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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
01/17/2008, Prickly Bay

Our friends on Doris arrived in Grenada a couple of days ago. We heard them on the VHF and decided to meet up at Da Big Fish, a decent little bar and grill on the water right by Spice Island Marine in Prickly Bay. Doris is in the Lagoon and headed to the Grenadines. We decided to meet up at Dragon Bay and dive Moliniere Point together in a couple of days.

01/16/2008, Prickly Bay

The wifi service in Prickly bay works but just barely. I think one of the main problems is Grenada in general. The islands pipes to the outside just can't handle the load. I am lead to believe this by the general online savvy nature of the residents and that fact that at 3AM things seem just fine. During the day and especially after school/work hours it is almost impossible to get things done online.

I needed to make some important phone calls and didn't want to use a spotty Skype connection so I got out our Inmarsat BGan. We have used it for test calls before but this was the first time we used it in earnest. There is a bit of a satellite delay but the calls are crystal clear, noticeably better than the Irridium phones I have used. You do have to set it up but it stays connected even as the boat rolls and swings as long as the arc is not too extreme. I have never had a call dropped thus far.

Cell phones are fine in the Caribbean if you plan to stay in one place. If you travel, almost none of the providers can give you local service on more than one island. You need a GSM phone and you will need to buy a new SIMM every time you hit a new island and your phone will not work off shore. This gives you a new number every island and requires a bit of leg work as you trek to the BMobile or what have you each new landfall.

Calls are $1 a minute on the BGAN but compared to some cell phone bills I've had in the islands this is a bargain. Cell phones are cheap for local calls but calling from the British Virgin Islands to the USVI cost me $3 a minute! A $1 tariff for the BVI, $1 for the USVI and $1 for the call, each minute. While not as cheap as Skype, at least you know what you will be charged when you make a call with the BGAN, and though it is high it is not crazy. It also saves you having to run around trying to find a new carrier each island.

I still think that an Irridium hand held is a better emergency tool however. The BGan lets you browse the internet at 384K up and down with your PC and all of that but you still have to set it up and it is not ruggedized like an Irridium phone. I wouldn't want to have to throw a BGan in a ditch bag or try use it in heavy seas.

Lining up the contractors
01/15/2008, Prickly Bay

One of the first things you need to do when you get into a port where you plan to do work on the boat is to get any contractors you will need lined up. There's always a lead time and the sooner you get parts and services going the better shot you have at completing things. We have been trying to find some folks to help us with three key projects involving Fiberglass, Rigging and Canvas.

When we got to Grenada we were on the fence as to whether we would stay long enough to get much work done. We have to pick up my parents in Caracas on the 4th of February so we thought Puerta La Cruz might be a better place to do work. We've heard that it is very economical and it is also close to Caracas. On the other hand Grenada has a well stocked Budget Marine and Island Water World, our Spanish is poor to non existent and we no nothing first hand about Puerta La Cruz.

Our friend Rock Charles (459-1971) has a nice van and runs a taxi service. He also does fantastic island tours and knows a tremendous amount about the history of Grenada. Rock took us to the store yesterday and to get our mail. After discussing the projects we were working on he hooked us up with two great connections. Johnny Sails for canvas work and Brent Joseph for fiberglass and gel coat work. We had already found a source for deck hardware in Turbulence so it looked like we might be able to get everything done. We would have to leave Grenada for Venezuela by the 29th of January at the latest.

We had a good meeting with Johnny Sails and with Brent (Brent and his partner Ian shown in the picture). After some discussion Hideko and I decided to try to squeeze in all of the work on our A list in Grenada. It would be close. Brent couldn't start until Saturday the 19th, Johnny couldn't start until Wednesday the 23rd and Richard at Turbulence couldn't come by until Monday the 21st. With the Grenada Regatta coming up on the 26th it would be close.

02/17/2008 | Gringo
Hi Randy and Hideko,
This is Byron on Providenciales. We check on your blog from time to time. What an adventure, huh? I can't believe how expensive things are in shipyards. We had to have our fuel tank in the panga removed (ouch! Our new boat! gutted!) and it took them six weeks before I just basically took it away from them to finish/redo a huge amount of their "repairs". Man, did they screw it up. We moved the boat from that marina after that, because a new marina opened up in Leeward. It would never handle your St. Francis, though.

We are almost moving into the new house now. this week, we hope. Then when we get all the bills sorted out and settled, we plan to resume our search for a used Gemini 105.

Fair winds.
Byron and Polly
03/19/2008 | Randy
Hey Byron!

Great to hear from you. Sorry the yard worked you over. It is great to hear that the new pad is almost finished. Good luck on the Gemini search. When we come back around you'll have to take us to all the good cruising spots in the TCI. Did you get out to Big Sand yet?

Christmas in the Mail
01/14/2008, Saint Georges FedEx

We received our mail today. Our Saint Brendan's Isle box has been piling up for a while now. We were a little too concerned with the customs red tape in Trinidad to try to receive mail there. Perhaps it is fine but I didn't want to chance it this time as we had a few things in this shipment that we didn't want lost in transit.

In particular my Mom sent us cookies and dog treats for Christmas. This was our first shipment since November so we had a late Christmas party with coffee, cookies and dog treats tonight.

Of the places we have had mail forwarded I give the following ratings:

BVI #1 by far. You have it shipped, cheapest way you like, and it arrives at your boat if you are in a marina. End of story.

Grenada #2. You have to use Fedex to ensure fast reliable delivery in Grenada but if you do things arrive in one day from Florida. As long as that day is not Friday you can probably pick you package up in the afternoon of the day after you shipped. If it is a single item or just mail you get the package and FedEx charges $50EC ($18.86 US) to handle the customs. If customs can't understand the stuff on the list or thinks it is too complicated you have to take the packing list to customs to get it approved, which they always due after asking a few questions. As soon as they realize that it is just you mail (perhaps with a little online shopping mixed in) you are set. You fee is 0% if the mail is personal affects (a good thing to put on the customs declaration!), 2.5% if it is ships stores (i.e. parts or stuff for the boat), and 5% is it is "other". Fail to mark the invoice "Yacht in Transit" and you may be in the 100% duty bin.

Saint Lucia #3. A distant third was Saint Lucia. While I felt that our packages were safe I often was not sure whether we would actually be able to get them released. We had to run around town between the FedEx office and Customs twice, pay steep fees and in general were not treated like guests of the country. One pack of mail took a good four hours to receive with a cabbie meter running the entire time.
Place I choose not to try receiving mail even though it would have been handy: Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Saint Vincent, Trinidad & Venezuela.

Places I think would be pretty easy for Americans (but maybe not other nationals): Puerto Rico, USVI

Places I think would be easy for anyone to receive mail: Any French Island

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.


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