Friday, December 10, 2010

Farewell Bearded Rudder

We arrived in St. Vincent last month, to our dear Singing Frog, adorned with a few more appendages than we'd left her with, in August. It took us until last week to purchase a couple paint scrapers, which would enable us to free her of these parasites. Mollusks, seaweed, mussels and whatever else determined to hitch a ride on her underside, had collected most spectacularly on her rudder. Every time we swam off the swim platform, we were reminded of this job that would only get bigger, with each day it was left undone.

When we finally pulled away from Blue Lagoon around 0830 on Tuesday, after a long, 10-day stay, we'd had plenty of time to put our bearded rudder out of mind. We set a course for Battowia and Baliceau and sailed a comfortable close reach until we were well clear of the lee shore at Bequia's headwaters, aptly named The Bullet.

As the Atlantic swells rose and winds grew stronger, I was noticing a creak in the steering. I tried to loosen off the helm, but the creak remained, and there was some enduring stiffness in the wheel. I coaxed myself to avoid imagining the worst of what this could mean (a potentially costly and complicated repair?), and enjoyed the rest of our sail into rolly Mustique.

Within minutes of our arrival, Skye had donned his snorkelling gear and dived on the rudder. He happily announced that he'd removed a mussel that had taken up home between the rudder and our hull - the most likely cause of our steering difficulties. And it seems he was right - our sail yesterday, to Bequia, was very pleasant and free of any creaky steering.

When we were comfortably at anchor in Admiralty Bay, I decided to take the opportunity while Aaron was napping, to go for a swim. The trade winds are blowing pretty well these days, gusting up to about 25 knots (I know we can expect higher wind velocities throughout the month). Water rushes past our boat at anchor, giving the sensation that we and all the boats around us are moving quickly through the water, all in the same direction. I particularly enjoy this sensation in Tobago Cays at night.

I've been a bit nervous, swimming beside the boat in fast-moving waves. As a test, I held onto the rope of the swim ladder, allowed myself to float back behind the stern of Singing Frog, then tried swimming up to the boat. I could do it, but it wasn't comfortable, and while it would have provided a good workout to swim laps around the boat, I wasn't up for the challenge or the certain mouthfuls (and nostril-fuls) of salty sea. Blech.

So, I put on my fins, snorkel and mask, and was instantly more comfortable. Skye invited me to dive on the anchor, which was embedded in sand about 20m forward of the boat, at 6m of depth. Up until then, I had been quite happy to be a "surface-snorkeller" in these clear waters, where one can see plenty, even from 20 feet away. And Bequia is a busy place, with many dinghy-drivers pushing the 5 knot speed limit, weaving in among the moored and anchored boats. I wasn't confident that I'd be spotted with my little pink (being the only female aboard the Frog, I insisted on pink for my snorkelling gear) snorkel.
Skye offered to join me, and I was more confident with two of us out there. Skye dove down about 10 feet and had to surface with ear trouble. He couldn't decompress. Unfortunately, this still wasn't incentive enough for me to try diving.

So, on returning to the swim platform, I spotted the bearded rudder, asked for the paint scraper, and soon found myself diving down to scrape the rudder free of its growth. I estimate our rudder to be about my height. Once I scraped the rudder enough that it wasn't slippery to hold, I eventually got the hang of pushing myself off the hull, holding the rudder fast, and scraping while I held my breath. Having left this job so long, it was quite satisfying to hear the sound of my scraping underwater and watch the hangers-on float away. That turned out to be my unlikely incentive to learn how to free dive (I know, it was only a mere 5 feet in depth, but we all have to start somewhere) and purge my snorkel. Maybe the next time we're at a reef, I'll have the courage to swim down with the green turtles, such graceful creatures.

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