Greetings from Trinidad, Barbados—or is it Arizona? Just where are we anyway?
Barbados West Indies
Yes, we know it has been a long silence. We wanted to post this update MONTHS AGO! OH how we wanted to! Where did the time go? For those of you who care about such things, Entr’acte is alive and well in Trinidad, finally!
Our passage time was a very slow 31 days and throughout that passage we nursed a romantic vision of sitting quietly at anchor in Tobago and doing nothing but writing this update while we watched the pelicans diving and fishing next to us. Who was it that said “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions?
Our last update from Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife ended with the words “By the time you read this Entr’acte will be at sea. The passage to Trinidad is a little less than 3000 nautical miles and should take just under a month!” Well, it didn´t go that way and much indeed has happened. Join us.
The plan was to post our latest update on the afternoon of November 27 and leave Santa Cruz for Tobago, West Indies, that same evening. Just three hours before we were to depart Ed booted the computer to check the weather and a depression to the North had turned into Tropical Storm Delta that was sitting just north of our rhumb line. There would be no leaving tonight. Happy 29th Anniversary, Ellen and Ed!
November 28: At noon, Ellen returned from the market with news that all schools were being evacuated because TS Epsilon was headed directly for Santa Cruz.
TS Epsilon made a direct
hit on Santa Cruz.
A tropical storm occurring this far to the east has never happened in recorded history. Now, it is time to hunker down and do our hurricane drill. By 14:00 the wind was up and the marina was rockin´ and rollin´ but as we were up in the NW corner we were pretty sheltered. By 17:00 everything calmed down and it appeared that we missed the worst of things as Delta tracked off to the NE. We settled down to watch a movie. At 19:30, just as the last scene in the movie was ending, WHAM! We were knocked over more than 50 degrees. The forward hatch cover was ripped away and in less than the ten seconds that it took for Ellen to close and dog down the forward hatch, a torrent of wind, cigarette butts, old trousers, underwear, used condoms, plates, cups, pens and clouds of volcanic sand filled Entr’acte´s interior. The barometer plummeted to 995mb and we rolled violently through an arc of more than 100 degrees. Going on deck to tend lines was dangerous. The air was filled with flying dinghies, exploding wind generators and everything else that used to be tied down. The marina shower building (about the size of an 18 wheel trailer) was sliding across the lot and in danger of falling off the sea wall into the water. We turned on the VHF and could hear calls for help as the marina pontoons began to break apart and boats piled one on top of the other, grinding together in the wind and chop. By midnight the wind was calm, the marina was a shambles, one boat that was anchored off the beach was washed ashore a total loss, and the city of Santa Cruz was in complete darkness! The marina was destroyed. Entr´acte escaped with only a small amount of wood damage which was easily repaired in a day but the clean up would take a week. The damage to other boats ranged from minor scratches to severe dents in metal hulls to major structural damage. That is a whole other story in itself and a very sad one indeed. Close friends aboard Iolanthe are even now (June) stuck in Trinidad repairing major damage.
|Never trust a mooring.No wonder the marina broke apart!||Iolanthe severely damaged at the bottom
of the pile
December 2: We were ready to depart yet again and Ed booted our Dell computer to give some weather information to a friend. He pressed the button and nothing happened. As usual, it is not a question of if something breaks down but when! The rest of that time is a blur. Several days and many unfruitful attempts by experts failed to boot the machine. We bought a new one and lost a few more days converting it from Windows Español to English.
Ashok of Sobho Electronics,
Santa Cruz saved the day!
More days were spent reinstalling the software only to discover that the new computer´s battery charger did not function. More days lost exchanging batteries and ultimately exchanging the defective computer for a new one and yet more days taken for ”re-reinstalling” the software. We left the computer in Spanish this time, Bad Gundi ya know! When we took breaks from our computer fight we pitched in to help Iolanthe next door. Our computer problems were small in comparison to those of Laraine and Don. All they wanted was to make Iolanthe seaworthy enough to cross the Atlantic before they lost this season, and repair her properly in Trinidad. All of this chaos was set to the tune of yet ANOTHER Tropical Storm, Delta! Would it never end?
By December 11 we were finally ready to get under way. Ellen went to the marina office to check out and their weather report showed SW wind at 25 knots for today through tomorrow — our destination was 40 miles through a confined channel and a further 3000 miles, of course to the SW. This was NUTS! So we had another beer and listened on the radio as those who did leave that day got bashed about in all that wind and sea. We took this opportunity to rent a car and drive down to Los Christianos to say hello and goodbye to Maestro, our French friends from Sevilla. They were still on the hard working frantically to prepare for their own departure. We also gave Don and his Monitor wind vane a lift to a distant welding shop. The Monitor was bent like a pretzel, cracked in several places and a real mess but we banged and straightened it enough so it would steer them to the other side.
A strong pull on a big pipe
gets Iolanthe steering again.
The new computer was working and charging with all systems go! It was actually fun to boot the computer and have it greet you with “Bienvenido” instead of “Welcome!” It is a nice souvenir of our years in Spain.
December 13: Departure day for sure! We had a wild morning of clearing Customs, Immigration, checking out of the marina and a frantic hour running around to say goodbye to those who were still preparing. Our hearts were in our throats with Immigration as we were blatantly illegal and in violation of the Schengen Treaty but the officer on duty was talking on the phone. He never looked at us nor did he look closely at our passports. He just stamped everything and slid the papers across the counter. Whew! We were now “Legal“ again! We felt as though we were abandoning Don and Laraine but they seemed to have things sufficiently in hand. After two years it was finally time to say a sad goodbye to Spain.
It was just past noon when we cleared the harbour breakwater. The wind was light in the NE as we entered the channel but we knew that it would increase as we went further South in the channel. This channel between Tenerife and Grand Canaria is a notorious “Acceleration Zone,” a venturi effect caused by the wind funneling between the islands. It was crossing this same channel in 1984 that I spent my entire night watch fantasizing about raising horses in Colorado! After our experience leaving Madeira, we were on our guard!
Finally under way! We
couldn´t go back now if we
By 15:00 we were down to two reefs in the main, no jib and screaming along at over six knots with the water generator spinning merrily away. Three hours into the trip and Santa Cruz was only a speck astern and there was nothing in front of us but 3000 miles of open sea. It was just like in the days of Columbus when the sailors knew but two things for certain. One, you were sailing into the unknown, toward an unchanging horizon and unimaginable solitude to face unknown challenges. You did not know what was out there but you were certain of one thing: Two, there was no going back the way you came. With this wind and sea it was a one way trip!
The next three days were various combinations of wind and more wind. We went through various sail reductions and were finally down to storm trisail. The seas were very confused with big wind and waves astern and large cross seas coming from all directions. This was the second time in our 25 years with Entr´acte that we had serious water find its way into the aft cabin and the first time ever that we had to close the cockpit engine room vents, unfortunately AFTER the cockpit filled with water and drained into the engine room. The sea will always find any weakness in both the vessel and her crew. As the cross seas crashed into us broadside the water trickled in, from port lights that needed re-bedding to a veritable torrent from a ventilator box, even though we had recently raised the water baffles in it some three inches! We were now discovering leaks that we never knew we had! It was nothing dangerous but a serious reminder from King Neptune that our ship was in need of further maintenance.
|Trade winds astern.
It´s a one way trip!
|A strong gust broke off
Max´s wind blade.
At 02:00 after setting the trisail, Ed remained in the cockpit just those five seconds too long to do one last job when a huge cross sea slammed into us squarely at the cockpit. I was coiling the jib sheet and smugly congratulating myself that I had performed the entire operation without getting wet feet, a real achievement under these conditions. I heard the roar, looked up and suddenly felt like Wylie Coyote watching the anvil come screaming down from above. It was just like in the cartoon. WHAM!!!! I was soaked through from head to foot in ice cold water. It was funny really and all we could think of was Tristan Jones´ motto for crossing oceans in small boats. “Get wet and stay wet!” We hove to for a few hours to dry out, change clothes and rest a bit after our wild beginning. We had a cupper, listened to ”Have Gun Will Travel” on the MP3 player and tried unsuccessfully to raise some friend on the radio. No luck with Maestro but Iolanthe came through loud and clear at 300 miles.
Day 5 brought much lighter conditions but we were approaching “the hole” as we called it.
|The wind is going light||Clear sailing for 3000
This was an area of very light SW wind, almost calm. We had been watching this “hole” for the past month and were anticipating it, hoping it would go away and the NE trade winds would replace it. But here it was and we were carrying extra fuel just for this event. “Motor on” into an almost calm sea. It was a great opportunity to dry out, clean up and do a bit of laundry. We could “re-group” and be all clean and dry for when the trades began. We managed to steer well clear of Echo Sea Mound and an unlit weather buoy. GPS made this easy. The last time through here, to avoid them was a major navigational feat. We now had unobstructed sailing all the way to Trinidad!
For the next week and a half the wind was fitful. It teased us by coming up out of the east for two hours or so and then dying away for half a day. The engine got a good work out and so did our sail drill. We went through every sail in the inventory and every conceivable combination of head sails and reefs. We ghosted along wing and wing at two knots powered by our large drifter and our nylon drifter mainsail. The sea was absolutely flat, devoid of swell with not a ripple to disturb it. Our hatches and ports were all open, the sky was an explosion of stars! Venus was sitting prominently in the sky on the bearing of Martinique. It was just too good! We switched off the GPS. We didn´t need it! We could easily just steer toward Venus every night for two or three weeks and arrive at our destination. By Christmas Eve the wind settled down to the NE at an unbelievable five knots.
|Without the drifter and
the nylon mainsail we
would still be out there.
We opened our presents, listened to “It´s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” and watched Santa streak across the sky on his yearly rounds. There was absolutely no sense of motion and no sound. The words “All is calm, all is bright” will forever have a new meaning! What a fabulous Christmas!
|“Do not open until you cross Longitude 040 West!||The crew of Odysseia of Holland anxiously awaits 040 West!||Congratulations Odysseia, you made it! Only 1800 miles to go!|
New Year´s Eve brought more of the same. We connected with Clyde of the Maritime Mobile Net and Wayne, KB1IYY who graciously set up phone patches to family and friends.
|New Year´s Eve did not go uncelebrated.||Maritime Mobile Radio Net 14.300 made holiday calls to family possible.|
The sailing was idyllic, the type of sailing one “imagines” trade wind sailing to be. Our conditions were caused by Tropical Storm “Zeta” far to the North which was sucking up all our wind! We traveled for two and a half weeks in this bubble of calm while boats 300 miles ahead and astern had more big wind and swell. Iolanthe was now under weigh and romping along under small jib at 5 knots.
Ghosting along at 2 knots.
When one thinks of crossing an ocean, the fixation is always on storms and survival. Who would believe that we could be 1000 miles from land with a sea so incredibly calm that we spent days watching a family of dorado teaching “Junior” how to catch flying fish. The family would swim day after day in our shadow and were so close that we could make eye contact with them. There was no denying the intelligence and communication taking place as “Dad” showed his son how it was done. Then “Mom” took her turn after which time “Junior” screwed it all up and returned unfed. Day after day this show continued. I guess even fish have to learn how to fish. At last, “Junior” was finally successful and a huge cheer went up. Dad turned toward us and I swear he smiled as we cheered. He definitely heard us! To experience nature in this way so far from land was so moving it went unsaid that “there will be no fishing lines put over the side on this trip. We WILL NOT break up the family.”
One day Max our Aries wind vane just stopped steering. Nothing we could do could get him to steer. We set the electronic autopilot but the noise of the motor was just too much of an intrusion. We had to coax Max back to work! Close inspection showed that the bevel gears had jumped a tooth. Was it wear or did I not assemble it properly back in Madeira? We made a bushing out of some scrap plastic tube, snapped it into place and Max dutifully went back to steering. Whew! We would sacrifice the engine rather than lose the wind vane!
As usual, we were speaking daily to Herb, Southbound II, for weather information and he kept promising more wind “any time now.” Our speed had dropped to one and a half knots, just barely enough to maintain steerage. We had used all but five gallons of fuel which we needed to hold in reserve to enter the harbor. We were extremely comfortable but this was proving to be a very long passage.
|Day after day after day! We always maintain a watch||Our daily plot of all weather systems.|
We were already past the 24th day (the length of our first trip) and we still had 800 miles to go. The other boats were romping along.
“Hey Herb, if I send you some money can you send me some wind?”
“Enjoy this while you can because it´s going to end! You are in for some squally conditions in a day or so.”
All good things must come to an end. As Herb predicted, the wind and seas began to build. It was sad to take down the light air sails but it felt good to have some real speed again. Hatches and ports were closed and off we went. By January 6 we had a steady 25 knots astern and those crazy cross seas were back. Again, they came from all directions caused by the different weather systems far away.
Occasionally Max needs a
By January 8 we were under short sail and safety harnesses. We had all our vents closed and water baffles in place but we still took the odd splash aboard every now and then.
On January 9 the wind was a steady 25 knots gusting higher with cross seas everywhere. Max just could not cope with these seas. This was unusual because over the past 25 years, Max steered through everything! The autopilot would only steer for a minute or so. It just could not cope with the demands of these cross seas either. We began to steer by hand. Even under reduced sail it took a lot of muscle to remain even close to our heading. It was a hard go correcting for all the pitching and yawing. In between squalls Max returned to duty and we carried on waiting for things to even out into proper trade wind conditions. This was definitely NOT the trade wind sailing we remembered from years ago when we sailed with open hatches with nice steady winds astern and a constant regular swell for 24 days.
The next day Ellen suggested we heave-to for a much needed bath, a “quiet” dinner together for a change, and our afternoon contact with Herb, then get back under way. I had some reservations about the bath part because the seas were running large and just like washing your car on a sunny day brings rain, I just knew that the minute we were all nice and clean and de-salted we would take yet another splash and be right back where we started (Get wet, stay wet). But Ellen prevailed and we went through the entire drill. No, we did not get wet. Dinner complete we placed the check-in call to Herb and waited for the show to begin. It was then I heard this banging and clunking from aft. “It´s just those damn bevel gears on the wind vane again,” I thought. But a bit later I heard it again and it was definitely louder and sounded quite ominous. A close look and it became very obvious why Max had been steering so badly, he was literally FALLING APART! The large center pin that holds everything together had worked itself free and was hanging out over the ocean ready to drop into its depths. Ah, now I understood!
“You talk to Herb, I´ll just slide this pin back in. That has been the problem all the time. This will only take a minute.”
Well, we escaped getting wet after the bath but after fighting with Max for over an hour I was scratched, bleeding, greasy, sweaty and miraculously still had all of my fingers but that pin just would not “slide” back into place. Max was definitely down for the count until we could get into a harbour where I could remove him and bring him aboard for a proper repair. Again, the autopilot could not cope and we now settled down to hand steer all the way home. This was going be a real grind. With this wind we were four days from Trinidad but only two days from Barbados. We decided to make landfall at Barbados, put Max back together and then continue on to Tobago and then to Trinidad.
The wind held at around 25 but the seas were growing! They were the mountainous seas of a 50 knot wind and for no apparent reason. The cross seas were the real problem. You could never tell from which direction one would come and they would throw you 30 to 40 degrees off course in the blink of an eye, especially in the dark when you couldn’t see them coming.
|The seas were all out of proportion to the wind
|Hand steering in these seas was tiring work.|
Steering was hard work because you really needed to concentrate. We settled on one hour on one hour off. Once in a while we would go two hours but anything more was not wise. It is times like these that one realizes the importance of a good wind vane gear. It was very tiring!
The change of watch usually took about ten seconds. Watch the waves and wait for the right moment, unclip the harness, stand up, new helmsman grabs the tiller, sits down and clips on in one quick motion while the off watch dives below, but not this one time! Again at 02:00 (why is it always 02:00) I stepped into the cockpit and it was like a movie, “OK, cue the big wave. GO! “ It was like someone pressed a button as this huge wave rose up out of the dark. I have never seen such a large wave at sea. As big as it was, Entr´acte´s stern rose to meet it and we surfed happily down the face. Whew! And then there was the “next one,” even larger. The foam from its crest glowed in the dark. We would never climb this one! I held on as the wave took control as eight tons of boat shot through the night and began to turn sideways as the next cross sea hit just off the quarter. I felt Entrácte begin to spin to port. I just knew we were going to broach, fall sideways and roll, spilling us both into the sea. How or where Ellen found the strength I don’t know but with one arm wrapped around the boom gallows and the other pulling on the helm she managed to regain control and aside from getting a decidedly wet rear end she maintained steerage and continued on. That was the end of the drama.
We made landfall on Barbados January 13. Once in the lee of the island we screamed along the home stretch at close to seven knots. Sometimes I think that the best parts of these passages are the greetings from those at anchor as you arrive and the sleep one gets when you finally “switch off” at the end.
Barbados, we made it!
Robin is supposed to be in the
Distance, 2743 NM. Time, 31 days. Best day’s run 129 NM. Worst day’s run 59 NM.
Customs can wait until tomorrow.