Overheating and chilling out

Weekly Updates

Overheating and chilling out

This week, Tarka and I experienced our most trying sail to-date, but were dully rewarded with an island paradise unlike anything we have seen so far.

At three in the morning, and without a working masthead light, I untied the mooring lines that secured me between the dramatic Pitons, and set out into the darkness of the Caribbean Sea. The moonless night didn’t afford much visibility, but I trusted my charts. I had jury-rigged a temporary navigation light to my bow and left my anchor light lit, positioned high on my backstay. I was hoping this would be sufficient for other boats to see and avoid me if necessary.

Leaving St. Lucia and the Pitons behind in the twilight of the morning

​With no wind to fill my sails, I continued to motor with my genoa optimistically deployed. At one point, my CPA alarm went off indicating a vessel was on a collision course. The device’s tolerance for “collision course” is half a mile, and I found it was not necessary to change course to avoid the large tanker ship that eventually passed within a quarter of a mile. I was still hopeful that the winds would pick up the further I got from St. Lucia, but they never came. My wind prediction tools had failed me, and I began to wonder whether I would make Bequia before nightfall.

Tarka’s travels this week

Leaving in the middle of the night from St. Lucia was a calculated maneuver that, if all went well, would allow me to sail right on by St. Vincent, and arrive in Bequia with plenty of daylight remaining. Sailors generally skip St. Vincent because it has earned itself a rather bad reputation for piracy, including a German man that was shot dead on his boat by locals that boarded in the middle of the night – and this was just last year. This is a bit ironic, given that portions of Pirates of the Caribbean were shot here. It’s also tragic, because St. Vincent is a dramatic mountainous island, and largely untarnished by the presence of humans.

I approached St. Vincent still motoring, still without wind. Here the seas became so calm that the water resembled a wavy turquoise glass. I glanced back at my dinghy and thought its motion through the water seemed unusual. It seemed to be plunging into, instead of floating on top of the water. In fact, it had somehow completely filled with water between St. Lucia and St. Vincent. I had effectively been towing a bathtub behind the boat. They sell equipment like this, and they’re called sea anchors. Needless to say, I had to do something. Fortunately, the lack of wind and glass-like seas suddenly became a blessing. I cut the engine, dropped the flopping genoa, and climbed into the dinghy. It felt a bit strange being in my dinghy in the middle of the ocean, but it was plenty safe. After 15 minutes of bailing water, the job was done, and I returned to motoring.

Stuck in the doldrums behind St. VincentI had now been motoring for 7 hours and was thoroughly sick of it. So was my engine. Despite running at only 50% of its max RPM, it was overheating. Coolant was boiling out the heat exchanger and onto the floor. I cut the engine, replenished the coolant it had lost, and then started it up again, cautiously advancing the throttle. I promptly added “fix the damn engine” to my to-do list. I was now at risk of missing Bequia before sunset. But then it seemed like I was given a stroke of luck, as the winds suddenly kicked up as I pointed Tarka at Bequia and left St. Vincent in my wake.

Passing the time, reading about another sailor’s mistakes

The current between the two islands is powerful, and I had been warned about it in advance. However, I had get-there-itis, and ignored the advice I had been given to go as east as possible before entering the channel. Though Tarka was pointed at Bequia, the current was pushing her out to sea. My track had me passing well west of Bequia, and for a moment, I seriously considered going with the flow and overnighting straight to Grenada. Luckily though, the current subsided about midway through, and Tarka and I finished our 14-hour ordeal with both sails fully deployed, and, finally, engine off.

The next couple of days in Bequia are a bit of a blur. I was frustrated, tired, and sick of living on a boat. I had an engine to fix, and it didn’t help when, a few days later, the pump-out for the toilet clogged. When you’re living on land, and you have to work on your car’s engine, you have the luxury of closing the door to that project, and rinsing the defeat off your skin in a long hot shower. In a boat Tarka’s size, there is no escape, and I have to sleep next to the very engine that is making my life hell. I won’t even begin to talk about the toilet, other than to say that suddenly I have begun to look at my buckets in a new, dark light. Within a day’s sailing distance to Grenada, I booked my tickets to the States, and, given my recent experiences, decided to extend my visit to three weeks.

You are my enemy. I will defeat you.

Fortunately, things began to look up for Tarka and I. At customs I met a Canadian couple, and they invited me over for drinks on their 38-foot sailboat named Sage. They once circumnavigated the Pacific when they were about my age, also on a 27-foot boat. Now they are retired, and have circumnavigated the globe aboard their new boat. Another couple aboard the catamaran Emmy-Kate has been exceptionally kind to my alone-on-a-small-boat plight. More than just offering cold beer, or a skewer off their barbecue, they have provided a wealth of fishing advice, and great evening company. Finally, I have synced up with Mike and Meagan aboard Tanagra – whom I originally met in Dominica several weeks ago. I guess Tarka and I aren’t so alone, after all.


Mike and Meagan of Tanagra, and their much faster dinghy!

Tanagra has become my de facto buddy boat — at least for a little while. In Bequia, we explored the island by thoroughly and completely soaking our clothing in sweat, and suffered psychological anguish after discovering the ice cream parlor was closed. They also introduced me to spectating, which is where you basically get towed behind a dinghy over coral reefs and can dive up or down by rotating a sheet of plastic. It’s like snorkeling when you’re too lazy to snorkel. But most valuably, they have provided their hospitality, with a great place to have a cold drink, have a slice of homemade pizza, and watch the sunset. After a few days in Bequia, we sailed to the place I have been looking forward to the most: the Tobago Cays.

Watching my sail flog during a squall​

The short sail to the Tobago Cays was a bit rougher than I had hoped. I somehow managed to hit every squall along the way. Nonetheless, I’d much rather hit squalls, than have to motor in no wind. The Tobago Cays themselves are a collection of very small islands and shallow water protected by an encircling barrier reef. I dropped anchor in the shallow water, with nothing but a reef between me and the Atlantic Ocean. The next morning, I peaked out my forward hatch to see that I was surrounded by brilliant blues and greens formed by different depths of crystal clear water. Further out I could see the waves crashing on the beckoning reef. I quickly threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth, and joined Mike and Meagan for a day of exploration.

First, we got good and sweaty by hiking up one of the small islands for a birds-eye view of our paradise – you have to earn your swims. After collecting a few coconuts, we took the dinghy out beyond the barrier reef, and out to one of the more distant reefs. After a perfectly pleasant snorkel there, in what effectively felt like the middle of the ocean, we dinghied on over to a small island, which we had all to ourselves. Mike monkeyed on up one of the palms, and harvested another dozen coconuts. We ended the day with coconut rum drinks on Tanagra, and said goodbye to another day in paradise.

One of our turtle friends!

Reluctantly we left the next morning, but only after hanging out with some of the local turtles. We still had to check out of St. Vincent, as these islands all belong to St. Vincent. Thus, it was a short sail on over to Union Island to go through customs and immigration, and then it was off to Carriacou, which is part of Grenada. Tarka may get pulled out of the water here on Carriacou, or I may take her down to Grenada to do it there. Either way, she needs to come out for painting, and I’d like her out of the water for the time I am back in the states.

Tanagra and I sailing south with only our genoas out