Thursday, February 23, 2017

Betrayed by the Tradewinds

In the tropics, outside the hurricane season, you can pretty much count on the winds being from the East.  Sometimes Northeast, sometimes Southeast, but East is basically it.  This phenomenon is called the Tradewinds.

As a result of this predictability, the majority of harbors and anchorages are on the Western side of islands.  That way, you have a great big island protecting you from wind and waves.  The island of Nevis is an extreme example of this.  Nevis is basically an oval, with no indentations in the coast.  But normally, just parking on the Western edge puts a big mountain between you and the weather.

On Tuesday, February 21, an unusual weather pattern occurred in the Atlantic ocean, which caused the Tradewinds to fail, and the winds on Nevis (and many other islands) to come from the West.  Nothing but open ocean between you and the weather.  This is at best concerning, and at worst outright dangerous.

We were cautious, but not overly worried, since the forecast was for winds of only 7 or 8 knots, really quite gentle.  We nonetheless inspected our mooring, and were happy to see that it was in excellent condition.

On Tuesday morning, however, we found that the forecast was very wrong. Instead of 8 knots, we were experiencing 15 to 20, and sometimes long spells of 25 knots in rain showers.  This was very worrying, since it caused breaking waves 5 feet high to come crashing through the mooring field.  Waves like that put tremendous stress on the mooring.  They also cause your boat to rock violently from side to side.  Over and over again.  With waves that size it is extremely dangerous to try to get into your dinghy to go ashore, and even more dangerous to land the dinghy on the beach or at a pier.  Very easy to get seriously injured or even killed.  So that meant we were stuck on Callisto for the duration.

We considered going to some other anchorage, but there was really no place we could get to that would have been better.  Most other anchorages would have had exactly the same problem.  Antigua might have been a possibility, but we knew there would be hundreds of boats descending on the island, and also knew that we would have difficulty with Customs if we hadn’t properly cleared out of Nevis.

Fortunately, our mooring held.  If it had broken, we were watching closely and could have motored or sailed out into the open sea, and to safety.

The neighboring boat wasn’t so lucky.  Its owner was ashore, and could not possibly get to the boat in the horrible conditions.  When its mooring broke, there was nothing to prevent it from drifting toward the beach and destruction.

We saw this happen and immediately made an emergency radio broadcast explaining the situation.  We couldn’t help ourselves, but hoped somebody could.  Two very brave souls from a large motor yacht managed to get into their dinghy and came to try and rescue the boat.  They picked up the broken mooring line, and were able to tow the small sailboat into deeper water – but could not manage to tie it to another mooring.

At this point, the Port Police arrived, and took over the operation. We watched in fascination as they worked to tie the sailboat to another mooring.  It took them three hours, but they were finally able to get it attached.  We were impressed with skill and bravery of the Nevis Port Police.

As the day went on, we suffered through the +/- 30 degree rolls from side to side, fighting to avoid seasickness.  It calmed just slightly in the afternoon, and the owner of a nearby boat, with a much larger dinghy then ours, came by and asked if we needed any help.  We gratefully accepted his assistance in tying a third, redundant, line between Callisto and the mooring.

The winds got quieter in the night, but the waves stayed strong enough to keep us very uncomfortable.  By morning it was calm enough that we could go ashore and complete our Customs and Immigration formalities, clearing us to leave the island.

We had planned to stay a couple more days, but it was just too uncomfortable and knew that being under way would be far better.  The story of that passage is a tale for a separate post.