Gentlemen don’t go to windward…..

Apologies in advance to those of you who like photographs – there aren’t any in this post – and it is a bit yachtie and maybe Big Steve should just look away now – but it is one of my shorter ones!

We always knew that the passage back from the BVI’s to St. Martin was going to be tricky, after all – we were travelling east which is where the predominant wind comes from at this time of year. But there had been some north easterlies and some south easterlies over the preceding four weeks so we were hopeful that the wind might be kind. Of course, it wasn’t.

The whole thing was made worse when, on doing an engine check the evening before we were due to leave, Mike discovered a hole in one of the hoses. Fortunately he was able to make a temporary repair which we tested for a good half hour so we knew that we would be able to get through the bridge into the lagoon at the other end, but we didn’t want to put too much pressure on it for the full passage so were resigned to a longer sail involving a number of tacks. I realise that this makes it sound as though we wouldn’t have sailed had we had a reliable engine but that’s not actually the case. We are not averse to tacking at all but sometimes motor sailing can be useful – especially overnight.

Having cleared out of North Sound, Virgin Gorda we set sail at 1.00pm. For anyone who might be wondering, North Sound is now available for clearance in and out. The web site says it isn’t but, as several friends had used North Sound successfully, we did the same. Apart from the telling off I described at the end of the previous post it was a very good clearance point – a nice anchorage across the bay and an easy to find building with its own dingy dock.

Obviously North Sound is at the northern tip of Virgin Gorda and we had chosen this rather than Spanish Town or Road Town because of the slightly better angle to St. Martin. Unfortunately, the north end has lots of reefs with a narrow passage through Virgin Sound between it and Necker Island and, of course, the sound runs directly west to east which would have been OK with a motor, but not something we wanted to attempt under sail. So, right from the start we had to travel away from our destination heading north so that we could pass Necker Island and the shoals safely.

The wind speed was low twenties, gusting mid to high twenties and we had both sails reefed and, as a result, it was harder to sail close hauled so our track was much further south than we wanted it to be. Even so we persevered and tacked a couple of times to try to make our way slowly eastward.

Under the circumstances all was going reasonably well until the wind speed increased further and we were getting regular Force 6 with periods of Force 7. You may remember that we have mentioned before that the grib isn’t very accurate and that we have learned to add at least 1 to the predicted wind force. Force 4 had been predicted, so we were expecting 5 but 7 was a bit much.

Mike took the first watch and I tried to sleep, but there was lots of banging and clattering going on and therefore not much sleep. What I hadn’t realised was that some of the clattering was actually the result of one of the stern arch legs having sheared. We know now that this is something which had been happening over a period of time which, had we realised, we could have done something about – but it was now a considerable problem in the wind and waves that we were getting as we feared losing the whole lot – plus wind generator, solar panel and radar!

So we decided to truss it and, once again, Mike found himself out on deck in the middle of the night in dodgy conditions. He was able to attach a rope which secured it sufficiently to prevent some of the worst swaying and we just hoped for the best that it was enough, until the following morning when we could look at it again. Fortunately it was.

However, in true Siga Siga fashion, things don’t come in ones. The steering cable snapped again and we therefore had only autopilot. Arriving in Simpson Bay under autopilot didn’t concern us too much as it is a wide bay, but  we knew we weren’t going to be able to negotiate the bridge and the channel at the other side in the lagoon, particularly as the pilot suggested it was crucial to follow the channel carefully and we had never seen it before. Anyway, that was something we needed to worry about once in Simpson Bay and, as we now carry a spare steering cable, we also knew that we had the means to fix it once anchored.

So, back to the passage…..

Needless to say, neither of us managed to sleep much and we recognised that we were making very little progress eastwards – I think we must have seen the same bit of sea about four or five times as we tacked north and south! So, we decided to risk the engine for a while and see what happened.

It was still slow progress – because we didn’t want to have the motor running to its normal capacity – and the wind and waves were making forward travel uncomfortable but gradually land came into sight and, at 17.45 on the evening of 2nd May we dropped the anchor in Simpson Bay. The passage should have been about 80 miles and taken approximately 16 – 20 hours. It was actually 119 miles and nearly 29 hours but, once again, Siga Siga saw us safely into harbour.

The bridge opening times are 9.30 am, 11.00am and 5.30pm. We had thought, as we were approaching, that we might actually make the 5.30 bridge but, as I said earlier it would have been on autopilot only so we didn’t want to push our luck and we were happy to settle for anchorage in the bay and an early night.

You will be pleased to know that the following morning we fixed the steering cable [again]. Reading Nigel Calder – as all good yachties do [and which John will no doubt be pleased to hear about as he had the job of carting the “tome” out to us in Portugal!] we think that where he states that the end has to be left slack he means really slack. Well, certainly slacker than we have before. It doesn’t look right and I did have to remind Mike that hand tight to him is far tighter than anyone else could hope to get it but, its fixed and we will just have to see if the “slack” approach works. And yes…. we have already purchased another spare just in case.

Now, Malc – you may be reading this with horror as you have been thinking about using our design for your stern arch. Fear not – we now recognise exactly what we should have done to prevent this happening and, as a result of this incident, have a far better arch than we ever had before. Simple solutions, which had we thought about them when we put it on would have prevented all of this. But life is nothing if there are no learning curves along the way…….

…..and as regular readers will know our life aboard is full of learning curves! But we love it.


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