Thursday, November 18, 2010

By the light of the moon

Our plan for the day started out simple enough. Make a quick run to town to buy some last minute provisions and get some much needed cash before the machine runs out again then weigh anchor and sail South to the Tobago Cays. Simple. We've sailed most of that direction before and have a good handle on the currents, prevailing wind and identifying the right islands and landmarks. Check the weather, nothing big showing up on-line. Look outside, sunny, scattered cloud and wind out of the East (right where it should be). This should be easy. Trouble was, the shopping in the morning was probably the easiest thing we did all day.
Our first clue that all might not go as planned was when we passed the northern headland and could see the very large and deep cloud bank parked just north of us. St. Vincent was getting a lot of rain, as was St. Lucia from what we could see. Which wasn't a lot as visibility to the north was restricted due to the heavy rain. Normally weather to the north of us has been staying to the north of us so we keep on going. 
Our next clue that things weren't going to plan was when we passed the southern headland and tried to put up the sails. No wind. No ... wait ... there it is. Out of the South South West! Wind almost never blows from that direction around here. This put the wind directly on the course we wanted to sail. That doesn't work so well for sailboats. We tried various tacks to try to make some way in the direction we wanted. We had some luck and the current was with us this day. In the end the wind backed around to the East by late afternoon and we managed to make some decent miles in the right direction. For a couple hours. Then the wind died again so we had to motor sail the rest of the way.
Most of the day we’ve been in open water, not a lot to worry about other than going in the right direction. The final mile requires some close attention to make it past some big, boat crushing rocks, thread a couple reefs and slip our way between a couple boats to drop our hook. And a tight squeeze it is. It didn't feel right from the beginning but I thought there just might be enough room for us. And there would have been if the wind kept blowing from the North East like it  was when we arrived. However, that didn't last and we all started swinging all over the place. There must have been no more than 20 feet between us and the nearest boat. 
This wouldn’t do. I wolfed down dinner between popping up on deck to check where we were. Just before we ate I told Carla that we'd be OK as long as the wind didn't swing to the South East and push us towards the beach. Just as I finished dinner, the wind shifted to the ... you guessed it. The South East. Ack! Now I was worried. I checked our depth and we seemed to be holding OK in about 11 feet of water but the boat next to us was right off our bow. If the light wind picked up and straightened out our chain we'd be on the beach. Not a good situation at all. The wind always seems to blow harder and from the direction you'd least prefer around here.
I can't sit still at this point. We talk about keeping an anchor watch all night but I can't imagine sleeping though this even if Carla's up. And as we're talking the boats start swinging again. The one closest to us doesn't swing the same way we do so we're getting really, really close this time. The bright 3/4 full moon is out again and I spot a good sized break in the clouds. If there was ever a good time to get the hell out of there this was it.
Carla takes the helm and I race forward to start bringing in the chain. Even this will be tricky as our chain is lying on the bottom almost right under the boat in front of us. A bit of forwards, a bit of side to side and a bit of backwards and we have our anchor back and are free of the bottom. Out we go! Thread our way between those reefs we passed on the way in, not so hard once you know where they are, and back out into open water. Keeping the rocks well off to our right we start looking for the marker that indicates the far edge of the big reef to the south of us that we need to avoid. Lucky for us it is well lit with a red flashing light. 45 mostly uneventful minutes later we have rounded the big reef, and safely anchored in about 25 feet of water.
That was the most intense finish to a day we've had yet. But we're happy now. This is a nice big bay with only a few boats in front of us and way more than enough swinging room. I can feel comfortable setting the anchor alarm and not worry about bumping into someone. Now if only someone could turn off the wave machine for the night this would be perfect!

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