Monday morning, we finished breakfast around 7:30, and Al was leisurely getting ready to start for Rodney Bay, located at the north west corner of St Lucia. We always stay at the marina there, before tackling the channel to Martinique. As St Anne is close to the south east corner of the island, it is only 24 miles away. However, north easterly winds become on the nose, easterly winds are quite helpful.
While Al was getting ready, I was looking at the chart, and it dawned on me that staying at Rodney Bay after three hours of motoring in the lee is ludicrous. Although it is a sheltered marina, which comes handy during northerly swells, it is a very hot and dirty place. As well, Al found numerous incidents reported in the last few months about Rodney Bay, regarding theft, assault etc in the marina, and larsony at the local bank in the village around it. The criminal elements installed a fake keypad at the ATM machine, which copied the bank information as well as the passwords of a few unsuspecting sailors who were trying to withdraw money from their accounts. They were swindled out of thousands of dollars through another branch of the bank at Vieux Fort (south of St Lucia), by the thieves, who used the card information.
Moreover, the police did not help the sailors when they complained, citing lack of evidence of any wrong doing. Really? Wouldn't the camera at the top of ATM machine record the suspicious activity of installing the fake pad? I thought that the bank officials and the police may have cooperated with the criminal elements, and disregarded the video.
When I thought about the prospect of staying at the marina, I suggested to Al to skip it, and make the passage that day. The storms were expected to start on the night of Tuesday, better to reach to safety a day before. Al was surprised, but immediately saw the merit of the idea.
We were up and ready in a minute, and started our second long passage. This time we went underway at 8:10 am, prepared to motor all the way to the top of St Lucia. Halfway underway, we saw that a lot of favorable wind was accelerating over the valleys among the various mountains. Main sail went up, and we picked up speed. Our average did not go under 6 knots, at times more. At around 10:30 am we were level with Rodney Bay, but the wind was such that we sailed straight on, without turning east to the top of the tapering island.
The high mounds of St Pierre (north of Martinique) and st Anne (south east) rose above the mists as two separate islands. As we left the relative shelter of St Lucia, the ocean waves and the wind (varying between 20 and 35 knots) hit us. But we learned to ride the storms, so inched our way towards the wind (the best angle was 45 degrees), pinching towards St Anne where the wind was coming from most of the time. We unfurled the genoa, but it was almost flapping all the way. So the engine was on, in order to maintain our speed.
Around 2:00 pm, we could discern the barn-like apartments of St Luce, which is west of the lagoon of Le Marin. We congratulated ourselves for making it in such a short time, in the light of unfavorable wind direction; and felt almost at home, less than an hour away.
While we were gingerly bobbing on, I saw in the sea several patches of floating carpets, made of sea-grass living on the ocean surface. We had encountered them at different places before, but never that big and dense. I wondered if they would damage the propeller, but Al was confident, and did not bother to turn the engine off. We passed through several of them in quick succession. I was a bit concerned, but nothing to do.
As we got closer to the island, it became harder to point towards St Anne, since the wind was on the nose. Al pointed towards St Luce, and thought of lowering the sails when close, and motoring towards our anchorage. However, he started to feel that the engines were not contributing to our speed. He panicked a bit about the sea-grass, and started imagining about a vibration from the engine. He said we should turn the port engine down, in case of any damage to the sail drive, so that we could have power to release the anchor which requires that engine to be operational. When he turned the engines off and on, we saw that both were purring beautifully, but did not seem to have much power. We prayed for no damage for the sail drive, and ploughed on. Le Marin is a good place to get anything fixed, all one needs is money.
By that time, we had approached the island quite a bit, and Saline Point, the south east corner, was to our starboard, which started to show its effect on the wind and on the waves; former negative, latter positive.
Al kept the starboard engine on, and decided to tack towards Saline Point, in order to get as close to St Anne by sail as possible. As always on catamarans, the powerful winds made it quite hard to tack, but we prevailed after two tries. We spent about an hour in getting close to our destination with two tacks, but in the meantime a storm cell decided to hit us, with 35 knot wind and a downpour of a torrent. Al told me to hold on to the genoa sheet around the winch, and to release slowly when needed, while he was guarding the main sheet at the same time, while passing through the accelerated winds. It was a bit tense, but did not last long.
As we were quite close to the anchorage at St Anne, we managed to lower the sails, and Al revved the starboard engine. Poor thing, by itslef it was powerless against the 25 knot wind. I suggested starting the port engine as well to offset Al' s panic. When both were on, we were able to make 4.5 knots (which should be normal in such adverse conditions) and almost reached our usual spot overlooking the Buccaneer's Beach beside the Club-Med.
I wanted to get my anchor ready; so got my remote control, opened the winlass cover and released a bit of chain to get the anchor dangling overboard, while passing among several of the anchored boats.
The anchor dangled, and all of a sudden got released all the way. It was my turn to panic! "ALPEEEEL". He had heard, but first he had to steer our aft away from hitting the boat we were trying to pass. Then he came to help, but by that time the chain got stuck around the lead, and stopped. We saw that it had come off the gypsy wheel, probably due to constant beating of the waves. Al pulled it over the wheel, and went back to his rudder. I tackled with chain, and pulled the anchor out. Phew! That was the last draw. I had never experienced or anticipated anything like it before; and it was scary, especially when boats are so close to each other. Note to myself: never slack the chain before checking the winlass!
Well, at last we are here, at our favorite winter anchorage.