Friday, 20 February 2015

Sailing without engines.

There are a couple of good reasons for having two engines on a catamaran. A cat has a lot of windage and not so much grip on the water compared to a monohull, and so is harder to manoeuvre at close quarters. I sailed this boat for a year without the engines fitted (when I was running it as a commercial fishing boat), so I'm very familiar with the difficulties of getting this boat to behave in tight circumstances. I got better at it, but it was rarely easy, especially in harbours with cliffs or tall building nearby, so that the wind was much harder to predict.

And the other good reason for two engines is redundancy. If one engine dies, you can do pretty well with just one engine. I've often taken this a step further. When one engine fails, it becomes a source of spare parts for the other.

These engines are 20 years old. They were pretty clapped out when I bought the boat. I bought a new gearbox, a couple of carburettors, and many electrical parts. It seems remarkable that they've died on the same day.

The starboard engine has seized up. Opening the lid, there was salt encrusted round the edge of the cylinder head, and oil everywhere except in the crankcase. When the engine had started spluttering, I had checked that the cooling water was flowing. It was pissing out good and proper, so I assumed all was fairly well, maybe just a bit of crud or water in the carburettor. I had to assume that, given that we were very close to a narrow passage between breaking waves, and running out of options. It turns out that there is a way that the cooling water can bypass the engine! Who'd have thought? If the impeller is still working, but the cooling passages are blocked, the water runs through a bypass outlet. All looks well, but it isn't necessarily so!

So one engine dead. Given the narrowness of the passage we were about to attempt, I'd already tried starting the port engine, but it refused to start.

I've now spent a couple of days trying to get the port engine working again. Usually, the carburettor needs cleaning when it acts up. This time, the sparks in the plugs are very weak. I checked the pulsar coil, the ignition coils and the charge coil - and none of them from either engine read the correct resistance specified in the manual. I can't justify the expense of replacing those parts, when I still can't be sure of fixing the problem. I can't test the CDI, which is the fourth electrical component in the chain that could be the source of the problem. According to my meter readings, there could be up to four components faulty.

At last, after years of fixing these engines, I have given up. I have concluded that they are beyond the point of economical repair. Suddenly, I have no engines! Again!

We plan to sail to Turks and Caicos, and through the Bahamas to Nassau, where my crew fly off to do other things, leaving me to sail alone to Bermuda, the Azores and back to the UK.

I'm currently trying to exchange these two big broken engines for one small working one that I could attach to the dinghy (we have only oars at the moment). I'm thinking that in calms, we could tie the dinghy alongside and use the a little outboard to get us into a harbour. We're used to anchoring close to the shore. There's usually more room there, as the monohulls can't anchor is such shallow water, and it isn't as far for us to row. But now we will sometimes have to anchor further out, so an outboard might make it easier to get ashore.

I'm not exactly thrilled at the prospect of sailing engineless through the Bahamas with my neophyte crew, nor with the prospect of having to sail into port single-handed in Bermuda, the Azores and the UK, each time after a long passage. Hmmm...

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

On to Luperon at last.

The trip to Luperon went swimmingly. We set off at dawn is very little wind, but the wind was up to F5-6 by the time we got to the Mona Passage, where we had to tack for 12 miles north. We raced a large ketch going the same way, and were pleased to find we were leaving it behind. We tacked through not much more than 90 degrees, and I kept a little too much sail up to power through the waves. The forecast was for more wind, and I wanted to be round the corner and to be able to free up the sheets before then.

The forecast was entirely accurate, and after our shaking about in the Mona Passage, we had good speed all day in diminishing wind and dying waves. At dawn we were at the entrance to Luperon and were down to 2 knots, so I fired up an engine. The entrance is mostly sheltered, but there is a narrow section between shoals with breaking waves on each side. This is where the engine died. Completely died, as in seized up, and never to run again. I tried firing up the other engine, but it wasn't having it. The engine could sense we were in dire need of it, and refused to work. It has a history of only running when we don't need it much.

The wind had died to a whisper, and gone round to dead ahead. We could have just about dropped anchor there, but we'd have blocked the passage, and I'd have to try to repair the engines in the swell. So we paddled, one on each side with an oar each, and one steering. We barely made headway, but it was enough to keep the boat pointing the right way, so that we could make use of whatever tiny puffs of wind that were from anywhere but dead ahead. In the narrowest part, a big German catamaran squeezed by, the skipper too busy taking photographs to offer assistance. A big Danke for that.

We'd just about got through the narrow section when another boat came by, Odyssey from the UK, and they had no hesitation in taking a line and towing us through. It may have been that they were hoping for some navigational information in exchange, but it turned out I was no better informed than them. We were both going by the charts we had on our phones. Once in the harbour, we spent a fruitless half hour looking for the bottle of champagne we believed we had stashed, as a reward Odyssey. Oh well, a couple of beers when we meet at the sailor's bar then.

With one engine dead (cylinder head I believe - oil and salt water is all over the place!) I have many spare parts for the other, and I spent the first day here swapping parts about, hoping to make one half-decent engine for our planned trip through the Bahamas.

The harbour at least is just great. The water isn't clear, but it is only contaminated with mud (I dropped a part, and had to dive into the murk to look for it) and we are surrounded by mangroves. No swell comes in here, and there is no man-made noise at all. We can hear the far off surf, and the constant clicking of shrimp claws, and that is all, and for that, we are all very pleased indeed.

If the engine part swapping has succeeded, we can continue down the channel at dawn, and then start preparing the boat and loading up with food in anticipation of the relative isolation and high prices of the Bahamas.

So here's another blog entry without photos. But I expect there'll be some photos of us on a certain German blog. Maybe do a search on 'catamaran Luperon Deutsch'?

Monday, 16 February 2015

Trying to escape Santa Barbara de Samana

We have been waiting for the wind to change - it keeps coming from the west, which is not supposed to happen in the trades. But here we are. A low passed over us, very slowly, so we've had shifting light winds and vast quantities of rain. Tomorrow, the winds return to more customary patterns, and we should be able to leave.

But we couldn't stand this noise any more (motor-bikes all the time, and very loud music from dusk to 3 am, a cacophony of discos, and cars full of speakers parked on the promenade blasting their insane sounds and huge basses through the open doors to the people drinking rum on the verge) so we motored round to Bahia Escondido for the day. We weren't welcome there - much of the bay is roped off to allow guests of the 5-star hotel there, and we'd previously been prevented from walking to the beach from town by hotel security guards. So we went a little further, to a small pleasant bay we had to ourselves. Engine off, and savour the silence. Fantastic.

In our haste to get parked and switch the engine off, we hadn't appreciated that the anchor wasn't set. It was sitting on top of the sea-grass bed. I swam down for a closer look, and found the bottom too hard to place the anchor by hand. A little way off there was clear sand, and in order not to run the engine again, I decided to re-anchor by hand. It wasn't as difficult as it might sound. Take off your fins, and dive to the anchor. Picking up the anchor gives enough weight to stand and then to walk along the bottom, leaning forward to drag the chain along behind. There was no wind, so it wasn't too hard to pull the boat too. The hardest part was not to laugh at the strange strong man stunt on the sea floor.

Safely anchored, we swam and walked on the beach and sat about reading - but mostly just savouring the peace. How we've all missed it! I guess we've put up with it so long, we'd forgotten how nice a little silence could be.

I needed to get back to town to get a 'despachio' - a permit to sail to Luperon, our next destination. We wanted to leave the boat in the quiet bay, so I kayaked past Bahia Escondido and round to the town. First, the officials needed to find their copy of the last documentation they'd made for us. That took almost an hour in all, despite at times, four of us going through the folders that were pulled out of the filing cabinet. After half an hour, someone opened a folder, and I recognised our form at a glance. Here it is, I shouted. In Spanish and English. This is the document. I must have looked away for a moment, because suddenly the folder was gone, lost amongst all the others again. I have no idea what happened to it, so we all went on looking. Eventually a woman in a very tight leopard skin pattern dress and six inch heels joined us, and within 10 minutes she found it. Phew! Odd that the file could be lost at all, as since we were last in the office, just two boats have sailed away, leaving just us. Not exactly busy here!

But the form was an umpteenth copy, made through several layers of carbon paper, and much of it was illegible. So our details were laboriously taken again. It's amazing how long someone who deals with passports all the time can stare at a passport. You start to get nervous, wondering if he might be trying to remember something incriminating, but eventually points to a word on the page and asks: Is that your name?

Eventually, the form is filled and our passports are photocopied again (15 minutes to go and get the paper for the photocopier) and I expect to have the despachio handed to me, but there is a delay, and phone calls, and it becomes apparent that before I am cleared, the officials would like to see the boat. I can't make out what they want to look for there, and I explain where the boat is. I'm told I'd have to hire a water taxi to take the officials to the boat. I offer to sail the boat back to the port, but they say it will take too long. They weren't prepared to wait. So we got into the water taxi - me, a pleasant official from the Commandancia who had operated the photocopier and shared jokes, an unpleasant fellow in plain clothes from the pier who talked extremely fast and was completely unintelligible to me, and so also, a fellow to translate what the fast talker said. Us, and then a very fat dog.

The dog belonged to the taxi driver, and first we had to deliver that to another boat. Not too far out of our way, but the other boat had high sides, and the dog couldn't jump up, and it was so big and heavy, we all had to lend a hand to shove it over the side. Then on towards the boat past Bahia Escondido, where we had to drive slowly and as close as possible to the beach, so that the fast talker could look for bonitas, good looking girls. At last we reached the boat. I could see two of our crew far off on the beach, and calling my wife, was informed that she was in the shower. So the pleasant official put the despachio on the table, and that was it - time to go! I have no idea what the visit to the boat was for. But before we left, the fast talker was quite insistent that we could not spend the night where we were - we'd have to go back to the town anyway! And I had to hand over 400 pesos for the taxi driver (I offered 200, they insisted on 400, and I suspect that was 100 each).

We've really had enough of the place. I've dealt with officialdom here with patience and humour, but frankly, I'm sick of it now. Days have gone by dealing with it! And the noise. The water is none too clean, and often we have ended up side on to an unpleasant swell that frequently affects the bay.

This is not the anchorage after anchorage, each more perfect than the last, as described in our cruising guide. We're keen to get to Luperon, and as quickly as we can, leave noisy officious Dominican Republic behind to take respite (we hope!) in the Bahamas.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Los Haitises national park

A sail across the bay brought us to what our cruising guide describes as the best anchorage in the Caribbean, if not the world. Well, it ain't half bad anyway.

We're the only yacht. The soldier guarding the park showed no interest in our despachio, despite the time and effort we'd put into securing it. Nearby is a tiny island, or a big rock, full of birds - big white egrets, a grey heron, a couple of turkey vultures, a couple of frigate birds, and an osprey. Swifts that nest in the nearby caves flit about the trees on the rock. Quite an eclectic collection of birds! The osprey picked up a large fish in front of the boat, and spent much of the day flying about.

Willy's cave close by:

Willy was a hermit who lived in these many-roomed caves. Couldn't work out when he was there, but the various rooms are handily sign-posted as living room, kitchen, etc. The living room had a nice view:

Paddling by the mangroves:

Aren't those roots just great?

More caves that way, this time with drawings on the wall. Though I think I've done better than this one:

And I remember getting into trouble at school for drawing like this:

Were they painted by cave-children I wonder, and did they get into trouble for it?

The place was too beautiful and peaceful (Dominican towns are very noisy!) to leave in a hurry. Near dusk, the guard shouted across to us, and we raised anchor and left. But we sailed just around the corner to another perfect little shelter (except for the 4 am invasion of sand flies) and slept there. We sailed back early next morning and checked in again with the Commandancia. The officials were friendly enough, but the procedures were ridiculous. we should have just sailed where we wanted, without saying a thing to any officials.

Dominican Republic

Santa Barbara de Samana, Dominican Republic.

We left Tortola at dawn for what we hoped would be a 48 hour sail. An early departure would allow for an early morning landfall, and a whole day of leeway should we be delayed for any reason.

We were very much delayed by light and shifting winds, and little of the usual following trade wind. After 48 hours, it still looked like a long day's sail ahead of us to make land across the Mona Passage, but a strong wind from the north came up and I kept the boat moving as fast as the waves allowed for in an effort to arrive during daylight. Sometimes we were hitting 12 knots, on a reach, which is pretty good for a 9m boat, but I was always on the edge of reefing further, and the day wasn't exactly relaxing. Flying fish took off in front of the advancing boat, and far off, I saw the spouts of humpback whales, who have come to Samana Bay to give birth. In the late afternoon, we saw one closer up, but there was no breaching or tail slapping and so on. Just a glimpse of the back of a whale amongst the waves and foam.

We arrived at dusk, and found the Navionics charts I'd just installed on my phone to be more detailed than CM93 charts I have on my laptop. We sailed in and anchored near the town at the end of the bay. What a noise! We were anchored too close to a very noisy bar - half a mile away? - but too tired and shook up from the day's sail to move. We slept through it, and moved up the bay to where it is quieter in the morning.

Our Dominican Republic cruising guide describes the Samana Bay as some sort of cruiser's heaven, unspoiled, clean and authentic. The guide hardly mentions the whales, which are here for three months of the year and are a big tourist attraction. We've found this anchorage to be the most uncomfortable in all we've been in in the Caribbean. It is open to the east, the direction of the prevailing wind, so I'm not sure why we allowed ourselves to be convinced by the book that it would be anything but rough. The water is dirty enough that we don't swim in it - and this might be the first anchorage in the Caribbean that we've been put off that pleasant activity. The administration is many layered, but every layer is pedantic, extremely slow moving, and barely literate. Dollars were extracted from us, over a hundred by the hustler in immigration alone (we're used to handing over trivial sums on all the other islands we've visited).

After a week here (waiting for our latest crew member to fly in) we decided to move on, spurred on when we saw a huge cruise ship anchored outside the bay. We were anchored by the jetty where the cruise ship people land. The town is transformed. The townspeople are dressed in their best and there are bands along the pavements playing what I guess might be traditional music, but we haven't heard any of that in the previous week, so it's hard to tell. The shopkeepers have their stalls out selling all the usual tat for tourists, much of it made in Vietnam, the same stuff we've seen on sale in many countries wherever cruise ships dock. The pavements are lined with hustlers and blocked by large, slow-moving bewildered-looking mostly pink people.

We visited the Commandancia del Porto to get a 'despacho' - a permit to visit Los Haitises national park across the bay from here. We arrived at the office with enough shopping for four people to survive for a week comfortably in that wilderness, only to be told that we would not be allowed to spend a night there. We could leave the following morning, but we would have to be back by the same night. This was a great disappointment - the park was the main reason we'd come here. We fancied some time away from the incessant music and traffic noise and all. A week walking about in the forest and swimming on the reefs sounded just about right, but it's not to be. We also found that we wouldn't be allowed to anchor anywhere else in this huge bay, despite our dodgy guidebook informing us that we'd find one anchorage after another, each more perfect than the previous one. The officials were very pleasant about insisting on our limitations, and I did manage to squeeze one concession from them. I told them that out boat was so slow that it would take all morning to get to the park, and all afternoon to get back (it's 10 miles) so we'd have no time to look around. So we were allowed report back the following morning. These limitations are for our own security, though we have wandered about here for a week without feeling the slightest danger, and I pointed out on my charts on the phone the various places - between islands and mid-ocean - where we'd comfortably slept without the need for security. They understood - that I was a strong man! - but couldn't change the rules for us. They spent nearly an hour copying our names, and passport numbers onto a sheet of paper - a job anyone familiar with writing would do in a minute or so - in order that the paperwork would be ready the following morning. I've arranged to be at their office at 5am tomorrow to collect the paperwork so that we can sail off at first light. Might as well make the most of it.