Barracuda's Blog

The adventures of Kate and Graham and our OVNI 395.

22 March 2019 | Island Water World Marina, St Maarten
14 March 2019 | Island Water World Marina, Sint Maarten, Leeward Islands
12 March 2019 | Island Water World Marina, Sint Maarten, Leeward Islands
08 March 2019 | Sint Maarten, Leeward Islands
06 March 2019 | Virgin Gorda, BVI
04 March 2019 | Anegada, BVI
02 March 2019 | Norman Island, BVI
02 March 2019 | Norman Island, BVI
01 March 2019 | St Thomas, USVI
28 February 2019 | Culebra, Spanish Virgin Islands
24 February 2019 | San Juan, Puerto Rico
22 February 2019
21 February 2019 | San Juan, Puerto Rico
20 February 2019 | Casa Cubuy, El Yunque Rain Forest, Puerto Rico
17 February 2019 | San Juan, Puerto Rico
15 February 2019 | Between the Navidad Bank and the Samana headland (which is north east of the Dominican Republic)
14 February 2019 | South of the Mouchoir Bank - which is north of the Dominican Republic
13 February 2019 | Six Hills Cays, Turks and Caicos Islands
12 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands
10 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands

Maintenance and Upgrades - nearly finished...

22 March 2019 | Island Water World Marina, St Maarten
Kate Walker
It's been quite a few days since our last blog, but we haven't been idle, as we work on Barracuda's big ten-year upgrade.

Firstly, the amazing Andy from MEI has been here this week, working flat out installing her new electronics. We now have SSB on board - nothing to do with Starving Scottish Beasties, but all about single side-band radio. It's not much used in Europe, but very useful once it comes to ocean passages, and particularly the Pacific where there's an awful lot of empty blue space. The SSB should enable us to contact other SSB-enabled folks hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, gather weather information more easily, and join the wide variety of 'radio nets'. To check how well it works we dialed into Chris Parker's daily weather update (he's a local weather guru), and also checked out a Caribbean net called the Coconut Telegraph. Reception isn't great as we are in a marina surrounded by interference in the form of a forest of masts, but even so we were able to hear, speak and be understood.

What else... thanks to Andy we have a new Furuno chart-plotter system, with screens both at the chart table and up on deck, with lots of exciting new features. Especially exciting is the fact that they will download weather charts over the wifi, and overlay them on the course we've mapped out. Pretty cool.

We've also decided we need to increase our power generating capacity, so we have two flexible solar panels which are to be fitted on the sprayhood. Then there's been a number of repairs of the 'wear and tear' type... replacing the depth / speed transducer, re-cabling our erratic nav lights, etc, a full rigging check including new backstays, corrections to instrument software and some repairs to sails and canvas work. Another major job - as it turned out - was to replace some near-inaccessible corroded parts in the steering system, which resisted WD40, Liquid Wrench, heat guns and power jacks, and had to be cut out with a Dremel. Whilst we are here we are also taking advantage of St Maarten's tax free status to buy spare parts for the Pacific.

Our regular readers may remember that we managed to bend our little Suzuki outboard engine a year ago. Finally, after all this time, we have managed to get the necessary parts and the necessary engineer in the same place at the same time, and the result is that our little engine is back in working order. We also had our larger outboard serviced. You may also remember the saga of the water-maker? Watch this space: we are planning its sea-trials for next week.

We're also taking on extra anchor chain. We currently have 63 metres, which has been plenty so far in our travels; however, the Pacific has many deep anchorages and we may find ourselves in 20 metres or more - so we are looking at replacing our 63 with 85 metres. This will add a fair bit more weight in the bow, so we have been having a big clear out, selling or giving stuff to other cruisers. Tomorrow there is a boat jumble, and we are going along with a big box of bits and pieces to see what we can do.

Lastly, a frivolity. I never thought the day would come - but Barracuda now has a TV so tonight we will watch Titanic 2, downloaded from Amazon Prime. Very exciting!

So that's what has been keeping us busy for the last couple of weeks; sorry for the lack of contact, but it has been a bit full on! Normal service will be resumed soon.

It’s a small world

14 March 2019 | Island Water World Marina, Sint Maarten, Leeward Islands
Graham Walker
A few quick updates from St Maarten.

This is turning out to be a great place to get rid of things we don’t need any more. It is a bit of a crossroads with some people heading north and others heading south, so you can exchange pilot books and charts, and various other bits and pieces. We have started meeting a lot more Brits – and today we met two boats who know people we know back home. Small world.

Kate has found the local book swap, so our library is being replenished.

The new water-maker is going in – yippee! About one more hour of work and it should be ready. Fingers crossed….

When you start working on the guts of the boat, the problem is where to put stuff, because all the storage space is really full. So when you have to open up several bits of the boat at the same time, floorboards and all, front, middle and back, to do something a bit more complicated it just becomes a total mess! Every night we put everything back where it should be and tidy up, just to preserve our sanity. Well, also to give us somewhere to sit and sleep, as the water-maker is going in right under our bunk.

Catching up on maintenance

12 March 2019 | Island Water World Marina, Sint Maarten, Leeward Islands
Graham Walker
Sorry for the gap in blogging, but we have been busy and it's mostly techy stuff. The reason we have come to St Maarten is to get some upgrades done to Barracuda and to have a big maintenance catch-up. When you are running a boat a long way from home you don't have the usual winter lay-up time when you can catch up on all your maintenance. Additionally, as we are living on the boat 24/7 and using her constantly, she is getting far more wear and tear then your typical weekend cruiser, so it is really important that we stop every now and then and make sure everything is just the way it should be. We will be here for a couple of weeks for that very purpose. We thought it might be interesting to describe some of the things we need to do at a time like this. If you happen to be in the UK it might at least take your mind off Brexit.

So what have we been doing? Firstly, we have been doing some work on the rigging. We have added insulators to one of our backstays to convert it into an antenna for use with our new SSB radio. More to follow on that in a few days. We have also been repairing a couple of items of the rig that were not working properly. Over time, things that should move get seized with salt and corrosion and then stop moving. It is important to stay on top of this and to get everything back the way it should be. Finally, we had the rig checked over by an inspector from top to bottom in case there were any problems developing. Thankfully all seems to be in order.

The sails are now off and with the sailmakers for some minor repairs - a stitch in time, and all that. At the same time various bits of our 10-year-old canvas work are also in for repairs. The combination of sun, wind and salt are brutal on the canvas (sail covers, spray hood) and the stitching. Come to think of it, they are pretty harsh on humans as well. Repairs typically include overstitching and patching, but we're also extending our sail cover to give the head and clue a bit more sun protection. We are trying to stave off full canvas replacement, but eventually that will come.

We have a small outboard that we have been trying to get repaired for a while. That is in the workshop here also. It's marginal as to whether it is worth repairing, given the difficulty of getting parts and the cost of labour, but we will give it another go.

Our steering has carried us about 25,000 miles so we want to give it some TLC and replace some of the bearings / joints and give the autopilot hydraulics a service.

We are due to get a new water maker fitted. The new machine is here, and tomorrow the technician should be on board to start on the installation.

We have been doing some plumbing changes to improve the quality of our fresh water.

We have been buying some new pilot books covering the next leg of the journey into the Pacific for next year. At the same time, we are trying to get rid of things that we don't need any more and this includes some of the charts and pilot books for areas that we are unlikely to revisit, particularly the USA east coast. There is a 'cruisers' net' here, which 'meets' on VHF radio at 7.30 am each day, and amongst other info they share details of items offered or wanted - so we hope to use that.

There's also been a big review of our safety equipment - life raft, flares, life jackets, EPIRBs - testing, checking expiry dates, arranging servicing and spares, etc. Quite a disconcerting sight, seven inflated life jackets sitting round the saloon table all day looking as though they were waiting patiently for their tea.

Next week we will start on a whole batch of electronics upgrades, but we will deal with that in a few days.

We think the list is getting smaller but as one thing comes off it, another seems to get added. On the plus side, we find that the local rum is all of $5 for 1.5 litres.

We have managed some social time as we caught up with a lone German sailor who we last saw in Guadeloupe when rescuing a boat that had drifted off together. Small world.

The End of the Thorny Path (for now)

08 March 2019 | Sint Maarten, Leeward Islands
Graham Walker
Yesterday we were up with the frigate birds, and at first light headed out through the narrow cut in the reef to start the final leg of our trip over to Sint Maarten – a journey of about 80 miles to the south east, with no workable alternative routing. Humph. A weather window they said; 12-15 kts they said; from the northeast they said! Well, it started with us having to punch head on into 15-20 kts with lumpy seas. In the afternoon it did ease a bit and move into the north a very, very little bit so we did have some more comfortable conditions to bring us in; but overall it was a slow, boring and uncomfortable 17 hours, and it was nearly midnight by the time we dropped anchor in Simpson Bay. But hey ho: we are in and we had lots of good reading time on the journey over.

This morning we slipped into the Cole Bay lagoon and dropped the hook, aiming for a no-work day; but we did sneak a trip into Island Water World and Budget Marine, the two big chandleries in town, to start our shopping. We also managed a visit to our favourite patisserie (yum). Back in the world of European coffee!

So: reflections on the ‘Thorny Path’ down from the Bahamas. Good to have done it, but would not choose to do it again. We ‘worked’ the weather windows and were reasonably lucky to be able to sail a fair bit of it in good conditions. Loved getting to know the Bahamas better; probably one of our favourite areas that we have ever sailed in. Really pleased to get to spend more time in Puerto Rico and would happily go back there again. Would give the Turks and Caicos a miss in future unless we really needed to re-fuel. Sorry we did not get to Cuba or to Samana on the DR; we will hold those for another trip, perhaps without a boat. Saw two very different sides to the BVI – busy bays and quiet bays – and would plan another visit around the quiet ones. Had some of our best actual sailing in the BVI, with flat seas and glorious surroundings.

Our arrival in St Maarten reinforces the fact that we have just changed gear on our sailing area. European voices on the radio, a very international fleet of boats around us, the aforementioned coffee, and, best of all, no more thrashing to windward.

We are also starting to get back to the world of the superyacht, so here are two photos of boats we saw this morning. Firstly, our old favourite “Le Grand Bleu” which has featured in previous issues of Barracuda’s Blog; clearly she has just been killing time here, waiting for our return. She is 374 feet long and can be seen sporting a 73 sailing yacht on her port side deck. An interesting story; worth a Google. Secondly, the very futuristic “Sailing Yacht A” - 468 feet long. Also worth a Google for those into yachtie porn.

Shark Attack!

06 March 2019 | Virgin Gorda, BVI
Graham Walker
We spent a couple of nights at the anchorage in Anegada. It was a bit like watching a merry go round. Many of the charter cats get off really early to go to their next port of call, en masse, and the new arrivals also start coming in early to make sure they get a good mooring buoy – the result being a spectacular game of dodgems at around 10am. We are wondering if there is a shortage of good moorings that forces people to move early. When out sailing you can see the lines of boats, like highways, sailing between the key mooring spots – the top spots being those with a beach, a bar and a boom-box.

We used our visit to Anegada to get some good walking in – including a detour via the mangroves, which, we can report, grow in sticky, smelly, knee-high mud. We then undid the benefit of 15,000 steps with a fine lobster and steak supper at the water’s edge.

This morning we had a first for us. About 50 yards behind the boat we started to see a commotion in the water, over in the area recommended for snorkelling. Lost of thrashing and splashing and then a huge fish tail arcing in the air; more splashing and when it settled down we could see a shark fin cruising away. Quite happy not to be close enough to ID the type of shark. (Just to be clear, it was a big fish being eaten.)

Then it was time for a dreamy fast reach over to Spanish Town to check out of the BVI. The last time we were in Spanish Town it was in a real mess, so it was good to see the marina pretty well recovered and the town getting back on its feet.

Then we had a really good upwind sail round the north of Virgin Gorda, tacking our way past Necker Island (owned by Richard Branson) which was also looking much better than 2018 with much rebuilding happened / happening. Then on to Deep Bay on the very north east, ready for a quick exit in the morning when we head to St Maarten. Deep Bay is a bit of a bonus: there are all of two other boats here in this large, sheltered bay surrounded by wooded hills. What a change from Anegada!

Arrrr. Treasure Island.

04 March 2019 | Anegada, BVI
Graham Walker
Our bay on Norman’s Island was extremely quiet by BVI standards so we decided to stay an extra day and explore the island. There are tracks over the island that make it fairly accessible, though it’s a bit of a scramble to access them. We walked over the ‘The Bight’, two bays down, for a coffee and to see how the other half live. Our little bay had three boats at anchor (top picture) – The Bight has moorings for at least 100 (middle picture). The Bight is the bay featured in Treasure Island (our regular readers may remember that several months ago we had lunch in a tavern featured in the same book) ; it has a restaurant (the Pirate’s Lair) and, more importantly for its visitors, a bar selling Painkillers, the BVI speciality. We are realising that all the popular bays for the charter fleet have a bar.

We had a lovely encounter with a local chap on Norman’s Island. We were walking back from The Bight and we found a vegetable garden being carved out of the hillside (bottom picture). The chap has done an amazing job of creating this garden and is hoping to sell his produce to the restaurant once it is up to full production. He proudly showed us his herbs, squashes, okra (look like hollyhocks), corn and other produce that all seem to be growing well in the climate. As we were saying goodbye he vanished into his shade house, to emerge with okra seeds, a lemongrass root and a little potted mint seedling – saying that if you live on a boat, you need to have plants to grow. We’ll give it a good try – though the okra may be pushing it at bit.

Anyway; we left Norman’s in the afternoon and headed over to Peter Island. This was all new ground as we didn’t visit here last time we came through. We dropped anchor in Great Harbour, very wide and deep with a large number of charter cats on moorings, this time with a floating bar anchored in the bay. Not too much to keep us there so the following morning we sailed over to Anegada – the northernmost of the BVIs – hit by a vicious squall as we left Peter, but then enjoying a really fast trade wind reach. Anegada used to be one of those ‘there be dragons’ places, ringed by scary reefs. Now there is a buoyed entrance channel, several bars and loads of moorings – and it is so popular that you have to book your mooring online. There must be 60+ cats on moorings over here as well. Boats seem to move early to get the best spots, and most of the fleet will change out at around 10am. Given how depleted the charter fleet was here after the hurricane last time we came through, it has made an amazing recovery.

Charter boats tend to have a minimum of technical equipment - we have noticed that the liveaboard cruisers tend to have wind generators, spare fuel cans and radar whilst the charter cats have large inflatable pink flamingos. I think I fancy one of these for Barracuda.

Suddenly there are boats everywhere

02 March 2019 | Norman Island, BVI
Graham Walker
Today we left the semi-tranquillity of Magen’s Bay on St Thomas. It was a good stopover, but there were two sides to it. During the day the beach became fairly busy with visitors – possibly from cruise ships on the south of the island; then in the evening everyone went away and it became a peaceful Caribbean haven. We enjoyed our beach time and swimming at the end of our first day; however, we tried to land the dinghy the next afternoon way down at the end of the beach, and were told in no uncertain terms by some total jobsworth that there was no way we could leave our dinghy on the beach; instead we had to anchor it offshore and swim in; and if we did not remove our rubbish from the beach rubbish bin we would have to pay a $50 ‘fee’. Interesting – anyone would think they did not want us there.

Anyway. It is lovely here with so many green, hilly islands hidden behind each other in an Aegean sort of way. St Thomas has many stunning houses built right onto the edge of the cliffs – see today’s photo.

This morning we motored up through a few squalls to West End on Tortola (love that name) where we checked into the BVI. There is quite a bit of boat traffic here so they have set up a very efficient check in office.

We pulled out of West End as soon as we were done with the paperwork and enjoyed a beautiful sunny beat up to Norman’s Island, tacking in the bays. The BVI must be the charter catamaran capital of the world. The last time we came through here the charter fleet had been pretty much wiped out by a hurricane, but they have clearly rebuilt the fleet and there were loads of boats on the water. Catamarans do not sail well to windward, and OK it’s not a race, but with about 15 kts of breeze and Barracuda hard on the wind and stretching her legs it was like shooting fish in a barrel. But yes, they will take us on a downwind leg.

We have anchored for the night in Benures Bay on the north of Norman’s Island – very sheltered in the lee of the hills, quite isolated, with lovely water for swimming. There was another OVNI in the bay when we arrived; one of the few owned by an American and based in New England.

88 nautical miles to go to St Maarten.

Suddenly there are boats everywhere

02 March 2019 | Norman Island, BVI
Graham Walker
Today we left the semi-tranquillity of Magen’s Bay on St Thomas. It was a good stopover, but there were two sides to it. During the day the beach became fairly busy with visitors – possibly from cruise ships on the south of the island; then in the evening everyone went away and it became a peaceful Caribbean haven. We enjoyed our beach time and swimming at the end of our first day; however, we tried to land the dinghy the next afternoon way down at the end of the beach, and were told in no uncertain terms by some total jobsworth that there was no way we could leave our dinghy on the beach; instead we had to anchor it offshore and swim in; and if we did not remove our rubbish from the beach rubbish bin we would have to pay a $50 ‘fee’. Interesting – anyone would think they did not want us there.

Anyway. It is lovely here with so many green, hilly islands hidden behind each other in an Aegean sort of way. St Thomas has many stunning houses built right onto the edge of the cliffs – see today’s photo.

This morning we motored up through a few squalls to West End on Tortola (love that name) where we checked into the BVI. There is quite a bit of boat traffic here so they have set up a very efficient check in office.

We pulled out of West End as soon as we were done with the paperwork and enjoyed a beautiful sunny beat up to Norman’s Island, tacking in the bays. The BVI must be the charter catamaran capital of the world. The last time we came through here the charter fleet had been pretty much wiped out by a hurricane, but they have clearly rebuilt the fleet and there were loads of boats on the water. Catamarans do not sail well to windward, and OK it’s not a race, but with about 15 kts of breeze and Barracuda hard on the wind and stretching her legs it was like shooting fish in a barrel. But yes, they will take us on a downwind leg.

We have anchored for the night in Benures Bay on the north of Norman’s Island – very sheltered in the lee of the hills, quite isolated, with lovely water for swimming. There was another OVNI in the bay when we arrived; one of the few owned by an American and based in New England.

88 nautical miles to go to St Maarten.

Virgin Territory

01 March 2019 | St Thomas, USVI
Graham Walker
We enjoyed a great beat over to the USVI yesterday – and they say gentlemen don’t sail to windward! Over the years we have learnt that Barracuda needs a good 15+ kts of wind to make solid progress upwind in any kind of open sea. It was a lovely change to have a short distance (20 nm) to go and plenty of time to do it in, so no need to motor sail. Conditions were just right, so it was fun.

This is our first time in the USVI. We passed through these waters last year but did not stop. We spent the night in Magen’s Bay on the north coast of St Thomas – very settled, with a lovely swimming beach and just a few other boats in. It’s interesting how the islands evolve as you move on. Suddenly it feels like we are back in the Caribbean (which I suppose we are). The USVI are hilly and lush. The beaches are classic Caribbean beaches fringed at the back with palm trees – but they are rough broken coral sand, unlike the fine Bahamian powder, and we are now anchoring in much deeper water than we’ve got used to. The hillside here is quite well developed (with US money) with lovely housing scattered through the dense trees. As night falls the hills are lit up with the lights of the houses like stars all around.

Our big deliberation just now is where to leave the boat over the summer. We were all set to leave it up in Georgia but now that we have made so much progress south east (and fought so hard for it upwind and up-current) we are revisiting the idea of heading on through the Leeward and Windward Islands and leaving it in Grenada. This is a popular lay-up location and one where our insurance will cover us (for a healthy fee). This will suit our purpose much better for the start of next season as we would like to be in St Lucia in January 2020 to start a trip west through the Panama canal (whoops – that is the cat out the bag). Going back to Georgia now will add about 2,500 sea miles to our travels between now and mid-January 2020, as opposed to about 350, with a much better route down to central America. The very thought of repeating the thorny path is exhausting.

107 nautical miles to go to St Maarten.

And now for the USVI

28 February 2019 | Culebra, Spanish Virgin Islands
Graham Walker
Our trip over to the Spanish Virgin Islands was mostly a motor sail and we were again fighting the trade winds, although our choice of weather window seemed OK and it had lightened up a bit. Out past the end of Puerto Rico mainland, leaving the reefs of Icacos to starboard, and on to the west side of Culebra. We were accompanied on the journey by lots of big brown boobies (it’s a local bird but be careful how you Google this). We were going to stop on one of the beaches on the west coast for the night but as the forecast was for stronger winds the next day we decided to continue round to the protection of Honda Ensenada to drop anchor. As it turned out the winds did pick up quite a bit and we were glad we made that move.

We spent a day at anchor staying on the boat as the wind blew. Honda Ensenada is a very protected lagoon so attracts quite a few boats. Now that the Bahamas are far behind, we are starting to see more ‘foreign’ boats. Up till now it has been 99% American and Canadian, but we are staring to see more European boats. It should not be long before we meet some of the ARC 2018 entries passing north through the islands. We were here almost exactly a year ago doing just that.

Yesterday the winds dropped and we had lunch ashore, a trip to the beach for a swim and then drinks with friends in the evening in the town. We have been travelling in parallel with American/NZ catamaran Ma Petite since Turks and Caicos. It is good to have someone to compare notes with on the Thorny Path.

Today the winds are forecast to drop again and we are heading for the US Virgin Islands, which will be new ground for us.

Today’s photo – Hector the Protector – a cool wooden statue at the entrance to the cut though to Honda Ensenada.

BTW – only 127 nautical miles to go to St Maarten as the brown booby flies.
Vessel Name: Barracuda
Vessel Make/Model: OVNI 395
Crew: Graham and Kate
About: Learning as we go....
Extra: Look to this day for it is life...
Barracuda's Photos - The Scottish Trip - 2011
Photos 1 to 12 of 12 | Main
1
Barracuda waiting for us in Troon.
Sailing up to Loch Fyne.
In the first lock at the Crinan Canal
The garden gate! The end of the Crinan Canal. Beyond here lies the Western Isles.
Fishing boat in Small Isles Bay - Jura.
Leaving Small Isles Bay - Jura.
CalMac ferry approaching Islay.
Loch Tarbert on Jura.
Loch Tarbert on Jura.
Anchored on the south side of Mull.
G
 
1

Previous | List | Random | Next