Saturday, December 27, 2014

more work.... and my first circumnavigation of St John (written Dec 22)

Well! Lots more work done here
>matching color (roughly) of the gel coat and patching lots of little nicks and dings
>installing the doors on the anchor locker to keep sunlight off the anchorline and keep big waves out of the locker
>installing a new anchor roller (to keep the chain from ripping up the side of the boat when raising or lowering anchor)
>lots more!
My most recent major adventure was my first circumnavigation of the island, although it started out as a run to St Thomas to buy a piece of teak and some plywood for a couple projects.

​ Early in the morning, I headed out into the east, sun lighting up the clouds from below the horizon, wind gently wafting me out of the harbor.
 Quickly the wind rose until I heeled a bit going around Johnson Reef and south to the cliffs of Goat Head, a place where a beautiful charter boat recently made its final landfall.

Turning west, downwind, I swept past Saltpond Bay and Kiddel Bay and, glancing up from my book, saw a flock of flying fish perhaps fifty foot off, a hundred or so little silver bodies sailing through the air far far beyond anything dictated by gravity to normal fish. Even after perhaps 30 seconds and over a hundred feet they flew on, skimming low over the small waves. The white cliffs to the east of Reef Bay came next, then aqua incognita: now I depended on charts and eyes rather than memory.

Wind rose, as did the waves and whitecaps. The boat tried to jibe frequently, reading got put on hold. Since it was Saturday, I figured the boat yard would be closed and decided to skip St Thomas and sail around St John. I turned north to follow the coast, heading into the area I knew would be full of ferries and shoals, hazards galore. Looking frequently at the ipad chart and watching for other boats, Dorado headed across the straits, the 4' to 6' waves of the open ocean replaced with little 1' ripples.

So many boats! Often I could see five or ten at a time vs one boat on the entire south shore. So many shoals! At least three times shoals un-attached to any nearby island blocked my route. And in all this, I saw perhaps three sailboats with sails raised, the other twenty or so boats I saw were motorboats or motoring sailboats, even in this sheltered sound.

​Tacking back and forth up the north side of the island, passing between islands and around shoals, ferries and pleasure craft buzzing by, I found myself in Francis Bay and, as I explored the anchorage and marveled at the several-story mansions some folks motor about in, glanced at the sail to find a nice rip. Dang!

​ Apparently the old, nearly shot sail did not appreciate the rough winds and wild treatment on the south side. Fortunately, the rip was below the second reef, so I tied a double reef, leaving the rip tied down to the boom and no longer subject to the forces of sailing.

Setting off out of the bay and up The Narrows I found progress on the chart and with landmarks to be slow, but sure: in an hour I had gained five hundred feet. But then I began slipping back, with every tack my GPS tracks lapped older and older ones, scribbling a tale of futility on the screen.

Should I try sailing around Great Thatch Island and then through a channel near Leinster Bay? With less than two hours to dark, I decided to give up for the day and took a mooring in Francis Bay for the night, cooked a nice pot of lentils and peas, and fell asleep to the wild rolling of the boat.

Pre-dawn, the thought struck me: could I research the currents? Perhaps another had information, advice, or thoughts. Holding my wifi booster in one hand to catch the signal from atop a hill, I typed "currents in the narrows St John" I found "the currents are tidal in nature" and "maximum speeds of 2kts to 4kts". Aha! This meant that the increasing current started sweeping me backward and, if I could find the opposite current, it would sweep me through! And the time of sunrise seemed as though it would likely be perfect.
At sunrise, breakfast eaten, ocean wind checked from an online buoy (20kts, plus gusts!), reef still in, I slowly made my way off the mooring. As soon as I pulled away from the shelter of land the winds hit, some gusts heeling Dorado over to 45 degrees, crockery in the sink clattering. By the second set of tacks in The Narrows we had passed my farthest point of the prior evening. Tide at my tail, wind in my face, waves heaping and streaming white, we made our way up the channel. By Leinster Bay the waves reached five feet or more and Dorado occasionally dove deep, a wave rushing over the deck and up onto the mast.... and I delighted in the newly-reset doors of the anchor locker keeping all but a gallon or two out of that potential bathtub. Soon we rounded the east end of the island and headed into Coral Bay and, before noon, pulled the mooring line onto the deck and scrounged lunch.

So, what to do about the sail? Hmm... I guess I'll go see Manfred, the sailmaker on St Thomas. If he says forget it, I'll see what else he can offer or buy a used sail online. Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

New bow chainplate! And so very very busy...

After I removed the stem fitting (bow chainplate) on Thanksgiving I had to decide how to replace it. There is a good machinist, Bruce, at Independent Boat Yard, but I wondered about cost and the inconvenience of having to go over there. Another option would be to send the old one to CatalinaDirect and have them make one up to fit my boat based on a pattern that works well for my model.... and the cost, including shipping, would be about $250.
First move: I called Catalina Direct to ask about how soon they could have it back to me.
"Well, at this time of year we are probably looking at early January."
"Oh, ok. Thanks, but I need to get sailing sooner than that. Have a good one!"

I took a morning to deliver it to Bruce on St Thomas.. who was out, so I left it on his desk. When I called later from my boat he told me: "I'm very busy right now, so it might take nearly a week.... if I have the right material..... um... and I don't: I have everything around that size, but not that. You could pick it up for me at Sub Base Haulout, or I could go get it when I have a chance in a week or two."

The next morning I once again caught the bus, the ferry, another bus to Sub Base, and then wandered around getting directions and misdirections until I finally found the place, bought 20 inches of 0.25"x1.5" stainless steel bar for $20, then returned it to Bruce and made my way back home via ferry and bus.

He said he hoped to have it for me early this week and to call him about progress. Sure enough, Tuesday at ten he had it done and said to come on over. The deck plate and anchor roller had cracking and other damage, so he had made the simplest possible fitting. I paid him $100,  brought it home, installed it that evening, and, yesterday, connected the stay and tightened the rigging until it sang the right notes.
(new and old chainplates)

​What else? Well, bought a fitting to replace the cracked on on the aft stay and replaced it last night.
Bought a couple missing bits of my roller furler and that should now work much better. Tightened the fore-stay so that the cable that had unwrapped is much tighter and, I pray, much less likely to create trouble.
(before and after pictures)
 Installed a U-bolt in the deck to secure the foot of the furler. Patched the old deck holes and coated the repair with gelcoat (too white, but better than rust stains and holes. I'll match some gelcoat soon.).
 Ordered a new anchor roller. And THAT is just my list to do with the replaced bow chainplate!
I've also set up my anchor with new line and stainless steel chain (so, so beautiful!), installed a new solar PV controller with a meter so I can see what is going on at a glance... and use power more effectively, collected more coconuts (now have seven on my shelf), bought safety shutoff valve for my propane system, installed a pad-eye to secure my propane tank in place, tossed out a moldy suitcase, etc, etc. My days are just packed and that is satisfying!

This morning I've already been working on re-installing the doors for the anchor locker and climbed the mast to check the forestay. A homeowner's work is never done! And found nice spot to view the harbor at sunrise....

Friday, December 12, 2014

First lion(fish) hunt! Eat the invaders!

Tuesday, I waited for hours until the sky lightened with the approaching sunrise, then paddled ashore, tied up my kayak to a mangrove, and hiked from Coral Bay over the Johnny Horn Trail to Brown Bay carrying my mask and snorkel. The day before, I had seen a lionfish off the first point east of the bay,,-64.70309,200m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0
so I scrambled down a bank and along the shore, watching for wait-a-minute shrubs (a kind of thorny acacia) on land and urchins in the shallows, waded in a bit, removed excess clothing (shoes, shirt, etc) and placed them on top of a rock, then slipped into the water.
This reef is one of the nicest I've seen. Seldom visited, the corals and creatures seem to be doing quite nicely. Two 4-inch fish, jaws locked together in a fight for several seconds, pushing each other back and forth, then they released and backed away, perhaps considering honor satisfied and point made. A cow-nosed ray swept silently by, eight feet from nose to tail-tip, wings spanning perhaps four feet. I nearly bumped into a barracuda, mouth open and hanging still above a coral head, sharp teeth on my mind as I swam past and away.
One coral head had perhaps a hundred 2" fish flocking about it.... and a beautiful striped, camouflaged predator drifting like a toxic cloud above it, nearly a foot long and fins encompassing a similar width. I swam on another hundred yards, finding many coral heads loaded with fish, then came across the most beautiful and populated of all.... with two six-inch lionfish hunting over it, drifting about until they could corner and pounce upon breakfast.

Chilled by nearly an hour in the water, I turned back and, just before I emerged from the water, found the fish I had seen the day before: four lionfish in an hour! I headed up the trail toward home, my mind whirling with thoughts and ideas. The park does not allow anyone to carry a spear unless they have special permission/training, so I would call about that. Lionfish only eat live fish, so hook and line might be hard, but could I snag them with a treble hook on a rod while snorkeling? And I've never seen anyone in the water there, much less any sign of Park or official personnel.... should I simply bring the spear? And, like a wasp, might a lionfish attack me if disturbed?
Spear in hand, I set out yesterday... although a bit later than Monday. Lionfish are visual hunters, so it makes sense that they would be out early for breakfast, then retreat to their hidden spots to digest... so the early fisherman sees the lions.Checked the first lionfish.... nothing: was I too late in the morning or looking at the wrong spot? Swimming awkwardly, spear in hand, I spotted the big lionfish and, as I approached, it plunged and (one assumes) engulfed a fish. For the first time, I pulled back the Hawaiian sling spear, took aim from a couple feet.... and missed, the point striking rock beside the lionfish.
Lionfish have no predators, no fear. It ignored my spear and contemplated the fish it had eaten while I reset, took aim, and shot again... with a most satisfying thunk. I swam to shore, dispatched the creature, then began cutting it open to free the recent meal.... until I had second thoughts: what if it wiggled and stuck me with a venomous spine or I impaled myself on one? Was the life of the little fish worth the risk? So I left the lion on shore, mentally marked the spot, and swam on.
The final coral head target.... but where were the two lions? I looked and finally found one relaxing in a nook, probably already full. A moment later it wiggled on my spear and remained there while I fruitlessly looked for its partner-in-predation, then retrieved the larger one and headed home, leaving the spear hidden in a bush on shore, the two fish in a container made from a discarded water bottle.
First step with lionfish: cut off the venomous spines with scissors... and toss them overboard! Even detached they are dangerous! Then just clean them like regular fish... and, appropriately, I poached them. Tasty.... and very, very satisfying. And everyone who sees them or hears about it gives a big thumbs up and smile, even the DPNR officials checking the harbor boats to make sure everyone was legal skipped me after I showed off my catch. Most amusing.

Next time perhaps lionfish sushi? ( ) I know Peter is good at making sushi... He also has piles of limes, so maybe ceviche..