Tuesday, 27 January 2015


West End, Tortola

We sailed the 90 miles from St Maarten to Tortola overnight, leaving in the afternoon, and arriving around dawn. Wind was F3-4 all the way, from dead behind. Many people tack downwind in their cats in such conditions. I prefer to sail directly dead downwind, with as much sail up as will keep the boat going at a decent speed. In this case, the genoa poled out at one side, and the big jib on the other. I hank them to the one forestay, interleaving the hanks which I have numbered with a marker pen so that they go on in the right order. On the end of the halyard, I attach a block, with a short piece of rope over the moving part. I tie the heads of the two sails to each end of the short bit of rope, and hoist the sails. The block ensures I can tighten the luff of each sail evenly. We sailed that way the whole night, without needing adjustment. It's probably as much sail area as a spinnaker, but it has the advantage that I can drop all sail within a couple of seconds by opening the halyard clutch if a squall came.

I was woken at midnight by a shout - my daughter had spotted dolphins. I was in a deep sleep, and have seen dolphins many times (though none at all coming across the Atlantic, and very few in the Caribbean) and might have preferred not to have been woken. But it was my daughter, who was clearly delighted, and I indulged her. Good job! The dolphins were very large and slim, I think a species I haven't seen before. But we could only see their silhouettes, because the sole source of light was a crescent moon approaching the horizon in front of us. So the dolphins were leaping high - 3-4 feet out of the water - in the silvery yellow reflection of the moon in the sea. Quite beautiful.

On arrival, we found the anchorage full of moorings, and the charge written in the mooring balls as $30/night. We are used to anchoring for free now, and we eventually found a good spot, right at the end of the bay. Taking advantage of our shallow draught and the fact that this bay is so sheltered there is virtually no swell, we anchored pretty much on the beach, setting a stern anchor to keep us off in case of a wind shift.

Don't need to dive to check this anchor. It's fine.

Clearing in was a long and tedious process - 5 copies of one form - and three other long forms, and a charge of $20.19 for the privelege. We had to specify a date of departure too, though we hadn't settled on that, and of course, the weather always needs checking before choosing a departure time. I said we'd stay 2 days, though the place is very attractive and we could do with more time off sailing, but we have someone to collect in Dominican Republic soon, so we need to crack on. And the reason we are here in this port is because it is a very short ferry trip from the British Virgen Islands to the US Virgin Islands. I need to take that ferry, as in the process I will get a 3 month entry permit to the US, which will allow me into Florida later on the trip (We are not allowed to simply sail into America, the Land of the Free - we have to arrive with a commercial carrier). When I was asked what we would be doing here, I laughed, and only just managed to refrain from telling the official that we had sailed hundreds of miles to this beautiful place, and I would be spending most of my time here dealing with clearing in, clearing out, and getting a visa. I found out that the very short ferry trip - a couple of miles - is $55!

We had official difficulties at St Barths too. We cleared in using their self service computer system programmed by an idiot. When we came to clear out, we found that inputting our username/password didn't pull up the details we'd already put in, and we needed our passports to repeat the process. The passports were on the boat, and it would have taken over an hour to get them, so we gave up, and sailed out without clearance (which we have done on some other islands usually without repercussions). But in St Maarten, we weren't allowed to clear in because of the lack of clearing out papers from the last port. So we sailed out of the Dutch side of the island (which was a cruise ship dock, taking up to 4 ships a day, filling the streets with lumbering tourists being targetted by the local huscksters selling all sorts of crap at high prices and filling the anchorage with jet skis and trip boats) and round to the French side which was much pleasanter. There we met the most officious official so far, who only let people into his office one at a time, locking others out and telling them to wait. Inside, he filled in the same computer form we'd used in St Barths, until he asked for our clearance papers for the last port. Not having them brought proceedings to a halt, until at last he called his superior, who told him to clear us in anyway. Phew! I see what the Americans mean when they complain about government officials, though if we had a bigger more integrated government involvement we might get what we have in Europe - the freedom to come and go across most of a continent without any forms to fill or charges made.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

St Barths

St Barths is full of super yachts, motor boats up to 5 stories high, exclusive shops and the rich and famous. We found something more interesting on the west end of the island.

Up in the hills, in the forest, a moving shell, a hermit crab!

We picked it up for a good look at it, and then put it back on the ground and waited for it to come out of its shell. I lost patience, saying it was as bad as waiting for a tortoise. I turned around, and there was a baby tortoise by the path!

We didn't know there were any on the island...

It wasn't the only one.

Much more fun than shelling out in those exclusive shops (sorry!).


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Laminating the hulls after drying them out.

Back in Antigua in December, I set about fixing the hulls, after they'd been sitting stripped of gel coat for 6 months. The yard had washed the hulls several times to remove the solutes. There is so much advice around about the treatment of osmosis, and much of it contradictory, I eventually settled on this interpretation of the problem, and did my best to implement the recommended solution.

There were some obvious problems with the laminate:

The pale area in the centre is an area where the original glass wasn't wetted out sufficiently. The whiteness is caused by air in the laminate. Fortunately, this was the only area I found like that.

And here is a badly implemented repair. The lighter area of laminate near the bottom of the hull was still sticky! So the resin had never gone off - I guess whoever did the repair forgot to add the catalyst.

These problem areas were relatively small and easy to repair. However, the both hulls showed cavities between the gel coat and the chopped strand mat:

Under all the blisters, this was apparent. The white areas are where the resin hasn't filled the glass properly. After sanding, those areas looked like this:

I'm convinced that these voids between the gel coat and the glass was the cause of the blistering. Water gathered in the voids, and osmotic pressure resulted in the blisters. I'm hoping elimination of the voids will fix the problem.

I sanded both hulls, removed any damaged glass or glass that hadn't been wetted out properly, and replaced it with glass and epoxy. I then sealed the hulls with a coat of epoxy, and spent many days filling and sanding to fill all those cavities. Apart from the unpleasantness of sanding glass fibre in tropical heat, there were mosquitoes, sand flies, and the noise from the islands generating station which is next to the yard to contend with. The weather was kind until I started laminating. I did a small area one day, and despite the difficulty of sticking on sheets of glass onto the bottom of a hull in the heat and the wind, I was pleased with the result. The following day was all blue sky - not a cloud in sight - so I set about laminating a bigger section. All went well till I'd nearly finished, and the sky went dark and the wind kicked up, and a terrific squall ruined all my work within 10 minutes. Not only was my work spoiled - I had to pull off all the glass I'd stuck on - but it meant I'd lost a lot of the specially slow hardening tropical epoxy I'd imported. Well, I had'nt lost it all. Quite a bit ended up on my skin. After clearing the mess from the boat, I went to the shower block, and doused myself in vinegar - the only safe way to remove epoxy from the skin. Boy, that caused those mosquito bites to sting. So, rubbed down with vinegar, I turned on the shower to find the water was off! I eventually found a stand-pipe in the yard that worked, and in desperation, abandoned modesty and washed the mess off.

I did no more laminating until I had the boat moved indoors. This was much better. No sun and no wind to complicate things, but the mosquitoes preferred the lack of wind and were pretty relentless, day and night.

One good aspect of having a catamaran is that it is easy to adjust and change the propping arrangements. The whole boat can be supported by just the beams, so the hulls can be worked on from end to end without supports getting in the way:

Note the kitchen waste has been connected to a hose, so that water from the sink doesn't dribble down the hull.

I worked 40 days non-stop to repair and re-laminate the hull. Sometimes my eyes would wander...

Somewhere, under the rainbow.

At last, the work was done.

Ready to go...

Splash, and within a couple of hours, we were anchored off Great Bird Island, and had the island to ourselves:

On to Barbuda:

And now in St Barts. Tomorrow, St Maarten...etc