Monday, February 13, 2012

“Thorny Path” Complete

Boqueron, Puerto Rico

The winds finally relented and we left Mayaguana on 8th February with a good forecast for getting across the Turks and Caicos banks and onward to Puerto Rico.

The day before leaving I did something very, very stupid - I tipped 5 gallons of gasoline into the port diesel tank!  The sound of swearing was heard as far away as Nassau I would imagine, and the last afternoon before departure was spent pumping 70 gallons of contaminated diesel out of the tank and into jerry cans, spare containers, holding tanks etc ready to refill with nice clean diesel in the Turks and hopefully to be able to dispose of it there too! 

An annoying and expensive mistake, but thankfully I noticed before running any engines/generators!  Luckily we have a completely full and uncontaminated starboard tank so we can catch the weather window rather than having to stay here any longer!

The first leg of our trip takes us to Sapodilla Bay in the Caicos Islands, it’s only 60  miles but with the wind 30 degrees off the bow it meant motor sailing rather than sailing in order to arrive in daylight, which with a coral head strewn last 8 miles onto the banks and into the anchorage was essential.

It was basically a boring day of chugga chugga from the engine, a few waves over the deck but as the winds dropped off to under 15 knots by lunch time even that didn’t happen too often.  The new engine did a great job of powering us into the wind at 7.5 knots plus and really that’s all you can ask for on a trip like that – uneventful!

The next day we went across the Caicos Banks in near perfect conditions, we had a lovely sail for the first ten miles down to our waypoint and then another fast but flat motor all the way across to Six Hills Cays.  The coral heads were easy to see and frequent enough to keep you alert without it being too stressful.  It took a little under 7 hours to complete the 52 miles into the anchorage at South Caicos. 

Once cleared in with Customs I get to spend a smelly, tiring, sweaty few hours offloading contaminated diesel for disposal and refilling the tank with fresh clean nice $6.60 a gallon diesel – why did I choose the most expensive country for diesel in the whole Caribbean to do this?Six Hills 001

We spend a rolly night in the South Caicos anchorage, finalise the diesel refill and then move round to the gorgeous Six Hills Cays to await the weather for the trip to Puerto Rico.  We are swimming in crystal clear water over a sandy bottom wondering why we are leaving!

Saturday morning we awake to SE15 and the forecast of that dropping to near zero by night fall.  We wait for a few hours, so that we will arrive in Puerto Rico in daylight and then up the anchor wave goodbye to the shallows of the Bahamas and Turks and make our way out into the ocean.

The first 12 hours takes us across towards Great Sand cay and then to the south around the Mouchoir Bank, the first of 3 huge sand banks in the middle of nowhere that for a breeding ground for whales at this time of year, so it is no surprise to see a big humpback quite close up just before sunset.

Just before sunset the course changes and we are able to sail for 2 glorious hours, but then the wind dies almost completely and that is it, we don’t see a breath of wind for the next 36 hours!

So basically we just motor, in a flat calm sea straight to Puerto Rico, we get distant views of the Dominican Republic, I have to change a fuel filter that has become clogged and we see three very mysterious floating cubes with buoys attached – obviously a drug drop, luckily we don’t encounter the collectors or customs while we are near them, and in fact most luckily we don’t hit the first one as it is not easy to see and in a huge calm sea with no land or boats in sight not what you are really keeping watch for!

Mayaguez 01325 miles and 45 hours later we drop anchor off the customs dock in Mayaguana just after sunrise, two nights at sea $450 of diesel and here we are.  Still a few miles to go to get to the Virgin Islands but the hard yards done.

Customs clearance is easy and the we move down to Boqueron for a mojito or two and dinner with Merlin to celebrate what feels like the end of a long trip to the Caribbean.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Finally Some Progress

Mayaguana, Bahamas

We finally set off on the thorny path south last Sunday.  The trip was pretty good in the end, we had to motor sail for most of the day into stronger winds and bigger seas than forecast, but although annoying it wasn’t too uncomfortable.  The new engine doing sterling work, driving us through the seas at 8 knots even at comfortable cruising revs, it was the first real test of it in those conditions and we are really pleased how it went.

During the evening the wind and seas laid down and we sailed all night as the wind backed more to the north and we rounded Samana.

Day break saw us lining up the western reef entrance and the anchor rattled down in time for bacon sandwiches and a nap.  During the morning our various companion boats arrived, North Bound and Makai are with us here, as they were in 2008 bizarrely, and it’s the first time any of us have been back!Mayaguana_014

We felt very lucky as of the 6 boats with us, one lost their auto pilot, two had major engine issues and another lost all their electrical power!

The good passage behind us we are now going to be here a while it seems, the wind is howling out of the ESE, exactly where we need to go to, and is forecast to do that for quite a while.  There is a very unseasonal weather pattern in place with no cold fronts penetrating south to the Bahamas to back off the trade winds.

We aren’t alone though the boat count is up to 10 boats now, all but 2 waiting to head to the eastern Caribbean. So although we are “stuck” it could be worse, there are lobsters on the reef and  good company with the other cruisers here.  We had an excellent beach BBQ yesterday afternoon and other than the howling wind blowing over a few beers it was perfect!