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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Sailing to Trinidad
11/09/2007, Chagaramas

After a long and wonderful stay in Grenada it was finally time to move on. We had been waiting for a northerly component in the east wind so that we could make Tobago from south Grenada. You need to make good a course of about 130 degrees true to get to Tobago from south Grenada. This is why most folks make the jump from further north, at least as far as Cariacou.

However today we had a prediction from both the IFS Spot and Chris Parker suggesting a gradient wind angle of 70 degrees. A wave was coming through and backing the wind around in front of its passage. This gave us 60 degrees to work with. Even if we lost 20 degrees to the apparent wind as we made our way briskly along we could easily sail 40 degrees off the apparent wind.

Unfortunately you must also take into account the equatorial current. Add to that the fact that waves bring disturbed air and squally weather with fluky winds and it was not going to be a good day for Tobago. As we planned our passage during the days prior we settled on Trinidad. All things considered Tobago is one of those "can't get there from here" places if you're in Grenada and want to sail.

Trinidad is almost a due south shot from Grenada, 177 true from Mount Hartman to Chagaramas for those taking notes. From port to port it would be a nearly 85 nautical mile run.

We set about getting the boat in order the day before but finished things up early this morning after a 5:15 wake up call. Sunrise was 6AMish and sunset was 6PMish so we had plenty of time to make the run in daylight. We left the dock at Martin's Marina just about 6AM and headed south out the channel. As soon as we cleared the reefs we put up the full main and brought out the entire jib.

The forecast called for winds around 15 knots but sailing to weather means you add about five knots to the forecast to get a feel for what you will be contending with. The squalls on the leading edge of the wave were designated as mild and not expected to exceed 25-30 knots. It was going to be an interesting sail, maximizing wind and wind angle while dodging squalls.

As we left the coast of Grenada we could see lots of little systems rolling in from the east. Cumulus clouds all, mostly little bunches of fluff but scattered here and there some towering black columns. A large shadowy mass of cloud cover was moving over Granada just as we left the south coast. It was good we left when we did or we may not have left at all. Hideko and I are fair weather sailors if given the choice and by one hour out we could see that the whole south coast of Grenada was getting hammered by showers from a substantial dark cloud mass condensing as it lifted up over the hills of the island.

In front of us was what Hideko called a complex video game. Given the description I felt well equipped to handle the situation. Swingin' on a Star was heading south across the map at one rate of speed and various clusters of clouds with varying threat levels were moving west at another set of speeds. We had the radar on to help us spot the nastier squalls and our AIS was doing a good job of charting all of the shipping traffic in and out of Trinidad.

We were clipping along at about 9 knots under sail with the starboard engine running. The engine was simply powering the watermaker, radar and other accessories whilst charging the batteries. Normally we run under solar panels alone when passage making but the combination of clouds, and our southern track causing the sails to shade the panels, had us burning dinosaurs for a bit. Shutting the engine off after a few hours only cost us a few tenths of a knot.

Once well clear of the increasing darkness around Grenada I began to focus on the skies ahead a bit farther out. There was a particularly tall and squally bit dead ahead of us. I wasn't sure whether I should head up to let it cross or to give it our all and try to run in front of it. The squalls were moving at about 15 knots with the gradient wind but it is tricky timing them until you come to grips with their distance off and, more importantly, what they are going to do to your wind as you approach them.

Due to their speed advantage we headed right for the squalls when we could. This generally involved us losing way as the wind got strange near the system and the squall crossing benignly in front of us. Hideko snapped a nice picture of a tall block of cloud that had moved off to leeward where the sun lit it brilliantly, exposing showers falling from all different levels and a gorgeous rainbow arcing up from its base. They look pretty from the outside only.

I stood ready to reef time and time again but we continued to get lucky. We basically stayed on course and sailed 8-9 knots with squalls passing ahead and behind across our track all the way. Other than a few light sprinkles we didn't even get wet. The radar was a big help on the few occasions where we had to maneuver.

On the open water we saw nothing but small condensed clusters of clouds, nothing huge and all encompassing. That came as we approached Trinidad.

There are two oil platforms, one normal and one humongous, about 30 miles off the Trinidad coast line. As you close on these, Trinidad, with her tall mountains, comes into view. Shortly thereafter you can make out Venezuela across the Bay of Paria. Just as we were getting excited to see more of the details come into view a large black mass began to move across the eastern horizon. Our destination was Chagarams on the west side of Trinidad. This gives moisture the entire islands width, and Trinidad is a big island, to lift up and condense as the ocean breeze climbs the mountains of Trinidad's interior.

The closer we came the nastier it looked. The radar showed a large black mass, indicative of heavy rain, and with it, typically, squally wind. After a while we lost sight of the island all together. It was mid day and yet we started to see blazing bolts of lightning in the darkness ahead.

The salty dogs can cackle as they may but I was not about to sail into that. We had never been to Trinidad before, and although we had good charts, electronic and paper, and the Doyle cruising guide, we had no local knowledge and a moderately narrow channel to sail through on the way to Chagaramas Bay with a hazard or two mid water. We pointed Swingin on a Star as far up wind as she would sail and waited patiently for the thunderheads to move off as we pinched our way along several miles off shore.

The first system slowly worked its way west. At first we were worried that it was going to just sit there stationary and rebuild itself over the island in an endless stream for a few hours like the fronts that live over parts of the Dominican Republic. After time it began to move out as well as dissipate. Unfortunately another squall was right behind it.

We had a decision to make. Gun it for the entrance in between the squalls or stand off until the blue sky behind the second squall. The problem was we were approaching 16:00 and we still had to sort out our affairs in a crowded anchorage. Hideko made the call, I wanted to chicken out but she said lets go for it. So off we sailed straight for the eastern most cut into the bay. As we approached I tried to gauge the approaching squall to see if we had a constant bearing (and thus an impending collision). As I was focused on the squall I got a dangerous target alarm from the AIS.

I looked on the chart and there was something big coming at us. It was pretty far away but it was moving. In fact I had never seen anything move that fast on the water (other than on ESPN). It was doing 40 knots. It was also totally invisible on radar while it was inside the large black mass of the squall. AIS of course had it pin pointed from a good 12 miles out.

The speeding target turned out to be a huge ferry spouting a giant roster tail, we guess on the way from Tobago to Port of Spain. It crossed well in front of us and was astounding to watch as it flew by. We were doing 10 knots at the time but felt as if we were standing still. I was fairly sure that the second squall was going to hit us but I was hoping to at least be lined up in the channel between the islands visually before it did in order to avoid making the entrance in restricted visibility.

Miraculously the second squall just sort of petered out right before making our position. We sailed through the majestic cliffs guarding the entrance to Trinidad's west coast in dry silence with only a squadron of pelicans on our quarter.

As we came upon Scotland Bay we began to see boats. Lots of boats. Power boats galore to the credit of the locals (who are up in arms about paying $1 US per gallon for fuel) and sailing boats to the credit of cruisers from all over. Rounding the corner of Chagaramas bay exposed a scene consisting of more yachts than we had ever seen in one place before. Yards, marinas and anchorages, all filled to capacity with summering boats, many preparing to sail off into the Caribbean on December 1st when their insurance kicks back in.

We had arranged a stern to berth at Peake Yacht Services where we hoped to get our final work done to prepare for our South Pacific crossing in the Spring. We had about 30 feet of room which is not saying much when your beam is 26' 4". Add to that the task of picking up a mooring to tie the bow off while backing around and not fouling the prop in any of the mooring lines going to the boats on either side of you.

Hideko did a masterful job and with the help of a couple of dinghies to tie off lines and help us around when running the auxiliaries would have been unwise we made it in without hitting anything. The cruiser community here is in top form. You will never find more kind and giving people willing to help you at the drop of a hat.

Once settled onto the dock we brought the main halyard back to rig up our pasarelle and reworked the temporary tie up to suit our needs. If you are ever helping a captain get on the dock don't bother doing anything but making the line fast, because the captain is just going to come around after the boat is secure and redo everything the way he wants it anyway.

To my astonishment power and water are included in the $0.70 per foot catamaran rate. Power is ultimately diesel on the islands, and diesel was cheap here. Water was also coming down from the heavens frequently at no charge. We had not plugged in to shore power since Saint Martin. This was largely because we prefer to stay out of marinas but also because the power south of Saint Martin is 50 Hz. You can always figure out something with funky voltage but not the cycles. Our charger can only do 60Hz so we simply can't plug in anywhere in the eastern Caribbean. Except Trinidad, bless them and their free 60Hz power. We would be enjoying air conditioning and espresso while grinding away at our final refit.

Trinidad and Tobago
I come from the water
11/02/2007, Saint David's Bay

Well it had been a tough week. The boat was basically done but so was I. I still had a few things to do including securing the rubber drive leg flaps, and putting the props back on. I had decided to take my time and spend one more weekend at La Sagesse. The beauty of La Sagesse was more than partly responsible for this. It would be nice to take a complete weekend to enjoy the place.

Hideko had come with me today because we were just going to grab some things off of the boat and go back to the hotel. Then one of the yard guys came over and told me that they needed to move us to get to another boat. Ug.

It is a good idea to avoid putting a freshly painted boat in the slings too many times. After a few wrenching moments of indecision I asked if they would just drop me. They agreed and went to lunch. In the mean time Hideko and It took me some time to install the brackets for the Saildive flaps and then put the props back on. The brackets in particular had to be done carefully. Meanwhile lunch was over and all of the guys who run the lift were standing around staring at me.

As I was putting the props back on I had a momentary freak out. Was the right handed prop on the starboard drive or the port drive? Yikes! White bucket starboard prop, grey bucket port prop, yeah that's it. They didn't wait for me to get comfortable with my decision. Oh well if they're wrong I can drive in reverse to anchor and swap them in the water.

Fortunately they put us in the slip late in the day and all was as it should be again.

Paint Party
11/01/2007, Granada

I spent a lot of time deciding which bottom paint to go with. We had Micron CSC put on in Fort Lauderdale a year ago and it had given up about four or five months ago. Our boat was actually a smorgasbord of Interlux products. The factory put on two coats of gel shield, one coat of Trilux and two coats of VC Off shore. These are hard paints. The Micron CSC was ablative and I can only assume applied after a light sanding. Depending on which Interlux literature you refer to this might all be well and good but the general consensus seems to be that you are best off to have a barrier coat and a single kind of bottom paint. In the tropics, best if that bottom paint is ablative as well.

Practical Sailor had just come out with their annual bottom paint update and Micron 66 came in with top honors in the two year paint category. It was also a pick in the one year group. Seeing as how we are headed for the South Pacific and may be in the water for a while I wanted to go with the best stuff I could come by. Many local folks recommended Islands 44, which is illegal in the US. I really do think that we all need to pitch in to reduce human impact on the environment, and although no bottom paint could be said to be green, I decided that I should probably avoid things outlawed in the homeland. Jay was very happy with his Micron 66 and that pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Over the past couple of days one of the guys from the yard and I had done quite a bit sanding on the bottom. It was down to the gel shield here and there but that was just the best we could do with out a crew. So when Jay, Fred and Cindy showed up we started with Islands 1277 barrier coat to seal the hull and provide a good base for the Micron 66. We finished right as it started raining. The barrier coat dried quickly though and the rain didn't seem to do any damage to the coat. Next we put on a coat of Micron 66. Nasty stuff that. At least you don't have to worry about mosquitoes (or anything else without a respirator) when you're applying it. Then it rained again. Well, I guess any bottom coat that can't take a little water is not worth having. The first coat of antifouling seemed to do just fine except for a couple little spots where the boat draining caused a little running in the very wet paint. After cleaning the first coat up we took a break and then finished the job with coat three. Then it began to rain again.

When the rain stopped the boat still looked great. We had just the right number of people and just the right amount of time to get the work done. As you can see from the photo you have to be careful about inhaling too much bottom paint.

Plan B
10/31/2007, On the Hard

Our friends Fred and Cindy on Kelp Fiction II left for the US a few weeks ago. Jay was watching Kelp Fiction II over at Martin's Marina. I wasn't sure when they were coming back and although we expected to be gone before they returned Hideko and I both hoped we would see them one more time before we headed off in different directions.

I was contemplating what to do with Swingin' on a Star. I was just about out of projects to do while waiting for the yard to paint the dang bottom. As I was standing there considering the levity of doing it all by myself, the Calvary arrived. I couldn't believe it, a car drove up and out popped Jay, Fred and Cindy. After warm greetings all around, Jay looked at Swingin' on a Star and began to rant. Jay is not highly tolerant of inaction. In a matter of moments my friends were telling me to paint the boat myself and that they would help. I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I knew this was going to cost me a lot of beer but that would be a comparative bargain.

If you've never painted the bottom of a boat with incredibly nasty/toxic anti fouling, you simply can't comprehend how good a friends these folks are.

Later that afternoon a few guys emerged from a thick haze of ganga smoke (typically billowing all around the yard at lunch time) and said they were going to start on the bottom paint. I asked them if they were going to prep the bare glass spot first (I had been asking this same question for a week). They decided that someone else would need to handle that. I said, "ok send him over now but I no longer require the paint work".

Saildrive Raw Water Shutoffs
10/30/2007, The Yard

Anyone you talk to about Yanmar Saildrives will tell you that the raw water shut offs in the drive leg are problematic (the one exception I know of being another Saint Francis owner I have talked to who seems content with his). There are several problems with the stock shut offs as I see it. First and foremost, they often don't shut off. You might as well just put a straight pipe on there. The screw mechanism is extremely prone to seizure by fouling or minor surface corrosion. Anything getting in the threads (remember this is a raw water shut off so things getting in there is the rule not the exception) will make it nearly impossible to adjust the valve. The tiny wire handle on the top doesn't help matters.

I try to exercise all of my shut offs regularly. When I first tried to turn the Yanmar Saildrive valves about three months after delivery both were seized. We broke one loose but the other was stuck open until removed for service, and this is not the kind of valve you want to take off in the water. Another issue that I noticed after the fact was that when I closed the one valve that was working it wasn't closing all the way. Something had mucked up the threads making it feel closed but there was still quite a bit of gap between the screw and the housing opening. This brings to mind the fact that you can not just look at these shut offs and tell if they are open or closed, an obvious short fall. The stock hose for the raw water is good quality but not wire sided and you can not see through it to tell if water is running or not.

One great thing about Grenada Marine is that they work on a lot of cats and have a lot of experience with many common problems cat owners run across. When I inquired at the mechanical shop they told me that they install standard 90 degree shut offs on Yanmar Saildrives very often for all of the reasons above. A single new Yanmar shut off valve part would cost me more than two quality 90 degree shut offs, new top quality wire sided see through hose and installation! I now have a nice pair of standard shutoffs.

Paint and Half of a Repair
10/29/2007, Saint David's

When we took delivery of our boat there were two repairs that needed to be made to the bottom. One was a small crunched spot on the vestigial part of the port keel (no clear idea how that happened) and one was a small void in the starboard bow which I discovered inadvertently as I was knocking the hull. At the one year mark the keel repair is looking good and is indiscernible from the rest of the boat. The bow repair, not so much. I began to see raw glass at the bow repair around the 8 month mark. This is because there was not only no barrier coat but no gel coat! They apparently just painted the spot with antifouling and called it a day. Well at least the glass work looks nice.

My original impression of Grenada Marine as the speedy bottom paint spot has just about worn off. The first day of the second week has come to a close and not even the prep on the bottom has started. I need a bit of gel coat on the bow, a good sanding all around, a barrier coat and two coats of Micron 66. This is not a giant operation but it would take me a few days to do right by myself. I am, however, contemplating it.

The Bar at La Sagesse
10/28/2007, La Sagesse

It was the day of rest and we did. A good book, a pina colada and a lovely setting. Very therapeutic.


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