingin' on a Star a bit late. It was getting toward 13:00 and it was a ways to Cariacou, our planned destination. We decided to make a go for it. I hauled up the anchor and Hideko drove us out into the Caribbean Sea. As usual when you're behind a big island the wind was a little fluky but we put up all the canvas to see what would come our way. It turned out to be a great sail though we ran one motor the whole way to keep the speed up in the lulls. Razmig and Atsuko enjoyed evading the sun by moving from the port pulpit chair, to the starboard trampoline, to the starboard pushpit chair, etceteras.

We arrived at Sandy Island just outside of Hillsborough Harbor right before sunset. The little anchorage south of Sandy Island is breath taking. The conditions were very settled and we had an infinite collection of stars above. As the night wore on there was a bit of ruckus out on the water, we were all curious as to what was going on. Upon looking over the side we saw large globs of bio-luminescence appearing and disappearing all around the boat. Hideko got out the flood light and we discovered that the eerie lights were coming from jellies floating along with the current. Large schools of small fish were swarming about the area as well. Even more bizarre was the appearance of several fishing bats, snatching a meal from the water. I'm not exactly sure who was eating who but it was intriguing to watch.

Adventure Travelers
09/02/2007, Martin's Marina

I have decided to call Atsuko and Razmig the Adventure Travelers. They are truly fearless. Hey, want to go to Sudan representing America (dangerous enough) and catch strange diseases? They've done it. Why don't you jump off of that waterfall? Sure thing.

I am also beginning to think that they bring some of the adventure with them. The last time they threatened to visit, Hurricane Dean came to town. Now that they're here, Felix. I said to Razmig today, "look we're just minding our own business trying to sail around the world, can you ease up on the heavy stuff?" Atsuko hung up some Teru Teru Bouzu (tissues made to look like bald monks) to get rid of the rain and Razmig agreed to enjoy the mellow, blue sky type weather for the rest of their vacation.

Later I decided to try to show Razmig how to halyard jump. The process is pretty straight forward on a mono hull. It is not much harder on a catamaran but the consequences of a bad jump are slightly enhanced. As you can see from the top mosaic, the process simply involves holding onto the halyard whilst running lengthwise across the bow, jumping to clear the lifelines and finally releasing the halyard well clear of the boat. Razmig, always the innovator, modified the last two steps. The approach looked very good, but was interrupted by a clear disposal of the halyard followed by a free form fisherman's dive over the rail. The judges didn't know what to do with that one but it was exciting to watch.

09/01/2007, Martin's Marina

I had set my alarm for 3:15AM. My last update the night before indicated that Tropical Depression 6 would arrive around 5AM. I wanted a little time to get conscious and walk the dock before it showed up. It had been raining pretty good for most of the night so I got out my foul weather jacket for the first time since we crossed the gulf stream. It was scary calm.

Walking around the dock I didn't find anyone else awake except the crazies from Trinidad still partying from last night and Jay on Blue Star. Jay was pouring over computer screens inside his saloon. I couldn't get his attention and I didn't want to knock on the hull and wake folks up at 4AM. I was sure that he had the latest updates so I stood on the dock gesturing madly for a bit. It had been light and variable for most of the night but I was seeing a bit of east wind building. This was not favorable because you would only see east wind if you were on the north side of the path. The strongest quadrant in this hemisphere is the north quadrant so it is always best to be on the south side of things. After the equivalent of morning exercises I desisted in my gesticulations and retired.

Back at the boat I sat up and waited. The next National Weather Serive update would be at 5AM and is usually online within 20 minutes. As it got to be 5AM I packed up the laptop and proceeded out into the cockpit. I turned around and returned to the saloon. I was soaked. It was howling outside. I no longer needed to check the forecast.

Usually things heat up quickly but it takes a while before you see the worst of it. This also concerned me because it was already blowing a sustained 35 knots. The boat began to buck around a bit as the wind came strong from the south and the marina began to get choppy. Swingin' on a Star was very well tied up and I had let her out a good four to five feet from the dock to provide some, but not too much, spring.

At this point the entire crew was in the saloon looking concerned. I told everyone to stay inside out of the weather but asked Hideko to keep and ear out for me. I wanted to get onto the dock to keep an eye on the lines and things in the rest of the marina. I had also set a mental threshold of 60 knots, beyond which I would put our guests ashore in the concrete bar structure.

By 6AM it was blowing 45 sustained from the south and gusting to 55 knots. I am guessing that folks in Port Egmont were having a better time of it than we were in Mount Hartman Bay. Several boats from Prickly Bay had moved over the day before and were riding things out at anchor along with the regulars. Fred was up and about on the dock at this point and we both fretted about our dock lines as things really piped up. I had to make a tricky five foot jump to the dock from our deck because our lines were all the way out, tight and rolling.

This made me reflect on the benefits of being on a single bow anchor in a storm. Facing the wind and seas is always preferred. We were ready for nasty east and west stuff, and good for seas from the south. As the south wind picked up I became a bit concerned though. Catamarans have a huge amount of windage compared to mono hulls, and while being blown off the dock is always preferable to being blown on, being broadside to big wind comes with its issues. Visit a hurricane zone and talk to folks who rode it out and you will hear a lot of cursing about the flying catamaran that wiped out C Dock, and such. Our boat has a good 5 foot of freeboard and a wing deck (not a pleasant descriptor in these conditions) that comes up another two or three feet.

After evening out all of the lines so that they were sharing the load as much as possible, I asked Hideko to come out and help me add another line amidships. The rain was really sheeting horizontally at this point. Hideko worked things from the deck while I handled the dock side. Once this line was on there was really nothing else to do except let it blow. Hideko went back inside and I walked the dock to see if anyone needed a hand. There were several problems on the dock.

The marina had a large fiberglass launch loosely tied up on the windward side of the dock. This thing is a tank, I had thought it was steel at first. In actuality it is a massive hunk of fiberglass. It was also right across from Blue Star. Jay was watching it nervously as it hoisted itself repeatedly up onto the edge of the dock right across from his catamaran. In retrospect I doubt it could have taken flight in the conditions, but at the time we didn't know when the storm was going to peak or how bad it was going to get. The boat had already smashed down a power post on the dock. Jay added some extra lines to the beast in hopes that if it flipped it wouldn't get across the dock.

There was a beautiful Swan just in front of the launch with only three fenders out. She was taking a serious beating on the concrete dock and had scarred her topsides a bit already. Some of the guys from the marina brought out more fenders and everyone pitched in to keep the boat on them as much as possible. I don't know where the owners were.

The 53 foot Halberg Rassy across from us was also on the windward side of the dock. A couple of guys were taking care of her for the owner but they were not around during the fun at 6AM. Fred and I checked on her every so often and put the fenders back in place as best we could. The lines that held her off the dock should have been tightened up quite a bit in my estimation, but I wasn't about to mess with anything without the owner present. This boat could obviously take most things a mere Storm could dish out and was doing fine with the exception of the fenders squirting out of their slots.

I walked down to the end of the dock every once in a while to see what things looked like in the anchorage and out in the open. As I arrived I saw that one of Monaco's Picos (a little Laser like sailboat) had blown into the water. I helped the guys haul it out and tie it down on the dock. I was surprised that they weren't tied down in the first place. A Pico heading for your rigging at 40 knots would be no fun.

The folks from Trinidad were hanging out on a really nice 67 foot Bertram sport fisher across from Monaco. They were tied up with half inch line and had been partying right up until the Storm interrupted things. After two of their lines snapped they got out every line they had. None were really beefy enough but Jay helped them get things balanced so that they didn't pop any more. I don't think the guys really knew that a storm was coming. Hey, when you can do 30 knots under power you just blast out of the way, right? They all seemed to be having fun with the storm. That is until a large schooner in the anchorage broke free and started dragging down on them.

The anchorage in general looked pretty nasty, but tolerable if your anchor was well set. No one else that I could see was loose other than the schooner. Fred and I considered dinghying out to the Schooner to see if they could use help or another anchor. It would have been pretty harsh out there in a RIB. After watching the loose boat for a bit it became apparent that there were two guys aboard and that they were running the motor and seemingly managing to keep the boat just off of the dock. I felt bad for the crew as they had to drive the boat against the storm for a good three hours. I'm sure they had a long nap later in the afternoon.

By 7AM some sun was starting to get through and things had calmed down a bit. I walked one of the taut dock lines like a tightrope to get back aboard Swingin' on a Star. Hideko assured me that everything was alright aboard. Razmig and Atsuko had actually gone back to sleep. I looked at the wind gauge at the nav station and was surprised to see it still blowing 30 some knots. I guess when you get used to 40 knots blowing, 30 seems sort of mellow. It blew 30 for another hour and then gusted to 30 for an hour or so after that.

Later in the day I discovered that we had suffered a direct hit from Tropical Storm Felix, formerly known as TD6. Our only damage was that the top fastener on our radar detector came loose. It was an interesting experience and made me feel good about our boat and especially the deck hardware. Fred made Lattes and we called it a day and took a nap.

Another LO
08/31/2007, Martin's Marina

The morning weather continued to rain on our parade. Razmig and Atsuko had come a long way to hang out in the sunny tropics and the reality was now somewhat less exciting. Tropical Depression #6 was on the way. As far as anyone could tell it was heading straight to our position. Today would be dedicated to preparations.

The first order of business was to collect some more detailed weather info from the Internet. Razmig and I dinghied out to Clark's Court Bay Marina to get online but the Internet was down there. Along the way I continued to survey the area specifically looking for spots not open to the west through south. If TD6 came through as advertised it would not be a big deal. If it strengthened it could be rather unpleasant and bring some serious chop from the south. Also the west wind that shows up when a rotating storm passes north of the area is unsettling. It seems that no one is ever ready for the wind to come from the west in a country where it always blows from the east.

On our way back to the boat I saw the skipper of the boat next door on deck. We stopped by to have a quick discussion. I wanted to diffuse any misgivings that may have been brewing. We exchanged information on anchor locations and discussed our proximity. He was friendly and reasonable but I detected a bit of underlying friction. I am always willing to move if someone anchored before me finds my proximity unpleasant, but I move regardless when I find myself near boats that aren't committed to work together in the face of a storm.

Razmig and I took Little Star on around to Secret Harbor to get our Internet business completed. Upon arrival we saw all of our friend's boats; Kelp Fiction, Monaco, Blue Star and the others. We also found the Internet up and our slip wide open, with two weeks still prepaid. The slip I originally chose was at the absolute North end of the dock with the best protection from southern swell in the bay. It also allowed us to face the east and west wind and to be blown off the dock by the south wind. It didn't take long for me to decide on our location for riding the disturbance out.

When we returned to Swingin' on a Star I told everyone that we were going to move back to Martin's Marina, and so we did. This also gave me the opportunity to put our guests ashore if need be and allowed them to still have fun on the island while I prepped the boat. Hideko took everyone out to lunch while I got things ready. I felt bad that we could not be better hosts.

TD6 was not supposed to be a storm upon arrival, just a depression and it was likely to go north, which always makes things quite a bit more mellow. I always prepare for the worst and assume a direct hit one to two categories up if a system is in the area. So, prepping for a strong Tropical Storm, I lashed the sail bag and main to the boom and secured the boom. I didn't drop the jib but I removed just about everything else on deck. Fred helped me drop an anchor out to the north just in case. I put little star on a cleat on the dock about 10 yards from the big boat. Little Star has minimal freeboard and actually sits lower than the dock allowing it to just about ignore anything other than strong wind from the north. Being on the north end of the bay, strong wind from the north has to cross the entire island and then has about 30 yards of fetch before reaching the boats.

Scott on Odyssey was busy on the dock with a neighboring catamaran. When I enquired he said that the marina owned the boat but declined to do anything to secure it further. It was basically tied up for a sunny day and parked right next to Scott's boat. Sad that Scott had to be the one to take care of someone else's property to protect himself. In retrospect looking into how others were secured is the one thing I should have done more of.

Everyone was anxious as it came time to hit the hay. I had checked the weather after the 5PM NWS updates (positions and reports are updated every 6 hours at 5AM, 11AM, 5PM and 11PM with an occasional intermediate update if things are nasty). TD6 was still TD6, so that was good news. The bad news was that he was still headed right at us.

Moving to Hog Island
08/30/2007, Hog Island

August and September are the hot months for weather down here. Learning how to dance around the nasty stuff is certainly an important skill if you want to enjoy yourself aboard a yacht without endangering your vessel and crew. If you let every possible development lock you in port you will never go anywhere or see anything. If you are not vigilant and go sailing about willy-nilly you will most certainly suffer a more unpleasant fate.

Staying within an easy day sail of a great hurricane hole is not too hard around here. You could be in the Tobago Cays (one of the most beautiful places in the world) and jump to the Tyrrel Bay mangroves at Cariacou in a mater of hours. All of Grenada is a short sail from Port Egmont. A fast boat can make Trinidad in a day and anyone can make Trinidad or even Venezuela from Grenada overnight. There is always something brewing this time of year but there is rarely reason to sit in a marina and stew about it.

Today, however, was our day to head for a safe haven to stew. The low pressure area we'd been watching in the approaching wave was rotating and well formed. Squalls were focused and abundant. All of these things equal bad news in the tropics. The only good news was that it was close enough that there would not be enough time for it to develop into anything super nasty. Super nasty causes us to leave the area. We prefer not to hang around for even nasty, but with guests aboard who were not ready to transit 100 miles or so of the North Atlantic we decided to stick it out in Grenada.

Mourne Rouge would not be our anchorage for this, or any other storm, presenting a lee shore in a west or south wind and being totally open to the south and southwest swell. After a discussion of the reasonable options the crew decided to head for Clark's Court Bay, two bays over from Martin's Marina where we had been holing up. The idea was to provide a secure anchorage with new scenery, proximity to Calviny Island's beach, proximity to the Light Ship and its restaurant, as well as the Internet WiFi at Clark's Court Bay marina.

Everyone slept in, biological clocks still adjusting to AST, so it was early afternoon before we headed out. We raised the anchor and motored in minimal wind around Point Salines toward the southern anchorages and entered the channel leading up to Clarks Court Bay, often called Woburn Bay. We circumnavigated the bay checking depths and looking at the other boats anchored and their positions. In the end we decided to try a spot behind Hog Island.

With the impending conditions no anchorage is totally open. This area did have a good space for us even though there were other boats in the neighborhood. As we anchored we got the "don't anchor near me" glare from a lady in a neighboring boat. I typically ignore this until we are settled on the anchor. I don't like being close to other boats more than most folks, and will be the first to relocate if need be.

We set the hook at 2,000 rpms and even sat with the engines running for an extra bit to ensure things were solid. It was at this point that the same lady popped her head out of the forward hatch and yelled, "you're too close". Lovely. I asked her where her anchor was and she simply ignored me and went below not to be seen again.

When a storm is coming, everyone in an anchorage has to cooperate to ensure mutual safety. One boat flying around makes all the work everyone else has done to secure their own assets futile. Coordination regarding anchor placement, scope and other factors can not only avoid problems, but allow others to assist more easily if something untoward occurs when things pipe up.

We expected no wind to speak of this evening and the Low Pressure of note was at least 36 hours away. Everyone would need to reset for the strongest wind direction, most likely south. We were a comfortable distance from all boats in the anchorage, though we could have been better centered. I decided to stay put for the night and address our neighbors concern in the morning.


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