Martinique to Bequia
04 May 2022
“I can hear the tree frogs.” We anchored in Anse Cochon, St. Lucia just before dusk. As the sun set, we were enjoying our traditional anchor beer after a passage. Lisa’s “beer” was chardonnay and mine rum. We had an idyllic sail from Martinique with only one moderate squall. Forest surrounded the bay and the tree frogs were in full song. First time I have heard them all season.
Our stay was short, the next morning I awoke at 4:00 am. Lisa said, “Let’s wait another half hour.”
“I’m up and we need to get going.” We had a 62 mile sail to Bequia and wanted to arrive in time to clear customs.
We started out motoring in the calm, lee side of St. Lucia. The wind picked up and we put up full sails. Sanitas, Mike and Jen, were our wing man sailing with us from Martinique. They were anchored down island a little further at The Pitons. Underway, we spotted them on AIS, about 4 miles ahead of us.
We rounded the south point of St. Lucia and the trade winds started to howl. OK, 18 knots or so aren’t exactly a howl but we had to reef the main. Then the seas picked up. Mike on Sanitas called on the VHF, “Hey are you guys seeing the adverse current we are?” Yes we were. There were over 2 knots of current against us. Uproar would normally do over 7 knots in those winds. Our GPS showed only 5 knots over the ground, sometimes even less.
Five knots is about our threshold of pain when sailing. Any slower and we turn on the engine. But the engine wouldn’t help against current. Uproar was already sailing fast over the water. It took about 15 miles and 3 hours before the current let up. Uproar ramped up to 7 or 8 knots and we knew we were out of the current.
Then the squall hit. Mike saw 28 to 30 knots of wind sustained for 20 minutes. The wind blew and the sea flew. A good dose of rain added to the fun. Our GPS showed 10.5 knots as our max speed. That’s fast for a cruising sailboat. Two more hours and we were in the lee of St. Vincent. Ahh, flat water again. We shook out the reefs and unrolled the genoa. Sanitas was closer to shore and darned if they weren’t in a great wind line. We suffered some light wind but still resisted burning diesel.
Lisa said, “This is a relaxing sail.” I was working it hard to catch Sanitas. They did admit to motoring some.
As we continued south, we left the calm, lee of St. Vincent for 12 more miles to Bequia. We had to sail east of south on a close reach. Uproar came alive but once again, we had to reef down for a squall. We passed Sanitas just at the tail end of the squall. We took their picture and they took ours. It is rare to get a picture sailing in heavy weather.
The seas flattened as we entered the lee of Bequia. We did arrive in time for customs but the medical protocols required we have an agent take our medical test documents and issue a medical certificate before we could proceed to customs and immigration. We later learned that this was sort of a $50 scam. If we took our documents to the hospital, they would reluctantly review them and issue a certificate, no charge.
We were in no hurry, we received our certificate from Daffodil, who visited our boat to get our papers. We didn’t have to go ashore. OK, that was some service provided and she was very nice.
It was time for another anchor beer. Mike and Jen dinghied by and joined us in some wine and ti punch. Love being back in Bequia! It was worth the sporty sailboat ride.
Dead Boat, no electric power
22 April 2022
We could so easily live off the grid. Living on a boat is certainly living off the grid. It is off the grid with additional challenges created by small space, movement and most of all, salt water. We decided early on that our cruising lifestyle would not be “tent camping.” I like Lisa’s phrase, “We will lack for nothing.” We do live comfortably on Uproar but that doesn’t come easily.
Electricity runs a lot of our lifestyle. The bare basics of electricity are lights, navigation instruments and communication. One could consider electricity to start our diesel engine an essential basic as well. Next level of electrical need would be power for the anchor windlass, power winch for raising the mainsail and hoisting me up the mast for inspections. One could consider power for the autopilot also a cut above basic need.
The luxury use of electricity falls to refrigerator and freezer. Keeping food cold or frozen takes about 90% of our electricity generation. Our solar panels do a great job but provide only about 90% of the power we need to run the boat. The rest has to be made up by the alternator on our 50 hp Yanmar diesel engine. We run the engine about every third day when at anchor. Running the engine for 1 ½ hours tops up the batteries and powers our watermaker, making about 45 gallons of water.
Occasionally, the solar is enough that we don’t need the engine for electrical power, we still run it to make water. But after defrosting the freezer, it takes a day or two of running the engine to make up for the increased work the freezer has to do. That’s what happened a few days ago.
We were in Deshaies, Guadeloupe, loving life. I defrosted and the next day we were running the engine to top up the batteries, also making water. We noticed the alternator was not putting out much but still topped up the batteries. Then it quit altogether. I checked the settings on the voltage regulator and all was OK. The alternator was smoking hot. Not good!
The only option to keep Uproar functional was to shut the freezer down! I’m guessing we had $250 worth of frozen meet in there and other perishables in the fridge.
I had all night to lay awake in bed contemplating a solution. We had two spare alternators, both of them somewhat suspect. The next morning we dug the spares out of the bilge. One was corroded to a lump, the other one turned. I have already described the sausage making in detail. What followed was more the butchering of the animal than making a tasty food product.
I worked for four hours in cramped quarters trying different alternators and voltage regulators. Nothing worked. We went to lunch ashore and bought a big bag of ice. That night we were sailing to Martinique where I could likely buy a new alternator. But when we returned from lunch, I mentioned to Lisa there may be another alternator stored under our bed.
The original alternator and belt was found stashed away in a dark corner! It wasn’t an easy swap. I had replaced the drive and waterpump pulleys with serpentine belt pulleys to power our huge alternator. The factory one just used a V belt. One of the serpentine pulleys came off, the other one had some rusted tight bolts. Breaking bolts creates other problems. I decided to run the alternator with the V belt, even though it went over the serpentine pulley on the water pump. After switching wiring back to the original engine harness, it worked!
The original alternator would put out only 40 amps vs. the 140 amps our monster, aftermarket alternator put out but that would be enough. I finished the project right at 5 pm which is when we wanted to depart. As sore and tired as I was, I was elated to have the boat alive again. We had a pleasant passage.
If you have read through all this, it is obvious how stressful and unpleasant this part of life afloat is for me. Sometimes, I really let it get to me. I used to never get upset about toys. My philosophy is that a toy is for only one purpose, to provide enjoyment. When a toy doesn’t work, if you get pissed off, then the purpose of the toy is not realized. But Uproar, even though she is a boat that provides enjoyment, is not just a toy. She is our life.
At worst, we would have lost some meat or given it away. I apologized to Lisa for my angst during all of this. Believe me, she doesn’t put this angst on me, she has faith that I will solve these problems. I need to work on this attitude and get back to treating Uproar like a precious toy. After all, she gave us a beautiful passage to St. Pierre, Martinique.
Last Beat to the Caribbean!
12 April 2022
The route from the Bahamas to the Caribbean is mostly east and a little south. Weather in the Bahamas is influenced by the fronts, highs and lows coming off the US. But when we sail past the Bahamas, the wind is primarily east, the tropical trade winds. I believe they are called the trade winds because they are so reliable, old, sailing, trade vessels could plan routes to take advantage of these consistent winds.
But sailing from the Bahamas to the Eastern Caribbean involved beating into these winds. Step one is the most difficult, sailing from the Bahamas to the Virgin Islands. We completed this 760 mile passage in less than five days. It wasn’t easy. See my previous blog.
Next was a sail from Culebra, Puerto Rico to St. Croix, USVI. This was only 40 miles but having to beat into the wind, we ended up sailing 60 miles. Most of it was in nice conditions but part of the trip was a little rough.
From St. Croix, one normally sails to the BVI then 100 miles east to St. Martin. We have only 1 ½ months left to get to Grenada so we decided to sail from ST. Croix SE to Guadeloupe, about halfway down the EC island chain to Grenada. This looked like an easy, 200 mile beat but there is nothing easy about beating into the wind.
Weather forecasts were for strong easterly trades for weeks on end. We chose a lighter weather window leaving Sunday afternoon, arriving Tuesday morning. Having to beat, we covered 220 miles in 40 hours.
Uproar is a rare boat that sails very well to weather. She loves a beat to weather without complaint. It is her crew who cuss the waves crashing over the deck. About half of our passage was rough and half rather pleasant. We could not sail straight to Deshaies, Guadeloupe, we had to zig zag or tack forth and back.
By playing the predicted wind shift, we sailed on the favored tack which pointed us more directly to Guadeloupe. When the wind shifted, we tacked to the other tack which was then favored. This is a racing tactic we know well and it shortened our trip.
We also observed that the mountains of Guadeloupe blanket the wind and waves out about 15 miles. Our lasts tack brought us toward the middle of Guadeloupe to enjoy some flat water and lesser wind for the last three hours of the trip.
Uproar made the trip at the speed of a lawn tractor and much of it felt like driving over railroad tracks.
But this is the last beat to weather this year. The east trade winds mean sailing north and south along the Eastern Caribbean is reaching across the wind, very easy sailing. There can be big seas between islands but this lasts for only a few hours. And we are not beating into those seas!
What can be better than sailing into a quiet anchorage, surrounded by mountains? Sailing into a quiet French anchorage tops it off. Clearing into the French West Indies consists of going to a computer terminal in a gift shop, inputting boat and passport data and paying 5 Euros! C’est tout!
After, we visited a little boulangerie for café au lait and almond croissant. Viva la France !
03 April 2022
The world's best brownie can only be purchased in Grenada. There is a Grenada chocolate museum near the top of the hill when you walk from the harbor to the market. They will give you a short tour with a hands-on explanation of how chocolate is made. Better still is the little sweet shop where chocolate can be sampled.
Lisa and I visited several times, especially with friends who came to sail on Uproar with us. We tried the brownie on our first visit and it quickly became a favorite. We even imported a few of these brownies to the River Retreat when we returned for a visit. A Grenada brownie can serve four for desert and cost $3. Best brownie in the world!
Some sailing friends from Milwaukee chartered a boat in Grenada last month. They contacted us to get recommendations for places to visit in Grenada. The chocolate museum brownie was on the list.
Culebra has a bakery that also runs the laundromat. If you need quarters, you have to visit the bakery for change. There in the bakery case was a brownie that resembled the Grenada treat. We bought one and sampled it on the curb outside the laundry. Lisa said, “It is so rich and thick, it is more like fudge than a brownie.”
I replied, “It's a Frownie!”
We went back yesterday and waited in a long line for two more Frownies. They are delicious! Better than the Grenada brownie? Not sure. But we will be back there in a month or so and hope they are still making the world's best brownies.
If you have read this far, sorry for a trivial post. But I'm more than sorry you can't enjoy a bite of Frownie with us on Uproar!
Uproar skips the Thorny Path to the Caribbean.....again. Back in Culebra.
30 March 2022 | Culebra, Puerto Rico
“This is the weather window to sail east we have been waiting two months for.” I had asked our weather router, Chris Parker, if other opportunities to sail from the Bahamas to the Caribbean were in the future. He confirmed my thoughts that this was a good one.
Sailing from the Bahamas to the Caribbean is a 700 mile passage that is notoriously difficult, often called the “thorny path.” Sailing is mostly against the strong, east trade winds. There are books written on strategies to island hop safely to get there. But the thorny path can often take over a month, waiting for just the right weather to make the next step.
Six years ago, we sailed this passage with the help of Rick Anderson. We skipped the thorny path and used the sledge hammer approach, we sailed upwind in one shot. We have the advantage that Uproar is a “cruising boat with a racing problem.” She has the performance of a race boat and can really claw to weather with our deep keel.
With Rick we sailed from Mayaguana, Bahamas to St. John. Chris Parker routed us for that one as well. He said, “You will get pushed pretty far north.” Little did he know Uproar's abilities. We are able to sail almost straight east in the SE wind. We called Chris every night for a weather update. “You will see the last squall to your north, wind will die, motor through the night and east wind will shoot you south to St. John.” I replied, “Chris, I see the rainbow from that last squall to my north!”
This year it was just Lisa and me. Plus, we sailed from George Town, Exuma, 150 miles further and further north. The approaching cold front caused trade winds to veer SE and possibly due south. As the front caught us, it would provide north and NW winds but accompanied with squalls. Still, better than slogging into the east trade winds.
Chris suggested starting out a day earlier, “You will have good sailing in 20 knots of wind from the SE and outrun the cold front.” Chris's idea of “good sailing” and ours are a bit different. Heavy cruising boats often need at least 15 knots of wind to sail at all. Uproar does just fine in 8 knots of wind. 10 to 12 is our sweet spot although she sails great in higher winds with sails reefed.
The wind blew and the sea flew for the first 36 hours. That conjures up images of brisk conditions with salty spray stinging one's cheeks. Makes you want to grit your teeth and utter a pirate epithet, “Aaaarrrgh!” Wind was 20 knots or more and seas were 6 to 8 feet from confused directions. Life was a bit more Old Testament than that. Solid, green waves were breaking over the top of Uproar! Not fun at all!
But she sailed on with us huddled in the cockpit or below. I ate only an apple that first day. Lisa ate nothing. I couldn't get the image of a cozy fireplace out of my mind. I'm just a little ashamed to admit, selling Uproar crossed my mind.
Day three dawned with smaller seas from the SE and wind in the upper teens. What a difference, this was sailing, not endurance. Uproar scooted along at over 7, often over 8 knots. Still a bit rough but manageable. We continued making great progress. As the approaching cold front died out, wind quit and seas became a sheet of gently rolling glass. Chris predicted this, “You will have to motor through the night and into the next day.”
Again, Chris didn't know of Uproar's light air sailing ability. We did have to motor for a day until light trade winds from the east began to establish. Uproar sailed with delight in 10 knots of breeze straight for Puerto Rico. That last night of light air beating to weather canceled out the rough start to our passage. Ahhhhh!
We weren't the only ones enjoying the last 100 miles into Culebra. Two or three Terns perched on the back of Uproar for the ride to shore. They would sometimes squawk at each other and fight for the best seat, on top of our lifesling bag. Lisa won the fishing contest. She was attacked by two flying fish, I had only one visit me while on watch.
We arrived in Culebra, 20 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico, just after dawn on the fifth day. We anchored with a group of other cruising boats in the main bay behind a tiny island. Our traditional anchor beer had to wait. I went to work scrubbing (actually acid etching) barnacles off the bottom of our dinghy and doing an oil and gear lube change on our 20 hp Mercury outboard. With dinghy launched we took full Hollywood showers and enjoyed an anchor beer, the perfect sleeping pill for our afternoon nap.
Lisa said, “Do you feel that?”
“Nothing, we aren't moving, isn't it great?”
Uproar once again skipped the thorny path and got us safely into the Caribbean, taking only five days to sail 760 miles with only a bit of discomfort.
George Town Trailer Park
15 March 2022
We were in Georg Town six years ago as part of our trek from the US, through Bahamas, to the Caribbean and beyond. George Town is known as the "sticky harbor." Cruisers come here, one of the southernmost parts of the Bahamas, intending to sail down to the Caribbean. Many just spend the season here and never move south, "stuck" in the fun and camaraderie of Georgetown.
But it is crowded here. This week there were 245 boats counted in the anchorage. Covid has these numbers down. We have been here when there have been over 300 boats and some have reported 500 boats here.
Lisa and I sailed Uproar to our favorite anchorage in Georgetown, Sand Dollar Beach; three days ago. I said, "Let's anchor near that dark blue boat." Lisa said, "There is more room near that white ketch." OK, I steered toward the white ketch. Now, I'm pretty good at that time-distance-speed-spatial relations thing. When I enter an anchorage, I factor in the wind, depth, current and try to find the exact spot to drop the anchor. Lisa lets out the proper amount of anchor chain and we drift back into our spot. Any miscalculation and the spot we end up in may not fit with the neighborhood. But we mostly get it right on the first try.
We set the anchor, equidistant between two boats. I snorkeled on the anchor to be sure it was well, buried in the sand. It certainly was. With our Spade anchor and new anchor chain, we sleep really well.
Our passage here was 55 miles on a moderately rough sea so it was time for an anchor beer, Uproar tradition! We noticed the boat to our south was running their generator. Boats need to run some sort of a generator from time-to-time to keep batteries charged. But this boat was running a Honda, gas generator, one of the noisier ones. And they were not on their boat. Why endure the noise of one's own generator? Just go ashore and let her rip. Make your neighbors listen to it. We consider this bad form. If you can't stand the noise of your own generator, don't expect your neighbors to. We dubbed him "generator boy."
We then got a call on the radio from the ketch to our north. "Uproar, Uproar." Lisa answered. He said his engine didn't work and if we dragged anchor, he could not get out of our way. He also said he had 160 feet of anchor chain down. What? It is only 12 feet deep here. A 5:1 ratio is considered safe with modern anchors. He only needed 100 feet out (that's what we put out). Putting 160 feet out in a crowded anchorage is like parking across three handicapped spots in a Walmart parking lot. We dubbed him "ketch 22." Lisa assured him we wouldn't drag and that we would watch out.
It felt like we were in a trailer park where someone is blaring country music!
There are morning announcements on VHF channel 72. These cover all activities in the anchorage, new arrivals and departures, treasures of the bilge (swap, buy, sell), business announcements (mostly restaurants and water taxi service), and some fun activities like Yoga on the beach, etc. It ends with thoughts for the day, etc. Morning cruiser's net takes up to 45 minutes!
We had just arrived and expressed interest in a water taxi ride to Eddie's Edgewater for a Bahamian rake and scrape band. Gillian, who was organizing it asked me to take over and log boats who wanted to attend. I agreed. It was a few hours on the VHF radio of herding cats as boats wanted to join in and some canceled. Finally, I just told all to come to Chat N Chill beach and we would somehow get everyone to rake n scrape band. We did and Lisa and I met a lot of new friends.
Incidentally, the band played my request, "Don't Lick Nobody." I believe this is a good community message during Covid! (Try searching for Stone McEwan version. I can't find it)
When Lisa and I were here six years ago, we participated in the Georgetown Cruiser's Regatta. It was ten days of fun. We called it adult daycare. There were softball games, talent shows, pet shows (Sophie won oldest pet!), Conch horn blowing, dinghy poker runs and of course sailboat races. Team Uproar won not only first in the three race series but won the rum punch drinking contest during the awards presentation. We snuck away after our prize to the rum vat!
I remember quite a few years ago, we organized a cruise to White Lake, Michigan. Jeff McClellan and I walked through a crowded trailer park. We were amazed that people enjoyed just parking their campers and hanging out. Then we walked to the marina where our boats were. We both agreed, we were just like the trailer park except they had trees!
Tonight we heard on the VHF, "Everyone look up between George Town and Chat N Chill Beach. The space station is zooming east." We did and it was! Cool!
Oh, that dark blue boat we initially aimed at in the anchorage turned out to be Vela, friends from Milwaukee who started their cruise this summer! They invited us over for dinner of grilled hamburgers. So cool that we could connect. It will be roast pork on Uproar tomorrow.
Generator Boy and Ketch 22 seem to be behaving. While this is not the secluded anchorage we often seek, I just love it here!