Friday, January 16, 2015

Getting my sail repaired (written Jan 12)

I've been sailing with a double reef in the sail since it ripped a couple weeks ago while sailing around St John: no worries, but not the way I want to be sailing forever. So I called the only sailmaker that folks recommend, Manfred Dittrich, and he suggested I bring over the sail. So, on January 6th, I climbed the mast to check my roller furler repairs of the night before,

hauled the kayak onto the deck and lashed it down, set sail as the sun rose, and sailed (mostly down wind) until I reached the main harbor in Charlotte Amalie.

​ So many boats about! I could see at least a half dozen within a mile or so.... including a cruise ship coming into the harbor.
Rather than get in the way of that monstrosity (they move deceptively fast and have trouble steering or stopping), I stayed out of the harbor entrance until it entered, then followed close behind. I entered Manfred's harbor in Hassell Island at about 1pm, tied-up to the mooring he had suggested, and relaxed to await his return from a trip to St Thomas.

He took a look at my sail and said he could probably do a good job on it, make it work for me for another couple years. Sweet! I offered to help out in any way I could and, slapping mosquitoes, did so for several hours. Native tortoises wandered into the shop looking for handouts and I tried not to step on the land hermit crabs, ranging in size from thumbnail to fist, that foraged on the grounds and walkways.

The dog lay on whatever was being worked on, apparently enjoying the attention.

​ Manfred patched the rip beautifully, reinforced the leech (trailing edge) of the sail, provided a replacement batten (all three of mine were cracked and this allowed me to cut each shorter to replace the next shorter batten: now I have three wonderful and sound battens!), and showed me a way to deal with the failed batten retainers. I even got to do a bit of the hand work, sewing leather reinforcement where the battens would chafe the sail.

I also got to meet a couple German kids traveling about and staying a bit with Manfred, next stop Costa Rica. I lent a hand to Bruce, Manfred's assistant, for some awkward measurements for a big awning and chatted with Bobby Ray. Manfred and I delivered a massive sail that the two of us strained to pick up and delivered and installed a nice cockpit awning for a UVI visiting professor and his wife. Jacks foraged aggressively around my boat and chased (but refused to bite) my bare hook. Cruise ships jockeyed for the limited port spaces, looking at night like incredible cities-in-boxes.

Finally, on the 8th, I set sail as early as I could see to sail safely and headed homeward.

Out of the harbor on light winds, past shoals (checking my charts often), past the traffic and buoys. Soon the wind increased to the point that the boat cold sail itself if I locked the wheel, so I read and relaxed and contemplated. The wind picked up, so I put in a reef, then sailed further, beating into the wind. by noon I had reached the sound between St John and St Thomas and I let the boat point to the south-east and sail endlessly over the rolling waves, hours passing, until my chart told me I had gone over the cliff and that the bottom now lay 1100 fathoms below me.... that is 6600 feet! 1.25 miles! That is by far the deepest water I've ever sailed.

In the distance to the north I could see St John, even fainter to the south I saw St Croix for the first time. (it is there in the pic, but only as a faint shadow)

​ The chart told me the time had come to tack, so I did, hoping to get home that night.... but the wind shifted ten degrees and took a couple hours of sailing progress and tossed it in the trash can, so I entered Salt Pond Bay at sunset

​​ and caught a mooring there for the night, completing my sail home the next morning a couple hours after sunrise.
And, as I sailed into Coral Bay Harbor I was amazed at how small and tight everything looked, how small the channels and how close the boats.... and I realized that sailing in the incredibly open ocean changes one, even if one has only brushed the edges of that enormous space, a space twice as big as all the land mass of this world.

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