Thursday, July 28, 2011

Challenges of Single-hand Cruising

While I was waiting for work to be done on Ruyam II, I was mostly docked at the Joma Marina at the Road Town harbour. It gets quite hot, it is full of bugs, and it gets really boring at night and during the weekend since there is nothing or no one around. Besides the water inside the harbour is not for swimming at all. The town is a 20-25 minute away on foot, and it is not very safe to walk alone at night. Since the radar installation was delayed until after the past weekend, I decided to sail out of the marina and spend a night at Peter Island, at the Great Harbour, where there is wonderful swimming opportunity at and around the beach club and the restaurant stays open late during weekends. Saturday morning I left the marina and sailed directly south across the channel. With winds at 15-18 knots on the beam it was a very pleasant 1.5h sailing.

One drawback of the location I chose was that anchoring was not really an option on the beach club side of the harbour. It is a very deep bay and doesn’t get shallow enough until you are literally yards away from the shore; however mooring is provided in front of the beach club. I had never done this before, but I was ready for the challenge and pick a mooring ball without any other crew on board.

Well I tried and missed the first time, stopping a little early and being carried back away from the ball by the wind and the current. The second time I overshot the ball, that was between the two hulls and decided to slowly back onto it and run forward to catch it with the boat hook as it passed forward. The ball was nowhere and I noticed that we were not moving back anymore. I returned to the helm and looked to see where the mooring ball was. It was at the starboard side stern and stuck to the hull. The boat was slowly turning to port, pivoting at the mooring ball. It was obvious I had the mooring anchor line caught at something below. I immediately went to the windlass and started to drop anchor, at around 25-30 feet. I had to, because I was alone and I was going to dive and have a look at what had happened below. I put on my goggles and dove off the starboard stern. It looked worse than I thought. The mooring anchor line was wrapped around the prop. While I was trying to back I must have been a little bit too late putting the engines back into neutral. I could hold on the last step of the stern and inspect the situation. It looked like it was only a few turns and was quite loose, except the last round of loop that was stretched by the pull of the boat with wind and current. I decided to use the port side engine in reverse briefly to actually drive the boat on to the ball to loosen the stretched line and quickly dive to dislodge the last loop from the prop. It worked. The rest of the loops came off easier and after about six or seven dives to the prop all the line was off the prop and we were free.

I took a few deep breaths, a drink of water and started to assess the situation. The anchor was holding at the moment, but I did not have sufficient scope on the chain to spend the night at anchor at that location. I decided to weigh anchor and try again to get the mooring ball. All this time a family of four were watching me from their deck, comfortably tied at the next mooring ball. When they saw me attempting to get the ball again, they offered help. The skipper and her daughter hoped on their dinghy and came over to take the port side dock line, and passed it through the eye of the mooring ball pennant, giving back the bitter end so I could tie at least one side of my bridle. I thanked them and said that I could fix the second line myself, saving a little bit of dignity.

Once the ordeal was over, I had a wonderful weekend at Peter Island. But I don’t think I will try to take a mooring ball singe-handed again, except in absolute calm weather in a very safe harbour.

An Electronics Installation Story Worth Telling (Part-3)

They were back the third day. A one day installation job turned into three days, and I started wondering if I would be asked to pay for the for the lost time due to these technicians’ incompetence and lack of experience. The one, that spent two days at the top of the mast was happy to be finished there, went about his job of drilling through the bulkhead, bringing the cable into the cabin, then working it through the storage lockers under the seats, behind the stairs on the port side, and behind the chart table up to the back of the helm navigation station. In the meantime the second technician, who spent the last three days just hoisting his friend up to the mast, standing by the winch to occasionally lower or rise his position slightly, and once in a while send a tool or part up to him by means of a continuous loop line they had rigged for that purpose, repositioned the cut-out template on the nav-station according to my suggestion. Then he started cutting the fiberglass panel. However, this time he had placed the template’s left edge a bit too close to the existing instruments, such that his power jigsaw would not fit. He had to remove the wind indicator display unit in order to complete the cut. After all was done, they hooked-up the power and antenna cables and tested the unit. Both were very happy with their accomplishment and left with smiles. I was sitting at the helm, looking at a my new toy, also with some joy because it was finally installed, in spite of the fact that the display unit was placed slightly crooked, and the bottom edge did not perfectly follow the bottom edge of the panel.

Two days later Laura, the BVI yacht Charters manager informed me that the invoice from key electronics was in. When I walked into the office she said, “I think you should sit down for this” while handing me the emailed invoice. It was over $4,000. They had charged a total of 2x20hrs of labour at $90/hr. in addition to the cost of the bracket and the extra cable with customs duty added, some small parts and the $250 Fedex bill for shipping the parts express from Florida.

I was outraged, not only at the charge out rate, but also for asking me to pay for the two man to fool around for a day and a half just to figure out how they would do the installation.

The bill is still in dispute, I will let you know when we settle. But the moral of the story is that; never get any work done on your boat by the locals without agreeing on a final total price beforehand.

Well, this was really a frustrating story, but I did not forget about my promise to tell you an exciting and a merrier story. Please wait for the follow-up blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Electronics Installation Story Worth Telling (Part-2)

They came back the next day, immediately started pushing the cable down from top, and pulling from the bottom the line that they had put through the day before by disconnecting the streaming and deck light cable and pulling that cable down with a line tied to the end. After quite a few tries they declared, “your conduit is too small” and offered to de-step the mast!!, or alternatively cut open an inspection hole at the foot of the mast!!! To inspect and find out what was wrong.

I would not allow them to cut a hole on my mast and god knows how much ruin the integrity of the aluminum mast. I would not spend two more weeks and thousands of dollars to take the mast off either. I suggested dropping the line through the mast outside the conduit. Their response was; “That is not something we do. We need the approval of the office, which will probably want to talk to you about the consequences etc.” Then they said we will try a bit more.

Then pulling real hard, the cable started to slide down, encouraged, the two stooges pulled even harder on the line, until they dislodged the conduit from where it was fixed inside the mast, and it came all the way down, out the opening inside the salon, where they were pulling. Of course, without the conduit limiting, the cable also came down all the way. Now, they wanted to pull the end, the terminal of the cable that was taped to the end of the line. It would not budge. It was stuck somewhere at the foot of the mast. After inspection and guess work, and to their surprise, they concluded that; the cable had dropped outside the bulkhead, down below the down-comer tube that is at the bottom of the mast and at the top of the stepping support column, which is inside the boat at inside of the bulkhead where the wires come through. The two-technician crew obviously had no idea about the construction of the mast stepping and the wiring systems of Lagoons. But, happy with their “accomplishments!”, they said “we will drill a hole through the bulkhead tomorrow and bring the cable through a sealed system.” That afternoon they continued to install the bracket and then the antenna on the mast.

The saga continues!!. Look for new blog updates.

An Electronics Installation Story Worth Telling (Part-1)

Hello again friends, it has been a long while since my last blog. I have to apologize, but like I said the last time, I would report back when something exciting happens. Well something exciting happened.

Keeping the suspense and the juicy part for later, I want to first go about telling you chronologically what happened, rather what did not happen in the last couple of weeks.

The installation of the radar unit that I had bought in St. Martin was a painful and very expensive ordeal. According to the nice people in BVI Yacht Charters the “only” outfit in Road Town capable of doing this job is Key Electronics, located in the same area and between the Sunsail and the Moorings charter company marinas. BVI Yacht charters offered to arrange the installation and put the work order for me, (with small mark-up) because the technicians are very busy this time of the year when all charter companies start getting their maintenance and upkeep of boats for the next year. It took them five days just to get a possible date for the installation that was still a week and a half away. Then they informed us that the proper bracket for the Fruno antenna was not included in my package and the cable is probably too short at only 10m, and an extension for the cable and a bracket had to be ordered from the US. They did. On the day they were supposed to come for installation, they told us that they were late finishing the job they were on, and would come the next day. No show on Thursday, nor on Friday.

Finally two technicians showed up on Monday around 10:00h. The first thing they said: Ooh! This is a brand new installation, from scratch!” This was the first sign that may be these guys didn’t know what was going on; they were not prepped, or prepared for the job. One mean was hoisted up the mast right away, with the bracket in one hand, and a cordless drill in the other. He positioned the bracket, marked the drilling positions for the bracket and then started to drill the main hole for the cable to go through before mounting the bracket. 15 minutes later, he said, “I cannot see or feel a conduit inside this mast. There should be one”. Then, after poking into the hole he drilled with some tools plastic ties etc. he announced; “Yes there is something here, but I can’t get to it or grab it” This was the second sign that these guys were not the competent technicians that I expected, with experience on Lagoon boats or installation of electronics on these boats. They tried many things, the BVI Yacht charters technicians had suggestions for them, I had ideas and offered them some of my tools etc. No luck, they could not get the cable through. That day all that was accomplished was that they got a line down through the mast. At 4:30 they packed and left, with the bracket dangling on a short line from the port side spreader of my mast.

Don’t worry I will eventually get to the exciting story, keep checking the blog.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lazy Summer Days in Tortola

Hello again. It has been a while since my last blog. But there was not much to talk about. I have been "stuck" in Joma Marina for the last 10 days, partly by choice. I wanted to get some of the upgrades I planned for Ruyam II completed, before I take a break from cruising during the hurricane season.

Well, like many things, getting people to look at your boat and give a quote on the work takes some time, island time! Getting the necessary parts and materials, and actually getting work completed takes even longer. I think you get the picture. When they say “we will come to talk to you tomorrow” may mean “someday this week, if possible.” Therefore you are stuck there docked waiting just in case they show up.

Also, they let me dock at the sea-wall right across the road from the main office of BVI Yacht Charters, where I can get on my boat their WiFi that is actually meant only for their office use. I am afraid I will lose the “cyber access” advantage that I have if I leave the dock for a day sail or for a short trip.

The only thing that is left for me to do is take the dingy to closeby shores, for a quick swim, or just drive it along the shore to explore the coastal line of Tortola.

Lately I have been taking the 2 mile daily trips to the Brandy Wine Bay for a swim, which is a fascinating cove so close to Road Town on the east side, well protected by reefs on both side. Coordinates are (18⁰24’53N & 64⁰35’06W) for those who want to explore the bay on GoogleEarth.

I will report back when more exciting things start to happen.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Week in BVI with a Friend

After a short rest at the BVI Yacht Charters’ marina at Port Purcell my friend Ergin I spent a week, sailing in the Sir Francis Drake channel, zigzagging among the surrounding islands, visiting picturesque anchorages, all the tourist spots of the BVI and enjoying ourselves in the sun between summer showers and thunderstorms.

Our first sortie was a short trip over to Norman Island, passing by the “Indians” a few peculiar rocks, visiting the “Caves” and spending the night at the Bight, a protected cove at the west end of the island.

The next morning we set out to go up to the eastern tip of Virgin Gorda to see the Baths, and then spend a night at Spanish Town. Well by 10 o’clock winds had picked up to 20 knots and gusting to 25 knots during storms, all coming from the direction that we wanted to go. The channel was filled with white caps, and sailing was not fun anymore. We were not up to a bumpy motor ride either after our recent 13hr crossing. So, we decided to take refuge at the east end of Tortola, at Trellis Bay instead.

Early next morning we motored across to the “Baths” where we spent most of the morning, visiting the Devil’s Bay after an “adventure” walk through the pathway among giant granite boulders where the sea washes in between forming unusual caves and ponds. We explored every crevice, every hole and every little pond that lay on our path. On the back track we had become such experienced explorers, so that we became tour guides to the “tourists” who had landed at the Devil’s Bay and were trying to find their way to the entrance of the “Baths”, where a small souvenir shop and a snack bar called “the Poor Man’s Bar” were located. The price of beer at the bar did not reflect the namesake, however.

In early afternoon we set sail to go to the North Sound (also called Gorda Sound) to spend the night there. Again the wind direction was not favourable and we would not make it to the safe harbour on time if we spent a lot of time tacking. We entered the North Sound through a narrow passage between reefs after rounding the Mosquito Island and the dangerous Mosquito Rock. We settled for the night at a mooring at the beautiful Bitter End Yacht Club.

It was a perfect sailing weather the next day. 15-18 knot south easterly winds, fairly calm seas in the channel (2ft waves with no white caps) and 8-9 miles to go back to Rod Town, most of which we did in one long tack and finished the course with a final starboard tack right into the harbour.
A few pictures below will tell part of the story of this wonderful week.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Crossing the open ocean again: ST. Martin to Tortola

My friend Ergin and I had our greatest adventure in life while crossing from St. Martin to the BVI. The two of us, two fairly inexperienced sailors planned and executed a very successful passage with 20-25knot winds and through 12-15ft ocean swells, without the help of a professional or experienced captain. Ruyam II was remarkable and handled the rough seas very well.
We weighed anchor at Marigot Bay around 0400h. In the darkness we motored around the Bluff Point and headed to west into the vast Atlantic ocean. As we left the shelter of the bay we realized that it would be a bumpy 12-14hr ride to Tortola. For the first hour or so we kept glancing back, at the lights of St. Martin at the stern and Anguilla on starboard, both slowly disappearing in the distance while the first lights of the day started to break. A little later we both decided that glancing back to the disappearing land and a the ocean swells chasing us was a bit disheartening and it was not the best idea for the morale of the two person crew. Before starting we had planned a 2hrs on-2hrs off watch routine for us, but at the end of the first watch we realized that no one was going down below to rest. We both preferred to stayed in the cockpit and keep the person at the helm company, talking and reminiscing about the years we spent together while we were classmates in a boarding school in Izmir, Turkey and as roommates during university years in Ankara. This helped us relax and enjoy the crossing, rather than worrying about the somewhat scary situation we were in; no land or vessels in sight, no satellite communication on board and 90 miles of ocean to cross at 6-8 knots according to our GPS. After daybreak we saw a few dolphins chasing us for a short while and a lot of small flying fish, jumping from one wave crest to the other keeping us company almost throughout the journey.
When we reached the Barracuda Reef, we said to each other: “Hey! We are almost there” although we had about 4 hours to the Round Rock passage into the BVI, and close to 6 hours of sailing to Road Town.
We entered the Road Town harbour at 1630hrs and were safely docked at the Joma Marina. We both thought that this kind of 12-14hr ocean crossings is not something you would want to do frequently during cruising, not before a 2-3 month break spent in the areas of the Caribbean where one can sail in calmer waters with land in sight most of the time.
The pictures below and the link to a short video do not do justice to the conditions we encountered; however they will give you an idea.