Mother Nature spanked us on the way to the Caribbean

Departure Day, Sunday November 4, promised to be a beautiful, crisp autumn day. Glenn, the captain, and crew, Pam, Jason and Karen, stumbled around in the darkness, donning warm, winter gear and grabbing hot coffee to start their journey.  We’d been preparing Mira and ourselves for this journey for months and were feeling ready – though, with the usual anxieties that precede a multi-day passage at sea. Lines were tossed and fenders stored and by 6 am we were off! Since Mira was the only boat of 21 boats participating in the Caribbean 1500 Rally headed for Antigua (the rest headed to Tortola), we chose not to join the official start line at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay later that morning. As soon as we took the turn out of the Bay heading south, the winds freshened to 20 knots slightly forward of our beam, and Mira was off!

The ensuing 1745 nautical mile passage was a true ocean sailing adventure. During the next 12 days at sea Mother Nature seriously had her way with us.  The first 24 hours of the trip were spent sailing south along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts and around Cape Hatteras as we encountered a nasty warm front. The front threw 40 knot winds, choppy Gulf Stream waves, and a 5 knot current in our face.  The crew doused the head sail, centered a scrap of main and turned on both engines – trying to stabilize the boat as we doggedly pressed southward. Continuous rain and squalls added insult to injury, as we turned east at the designated coordinates for our Gulf Stream crossing.  Another 24 hours later the Gulf Stream was behind us and we were exhausted but, as the air and sea temperatures noticeably rose, the crew began to sense a glimmer of the Caribbean waiting for us.

The middle part of the passage had Mira continuing east into the open sea of the North Atlantic. From the US east coast, the Caribbean islands are not only south but quite a bit further east than most people realize.  Traditionally, sailboats head eastward almost to Bermuda before turning south to catch the prevailing trade winds. In contrast, we encountered a stalled high pressure system which sucked away all of the wind we needed to sail east! We were forced to motor for 6 days – seriously depleting our diesel stores. But …. we were wearing shorts and swimming in the 4 mile deep ocean and catching Mahi-mahi!!  Skies were clear, fish were biting, stars were shooting, captain and crew were happy!

Unfortunately, about this time, Mira received weather updates via our IridiumGO satellite system that alerted us to a tropical depression forming in the Leeward Islands and heading northwest directly into Mira’s path. Game-day decision time! Our best option was to head a bit farther east than planned (all the way past Bermuda to the 61st longitude line) and then sail south to Antigua, hoping to come in behind the eastern edge of the tropical depression.

These last five days of our journey were spent sailing straight south – skirting the tropical depression…almost. Collectively, the captain and crew of Mira sailed faster and saw higher winds, waves, and more squalls than in all of Mira’s experiences. 25 knot sustained winds and 3 meter swells directly on the beam catapulted Mira southward. Waves crashed over the cockpit roof. Constant squalls and confused waves took a toll on the crew. Top wind gusts recorded reached over 40 knots, and Mira’s top speed was 15.9 knots – a first for Mira.  She was lurching and bucking like a bronco. Meals were limited to those eaten with a spoon from a bowl.  Water usage was rationed because of low diesel stores and a stressed water maker.

Mira, an Antares catamaran, is one of the best blue water sailboats in the world, but all boats have their limits. As the stormy days wore slowly on, Mira began to show symptoms of the strenuous and difficult passage.  Limping into Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, with reluctant engines, we dropped anchor under sail at 10:39 am on November 16th.  The next 14 days were spent washing, rinsing, scrubbing, repairing, adjusting, and testing all systems on the boat.  The crew also took a few days of well deserved R & R before our kids were scheduled to arrive for Thanksgiving. Happily, Mira is now returned to her former glory while her crew keeps a watchful eye for another sneak attack from Mother Nature.

This is the Carib 1500 Rally map that shows the track of each of the participating boats. Mira is the pale yellow track line that shoots straight east to maneuver around the storm.
This is a screenshot of our instruments showing total nautical miles of the trip – 1745 – and top speed during the trip of 15.9 knots. Considering our average and cruising speed is 6 knots, this speed was way out of Mira’s comfort zone. It was achieved during one of our last 3 days – and for those sailors out there – we were NOT surfing down a wave! Our wind and waves were flat on the beam. ;(
The first day of our passage – bundled up from the cold of November in Virginia.
Jason giving Glenn lessons on the fine art of catamaran sail trimming.
Beautiful sunset at sea.
Pam at the SSB radio (single side band) taking her turn (along with 3 other boats) leading the morning and evening Carib 1500 Rally nets. It was a great way for all of the Rally boats to connect each day and discuss safety and weather information, but also – fun things like Mahi catchings and shooting star sightings.

 

Here are the beginnings of the churned up and confused waves of our Gulf Stream crossing. The next 24 hours became even more difficult. The nasty warm front tossed more wind, waves, and rain in our face as we battled the strong Gulf Stream current.

Small, dark Atlantic dolphins greeted us after we ventured through the Gulf Stream and out into the open Atlantic Ocean.

Relaxing on our favorite perch – savoring the warm temperatures and sunshine that were starting to appear. The middle part of our passage was truly delightful.

Captain and all crew on Mira participated in meal preparation for this passage.  We took turns with cook duty every 4th day in our watch rotation. On our “cook” day we cooked and cleaned all day and didn’t take watch until the nighttime.
Pam enjoyed planning all of the meals, buying the ingredients and provisions, and most importantly, seeing the happy faces of the well-fed crew. Here’s One Pot Beef Stroganoff.

 

This is Barbacoa shredded beef with corn salsa on yellow rice – all prepared in the pressure cooker.
Here’s one of three beautiful and delicious Mahi-mahi we caught on the middle part of our passage. Definitely a highlight of the trip.

Rocking and rolling a bit, but Glenn still got the Mahi grilling done!
Freshly caught grilled Mahi served with lemon garlic butter sauce. Leftovers made yummy Mahi fish tacos the next day.
Captain threw out a line during one of our motoring days and we all dove in!! The middle of the Atlantic (latitude 26.45 longitude 62.23) that was 19,690 feet deep or 3.7 miles. Surreal experience!

A beautiful sunset from Pam and Glenn’s cabin. Seas were starting to build.

As Mira took her turn south on Monday, Nov 12, she was starting to skirt the edge of the tropical depression. The seas got increasingly confused and much larger, winds began to increase and squalls began appearing. The last 3 days were the most difficult of the trip.

A screenshot of the tropical depression smack dab in Mira’s path.

The crew of Mira practiced safe sailing precautions. All crew wore their own PFD when leaving the salon area at night and during rough seas. Each PFD had its own personal locator beacon that would alert Mira’s chart plotter with a GPS coordinate and Mira’s crew with a loud alarm sound – if the PFD went overboard and was deployed. Each PFD also had a light, a knife, a face spray shield, and a whistle. Each crew member also attached their blue tether immediately upon entering the cockpit and would tether onto jack lines along either side of the boat if leaving the cockpit.

Glenn performed a deck check late every afternoon – checking all the running and standing rigging (lines and metal supports) – even in the worst of the weather.

Glenn and Jason supporting each other during their difficult watches during the last few days.
Land Ho! Antigua on the horizon. A sigh of relief from all!
Mira’s engines needed some tender, loving care – thanks to the Antigua Yacht Club for towing us in from the outer anchorage area.
Glenn multi-tasking technology – coordinating a delicate docking operation with the tow boat and his crew.
Mira at rest – finally – in the Antigua Yacht Club – twelve days later!

 

The Carib 1500 Rally – preparing Mira & crew for the tropical migration

The Caribbean 1500 Rally is orchestrated by the World Cruising Club. For this November’s rally from Portsmouth, VA, to Tortola, BVI – 21 boats participated. Mira elected to join the rally – despite our ultimate goal to sail past the BVI to Antigua. The WCC offers a wide range of benefits when you join their rallies. They provide a superbly prepared Rally Handbook with a wide range of safety and sailing system checklists, off-shore seminars in the week prior, and last but not least, camaraderie with other sailors through happy hours and local events.

Contemplating another winter in the Caribbean with limited marine resources and summer 2019 in the Mediterranean, this fall seemed the perfect time to join a rally and complete some additional safety and comfort features on Mira. So, the Captain detailed a long list of projects to be completed and items to be purchased. Annapolis without wind seemed like the perfect spot to accomplish this list.  So …. during the months of August and September …. we added the following,

  • replaced our nearly new two Volvo diesel engines due to an emissions recall by Volvo,
  • new refrigerator handle & stainless kick plate,
  • European power battery charger,
  • 5 zone bilge dry out system
  • Exhaust system in galley over the stovetop
  • New mirror in master head,
  • Fixed freezer refrigerant pressure,
  • New Seagull water filtration system,
  • New life raft & stainless steel mount cage,
  • Mount on our arch for dinghy motor,
  • Newly configured arch davits for dinghy,
  • New outhaul line for mainsail,
  • Protective covers for hatches,
  • New stainless pedestals for cockpit table
  • New salon carpet & mat,
  • Stern anchor,
  • New jumbo ‘super yacht’ fenders & fender covers,
  • 4 inflatable life vests and personal locator beacons,
  • Wide variety of aerial, smoke daytime and night flares,
  • and we completed extensive offshore safety requirements for Carib 1500 including authoring our first official Mira Ships Operations & Procedures manual.

Yes.. it was a very busy (and expensive few months).  As the leaves were starting to drop, Mira sailed down from her fall home in Annapolis and arrived at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA, on October 25. The next week was reserved for additional preparation before the official start of the Carib 1500 Rally on Sunday, November 4th. Pam and Glenn were happy to be joined by Karen and Jason Trautz, who had recently completed a ten year circumnavigation on their own Antares catamaran, YOLO. We were thrilled to have sailors with their incredible sailing experience aboard Mira for the offshore passage to Antigua.  Our week was filled with boat work, seminars, meetings, tours, provisioning, cooking and happy hours.

Mira’s interior was well protected during her engine swap out.

New life raft and stainless steel cradle.
Check in for the Caribbean 1500 at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA.
Glenn and Jason hard at work installing new pedestals.
Glenn installing a thru-hull cap amid provisioning stores.
Chafe gear – always a necessity!
Just a fraction of the provisions necessary for 4 people for a 12 day passage.
The view from above!  A trip up the mast is always required before a long passage.
Mira festively decked out in her dress flags for the Rally.
Mira passing the rigorous safety inspection.
Safety demonstrations included PFDs, life rafts, and flares.

Glenn, Karen and Jason at Happy Hour in historic Portsmouth, VA.
Mira’s crew decked out in their Halloween best.
Pam and Karen off to provision!
Glenn studied weather information for the passage.
Departure Day! Sunday, November 4th!

 

 

 

St. Vincent – a pleasant surprise!

St. Vincent, the master of the Grenadines, has gotten a bad reputation in recent years – sadly, most of it deserved. Glenn and I honeymooned on Young Island, just off the coast of St. Vincent, more than 32 years ago. We have returned to visit Young Island by sailboat once before – introducing the kids to our favorite memories. But, since our last visit – St. Vincent has had increasing trouble protecting its visitors from island crime. Therefore, on our way north from Bequia to St. Lucia, we decided to stop for only one night along the west coast of St. Vincent – mostly to break up the long sail. We were surprised and delighted at all that Cumberland Bay had to offer!

Cumberland Bay is a deep and enchanting bay and part of an estate in the heart of St. Vincent. Unspoiled by tourism, there are still plenty of kind folks happy to help you anchor, take you on a tour or feed you!
We approached Cumberland with a bit of caution – mostly, because we knew we needed to anchor stern to the shore and then tie a line to a palm tree to secure the boat from swinging. Kind of a red neck European “med moor”. This was a first on Mira! It took a bit of doing, but finally success!!
Mira tied stern to a palm tree! The Bay is so deep and small – all the boats anchor in a row tied to the shore. Thank goodness for Carlos’ help!
As soon as we settled our anchor, the boat boys arrived to show us their wares. Wesley had some delicious fruits & vegetables, and of course, lots of stories to tell!
Joseph, who has raised his family in this Bay for generations, helped to orchestrate the controlled chaos of anchoring boats properly in Cumberland Bay.
We felt very safe the entire time we were in Cumberland. Spirited Lady, the yacht beside us, had been visiting this bay for 17 years.
A calm and beautiful sunset

We left our anchorage on St. Vincent at 5:00 am the next morning – pitch black and blinding fog – another first for Pam and Glenn on Mira. The trickiest step was not – leaving the anchorage without scraping the steep cliffs but rather – untying our stern line from the palm tree while raising the anchor – all without bumping our very close boat neighbor – in the pitch dark!! Luckily, we had almost no wind, and Glenn was able to pull himself along the line in the dinghy, untie and then we were able to slink out slowly and carefully.

We were a little nervous about this next sail – which could take us anywhere from 8-12 hours. The channel of open ocean between St. Vincent and St. Lucia is notorious for crazy gusty winds and seas like a washing machine. It did not disappoint! Winds were predicted to be up to 15 knots, and we had gusts of 25 knots with off/on wind shifts and rain squalls and therefore, sail changes. We were so happy to spot the Pitons looming in the south of St. Lucia!

Exhausted but happy to have the Pitons in our sights!