Singlehanded BVI to Dominica passage
British Virgin Islands Road Town
Like this Adventure 0 Likes
Because I was “kicking him off the boat” I agreed to take him to Gorda Sound so he could hang out with our friend Michael Beans on his boat for a few days. I had already cleared out with Customs and Immigration that morning, but our departure from Road Town was delayed for 2-1/2 hours while Gene went to the Immigration office to ask for an extension on his visa. I was hoping he had let slip the fact that he's planning to work as the entertainer at Marina Cay and at Ivan's on Jost Van Dyke, and he would get a free ride straight to the ferry terminal for deportation off the island.
Joseph and Sam helped me get the dinghy on deck while Gene was at immigration (Given his past behavior, I knew that there was not a chance HE would have helped with the task.) We used the spare halyard to lift the dinghy, but it seemed very difficult to winch, and then something popped. When we tried to lower the dinghy, it wouldn't come down because the halyard was jammed at the top of the mast. Joseph went up, replaced the broken block and unjammed the halyard. Thank goodness that happened while tied to the dock where people were available to help. The first modification I'm going to make to the boat is to add a radar arch with solar panels, dinghy davits and a crane for lifting the outboard engine. While down-island this trip, I will have to rely on other cruisers in the anchorage to help me deal with the dinghy.
There was a power outage at the marina that morning, (welcome to the islands) and since the emergency generator doesn't supply power to the docks, we motor-sailed upwind to Gorda Sound to make sure the batteries were fully charged. On the way to Virgin Gorda, Gene asked if I would reconsider keeping him on the crew and taking him with me down-island. He said that exploring new islands was the entire reason he agreed to come on this trip, well, and to hang out with me for a few weeks. (My, how soon they forget!) After all the complaining he did while we were cruising in the BVI I could just imagine how miserable he would be on the first leg, a two-day upwind passage to Dominica. Besides, I only had one safety harness and tether aboard. I stood my ground. I had made my decision and I would be singlehanding.
Reflecting on when I first started to plan this trip, I had planned it to be my test-run of singlehanded cruising in the Caribbean. I was looking for a spiritual, physical, mental and emotional retreat, a personal challenge. It certainly didn't involve playing host to a high-maintenance guy who then invited a couple of women he had met on Match.com to join us for a week at a time.
We arrived in Gorda Sound just before sunset and located Michael's boat on a mooring in Leverick Bay, but he was not aboard, and was not answering his phone or the radio. “Just pull up next to his boat and let me off,” said Gene. “No! I will not raft off a boat without the owner's permission, especially when he's not even aboard,” I replied. “I'm taking to you to the dock.” When I pulled up to the dock, Sophisticated Lady, captained by my friend Rick, was there. And so I left Gene there standing next to his belongings with the last glow of orange light fading in the western sky. Michael showed up in his dinghy to collect Gene as Rick helped me cast off the docklines and wished me a safe voyage. It was fully dark but with the flashing reds and greens to help guide me, I cleared the reef and was heading out to open water by 1830. Once clear of Virgin Gorda, the wind was just north of east at 17 knots. I turned off the engine at 1935 sailing on a close reach to Dominica, 241 nautical miles away on a course of 151 magnetic.
Four hours later with the autopilot on wind vane mode, I thought it was steering a little erratically, and when I checked the battery voltage it read 11 volts so I turned on the generator to charge the batteries and to cool the cabin. My second modification to the boat for living aboard full-time will be a more accurate battery monitor so I can see how many amp-hours are being consumed and regenerated. Lacking that, I decided to charge the batteries for an hour every six hours to keep up with the autopilot and the refrigeration, the two energy-hogs on board. Twenty minutes later, the generator stalled. I dug out the manual to see the error code: low raw water flow. The generator had been running fine all week at anchor, so I was hoping the problem was due to being underway and on a slight heel. I think I have a spare impeller on board but that was not a job I was going to dive into at midnight while on a two-day passage. So I used the main engine to keep the batteries topped off, and sweltered in the cabin with only fans to move the air around.
Two cruise ships lit up like floating cities passed me on their way to St. Martin, and I saw the lights of two powerboats heading west well to the south, but all in all, I saw very little boat traffic that first night. After I turned off the engine at 0125 I started in on my catnaps, setting an alarm every 30 minutes to wake me in order to check the horizon and to make sure we were still on course. I noted in the log that the speed through the water was 0.7 to 1.5 knots faster than the speed over ground, which meant either my speedo is miscalibrated, or I was dealing with an adverse current.
By dawn Tuesday I was nearing Saba, and thought if Gene were aboard we would certainly be stopping here for a visit. I read in the cruising guide about customs procedures and likely anchorages, and decided not to stop since I would need to drop my dinghy in the water in order to go ashore. My route would take me across the Saba Bank, which is reported to be 14 feet deep in locations, and can cause dangerous breaking seas in certain conditions. I started to get a bit worried, and considered altering course, but in the end a careful reading of the chart showed the minimum depth I would see was about 7 fathoms. Indeed, the minimum I saw on my depth sounder was 40 feet, but I was very happy when I cleared the bank around 1300 with the depth sounder now flashing the last depth recorded of 338 feet. The only excitement I had during my crossing of the Saba Bank was dodging the buoys marking fish traps being set by two fishermen in a small open boat.
Tuesday I went on the foredeck to try and take down the BVI courtesy flag, but the flag halyard was hopelessly twisted and there was no getting the flag down as long as the wind continued. I was seeing 18-22 knots apparent wind, with occasional gusts into the high 20's. The main was double-reefed and the genoa reefed to the size of a working jib the first night, then as the wind moderated on Tuesday I shook out the first reef in the main and unfurled the entire genoa. After Saba, I sailed past the Dutch island of Statia, then British St. Kitts and Nevis put on their lights for me after sunset. Two cruise ships passed me during the night, and Montserrat gifted me with a light dusting of volcanic ash as I passed about 13 miles to leeward around 0200. By dawn on Wednesday I was using the full main and genoa. The wind had been clocking slightly and was now just a bit south of east. Still using wind vane mode, the autopilot was able to sail a course from 145 to 175 magnetic. At 0820 the wind simply shut down without a ripple on the water. I was 15 miles to leeward of Guadeloupe and had to motor-sail for an hour to get out of the wind shadow.
As I approached Dominica, the wind was continuing to veer more southward, until the best I could do was 175 magnetic. I was still seeing an apparent wind of nearly 20 knots, and didn't look forward to the possibility of having to motor-sail directly into the wind just to make Portsmouth. I assumed that the islands were having an effect on the wind direction, and just as Guadeloupe had cast a wind shadow, Dominica probably would also. My patience was rewarded at 1330 with 18 miles to go when the apparent wind dropped to less than 10 knots. I furled the genoa and turned to a course of 115 magnetic to take me into Prince Rupert Bay. By the time the sun disappeared over the horizon, Gaiamar was swinging to her anchor in 18 feet of water, having covered 256 nautical miles in 47 hours, all but six hours under sail. Now I'm waiting for one of Dominica's cleansing rain showers to help wash the salt off the boat.