This one is long and not for the faint hearted, maybe the MIL and those few that thought we were out of our minds to take up this adventure should take a pass on this post.
We planned to leave for the BVI’s as early as possible so we booked an appointment with customs and immigration for 7am, hoping that by leaving early enough we could visit Isla Saona on the way past- a small island just off the south eastern tip of DR however after sitting around in an office for hours we weren’t able to leave until lunch time meaning that our plans for stopping off went overboard.
The passage from DR to BVI would be straight into a head wind and Y-Knot has a hard time sailing close to the wind, this is partly due to the setup of the mast. As we have no backstay to help tension and keep the mast in place the forestays need to be at more of an angle which in turn limits how far we can get the boom and main sail out. I’m sure over time we may find some knacks to help and get around this but from what we have read there isn’t anything we can do about it with what we have at the minute, also we really don’t want to risk tearing our sail as many others have done. At around 40 – 60 degrees to the wind Y-Knot sails quite well but on this passage it would have more than doubled our time and distance, it seemed like motoring was going to be the option this time. Setting off we had a little more depth clearance so it wasn’t as hairy leaving the marina as it was entering. As we were motoring and knew the winds were going to be strong we opted to skirt the coast and follow the 3 mile boundary, this would also take us along the south side of Puerto Rico, we would have loved to have stopped off along the way but sadly this wasn’t an option without our visas.
It was a bumpy ride, we needed to up the revs during the night when the wind picked up as our speed seemed to diminish, we were being bashed by both wind and high waves. The girls all seemed a lot more relaxed and got as comfortable as was possible. We’d turned the living room sofa into a bed to enable them to hang out there, it also provided a soft landing if caught off guard. Being so close to land there was a little more activity on the water, we were passed by a few motor yachts, all looking gloriously large and swanky, to which we were asked every single time, “Do you think that’s a Below Deck yacht?” The first night I sat on shift and about 3.30am I got a shock as I looked around checking the horizon making sure there wasn’t anything that the AIS hadn’t picked up, as I looked towards the bow I saw a bright light, thinking sh*t where’d that come from and heart pounding , kind of like when you realise you’ve lost a child in the supermarket, you know really there is no need to worry they’ll have found the candy or toys but your heart pounds anyway, a split second later it dawns on me that its actually the moonrise and its really a beautiful sight to see. The second night we encountered another vessel during the pitch black of the night. The AIS was not showing us the type of vessel, it only had one light which should give us an idea of the type of vessel it was but we couldn’t confirm that as you cannot see a thing out there, it also didn’t have any other nav lights on, no port/starboard green/red lights which makes you wonder even more. As we tracked it we realised we were going to cross paths and it was going to be quite tight, I personally did not want to cross behind it if it did turn out to be a freight ship, crossing that wake in the dead of night when it was already rough was not on my bucket list so we increased the speed a little to ensure we were ahead, it was quite tight no more than 100yards between us and other than assumptions we’re not sure what it was, it was too dark to see anything other than the one steaming light, we couldn’t see any movement in the water or shadow to give us any idea of size or shape, our thoughts though are that it was another mega yacht.
Nothing much happened during the passage, there were a few squalls meaning we had to root around and find out our jackets, something we haven’t needed until now. We’d taken a bit of a beating during the night with the strong winds and high waves, as such we were worried about our fuel usage, the fuel indicator for the tank doesn’t work so we were having to physically check the tank, not so easy to judge by the eye and we had that gut feeling that we’d used a little too much and would be cutting it fine, we topped up the tank with the jerry cans which was a fun job I can tell you, trying to aim a jerry can so the the contents go into the funnel whilst rocking, rolling and bouncing, the first went a little haywire but the we got the hang of it and thankfully didn’t waste too much. At the south eastern corner of Puerto Rico the wind and wave height reduced a little so we thought we would try and change our approach a little and get the sails out, it feels very counter productive when you turn and start heading away from your destination but we wanted to try, it didn’t prove fruitful though, our speed was down and we felt like we were getting nowhere fast.
We’d spent a couple of hours trying to see if we could make headway on another course but it hadn’t proved effective, we weren’t making any ground and so continued with our original plan and put the sails away and switched the engine on. We settled back into it and it wasn’t too long before we could see the USVI in the distance, meaning the next morning we would arrive. We had another loud and bumpy night but the next morning when we were so much closer to the islands proved it was all worth it, just seeing them laid out in front of you, looking like an enigma, on the map it showed so many islands but from where we were it looked like one big beautiful island. As we got closer to St Johns the relief was palpable when we could get the sails out and turn the motor off, the peace and calmness that takes over, you can literally see everyone sit back, breathe out and relax. Sailing between the islands feels like something out of a movie, for one you were so close to US and British soil and two it is breathtaking, the islands look so secluded and the natural beauty of them feels unreal. Today was also Maisies birthday, this would have been the perfect day to have a birthday for anyone arriving here but we knew that checking in was likely to take a lot of time and then once at the marina there’s so much to do that it wouldn’t have been fun for her so she’d happily agreed prior to setting off that we’d celebrate the day after. We’d been keeping our eye on the fuel, it had been a tough balancing act, if the revs were too low the wind and waves would quickly reduce us to near on zero knots but too high and the fuel consumption would be too much but now we had the sails out there was no need to worry, or so we thought….
Checking in within the BVI we had to go to the government docks first, anchor and then dinghy across to the the customs/Immigration building before being able to go to a marina or preferred anchorage. This didn’t seem like too much trouble, it was only a couple of miles up the coast from where we wanted to be. As we sailed through the channel the traffic grew considerably, there were a lot of motorboats and sailboats around, some looked like they were just out enjoying the breeze and getting the sails up others were moving from one island to the next. As per usual when we came up on the entrance we switched on the engine and put the sails away, we were just going through the entrance cans when what we had been hoping for the past 3 days wouldn’t happen actually did, the engine died on us, we were so close to making it but we’d run out of fuel less than 400 yards from where we needed to be. We were facing a cruise ship and motor boats were continually speeding past us so we only had seconds to think of a solution, the wind was just off our stern and we would be heading straight for the anchored boats so we spun around pulled out the jib and headed away from the shallow waters and cruise liner, this enabled us to be able to re-assess and think. We moved down the coast line towards the marina that we’d booked into and raised them on the radio, turns out though that unless we are in immediate danger they are unable to help us until we’d checked into the island. With getting any more fuel off the cards we rounded back towards the docks and tried to come up with a new game plan, we were going to have to anchor under sail, something that neither of us had done before and something that could easily go dangerously wrong. We spent the next hour or so tacking up the channel ensuring that we were on the best line into the harbour, and hoping to god that the traffic would die down. Pulling up our big kid pants we found the lay line that we wanted to aim for and started moving in, with our sails up we in essence had the right of way and motor boats would need to move out of our way, there were so many coming past we just had to hope that thats what they would do, we had another sailing boat motor up the side of us and squeeze through, a little impatient and probably wondering what on earth we were doing. We were trying our best to keep the speed low without giving up any control to the elements to give us that margin when it came to dropping the anchor but there’s a fine line and its so easy to drift. Once through the initial entrance to the channel, we needed to turn pretty sharp to port (left), maneuver the boat to the rear of the anchorage and then complete a 180 degree turn to point the bow into the wind to drop the anchor. I moved up to the bow and prepped the anchor, it catches on our furling drum so can be rather finicky to get out and not something that can be done in haste. Simon was on the helm and preparing to pull the the sail in whilst maneuvering the boat into position, we just had to hope and try our best to time it right, there were a lot of boats anchored and a lot more that could go wrong. We aimed for a spot and as soon as Simon found the depth and said the word I dropped the anchor whilst he pulled the sail in, the next few minutes were spent eyeballing everything trying to get a gauge on if we were pulling anchor or not, keeping a closer eye on the catamaran behind us ensuring that the gap was not closing whilst also running through what we could do if it did. To our utter relief we’d only gone and done it. We both sat there and couldn’t help but laugh, how on earth had we managed to get it all to come together was beyond words for us. Looking back there were so many ways that we could have possibly avoided running out of fuel, had we not attempted to sail off the coast of Puerto Rico and ended up doing a little extra mileage, had we gone further away from the coast at the offset and taken a different angle, had we not spilt that little bit when refueling or sped up to pass safely in front of the yacht there were so many possibilities but all could have equally ended up in the same scenario or an entirely different one altogether. Now wasn’t the time for thinking over this though, we needed to get our documents together and head inland to start the check in process. We all piled into the dinghy with a couple of jerry cans and headed first for our pcr tests, had we arrived within 72hrs we wouldn’t have required one but because the journey was longer than expected we were all required to take one. From there we were onto immigration and then customs, it all seemed simpler and easier than everywhere else but still managed to take almost 3 hours. Next we collected the jerry cans from the dinghy and headed out to the fuel station, it was only a 1km walk but when you feel mentally drained it feels further, the girls didn’t mind though as we passed an ice cream store on the way back, they happily enjoyed themselves whilst we’re lugging 20l of diesel each. Once back and refueled we got ready to start the engine, all of us had our fingers crossed hoping she would start the first time but luck wouldn’t have it , she didn’t, we had our heads down and around the engine knowing what we were looking for but unable to find it, we didn’t want to risk doing any further damage so Simon hopped in the dinghy and hailed the guy on the next boat to see if he had any idea, we’ve both tinkered with some engines over the years but this being a 56hp tractor engine was not something we had much knowledge of. Our neighbour was more than happy to come and have a look, pointing out pretty quickly what we were looking for, he also raised the question as to why we’d come in under sail, saying that we looked super smooth and controlled, neither of which we felt at the time. With the engine started and our morale boosted we gave our thanks and waved bye to our neighbour heading round to the marina, we had planned to anchor and ball hop around the islands but as it was Maisies birthday we’d booked into a marina that had a swimming pool for the weekend. We would also be able to top up our provisions prior to starting our exploration of the islands. Once docked and sorted we made a bee line for the marina restaurant on the beach – Peg Legs and with drink in hand, a backdrop you could only imagine and everyone tucking into jerk chicken, pork ribs and rice we felt like we had finally arrived in the Caribbean.
Maisies birthday, all be it a day late, she was very happy that she chose to wait, waking up to a boat full of balloons and everyone singing happy birthday. She’s always super happy anyway but you cant help but swell with pride when you see how happy she is with her few gifts, she’s not at all materialistic she just likes what she likes so a book, some science experiments, Mexican train – the domino game and some clay beads were the best gifts ever for her. We followed this with breakfast out, pancakes and cake – no idea what it was, some form of coffee? cheescake/ice cream cake, she wasn’t so keen on it but the fact it had a sparkler meant the world to her and her excitement is infectious. The rest of the day was spent at the pool and the beach and then spraying the boat down and turnaround. A lady knocked on the boat to ask if we wanted hot chicken roti, Simon thought this was a roast chicken and ordered 2 so when it arrived in 2 small parcels he wasn’t sure what he’d heard, turns out chicken roti is an extremely popular dish here and consists of chicken and potatoes, sometimes with a curry flavour to them wrapped in what I think is soft filo pastry, either way they are good and disappeared quickly.
We visited the local chandlery and was shocked to discover an isotherm fridge sitting on their shelf, we’d contacted all the large chandleries at the islands we were going to be visiting to see if they had one available or could get one in and every time the response we received was that it would be a 12week wait, so this made our eyes pop and straight away we started taking measurements hoping it would fit. Turned out it was slightly smaller than what we had but we really needed to replace it, water was leaking more and more from it, and whichever way you heeled decided on which side it would leak from, we also had to pull the entire fridge out weekly to get underneath, the wood had gone rotten and had started growing things so we had to constantly keep our eye on it trying to ensure it didn’t get any worse or become a health hazard. A new fridge would make things so much more simpler and we couldn’t believe our luck, more so when Simon cheekily asked at the till if there was a discount on it, the lady asked how much do you want and he laughed 50%? Think his jaw literally dropped when she checked the system and said it was about to go on sale anyway so ok. It still cost twice as much as a large american style fridge freezer back home but it most definitely took the sting out of it. Next up we had gotten in touch with a guy called Milton who could help us out with the gas on the fridge, he then put us in touch with a carpenter by the name of Desmond. This place was proving to be very resourceful and easy to get things done, we hadn’t even been out of the marina yet to explore and we couldn’t wait.
We managed to hire a car, we were shocked at the cost but knew it would only be for the day so needed to cram as much in as possible. The car we had was a Jeep and this we knew was one of the girls bucket list items, Hope has been telling us for many years that she wants to own a jeep when she’s older and go travelling, so we were looking forward to seeing their faces, turns out it didn’t disappoint, I think they would have happily spent the day driving round such as was the buzz. First stop was Sage Mountain National Park, this place was luscious and green and it felt nice to have our trainers on again and go hiking. We were advised of the best route to follow that would cover as much ground as possible. We’ve done a lot of hiking in our time, but never in a rainforest, this place just missed out on officially being classed as one as it’s a couple of ml of rainfall short but it certainly felt like one. We were following trails and there was such beauty in the openings that allowed you to see across the island but there was a different kind of beauty under the canopy, hidden in the under-brush, the leaves were ginormous according to Moo, bigger than her whole head. We were told that once we’d finished that the islands best banana smoothie would be waiting for us, so following a trip to the gift shop to ensure we had picked up a magnet which is a requirement from a friend we got to taste the islands best banana smoothie, it was a split decision, 2 for good, 2 for ok and 1 for not so good.
Next up was shopping, what amazed us was how much was brought in from the US and the UK, it was strange walking round the aisles and coming face to face with Waitrose and Iceland brands everywhere, the price hikes were pretty steep too, items would have a £1 offer on them only to be at $8/$9 dollars or more. We understood a lot of this as the food was shipped in but the local produce seemed expensive too, at nearly $5 dollars for a mango when you can see them growing all around the island. The smiles all came out when we found squash, flavoured water is something that you miss when you’re drinking so much water, we’ve found syrup on our travels but to us nothing compares to the squash we get in the UK. Everyone will happily more than double their water intake when we have it and it stops the want of something different to drink which generally ends up being soda.
Back at the Marina the girls made the most of the pool and beach while Simon and I continued on the long and never ending list of jobs to do, we’d noticed whilst on the crossing that the main sheet was tough to pull out and to re-furl, both ways requiring use of the winch. We pulled out the main sheet, the furling line is a closed loop and as we were pulling it back in it snapped. We’re pretty happy that this didn’t happen whilst out at sea and that we had the time and means to be able to figure out why it had happened, was there an issue with the line, was it incorrect technique. On closer inspection it turned out to be a bad splice on the loop. Splicing – a technique used to join rope/ropes together by interweaving the strands, this was something we needed to learn how to do so now was as good a time as ever. It all seemed simple enough but when trying it out on the line that had just snapped it proved more difficult than anticipated and the blisters were not welcome. When we spoke to the rigger who we eventually got in to help, he laughed and said using old used line is the worst thing to do, it would send the best crazy so to use new line next time and I shouldn’t have a problem.
The carpenter finished fitting the surround to the fridge to keep it locked in place, it didn’t seem too much of a job but had lasted a few days due to waiting for varnish to dry, when we received his bill though we were astounded, we’d asked initially at the start how much it was going to cost and had been told a couple hundred which seemed reasonable to us, however as daft as we can be we didn’t actually agree on a price so when we were dropped with a $700 bill we couldn’t believe it, Milton who had recommended Desmond was just as shocked and did not agree with it, didn’t think it should be that high, we questioned Desmond who tried to liken it to the cost of apples but then slipped up that he’d just booked tickets to go home and they’d cost him $700, Hmm, I wonder where he got his figure from, we felt completely ripped off but had no choice to pay up, it was a mistake that we hope we won’t repeat again.
We were planning on leaving the following day and starting the island hopping but we’d been tracking the weather and it wasn’t looking good for the rest of the week, if we did go out we would be hunkered down in a bay somewhere, not really being able to enjoy the beauty of it all. We decided to stay in the marina for a few more days, it made us laugh though as we’d questioned one charter boat that was about to leave, are you still going out with the bad weather that’s coming in, their response was what bad weather? Another lady and her husband who ran a charter boat came knocking, they were meant to have 6 guests for a 60th and 4 of them including the birthday man himself were not going to make it as 2 of them one from each couple had tested positive, they were now on a 2 person charter and had far too much food out for that evenings meal and so passed us a bag of food and asked if we could use it, I would say we couldn’t believe the kindness but you can it’s everywhere and in abundance amongst the sailing community. She said they were still going out despite the weather because they were on a catamaran they could get into the smaller more shallow coves so would be better protected out there.
The rain came and the weather wasn’t pretty for the next few days, we concentrated on schoolwork and below deck maintenance, placing pots where the leaks are, it seemed a little frustrating at first but it happens on all boats apparently…. It also provided us with plenty of time to catch up once again with family and friends and of course the dog, its generally a fight for the phone, everyone wants to get in there and be amongst the chat and the laughs. Showing everyone around the boat to which our friends Amber and Sarah couldn’t believe how much space we had, from the exclamation I think they must have thought we were living on a little row boat.
With grandparents fully up to speed and the weather starting to look up we got ready to make a move, we planned our route, we were planning on heading out to Norman Island first and then follow that with Cooper, Virgin Gorda then swing past Neckar and up to Anegarda. It was a nice easy sail over to Norman Island, at 10km away the sails were only up long enough to dust them off, we’d passed it on the way in and it looked idyllic, we couldn’t wait to actually get there and explore, the girls were also laughing hoping we would find our favourite Normans on the island but sadly not, we can but hope though. We pulled into the anchorage and selected which of the available buoys we wanted to pick up, I stood at the bow directing and relaying distances, as we came closer I knew were going to over run and go over the bouy to which I tried to direct Simon away, the buoys we were used to in the Netherlands were solid concrete and there is not a cat in hells chance you would want to run over one, I had to readjust my thinking as these were not the same, the 2nd attempt wasn’t any more successful, I still needed to figure things out in my head, again we’re used to sending a line through a loop on the top of the buoy these have lines that we need to pick up, again it seems simple enough and really it is simple enough but not those first few attempts, caution threw me off, there was no drama though as at that time it was pretty quiet so we could just circle around and use it all as practice, next shot saw us lose one of the hooks as we dropped the engine to idle too soon and was pushed away before the message was relayed, the next time worked a charm though – practice makes perfect and all that…. Whilst Simon started shutting things down Hope and I hopped in the dinghy to search for the hook, it felt like I was motoring around with a clown as Hope sat on the edge shouting Wilson!!!. It may be his first trip alone but something tells me it won’t be his last.
We made a mad dash for the island as soon as we had everything ready and our checks were complete, the island was small but it most definitely didn’t disappoint, you could clearly see why it was the inspiration behind the treasure island novel and there was more than enough to keep us occupied for our 2 days here. The first day we spent along the coastline, snorkelling and exploring, the second the day we hiked the hills, taking in the idyllic scenery, we felt truly spoilt as there was so much to look at. As we came back down from the hills, a gardener called us over, he explained they were trying to grow as much as possible on the island so that the restaurant could reduce its prices, we were offered the chance to look around the garden and see products we would never have seen before, it would of course cost us $20 for the pleasure, the guy was trying so we appeased and went ahead, there was only really one item that we hadn’t seen before, I cannot recall the name, apparently it keeps covid at bay, you boil it in water or add it to soup and he says it stinks, I’m guessing that is where it helps, by keeping everyone away. The garden visit was refreshing to see, the main island seemed to import the majority of its produce so it was nice to see the smaller islands really trying and by the looks of it succeeding.
The morning came for us to move on to the next island, while we were discussing what our plans were a rib pulls up along side, for a small fee they would take our trash and were also selling ice and ice cream, a service we were not expecting but thoroughly appreciated, Ice cream and tea for breakfast, why not! I didn’t hear one complaint.
Releasing the buoy was far easier, we exited the bight pulled out the sails and started heading out the same way we came in, we had easterly winds and would need to tack along the channel past Peter Island to get to Cooper, it was quiet out though and so with little traffic around and nice pleasant winds it seemed like the opportune time to get our young crew on the helm and sheets. Considering 2 of them cannot see over the steering wheel they did a good job, they all seemed to get the feel for it and were able to hold their line. Tacking went just as well, they seemed tentative at first but by the time we got to Cooper Island they were fully up for it, I think most of it is down to the fact that they are good at following direction and so once they knew the steps for each command their confidence then built quite quickly. We’d pre booked a ball at Cooper Island as it was going to be a windy night and we’d heard it can get busy, We headed to where we expected our ball but couldn’t see it, a charter cat that we passed shouted what number are you looking for? Turns out they were still on it, we circled around while waiting for them to leave and this time we picked up the ball first time, no drama, now that’s how you do it!
We spent a lot of our time at Cooper on the paddleboards and exploring the rocks, the current was a little too strong for swimming and snorkelling but nobody minded and everyone was kept busy. The girls were fascinated with the hermit crabs, we’d seen plenty around on the rocks and beaches and even up on the hilltops at Norman but here there were so many and they were all huddled together in giant piles and of such varying sizes, it’s also so nice when something like this attracts the kids attentions and manages to keep it for so long. We took a break from exploring the beach and rocks to have ice cream and a drink and just enjoy the view of paradise. The Caribbean is renowned for its rum, not something we would normally opt for being the boring beer drinkers that we are, but the specialty is the painkiller and this has really taken our fancy – rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut and nutmeg. We’ve had them with and without the coconut and both are good, it’s something everyone has to try at least once.
Our night wasn’t so pain-free though, the current, tide and wind all seemed to be against each other so all night the buoy was banging up the side of the hull, it doesn’t seem like much but when it’s banging right beside your head it’s enough to keep you up or shock you awake. We got up a few times to try and change things to see if it would help, pulling the lines higher and sending them through the anchor roller, nothing seemed to work though, we were just going to have to put up with it for the night. Having spent longer in the BVI’s we’ve since heard that none of the locals spend the night at Cooper because of this they generally just go for the day and move on elsewhere for the night.
We set off early the next morning heading to Virgin Gorda, we would spend a few nights at Leverick Bay before moving on again. The sailing was once again fun, we put the music on, the girls once again got involved, we had a decent easterly wind and managed to get up to 6knots of speed, doesn’t sound fast but not being a race boat and still staying in our comfort zone this is a good speed to maintain, it dropped though as we approached the channel between Virgin Gorda and some of the Dog Islands, we were constantly trying to pinch a couple of degrees to try and make it through the channel with the sails up, as mentioned before she doesn’t like being too close to the wind and prefers more of a beam reach with the wind hitting us on our side. We tried but it was too close to the wind for her and we couldn’t get the extra couple of degrees that we needed so we pulled the sails in and motored through, it was also nice to see that we weren’t the only ones, most of the boats around us did the same although they got theirs out again once through, we were going into the bay at the other side so didn’t need to get them back out. As we made our way we marveled at a secluded resort high up on the hill with what must have been one of the best panoramic views ever – a vast horizon in front, an uninhabited island to one side and Neckar island to the other. We could see Neckar just up ahead of us as we turned into the bay and you can’t mention that island without wondering if Mr B is around.
We were cautious heading into the bay, it looked like the chart didn’t quite match up with what we were seeing, looking at the chart we would have expected to be clear to head straight into the bay once around the 2nd red entrance can, it didn’t look like that to us so we followed our instincts and kept a look out on the bow. Paige asked if she could pick up the mooring ball so we both stood on the bow with the hooks ready as Simon brought us closer. Paige leaned over and just missed it by a couple of mm, she was so close but nevermind, we can try again. Simon reversed back a little and went to try again, as we stood ready I hear him shout “I’ve lost the rudder” I initially didn’t think anything of it thinking he’d meant he’d slipped the gear and couldn’t get it into drive, something we’d experienced before on another boat so calmly shouted its ok, slip into neutral and try again, I was wrong though, he shouted again this time “drop the anchor now” so I got my ass in gear and dropped the anchor however it was too late we were swept back by the winds and the current, heading straight into a big ass catamaran. Paige and I instantly jumped to the side and got ready to push off the cat, we didn’t have time to grab the fenders, Simon moved to the bow and started to pull the anchor up as it had pulled onto the lines that the cat had out, the winch couldn’t take it and so he was having to heave it up by hand, not an easy task I can tell you. Amongst all this we managed to hail a guy on a rib who tied onto us and tried to help out. We then needed to let our dinghy loose as it had also caught up in the cats lines and was causing even more problems, I braced against the cat as Paige let it loose, Hope popped her head up only to be told quick push off the back, she was just in time to stop the back end crashing in as we’d managed to push off the front, she disappeared again straight after her little save. The act of letting the dinghy go had actually turned into a blessing as 2 other boats saw it go past and realised we needed some help, one went and fetched it while the other came straight over. Don’t know how we managed it but by sheer strength alone we’d managed to stop our boat from crashing through the other, with the wind and current trying its best to take us directly through the cat, you’ve heard the story of people lifting cars off kids well that’s exactly what it felt like trying to keep apart 2 10tonne boats. Simon man handling the anchor and getting it up and over the lines and Paige and I acting as fenders, it was close to catastrophic and it wasn’t over yet, we may not have put a hole in either boat or by some strange miracle damaged either one but we weren’t out of the woods yet we were still being pushed across the bay. Now with one rib tied up on the bow we needed to direct the 2 other dinghies that had come over to help, which way and where to push on the boat so we could get a line connected to a mooring ball, it took so much effort by everyone to get a line hooked up, there is absolutely no way we could have done it without the help of these people and we would be forever thankful to them.
Once we safely connected and everyone had been thanked and left we sat, in silence, just taking it all in, trying to control the adrenaline that was rushing through us and the shock of the last 40 minutes that would surely creep up. When the adrenaline had died down we talked about what had happened, Simon said there was an immense pressure on the wheel and unable to hold it anymore it spun, when he grabbed hold of it again it was running free which is why he thought we’d lost the rudder – this thought was because of something that had been picked up on the survey but was later deemed not to be a problem, it still stays in the back of your mind though. He had looked over the stern and could see it was still attached. The steering wheel had no grip or connection so it could have simply been a bearing but our gut told us it wasn’t so we pulled up the floor and got looking, what we found was not a pretty sight, the torque tube that runs down the centre of the pedestal had completely sheered off, the drag link and output lever were wedged which was why when Simon had initially grabbed the emergency tiller it hadn’t helped there was no way to move the rudder whilst everything was where it was. There wasn’t much we could do with it so we got to working out how the rest of it all came together and what we could and couldn’t use. Once we’d disconnected the drag link we found we could use the tiller, and also the autopilot as it connected directly to the rudder – was this the silver lining? We managed to get hold of a mechanic on the island who came out and had a look, unfortunately he couldn’t give us any good news, we would need to get the boat back to Tortola. We’d decided that was enough for one day, the main thing was we were all safe so we would go for dinner and revisit the problem in the morning.
There was a hog roast buffet on and entertainment, it was just what we needed so we sat down to a mighty meal and a wonderful distraction, we heard how Hope when she heard “I’ve lost the rudder” ran to her cabin as she knew it wasn’t going to be anything good. We thanked Paige for really getting stuck in there and being an invaluable help, and then we sat and enjoyed the show. Firedancer and Jumbies they were really putting on an entertaining show however our baby girl seemed to steel their spotlight, she was up there dancing to the music – all be it on her own to start with, by the end of the night she had everyone up there dancing and laughing- by everyone i don’t mean us i mean the whole audience, they all wanted a piece of the most adorable little girl ever.
The weekend went by rather slowly, and painfully, the exertions and the poundings that each of us had taken were now coming to the surface, bracing yourself and pushing yourself against those sheer amounts of resistance for so long were not going to leave either of us unscathed, it was however just bruises and aches for which we were more than happy to have over anything else. The weather was up and down again to which we were informed it was very unusual to be that way at this time of the year. We got in the water and checked out the rudder but thankfully it didn’t seem to be affected by the recent events and so got to grips on knowing exactly where it was pointing when attached to the tiller, we hadn’t used the motor when we were in trouble as we had no idea in which direction the rudder was pointing, and with no way to turn it, it could have caused bigger problems than the ones we had at the time. We spent a lot of time going over things getting our head around what we were looking at and alot of time online seeing how we could source the parts to fix it, we couldn’t find any information on this happening before and found that we would need to source the whole pedestal. Thinking we would be better off speaking to an engineer we then turned our attention to how we would get back to the main island, we had auto pilot and tiller which were fine in the larger open seas but when it comes to close quarters and docking in a busy marina they weren’t the best options. On the Sunday we saw an older couple struggling to pick up a buoy, they went round numerous times and we could see she was struggling to lean far enough over to reach it so we went out in the dinghy and were pleased to be able to help them out, the lady had a black eye and looked like she was very sore so we’re not sure if they’d hit difficulty the day or so before in the bad weather, they were however as thankful for our help as we were for everyones 2 days earlier, it felt good to be able to pay it forward and even more so when the downpour started before we’d made it back to our boat.
We were ready to start our tentative trip to the main island, we’d been in touch with the dock master who was unsure about having a slip available but then came back to us on Monday morning to confirm he did have one and that someone would be able to help us when arrived. We unhooked and headed out of the bay, it took a little getting used to the tiller but we managed and then once out and into open water we switched to auto pilot. The winds were blowing nicely, we could see all the boats off in the distance all heading for Anegarda, and we should have been joining them instead we were heading against the traffic back the way we came. Just as we got into the channel between the East Seal Dog islands and Virgin Gorda the autopilot decided to stop working on us, it locked the rudder over and sent us round in a sharp circle, Simon was straight onto the tiller and I dashed below to switch it off at the mains so it would relinquish control. There was a Cat following behind us that must have wondered what on earth we were playing at, this was not the area to get into trouble as we were quite literally between a rock and a hard place. Holy Cow!! What next!! Were both of our thoughts as we managed to bring everything back under control, the map shows the passage as being quite wide but when you’re in there and things aren’t going so smoothly it feels like there’s barely enough room to swing a cat. Once we were safely through the passage we switched the autopilot back on, not sure why it had happened but hoping that it wasn’t completely kaput and to our relief it was working fine again. We managed the rest of the journey to Nanny Cay unscathed and after being on tenterhooks for the entirety were relieved when we radioed the dock manager and they said the rib would be out to us shortly. As instructed he was, although he seemed to be under the impression that we just needed direction into the marina, so when we explained no you’re gonna have to tie up and help he was quick on his feet and got us moving in. We had a fishing vessel coming towards us who threw out his arms and a few expletives as to why we were so far over on our entry, I guess he didn’t see that we were a little out of control of our vessel. The rib was providing the power and some steerage, Simon handed the tiller to me though as I had a more delicate handling of it and could keep our movements a little lighter. The relief was abundantly clear once we made it into the slip and were securely tied up, we all looked at each other and laughed before our neighbours who we’d met momentarily prior to leaving the marina and who were in a near identical boat asked what on earth happened, why are you guys back? Well………
It feels kind of crazy everything that went on, we couldn’t believe it and neither could many others. It leads you to question every aspect, why it happened, what you did to cause it, what you could have done to prevent it, what you did when it happened, why are you doing what you’re doing etc etc etc, the list is endless. After going over all these questions multiple times and speaking with the engineers and others about it we are confident it was not something we could control. We eventually managed to pry open the pedestal as it was completely sealed together and found that we actually had 2 failures, There are stoppers within the steering housing that limit the bearings degree of motion and prevents the steering wheel and the rudder being turned too far one way or the other, one of these had broken off meaning that the bearings went too far and no longer connected with the wheel. Boats, rudders, steering, rigging etc, are designed to take an enormous amount of pressure, they can take you pretty much anywhere you want them to and in pretty much any kind of weather, the main thing is that you look after them and maintain them, we have always been sticklers – look after your kit and your kit will look after you, it was drilled into us for many years and has always stuck with us. We know we have not put any amount of pressure on this boat, we know we have not subjected it anywhere close to what they can handle so know this was not down to that one manoeuvre, these failures have been waiting to happen and are on parts where you cannot physically see what state they are in, the torque tube is inaccessible and the pedestal was completely sealed so we could only access it by further damaging it. When we had the issue with the fuel we knew that it was something that we could have controlled but it happens and it happened to us, we half expected it. This happened completely unexpectedly, we had a split second to decide what to do and then it was a matter of how much you are willing to fight, we gave it absolutely everything we had, even now we don’t think there is anything different that we could have done, it all happened far too fast. Looking at the damaged parts we can see that if it had not happened here and now it most certainly would have happened somewhere else and god only knows what the outcome would have been then.
As with everything in life there are highs and lows, surprisingly enough this is not a low for us, it happened and it actually taught us so much while also highlighting to us once again how well we work together only now the girls are really getting into it with us. We’ll fight like cat and dog about the simplest little things, generally how long we (me :)) take in the supermarket or over cereal, who’s turn it is to cook and then there’s the hair – Simon lives with four girls he finds hair everywhere and boy do we know about it, the kids see it too, disagreements are part of life and we sure as hell don’t live in a fairytale, they also see that as anything becomes even remotely important or serious we are on the same page and work nigh on seamlessly together, we generally have the same instincts but even when we don’t we still manage to get it done. We’ve really gotten into the nitty gritty with this boat, something that may serve us well later on down the line.
Turns out we cannot just replace the torque shaft that broke, we need to replace the entire steering pedestal, it also turns out to be a part that was adapted and made specifically for a couple of Hunter models, we couldn’t order one from anywhere and Hunter are no longer in business. We’d searched everywhere online, we’d checked to see if there were still any Irma damaged Hunter boats on the island but there weren’t. Lewmar the pedestal manufacturer had said there would be a 12-16wk wait to have one fabricated, but you could say the stars aligned – we had managed to get hold of someone who works with Hunter parts who miraculously managed to find half of one in a warehouse in Florida and it just so happened to be the half that we needed, we couldn’t believe those lucky stars. After a week of to and fro they managed to get it to a freight forwarder, great! We won’t have to sit a round too long, turns out though that we would, us being the 3rd party could not follow it directly and there was some paperwork missing, the part sat in limbo for 2 weeks even with us trying to do something about it, this to us is the lows of sailing although it is still very minor, over a simple piece of paperwork we have had to just wait, it would have easily been fixed had the communication between the 3 companies been there but nothing was said, shipping items is a common frustration with cruisers, the timings, the multiple tax payments, the holdings by customs – none of it is simple. We really can’t complain though this is not a bad place to sit and wait and we’ve managed to make the most of our time here, there is always work to be done so we are constantly busy, at one point I had my head under the bathroom sink fixing a leak and turned round to find Simon was under the kitchen sink sorting out another, we replaced the water pump, the bilge pump, the thermo couplers on the stove so we didn’t have to stand and hold the knob in while cooking – unfortunately it didn’t last and I still have to do it. At one point I was told to sit on my hands and not move as everything I touched broke, that day it was 2 hatches. The boat needs a new paint job but having being quoted $25K we decided that it was not worth it, as it was only cosmetic it wouldn’t contribute anything to the sailing side of things and if we spent that sort of money we would have to drastically reduce our time on this adventure – we have to be super thrifty as not having any form of income is extremely scary especially when you are trying to provide the best for your kids, our budgets are a little flexible but when you have major issues and expensive parts to sort out the budget takes a big beating, every thing has to be accounted for, there are such fine margins in trying your best to thoroughly enjoy a place and what it can offer and holding back to ensure you have enough wiggle room the following week/month. We therefore decided to try do something about the bad paintjob ourselves so we wouldn’t cringe everytime we stepped onboard, it would cost us for the paint but the rest is just time and elbow grease something we had more than enough of. It may not look perfect and it may not last and quite simply it’s probably as effective as sticking lip stick on a pig but for now it helps.
The girls have a more structured school day here, they wake at 8am, start school at 9am, swim at 11am and then 2 more lessons after lunch, it’s a lot compared to the homeschoolers here but we know once we start cruising again it will change. The best thing about being in Nanny Cay is that there are so many kids around, we are also right in the middle of what has now been named the family dock. The kids have had an amazing time, they’ve made so many friends, attended birthday parties, sleepovers, movie nights, boat trips, sailing club, you name it they’ve pretty much done it. They got to meet the iconic Laura Dekker who is the youngest to solo circumnavigate, the girls watched her videos before we started planning our adventure and it really boosted them on the idea that we could actually do this. All the marina kids rescued a little chic that had been mauled more than likely by one of the dozen or so cats around, it had a large open wound around its neck and no-one thought it would survive but they all clubbed together and took it to the vets, taking it in turns as to who looked after it at night. They did a wonderful job with her, she recovered well and they were able to set her free a few weeks later.
The BVI’s are stunning, you try and imagine what it was like post Irma and then what it was like during the aftermath that followed. We have been told and shown photos of the devastation that took over the islands but it’s still so hard to imagine it any way other than beautiful. As you go around the island you can see areas here and there that still need some attention but when you are told that the beautiful lush greenery that you see everywhere was completely wiped out, that there were boats that were not just lifted but turned over and dropped on top of buildings it feels like it must have been decades ago not just the few years that it has been. You can clearly tell that the people here love the island, they have so much pride, they’ve all done so much to get it and everyone around back to what it is today. At one point during our stay here there was an evacuation drill being run, the girls heard the siren and questioned “How do you know it’s a drill?” well… to start with you generally know in advance if something is heading this way, and then a friend of ours Cayley who works in the governors office walked past with the family and said they have to follow the drill, even taking the cat with them. The kids were firstly gutted that they got to follow the drill and we didn’t, they have also seen the size of the hills here and were like, “so if it really happens we have to run up those hills as quick as we can? The cars struggle to get up there, it would take forever, we wouldn’t make it!” – “If you know what’s coming you’d definitely be trying your best to get your bums up there”
One thing that we have well and truly learnt here is that there is absolutely no ageism in sailing, knowledge of your equipment and of your capabilities goes a long way. We got to see Dr Robin Tattersall OBE compete in the BVI Spring Regatta at 91 yrs old and handle the boat and lead his crew like he was still as young as he was when he was in the Olympics. We’ve seen many times people do things with a dexterity that you are not expecting, we were reluctant at first to rush out and help the older couple in the anchorage as we’ve seen many times they can do it far more gracefully than we ever could. We saw 2 strong women who injured themselves, the lovely Helene was knocked over by a freak wave while cooking and badly bruised her face and then the lovely Cathy caught her hand and wrist in an electric winch, now you would never know that both of these ladies are in their 70’s anyway, never mind when they just soldiered on without complaint, you really cannot help but admire them both.
We finally received the part and are currently fitting it and preparing to leave the Islands in a couple of days to head south for St Martin. It’s so bittersweet though, we are truly ready to start moving again and are trying to keep enough time to be able to visit as many islands as possible before arriving at Grenada in time for the hurricane season, we’re also not sure how much more our budget can take as it is expensive here factoring in the higher costs of food, marina costs and then the major expense on parts and shipping, we’re looking forward to getting into the anchorages and living off the grid . You also know that you’ve been in one place too long when you are told by a friend that they thought you worked for the marina as you’ve been so helpful and knowledgeable, i guess knowing the ever helpful dock master Justin and his wife Cayley has it’s benefits. This i think is also down to the fact that we have been taken in and treat like family by what we are all known as D-Dock buddies, the different array of people that we have met here and from so many backgrounds, all are the kindest sweetest and most helpful people. I honestly don’t know how we do it, we are not people people, we don’t go out of our way to meet people and found that covid lockdown suited us as we were happy to hide our selves away and live with the connection of the one or two friends around at the time, you could even say it probably went a little too far as we struggled to pull ourselves out of our hermit lifestyle, wherever we end up though we always manage to meet some absolute gems that you really don’t want to part with. Over the years these gems have ended up all around the world and we do try our best to meet up with them if we are anywhere close to them regardless of how little actual contact we have in between. The sailing lifestyle suits us well in this aspect as we only meet a few people at a time and generally they could not be friendlier but we don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of people or the large groups, here in Nanny Cay we have found them in abundance, for both the kids and ourselves and it is making it hard to have that excitement to leave even though we know we are ready to move on. Once again these people have more than made the BVI’s an incredible place to be, paradise is found all over the Caribbean, there are pristine beaches, stunning scenery, gorgeous sunsets and sunrises, amazing backdrops wherever you look, but the BVI’s would not have been what they are to us without this eclectic mix of friends that we are so lucky to have found, we are sure we’ll cross paths again. There is so much more here that we have not managed to see, to fully immerse yourself you need to be out there on the boat, there are so many islands to explore and we barely touched the surface, we hope that we’ll be able to visit here once again in the future but for now we need to hit the waves and continue our adventure south. We may not be living a life of luxury but we are most certainly living a life of adventure.
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float. To gain all while you give. To roam the roads of lands remote. To TRAVEL is to LIVE.” Hans Christian Andersen
Read up on our next adventure – Let the sailing commence! Onwards to St Martin/St Maarten – Y-Knot Sailing