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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Big White Boats
01/13/2008, Prickly Bay

Grenada seems to be gearing up for the large motor yachts. There are more meters of mega yacht in production today then there ever have been in the past. The average size of the typical mega yacht is also increasing. Most use 24 (80 ish feet) meters as the loose definition of mega yacht as this is the size where various MCA requirements kick in. The vast majority of all mega yachts are registered in the Cayman Islands due to various cost efficiencies. These yachts then set about plying the waters of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean for the most part.

Until recently when they arrive in the Caribbean there have not been many spots for them to berth. They're too small for the cruise ship docks (although some are getting close), too fancy for the cargo port and too big for the traditional sailing yacht/sport fisher marinas.

Chartering a mega yacht may run $20,000 US plus per day. Due to the vast sums these folks tend to spend when in port on dock fees, fuel, electricity, water, dinning out, provisioning, etceteras, the trend towards larger facilities has kicked into gear. When we were in the Bahamas we stayed at the brand new Emerald Bay Marina in Exuma which should be fully online before long and ready to handle the big boys. The government of the British Virgin Islands (under considerable cross fire) had just agreed to give the green light to a mega yacht marina project while we were there. Staniel Cay and Saint Barts both had huge yachts anchored half way to the next island at Christmas time in 2006. Marigot Bay in Saint Lucia has a new hotel and the start of a marina that can handle a few large yachts and rumors are flying about a bigger facility in Rodney Bay.

Now Grenada is getting into the game. Martins Marina, the former Moorings Secret Harbor base is under new management and apparently working hard to attract big boats. Three are there now. When we arrived we found the 200 footer Blue Moon on the fuel dock at Prickly Bay Marina (which is fairly absurd). Yet Prickly is working hard to build out their marina project complete with mega yacht berthing and services. Port Louis Marina in the Lagoon at Saint Georges is also now open and under the management of Camper Nicholson. They only have one large pier open and partially operational but plan to fill the entire lagoon. Two over 150 footers were docked here in January, Battered Bull and April Fool.

I don't know exactly what this will mean for the cruising yachts out there but I'm pretty sure that the eastern Caribbean will be a different place in the years ahead.

Scuba Tech
01/12/2008, Calabash Beach

We went diving with SCUBA Tech today. They are located right on the Calabash Hotel Beach at the back of Prickly Bay. A great group of folks with lots of experience from Germany and complimentary nitrox.

We wanted to do some of the dives farther out in the current and we always like to go with a shop the first time on the more technical dives. It is great to learn from there experience and also to have a chase boat.

We dove the Bianca C first. A famous Grenada dive due to the interesting history of the Bianca C. She is a cruise ship and she caught fire in Saint Georges harbor. There is a commemorative statue in the harbor to this day. She is a large vessel and lies on a bottom as deep as 130 feet. It was a nice dive though short due to the depth and current.

Next we dove shark reef, another drift dive just south of Prickly. This was a wonderful dive even for beginners. You can find lots of coral, tons of various reef fish, big spider crabs, a huge lobster nursery and the occasional nurse shark. Everything is in 40 feet or less and you can spend a long time drifting in the current.

Back at the dock we were greeted by the dog "SCUBA ", the mascot of the outfit. A great day of diving with a great group of folks.

Rig Update
01/11/2008, Prickly Bay

Richard from Turbulence Rigging came by today. It seems like we are very close to a solution that is going to bring the reef lines back and keep the boat clean and up to its current level of finish. We have settled in on bringing the main halyard as well as the reef one leach and luff lines to the starboard winch, and the topping lift and reef two leach and luff lines to the port winch. This was a tough decision and took a lot of hashing over. In the end actually laying the lines out and walking through each of the various sail operations step by step guided the way.

The halyard is the obvious priority and we can easily bring it back now but we need to stow it forward at the mast so that reefing operations (which require both the halyard and the reef lines) can be accomplished without running back and forth. Thus to enable the halyard to live at the helm we need to bring the reefing lines back as well. We also want to be able to reef from the cockpit. Hideko is 5' something on a good day and climbing around on the boom in bad weather is not her fancy. So if I want to sleep when she is on night watch reef lines in the cockpit seem like a good idea.

The topping lift came into play when we examined our work flow. We don't really need a topping lift. The compression post does just fine holding the boom off of the solar panels sail up or down. That said I always engage it as a backup and it is possible that it could be used to bring the boom up a bit for sail shape. So if you are going to engage it and disengage it every time the sail goes up or down it might as well be in the cockpit.

The choice between single line reefing and double line reefing was made for me. The way the leach line sheaves are installed at the goose neck would make it quite an operation to reroute the lines up to the reef tacks. Adding individual luff lines doubles your line count but keeps the rig simpler. The leach lines make only one additional 90 degree turn at the mast to arrive at the winch station clutch. The luff lines have only a single 90 degree turn to make before they arrive at the winch station clutch. This configuration seems to be clean and unlikely to jam or create excessive tension in the lines.

That leaves us with three reefs to sort out. Well reef one is a no brainer, have to have that available because it is used so often. Reef two is used rarely and reef three we have never used (happy to say). Yet if you needed reef three you probably would enjoy staying in the cockpit.

In the end there is simply no way to do everything from the cockpit. If weather is deteriorating to the point where you need reef three you've got winds well over 35 knots and you're probably going to set the storm jib (and perhaps scrap the main all together). Also the reef three leach line is fine for pulling the clew back toward the end of the boom, but the run is so long that there is no way the sail will stay down on the boom in reef three conditions. You may be concerned about trusting your tack to a line on a block in reef three conditions. Point being you will probably strap the clew to the boom with some nylon webbing and clip in the tack of reef three anyway, not the mention you proximity due to the need for setting the storm jib.

So it seemed that leaving reef three at the mast made sense because you were going to have to handle a number of things up there if conditions got to that stage of development. You could always set the reef in from the cockpit and then go forward to secure things, but we were having line congestion issues as it was so leaving two lines at the mast was just what the rigging doctor ordered.

Our rope clutch pads are plenty large enough for three additional lines a side, four would be tight, and five might exceed the limit. Once settled on a layout we purchased a pair of Lewmar triple rope clutches. These are great units and from what I understand Lewmar has a patent on their mechanism. One rigger told me that Harken wont make rope clutches until they figure out a way to do it that is better than Lewmar's, or until the Lewmar patent runs out and they can make them that way. Whatever the facts may be we have had great luck with the Lewmar rope clutches that came from the Saint Francis factory and find them to be very easy on our lines.

The triple clutch units save space and look as if they will fit easily onto the pads in line with the main sheet clutch. On the down side the interior of the boat, which usually makes all backing plates and hardware easily accessible, has a thin fiberglass panel under the rope clutch pads. There is an area of about one square inch that you can look through. We will have to perform surgery here. The winch motors are in beautiful cherry boxes built into the ceiling, it sure would have been nice to have had open access to the rope clutch pads from within an enlarged version of this box.

At the mast we are going to install three pad eyes. One for the topping lift block on the port side, one for the double sheave block to handle the two reef 2 lines port center, and one to handle the two reef one lines starboard center. We already have the halyard pad eye setup.

Saint Francis mounted our reef tack clips with Spectra. I love this setup. I have also noticed a lot of racing boats replacing shackles and clips with Spectra and Dyneema. The synthetic lines are stronger than steel, don't corrode, stand up to UV fine nowadays with the right jacket and treatment and, best of all, they don't clank about. Harken sells a product they call Loops but one high tech Loop for attaching a block to an eye is over $100 US. Richard is going to make us custom loops for about 5% of that price with Dyneema.

Our current factory reef lines are 14mm single braid from what I can tell. We have to use 12mm lines for the new configuration due to the size of the Lewmar clutches (10mm - 12mm). We are going to upgrade all of the lines to 12mm Dyneema since we need to replace them anyway to make the longer run back to the cockpit.

We are using Harken Black Magic heavy duty 75mm Air Blocks at the mast. These blocks are very strong and very slippery. We have selected the strap head units to make it easy to attach them with the Dyneema lines. The blocks will be mounted just about the level of the coach roof. These blocks are 75mm and they will be guiding 12mm lines. Many rope makers suggest an 8:1 ratio between rope diameter and sheave size. Our configuration is 6.25:1. I have decided to live with this in particular because there are no 180 turns. Also Harken 75mm BMABs are only expensive until you see how much the 100mm blocks run!

The run from the mast to the winch stations is almost perfectly fair. Unfortunately the hatches in the cabin are just slightly in the way. If the hatches were install a little more out board you could just run the lines. We are going to have to install a pair of Harken big boat deck organizers to keep the hatch unobstructed. The quad organizers will handle the halyard, reef one luff, reef one leach and main sheet on the starboard side, and the topping lift, reef two luff, reef two leach and main sheet on the port side. There will only be a small deflection so additional line loading should be minimal.

The deck organize install will be delicate, much like the rope clutch install. To do the deck organizer correctly and to the standard of the yacht we are having two 1/8" polished stainless steel backing plates made. The inside of the cabin has leather covered ply beauty panels glued onto the fiberglass which we will have to cut back so that we can bed the plate on solid glass. We are also going to need to clean out all of the core between the organizer and the backing plate to avoid compression problems with the core.

We have been working on this project almost since the day we purchased the boat. We are confident in moving forward now only because we have figured everything out for ourselves, including how the lines will clear the compression post, what working load limits are appropriate, how the interior cosmetics will be affected and managed, and what configuration of lines will create the best solution. We have run across many helpful people along the way, in particular Budget rigging in Trinidad and Turbulence in Grenada. That said, surprisingly (although less so the longer we are in the boating world), we have never run across anyone who instilled us with confidence such that we could simply hand the job off and know that it would be done correctly and to our liking. With any luck, however, the installation will be done by next week.

The Devil you know or...
01/10/2008, Prickly Bay

It is great to be back in Grenada. Hideko is not interested in staying here because we have spent so much time here already but we know all of the good places to eat the fun places to hang out and the great people to know. Things have also lightened up a little on the boat maintenance side and it seems like many of the services that we wanted to avail ourselves of in November may be open to new work now. The other option is to try Puerta La Cruz where we not only know no one, but don't have a good grip on the language. This has never stopped us before but we do want to get some projects completed before we hit the Panama canal in March.

We decided to get our mail forwarded and get the lay of the land over the next couple of days. In the mean time the water is a beautiful blue and the cool breeze from the rain forest above blows into the anchorage at night.

Sailing to Grenada from Tobago
01/09/2008, Caribbean Sea

We weighed anchor in Store Bay at around 6AM, a half hour before the sunrise. The day was cloudy but starting to get light. We were really looking forward to the 15 knots winds predicted to be on the beam for the whole passage. It was going to be a great sail.

The bay was very calm as Hideko pointed Swingin' on a Star into the wind. I raised the full main and tightened things up at the mast. I looked back and asked Hideko to fall off to leeward. She looked back and asked me which way that might be. I looked up and the mast head fly was whirling around in slow circles. Hmmm.

So we motored out of the bay and set out onto the bluster and briny sea ready for the building wind to carry us away at ten knots through the water.

Out of the bay the engines whirred. No wind.

We killed one diesel. No wind.

Tobago faded from sight. No wind.

What a rip off. Tobago to Grenada is a famous beam reach. The gradient wind forecast was for a beam reach.

Never underestimate the power of local conditions. Our trip was a motor trip. We had the main up but I wouldn't even call it a motor-sail. The main just hung there almost the whole way.

The seas were pretty flat so we made about 8 knots on one engine. There were little rain clouds and some taller squalls all around but nothing seemed to be moving. At one point we had a squall ahead to port and another ahead to starboard and neither moved. The port squall had rain angling a little to port and the starboard squall had rain angling a little to starboard but the upper level winds kept the clouds still. We sailed right between them. I couldn't believe that we didn't feel a drop of rain the whole way.

We had a nice visit from two separate pods of dolphins. One group swam along with us playing between the bows for fifteen minutes or so.

As we began to approach Grenada the wind finally appeared. Our ten hour trip saw the jib fly for only one of those hours.

As we closed on Prickly Bay, the southern most port for clearance, the AIS dangerous target alarm went off. I noticed a 200 foot vessel plying the southern coast. Wow, that is a big boat motoring so close to land. Usually they peel off at the point for Brazil or wherever they're going. I watched in disbelief as this one turned into Prickly Bay! Usually the biggest thing in Prickley Bay is the old 85 foot Aggressor live aboard dive boat.

I was further amazed to see the monster yacht backing onto the Prickly Bay marina fuel dock. The yacht turned out to be Blue Moon, the 24th largest American Owned yacht, and her beam took up the entire Prickly Bay Marina dock.

Things are changing in Grenada. The Prickley Bay Marina project is under construction and they are targeting mega yachts as they expand. The Port Louis Marina in the Lagoon at Saint Georges is also moving forward targeting mega yachts. Even Martins Marina is pushing mega yachts and they have three on the dock today as I understand it. This will be good for the economy in Grenada but I think it will change things quite a bit for the cruising public.

We anchored up close to the Calabash Hotel beach in the back of Prickly Bay. It is a beautiful setting a short swim from the beach bar at the Calabash and out of the way of the main dingy thoroughfare. It was also flat calm. Hideko, Roq and I settled in for our first non-rolly sleep in a few weeks.

Clearing Out
01/08/2008, Tobago

We moved back to Store Bay this morning to have easy access to the dinghy beach. Once the big boat was anchored and set we headed in to clear out. Jeremy at United Auto Rental came to pick us up and rented us a car.

As we drove over to Scarborough we decided to take a detour through the Hilton Plantation resort. This is a large chunk of Tobago with murky mangrove ponds surrounded by well manicured grass and greenery. The resort has several flights of condos and a golf course along with the main hotel. The grounds are lovely and the ponds are supposed to have Caymans in them though we didn't see any. Something about this preplanned vacation home setup just seems a little too contrived to me. I guess it suits many well though. You have 24/7 security, expensive but sufficient shops and restaurants, water sports and what have you all right there.

The hotel had the misfortune of being constructed largely of steel. That and a location just meters off of a breaking windward beach makes for a lot of rust. The entire hotel is rusting all about its joints and really looks a little ramshackle for it. Everything is nice inside and the beach is lovely, though vigorous.

In Scarborough we stopped in at Immigration first. The Immigration office is above the gateway building for the ferry and cruise ship docks. After filling out the three obligatory forms in triplicate we waited a short bit before getting to see an officer. When we informed the officer that we wanted to clear out he asked for our clearance into Tobago. When we checked in with Customs they told us that we didn't need to check in with Immigration. Apparently not the case. The officer was fairly unhappy and told us that he would have to call Chagaramas. Our punishment was to wait for twenty minutes for this process to commence. Once everything was in order again we were clear for departure anytime within the next 24 hours. No fees or penalties.

Next we made our way to Customs up the street a block. The one way street at the water front makes this a "you can't get there from here" situation. You must drive into town, head back up a few blocks via a street where you drive on the opposite side from usual, and then come back down upwind of the customs office. When we stepped into the office we found the same guy who had been there to clear us in on duty. We said hello and told him that we wanted to clear out. He asked when we were leaving and I told him that we would sail for Grenada at or before dawn. He looked up, promptly checked the clock on the wall which read 3PM and said, "you'll have to come back".

After some discussion he informed us that you must clear out of customs and then immediately return to your vessel and leave. I told him that we were only a crew of two and that a good night's sleep was an important safety consideration. I also told him that it was unlikely that if I got up at 2AM, dinghied ashore for a night time beach landing in uncertain conditions (it can break pretty big on the dinghy beach), it was not likely I would be able to acquire a cab or other transportation to Scarborough, many miles from Store Bay. Even if I could it seemed a little draconian.

He kept referring to Scarborough harbor, indicating we should anchor out there. I told him no sane small boat captain would anchor out there right now (see picture above looking out to Scarborough). Finally another officer came by to listen in on our discussion. She exchanged some hushed words with our officer and a resolution was made. He agreed to clear us out as of 11PM so that we could leave at first light. That of course meant that we would have to pay overtime for clearing out after hours! I happily paid.

In the end it didn't cost too much to clear in to Chagaramas and out through Tobago. I can say that the Trinidad and Tobago bureaucracy is not really streamlined for small boat however. I have been nowhere else in the Caribbean where you have to clear in and out of ports within a country other than the Dominican Republic. T&T also gets top marks for requiring the most forms of any nation we have been to. The people were mostly very nice (Tobago) or at the worst simply aloof (Trinidad). If T&T could take a few pointers from their neighbors in Grenada and put Customs and Immigrations for small boats in one office and put everything on one form, then allow one check in at the first port and one check out at the last port it would be a pleasure to visit in every way.

Back in Crown Point we returned the rental near the airport and walked back to Store Bay. This turned out to be an unfortunate decision and it began raining cats and dogs. We sheltered at the Pizza Boy restaurant and ended up getting a pizza for dinner (not recommended). Once it let up we headed back to the dinghy and bailed it out on the short hop over to Swingin' on a Star. In an hour or so we were stowed and ready for a beam reach to Grenada.

Trinidad and Tobago
01/07/2008, Mount Irvine

We woke up to the sound of crashing surf and hooting surfers. The point was really breaking and we discovered that the surfers had been at it since before sun up. Michael on Andromeda was out and dropped a board off for me on the way. I never ended up getting to it, which may have been the healthier outcome.

Instead Stian, Bethn and I did a dive deeper out on the reef. Due to the surge the visibility was not good but the deeper part of the reef closer to the point was even nicer than the shallow area we explored yesterday. The sand bottom is at about 60 feet and the reef rolls gently up from there. We swam out along the bottom of the reef and then came back up a bit higher. Using our compasses Stian and I were able to get us back to Swingin' on a Star's anchor chain which allowed us to surface right at the stern of the boat. That's always nice.

Back at the boat I hooked up the tanks and got ready to fire up the genset, click. Hmmm. Click. Arg.

So off into the lazarette I went. I removed the side sound shield so that I could easily access the starter. It is tricky to hold down the preheat, which keeps the engine from shutting off due to low oil pressure, while things are starting up. When you press the start switch the engine shakes violently. Not this time though. Ok so it wasn't the wiring to the panel at the nav station. In fact everything sounded right, even the lift pump was clicking, just no starter motor to smash things up and make fire.

I checked Peter Compton's Troubleshooting Marine Diesels next. This book has a great branching question graph that helps you narrow down problems areas. This book is geared more toward auxiliary motors rather than gensets and wiring damage was the best diagnosis I could get. Didn't seem likely. Next I went for the heavy artillery, Nigel Calder's Marine Diesel Engines. This book doesn't spoon feed things quite so much (and I like the spoon feeding) but it does have more detail and information. Nigel suggested I try shorting the solenoid incase it was dead.

Back in the lazarette I notice the solenoid is cracked. It is shaped like a cylinder and the round bottom area looks to be popped open a bit with a 360 degree crack in the nice red Westerbeke paint. Hmm, suspicious. So I got out my nice steel screw driver with the very large rubber handle and chipped away enough paint from the high current contacts to make a connection. Here goes nothing... ZAP! Rurrr rurr, runk. I had shorted the terminals just long enough to freak myself out and almost start the engine. The sparks and jolting engine were a bit too much for me to maintain composure.

Next try I decided to hold down the preheat. After a short pop with the screw driver she was up and running. I hate solenoids. I climbed up from the lazarette to find Stian smiling, "First try scared you?" I twitched and added "buy new solenoid for 8BTDA" to my growing parts list.

After the SCUBA tanks were full Hideko made us a nice lunch and we prepped the boat to sail back to Pigeon Point. Once the hook was onboard we raised the main and pulled out the genny. The wind was light just behind the beam yet we managed about 10 knots in 12 to 15 knots of wind. We could not steer any further down wind and needed to clear the reef anyway so we jibbed once we could lay the anchorage on the port tack. It was nice to have Stian aboard. With Hideko Stian and I all working the sail operations (particularly jibbing) certainly ran faster. We cleared the last reef marker and charged into the back of the anchorage under sail. In one smooth operation we furled the jib, hung a 90 degree left turn, dropped the main and anchored.

It was only an hour but it was a great sail. I am glad we have a sail boat.

Trinidad and Tobago

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