Saturday, April 14, 2007

Current took us toward the rocks; saved by our dinghy!

April 14, 2007  Saturday
St. Pierre, Martinique

Porpoises were all over the place on the western side of Dominica this morning.  We passed three pods headed north as we were headed south.  One of the pods had at least fifty porpoises!  But none of them showed any interest in playing with the bow of our boat.  Finally we came across one pod of about twenty that were headed south.  These were the large variety of porpoise.  They played with our bow for a while.  It is very difficult to catch these swift creatures with our camera, and they show up very distorted in the photos of them under the water.  More experienced cruisers have told us that when they come to play at the bow then you should clap and whistle and make a lot of noise.  The porpoises supposedly like the noise and act more playful.  Kind of hard to clap your hands when you are holding a camera and I can’t whistle loudly enough, so I am not very good at getting the attention of porpoises.

We had a rollicking sail between Dominica and Martinique.  Lots of wind; heeled over 30 degrees; and lots of fun.  We were watching a catamaran and decided that neither of us could stand that motion.  Our monohull was heeled over and that does become tiring when you do it all day; but our motion was forward to back, like a rocking horse.  That catamaran sailed flat, of course; they can’t heel over because they have no ballast keels.  But that flat sailing sure had a lot of movement going on!  The cat had the same forward to back motion that we did, like a rocking horse.  But the cat also had a side to side movement at the same time.  This caused the cat to make continuous figure-eights.  That figure-eight movement is what makes both of us seasick.  But, to each his own.

As soon as we got behind the northern tip of Martinique, the wind totally died.  So we furled in the sails and started the engine.  Within a minute the RPMs dropped from 1800 to only 800.  And we had no forward motion.  Bill checked the fuel filters and the engine and immediately decided that we had a fouled prop.  There was no wind in that area but there was a lot of motion and current, and I did not want him to dive on the prop there.  Without wind for sails and without engine for forward thrust, our boat started rolling so much it was hard to stand up.  Just did not seem like a good idea to get beneath a rolling boat with a sharp knife unless you had no other choice.

We put the sails back out to try to limp to the nearest anchorage, St. Pierre.  But there was not enough wind to get any forward motion from the sails.  The current was moving us closer to land faster than the meager wind could propel our boat!  This could quickly become a dangerous situation.  Looked like we were headed broadside into the rocks on the shore.  That shore was getting way too close for comfort!!

The dinghy was on the stern davits and the outboard was mounted on the life rail for this passage.  This is the normal routine for any passage.  So we very quickly lowered the dinghy and managed to get the outboard down onto the stern of the dinghy.  That mizzen boom and an electric winch make quick work of this chore.  We have done it so many times now that it has become a routine that doesn’t even require discussion as to who does what; each of us knows what to do automatically.

Then Bill moved the dinghy and tied it to the beam of BeBe on the port side and I dealt with the sails.  We cleated both the bow and stern of the dinghy tightly against BeBe.  That 15 horsepower Mercury outboard was able to propel our 27 ton boat all the way to St. Pierre, about 5 miles away.  At first we could only go 2 knots boat speed, but the speed slowly increased; and finally we were moving along at almost 4 knots.  Still, it took hours to get to St. Pierre.  Good thing that we had left Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica, at 5:50 a.m. today.  So we had daylight to spare for this mishap.

The wind finally picked up as we entered the bay at St. Pierre.  I put the mainsail back out and this time it did noticeably help increase boat speed.   As we got closer to the anchorage area of the bay I furled in the mainsail and Bill reduced the power on the outboard.  BeBe slowed down perfectly as we were now headed directly into 10 knots wind.  We were able to maneuver BeBe to what looked like the best spot to anchor; Bill put the outboard into idle; and I waited for BeBe to come to a stop.  I dropped the anchor – have to love having the anchor controls right at the helm!  The 10 knots of wind was not sufficient to cause us to back down on the anchor to set it well, so Bill put the outboard into reverse and that did the trick.  The guy on the sailboat anchored off our starboard stern was most interested in watching what we were doing. 

Bill grabbed a snorkel mask and jumped into the water to check out the prop.  It was plain as day that the prop was fouled by a big mess of fishing net.  So we pulled out all Bill’s diving gear and got him kitted up.  I helped do his buddy check and he had everything is the proper place, but something was wrong with the BCD; it was getting too much air and Bill could not seem to get the air to release properly.  But he jumped in anyway.  His dive knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut through the mess of net, so I gave him one of my Wustoff serrated kitchen knives.  That one was sharp enough to cut through the tangle of net.  Unfortunately, Bill lost his dive knife.  He had put it back into the scabbard clipped to the leg of his dive suit, but apparently it did not click into place correctly because it was gone when he surfaced.  Oh well, he needs a better one anyway.

That BCD must be replaced soon.  It kept filling with air and would not release air correctly, so Bill had a very tough time getting down and staying down.  He had this same problem the last time he did a dive on the boat.  Now I am really glad that he didn’t try this dive repair out on that rolling point in open water.  He could have been hit in the head by a 27 ton boat rolling over him – with him unable to get down below the boat and stay down.  Much better than he did this dive with that malfunctioning BCD here in a totally calm anchorage.

After Bill surfaced and showered and rinsed all his gear then we started the engine and pulled the anchor.   We only had out anchor chain for scope of 3:1 and we would never spend the night with scope ratio that low.  We moved farther forward (practically on the beach because this harbor is very, very deep with a small “shelf” near the beach where you can set an anchor).  We again set the anchor and put out 7:1 scope this time.   Time to relax for the evening.  Thank goodness we had leftover pork tenderloin, rice and vegetables so I didn’t have to really cook dinner tonight.  We were both really tired after this day.

BTW, we were here in St. Pierre last year on our way south.  You can read about St. Pierre and Mt. Pelee in our diary log dated 5/16/06 entitled “Montserrat through St. Lucia.”  At least I think that is the right log covering Mt. Pelee.  This time we hope to see much more of Martinique.

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