13. Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to Orangestad, Aruba 2023

Sunday 19th November 2023, 28:7.38N 15:25.39W

We have been in Las Palmas forever spending money on parts as fast as we can and loading up with huge amounts of food, but the big day has finally arrived and the ARC 2023 Las Palmas to St Lucia Rally starts today. Friends Mayk and Peter came to see us off and we had some celebratory fizzy before joining the queue to get out of the marina.

Not for the first time, Graptolite crossed the race start line with a recently discovered major defect. In 2007 we started with a mainsail on deck and in-mast furling parts dropped inside the mast. A problem solved by sheltering in an island wind-shadow and poking about inside the mast with a coathook and chewing gum to fish out essential fittings. Keeping with tradition, this time we crossed the start line with a non-working autopilot. For those not familiar with boats, this is a disturbing problem which involves needing to arm-wrestle with the ship’s wheel 24 hours a day for several weeks. This partly explains why we ended up crossing the start line twice in very light winds. After a couple of hours work with cable ties, the problem was mostly fixed to everyone’s relief. It still makes an unpleasant clanking noise where a control chain catches as the boat rolls but it needs the boat to be still to adjust.

Monday 20th November 2023, 26:28.57N 15:36.1W

Some hours were spent today trying to get one of the heads to flush. It turned out that during a recent refit the seawater intake was reconnected to a seacock above the waterline. At least during a slight list to starboard. Creeping along in light winds somewhere at the middle back of the fleet we were hit by a rogue gust, and we discovered that our speediness in handling sails left something to be desired as we tipped over and noisily gybed. Some of the problem was the genoa furling system which was sticking. Team building at its best.

Tuesday 21st November 2023, 24:14.15N 17:51.35W

The genoa furling system was found to have lost a part of its mechanism and was essentially stuck fully unfurled. The first attempt at fixing it, which was only slightly successful, had us constructing a new furling drum from the lid of a grey plastic food crate. Darkness stopped play with only half of the sail able to be furled. No fish today even though I had my best pink rubber squid out. In the darkness most of our navigation lights failed to come on which marked the end of a perfect day and will keep us busy tomorrow.

Wednesday 22nd November 2023, 23:7.10N 19:3.45W

The day was spent almost entirely hanging over the bow trying to get the genoa to furl. Additional parts of the Furlex went to the bottom in the process as the attraction between seawater, tools and equipment bits is strong in these waters but the new furling drum we made from a plastic crate seems to be doing the trick.

There was a good sing-along in the cockpit in the evening including recordings of well-known songs with lyrics butchered to include mention of “Graptolite” which we made on the 2007 crossing.

Friday 24th November 2023, 21:08.710N 021:28.746W

We caught a reasonable sized mahi-mahi today which was turned into sashimi for dinner. The meat was firmer than I remember. Maybe the next mahi-mahi will be cooked as kebabs and we will stick to yellow-fin for eating raw.

An exciting late evening was spent untangling the improvised genoa furler with the line slipped off the improvised spool. We are not doing too well with our fleet position as we are nursing both damaged steering gear and the furler so we have decided to run into Mindelo to make repairs. Mindelo is a port we know well from our cruise ship travels and we were there most recently in March of this year so it holds no particular attraction for us but hopefully we can fix things so that every clanking noise from the wheel does not sound like the end of our ability to steer.

Monday 27th Nov 2023 to Wednesday 6th Dec 2024, Mindelo, Cape Verde 17:07.631N 024:47.210W

Repairs to steering and furling gear. Very slow and the delay put us at the back of the race except for those that turned back to Las Palmas.

18th Dec 2023, arr. Rodney Bay, St Lucia 14:04.462N 060:56.944W

Anchored in Rodney Bay overnight and entered the marina in the morning to the sound of cheers, airhorns and the clink of glasses of rum punch.

Thursday 21st Dec 2023 to Thurs 27th Dec 2023, Rodney Bay, St Lucia to Tobago Cays, St Vincent, Grenadines 12:38.999N 061:21.400W

After a short break in Rodney Bay, we continued on with our first overnight mooring in Pitons Bay and then on to the Grenadines stopping in Bequia and then on to Tobago Cays for Christmas. We moored for a few days in a turtle watching reserve near Baradal Island. We also anchored in Carnash Bay, on the island of Mayreau and at Sandy Island near Carriacou and we cleared-out at Clifton, Union Island.

Thursday 28th Dec 2023 to 3rd Jan 2024, Union Island, Grenadines to Orangestad, Aruba 12:29.897N 070:01.056W

The three-night crossing close to the Venezuelan coast was a bit worrying but uneventful and we arrived safely at Harbour Village Marina, Kralendijk, Bonaire in time for New Year. On New Years Day we sailed on to Spanish Water, Willemstad, Curacao and late the next day we arrived at Aruba. Over the radio we were directed by the Coastguard to cross the barrier reef and into the very shallow lagoon to clear-in at Barcadera Port. As it was getting dark, we ignored this and found our own temporary anchorage near the old refinery until daylight. I crossed the same reef in the dark in 2008 at the direction of the very same Coastguard when we had no engine, no charts and no instruments due to a small electrical fire. It was the scariest bit of sailing I have ever done, and I had no intention of repeating it. The next morning after clearing in with Immigration and Customs we crept through the shallow lagoon to Varadero Marina where we expect to stay until early March.

H returned to work 6th January by stepping on to the AIDAperla cruise ship tied up in Orangestad. It was all carefully planned if you think it just an amazing coincidence!

For the next two weeks, I serviced and fixed stuff on the boat. The marina is on a strip of land right next to the airport runway but very inconveniently located for getting into town or even to the airport terminal building without taking a taxi. It is not far to town by dinghy but the lagoon is usually too rough to keep clothes dry. Trips to supermarkets and chandlers can only be realistically done by renting a car. Everything works in slow motion here.

Saturday 20th Jan 2024 AIDAperla, Orangestad to Willemstad

H arrived back at the Orangestad cruise ship terminal on AIDAperla after a two-week circuit of the Caribbean and I went aboard for breakfast. Later, I took H and her boss Kapitän Andreas, to see Grapto and I barbequed some lunch. After lunch we drove the Kapitän back to the ship and after returning the rental car, H and I re-boarded AIDAperla for an overnight sail to Willemstad, Cuacao. Partly, this was so I could collect some parts for the boat that had been hand-carried for us from Germany to Curacao by one of H’s colleagues.

Sunday 21st Jan 2024 Willemstad, Curacao

The original plan was that I fly back to Aruba after an overnight stay on Curacao, but all flights were fully booked so I needed two nights. The first night I stayed in the excellent and quirky Scuba Lodge hotel overlooking a surprisingly rough sea and the nighttime departure of AIDAperla steaming out of Willemstad lit up like a Christmas tree.

Monday 22nd Jan 2024, Willemstad, Curacao

During the day I wandered the tropical Dutch streets of Willemstad with the other tourists sampling various colours of cocktails in street cafes. The infamous blue curacao, and other colours, would seem to be a kind of triple sec and perfect for a festive frozen margherita. In the evening I took a taxi to the unlovely Curacao Airport Hotel.

Tuesday 23rd Jan 2024, Varadero Marina, Orangestad, Aruba

In the very early morning, I walked the short distance to the airport from the hotel. Got a small plane for the twenty-minute flight to Aruba and got a taxi back to the marina and went back to my real job of organizing boat repairs. We still have some issues with navigation lights, some of the running rigging needs replacing and H wants a night-vision camera fitted to the mast.