Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mystery of Road Harbour

On Monday, 29th of January, Al decided to return to Road Town, since he had obtained a general kind of an appointment from BVI Yacht Charters for engine maintenance and battery overhaul for Tuesday or Wednesday, or any other day that might suit them. We had some trouble with the start-up battery for the port side engine, so Al wished to have it checked before we start our passage to St Martin/ Sint Maarten. He looks at the weather forecast almost every hour, and saw a promise of 10 – 15 knot wind and less than 1 foot of waves. I don’t understand the forecast; wouldn’t wind and waves go together, if there is wind, shouldn’t there be comparable waves?

When we left my beloved Cane Garden Bay, we headed south west in the lee of Tortola, so the wind was at our back backs, and the waves were mild, perfect for sailing. We had put up our main sail while at anchor (we saw all the Sunsail people doing it, and thought it a good idea), turned around and went underway. We were aiming at Great Thatch and Little Thatch islands, which stand guard at the entrance of Soppers Hole, located at the Western tip of Tortola. There are two narrow passages between the Hatches and Tortola, which is called the Thatch Island Cut, quite narrow with 1.5 knot currents. Since the wind was favorable, and one of the engines was iffy, we did motor sailing with one engine most of the way. When we almost reached the Great Thatch, Al tried several times, to start the second engine, and became nervous when he could not. Of course, he had forgotten to push the choke all the way. It was a good thing that he had earlier told me to check that, when he was showing how to start the engines. Anyway, the engine started, and we mostly motored trough the cut. The second narrows lies at a South East direction, and one finds oneself in the Sir Francis Drake Channel, with a sharp turn to East, from where the wind blows with full force. We had to bring down the sail quickly, because the wind pushed us onto the land. Al was telling me to release the line, which I did, but we could not completely head into the wind, so I had to run up to the boom, to literally pull the sail down. It was a bit scary, since Al had trouble with the port side engine, which was overwhelmed with the force of the wind in the sail.

No harm done, just an adrenaline rush for me. The rest of the trip, which was about two hours along the southern shore of Tortola was not too much fun. Waves matched the 20 knot winds on our nose, so it was up and down, up and down. My hands and arms got tired from holding on to the back of the captain’s seat. Al can hold the railing at his side, but on mine there is nothing.
On the way, my brother called and asked us to discuss something on Skype. So as soon as we reached and anchored at Road Harbour, we rushed to Village Cay Marina/Restaurant, and set up the computer. Our favorite waitress Sharon looked at me, and said I looked tired. That was an understatement, just three hours of beating, and I was beat.

Of course, the harbour was rolling like a raging river, and we were stuck in the middle of it. Reaching the anchorage was no escape from constantly moving up and down on the boat. At night, the winds calmed down, but rolling did not subside. That is the mystery; one looks out the window, and sees dead calm waters all around. Is there an undercurrent that pushes the boats or what? Right before it got dark, we thought we should take refuge in the inner harbour, where three marinas are located, with a little space for anchored boats. We anchored at the last space left, very close to the million-dollar catamaran, the Necker Belle, owned by Sir Richard Bronson, some kind of a tycoon, who is aiming to market parts of the Necker Island, also owned by him. Anyway, we were dangerously close to the boat, and I could not take my eyes off the distance between us. We spent a couple of hours there, quite apprehensive of the sudden gusts of wind. All of a sudden, we realized that we had passed Necker Belle’s side, and was headed towards another mega yacht docked at the marina behind us. Fire up the engines, and return to the harbour entrance in the dark! Since Al always anchors there, he knows where to go, so we dropped anchor somewhere in the middle of the channel. I could not see where the chain was going, but hey, we knew that the bottom was holding well there. Also, rolling is better than damaging a boat. Especially such valuable ones, which would be the end of our meager finances.

In the morning, BVI Yacht Charters told us that the work could be done on Wednesday, but we decided to dock there a day before, thinking that marina would be better. Wrong! The other mystery, why would the marina roll like crazy, since it is surrounded by another breakwater? Now rolling was accompanied by sudden jerks of the multiple lines at both our sides. I almost lost my balance several times, when the floor suddenly shifted violently under my feet.

I am telling you, I am not a happy camper! However, I changed my mind about the passage to St Martin. We have been exposed to the same kind of constant movement on the boat for 48 hours, 14 is going to be a breeze. I read the guide books, and convinced myself that starting the trip early afternoon and hard motoring during the night seemed doable. Who knows, maybe I will shake my phobia of going at night.

On Wednesday afternoon, the technician gave a shopping list to Al, for the parts to be changed during the engine service. We went to a nearby chandlery, and got most of the items. Al thought that we needed a new battery, so he asked for a “maintenance free” starter battery. The nice man at the counter said that those batteries were three times the price of the regular ones, and he was not carrying the cheaper, so called no maintenance, because they did not work. He pointed out that the batteries needed water to be added every two – three months, especially in hot climates like the Caribbean. Al was quite surprised; he later told me that those batteries had been extinct for almost twenty years in cars! It never occurred to him to check the water level of our batteries. We came back, and of course the first thing he did was to look. Lo and behold, the malfunctioning battery was almost dry inside. He added some water, and it was good as new!
We had some good news from the technician; the source of the small amount of water seeping into the port side bilge was determined as the swimming ladder connection. Al had been constantly trying to pump the water out without success. The on and off running of the bilge pump was getting on my nerves, and I was occasionally ordered to run to the side, to check the discharge. Most of the time, there was nothing coming out, despite the grinding sound of the pump.
Today (Thursday) Al went into the port side engine compartment to fix the problem. Engines are located under the back steps, and the swivel ladder is mounted on the lowest step of the port side. He took the swim ladder off, successfully cleaned the corroded bolts, nuts and the washers, and used the marine 4200 glue around the washer as the sealant before re-installing it. Somebody gave Al a tip to store the glue in the fridge to keep from setting inside the tube, once opened. Al uses it quite often to fix many problems around the boat. . We are hopeful that there are no other leaks into the hull.

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