We arrived in Antigua on Friday, November 17th at 5:30pm – sunset and just as we set the anchor in Jolly Harbour, witnessed a spectacular Green Flash! What a welcome – what an auspicious arrival!
It was quite the passage – our second longest to date at 1,757 miles (planned passage was just 1,593 NM. We covered that distance in 11 days, 13 hours and ended up with more engine use than we had hoped – at 53.80 hours (19.4%) – largely because the last couple of days we were facing winds on the nose (very unusual to have southerly winds) and we finally gave in and turned her on when our VMG (Velocity Made Good towards our destination) fell to below 1.5 knots! After 10 days at sea and with land close to hand, the idea of tacking back and forth was simply not appealing!
We had some interesting events along the way!
The Start: It started with a pod of Dolphins to send us on our way, followed by a pod of Humpback Whales feeding just outside the Chesapeake – breaching and flapping fins all over the place. THEN… we got buzzed by a Navy jet – he was about 50ft off the deck, 300 ft off our starboard side, doing about 500 knots. As soon as he roared past us he climbed vertically and did a couple of rolls! Later on, he and another jet were practicing dogfights right above us!! What a show!
Gail: Our Monitor Windvane ‘Gail,’ with whom we have had very limited success to date turned out to be the champion of the passage, steering us the whole way from the Chesapeake, silently, without using any electrical power and completely reliably. So much nicer than using the autopilot that consumes amps like they are going out of style, and makes a completely annoying noise! Not to say that Otto doesn’t have his very valuable place aboard Toodle-oo! too!
The Head 1: Unfortunately, our holding tank, which drains to the ocean (when allowed – 3 miles + offshore) didn’t. It was blocked. We tried everything to free the blockage (shaking pipes vigorously, etc.,) all to no avail. As the tank filled, the boat got a little wiffy, so Laurie doused the thing in Head Sanitizer – adding the pungent blue fluid both via the toilet bowl and directly in through the deck fitting. We were now at least wiff free! We’ll work on getting the blockage sorted later, or start practicing use of the bucket system!
Fish On!!: Fish number one was a small Mahi-Mahi. The last time we caught one was on passage last year from the BVI’s to St. Maarten, but lost the slippery sucker while cleaning it! This time, I wasn’t about to lose the damn thing, so ended up filleting the thing within the confines of my large fishing tuppaware. It was also my first time filleting a fish – in the past I’ve simply ‘Steaked’ them. It’s quite an effort – especially peeling back the skin – but came out well and tasted good. Laurie has been experimenting with recipes… Cleaning up the mess afterwards was quite the chore and I used lots of Dawn dishwashing soap – rather too much it seemed since I had a Devil of a time getting the blue hue out of the tuppaware! Still, we ended up clean – and Gail appreciated a bath in soapy water to boot!
The Head 2: After enjoying our fist Mahi Mahi meal, Laurie was cleaning up and found it equally difficult to rinse out the Dawn washing liquid – and then it ‘dawned’ on her… She must have put the head Sanitizer into the WAter deck fill instead of the WAste deck fill. A quick read of the label showed it to be highly toxic, so we had to empty the entire tank of water! Fortunately, we have 2 tanks so we wouldn’t die of thirst.
Watermaker: With water supplies somewhat compromised, we set to making more water (our RO – Reverse Osmosis – system is big and will make 40 gallons per hour) but unfortunately, to run that requires running the generator – which apparently does not like to run when the boat is heeled over. I could get it to run for maybe 20 or 30 minutes before stalling out… Still, even though not optimal, we were able to get water when we needed it – but were very glad when we reached Jolly to be able to fill up from land!
The Head 3: The holding tank was now at over 75% full. We needed a remedy. A blockage like this had happened up in Newfoundland last year and the cure was to come alongside in the dinghy and using a plunger on the exit hole in the hull, work the pipe until goop started to flow. That’s reasonably easy to do when at anchor with dinghy available (yes, sorry, we did this inshore – but had little option at the time). Here we are mid ocean, dinghy packed away, rocking and rolling. We rigged up the Bosun’s Chair, me wearing a life preserver and with a couple of additional lines so that I could position myself at the right spot along the hull – and then Laurie lowered me down to the water.
There wasn’t much wind, so we’d left the sails up – but even that speed was too much, I couldn’t control my position, so I came back aboard and we dropped all sail. Back in again – but now the boat was not stabilized and we were rolling like crazy and I was alternately getting thrown off the hull and then slammed back onto it! This was not going to work. Even though the seas weren’t bad, they were not calm enough…
Fish On!: Another Mahi-Mahi succumbed to the new lure – this one goes in the freezer!
The Head 4: The following morning there was about the same amount of wind, but the seas were calmer. To we did something really clever! We hove to. Essentially, one tacks the boat, but leaves the sails set as they were – this ‘backs’ the jib, and essentially the whole boat stops. What’s more, it tends to stop with a significant list – so the hole in the hull would not be as deep in the water! I’ve never managed to get Toodle-oo! to heave to in the past – I’ve always fore-reached (similar but different) – so another trick enters Toodle-oo!’s arsenal! Over I go again, plunger and snake in hand… Success!!! Laurie quickly hauled me out as soon as the ooze began – and a good shower outside cleaned me up nicely! We’re back in business with a working toilet! (Just in time!)
We had a few days of really nice sailing, but our weather forecaster, Chris Parker had by now identified a problem for the likes of Toodle-oo! in that we would be facing unusual southerly winds at the end of our trip. His recommendation was therefore to proceed south and then turn to the east when the southerly winds took hold. This would get us south and then east to a position just north of Antigua – from which we would be able to tack down to Antigua or motor directly into the wind. Well, while it sounded like good advice, as the wind veered, we found ourselves not making progress towards Antigua. Laurie does not do well in these circumstances – so rather than get ear ache, I decided to tack much earlier and against all advice. Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut – and we found one this time! As the wind continued to veer, our easterly path which took us well beyond the longitude of Antigua, became progressively more southerly and we arced towards the island. We continued like this until our VMG fell to about 2 knots, then tacked to the south west, gaining southerly distance. I was able to keep this up until once again the VMG fell – at which point the winds had become light so we ended up motoring the rest of the way in…
FISH ON!!! On our final south westerly tack, we had a fish hit the lure and broke our 80# test line! Bloody glad that one didn’t come aboard! We then hooked a small Barracuda – and decided that in spite of warnings, we could safely eat this one which was caught about 200 miles off shore – so probably not susceptible to ciguatera poisoning (a real problem with Barracudas feeding on reef fish). Another one goes in the freezer. THEN… we got bold and deployed George’s fishing tackle, with its monster lure. FISH ON!!!
We’d hooked a monster Mahi Mahi! I reeled it in on the Yoyo and brought him (clearly a bull with its massive head) alongside Toodle-oo! Now what? I managed to gaff him and hauled him up the side of the boat struggling like crazy and Laurie liberally sprayed rum into his mouth and gills. That quieted him nicely and allowed me to bring him aboard and do the necessary. Filleting this thing was quite the process and I had to use all my strength! 2 days later I’m still sore from the effort! Laurie put 20 large portions of Mahi-Mahi into the freezer!
So, we arrived in Jolly Harbour, enjoyed some cocktails and dinner off the barbecue (all land stuff – I got a steak, Laurie a chicken breast) and collapsed into bed. The following morning we got up stupidly early and sat in the cockpit drinking coffee and smelling like a fishing boat! It took us hours (days!) of scrubbing and cleaning to rid Toodle-oo! of the fish guts and smell!!!
Overall, the passage was good – no serious breakages that we couldn’t fix ourselves, no dreadful weather other than a couple of squalls that did a wonderful job of cleaning down the deck, our choice of delaying departure until November 6th paid off – such that we were able to sail so much more than the other boats in the Salty Dawg Fleet BUT, we certainly could have used some trade winds instead of the southerly’s for the last few days – that would have made the trip perfect instead of it become a somewhat tedious affair… This was certainly the longest up-wind passage we’ve made.
We are now safe and sound on a slip in Jolly Harbor enjoying water and electricity. We will move around to Falmouth tomorrow to join the rest of the Salty Dawg fleet.