A long first post of the 2015-2016 sailing season.
After an entire season and a half on the island of Bonaire, it was past time for us to find another cruising ground. We aren’t finished with the Eastern Caribbean, and decided to return there. That isn’t easy, though. The winds are from the East 100% of the time during the cruising season, which means that the journey is directly into the wind the whole way. Short of loading Callisto on a cargo ship, the only feasible solution is to head north, and then work our way slowly east. Sometimes you have to go all the way to the Dominican Republic, but by leaving early in the season we were hopeful we could make it to the next island East, Puerto Rico.
Bill Cullen, an extremely experienced sailor, joined us for this trip. We met him through the Seven Seas Cruising Association, and had exchanged numerous e-mails over the summer. This was our first chance to meet face-to-face. It was really terrific having him along, it would have been a drastically more difficult voyage without him, his experience, and his skills.
We had a difficult passage, with several problems, from serious to minor, along the way. We had carefully checked weather forecasts from numerous sources before we left, but found the actual conditions much less favorable than had been predicted. Instead of winds in the high teens, we encountered winds of 25 knots and more. And instead of winds from due East or ESE, we found winds ENE. That meant that much of the trip we were hard on the wind. This is uncomfortable sailing. The boat is heeling over at 15⁰, and is bouncing through the waves. This makes it difficult to walk. From time to time (sometimes quite often), the boat crashes directly into a wave, making a huge bang against the hull. The noise makes it difficult to sleep. Luckily, conditions improved late in the second day of our 2 ½ day passage.
We started out with two reefs in the mainsail, and a full solent (smaller foresai), then reefed the solent, and by late afternoon had put a third reef in the mainsail. This is very unusual with us. We don’t even rig the third reef unless going offshore. We sailed with a triple-reefed mainsail the rest of the trip.
Our most serious problem was the result of a serious error that we made before departing. Callisto has a large locker on her foredeck, where we store things like our kayak, fenders, and other bulky items. This locker is closed by a deck hatch, which has two latches. We left our mooring without closing the latches.
Because of the rough weather and our point of sail, there were numerous waves breaking across our bow. With each wave, water entered the forward locker. Our first hint of this problem was the indicator on our bilge pump coming on. It is usual for this to happen for a few seconds periodically, but this time it came on and stayed on. Inspecting the bilge, we found it nearly full of water. We could tell it was coming from forward in the boat, and that led us to check the hatch. The forward locker was at least half full of water! We immediately dogged the latches on the hatch to stop more water from coming in.
Gretchen started pumping with the manual bilge pump that is located in the cockpit, while Bill investigated further.
The forward locker is supposed to be a water-tight compartment, separated by a sturdy bulkhead from the rest of the boat. There is a pipe that leads toward the bilge, with a valve at the end, that is used to drain small amounts of water that might end up in the locker. This pipe had a sizable rupture in it, so that there was no way to control water flowing from the locker into the bilge. We do not know how or when this rupture occurred. It is in a part of the boat that is very difficult to inspect.
With the flow of new water stopped and the help of the manual pump, we were able to empty the locker and the bilge and sail on.
Our second problem was with the furling line for our smaller foresail, the solent. In the evening of the first day, it chafed through and broke completely. We had been sailing with quite a bit of sail furled, due to the high winds, but without this line the whole sail unrolled. Fortunately, we were in a relatively calmer period, and could manage the larger sail while we figured out a fix. There are several block (pulleys) that lead the furling lines aft from the bow to the winches in the cockpit. A knot couldn’t fit through these blocks. We tied the broken ends together, and led the line back directly to the stern. This wasn’t ideal, because the line rubbed against our rigging, but at least we could furl the sail. When we finally arrived in Puerto Rico we learned that the cage on our furler had shifted, causing the original chafe. We also found a new chafe point where the line rubbed on the rigging, nearly chafed through.
The third problem was with our heads (toilets). Each has a china bowl that is attached to a metal base with a gasket and four bolts. Our aft head (the one we use when making a passage) started to leak badly, putting sewage on the floor. Bill discovered that the heads of two of the four bolts had broken off, and there was no longer a good seal to the base. No problem, we’ll just borrow a couple from the forward head. We don’t use that anyway on passage. But guess what—three of the bolts on that toilet had broken heads.
Fortunately, we had a couple of just-barely-long-enough bolts in our spares that we were able to make work until we got into port. Otherwise, we’d have been using a bucket. And that wouldn’t have been fun while crashing through waves.
Our fourth problem was seasickness. We have gone years without being seasick, but the very rough conditions changed that. David got hit the worst, feeling very nauseous after his first watch, vomiting once that afternoon and again the next morning. Most of the time he could manage OK by staying on deck or by lying down with his eyes closed. But only a minute or two with eyes open when below caused instant nausea. Gretchen also suffered a bout, vomiting on her late watch on the second day. She was alright after that. Bill has a cast iron stomach, able to do close work in all kinds of conditions, and even read in bouncy seas.
Our final problem was discovered just before we departed. Our electrical use is quite high when on passage, with autopilot, chartplotter, and radio all chewing amperes. We can more or less keep up with a combination of wind power and solar power. The wind especially gives us lots of energy when its blowing strongly. But we discovered shortly before leaving that our wind generator wasn’t producing any power. We were able to fix it after we arrived in Puerto Rico, but were without it during the trip. This was a minor problem, it simply meant that we needed to generate electricity with our main engine for several hours.
Late in the second day, the winds swung further south and we were able to bear off several degrees. This decreased the heel, and the new wave angle meant much less pounding. The seasickness subsided. We sailed that way well into the night before the wind shifted back north and we were back on a beat.
On the third day the winds and waves moderated quite a bit, and we had a very pleasant sail.
We arrived in the harbor outside the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club about 8:30 pm. It was very dark—the moon was up but it was behind thick clouds. There was just enough light from shore to cruise cautiously through the anchorage. We found many boats on moorings. Since moored and anchored boats swing differently in the winds, you can’t anchor too close to a moored boat. We finally found a spot, dropped the anchor, and were relieved when it set on the first try. Time for a beer!