Sunday 16 January - Tuesday 1 February St Maarten to Antigua
Saturday 16 January
Bit of bad news this morning. Sherman came to see me to let me know that, once the rudder stock had been mounted on the lathe, it became clear that it was slightly bent. Not by much - about 3-4 millimetres. Still, it is enough to condemn the whole stock and force us to make a new one from scratch. We are somewhat surprised about this, as to bend such a big strong piece of steel would take an enormous force. Such a force would necessarily shatter all the fibreglass fairing surrounding the rudder stock, which we had ground off yesterday. There was no evidence of this.
We have two hypotheses. Either it was bent in the beginning, when installed 23 years ago. Or, more likely, one of the previous owners had banged it very hard, and then had the rudder rebuilt around the bent shaft. This may be why we had suffered the wear in the hinges in the first place. The rudder was the only major piece of kit that had not been removed, checked and reassembled when JJ did the first refit of Lazy Duck in 1995. Even the keel had been removed during that project.
More work, more time, more expense. Still, better here than anywhere in the Pacific. Everyone we have spoken to told us that getting work done in the Pacific is extremely expensive, even if you can find a yard equipped to help you. At least here at Bobby’s marina they are fully equipped, and we have the additional benefit of supervision from Olivier, an experienced Swan engineer.
We take the girls out in the evening to a nearby American bar, and teach them how to play eight- ball. Important life-skills are a big part of this trip.
Sunday 16 - Saturday 22 January - Bobby’s Marina, Philippsburg, St. Maarten Lat : 18 deg 1 min N, Lon 63 deg 2 min W
At least now we know what needs to be done, and now its just a question of getting on and doing it. Over next few days, the project to rebuild the rudder progressed steadily. Once the new shaft was completed in the lathe, the key-way was machined into it, the keys made, and then the whole thing was welded together. Now it started to look like a rudder again.
Then Sherman and Craig assembled the newly built fibreglass cover for the stock, and Craig filled and faired it, to give it the right hydrodynamic profile. Finally, the whole assembly was remounted onto the Duck, ready to be painted with blue anti-fouling to match the rest of the hull.
There are still final tricks to play before we are finished. First, we find that the front of the rudder fairing is rubbing against the skeg, so after lots of head-scratching, we have to remove the sked covers and grind away some filler before we can re-cover the skeg and paint it. This adds a further day of delay.
The rudder assembly is then fitted back onto the steering quadrant at the top of the stock. This provides the linkage, via some cables and a sort of bicycle chain arrangement, to the steering wheel.
Olivier checked in regularly, and I spent lots of time in the fabrication workshop, learning more about lathes and fibreglass work than I have in a lifetime so far.
On the morning of Saturday 22 Jan, we are finally lifted back into the water, 10 days after we came out. We now have a more secure rudder, and the added bonus of a very clean underside, pristine with new tropical strength anti-fouling paint. Our credit cards have taken a bit of a battering, but no question, its well worth it.
So now we are off to Antigua to meet up with Gail and John. We will stop off briefly in St. Barths on the way.
Saturday 22 January
So at last we are back in the water. It feels great to be bobbing around again, and we can’t wait to get going and feel the Duck accelerate away with the pressure of the Trade winds in her sails.
Soon after lunch we set sail out of Philippsburg. Our plan is to sail the 14 miles to Anse Colombier on the North West coast of St. Barths. This bay holds many memories for us, as we had spent Christmas there on our chartered Swan 53 ‘Gerald’, three years ago.
We had one of those really blissful sails down to St. Barths. The wind was on the beam, the sky was blue and cloudless, and one of our favourite islands was dead ahead, reflecting the evening sun. No doubt it was made sweeter as we were so delighted to be under way again.
It about five thirty in the evening and the light was fading as we sailed up to the mouth of the bay. Caroline was on the helm, and I prepared to lower the sails and stow them ready for our entrance and the final job of finding her a suitable spot to anchor for the night. I tried to start the engine, which had been purring away effortlessly for an hour after we launched earlier in the afternoon. The starter motor turned, but the engine would not fire. I tried it a few times, but no luck. Now things had to move very quickly. We altered course immediately to sail back out of the bay, and put her on a safe track, heading South towards Gustavia, to give us the sea room to assess the situation. I checked the fuel tanks, plenty there, and turned the starter motor over a few times. I tried swopping over our two in-line Racor filters. No joy. Time to rethink the plan for the trip.
By now it was 5.45 pm, and the light is fading fast. Night approaches in the Caribbean are dangerous, as the lights are not reliable at all, mainly due to hurricane damage. Also there are many unlit fishing buoys and other flotsam. All the pilots advise against making approaches to land at night.
We have two options. We can attempt to sail onto an anchorage outside Gustavia, which is only 15 minutes away and we would be able to do in the half-light. This would secure us for the night while we attempt to fix the engine, and if we cannot, we can then summon help from Gustavia. The advantage of this is that we can do it straight away, and also I have been to Gustavia before, so have a rough idea where I could anchor. The disadvantages are that we may have to wait quite a while before we can leave. It is Sunday tomorrow, so we will be unlikely to find a mechanic to come out to us until Monday. More time wasted. Also, Gustavia is much less well equipped for yacht repair than Antigua. It is more of a Super-yacht, jet-set style place. If there is something seriously wrong with the engine, Antigua would be a better place to sort it out.
The second option is to sail through the night to Antigua. It is about 80 miles to English Harbour, and 70 to Five Island bay on the sheltered West side. The risk we are taking is that the weather turns filthy and we are caught out overnight without the ability to motor to safety. It is only Caroline and me on board, plus the girls. The advantage of heading South is that we can settle in to English Harbour and do any repairs we need there, whilst also seeing a bit of our friends Gail, John, and baby Thomas Egan, who have been waiting for us patiently at the Inn in English harbour. If its not too crowded and there is some breeze, I should be able to sail into English Harbour. If the wind pipes up, I reckon we can easily sail into shelter in the lee of Antigua.
There is not much time for deliberation. We opt to sail down to Antigua through the night. The forecast said that we should have 25-30 knots of wind, which is fine for the Duck, and there were no serious worries about unusual weather. We are both really enjoying the sail, and in no mood to spend more time waiting for work to finish. My only real sadness is that we will not visit St. Barths which is one of our favourite places. We have some friends, David and Jane Mathews, who run a hotel, the Eden Rock, on the island.
There was not much opportunity to work on the engine, as the boat was bucking about in the swell, making it very difficult to work in the confined space of the engine locker. I am fairly sure it is a fuel problem, as the starter motor is trying hard, but there is no fuel to fire. Still, a firm diagnosis will have to wait.
As it turns out, we have a really lovely sail through the night. I reduced the main down to the second reef whilst we were still in the lee of St. Barths. As we came out of the lee, the wind and the swell got up, and increased steadily through the night. But the wind was just off the nose, giving us a fetch, which Lazy Duck loves. A bonus was the almost full moon, which lit up the night beautifully. Caroline and I shared the watches through the night. I must confess it was hard to sleep in the swell, but there was too much to enjoy on deck anyway.
During the night we pass a huge cruise ship which is lying, all lit up like a Christmas tree, at the entrance to St. Johns waiting to dock at dawn.
By dawn we are beating up towards English harbour. I had telephoned Gail and John to warn them of our plans, and to ask if they could pop down tomorrow morning to Antigua Slipway to seek out a diesel mechanic who would come and take a look at us. I had booked ahead into Antigua slipway, where we planned to moor stern to, once we had fixed the engine.
As we approached English harbour, we stood off about half a mile away, and I studied the entrance through the binos. It has quite a narrow entrance, who rocks either side, and there is a dog leg to work around just at the entrance itself. The NE Trades blow straight down onto the entrance over Shirley heights, so we would have to beat in, find a slot, sail onto it, then drop anchor very quickly and simultaneously drop the sails. This was our plan, and so we set about organising the boat. We flaked the anchor properly below decks so that it would run smoothly, and reduced sail further so that we had less canvas to furl in.
I contacted Antigua slipway on VHF channel 16, told them of our plans, and explained the situation. Almost straight away, a callsign called ‘Sea-Pony’ came up and offered to tow us in. This was a much more attractive idea to me at this point, as I had seen through the binos that English harbour was jam packed with boats, and I did not relish the prospect of trying to find a spot to anchor in the confined space. Also, the wind direction put English Harbour completely in the lee, which meant that once we were in the harbour entrance, we could not rely on the wind to be stable and help us keep moving. There was something in both Caroline and I that rather relished the challenge of sailing her in. I have no doubt that the Duck would not have let us down if had decided to attempt it. There was, however, not much doubt in my mind what the prudent option would be.
I negotiated a reasonable towing fee, and soon ‘Sea Pony’, a tug with 500 hp engine had thrown us a line and towed us in safely past the snarling rocks at the entrance. Once in, we felt fairly vindicated in the decision as the wind was all over the place, and there is precious little space to anchor.
Gail, John and Thomas were waiting for us the Slipway. Great to see them again. We moored up alongside, and soon Mel the diesel mechanic and I were poring over the stripped fuel system, trying to figure out what was wrong. It turned out that there was indeed fuel starvation, and this had been caused by a gummy substance getting through the Racor pre-filters into the fuel line, and clogging up the fine fuel filter. After some priming and a good clean out, we soon had her fired up, and she was purring away as normal. What a relief! I had been having secret nightmares about more time wasted and another major repair bill, but not this time, thank goodness.
We celebrated with an excellent lunch, and by early afternoon, Caroline and I were crashed out, dead to the world, while the children played on the beach with the Egans.
Monday 24 – Tuesday 1 February - English Harbour, Antigua - Lat 17 deg 00 N, 61 deg 45 W
The next week was very relaxed. The Egans moved on to the boat, and we started to introduce Thomas (18 months) to the delights of life afloat. He enjoyed himself thoroughly and found all sorts of exciting things to play with. Chief entertainment was the autohelm instrument repeaters in the cockpit. Thomas found that these made a highly satisfying ‘Beep’ when pressed, so providing hours of amusement. He even discovered that if he got the sequence right he could get some lights to come on, or start a ‘Man Overboard’ warning flashing. Great Fun.
The Girls had their Rasta braiding removed, as it is only meant to last a couple of weeks. Gail obliged with the untangling of her god-daughters' beads and braids.
We met some of the Egan's friends who are in English harbour. There is Graham, who is an old skiing friend of theirs who lives on a beautiful red Swan 43 called ‘Pavlova II’. Also Richard Chadburn, First Mate on ‘Hamilton’, which is Charles Dunstones Swan 86.
On Wednesday we set sail for Five Island bay. We had a lovely reach round there, and anchored up in at our favourite spot on Hermitage beach. We spent a lovely couple of days there, playing around on the sandy beach all day, eating out in the cockpit at night. Thomas had really found his sea-legs by the time we beat back to English harbour on Friday morning.
On Saturday we headed off by car to Harmony Hall. This is converted sugar mill which now houses a restaurant and art gallery. By reputation it is one of the best on the island. We were not disappointed. The setting was magnificent, with views across Nonsuch bay all the way out to the reef by Green Island. Francesco, the Italian host, was most welcoming, and the food was exquisite. A day to remember. We were so sorry that John-John and Emma were not with us as they would have absolutely loved it.
On Sunday, Gail, John and Thomas headed off in the evening back to London. We spent far too little time with them, but it was good to catch up on their news and introduce Thomas to the sea.
On Monday evening we went to Temo sports and I took part in a Round Robin tennis tournament there, whilst the girls polished up their pool table skills.
Today (Tuesday) we are finishing off various jobs that need doing before both sets of Grandparents arrive from Malta and Zimbabwe. They are staying in a villa in Falmouth harbour, so we will mainly be land based, with perhaps the odd excursion. Biba Parry and her boyfriend arrive on Friday to stay with us on board.
On Saturday 12 Feb, we will set off for the Panama Canal. We plan to stop briefly at Bonaire, which is part of the Netherlands Antilles, where the diving and snorkelling is apparently spectacular.
Bird’s Eye View - 31 January 2000
A subject which has been lurking in the back of my mind ever since we left Malta six months ago has been that of exercise. Sailing develops the most brilliant pecks and shoulders – with all the grinding on the winches, heaveho-ing on the sheets and lugging bulging bags of provisions back to the boat – but the lower half has shown an alarming propensity to droop.
Three years ago when we spent Christmas in the Caribbean on a Swan 53 called Gerald, Jonathan, after years of nagging took drastic action. Being a serious fitness fundi he has always sworn by the benefits of fitness to one’s ability to take on stress. He realised that the only way he was ever going to get me to take any voluntary exercise was to give me a trainer for Christmas. That meant he promised to pay someone (wotcha Mary!) to come to our house twice a week at an agreed time to take me out for a walk or run around Tooting Common for an hour. I was outraged at first, but Jonathan’s wife-walker and I became firm friends, and as I worked from home, I looked forward to my twice weekly outings with another human being to natter to. The secondary, rather incidental, consequence was that I became somewhat fitter. Then, as the build up to the start of the trip intensified, we expended all our spare energy on dealing with those seemingly endless lists we’d drawn up. Both of us arrived in Malta in time for August 1st 1999, bug-eyed and scrawny, having shed any spare flesh in the mayhem leading up to departure.
Well that was six months ago, and life has taken on a distinctly slower pace. We’re also eating rather well. Not surprisingly, our belts have had to be let out a notch or two. Except that is for Sarah and Hannah, who seem to have stretched upwards and gone all lanky in the process.
Jonathan has been very disciplined about his exercise and will go for a run on most days that we’re at anchor. He’s found it to be an excellent way to explore a new place and has discovered some fabulous vantage points in the hills surrounding the harbour of the day. Here in Antigua he ran up to Shirley Heights – which offers a superb view over English Harbour – and usefully discovered that there’s a weekly jump-up on Sundays when the rum flows freely all night. (That’s a promised treat for next weekend.) Running through the back streets and hills gives a much truer impression of a place than fighting through the tourists on the front as they search for souvenirs to take back to the cruise ship.
I knew before we left that I would have trouble with disciplining myself to being so energetic on such a regular basis. I went as far as asking Mary my trainer for a regime of exercises for me and the girls to do. Not unexpectedly I haven’t as yet managed to open the packet containing all the stretchy bands and instructions that she gave me. However, after allowing me four months to put my feet up Jonathan finally shooed me off the boat to go running and I found myself on a deserted beach with a gentle breeze to keep me cool as I toiled in the surf. Much to my surprise I actually enjoyed it – the best bit was being able to dive into the sea after two gruelling beach lengths. The Caribbean has provided us with some lovely exercise venues, the most recent one being our wild beach in Five Islands Bay. I got some great pictures of Jonathan trotting up and down the yellow sands, being pursued by the jumping and cavorting figures of Sarah and Hannah as they tried to take their exercising seriously. I’m happy to say that by now my own circuit has lengthened considerably (about eight beach lengths), but sadly it doesn’t seem to have had much impact on my belt.
The long passages are a bit more problematic. After three weeks in the Atlantic even I felt cooped up and had to suppress the urge to jump off the boat to run towards the horizon. With the boat continuously lurching from side to side we all became quite stiff and creaky as we moved about all day in a crouch and braced ourselves all night in our bunks. It was impossible to do anything aerobic – the boat would have sunk under the thunder of eight pairs of feet – but we found it very helpful to do regular stretches on the foredeck (out of earshot of the derisory comments coming from the helmsman). Tummy exercises helped those of us with dodgy backs, and stretchy bands (if I’d got them out of the package) would have been good for legs. If we’re not to seize up altogether in the Pacific with its huge distances between islands, I think I’ll have to face up to Mary’s regime.
But what makes it all worthwhile is our arrival at our destination after days at sea. No matter how sparse are the shower facilities on offer, the fact that it’s hot and fresh and we don’t have to pump it ourselves makes it a true luxury. Jonathan, in the meantime, will have gone for his usual exploratory run and found that luxury of luxuries, the local masseur. Then as your aches and pains are eased away, you know you’re in heaven.