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!

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